I drove off the indicated exit to stare at a shockingly straight road leading directly toward some low mountains, not hills but not high peaks like the ones I’m used to staring down. I tingled with excitement anyway.
Being used to traveling along all alone, finding this hiking trail put me a little on guard. I put myself at ease by reminding myself that today is Saturday, there are bound to be plenty of people around to summon should I need help.
The Ranger at the main gate gave me my second and third thrill. He actually honored my NPS pass! On other occasions I am disappointed to learn that not all parks and monuments honor my pass. He then stamped my receipt, which will end up in my forgotten passport book as souvenir of my latest adventure.
He cautioned that I should be out of the park by 4:30 or risk getting locked behind the gates. I assured him that I would, thanked him, and drove on.
The trail head was easy to find and each trail had a series of markers designating distance and direction. Signage was plentiful and surprisingly, although there were several families hiking along, I was mostly alone until I decided to wait for someone to catch up.
Then I saw the sign, Caution Snakes. The brown park sign showed not just a picture of a harmless garden snake, but a rattlesnake no less. I’ve seen these guys on trails, under bear boxes, near streams, and on the roads getting sun. I’ve heard them warn me from under rocks and have had to scurry past them mostly to calm my nerves, and to keep me from freezing in place.
I’ve touched snakes. I hate how they feel. Yet, I’ve reluctantly paraded small children in the reptile houses of many a zoo. I told myself that they needed to learn about the dangers of these creatures…and how some people believe that its ancestor incited sin (through fruit).
I paused at the sign, and took a picture. It’s tradition to take pictures of trail signs along the way. (I secretly do this to make sure I can find my way back…kinda like digital popcorn.)
I pulled up my pants, looked up again, and started my march. Never let the threat of rain, heat, elevation gain… or snakes keep you from seeing what you want to see. The wilderness must be explored.