Keep your eyes to the ground

I re-learned a lesson over the weekend – when hiking in Northern California in warmer weather, it’s always good to keep your eyes to the ground around you.

I was hiking with a friend in Lagoon Valley Regional Park south of Vacaville just off Interstate 80 and we had climbed the hill overlooking the park and the freeway. We followed a trail on the ridge to a marker there remembering early settlers of the area.

We had just moved beyond the marker and were on the ridge trail as I gazed at a vulture gliding on the warm air above the park. As I turned to resume the hike, I glanced down and very nearly stepped on a fairly young rattlesnake – just four or five rattles and perhaps 16 inches long. They say the venom from younger snakes is more potent than that of older snakes, but I had no intension of finding out.

I just barely kept from stepping forward – and onto the snake – and was able to step back to give it a bit more room. It glided across the trail and into the tall grass on the other side.

It was the first time my friend had seen a rattlesnake in the wild and it startled her a bit. And the last time I had seen one in the wild was while firefighting during my college years; it was a threat to my crew and the snake was dispatched with the sharpened end of a shovel.

We continued the hike, warning another group of hikers that we had seen a rattlesnake and that they should keep a sharp eye out. Well, we warned them and then let them walk on the trial in front of us. … Hey, we warned ’em.

Lagoon Valley Regional Park is a lovely multi-use green area between Vacaville and Fairfield along Interstate 80. There is hiking, running, biking, picnicking, birding, archery, model aircrafts, fishing and more. It is not far from the Pena Adobe, the restored home of one of the founding settlers.

And the rattlesnake was not the only bit of wildlife we spotted along the rest of the hike – birds, horses, turtles and a beaver. Actually, the beaver had succumbed to some illness or attacker so wildlife is not exactly accurate.

But it was a very lovely day, despite the startling encounter with the rattlesnake. And a lesson learned. Again.

All rights reserved by Keith Michaud ©

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