Take a Hike, But Heed the Signs

Rattlesnakes blend into the environment; Photo by Tim Van Schmidt

Tim Van Schmidt

I live right next door to a Fort Collins Natural Area so I thought I would take a hike.

Actually, I live next door to three Natural Areas — Pineridge and Maxwell to the west and Red Fox Meadows to the east. Instead of going to any of those three, however, I opted to go to Reservoir Ridge, which isn’t very far away either.

I went with a couple of other nature-lovers and when we started out on the trail that leads up into the foothills, we were greeted by a prominent red sign that reads: “Be snake awake — rattlesnakes live here — stay on trail.”

Be snake awake at Reservoir Ridge; Photo by Tim Van Schmidt

OK, that’s fair warning, but it didn’t “rattle” anyone too much. We believe in keeping on the trail anyway, to help preserve the integrity of the rest of the environment.

It wasn’t until we had turned around and headed back to the trailhead that the red sign became especially poignant.

A young runner with a dog had just passed us on the trail but stopped short just a little ahead where the path circled around a prominent rock outcropping. When we approached, she warned us that there was a rattler curled up “and ready to strike” just off of the trail.

We moved closer when she finally took a chance and ushered her dog away from the spot. Sure enough, a good sized snake was all curled up near the rocks and under some growth.

It did not appear to be alarmed — it wasn’t shaking its tail. In fact, it may have just been asleep.

But what was so striking about that moment was that the snake blended in so well with the environment. We might not have even seen the snake if it wasn’t for that runner. And even more worrisome was that we certainly did not notice the snake there on our way up — we had walked right past it, apparently.

We even theorized that we had probably passed other snakes on our hike without even being aware of their presence

As we approached the parking area, we ran into other hikers who were just heading out. We did the only reasonable thing — we warned each person we met about the snake ahead. The young runner who had warned us had also warned others on her way down.

If you decide to take a hike this spring, I fully recommend that you respect signs like “Be snake awake.” But further, if you see a snake on your hike, help others by informing them.

Our city has preserved and created an impressive number of natural recreation areas. Go ahead, take a hike, but pay attention to those signs!

Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins.

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