If It’d Been a Snake …

Gopher snake

I’d walked through this door 30 seconds earlier and never saw the snake.

Well, it was a snake. But, thank heavens, not a rattler.

I cleaned the cat box just now and carried the goody-bag out the back door to the garbage can, which lives about 10 feet away. I turned to come back in—and got my adrenaline jolt for the day.

There, in front of the door I’d walked through seconds earlier, was a large snake.

Our monsoon season has started, which at my Arizona mountain elevation, also means the start of rattlesnake season. This time of year I’m on high alert for rattlers around the house, flower beds, and barn. Usually, they’re just moving through, and I simply wish them well with a “Vaya con Dios” and let them go on their way.

Once, I had a mating pair on my door step.

But that’s another story.

This one’s about this morning’s gopher snake. Also known as bull snakes, Pituophis sp. are non-poisonous constrictors and common throughout the country. They have a particularly fascinating feature: Unlike other snakes, their epiglottis is divided, which amplifies the noise of their hiss. It’s not just louder—it’s also a very convincing imitation of a rattlesnake’s warning, aided by their behavior of flattening their neck and shaking their tail. Ironically, their defense strategy is so convincing that gopher snakes are often killed by people who mistakenly identify them as rattlesnakes.

Check out the sound here—along with more information, and a photo of one of these stunningly handsome snakes here.

They eat rodents, lizards, birds, eggs—and other snakes. Which may explain why I haven’t seen any pack rats or rattlesnakes around my house this year.

Welcome, friend.

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A First-Time Gathering of the Friends of Cave Creek Canyon

FoCCC logoConsidered by many to be the crown jewel of southern Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains, Cave Creek Canyon now has a new friend — or, at last count, nearly 100 of them.

The Friends of Cave Creek Canyon (FoCCC) mission is

To inspire appreciation and understanding of the beauty, biodiversity and legacy of
Cave Creek Canyon.

To accomplish that goal, a year ago a small steering group began dealing with IRS paperwork and legalese in order to become an official 503(c) (3) Friends group. They also worked closely with the U.S. Forest Service employees of Coronado National Forest to find the best way for FoCCC volunteers to help support the USFS work and mission in Southeast Arizona.

Since getting established in September, the group has already
• set up a website and a Facebook page,
• teamed the Forest Service with local volunteers to establish benches in South Fork, clear VIsta Point, and maintain the Cave Creek Nature Trail,
• co-hosted a Portal-based Celtic Music weekend, and
• sponsored an educational forum with the Arizona Game and Fish Dept. to help landowners learn how to cope with the black bears in town following the Horseshoe 2 fire.

Hosted by the Chiricahua Desert Museum in Rodeo, N.M., forty-seven enthusiastic residents attended FoCCC’s first annual membership meeting, bringing offers to volunteer, along with discussion of many potential projects, including:
• adding an information kiosk at the opening of the canyon,
• replacing signs identifying some of the more noteworthy rock formations,
• photo-monitoring of regeneration after the fire that burned 230,000 acres,
• compiling a Biota Bibliographic project that would be a repository of links to scientific papers on the region,
• establishing an annual Bat Watch event, and
• providing hosts for the Visitor Center in order to keep it open longer.

“I couldn’t be happier with the way the meeting went,” said Reed Peters, FoCCC president. “The community certainly showed that Friends is something they care about and want to be involved in.”

Larry Pratt, Developed Recreation Project Manager for the Coronado, agreed. “I don’t live in this canyon, but my wife and I have been coming here for years,” he said after the meeting. “I’m very excited to see the formation of this Friends group and look forward to working with the members and seeing it succeed.”

For more information on membership, donations, or volunteer opportunities, check out the FoCCC website and Facebook page.

[DISCLOSURE: I’m on the Board of Directors.]

Home! at last …

For the first time since the Horseshoe 2 fire evacuation June 8, all of us — except Jim — are Home. Horses, dogs, cats, vehicles, sundry belongings.

And Jim, who was airlifted during the fire to Tucson with a severe stroke, is still in the nursing home five months later. But he’s recovering well, and he too was Home yesterday for a 3-hour visit.

Life IS good!