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As our vehicle rolled across the blacktop and our headlights illuminated the darkness, my eyes were busy scanning for anything that looked like an animal on the road. An hour or so passed and my mom, who still wouldn’t let me drive, wanted to go to sleep. I wasn’t about to complain and we headed home, after all she had put up with a lot that she didn’t want to already, and the next day would be no different. That’s when the first herp emerged. It was a Woodhouse’s Toad.

Bufo woodhousii woodhousii

Even though it was just a common toad I still felt somewhat accomplished at finding anything. Moments later I saw something slithering in the glow of the headlamps. As the car stopped I calmly said to my brother, “It’s a milk snake.” On this trip I had most wanted to see a Midget Faded Rattlesnake. I was also anxious to see the Intermountain Rat Snake, and this, the Utah Milk Snake.

Utah Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum taylori)

I debated whether or not to hold on to the snake until daylight to photograph it for a few minutes, and obviously I did keep it overnight. The habitat in the second two shots is about 20 feet off the side of the road exactly where I found the snake. It was about 90 degrees that morning and the snake just wanted to crawl, rather than sit still like I wished it would do. I am glad I decided to wait until morning for pictures. After the morning photo session the plan was to drive into Utah, specifically to Arches National Park, and then to road cruise back to Grand Junction in the evening. Again, my mom was an incredibly good sport to go along on the days trip. We all headed west into Utah and before long the little Camry was driving through a canyon along the Colorado River. The drive was stunning and the jaunt took no time at all with the scenery to look at. After a quick stop at Burger King in Moab, the three of us were on our way into the park. Arches is incredible. It’s hard to believe that all these rock formations occur naturally.

In his book “Snakes, the Keeper and the Kept,” Carl Kauffeld dedicated a chapter to tell the story of his search for the Midget Faded Rattlesnake. I must have read that chapter, called “The Last Rattlesnake” a couple dozen times in the weeks leading up to this trip. Kauffeld visited Arches National Park in his story, and included this image as the typical habitat for the rattlesnake:
(I scanned this image from Snakes: The Keeper and the Kept by Carl Kauffeld. Photo by Manny Rubio)

The above image was taken in 1963 when Kauffeld visited the park. This was taken in 2006 when I was there:

I set off in hopes of seeing this rattlesnake in the footsteps of Kauffeld. It was extremely hot, so I knew my best chance would be after dark, but I was still excited to get to spend time in this unique landscape. The day was full of gaping jaws at our unbelievable surroundings.

This is Turret Arch, from far away

Double Arch

One of “the windows” inside Turret Arch

”The Fins”

”The Fins” again

Sand Dune Arch

Skyline Arch

Another of Skyline Arch

I am glad I had the opportunity to see Arches National Park. When I used to look at photographs of the park I was amazed at the landscape. I really hope I get a chance to go back there someday. Well, the sun was setting and I really wanted to get to the highways for the prime road cruising hours. We started heading back east toward Grand Junction and saw nothing but other cars for a good hour. About then the sun became completely blocked out and there was a vast array of little twinkling dots in the shadowy sky. At about the same time animals started to show themselves on the road. I think the most plentiful were Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus.) We also saw Blacktailed Jack Rabbit, (Lepus californicus) Elk, (Cervus elaphus) and what I believe was a Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotis.) I then decided to take a “shortcut” up to another highway, which turned out to be a less than ideal gravel road. None the less as the night went on without seeing any snakes on the road, I suddenly spotted what looked like a dead snake in the right lane. I ran back to check it out and sure enough it was a dead Great Basin Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer deserticola.) That gave me more hope for the rest of the night and before long I saw another snake in the headlights. My mom isn’t exactly savvy at spotting things in the road so she didn’t really react to it and by the time the car was stopped the snake was a good ways back. I ran my legs off into the darkness and got about to where the snake had been, and saw nothing but snakeless pavement in the illumination of my flashlight. I frantically searched the grass on the side of the highway but to no avail. I searched for what seemed like forever before admitting defeat and returning to the car with my head hanging. I was even more disappointed because I could tell from the glimpse what species of snake it was. I am certain it was an Intermountain Rat Snake, one of the snakes I most wanted to see on the trip. I had just missed it! I wish I could have been a few seconds faster, but I am not too upset because this gives me reason to go back to the area.

That was an exciting moment on the trip, and from there it took a slightly sad turn. After having a live Intermountain Rat Snake get away from me, we came across two more DOR (Dead on Road) snakes later in the evening. The first was another Rat Snake, only this one was flattened, and it was impossible for it to escape. The next one was the killer. Once again, I saw the familiar shape of a dead snake on the road, only this time it was my target for the trip, a Midget Faded Rattlesnake. At the time I was extremely frustrated, but looking back, it just gives me that much more reason to travel to the deserts of Colorado again someday. I am grateful to have been able to go there, and I plan on returning again someday, whenever that is, it won’t be too soon.

Here are the totals of what I found on the trip

Crotaphytus collaris- 3
Sceloporus graciosus- many
Sceloporus undulates ssp.- many
Urosaurus ornatus wrighti- 5 or so
Uta stansburiana uniformis- many
Cnemidophorus velox ssp.- several

Bufo w. woodhouseii- a few

Lampropeltis t. taylori- 1
Pituophis catenifer deserticola- 1 DOR
Elaphe g. intermontana 1 escaped, 1 DOR
Crotalus viridis concolor 1 DOR

I have put some random images on the next page, go check them out!

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