TRAIL OF THE SNAKE, Revised
Tracking Snakes in the American Southwest
This book is the result of more than 50 years of accumulated field and research experience. It is undertaken at the urging of friends and acquaintances who have patiently and graciously listened to my many stories of intrepid travelers who, having braved searing desert heat, blinding sandstorms and all manner of fearsome and fascinating creatures in their relentless pursuit of knowledge, have experienced a sense of joy and wonderment which can only be felt by communing with nature.
Of course I can not assume all of the credit. I would like to thank my parents, whose patience and support during my formative years allowed me to pursue my somewhat "unusual" pastime; or at least they thought so at the time. I am profoundly grateful for the spirit of cooperation shown by my wife Mabel, and two daughters, all of whom have adjusted admirably to living in a house filled with snakes and other sorts of crawling things; at one time as many as 140 including alligators, Gila monsters, cobras and a fourteen foot reticulated python named Luther. Mabel also reads my manuscripts and offers helpful suggestions. I also want to extend my gratitude to Jessie Applegarth who typed the finished manuscript for original edition of this book. Finally my special thanks goes to Bill Degenhardt, without whose encouragement and advice this book might never have been written. And to R. DeWitt Ivey, my former high school biology teacher, whose standards for excellence are tempered only by his compassion and understanding for his students.
I would like to add that it was in pursuit of my career as a herpetologist that I became exposed to the happy hobby of photography, an indispensable tool of any naturalist. No creature, great or small, is ever safe from the probing eye of my camera lens. Of course, traveling about the country photographing animals as I have done can become expensive and so I have, from time to time, found it necessary to seek gainful employment in order that I might support my habit. These experiences, although they have frequently been meaningful and enriching, are as often as not a source of distraction from more serious academic endeavors. Such diversions include, among others, the teaching of high school science, freelance writing, a short stint as a curatorial assistant at the Museum of Southwestern Biology (UNM) and the somewhat dubious distinction of having been appointed the first curator of birds and reptiles at the Rio Grande Zoological Park; a position which I held for five years and one week.
And now I hope you will sit back in your favorite chair and embark upon a journey with me, a journey that will take us from the Pecos to the Colorado, and beyond; from the depths of Death Valley to the towering peaks of the Sierra Madre Occidental; from Big Bend to Baja. We will visit places with names like Onion Saddle, Ajo Road and the Hamburg Mine. And we will meet many interesting people along the way, some of whom are life-long friends.
This is my story of travel and adventure; whether it be witnessing the incredible bravery of a mother hawk defending her nest in a fight to the finish against a hungry Great-horned owl, an encounter with an enraged female Black bear defending her cubs against the indiscretions of a human intruder or, perhaps, listening to the melodious call of a red-winged blackbird defiantly proclaiming its territorial legacy. We will encounter many marvelous creatures along the way; a snake that "walks" across the hot desert sands, another so deadly that its venom is reported to kill a human in twenty minutes; a lizard that "barks" like a dog and another that actually runs a fever when it is ill. And, last, a species of lizard in which there are no males, only females. All these creatures and many more will be met in the following pages, and hopefully they will become your friends as they have become mine. For all living things—even the poisonous ones—are a part of the overall scheme of things; the intricate inter-relationship of all life. Surely man's own salvation lies in his ability to learn to live in harmony with the living things around him.