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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hikers are a waste of venom

Encounter at Camp Creek

It's that time of year again—the beginning of rattlesnake season.  A report today on KJZZ stated that so far this year, there have been 7 documented rattler bites in Arizona---none of them were fatal.  Springtime warmth brings these  reptiles out of hibernation, and when they first wake up, they are both hungry and full of venom.  They are looking for rodents—not your ankle.  Venom is very expensive for snakes to produce so they don't want to waste it on anything that's not food.  That's why they rattle and warn first and strike only when stepped on, surprized or provoked.  Amazingly, many bites are the results of people intentionally handling the snakes. (as in, "Hold my beer; watch this...")
Black-tail rattler: Parson Springs
You can greatly reduce your chances of getting serpent stung by observing a few simple rules when hiking in rattlesnake territory (virtually all of AZ):
•  Never step or put your hands anyplace where you cannot see.
•  Loose the headphones; you'll want to hear that rattle!
•  Snakes are most active in morning and late afternoon.  They seek shade (beware the brittlebushes) during the heat of day.
•  Rodent holes=rattlesnake buffet. 
•  When you encounter a snake, simply walk around it.  There's no need to harass the beast.
•  If you are bitten, seek medical help by calling 911.  Do NOT, cut, use a tourniquet or ice the wound.  Your “treatments” can contribute to tissue necropsy and infection.  If you are out of phone range, you can walk slowly toward help.
•  It is not necessary to kill or capture the snake; hospitals will know how to treat you.

Sighting in Sycamore Canyon


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Springtime hike in the Santa Catalina Mountains

Pusch Ridge Wilderness

Half blaze-ravaged moonscape, half creek side woodland, this famously crowded loop hike makes for an interesting first-hand look at the cycle of wildfire forest destruction and subsequent regeneration.
Willowy, white-barked aspens--the quintessential trees of mountain climes--depend on fire for their survival. This species needs lots of sunlight to grow and reproduce, and their natural lifecycle includes succumbing to the shade and crowding brought on by encroaching conifers. When wildfires clear the trees and open the forest floor to sunlight, aspens shoot up rapidly, and right now, they’re having a heyday on the slopes of Mt. Lemmon.
A hike on the Aspen-Marshall Gulch loop showcases this miracle of nature in progress. The tour begins on Aspen Trail #93, progressing uphill through a patchwork of burned areas, fir woodlands and clusters of aspens. Soon, the path enters a dell of slender white-trunk sprouts with vivid green leaves that rustle and sway in a graveyard of charred pine stumps. Beyond this point the route ducks in and out of scorched tracts and intact woodlands before emerging on a sooty, snag-cluttered saddle. Here, the dramatic effects of recent blazes draw visceral reactions. It’s a charred and barren scab of a place. The trail gets a bit sketchy in this area, so watch for cairns leading up to the junction with Marshall Gulch Trail #3. Here, the route leaves the ashen badlands passing through a labyrinth of stone before heading downhill and into another world replete with creek side maples, ferns and alders rounding out the dichotomous flavor of this hike.
View from Aspen Trail

LENGTH: 5.1-mile loop
ELEVATION: 7,410 – 8,400 feet
RATING: difficult
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 158 miles one-way
Aspen sapplings
From I10 in Tucson, take the Grant Road exit 256 and go 8.7 miles east to Tanque Verde Road. Turn left and continue 3.4 miles to Catalina Highway go left and drive uphill 27 miles through Summerhaven to the end of the road at the Marshall Gulch picnic area. Roads are 100% paved.

FEE: $5 Catalina Highway daily fee per vehicle
FACILITIES: restrooms, picnic area,
INFO: Santa Catalina Ranger District, Coronado National Forest, (520) 749-8700