On any given day of the year, you'll find a seemingly endless stream of hikers flowing up and down the two main trails on Camelback Mountain. But two-legged warmbloods aren't the only creatures you'll probably encounter along the trail en route to the 2,700-foot summit. Despite its location in the heart of the Phoenix, the mountain shelters diverse species of small mammals and a healthy population of rattlesnakes.
Sometimes called the coon-tail snake because of its black and white striped tail, the western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) is the one you'll most likely meet on the trail. It grows up to 5 feet long, with a distinct diamond pattern on its broad back outlined in white striping. The diamondback usually rattles to warn its victims, but emerges groggy and slow from winter hibernation as early as February. Slow-moving snakes basking on warm trails don't hesitate to bite when they find themselves under the feet of fast-moving hikers.
Pretty Pink Rattler
The southwestern speckled rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii pyrrhus) takes on a pinkish hue to match rock coloration on the upper reaches of the mountain. The snake has speckled bands of brown and cream against its pinkish background, allowing it to blend in seamlessly with the granite rock features of Camelback Mountain. The snakes are small, with adults only growing to about 2 feet long. Watch for these rattlers basking on granite outcroppings you need to scramble over when accessing the summit along the Cholla Trail and on ledges overhanging portions of Echo Canyon.
Other common species on Camelback Mountain are easily confused with the diamondback and speckled rattlesnake. The Mojave rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus) looks much like the western diamondback, with a striped tail and diamonds on its back. The Mojave has a greener color, more distinct diamonds with less black spotting and white tail stripes that are twice as wide as the black stripes. It's known for its nasty temper and may strike without warning if you should happen upon it suddenly.
The tiger rattlesnake (Crotalus tigris) closely resembles the speckled rattlesnake but has a relatively small head and oversized rattle. Its body is more striped than speckled, with pink, orange and brown striping against a grey background. It grows to only 2.5 feet, and its venom is particularly potent.
A Nonvenomous Rattler
While all species of rattlesnakes contain potentially lethal venom, one common nonvenomous snake masquerades as a rattler. The Sonoran gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer) has similar markings to a western diamondback and even vibrates its tail in a convincing mimicry when disturbed. Sonoran gopher snakes help control populations of more dangerous rattlesnakes as well as rodents. While their bite won't fill you with lethal toxins, it can give you a nasty gash that can become infected.
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images