This week while at Oasis State Park climbing a sandy slope to look for a nice place to paint I stumbled upon a snake. Not at all unusual, but the largest I’ve seen in the wild in New Mexico.
I was walking under a tree when I noticed some very slight movement above my head. I looked up to find a tan/gray shape coiled in the crook of the tree. I paused for a moment and saw that it was on the move down the tree three feet to my left. Obviously I retreated to the car where I continued to watch. Snakey (I named him/her) then investigated the area where I was standing and headed for the car. Unfortunately my nature viewing ended soon afterwards because I had clearly disturbed Snakey and he or she was now moving intently towards me. I didn’t want to let Snakey get so close to the car that I might run them over, nor did I want to stick my head out the open windows to check his/her progress… so I drove away.
I parked the car at a safe distance and walked to a shaded picnic bench where I painted for a few hours (see post “Oasis” which shows another canvas from this day). In this painting, the tree on the right is the one I saw Snakey in.
I described my snake spotting (in great detail) to some park employees and they helped me identify it as a Coachwhip.
Some neat things I learned about Coachwhips: They are often active in hot conditions when other snakes seek shelter in cool retreats. They spend most of their time on the ground but are capable climbers so are occasionally encountered in trees and on cacti. They are slender bodied snakes relative to their length and are extremely fast (believed to be the fastest in North America). If they are cornered, coachwhips will strike repeatedly (often at their attackers face) and bite strongly if given the opportunity (they can raise the first third of their bodies to reach what they want to bite). Though they are aggressive in defense, these snakes will not chase a person down and “whip them to death” as a common legend suggests. Phew.
So, this is just my shoddy internet research (Online Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Arizona among one of my sources) and I could be wrong in attributing some characteristics to Snakey when there are seven subspecies of coachwhips widely distributed across the southern US. But I got carried away with the fun factor of writing about snakes… I hope you forgive me.