We moved here in 1994. That’s when I first started wandering around in the woods around here. Lot’s of things you hear about, read about, and talk about. Adirondack Rattlesnakes – it just sounds cool. Right? Who really believes that rattlesnakes could exist in a place that is nearly frozen 6-months of the year? You will.
Even before that, Benjamin Franklin used the Timber Snake in one of our earliest and most famous political cartoons. (Ollie and Nick, this pic is for you.)
It is a woodcut showing a snake severed into eighths, with each segment labeled with the initial of a British American colony or region. The cartoon appeared along with Franklin’s editorial about the “disunited state” of the colonies, and helped make his point about the importance of colonial unity. During that era, there was a superstition that a snake which had been cut into pieces would come back to life if the pieces were put together before sunset.
Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest
Split Rock Mountain on the “Adirondack Coast” of Lake Champlain is known as a place where the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus Horridus) enjoys an almost perfect habitat. Everything I’ve read indicates that “rocky outcrops and open grassy areas with southerly exposures” – are the favored terrain of this snake. The Split Rock formation also has the deciduous forest and rodentia. It really is all about “location”.
View Larger Map – The Sighting My Map
The place is pretty easy to find. It’s on Lakeshore Rd, between Essex and Westport, NY.
Here’s the trailhead sign which really doesn’t tell you much. Hiking is pretty easy here, no huge elevation changes. I suppose if you were to do all the points-of-interest, it would be a full day’s worth of hiking. This last trip reveals much improvement. There’s a real sign-in box with map. In color. Pens and pencils! The trail also looks ideal for ATB.
We let my daughter do all the registrations now that she knows how to write. I help out when necessary.
I think the overlooks, Snake Den Harbor and Barn Rock, are better views than on the “North Rim”. It sort of reminds me of Big Sur. We aimed for Snake Den Harbor Overlook. That would be easy and allow us plenty of time for an early lunch.
As you can see, Spring in the Adirondacks means it’s time for vegetative growth. The foliage was thick and most of the ground was still covered by last Fall’s leaf litter. It was quite dark and gloomy. The black flies were out in healthy numbers. We dosed with Zof (locally made and all natural), but still made a minor contribution to the food chain. Preparation is everything when you want to enjoy nature.
This is where I was regaling the family with stories of rattlesnake encounters. At a certain point, they were all telling me that I was being too “dramatic”. My daughter was a little put off by the thought of seeing a poisonous snake, but we accused her of being a “wuss” so she pushed on. According to her, “rattlesnakes aren’t as bad as tree vipers”, and we all agreed that was probably true.
Bugs as usual were everywhere. We saw many different worms, caterpillars, beetles, and butterflies.
The Red-spotted Newt (Notophthalmus v. viridescens) were also everywhere and easily “spotted”. Very primordial-looking things.
Lunch at the Overlook was perfect. A breeze kept most of the flies away and we had the entire place to ourselves. We still had yet to encounter another person and the parking lot was empty when we arrived. Love that. What you should appreciate, 10 feet forward and the cliff drops many hundred feet almost straight down to the water.
After lunch we decided to detour down to Lewis Bay for a look-see. As we marched down the old tote-road, my son who was third in line was startled by a loud rattling right next to the trail. At this point, I was right next to the source of the sound – a 4+ foot long Timber Rattlesnake! Damn, how cool is that?
The good thing is that nobody was bitten. That thing was literally less than 2 feet off the trail. As you can see from the above picture, it was a dark and gloomy bit of trail. Only the size, noise, and black color gave it away. If this snake had the normal coloring, it would have been invisible to the eye. I’m not carrying any antivenin, nor would I even know how to administer it in the field. Much better to have the thrill of near-death, than actual death.
Zooming in helped some, but honestly, my hands were shaking a little. The flash brightened things up a little. I wish I had something in there for reference. At it’s thickest point, the snake was easily the size of my wrist. Timber rattlesnakes are known for their stocky appearance and this one illustrated that perfectly.
What a beauty this snake was! The rattle was entirely intact and featured 10 segments. My layman’s knowledge make that at least 4-6 years old, probably even older. These snakes are also more likely to be in black-phase as they mature. This snake showed no fear of us at all.
I’ve adjusted the fill and highlights to make the snake more visible. I’m about 6 feet away here and Mr. Snake is in a ready-to-strike position. I would have loved to stay longer, but my daughter’s legs were shaking, my son wanted to go home and play video games, and my wife was speculating that it might be a “mother-snake” and that I was oppressing it’s freedom in nature – academics are seemingly experts in everything. I guess I silenced her when I mentioned something about the “snake union”.
In the last picture, you can see that even though the snake is almost entirely black, some very subtle colors and patterning is still visible. It would make a very nice wallet or belt. After the BBQ.