An Encounter with a Rattlesnake While Hiking near Phoenix

And Hats off to Steve from Eden Prairie, Minnesota!

On March 9, 2020, we had a close encounter with a rattlesnake hiking at Pinnacle Peak, a city park in Scottsdale, Arizona near Phoenix. We were hiking with our good friends, Lyn and Steve, from Eden Prairie, Minnesota. When we started the hike we had no idea it would end with an encounter with a rattlesnake!

Lyn, Steve (our hero), Susan and Bob on a hike.

We chose Pinnacle Peak because it has excellent reviews as one of the best hikes in the Phoenix area. It is on the edge of the Phoenix metropolitan area in north Scottsdale. The hike is an in-and-out hike of 1.75 miles, and starts out with switchbacks that make it easier to get to the high point near Pinnacle Peak.

The Rattlesnakes Wake Up in March

Out of dozens of Phoenix-area winter hikes, we have seen exactly two rattlesnakes. Only two. Each time was in March, when the rattlesnakes are waking up from a winter’s rest.

One of the benefits of winter hiking in the Phoenix area is that the desert critters are sleeping. There are very few bugs. Sighting a rattlesnake is a very rare event, because rattlesnakes are largely inactive during the colder months. But as it starts to warm up at the end of February and early March, the likelihood of encountering a rattlesnake increases.

If encountering rattlesnakes is a worry for you, read this article from the University of Arizona, Four Questions: A Rattlesnakes Seasonal Snooze. Encountering a rattlesnake in the winter is a rare enough event that you could say that you are “lucky” to see a rattlesnake. Whether or not you call it “lucky” depends on how that encounter goes.

The Rattlesnake Encounter

We finished our hike and were walking back to our car. We were encountered by a couple shrieking, “Stop! Stop! Stop! There is a rattlesnake under the car!”

We immediately leaped away from the car. Then, we crept back close enough to look, and could see a very large rattlesnake curled up near the driver side front tire, right next to where hikers were walking back to their cars. The couple explained that they saw the rattlesnake struck by a car. The car hit the very end of her tail, and threw her into the air. There was blood on the street and a small end of the rattle lying in the middle of the street. The rattlesnake had retreated to recover underneath a parked car.

Blood on the street from the rattlesnake injury and a piece of the rattlesnake tail.
The left image shows blood on the road. The left image shows the the broken tip of the rattlesnake. In addition to losing the tip, the rattlesnake must have had an injury to it’s tail the width of the tire.

The four of us stayed with the rattlesnake to protect her and to keep hikers from walking too close to her. Because the rattlesnake was right in the path where hikers were walking back to their cars, we wanted to make sure that everyone made a wide berth around the rattlesnake.

An injured rattlesnake showing part of its rattle missing and blood under its head.
If you look closely at this picture, you can see the broken rattle on the rattlesnake and blood on the underside of her head.

What do you do in a rattlesnake emergency? Don’t call 911.

I called 911, but they refused to accept a call about a rattlesnake. The 911 dispatcher insisted that I call the non-emergency number. I explained to the 911 dispatcher several times that this truly was an emergency, because there was a wounded rattlesnake underneath a car inches away from where people were walking. The dispatcher adamantly refused to send help.

The 911 dispatcher told me call the non-emergency phone number. She repeated the number to me three times, and I attempted to repeat it back. But I couldn’t repeat it back correctly. I had too many things going on at once…watching the snake under the car, watching hikers going past the car and intervening to stop them, and trying to avoid being hit by cars, since we were all in the middle of the street. I tried to repeat the number, but I just couldn’t. I asked the dispatcher to transfer me and she absolutely refused. It was against their policy.

After hanging up with 911, and I Googled the non-emergency phone number and called it. The dispatcher asked for my address. I told her I didn’t know the address, but I was six parked cars from the entrance to the Pinnacle Peak Park, a park owned by the City of Scottsdale. The dispatcher refused to send help without an street name. I explained to the dispatcher that it wasn’t easy for me to look up the address, since I was watching the snake and watching for cars while talking on the phone. But the dispatcher refused to take any action without an address. Meanwhile, Bob was talking to a 911 dispatcher, and he convinced her to send help.

What a relief! Help was on the way! Or so we thought….

Protecting the Public While Waiting for Professionals

So then we waited, and waited, and waited. No sign of the police or fire responders. While waiting, we diverted dozens of people from walking next to the rattlesnake. We knew that we couldn’t leave, because it was important to protect the hikers returning to the cars from walking near the rattlesnake hidden under a parked car.

After about a half an hour, the owner of the parked car returned from his hike. We showed him the snake, and then we faced a new problem. How would he be able to get into his car and move it? He decided to enter the car at the opposite corner of where the rattlesnake was hiding. He opened the back door on the passenger side, and leaped into the car. Then Bob assisted him in maneuvering the car tires so he could exit without rolling over the rattlesnake.

Phew. Now there wasn’t a car on top of the snake, and the snake was easily visible. But now we had a new problem. Because the area is very crowded and parking is at a premium, every car that drove by wanted to park in the open spot. Now we had a new job diverting cars from rolling over the snake while preventing people from walking near the snake.

If only Scottsdale Police and Fire Would Have Responded…

If the police would have responded, we could have set up cones around the recovering snake. We could have used some fire equipment to move the snake back to safety while it recovered from the trauma of losing its tail. But no…after several desperate calls to 911 there was no response or even a willingness to respond to this life-threatening emergency. The non-emergency response did not come and we protected the snake and the hikers for over an hour.

Hats off to Steve from Eden Prairie, Minnesota

After waiting about 45 minutes, the snake recovered enough to move on it’s own to a safer location. Unfortunately, her instincts weren’t serving her well and she started to head under another car.
Steve from Eden Prairie Moving the rattlesnake
Steve from Eden Prairie, right before preventing the snake from going under another car.

After waiting for over an hour for professional assistance, the rattlesnake decided to move on her own. But her instinct was exactly wrong…she was heading to go under another car!

A that point, our friend Steve had enough. He took his own life and safety into his hands and moved the snake off the road and into the brush along the side of the road.

With the snake out of the footpath and safe from cars we finally felt free to leave the area.

Short video of Steve from Eden Prairie moving the snake off of the road and into a safer place.

So, why don’t the Police and Fire respond to rattlesnake calls?

Actually, they do respond to calls, but only after someone has been bitten by a rattlesnake. On the same day, less than ten miles away from us at the McDowell Sonoran Hiking area, a 77-year old man encountered a rattlesnake and was bitten. (Read the story at AZ Central.)

In 2019, Banner Health Care System treated 18 people for rattlesnake bites from February through April 8. (Read story at AZ Central.) Rattlesnake bites are quite common in March.

Knowing how common rattlesnake attacks are in March, why would the police refuse to respond when there is an injured rattlesnake in a heavily-populated area?

Hat’s off to Steve from Eden Prairie for moving the snake to safety.

Photo Gallery of Pinnacle Peak