Nature Notes: A Near "Hiss" at Castle Rock State Park

by James Knuckey

Living in the Bay Area, we are lucky to have many fantastic state parks within a short drive.

Earlier this summer, I visited one of our marvelous parks: Castle Rock State Park. Castle Rock is located on the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains above Saratoga and is named after an unusual castle-like sandstone formation.

After walking in the sun for about an hour, I paused for a drink of water and put my backpack down. As I stood back up I heard the ominous rattle that all hikers are warned about. On the trail to the left of me, about eight feet away, a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake was coiled up in a defensive position.

When threatened, Western Diamondbacks will usually coil up and begin to rattle. Even though they are one of the more aggressive rattlesnakes in North America, Western Diamondbacks only attack if they are provoked.

They eat mostly small mammals and will hibernate or brumate (similar to hibernation, but they occasionally awaken to drink water) during the winter. The venom of Diamondbacks is mostly hemotoxic, meaning it affects the heart, blood vessels, and blood cells.

Knowing that bites are often nonfatal and that I would not get bitten unless I aggravated the snake further, I cautiously grabbed my backpack and backed away down the trail.

The rattlesnake soon felt unthreatened and slithered away into the bushes. I waited a few minutes before warily making my way back along the trail. My adrenaline was pumping, but not just because I had come close to being bitten, but because I had been lucky enough to see one of these fascinating local reptiles.


Photo Credit (top): James Knuckey
Photo Credit (bottom): Andrew Spencer