I have known about the “great rattlesnake highway” in the rolling plains for well over a decade now, and it has produced quite consistently over the course of that time span generally without fail. Located in that vast expanse of open mesquite scrub and prickly pear patch dubbed affectionately by both locals (with pride) and tourists (with general disinterest) as “the Big Empty”, it is a rattlesnake lover’s wonderland if little else. Amber and I have turned herping out there every fall into a sort of contest wherein we try to beat the previous year’s record of most western diamondbacks seen in a single night. It started back when we were dating and I took her on her first night of herping the area. We racked up a total of 32 rattlers and a few neonate bull snakes and from then on the GRH fall atrox contest became an annual tradition. Every October (with the advent of an approaching storm or cold front, if luck and schedule permitted) we would head out on a day trip in an effort to best that first magnificent night that I still credit for getting my wife hooked on herping. It didn’t come until 2013, when we broke the record by two. Last year we got 41, and so this year we had high hopes to beat that one.
Even in an area as diamondback-blessed as the rolling plains, 41 snakes in a single night is hard to beat. But last night, with an approaching rainy cold front darkening the skies to the north of us after a day high in the nineties, we managed to pull it off, with a sum of 42 diamondbacks, plus a handful of other common locals for a total of 50 snakes! While the diversity wasn’t staggering, it made for a family fun night herper-style, with Zev wide-eyed and alert in the seat, counting each and every atrox as we pressed ever-closer to our goal. Although I hate to admit it, my wife has keener eyes than I do when it comes to spotting snakes on the road, and she insisted I stop for each and every suspicious object, the majority of which ended up being neonate rattlers. On two occasions we turned around for one snake and as we backtracked found two more. It was a glorious time, in spite of the fact that it kept us out until midnight on the eve of Michael’s and my departure to the Rio Grande Valley. While an annual autumn atrox count may not seem like the ideal for government recommended family fun, it suits me and mine well enough. Kudos to Zev for spotting the first snake and Amber the last (as well as most in-between). I can only hope for such fortune now as Michael and I make our way south with the monarchs. Until we get there and get out into the thornscrub and sabal palms, a few highlights from last night on the plains: