Staying Safe on the Trails around Fountain Hills
by Ranger Amy Burnett
Wild animals such as rattlesnakes, bobcats, coyotes, and javelinas are common inhabitants of the trails in and around Fountain Hills. We’re lucky to have a diversity of wildlife viewing opportunities right outside our doorstep; from the short but steep Overlook Trail to the rolling Adero Canyon paths to the 21,000-acre McDowell Mountain Park just 8 minutes north of town. But the question always arises, ‘how safe is it to hike among all of these wild animals’?
The short answer is, safe when you stay aware and keep a respectable distance.
Rattlesnakes are the wildlife that most don’t want to see when out and about. That said, you should never let a fear of seeing a snake keep you from enjoying the great outdoors.
What should you do if you encounter a rattlesnake?
It’s a simple answer, actually. Just walk around it, giving it a wide berth. Or, if this isn’t possible because of the terrain, back up the way you came and give it time to move away on its own. Throwing rocks at it or poking at it with a stick may only make it defensive, and have the opposite of the hoped-for result if it feels that it can’t turn its back to you and slither away. When you’re a snake, everything is taller than you, and you have a bit of a Napoleon complex.
According to Rattlesnake Solutions, “When a hiker sees a rattlesnake on a trail (or hears it) buzzing away, this is not a sign that it’s about to attack. It’s just a warning, saying “hey, just letting you know I’m here, so let’s not meet!.”
If you’re sticking to the trail, not wandering off to get pics of the wildflowers, and watching where you step or place your hands, you’ll easily avoid a snake encounter. Your zoom lens is your best friend! Speaking of best friends, keep your dog on a leash at all times, and don’t let them stick their nose into bushes where a snake may be trying to avoid seeing you.
Bobcats, Coyotes, and Javelinas
What should you do if you encounter a bobcat, coyote, or javelina?
Desert predators are naturally curious, and may not flee as quickly as a rabbit or mule deer when they see people. Simply continue your hike, giving them plenty of room to walk away… never let them feel cornered. If they do not wander off on their own, and you feel threatened, wave your arms to make yourself bigger, and shout in loud, low tones to encourage them to move on. A healthy predator is not usually a threat to people, but they may be eyeing your small dog, so keep your pet on a short (not retractable) leash, and pick them up, if necessary.
Enjoying the wildlife that abounds in and around Fountain Hills is just one of the reasons we live in this close-to-nature community. Keep these simple safety tips in mind, and you’ll have plenty of great outdoor experiences and memories to share.