Due to unexpectedly having to plan a move, extremely long and busy hours in the wildlife hospitals, and a host of other reasons, I was feeling physically and emotionally drained on Memorial Day. I had planned to go for a mood-boosting hike, but I couldn’t stop yawning and I felt fatigued. Nonetheless I had to get out of the house, so I decided to take a little road trip instead. Mines Road is a mostly desolate, windy, scenic drive between Alameda and Santa Clara Counties. If you take it all the way from the beginning in Livermore, near Del Valle Park, and keep going 44 miles, you end up in Mount Hamilton, at Lick Observatory. Then you drive 30 more windy miles to San Jose, and you can get on 680 and do a big loop. I did this drive backwards last year, because I left late and wanted to get to the observatory before it closed, then do the bulk of the fun driving afterwards. At the time I complained that there weren’t any places to pull off to take photos. As it turns out, there are a few more pullouts if you travel south as I did on Memorial Day, at least near the beginning in Alameda County, and my tiny car could handle most of them (sometimes the drop-off is too steep and I’m scared of getting stuck). According to the owl guru, and ebird, these south-bound pullouts are popular with birders. One of the rare birds that can be found along Mines Road is the ROADRUNNER! Frankly, I was a little astonished by this as I had no idea until a few months ago we had roadrunners anywhere in the Bay Area. And Mines Road is really the only place we do. (Other than the captive one we have at Lindsay Wildlife.) Of course I wanted to see one! So I figured that would be the perfect Memorial Day mission: look for roadrunners and enjoy a nice drive.
Due to the lack of exclamation points and shouting, you will correctly guess I didn’t see any roadrunners. I didn’t really see many birds at all other than quail and a magpie. Perhaps I was there at the wrong time of day. The coolest thing I ended up seeing and doing was saving a snake. I was driving along and came across a snake in the middle of the road. My first thought was, “COOL, A SNAKE!!” My second thought was, “SNAKE, GET OUT OF THE ROAD!” Obviously I drove around the snake, but I was very worried other drivers would not. Some people inexplicably dislike snakes and may run over them on purpose. Others may simply not have been able to avoid the snake, who was luxuriously stretched out over the entire single lane of the road, which is full of blind curves. In fact, just a few yards up the road, there was a dead snake that I didn’t arrive early enough to save. So I pulled over at the first place I could and trotted back down the road. There was no traffic, so I had plenty of time to sit down on the road and take several closeup photos of my scaly friend. Once I had a few pictures, though, I had to act. The snake had had absolutely no reaction to me sitting a few feet in front of it and shoving a camera in its face, nor did it respond to verbal warnings that it was in danger. So I did the only thing I could do: I kicked it. I like saying that because it sounds so out of character and shocking, but of course, I didn’t really KICK it, kick it. I walked behind it and tapped it gently with my shoe. It was NOT happy with me! It whipped around, rose up, and hissed at me, so I commanded, “SNAKE, GET OUT OF THE ROAD!”, and it finally did; it slithered off, disgruntled and offended, but alive. Did I get any thanks at all? No. Fortunately I don’t save wildlife for the gratitude, or I’d be a miserable human being.
There’s a cute little afterword to this story. So after kicking the snake, I started walking back to my car. I drive a Miata (actually, I drive two, but only one at a time!). No cars passed the whole time I was dealing with the snake, or had for some time before that. As I was walking, another Miata drove up beside me and this adorable old lady rolled down the passenger window and asked me if I was okay. She had a box of Cheez-Its in her lap. I cheerfully told her I was fine and was just taking pictures. (I decided not to get into discussion about snakes.) She said she had just wanted to make sure and wished me well. I told her “nice car”. I got back into my own Miata, where I had an open box of the vegan equivalent of Cheez-Its, which had been my road trip snack of choice (and which are not something I normally eat). She had a little headway on me, but I’m a pretty fast driver and there are no crossroads she could have turned onto (though there are ranches), yet I never caught up to her. I hope she had a nice drive! She was kind to check on me. I don’t know if she was the snake-hating type but I’m glad I didn’t have to worry about whether or not she had hit the snake!
And finally, here is that beautiful, unappreciative, reckless gopher snake: