How to Handle a Rattlesnake Bite – and Other Tips thanks the Maricopa County Park staff for providing this great information on how to handle a rattlesnake bite … or even just a regular encounter with a rattlesnake.

Over the weekend, I was out for a nice hike with my wife at Spur Cross Ranch, a conservation area that’s part of Maricopa County’s excellent system of parks. We wound up on a trail that took us outside the boundary and into some forest land.

There were signs posted at the Spur Cross trailhead reminding hikers to watch for rattlesnakes. It is that time of year to be on the lookout – the snakes are quite active throughout the middle of the day.

We finally had our rattlesnake encounter in a gully with a flowing stream on one side of the trail, and a sheer rock wall on the other. I’d actually been distracted by some bright yellow algae in the stream, and failed to notice the dusty brown snake (possibly a sidewinder) lounging at the water’s edge. I was about five feet away when I first spotted it. I told my wife to hang back, and I retreated so we could figure out how to avoid a rattlesnake bite.

rattlesnake bite
A sidewinder is a cool creature … but that doesn’t make this rattlesnake bite any less dangerous. (wikipedia)

I tried tossing a few pebbles its way. It didn’t care. Ditto for a gentle poke from a stick branch. I even banged a large river rock on the ground, hoping the vibrations would urge it to move. Nada. Zip. This was one stubborn snake. We eventually decided to skirt around it close to the rock wall. The snake was long enough to reach us, but he wasn’t cornered. We slipped past without incident.

This got me to thinking – what would an expert do? That led me to contact the Maricopa County Parks staff, who hooked me up with John Gunn, supervisor of Spur Cross. Here’s what he had to say.

rattlesnake bite

Tips for Avoiding a Rattlesnake Bite

1. Realize that every rattlesnake encounter is different.

2. Consider going back the way you came. That’s not always possible with certain loop hikes or point-to-point hikes.

3. Try throwing a handful of pebbles or some sand near the snake. Consider a gentle poke with a (long!) hiking stick. That’s often enough to encourage a rattler to move. “They have nothing to gain, but everything to lose in an encounter with a human,” Gunn said.

4. Stick to the center of the trail. Stay out of tall grass lining the trail, where rattlers wait for a tasty rodent meal. Bear in mind: Snakes realize “a human leg is not a suitable meal.” Often, you’ll pass them without realizing it – no rattle, no striking. The trouble comes if you don’t see a snake and you step on it. “Then, you get bit like a mouse trap,” Gunn said.

5. Carry a walking stick or trekking pole. Use it to gently fluff any weeds or tall growth alongside the trail. This can also help move a snake and provoke a warning rattle.

6. As the weather gets hotter, snakes will be more nocturnal. So they’ll be less active during daylight, and more active at dusk, night and dawn. Act accordingly.

7. Try not to kill the snake unless there’s no other choice.

8. Keep your brain engaged and realize that not every stick lying in the trail is a stick. Look for the eyes, diamond patterns and, of course, a rattle.

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Why I Like Hotels Better than B & Bs

Sedona red agave
A view from the Red Agave Resort in Sedona.

Someone needs to explain what’s so great about “bed and breakfasts” to me.

I listen to so many people go on and on breathlessly about some quaint little bed & breakfast inn they found in their travels. Their descriptions invariably involve the word “cute.”

I don’t much cotton to cute.

And I’ll tell ya what – I’m not much for enforced intimacy with other people, whether they be travelers or innkeepers. Given the choice, I will always take a hotel over a B & B. Hell, I’ll take a backpacker’s hostel over a B  & B.

See, I prefer anonymity. I’ve only been in one B & B ever that was as laid back as a hotel. Every other one I’ve experienced has felt way too much like I was visiting an aunt’s house – and she definitely wants me to skip finding the local microbrewery and play Scrabble with her and her 13 cats.

I once stayed in a B & B where my wife and I were the only guests. It felt more than a touch awkward, despite being one of the coolest houses I’ve ever seen. Had it been full of guests, I might have felt a little less nerped out about the whole thing.

If you’re super-gregarious and don’t mind the fishbowl feel of a B & B, that’s up to you. Me? I’ll be at a place where I check in, and they forget about me unless I drop down to the front desk. I like service that’s there for me, but in an unobtrusive way. That’s a happy medium that very few B & Bs really have.

If I had to give you some perfect examples of that happy medium, I’d say Ann’s Volcanic Rotorua Motel (Rotorua, NZ) and the Red Agave Resort (Sedona, Ariz., USA). Ann’s was terrific; I haven’t got to stay at the Red Agave yet, but I took a tour and loved the place. Most of the cottages are separate, but there’s a communal gathering space for hanging out under the stars. Nice!

By and large, I’ve also found B & Bs to hit the wallet harder.

I’m not completely against the B & B, but they start the game with strikes against them.

First Ascent Outerwear Shootout – Downlight Versus Serrano

Keeping warm in the Downlight.
Keeping warm in the Downlight.

Eddie Bauer is doing some work to make its original mountain explorer image part of its company vibe again. At the heart of the effort is its First Ascent brand.

You won’t find First Ascent casual wear of any sort. It’s meant to be technical wear, and you will see it on some of the world’s highest peaks. First Ascent designed the line with input from experienced mountaineers like Ed Visteurs and Melissa Arnott. And these experts are outfitted with First Ascent gear as they span the world climbing all sorts of crazy stuff.

Obviously, First Ascent wants this stuff to hold up against some stern tests. That’s good news for everyday people like me, who are more likely to just go skiing, snowshoeing or even just sledding in the cold weather.

I recently tested the First Ascent Downlight sweater and Serrano jacket, and came away with some impressions. This should help you figure out which is better for you.

Up with Downlight

The first to endure my abuse was the Downlight sweater ($169-$189). I grabbed a blue XL from my local Eddie Bauer store. Its first assignment was keeping me warm at the Kona 24 Hours of Old Pueblo – mostly at night when I wasn’t on my bike. Temperatures got into the low 30s F. Mission accomplished! Next up was four days in Breckenridge, Colo., with temperatures from 12 to 22 degrees. Even in windy conditions on the slopes, the Downlight kept me warm. I teamed it with an UnderArmour Heatgear shirt, a long-sleeved cycling jersey and a light fleece Alpine Designs sweater. At night, every part covered by the Downlight was warm, even though I had one less layer.

Testing out the Serrano in Flagstaff.
Testing out the Serrano in Flagstaff.

There’s just one problem with the Downlight – the down feathers don’t seem to stay put. My fleece was always covered in white feathers. I described the problem via e-mail to Eddie Bauer customer service; the representative said it was likely defective, and gave me some instructions for returning it. I took it back to my local store, and I learned that a few other Downlight sweaters had also been returned. With that in mind, I decided to go with --

The Serrano Jacket

Rather than down, the Serrano ($169) is made from PrimaLoft. Both products look similar, though I missed the awesome electric blue of the DownLight – black is cool and all, but the blue just rocked. And unlike the Downlight, the Serrano doesn’t have the very cool ability to fold into its own zippered pocket for travel – it does come with a carrying bag, though.

Here’s something that I loved about the Serrano, though – it has these cool wrist gaiters that keep snow and wind at bay. I was able to use my old pair of short-cuff Hotfinger gloves rather than the rather ragged and ineffective long-cuff gloves I used in Breckenridge. Through two days in Flagstaff, Ariz., and temperatures in the high 20s, my hands stayed really warm thanks to the gaiters.

The Polartec Power Stretch side panels, though, exposed a weakness in the Serrano. When the winds picked up, the cold air knifed straight through and gave me a nasty chill. I’d axe these side panels in a second. Considering the gaiters, which seem to scream "use me in cold weather," the side panels seem to muddle the Serrano’s mission.

So Which is Better?

I love the solid, non-feather-losing construction of the Serrano – and it’s super-fly wrist gaiters. It also has more pockets than the Downlight. But I think it’s awesome that the Downlight folds in on itself and better protects from the wind. And have I mentioned that sweet blue color?

First Ascent can perfect both of these by offering wrist gaiters in both, fixing the feather problems with the Downlight and ditching the side panels on the Serrano.

I really like both products, despite some quibbles. Both are very compact and do their jobs well. They’re a decent value compared to competitor’s products, and the Eddie Bauer customer service and store staff members were first-rate.

You can also see my more in-depth review of the Downlight Sweater on

See an Igloo Without Going to Alaska

Checking out the Breckenridge Nordic Center's igloo. Awesome! Now build your own and sleep in it!
Scoping out the Breckenridge Nordic Center's igloo. Awesome! Now build your own and sleep in it!

Okay, I told you about 9 things you should know when visiting Breckenridge, Colo., in my super-spectacular previous post. Here’s something I forgot to mention: There, you can check out an igloo. It’s a small one, fit for two people at the most. But it’s a real, live igloo nonetheless.

You can drop in to the igloo at the Breckenridge Nordic Center. Get there while it lasts! You probably have a few months left.

Now, if you live in a snowy place, I’d think you need to get out there and build your own igloo. This cool story in the San Francisco Chronicle will get you started.

And if you’re wondering about the super-fly-looking jacket I’m wearing, you can check out my review of the First Ascent DownLight Sweater at Associated Content.

9 Things to Know about Visiting Breckenridge, Colo.

Checking out the mountains from the center of Breckenridge.
Checking out the mountains from Breckenridge.

My wife and I got our usual winter skiing itch. Over the past few years, we’ve left Arizona to check out Park City, Utah, and the Tahoe area. This time, we headed to Colorado; we hung our helmets for a few nights in Breckenridge, skiing there and at the nearby Copper Mountain resort. Here’s a bit of what we learned:

1. What’s better … Breckenridge or Copper Mountain? Well, Breckenridge is more groomed by far, and its runs are easier. If you can believe it, its blue runs are actually far easier than Copper’s green runs. Breck has way better/faster lifts, though. You should ski both – they each have runs that are great fun for all levels. If you’re a blue square sort like me, ski Copper first while your legs are still at their strongest.

2. Where can you grab a brew? Breckenridge Brewery is the easy answer. But go 10 miles down the road back to Frisco, where you’ll find Backcountry Brewery. The beer, the food, the service and the ambience at Backcountry absolutely pummel the better-known Breckenridge in a one-sided, viscious fashion. I hope for you that the Breakfast Stout is still available when you visit.

3. What about hotels? We stayed at the Village at Breckenridge. And jeez, we really liked it. We were walking-distance from lifts, food and all sorts of other fun. The hotel has hot tubs, a steam room and a sauna! The staff is very friendly. What could be better? Well, the hotel’s pub smelled like a cross between rotting lobster carcasses and stale popcorn. And the rooms really need microwaves.

Wandering Justin displays the remains of his snow disc.
Wandering Justin displays the remains of his snow disc.

4. Done Downhilling? Try some Nordic skiing, ja! Or even some snow-shoeing. The laid-back Nordic Centers are the perfect place to start. Everywhere I’ve been, Nordic and snowshoeing have offered a more relaxed vibe that can’t be beat. I felt like I was in Europe at the Breck center, with an accordian-playing dude and a bunch of people hanging out in the stove-heated main room. And it’s a great workout once you’re outside. I’d say Breck’s Nordic trails are the most scenic I’ve even seen. If you’re lucky (which we were not), you’ll see some moose!

5. Done wearing skis? Pick up a sled or a snow disc and hit Carter Park. We had just as many adults out there as kids. And we were all having a blast. Such shenanigans! If it’s been awhile since you’ve been on a sled, this will make you remember why you loved it as a kid. Caution, though: You may kick yourself for the wasted time. I had some extra fun on my $7 disc – following my wife’s advice, I crammed myself into a cross-legged position on my sled rather than my usual luge or skeleton style: About a quarter of the way down, my sled split into several pieces. I sat on the largest piece holding on with my right hand, while I waved the smaller piece in my left and the smallest and last piece chased me down the hill. Great fun success!

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