It is inevitable while traveling in the California desert, Sierras and Pacific coast range, that you will come across a rattlesnake. I live in rattlesnake country and it is still unnerving to have a close encounter.
Rattlers tend to mind their own business and are an important part of rodent control. It is good to educate yourself as to where they like to hangout and simply make yourself a rule to never put your hands where you cannot see and to wear protective boots when hiking in their domain.
My own close encounters usually involved a snake considerate enough to buzz its rattles to let me know I was getting too close. The ones who did not were simply curious or taking a snooze while digesting a ground squirrel. Rattlesnakes come in many different colors varying from a very dark green (dubbed Mojave Green) to different shades of brown and tan. They have natural camouflage and blend in well with their surroundings which is why it is easy to accidentally come close. As long as you give them a wide berth they are usually content to watch or quietly slither away.
Rattlers can swim and climb trees or rafters in old buildings as well as rocky cliff walls while hunting for rodents. We were amazed to watch a rattler appear directly out of a crack in a sheer cliff overlooking the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. They especially like the cool temperatures found in the openings to old mines. When disturbing old wood or tin by a potential campsite, be aware a snake may be residing there. Sidewinders have been seen in the sand dunes of Death Valley and have amazing speed. I have found the young, smaller snakes to be more aggressive whereas the big ones are wiser and usually just want to keep their distance. Be especially alert when rattlesnakes are most active in the Spring after hibernation and during mating season. Read more