At the Red Box parking lot, they gather their overnight packs. The family descends into the Gabrielino Trail on their way to Valley Fork. It is estimated to be a two and a half mile hike to reach the canyon campgrounds. The gear is heavy. It is their first overnight backpacking trip.
Luz and her eleven-year-old son Dionicio lead the way down a shaded and narrow pass. Through the gorge, a rock wall borders the right side of the path and a creek trickles below to their left. Paul and his eight-year-old son Ramiro follow behind. The short-haired family mutt Penny is leashed and attached to a clip on Luz’s pack.
After hiking for about one mile, an intense rattle fills the air. It comes from a bed of rocks on their left side about five feet from the trail. Penny hesitates. She turns her head toward the sound. Paul sees a brown rattlesnake. It is coiled and angry. Within five seconds of the encounter, he yells “Rattlesnake! Go! Go!”.
Luz and Dionicio jump ahead, dragging Penny with them. Paul and Ramiro are stuck behind. After a few moments, the rattling subsides.
Paul and Ramiro take a few steps forward. The rattling resumes. The snake is coiled and prepares to strike. She appears to be protecting her nest that is hidden in the bushes beside the trail. They step back. Luz and Dionicio and the mutt are waiting. Luz is concerned. She was not thrilled about this trip to begin with. There is an invisible wall of danger that separates the family.
Paul takes the hiking stick from Ramiro’s hand. He plans to beat that snake back if it advances. They wait. Paul grabs hold of his son’s hand. They step forward. The snake rattles its tail again. It does not let them pass. They back up again.
“What are we going to do now? I’m kind of getting scared,” says the 8-year-old boy.
“Let me think for a minute,” says Dad.
Paul picks up a large and jagged rock and throws it at the snake. He misses by a few inches. This angers the snake. He throws another rock and misses. Ramiro hands him another rock. He throws it and misses again. Meanwhile, the rattlesnake is growing angrier and the rattling is louder. Ramiro and his father stand about thirty feet from the serpent. Paul grabs another large and jagged rock. This one hits the snake square on its coiled body.
The startled snake retreats into the bushes. Paul hears it slither and rattle and move away from the trail. The sound turns and moves parallel with the trail. The rattling is coming from a thick bush. Paul judges that the snake can not strike through the branches of the bush.
He grabs Ramiro by the boy’s left hand and they run, hugging the right side of the trail. The snake still rattles. Husband and son rejoin wife and son – relieved and astonished and excited.
The young family continues on the hike. They pass old cabins and cross over a dry creek several times. Four miles and 2 and one half hours later, they reach the Valley Fork campground. They are exhausted. They swat annoying gnats. They set up camp. They reflect on the rattlesnake experience.