The Unwelcome Guest

Text & photo by Maryann Gaug

young gopher snake invades van camper
A young gopher snake invaded my van camper!

Arriving at Wheeler Peak campground in Great Basin National Park, I found the perfect campsite for Rover, my camper van, for 4 nights. I leveled Rover, got settled, and paid the campground fee. Then I opened the door to the bathroom and there was the snake. ACK!! A SNAKE!! ACK!! A small one, about 2 feet long, yellowish with a black pattern, with oblong head – at least it wasn’t a pit viper (venomous). Maybe a small bull snake or large garter snake. It wriggled on the floor trying to crawl up the wall. Heck, I was at 9,880 feet! I had no idea of how it got in the bathroom. I was so shaken that I didn’t even take a picture. I decided to find someone to help me (I figured I needed at least 4 hands and 2 heads). 

By the time I dragged three reluctant guys, each with a beer in hand, to Rover, the snake was gone. I stuffed towels in the one place it might have come in. I wasn’t even sure when it came onboard since I had just driven 185 miles through desert country. The little critter wasn’t in the bathroom when I left that morning. I made two stops on the way. ???? I figured that even though I didn’t know how it wiggled its way into Rover, the snake had found its way outside. I started to breathe again! That was enough excitement for this trip. I had come to hike, rest, and take the tour of Lehman Cave.

I called the Visitor Center to see what type of snakes lived in the park. The ranger said it might be a garter snake, but checking on a very slow internet, that was hard to verify. The other choice was a striped whip snake, but it had no stripes.

Before going to bed, I made sure my headlamp was handy for my usual middle of the night toilet trip. I normally just find my way by the refrigerator indicator lights. I definitely didn’t want to step on the SNAKE in the dark!!! Time came to pee and no snake lurked by the toilet. Whew!

The next day I hiked a trail which wound through an ancient bristlecone pine forest. One tree was estimated to be over 3,200 years old. Then I headed up toward the rock glacier below Wheeler Peak. Such a beautiful day. I relaxed and enjoyed being part of the mountain setting.

When I arrived back at Rover, I left my hiking sticks next to the side door. I changed clothes and was checking out the photos I had taken. Suddenly I remembered my hiking sticks and decided to put them away. I walked to the side door and ACK!! The snake was at the base of the window. Perhaps it issued a “let me out” vibe to the universe resulting in my hiking sticks thought. Well, at least this time I knew what to do. First I took a picture. Not the best one with the light outside, but a picture. I put the camera on the counter. I exited Rover via the passenger door, grabbed one of the hiking sticks, opened the side door, and put the tip under the snake’s middle and lifted it. Its skinny tail wanted to hang on to the door lock, but I kept lifting and it let go. I carefully walked down the campsite driveway, the snake wriggling on the tip. I crossed the road, and just before I reached the woods on the other side, the little guy fell off onto the road. I watched it slither into the woods. Big sigh of relief! The snake was now outside, no longer hiding out in Rover.

Of course my brain then decided to go paranoid that the snake would return to Rover. I wished I had picked it up again and walked farther with it. I showed the snake picture to the camp host, who didn’t know what it was. Then I started to be concerned about the little snake. If it came from a desert area, surely it would freeze at 9,800 feet.

I texted some friends about the snake’s second appearance and the extraction. Unfortunately one suggested it might not be the only one. ACK!! I must admit, realizing that the snake had been in Rover the last 24 hours, including while I was sleeping, was not a comforting thought. I wondered what it ate and decided to check the peaches I had stashed under the bed. I reached under, wondering if I would grab a snake, and a text alert sounded. I jumped! At least the peaches looked normal, no nibbles.

A little later I went to the vault toilet across the road. Walking back, the snake was sprawled across the side of the road, perpendicular to the woods. At least it faced away from Rover. I grabbed my camera and two hiking sticks, but a car drove by and the little critter disappeared. I looked for it, but nothing. Every time I exited Rover the next few hours, I looked to see if the snake was hanging out. I can’t say I slept very well.

My fears were allayed the next day when I showed the picture to a ranger familiar with area snakes. She said it looked like a gopher snake. The species lives in the park and as long as it finds mice or little gophers to eat, it would be just fine. A little more research taught me that the little guy was indeed young, probably hatched fairly recently. Adults grow to 4.5 feet long. One subspecies is the Great Basin gopher snake, also called a bull snake. The photo I found on the internet was a match. The little snake definitely had had an adventure and I had had more excitement than I wanted. 

At least it wasn’t a rattlesnake!