How Rattlesnake Got It’s Name: A Grand Canyon Tale
By Sharon Hester
It was a warm and pleasant moonless July 2nd night at river mile 74, an unnamed camp back in 1981, when Kim Klapper (name changed) awoke. He had an urgent uncomfortable feeling, and knew he had to head quickly to the “Groover”. This would not wait until morning’s light. He threw off his sheet and scampered across the open sandy beach, stomach rumbling. Fortunately, he knew right where to go as he had scouted out the secluded location of the toilet facilities the evening before, just as the guides had recommended. Plus, the light from the stars reflected on the open beach in the middle of camp, making it easy to see which direction to head as he made his way across. He arrived upstream at the hand wash station and was relieved to see the “key” (the round plastic container that holds the TP) was still there. Luckily, that meant that no one else was already on the groover, forcing him to wait with clenched cheeks, while they finished their business.
He grabbed the key and rushed down the narrow trail, which quickly grew darker from the shade of overhanging tamarisk trees. This is when he realized his big mistake – he had forgotten his flashlight back at his campsite. Kim recalled the guides had also said not to go to the groover without a flashlight, but it was way too late to go back for it now. He knew the trail would lead right to the hidden groover location; he had been there in the daylight. He could do this without a flashlight he figured. Wispy tree branches swooshed against his bare arms, as he forged ahead. Suddenly the trail turned sharply to the right, towards the river. Starlight reflected up from river into the tunnel of trees he was ensconced within. The holy grail was right at hand, he could see the silver glow of the metal groover box. A beckoning talisman. A good thing too, he thought as he set the key down near the groover, hurriedly fumbled the lid open and quickly sat down. Ahhhh, just in time, he whispered.
The river made pleasant musical shushing notes as it glided between the dark imposing cliffs. Stars twinkled crisply overhead in the clear night sky. There was not a more “moving” view to be had, he thought, as he sat quietly savoring this moment of performing his most personal routine. Soon he was done and realized he needed the container key with the TP. He did not see the key in the darkness of the little grove of ‘tammy’ trees, so he leaned over, feeling about the ground next to his side. He grabbed what felt like a round container.
Suddenly, a sharp pain. Had he pushed his hand into a cactus? But a nano-second later, the sound of a buzzy rattle caused him to frantically leap up off his silver throne, unceremoniously knocking it to its side. The pain now felt like a hot ember pressed against his finger. Kim, pulling his shorts up as he whimpered, ran back towards camp to find the guides. Who on this trip were Wesley Smith (RIP), Russell Agee, Dwight Morgan and Chris Brown, assistant guide Patricia “Patch” Chambers and trip helper Tom Buoye.
Back in the early 1980’s, before the use of satellite phones, it was not easy to make contact with the Park Service. There was no sun to use the trip’s emergency signal mirrors. It was too late to get a helicopter in to evacuate Kim. The guides tried initially to connect with the few flights they saw flying overhead using their emergency radio, but no luck. Kim was evacuated by a Grand Canyon search and rescue helicopter from river mile 74 early the next morning, after guides were able to use signal mirrors directed at the Desert View watchtower on the rim. It was a painful night for Kim, as his fingers, hand and arm swelled up enormously, during the remaining few hours until dawn. Kim ended up making a full recovery and the story has it, he returned the next year to finish his rafting adventure (courtesy of AzRA). The rest of his fellow rafting participants were a bit nervous when they saw the T-shirt he was wearing as he disembarked from the bus at Lees Ferry the morning of launch. Printed on the front was, “I did a Grand Canyon Rafting trip with AzRA…and got bit by a rattlesnake!”
The moral of this story is to bring a flashlight at night when you go to the Groover.
And what became of the rattlesnake? Well, no doubt it slithered away into a more secluded location and lived out its life to make many more generations of Grand Canyon rattlesnakes. All his descendants that live at river mile 74 (and there are a few) have heard the tale of how grandpa rattlesnake almost got used as toilet paper and had to bite someone to save his life! Mile 74 campsite is named after that Rattlesnake, who almost met his demise in a most undignified manner.
(This Grand Canyon tale is loosely based on a true story about a rattlesnake biting a rafting participant while on the groover at River Mile 74)
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Great to know! I was working as a guide on a river trip in May, 2022 when one of my passengers was bit by a rattlesnake! And it happened at – Rattlesnake Camp! He was fine – it was a “dry” bite (without venom injection). Proper protocol however required him to be evacuated.
wow! i hadn’t been aware of the name of that camp when we arrived there (filming & combined paddle & oarboat trip, labor day 1986), but i also had forgotten a flashlight when i had to use the ammo box… made it out to there but heard that very distinctive & alarming sound on the way back to camp – pretty sure i “levitated” & made it back to camp! and so glad i did, because i would have hated missing the rest of our amazing 15-day “trip through time”!