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An open bucket with live rattlesnakes inside: what could possibly go wrong?

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi

When I was growing up in Mojave in the 1960s, there was lots for kids to do, because we could always go exploring in the desert, and catch lizards and snakes. My Dad was the art teacher at Mojave High. My mother happened to meet a scientist who was in the Mojave area doing research on Western Whiptail lizards, and she mentioned that I loved reptiles, and I ended up getting the chance to assist him. I learned how to catch Whiptails with a noose so he could examine them, because they are extremely fast lizards. I learned a lot about Whiptails and other reptiles from that herpetologist.

As kids in Mojave, we often spent time out in the desert. There was another kid from Mojave named Mike Riley and one warm night he and some other teenagers were catching rattlesnakes along the dirt access roads that parallel the L.A. Aqueduct and putting them in a bucket. They didn't have any flashlights; they would just use the headlights of the car they were in to find and catch the snakes.

Mike was carrying the bucket with all the snakes, and at a place near where the Aqueduct passes under Oak Creek Road, a small piece of pipe sticks up a few inches. Mike stumbled over that pipe in the dark and sprawled out on the ground, spilling all of the rattlesnakes out of the bucket. The other boys figured out what happened immediately and they all scattered in the dark, leaving Mike laying there. He just laid there motionless, not sure what to do, but he figured his best bet was just to be very still. After a while the other kids came back to check on him, and fortunately the rattlesnakes had slipped away in the darkness without striking him. That was a long time ago, but I'm sure those are some minutes in his life he's never forgotten!"

– Bill Shaneyfelt