While hikers generally are safe from animals on California’s Coachella Valley trails, sometimes a misstep or poor decision on our part can lead to problems.
Here are a few creatures to watch out for when on the trail in the valley or the surrounding mountainsides…
People who mistakenly think that herbivores can’t be dangerous sometimes make the mistake of provoking the beasts by getting too close or by cornering them. This is an issue especially if the ram or mother has young nearby.
Their horns, not to mention their hooves, can be quite lethal.
You can avoid the danger simply by keeping your distance. Don’t try to feed them or get close for a snapshot.
Once you see an agitated sheep – especially one that’s pawing its hooves at the ground and huffing as staring at you – back off.
North America’s largest cat roams the mountain ranges surrounding the Coachella Valley and sometimes will come down to the valley floor in search of a meal.
Sightings have led to the evacuation of some hiking areas. But the cats are rarely seen, like to keep to themselves, and usually are only active dusk through dawn.
Usually mountain lions, also known as cougars, don’t want to be seen and will remain hidden, but there are stories of hungry lions that have attacked hikers.
Watch for signs of mountain lions, like paw prints, droppings, claw marks on trees, or the smell of carrion. If you see any of these indications, turn back.
If you encounter a mountain lion, don’t turn your back to it but keep your space and give it time to retreat. If traveling in a group, gather everyone into a single cluster and get noisy.
If the mountain lion approaches, wave you trekking poles and shout. You want to appear big to intimidate it, so don’t crouch, bend over or down to pick up children, or run.
All of those moves make you look smaller. If children are about to panic and run, though, then it’s usually smarter to grab them.
Should a mountain lion attack, fight back in any way you can. Remember that the lion almost certainly will be stronger and faster than you. Try to protect your neck and head when doing so (in short, good luck).
Rattlesnakes live in the Coachella Valley, but fortunately they are most active from April through October when the heat keeps most hikers off the trail. In addition, poisonous snakes don’t always inject venom when they bite, and some only spew a small amount that is survivable.
You can avoid snakes by staying out of tall grass.
Don’t stick hands into dark holes and rocky crevices, don’t turn over rocks, and don’t hike at dusk or night when many snakes hunt.
While climbing rocks, be careful where you stick your hand as a snake may be sunning itself.
If you see a snake, slowly back away from it.
If you hear a rattle, stand still. In both cases, the snake usually will scoot away. Don’t try to get a closer look, as it invites attack, especially from a rattler, because it then feels cornered.
A snake can strike at about a third of its body length, so you’ll probably be just far enough away that it won’t strike. Also, don’t mess with baby snakes for they too will bite.
Carry a snake bite kit if you walk through an area that has a high count of poisonous snakes. First learn how to use it before heading into the wilds, though.
You can do more harm than good if you misuse the kit, which usually involves suctioning the venom from the bite area.
Sometimes hikers walking through grass don’t even realize they’ve been bitten (this is why staying on the clear trail is vital), and sometimes you stumble a little too close to a snake.
Bite symptoms include pain and burning at the bite site followed by swelling and blistering.
Nausea and vomiting, with numbness and tingling about the mouth, fingers and scalp also are indications. If the bite is severe, the victim also will grow faint and dizzy and have a weak pulse and cold, clammy skin. They may go into shock.
To treat a snake bite, lay down and control your panic. Place a light compression bandage above the bite, as this can slow the spread of venom.
Do not use a tourniquet, however. Then call for help and seek medical attention immediately.
Finally, if at all possible try to identify the snake so the right anti-venom can be used when the victim receives medical treatment.
Scorpions native to the Coachella Valley generally are on the weak side where venom is concerned and their sting often doesn’t hurt more than a bee’s.
However, the nonnative bark scorpion – the most venemous of America’s scorpions – have been spotted in Indio since 2015.
You can avoid a scorpion sting by not sticking hands into dark holes and rocky crevices and not turning over rocks, all of which could be homes for these little arthropods.
If stung, you’ll feel instant pain or burning, numbness and tingling, and the bitten area will be sensitive to touch.
Treatment includes washing the stung area with soap and water then applying a cold compress it. You also should elevate a stung limb above heart level.
Always bring a young child stung by a scorpion to the emergency room. For older teens, if reactions in addition to those previously listed appear, bring them as well to the ER.
Most spider bites are harmless, but the Coachella Valley’s black widow is an exception.
Unfortunately, most hikers don’t know they’ve even been bit, as it feels like a pinprick. As with mosquitoes, the reaction to a spider bite is mostly just a nuisance.
Still, allergic reactions can occur, and a few spiders are downright deadly.
If you feel an immediate burning, pain, redness and swelling, especially around a double fang mark, you probably are the victim of a black widow and should seek immediate medical attention.
To avoid spider bites, don’t stick hands into dark holes or rocky crevices and don’t turn over rocks. Spiders live in such areas and may bite if surprised and think they’re under attack.
Treat a spider bite by washing the bite area with soap and water. A cold compress can help alleviate the swelling and redness.
Diphenhydramine tablets can be taken to reduce the itch while acetaminophen will help relieve severe pain. If a severe reaction occurs or you know the bite was from a poisonous spider, seek immediate medical treatment.
A few don’ts … Aspirin won’t reduce the inflammation of a spider bite and shouldn’t be taken by children.
Don’t bother with antibiotics, as they’re not designed for treating spider bites. Finally, don’t cut open the bite mark, as it may lead to infection.
The nonnative fire ant has been in the Coachella Valley for more than two decades. Usually they attack en masse when a hiker inadvertently steps on their mound.
Their stings can send you into anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction to the venom that can lead to a coma or death.
Avoid ants of any type them by being careful not to toss your gear on an ant hill or by sitting against a tree with sap, which ants may feed upon.
While all of these dangers are real, fortunately animal attacks on hikers are extremely rare. A far, far greater danger to any hiker are dehydration, heat stroke and sun stroke.