Gateway Mesa Open Space is a lovely 275-acre park in Douglas County that I never knew existed until I happened to drive by on Friday on my way to somewhere else. I decided to turn around to check it out and I was not disappointed.

The very easy, 1.8-mile trail named Chuck’s Loop winds around the top of a mesa among Ponderosa pines, scrub oak and wide grassy areas.

Even though spring is in full swing in the Denver area, it’s still a little early at even slightly higher elevations. I saw pretty much the same flowers that I saw on my South Valley Park hike two weeks ago, with just a couple of additions, such as this Wavyleaf (or False) Dandelion:

One highlight of my hike was wandering around on the rocks at the edge of the mesa. The views over the valley and of Pikes Peak off in the distance were fantastic.

What made this hike truly memorable for me, however, was a very unexpected encounter with this guy:

This Prairie Rattlesnake was sunbathing in the space between two rocks, keeping a watchful eye on me while I cautiously (and from a VERY safe distance) took several photos.

All of a sudden, I heard the unmistakable sound of his rattling tail, warning me that I had overstayed my welcome. If you are not familiar with rattlesnakes, let me tell you that that sound is positively blood-chilling. A rattling rattlesnake in defensive posture is something best taken seriously and I nearly fell off the rock I was standing on in an effort to increase the distance between us (even though I was well outside of his striking distance). I was EXTREMELY grateful for the 42x zoom on my Nikon P510 that day.

I shot a couple of shaky videos of my new friend. The first is my favorite visually, but the audio is pretty much just loud wind sound. In the second, you can hear a little bit of his rattling, but also a bit of heavy breathing on my part. 🙂

Prairie Rattlesnake 1   /   Prairie Rattlesnake 2

Check out more photos from this hike in the SmugMug gallery HERE!

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