By: Mandela van Eeden
The Mojave Desert is an expansion of dry earth, healing plants, priceless water and some of the most interesting characters one could ever hope to run into. Most of my time in the desert southwest has been in the depths of the Grand Canyon, guiding fortnight whitewater expeditions on the Colorado River. However, this story does not take place in a romantic wooden boat cascading its way through muddy water. This story takes place on the edge of a cliff, at the end of a dirt, nestled upon the geological end of the Grand Canyon.
It’s a place called the Grand Wash Cliffs and, more specifically, it’s a view of the busting metropolis of Meadview, Arizona and the distant glow of Vegas light by night. Not too many words are spoken on the streets here, aside from the yip of a coyote and rumors of Family Dollar suddenly offering bags of onion and apples next to the frozen section. This is a place that overlooks the largest population of Joshua Trees on planet earth. This is Mojave County. This is a land where the sharpness of your knife earns as much foresight as the type of tread on the tires of your dirt bike. This story begins on the back of a 650cc dual sport motorcycle being ridden by a 6’ blonde adventure guide and knife enthusiast.
It’s late summer in the Mojave. My eyes dart around looking for jackrabbits, feral cows and antelope as my KLR slowly navigates the backroads near the edge of the rim in Western Grand Canyon. On my hip I can feel the familiar and comforting shape of my Bird and Trout, the smallest backcountry fixed blade made by New West Knife Works. This is the only knife you ever need when heading out the door. Whether you are en route to whitetail camp for the weekend or six weeks on an isolated island off the coast of Panama spear fishing for protein and surviving off coconuts for hydration. This knife can field dress an elk on the edge of an icy slope, gut a fish above the tide pools in the surf and carve spoons out of black walnut.
Back to the motorcycle. As my bike crawls up the last boulder field before the drop off, my eyes focus even more upon the details of what’s directly in front of me. This is why I didn’t see the group of them before it was too late. I rolled up upon a group of hunters where the road meets the cliff. I had nothing else to do other than trust my instincts, get off my bike, remove my helmet and say howdy to some new potential friends.
I am immediately invited to lunch. Today it’s a 4’ diamond back rattlesnake. We remove the head and rattles and then proceed to skin it using the Bird and Trout. The serpent then found its final resting place on the back of a pickup truck char grilled above mesquite kindling.
Rattlesnake is a common source of protein for many who live in the Mojave and it’s a common source of protein in the farther reaches of Mojaves’ less traveled trails. While we make fast work of the skinning process, one of the men points out, ”The thing is, ye wanna be sure that the rattlesnake is actually dead before you pose to take pictures with it. Ye, see, the snake was only stunned and I er tossed him in the back of truck but when we got ere, he was coiled up again ready for a fight.” Another man mentions that there is a three-snake limit, and it’s a shame not to eat them, especially if you’re going to kill them.
The snake continues to slowly turn color as it grills alongside venison sausage in the late afternoon sun. We speak of knives and figure out who prefers a fixed versus a folding blade. After knife talk, then the cooking secrets come out. One of the older men takes a moment to explain how to propering cook a rattlesnake. It consists of garlic butter, onion, lemon pepper and tin foil. I stab my perfect little knife into the snake flesh and chow down. Grateful for the shade, the group takes turns enjoying their lunch and shooting clay pigeons over the cliff.
After lunch and plenty of hunting stories, I thank the group for their hospitality and return to the locked in world of my dirt bike helmet and goggles. As I ride back to the main road and reflect on the experience… I love snakes and wouldn’t go out of my way to eat one. That said, it is important to carry a good knife and to know how to remove the poison glands, skin and be able to prepare a snake over an open fire. My final thoughts settle in at sunset when I pull up to our off the grid cabin: Rattlesnake is chewy and tastes more like fish than chicken. Knives are important tools and don’t have to be big to take on big wild game. I am grateful for hospitality in the desert, new knowledge and sharp knives.