Friday, April 12, 2013

We Almost Slept in a Snake Pit

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Today I'm posting a story about an exciting adventure we had long ago, when our children were very small. It was when we had only three kids, and the oldest was not quite five. LivingfortheWhole published this story in their Summer 2011 issue.

We had been camping "on a shoestring" for a few years when we decided to take a trip across the country. It was summertime, so we thought we would just camp out in the open. We had our little camp kitchen to cook our food, the tarp would provide protection if it rained (since we did not yet own a tent), we had our sleeping bags and air mattresses, and we were ready for a new adventure. My husband was a cowboy before we married and he had spent many nights outside, sleeping on the rolling hills of a ranch in Texas, so he saw no problem with our family having a great experience sleeping under the stars. Our short supply of money would pay for food, gasoline, and the fee to get into Carlsbad Caverns, a place we had dreamed about seeing one day.

I look back now and cannot believe we set off on that trip with three children under the age of five and no place to stay at night. However, we were young and foolish at the time. We were excited about seeing a natural wonder we had never seen before. It was one of our first big vacations and we felt fortunate to be able to go.

Mary, a young teenager in our church who sometimes baby-sat for us, went along to help us with the children. My husband was her pastor, and her parents thought he had enough sense to keep us all safe. None of us had any idea of the danger we would face on that trip!

We drove from Bogard, Missouri, to Dallas where my parents lived, and spent a free night at their house. The next day we headed down I-35 south, then turned west toward our destination.

As we drove down a lonely two-lane road in West Texas that would someday become Highway 10, we began looking around for a place to stop for the night. There was nothing but sagebrush, sand, rocks, and an occasional yucca plant on that road that seemed to go on forever. My husband saw a gravel pit that looked spacious, so he decided we would just camp there. We had stopped earlier and picked up some sticks and firewood so we could cook our supper. The white sand and gravel glistened in the Texas sunlight as we pulled our car down into that gully during the late afternoon. I was a little apprehensive about sleeping under the stars, but my husband and the kids were excited.

            A pile of rocks was the first thing we saw. Thinking that would be a good place to cook our meal, my husband built a fire there. He filled the coffeepot with water we had brought along in our plastic container, and placed it on the pile of rocks, then we began blowing up the air mattresses while the coffee perked and filled the air with its wonderful aroma. As we organized and prepared for the night, we piled our belongings on the ground around the car. There was quite a pile of gear there.

The children were walking around, exploring the area. Nobody was there, no cars were on the highway, and we thought everything was safe. The children, aged about 2, 3, and almost 5, walked near the rocks and occasionally dropped down on the sand to play. My husband poured a cup of coffee and reveled in the beauty of the countryside. We were happy, not suspecting the danger lurking as we went about the business of getting ready to camp for the night. The sun began going down and dusk was nearing.

            After I got our food out I had the frying pan in my hand, about to put it on the fire to prepare Hamburger Helper for our dinner, when I heard our oldest son, Steve, said, “Daddy, there’s a snake over there.” He was playing with a little flashlight in the growing darkness.

My husband took the flashlight to check out what our son thought he saw. He did see a snake as he flashed the light around the edge of the place where we stood. Then he saw another one, then another and another. Nests of snakes coiled on every rock, under the bushes, and in every spot we could see, their beady eyes reflecting the beam of the flashlight as they watched every move we made. We were stunned as we quieted, turned and looked, and heard the rattle of many snakes surrounding us. In horror, we quickly realized the gravity of our situation. We were in a gravel pit in the sandy Texas country where diamondback rattlesnakes made their home. And many of them had made their home in that spot. I think we must have been in Rattlesnake City. Their nests in rocks and bushes circled the area where we stood, stunned. Darkness was nearer and the snakes' eyes gleamed when Charlie shined the flashlight around again.

My husband, ever the optimist, said, “They won’t hurt you if you stay away from them.”  I knew my husband was easy-going, but that was the ultimate of ‘laid back’.

I stared at him, as if to say, “Buddy, you’d better think again.”

Then common sense set in and he said, “Let’s get everything back in the car and we’ll go somewhere else.” That suited me just fine. We blindly reached for whatever gear was closest to us and started trying to get it all back into the trunk of the car. We had to pour out the freshly made coffee.

Mary grabbed the two youngest kids, one under each arm, and jumped into the back seat of the car. My husband picked up Steve, our oldest son, put him in the front seat, and said, “Stay there!” With Mary and the children safe inside the car, we frantically tried to get the air out of the air mattresses, piling them into the trunk half-full along with our suitcases, cooler, and other gear, and struggled to get the trunk lid closed.

 It was completely dark when we pulled out of that gravel pit, back onto Highwas 10, that lonely West Texas road far from any evident civilization. We drove until we came to a roadside park furnished with concrete picnic tables and benches. It was very late by then, and my husband said, "I think we might be able to sleep here."

 I put my sleeping bag on top of one of the tables since I couldn’t bear the thought of sleeping on the ground. Mary and the children slept in the car. Thus the night passed, with my brave cowboy husband sleeping on his air mattress on the ground. I woke up many times. Cars passed occasionally, and every time I heard the noise of a car I jumped with a start, thinking about all those snakes and what could have happened to all of us. I nearly fell off that concrete table a couple of times. Fortunately,the table was larger than my sleeping bag. 

We made it to Carlsbad Caverns and walked the three miles through it. My husband and I each carried a child in our arms, and Mary held Steve’s hand all the way. As we left, our four-and-a-half- year-old son, Steve, looked up at us and said, "That's the longest walk I ever took."

Back home again, we bought a tent as soon as we were able to afford it. We didn’t want to ever again have an experience like the one we had out on that West Texas Highway.

We camped for many years. Later, we bought a pop-up camper, then graduated to a used fifth wheel camper. We had some nice camping rigs before my husband’s health made it impossible for him to drive the RV. Our last rig was a 35-foot Prowler fifth wheel with three slide-outs, pulled by a Ford V-10 dually, a fantastic combination we never dreamed we would be able to afford in those early days.

            We came a long way from our humble beginnings. Air conditioning, TV with surround sound, a plush queen size bed, a beautifully equipped kitchen with a microwave and other appliances in our fifth wheel trailer replaced our little camp stove, the tarp, and the lantern we hung over our oilcloth covered table. 

            In our retirement, we used our RV to go with a group of people to Arizona or Florida each winter where we worked, building churches or volunteering in some capacity to help those less fortunate to get better worship facilities. We spent ten years working in this way, going to a different place each winter to help a church or group.

            We had some wonderful adventures in the different RVs we purchased, but we never forgot that first trip when we almost slept in a gravel pit, the home of all those rattlesnakes. That was an experience we will never forget. By God's mercy, we escaped death by snakebite, which would have surely happened if our son had not been playing with a flashlight.

Our daughter Debbie sleeping on the ground in her sleeping bag on one of our camping trips

Camping without a tent

Readers if you will comment, you will be entered in a contest to win a copy of my book Heritage of Faith which contains this story and many others. Get extra entries in the contest by clicking on "Follow blog" or "Like my blog."


  1. Oh my goodness, I shivered just reading your story! God certainly protected your family that night. Glad you eventually "graduated" to nicer camping supplies!

  2. God is good, Donna. He always has been and always will be. Thanks for your comment.

  3. OH MY! That story--I think I am going to have nightmares. UGH! I don't think I would have been able to sleep even on a new spot. Very brave. I can't believe what your husband said at first, but at least one person was calm! :) By the way, I hope that he is doing okay? Prayers!

  4. That was an unforgettable experience. I still see it in my mind. Yes, it was very frightening and I'm thankful we lived to tell about it. These are stories to tell in your book of memories that you leave for your children. Thanks for your comment, Margo. My husband will come home this afternoon. Thanks for your prayers.

  5. I wish I could remember that! I was the 2-year old, and that was 51 years ago.
    David Nobles

  6. What an amazing story. I would have been so terrified. God was with you.