I was very stupid. I was very lucky.
During my recent hike of a couple cinder cones in the Mojave Desert I had a surprising encounter with a local.
This was entirely my fault. I failed to follow the first rule of hiking in rattlesnake country. Anyplace you sit down to rest can have snakes under the boulder/log you choose to sit on. And they can also be under all the other boulders/logs nearby. This is why people get bit on the hand and ankles when they sit down.
I was almost to the top of the second cinder cone and decided to rest and drink some water. I was happy to see a large boulder with a flat top, providing a perfect place for me to sit. So I sat down stretching my legs out in front of me and setting my poles down to my left. I was enjoying the view while drinking from my hydration pack.
After about 4 minutes (yes, I keep an eye on my watch when I sit down), I caught a glance of something under a nearby rock. Holy *&$%! I have never jumped so fast in my life. Apparently, I had sat down a few feet from one of the locals.
I was very lucky that this snake decided to just stay calm and watch me. It sat there quietly, less than 18 inches from my feet and ankles.
My GPS log recorded my rapid jump away from the site.
For the remainder of the hike, I was very paranoid. I avoided all boulders. I avoided sitting.
After consulting my rattlesnake book (Rattlesnakes of the United States and Canada by Manny Rubio) and the California herpetology website, I think this was a Panamint rattlesnake (crotalus stephensi). Or maybe a Southwestern Speckled rattlesnake (crotalus mitchelli pyrrhus). This is largely because the snake was missing the facial mask (or it was very subdued) and had no white lines on the side of the head. Also, the color and pattern matches well with some photos on the website I mentioned.