Two Parks groundskeepers in their truck saw it before I did. They would have run it over if they hadn’t stopped. I managed to get low with my camera just in time to catch the reptile as it wisely left the pavement and sought shelter in the vegetation at the side.
This was the Pacific Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer catenifer). It looked to be about four feet long, average for its kind in the park. As I watched its body pass before my stationary lens, it felt as if I were at a railroad crossing watching a freight train go by. How do snakes achieve this steady, seemingly effortless motion, without wheels or legs or fins or any of the anatomical extensions on which other creatures rely? I looked it up and found this interesting analysis on YouTube.
It seems that they actually do have such extensions — their bodies are covered with them. They can flex their scales in a wave-like motion to provide forward propulsion. When scientists encase the snake’s body in a sleeve, they can wiggle but not move ahead. Some snakes, like the deadly Black Mamba, can achieve speeds in excess of 10 mph, according to this BBC documentary.
I doubt our local gopher snakes can approach that. And they’re definitely not a threat to people.