Just when I thought I’d heard all the strange snake stories in Kentucky, my old friend Bill Mardis—Pulaski County’s beloved sage of field, stream, and folklore—asked if I’d ever been to the “rattlesnake crossing” in eastern Pulaski County.
No, there isn’t a “rattlesnake crossing” road sign, he said, but the rattler crossing on Bolthouse Ridge Road, not far from the Rockcastle River and near the Rockcastle County line, is for real.
Eighty-three-year-old Delmer Turner, a lifelong resident who killed a timber rattler a few months ago with a hand ax, said his grandfather, who was born in 1880, told him that the rattlesnake crossing was there when he was a child.
Most everyone in the nearby communities of Acorn, Ano, and surrounding countryside is aware of the crossing, and most can share a snake story. Adams Grocery at Acorn has pictures on its wall of many timber rattlers that have been killed.
Delmer Turner’s son, Tommy, a Republican state representative who lives close by, says the rattlers generally cross the road along a half-mile stretch, but that the majority seem to prefer crossing at a narrow point no longer than 100 yards. The once-gravel, now chip-seal, road was bordered by scattered woods and farmland some years back, but now the roadsides are reclaimed strip-mine land with a few scattered pines.
If the rattlers have been affected by any of the changes, it is not apparent. George Arthur, who owns land at the far end of the road, believes there may be even more rattlers crossing now than in the past. He knows of one man who killed nine on the road last summer. Copperheads are also present, but appear to have no particular crossing pattern.
Tommy Turner, whose son and grandson killed three timber rattlers on the road one night last summer, says it seems that most of the snakes that cross in the spring are going in the opposite direction of those crossing in the fall.
His great-grandpa had a theory that many of the rattlers had been born among the rocky outcroppings of Baker Hollow on one side of the road and that they returned to hibernate. He may have been right.
John MacGregor, a herpetologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources who knows as much as anyone about Kentucky reptiles, says the rattlers may be migrating to hibernate, or they might have a “rookery,” or breeding colony, nearby that would likely be in a dry, sunny place with large boulders. Six female timber rattlers could give birth to as many as 40 or 50 young.
Turner, an avid hunter, could recall no rattlesnake bites to people in recent years, but he remembers a hunting dog being bitten several years ago and dying before it could be brought out of the woods.
In the warmer months, people often drive Bolthouse Ridge Road just before dark, hunting for rattlers.