My father was a self educated man and became the well-respected editor and publisher of the Ruidoso News, a weekly newspaper he and my mother owned in the town where I was raised. He didn’t have a high school diploma until he obtained a GED late in his life. Yet, he possessed great writing skills, a savvy business acumen and a nose for a good story. (I’ll probably write more about him in later posts).
But on at least once occasion, his nose for a good story got a little too stuffed up to discern truth from fiction.
I was probably somewhere around 10 years old at the time when my father came home to tell me he had been approached by two men with a fantastic tale. They said they had discovered a giant rattlesnake in what is now the “Valley of the Fires” State Park and Bureau of Land Management recreation area just north of Carrizozo in Lincoln County. The area, also called “The Malpais” (Spanish for bandlands), is a lava flow that occurred about 5,000 years ago and left several thousand acres of twisted black rock on the northern edge of the Tularosa Basin. https://www.blm.gov/visit/valley-of-fires
The two men claimed they were hiking in the rugged area when they approached a depression in the rocks and spotted an 18-foot long rattlesnake. They told my father it had a head “as big as the steering wheel on a car” and when it raised its head and hissed at them, they could “feel the heat from its breath.” Although I can’t remember the details of how they said they killed the giant creature, they managed to skin it (sans its streering wheel-sized head) and brought it to my father’s newspaper office as proof of their claim.
My father recognized what he thought was sensational story and called the Albuquerque Associated Press and maybe the Albuquerque Journal to report it. Someone suggested they find a herpetologist who could verify the claim. In the meantime, he published his snake story as the banner headline on the front page of the Ruidoso News.
As I recall, someone from Albuquerque, probably from the University of New Mexico biology department, drove down to inspect the headless snake skin. After examining it for what I remember as being most of one afternoon, he made is pronouncement.
It was, he said, the skin of a common and not unusually large boa constrictor, probably purchased at someone’s garage sale or a roadside store dealing in tacky tourist souvenirs. It had lived its life in South American jungles before being caught and skinned and had a very distinctive pattern of scales, nothing like that of a rattlesnake.
My father, deflated at the loss of breaking what might have been the biggest story of his life, humbly admitted in the next week’s edition that he had been duped. I’m not sure whatever happened to the two guys who made up the story or their snake skin. I think they just slithered out of town, hoping to find another person who would swallow their story.