Slithery resident greets visitors to the Rattlesnake Museum.
Slithery resident greets visitors to the Rattlesnake Museum.

Rattlesnake Museum

Field review by the editors.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque's Old Town Plaza offers visitors a world of plaque reading and impulse purchases in quaint Pueblo Revival adobe buildings. But nestled among the sun-baked boutiques and coffee shops is the neighborhood outlier: the American International Rattlesnake Museum. Unassuming from the sidewalk, it escapes attention until a passerby is right on top of it... much like a rattlesnake.

Cow skull: visual shorthand that what is inside is deadly.
Cow skull: visual shorthand that what is inside is deadly.

The museum is the passion project of founder and manager Bob Myers, who grew up in Albuquerque and taught high school biology in Florida. Sensing a deficiency in the rattlesnake tourism industry, and possessing a missionary zeal to dispel myths of the inherent wickedness in snakes, Bob returned to Albuquerque and opened the museum on May 5, 1990, which he christened Snako de Mayo.

The museum is home to 34 different varieties of rattlesnakes.
The museum is home to 34 different varieties of rattlesnakes.

It was a smart move, since the American Southwest has more species of rattlesnakes than anywhere else on the planet.

"Everybody was okay with it," said Bob of his reptile-free business neighbors, who quickly saw that the rattlesnakes drew tourists into Old Town Plaza. "On a busy day there's a line out the door."

No snakes were harmed in the formulation of bogus
No snakes were harmed in the formulation of bogus "snake oil" medicines.

The museum is home to 34 different varieties of rattlesnakes, the largest collection of different species of live rattlesnakes in the world, according to Bob. It is hard to imagine the amount of venom packed inside of this relatively small building, which could easily be mistaken for a turquoise jewelry shop or Western Art gallery. Unsettling thoughts come to mind as one navigates the tightly packed warren of terrariums. Are those display cases snake-proof? What would be the quickest way out of here in case of a terrarium breach? Did I just see something move on the floor?

Bob, the rattlesnake cheerleader, does his best to allay any fears. Rattlesnakes only bite people when they're scared or angry, he said (so don't tap on their glass), and despite handling them for over 30 years Bob has only been bitten once, on his finger (He said that it felt terrible, as if it had been stuck in an electric socket). When visitors ask if he's crazy, he'll point out that they're the ones who came to see venomous snakes. Tourists courageous enough to pay admission are given a Certificate of Bravery, signed by Bob himself.

Shrine to martyred celebrity reptile handler Steve Irwin.
Shrine to martyred celebrity reptile handler Steve Irwin.

Bob Myers has held thousands of rattlesnakes, been bitten only once.
Bob Myers has held thousands of rattlesnakes, been bitten only once.

The most dangerous animals in the museum may be its human visitors, delivering occasional unexpected elbow whacks in the enclosed space as they jump in surprise or lurch away. Despite the close quarters in the museum, we heard no angry rattles and detected no pungent aroma (Upset rattlesnakes smell bad). By these admittedly unscientific metrics, Bob's rattlers seemed fairly chill.

The snakes in the museum eat dead mice and rats, supplied by a company specializing in reptile chow. Mealtimes occur after-hours, said Bob, because "only half of the people that come in are interested in watching them feed. The other half are repulsed." Also, Bob said, snakes can be sensitive creatures and sometimes won't eat with people moving around. "So we'll feed them at night and leave, and by the morning those rodents are gone."

The animals share space with the museum's wide-reaching collection of artwork, artifacts, and memorabilia, all in some way referencing snakes (or reptile handling). There are serpent-themed toys and games, movie posters, sculptures, paintings, license plates, sports mascots, ceramics, jewelry, comics, clothing, and even a display of bogus "snake oil" salesman ephemera. Bob told us that some visitors come just for the nonvenomous objects. "The collection is 100 times what you're seeing," he said. "I mean, it's ten storage buildings."

In the gift shop: purchase your very own snake bucket.
In the gift shop: purchase your very own snake bucket.

Bob's maximalist assemblage of live rattlesnakes with pop culture "snake stuff" make the museum seem less like a modern eco-zoo and more like the curiosity cabinets and collections of Victorian natural scientists -- updated with snake soda cans and a "Nip-It" pinball machine.

"I had a women's quilting club meet here, and I've got a snake quilt collection," said Bob. "I brought it out of storage and they were just wowed. And then they wanted to hear more about snakes."

Bob said that the museum receives several hundred rescue animals a year -- local residents often find snakes sunbathing on their porches -- which are brought in and given foster care. The hope for many of these displaced creatures is that they can be rehabilitated back into respectable snake society. Placed in the snake bucket (you can buy one of your own in the gift shop) they are given a ride out to the desert and freedom, somewhere far from the city center. Bob does many of these release-runs himself, wearing his own Certificate of Bravery on his sleeve.

Rattlesnake Museum

American International Rattlesnake Museum

Address:
202 San Felipe St. NW, Albuquerque, NM
Directions:
American International Rattlesnake Museum. Take Central Ave. west from I-25 about 3 miles to Old Town and Old Route 66.
Hours:
Sep.-May M-F 11:30-5:30, Sa 10-6, Su 1-5. June-Aug. M-Sa 10-6, Su 1-5. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
505-242-6569
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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