A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go hiking. I was in the Flagstaff, AZ area and decided to go hiking just north of the town. After the winter season, I was eager to get out into the woods. I had a couple goals in getting out. First, I wanted to get some exercise. While I try my best to stay in shape during the winter months, I feel like I don’t really get my “mountain legs” until I’ve been in the mountains. Since a lot of my hiking is at a high elevation, I look for the opportunity to get at a higher elevation as much as possible.
I also took the opportunity to do a bit of shed hunting on this hike. I haven’t had a ton of success locating sheds, but it gives me a goal and motivation as I hike. As I planned this hike, I looked for an area where I could possibly find some deer or elk sheds.
Finally, I was looking forward to looking for wildlife and just enjoy being outdoors. While I enjoy hunting, there is something special about getting out in nature and away from everything. I appreciate few to no people in an area and a place far away from traffic and noise. I was looking forward to this om my hike.
My hike was somewhat successful. I hiked 3.75 miles at an elevation between 9,000 to 10,000 ft. I didn’t find a single shed but I saw about 20 different mule deer. Of course they were all does and they were all by the road, but I’ll take what I can get. At least I saw some wildlife! Overall, I enjoyed getting out and seeing some great views and getting some excellent exercise.
My biggest observation on this hike however was how incredibly dry it was. Flagstaff has had an unusually warm and dry winter and it clearly showed. While it was the middle of April, the ground was dry and all the grass was dead and crunchy. There was basically no new growth in the area I hiked and there was basically no moisture. While I did walk though some patches of snow, they were not producing any areas of moisture for plant growth. It reminded me of walking through a dry climate in late summer…..not springtime.
I’m concerned for several reasons. I know that deer and elk depend on new plant growth to recover from bleak winter foraging. Bulls and bucks are looking for nutrients from new plant growth to promote antler growth and cows and does are looking to gain weight for delivery and care of fawns and calves. From what I observed, new plant growth is basically nonexistent! If the northern Arizona area does not get moisture soon, it could be a difficult year for not only big game, but all wildlife.
The other major concern is the increased chance for wildfires. As I walked through mountain meadows filled with dry dead grass, I was alarmed with how fire-prone it looked. I’ve seen these types of conditions in the fall, but never in the spring.
I understand that some wildfires are impossible to prevent. Every year there are fires started naturally from lighting strikes. In those cases we can hope for the best and do our best to manage those fires as they occur. However, I understand the biggest threat of wildfire comes from humans.
Please be careful when you are out enjoying the woods. It only takes one careless moment for a fire to get started. Most mountain areas are already prone to fire danger as the summer goes along, but with the dry conditions I saw, those dangerous conditions exist now.
Make sure you do your part. Be aware and be careful while you are out in the woods. That way we all can continue to enjoy our hikes in the woods. Whether it be just to get out and get away from it all or if it is to get out and find that big bull, we can make sure the woods are there to enjoy. If I see you out there, I’ll thank you for it!