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Arizona Wildlife Federation Blog


The Arizona Wildlife Federation Blog is published at least once monthly. If you'd like to write in a guest blog submission, please email elise@azwildlife.org.

Blog posts reflect the opinions and perspectives of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the Arizona Wildlife Federation.

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  • May 23, 2024 2:27 PM | Anonymous



    Author: Morgan Andrews — Artist & Field Ecologist

    Morgan Andrews, a local to the Southwestern US, was born and raised amid the rugged canyons of Sedona. Immersed in both art and nature, her passion for the outdoors and artistic expression has been a lifelong endeavor. Currently, Morgan is a field ecologist at the Center for Adaptable Western Landscapes at Northern Arizona University, where she collaborates with fellow researchers on various native plant projects across Arizona, Hawaii, and beyond. When she is not working, she is either playing in the backcountry, watering her house plants, or volunteering for the CCSO Search and Rescue team. See more of Morgan's photography on Instagram: @morganandrews_photography

    I've spent numerous days resting or working beneath the canopy of an oak tree, and I've often pondered…how many others have done the same? 

    Southwestern oaks witness the abundance of life, from humans seeking relief from the heat along the Arizona-Sonora borderlands, deer and jaguars taking refuge in the sky islands, to the numerous insect species nestled amidst oak litter in the riparian forests of Sedona. Oak trees, with their sometimes stout and twisting shapes, can take different forms from dense shrubbery to towering canopies, creating shaded oases in the extreme environments of their range.


    While oaks are often prized as a hardwood species, harvested for firewood and furniture, their value is more than just utility for human use. These trees serve as invaluable cultural resources for indigenous peoples, havens for wildlife, and are stewards of watershed health. Oaks, in general, offer sustenance, shelter, and essential ecosystem services to the diverse array of organisms that call southwestern environments home. Specifically, Emory oaks (Quercus emoryi), also known as 'blackjack oaks,' are key players both culturally and environmentally.

    Within Arizona, Emory oaks range from the well-known red rock canyons of Sedona to the rugged borderlands of Mexico. The native range of this species also extends into eastern New Mexico and western Texas, then descends into northern Mexico. 

    Emory oaks vary in size and growth form, but are unified in their ability to offer diverse benefits to humans and ecological communities, thus earning their status as a cultural keystone species.

    But what exactly constitutes a keystone species? A keystone species is an organism whose presence plays a pivotal role in maintaining the delicate balance of an ecosystem. If such a species were to decline severely, the repercussions would be felt throughout, potentially disrupting that ecosystem and, in the case of culturally important species, connections with human communities. Emory oaks fulfill this essential role by providing habitat and sustenance for a diverse array of life. 

    Emory oaks have served as a vital resource for Indigenous people such as the Western Apache Tribal Nations. Their acorns have been harvested for thousands of years and are utilized for both sustenance and ceremonial purposes. Exceptionally low in tannins, these acorns are prized for their suitability in flour production. During acorn season, Emory oak groves facilitate cultural gatherings, prompting families to gather and pass harvest traditions to new generations' practices.

    Historically, The Apache Tribes have managed oak forests by dispersing acorns, promoting human-induced fire, and managing wildlife populations through hunting across the woodland landscape. The connections between the Apache people and Emory oaks were damaged when reservations were established in the late 1800s. Recently, Apache tribal elders and researchers have noted a decline in Emory oak recruitment and acorn production. The suspected causes include climate change, overgrazing, drought, and loss of Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge (ITEK) on the landscape. Ultimately, oak woodlands in the southwestern United States are understudied, historically receiving limited scientific attention.

    Here at Northern Arizona University we are working closely with the Apache people and the USDA Forest Service to better understand the significant shifts we are seeing today. In partnership with The Emory Oak Collaborative Tribal Restoration Initiative (EOCTRI), our goal is to "restore and protect Emory oak groves (Quercus emoryi) and to ensure the sustainability of subsistence foods for Arizona tribes."

    The connection between these oak woodlands, humans, and other creatures that occupy them is undeniable, and there is a deep complex interaction that is distinctly unique to the desert southwest. So next time you find yourself sitting in the shade of an old oak tree, ask yourself… how many others have done the same? 

    To learn more about Emory oak research and the EOCTRI initiative: https://labofconservationecology.rc.nau.edu/research-products-2/

  • April 19, 2024 10:58 AM | Anonymous



    Author: Mandela van Eeden

    Mandela is an educator and conservationist who guides in Africa, New Zealand, Alaska, Idaho, and the Grand Canyon. She is passionate and actively involved with conservation issues on every continent. She does this both professionally and during her spare time on the board of directors for the Montana Wildlife Federation. You can connect with her via www.TrailLessTraveled.net, and listen to her podcast, “The Trail Less Traveled,” everywhere.

    The decision to step away from guiding full-time in the Grand Canyon and play a larger role in protecting it has been a grand adventure. The transition from guiding 250 days a year to rowing a desk 40 hours a week for the National Wildlife Federation has been challenging yet equally rewarding. Joining the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition and speaking at the White House felt pivotal for this life-changing decision and our collective efforts to permanently protect critical lands, water supplies, wildlife, and cultural and religious sites. 

    On August 8, 2023, President Biden used the Antiquities Act to designate the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument. The sun was high in the sky when he signed the proclamation and permanently protected nearly 1 million acres of public land surrounding our iconic National Park. Baaj Nwaavjo means “where tribes roam” in the Havasupai language and I’tah Kukveni means “our footprints” in Hopi. 

    In early June 2023, I joined my colleagues at the Arizona Wildlife Federation in Washington, D.C., for a fly-in with ten other conservationists. We met with the USDA, DOI, CEQ, and White House staff. We came on behalf of a much larger group of local elected officials, sporting groups, military veterans, recreationists, guides, conservationists, and local and national businesses. It was an honor to officially represent the Grand Canyon River Guides Association alongside Grand Canyon Trust, Trout Unlimited, HECHO, Chispa AZ, Coconino County, and the Arizona Faith Network. We each brought a unique perspective and had the opportunity to elaborate on why we felt strongly about permanent protections. My focus was on the recreational economics and springs hydrology of the Colorado River; I used science-based data, pictures, and tribal art to impress upon the audience the importance of protecting this landscape.. To exemplify one of the area’s many economic values, I shared that I have relied on my income from guiding for over a decade, as well as my first-hand knowledge of many small businesses associated with commercial river trips and outfitters.

    After several days of back-to-back meetings, our coalition hit our stride when we spoke at the Department of the Interior. After I spoke, the DOI’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy said she wanted to go rafting with me. I smiled and promptly responded, “Yes, the rapids in the Grand Canyon are RAD, but the springs are the most important destinations we share with river runners, and if they get contaminated, it’s not feasible.” My river guide lingo produced a round of laughter as perhaps it was the first time the word “rad” had been used at the DOI. It was inspiring to sit in the White House while observing other U.S. citizens walking the corridors advocating for various issues. I hope all Americans realize that this doesn’t happen in every country and that participating in the legislative process is part of what makes a democracy. 

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.


    As river guides, we are incredibly privileged to run the river 1 to 14 times per year; but with privilege comes responsibility, and it is vital for us to prioritize awareness of existing and future threats to the Grand Canyon. 

    This National Monument designation will prevent new uranium mining on almost one million acres of land, protecting groundwater, air quality, and ancestral homelands. The Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition, which drew up the monument proposal, includes members of the Havasupai Tribe, Hopi Tribe, Hualapai Tribe, Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, Las Vegas Tribe of Paiutes, Moapa Band of Paiute Indians, Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, Shivwits Band of Paiutes, Navajo Nation, San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, Yavapai-Apache Nation, Zuni Tribe, and the Colorado River Indian Tribes. 

    Arizona’s 18th National Monument includes Marble Canyon, the Echo and Vermilion Cliffs, and the Havasupai’s sacred “Wii’i Gdwiisa” (Red Butte) mountain. Prior to the forced restriction of the Tribe into their canyon in the 1800s, the Havasupai hunted and gathered during winter around Red Butte. This is the place of emergence for the Havasupai, and for them, is a lung of Grandmother Canyon. Today, Red Butte is federally recognized as a traditional cultural property, and the summit can be reached by a short but steep trail. Looking north from the top, you may see the Pinyon Plain Mine (also known as Canyon Mine). This uranium mine sits 10 miles from the South Rim on top of the deep Redwall-Muav Aquifer and shallower “perched” aquifers, which feed the seeps and springs in Havasu Canyon. This mine may eventually contaminate the deeper aquifer, which provides water for people, livestock, and crops in the village of Supai.

    The Havasupai challenged Kaibab National Forest’s decision to approve the Pinyon Plain Mine in 1986, but they lost their appeal in federal court in 1991. As of today, the mine has resumed operations without revising or updating the original 1986 plan of operations. In 2016, the mine struck groundwater, and as a result, has pumped out over 49 million gallons of water contaminated with high levels of uranium and arsenic. The water is often “misted” into the air to speed up evaporation, but when it is windy, radioactive water reaches far into the surrounding National Forest. Unfortunately, the Pinyon Plain Mine can continue its operations because it’s subject to “valid existing rights,” meaning any mine or claim with VER is grandfathered in under the temporary or permanent mining ban. Pinyon Plain Mine is the only claim to get that determination of the nearly 600 claims that are preexisting. 

    Advocacy:


    “We were given the responsibility to protect and preserve for those who are yet to come. We have a job to do. The rock writing tells us: protect this place, guard this place, this is your home.” - Rex Tilousi, Havasupai Elder.

    In 2011, more than 200 Arizona small businesses addressed postcards to former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. In 2012, Salazar finalized a 20-year mineral withdrawal for more than one million acres of BLM and U.S. Forest Service land to protect the Grand Canyon and its watershed from the potential adverse effects of additional uranium and other hard rock mining. Up until now, that mining withdrawal was temporary and at high risk of being overturned. 

    Native peoples have stewarded these lands since time immemorial and the Tribes have actively gathered, danced, and prayed for water and for future generations who will inherit this sacred ecosystem. As Grand Canyon river guides, it is our responsibility to continue this legacy of stewardship by being informed, engaged, and vocal with our guests and elected officials. The designation of Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument should make us feel empowered to take on the Big Canyon Dam proposal along the Little Colorado River. We can do this by supporting the work of the Little Colorado River Initiative and Save the Confluence as they actively work to change the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) dam permitting rules to require tribal consent and consultation. Please make it a priority to raise awareness regarding current and future threats by urging your guests to advocate on behalf of the Grand Canyon. 

    Uranium:

    Uranium mining in Arizona has taken place since 1918. The uranium market rebounded in the late 2000s, and a swarm of new uranium claims popped up in the greater Grand Canyon region. At best, only 1.3% of the nation’s total uranium supply occurs in the Grand Canyon region. To extract that 1.3%, mining companies would have expanded uranium mining at an unprecedented rate. There is 10-fold more uranium in Canada and 40-fold more in Australia, two friendly countries with which we trade.

    One of the concerns of uranium mining from the breccia pipes on the surrounding plateaus has to do with tailings containment. Once removed from the ground, this material quickly oxidizes as it is exposed to air, making the uranium and daughter products more mobile in both surface water and the sediment it transports into surface drainages. This movement, especially in flash floods, is a major risk to the Havasupai Tribe because it sweeps through their village in Cataract Canyon. It also contaminates groundwater derived from Havasu Spring because the material recharges through open sinkholes along extensional-tectonic earth cracks that capture flows into the otherwise ephemeral Cataract Creek. From past flood experience, we know that it only takes about two years for these toxic compounds to reach Grand Canyon springs following flash flooding in Cataract Creek. This is a throughput contaminant transport rate of 20 miles through the karst conduits of the Redwall Formation in just 2 years. 

    National Monuments:

    “The new protections will also safeguard important recreation areas so that future generations can to continue to hunt, fish, hike, and raft on the lands and waters that surround this great natural wonder.” -Scott Garlid, Arizona Wildlife Federation.

    An Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities (Antiquities Act) was signed into law on June 8th, 1906. The Act was the first U.S. law to provide general legal protection of cultural and natural resources of historic or scientific interest on federal lands. Public lands receive monument designation after the president determines that they meet the prerequisites under the Antiquities Act and are areas that contain “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.” Over the past 117 years, seventeen U.S. Presidents (eight Republicans and nine Democrats) have declared over 140 national monuments under the Act.. Arizona has 18 National Monuments — all of which protect wildlife, land, and cultural and natural resources, and many of which ensure access for hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, cycling, and other outdoor recreational activities.

    Teddy Roosevelt recognized this area for its world-renowned mule deer herd and would be pleased to hear that this monument prioritizes access for wildlife management and the heritage of hunting in the area. 

    Opponents of the National Monument argued that this designation would have reduced or eliminated grazing, hunting, and timber harvesting. National monuments are federally managed public lands and have the potential to enhance public access by limiting destructive land uses. Nonetheless, National Monuments are managed for “multiple uses” and allow a myriad of land and resource use activities. 

    Grand Canyon’s Groundwater, Springs, and Streams:


    "For Hopi, it’s our place of emergence, a place that we still hold pilgrimages and offerings. It’s what we consider the heartbeat. Much like a human being, the waterways are arteries and veins carrying that lifeblood, not only to Arizona, but the entire world. It keeps life going. And if we poison that blood, life dies.” - Timothy Nuvangyaoma, chairman of the Hopi Tribe

    As the planet continues to warm and dry, freshwater will become increasingly less available. Birds and other wildlife easily make their way through the Pinyon Plain mine’s fences to quench their thirst with uranium- and arsenic-contaminated water pumped from the shaft. According to the 2008 publication Aridland Springs in North America: Ecology and Conservation, desert springs like those in the Grand Canyon region often are “…biologically and culturally complex, highly individualistic, strongly ecotonal, and ecologically highly interactive, functioning as ‘keystone ecosystems’— small patches of habitat that play ecologically influential roles in adjacent landscapes.” 

    More than 500 abandoned uranium mines are scattered across the region, impacting freshwater sources for local populations and seeping contaminated water into the Colorado River and other water bodies over great distances. Springs are indicators of aquifer integrity. According to a recent U.S. Geological Survey report, 15 springs and five wells in Grand Canyon watersheds occur near uranium mines and have dissolved uranium concentrations that exceed safe drinking water standards. Both the ecological importance of springs as keystone ecosystems and the level of ecological impairment of springs are especially great in arid regions, with 70-90% of springs in the lands surrounding the Grand Canyon ecologically impaired or devastated. 

    "Our state is very dry and has few forests and (little) water. Whatever little we have left is special to everybody and must be protected." - Hernan Castro, ecologist with the Chiricahua Apache Nation.

    Springs are hotspots of rare and unique biodiversity and are the most important recreation destinations in the Grand Canyon region. Despite their small overall habitat area (<0.001% of the nation’s land area), these groundwater-dependent ecosystems support more than 17% of the USA’s endangered species. Furthermore, most of the recent extinctions in the Southwest have involved springs-dependent species. Research has been conducted, yet we still do not know the full complexity and interconnectedness of below- and above-ground waters in the Grand Canyon region. But one thing is for sure, the water, life, ecology, and cultural integrity of the region are all connected. 

    The Economy:

    "Protecting this area makes great economic sense. A National Monument extends our outdoor recreation focus and further enhances the tourism economy.” - Patrice Horstman, chair of the Coconino County Board of Supervisors.

    The National Park Service reported that 4.5 million people visited Grand Canyon in 2021 spending an estimated $710 million in the gateway regions near the park. That visitation supported 9,390 jobs in the region. According to a 2021 Backcountry and River Use Statistics report, Grand Canyon River Guides take 19,000 to 24,000 people down the Colorado River each year. On an annual basis, this contributes $90-$120 million dollars to the Grand Canyon recreation economy.

    The same distinctive hydrology and geology that created the grandeur of the Grand Canyon make this area particularly vulnerable to toxic uranium mining. Speaking up is utterly important to the conservation of our natural resources, its biodiversity, the economy of Northern Arizona, and all the communities and cultures that exist in the Colorado River basin.  

    In the birth of the modern environmental movement, the Sierra Club mobilized public opinion to stop dam construction in the Grand Canyon. Like those who wrote to the government then, the collective efforts of the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition made their voices heard. YOUR VOICE MATTERS—use it. 

    Conservation is not a spectator sport. Let's celebrate the designation of Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument and continue to SPEAK UP in order to safeguard Indigenous communities, wildlife, critical habitat, and clean water in the Grand Canyon.
  • March 28, 2024 12:46 PM | Anonymous


    Author: Deirdre Denali Rosenberg, Conservation Photographer and Outdoor Writer

    Deirdre Denali Rosenberg is a photographer and writer living in Southern Arizona. Photography, writing, wildlife, and the rugged outdoors have always been her passions. She is also an enthusiast of various mountain sports, holding credentials to lead trips and guide. With nearly three decades of wilderness experience, Deirdre is a confident outdoorswoman. She is also a Nature First photographer and a member of the North American Nature Photography Association. Learn more about her at her website here.


    On a chilly September morning, one of the first of the season, I sat alone on my patio. Coffee cup in hand. Quietly battling another panic attack.

    The previous few months had been bleak; so much loss. So much despair. These feelings are a part of the human condition, but somehow when we experience them we can feel so deeply alone.

    As I took a breath, I closed my eyes, trying to soothe my frantic heart. I exhaled and opened my eyes, noticing a slight movement several feet in front of me. I focused on the movement and much to my surprise, I was looking at a big black tarantula.

    Bewildered, I felt no fear. Only curiosity. I had never seen a tarantula before and I certainly didn’t expect them to live on my property up on the Colorado Plateau. I carefully stood up and went inside to grab my camera. And when I returned, the tarantula was still there. Wandering about, but in no rush. I began to snap off some photos, noticing orange hairs on this black spider. Noticing little eyes, little paws, fuzzy features. I became entranced by this bizarre arachnid and without realizing it, my heartbeat slowed. My breathing became steady. Relief came with eight legs that morning.

    Aphonopelma marxi, or the Grand Canyon black tarantula, is a species of tarantula endemic to the Four Corners region of the southwest. Over the next couple of months, now aware of their presence, I would find many as their annual mating season was in full swing.

    Like many animal lovers, my curiosity led me down the path of researching like a mad woman, learning everything I could about tarantulas in the southwest United States. Before my first A. marxi sighting, I thought I didn’t care for spiders. But in their company, I was finding a lot of peace.

    Speak to any birding enthusiast and you will be convinced that birdwatching is beneficial to mental health for many reasons. But here I was having those feelings while observing wild tarantulas! The thrill of being in their company felt refreshing. Their slow movements allowed me to relax. And their interesting behaviors and beautiful coloring? I was in a constant state of wonder and awe in their presence. The more I learned about tarantulas, the more interested I was in observing more species in the wild. Which turned into a passion for me quickly as a wildlife photographer and advocate of misunderstood creatures.

    The United States is home to a wide variety of endemic tarantulas, who thrive in an array of habitats, from mixed conifer forests to sagebrush steppe, to low desert. While surprisingly little is known about tarantulas as a whole, we can safely say that there are about 50 species native to the United States, with over 800 species worldwide. New species are discovered often!


    Here in Arizona, the Madrean Sky Islands make excellent tarantula biomes and for folks interested in tarantula-watching, it’s a real delight, as each sky island hosts unique species with adaptations and behaviors well suited for their respective habitat.

    In the Tortolita Mountains north of Tucson, encounters with Aphonopelma chalcodes (the Arizona Blond tarantula) are common. In contrast, Aphonopelma gabeli (the Chiricahuan Gray tarantula) can be found in the Chihuahuan Desert of southeast Arizona. Near Kingman, one might come across Aphonopelma mareki. In the Tombstone area, Aphonopelma vorhiesi is a normal sight. The list goes on — Arizona boasts at least 16 unique species of native tarantula.

    As my tarantula passion grew, I began to notice that my mental health was becoming more stable. The anxiety and grief I had been struggling with for years were becoming more manageable. Like a thread of silk spun from a spinnerette blowing on a gentle breeze, these difficult feelings, I now understood, contained beauty. Without sorrow, it would be hard to notice joy. And as I worked through my darkness in the company of these spiders, joy did come.

    The more I entangled myself in the world of tarantulas, the more I learned about the web of spider enthusiasts celebrating arachnids around the world. I was able to speak with Ph.D. candidate Jackie Billotte about her work with tarantulas. Through Jackie, I learned about the biggest tarantula meet-up in the country: La Junta, Colorado’s Tarantula Festival, where spider friends come from near and far. I knew I had to attend!

    Mural of commonly misunderstood creatures, like tarantulas, in La Junta.

    Just one month after talking with Jackie, I found myself in Colorado’s eastern plains, in the Comanche National Grasslands. I was waiting for the sun to begin setting with several other folks doing the same. We’d all arrived in La Junta from different parts of the country to do the same thing: witness Aphonopelma hentzi (Texas brown tarantula) males out in large numbers on their quest for love: the mission of their life.

    We watched in amazement as noticeable movement in the grasslands began and the first few tarantulas were spotted. There was joy in the air as the Tarantula Festival kicked off!

    The weekend was filled with tarantula-centric fun, including a parade, a costume contest, and a whole lot of educational programming. The festival did a wonderful job of teaching visitors why tarantulas are integral to the health of our ecosystems and how gentle they truly are.


    Tarantulas, and many other spiders, are excellent pest control. Think of them as your local eco-friendly exterminators! They help agriculture thrive and protect native plants from harmful bugs. Folks who fear tarantulas may be concerned with getting a venomous bite, but don’t worry about being bit by a tarantula here in the United States. All the tarantulas that call this country home would rather run away than bite. And that venom they’ve got? It doesn’t really affect humans; it’s meant to paralyze their prey, which are little bugs typically.

    Like with all wildlife, tarantulas deserve respect, and handling them is not a good practice. Surprisingly, they’re extremely fragile and can become mortally wounded from even a short fall off of a human hand.

    Being in the field and in town with other tarantula fans was a moment of magic for my mental health. Building a community around these spiders has given many of us a sense of belonging. Meandering around grasslands quietly…softly…as the sun sets on the eastern plains with a group of new friends helped me regain some hope I had lost over the years. We laughed together and shared passion and enthusiasm watching spiders make their final journeys. It touched me in a profound way. And I know so many other visitors felt the same.

    That weekend event in La Junta brings so many folks out to support the conservation and lives of wild tarantulas that it’s caught on big time, bumping up the popularity of the Coarsegold Tarantula Awareness Festival in California! Surely more tarantula-centric events will be announced as the support for eight-legged friends grows.

    In the years since my first tarantula sighting, since my quest to spider-watch began, my mental health has improved greatly, though life hasn’t become less stressful. Time with tarantulas has simply taught me to slow down and breathe. To appreciate tiny lives and small worlds.

    In the company of spiders, great peace can be found. And great reverence for this precious life we are given. So the next time you spot a tarantula eight-stepping its way across a road or in your yard, pause for a moment and observe. Live and let live. You may find that moment changes your life in unforeseen ways.

  • February 29, 2024 10:39 AM | Anonymous

    California condor spreading its wings. Photo Courtesy of George Andrejko, AZGFD.

    Author: Cynthia Soria, State Wildlife Action Plan Coordinator, Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD)

    Cynthia Soria is the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) Coordinator for AZGFD. Cynthia joined the Department in 2014 as a wildlife specialist in the International and Borderlands Program where she collaborated with colleagues on a variety of projects aimed at the binational conservation of shared species. In her current position as SWAP Coordinator, she continues to collaborate with colleagues in the planning and coordination of wildlife conservation strategies. Cynthia is from - Ambos Nogales - as Nogalians affectionately call their neck of the woods along the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.


    Did you know that every State in the U.S. has a State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP)? State Wildlife Action Plans are 10-year strategic plans required by Congress to receive funding under the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program — created in 2000 — which annually distributes funds to States for the conservation and management of state-determined Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCNs). State Wildlife Action Plans prioritize nongame SGCNs. There are other well-established funding mechanisms for the management of game species, such as the Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 and the Sport Fish Restoration Act of 1950, better known as the Pittman-Roberston and Dingell-Johnson Acts. SWAPs are non-regulatory blueprints that not only identify Species of Greatest Conservation Need in each state but also identify threats and conservation actions that can benefit these species and their habitats with the ultimate goal of keeping common species common to avert extinction.

    The State of Arizona is a biodiverse state with more than 800 native wildlife species; it ranks third in the nation for the number of native bird species, second for reptiles, fifth for mammals, and eighth for overall vertebrate diversity. The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD, also referred to as The Department) is the lead agency responsible for these 800+ wildlife species and for developing Arizona’s SWAP. Arizona’s first SWAP was finalized in 2005, and the second iteration was finalized earlier than the 10-year deadline, in 2012. Even though the AZGFD leads the effort in the development and revision of each SWAP, each new iteration involves coordination and input from the general public as well as numerous experts from other state and federal agencies, wildlife conservation organizations, Native American Tribes, local governments, and other stakeholders.

    Arizona’s SWAP was most recently revised and approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2022. Arizona’s SWAP is now called the Arizona Wildlife Conservation Strategy (AWCS). The most recent revision process resulted in many improvements and updates, including an updated SGCN list in which 551 amphibians, birds, fish, invertebrates, mammals, and reptiles ranging from threatened and endangered species to more common and widespread species were identified. This list includes species such as the American kestrel with a statewide distribution, the Quitobaquito tryonia — a tiny springsnail only found at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, as well as another Sonoran desert-dwelling species — the Sonoran pronghorn. Identifying SGCNs helps the Department prioritize conservation actions to benefit wildlife and their habitats.

    Another major improvement to the AWCS is the availability of a user-friendly, interactive website that can be accessed via this link: awcs.azgfd.com. Unlike previous versions of Arizona’s SWAP, the AWCS creates a fully interactive web-based version of our long-term conservation strategy in which the public can access tools and information about SGCNs, including habitat suitability models in the form of maps, detailed habitat profiles, learn about threats and conservation actions for Arizona’s wildlife and their habitats, and get familiar with Conservation Opportunity Areas (COAs).

    The humpback chub, another Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Photo Courtesy of George Andrejko, AZGFD.

    Conservation Opportunity Areas (COAs) are specific, non-regulatory areas on the landscape that were identified as areas of priority for conservation where implemented conservation actions would benefit the most species on the SGCN list. The Department identified 117 terrestrial COAs and 304 aquatic COAs. Within each COA, the Department identified ‘strategy species’, which refer to SGCN and other important wildlife that occur within COAs. Specific threats to these species and habitats were also identified in addition to specific conservation actions that can be taken to reduce and remedy these threats. Finally, and no less importantly, COAs offer a roadmap that conservation partners can utilize to prioritize and guide the implementation of conservation actions and/or incorporate into their planning efforts and conservation priorities.

    We invite all Arizonans to visit the AWCS website (awcs.azgfd.com) to learn more about Arizona’s State Wildlife Action Plan and to explore ways to collaborate to keep common species common for current and future generations.

  • January 25, 2024 3:46 PM | Anonymous


    Mearns’ quail digging a feeding pit. Photo Courtesy of Mark Stromberg.

    Author: Mark Stromberg, U of A Adjunct Professor

    Have you heard of the Mearns’ Quail Project?

    This project’s ultimate goal is to plant food plots for Mearns’ quail in order to support and increase the Mearns’ quail population in Arizona. Partners working on this include Tucson Audubon, Borderlands Restoration Network Native Plant Nursery, U.S. Forest Service, Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation, and Southern Arizona Quail Forever. Hunters can help enhance the food plot plantings by providing crops from their harvested Mearns' quail. At this past year’s QuailFest — an amazing event hosted by our affiliate Southern Arizona Quail Forever — hunters were encouraged to bring their crops to support this project — and they did!

    Understanding the diet of a game bird reveals which parts of the landscape are critical, and for Mearns’ quail — also known as Montezuma quail — among the most important foods are nodules produced on the roots of a few different plants: nutsedge, Oxalis, and the tepary bean.

    Quail hunters, working with wildlife researchers, have played a critical role in determining the diet of Mearns’ quail. This project goes a long way in improving the habitat quality of Mearns’ quail, and hunters are a huge part of that.

    Mearns’ fall crop with contents. The larger brown nodules are nutsedge and the smaller, often white nodules are from Oxalis. Seeds form only a small percentage of the diet. Photo Courtesy of Mark Stromberg.

    Among species of quail, Mearns’ have extraordinarily long toes, including a central toe used for digging. As such, Mearns’ quail dig up most of their food. They dig many conical holes, just about as deep as they can settle into. A majority of their diet are acorns, as they are most common in the oak savannas. Acorns underground? Their neighbor, the Mexican jay, a member of the genus Aphelocoma, is known to bury and then later find over 5,000 acorns over the course of a year! When Emory oaks have a good crop of acorns, Mexican jays spend all day hiding acorns under leaves. Later on, Mearns’ quail find some of these acorns.


    Nutsedge is an ephemeral monsoon forb, or herbaceous flowering plant, that is a dietary favorite of Mearns' quail. The root nodule is shown in the left photo and the native nutsedge is shown on the right. Photo Courtesy of Mark Stromberg.

    Plants with underground nodules are important in the Mearns’ diet. Most abundant in the crops of Mearns’ quail are nutsedge and Oxalis. Nutsedge, as shown in the two photos above, grows in shady, riparian areas, with sedge-like stems, triangular in cross-section.


    Root nodules of Oxalis, as shown in the left image. The plant’s leaves resemble a four-leaf clover. Photo Courtesy of Angel Montoya.

    Oxalis grows during the monsoon season in riparian, shady habitats with good soil moisture, as shown in the photo on the right. Another important food plant for Mearns’ is the native tepary bean, (Phaseolus acutifolius). If these plants are grazed to the ground before they can produce root nodules, food supplies for Mearns’ will be limited.


    Native tepary bean plant and seeds grown from Mearns' quail crop contents from the Santa Rita mountains. Photo Courtesy of Mark Stromberg.

    Are you interested in participating in the Mearns’ Quail Project or know a hunter who might be? For a pre-paid shipping box to send quail crops to the program, contact: Aya Picket, Tucson Audubon, Restoration Project Manager, 520-627-8120

    A very special thank you to the partners of this project and the hunters who have supported it through their participation!

  • December 28, 2023 9:01 AM | Anonymous


    Author: Elise Lange, AWF Communications Manager

    I won’t lie. I was startled the first time I saw snow on a saguaro cactus. As a native Arizonan who has lived most of her life in Phoenix — the hottest large city in the U.S. — that particular sight is not one I’m used to. It seems an odd combination — a green cactus, covered with spines, that is known for adapting to the heat as opposed to dealing with cold, white, fluffy snow.

    Nevertheless, while Arizona is known for its incredibly hot temperatures, it’s also a fantastic winter destination — especially if you’re hoping to enjoy some outdoor recreation time. While many states have winter seasons so extreme that they might frighten off even the most experienced hiker, skier, or snowboarder, Arizona has much milder winters, making for plentiful opportunities to get outdoors and experience the beauty of Arizona’s landscapes. Additionally, the diversity of Arizona’s landscapes offers a myriad of winter activities, from traditional winter fun like skiing or sledding in the mountains to hiking in the low deserts (something that’s not recommended in the summer!).

    Consider adding these three destinations to your list of places to visit and recreate in this winter season.

    1. The Grand Canyon


    Courtesy of Grand Canyon National Park.

    How could I not mention the Grand Canyon on this list? If you thought seeing snow on saguaros was a cool sight, just wait till you see the utter majesty of the Grand Canyon covered in snow. The North Rim of the canyon typically receives the heaviest snowfall, averaging about 142 inches each year — though I have to mention that in 1978, the North Rim received a record snowfall of 272 inches. That’s about 23 feet deep. I recommend checking the weather before you visit so you’re prepared for whatever this winter season plans to offer! The South Rim typically receives less snow, averaging just around 58 inches of snow annually.

    Another major benefit to exploring the canyon during winter is that the trails and paths are far less visited. So, if you’re not a fan of crowds, winter is the perfect time for you to make a trip with your friends and family.

    If you decide to visit, get ready to see the fantastic contrast of the snow with the green flora sprinkled across the warm reds, browns, and oranges of our Grand Canyon.

    2. Arizona Nordic Village in Flagstaff


    The Arizona Nordic Village (formerly the Flagstaff Nordic Center) is a great destination for snowsports enthusiasts, hikers, and campers. This cross-country ski resort has been open since 1984 — that’s nearly four decades! The original lodge and many ski trails from when they first opened are still in use today. They have over 24 miles of trails designed for both skate and classic cross-country skiing, trails for snowshoeing, hiking, and fat tire biking. They also have cabins, yurts, and campsites available for longer stays.

    Currently (at the writing of this blog), there’s not quite enough snow on the ground for skiing, snowshoeing, or fat tire biking at the village. They’re resting at just about 10 inches and will continue to update on their website. However, all of their trails are still open and available for hiking until then, making for a great opportunity to enjoy the cooler weather and do some wildlife watching.

    If you’re new to snowsports, you’re not alone — 42% of Americans have never been skiing, as of 2022. Arizona residents are lucky enough to live in a state that has a variety of landscapes, and thus, a variety of climates, offering a wide diversity of opportunities for outdoor recreation. So, if you’re new to outdoor recreation in the snow, we encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and try something new this winter season!

    3. Whitewater Draw in McNeal


    Winter is an exciting time for birders across Arizona because many bird species spend their winters here. Of course, they are also coming for our climate! From white-crowned sparrows to Lewis's woodpeckers, there are plenty of avian winter visitors to take notice of.

    One of the most well-known migratory birds that spend their winters in Arizona is the Sandhill Crane. Each year around November, this species starts arriving to their wintering grounds, including at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area in southern Arizona. Most years we expect to see around 20,000 to 25,000 cranes at this location, making it a favorite attraction for bird watchers and enthusiasts, photographers, and hunters alike.

    If you arrive around dusk or dawn, you’ll get the chance to see thousands of these three to four-foot-tall birds taking flight, making for a truly unforgettable viewing experience.

    Where will you plan to visit this winter in Arizona?

  • November 30, 2023 9:59 AM | Anonymous


    Author: Tanja Eiben

    The Becoming an Outdoors-Woman team has realized that the best way to get women involved in hunting is to begin at the end. What? Yup! Begin at the end of the hunt. The Friday evening icebreaker at the BOW workshops is a game taste. We might serve javelina chile or deep-fried bobcat. Most try everything and are surprised at how tasty our wild dishes are.

    Add a charismatic enthusiastic instructor and magic happens. Because BOW is about breaking down barriers, we offer a big game field dressing class and a butchering class. John Davis has taught these two classes this year. We use a domestic goat for both classes. In April he was able to get a Barbary ram!

    The students in these classes asked John for a deer camp similar to the javelina camp that one of our BOW leaders, Kathy Greene, does. He took it to heart and made it happen. He found sponsors with Safari Club International and the Outdoor Skills Network and rounded up a fantastic group of mentors. We were also able to get donations to pay for the food and porta-potties at the campsite from Yuma Desert Doves — Women On The Wing Pheasants Forever Chapter, Yuma Valley Rod and Gun Club, and Valley of the Sun Quail Forever Chapter.

    End result was 40 people total with 19 deer tags, at least half of which were BOW alumni! There were guest speakers, one-on-one instruction, and 4 deer harvested. All had a great time and everybody helped with camp duties. I especially appreciated John telling the group that this camp was not about taking a deer, it was about learning.

    -Linda Dightmon, Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) Administrator 

    Tanja’s Deer Hunt

    Over the 2023 Veteran’s Day weekend, I got to participate in a mentored Adult Beginners Deer Hunting Camp that paired beginner hunters and observers with an experienced volunteer mentor to teach and showcase them the skills necessary to hunt such an animal.

    My volunteer mentor, Lera Petska, is a professional hunting guide and volunteers her time to a variety of mentored camps. I immediately liked her when she introduced me to her canine sidekick, Jones, a big Catahoula mix. Our little group was completed by Alex Stricklin, who came as an “observer”, with lots of curiosity to learn and enthusiasm about experiencing a hunt.


    Our three-girl/one-dog team roamed the hills south of Arivaca, Arizona. Lera’s Forerunner took us on some of the nastiest and steepest roads I have ever conquered from the inside of a vehicle. That first day we saw quite a few deer and one buck, but could not get close enough for a shot.

    The second day of our hunt was spent in the same fashion, as we covered miles and miles of beautiful Arizona desert and glassed countless hills and mountainsides. We got within less than a mile of the border to Mexico and then worked our way back up north. Despite not seeing any bucks, the time spent with Lera was not for nothing. I learned so much from her about deer behavior, like how to use the sun and the time of the day to gauge their activity level. There was lots of gear talk, as well as GIRL talk and mutual sharing of experiences in regard to health, relationships, and the challenges of an active lifestyle. Despite coming from very different backgrounds the three of us discovered countless similarities and formed a bond as a team. Jones claimed special status when he managed to get into my cooler bag. I came back to find that he had wolfed down my lunch sandwich, the boiled eggs, and all my cheese sticks! But those droopy hound eyes did their magic and I just could not be mad at him!

    I could tell that Lera was getting frustrated because all the great deer areas were packed with other hunters and it was really difficult to get away from the crowds. On the third and last morning, we made one final push and, still in the dark, using some very questionable roads, drove way out to a very remote canyon that we started glassing before the sun came up. Suddenly Lera approached me and asked, “What do you think about getting a buck with one antler?” I responded, “That would be a cool animal, a real character buck with a story!”


    Within minutes, all three of us were on our way, hugging the hillside and making our way up the steep slope to a high viewpoint over the canyon. This was the first time I actually had a rifle in a carrier tied to the back of my backpack. Lera’s gun had a bipod and a huge scope and the unfamiliar weight made me feel unbalanced. But it was so worth carrying it, as the scope was vital in spotting a buck on the hillside across the canyon about 450 yards away from us. Lera set up the rifle and by using various packs, we constructed a pretty solid rest that I could lay on and find a comfortable position with full view, control of the gun stock, and access to the trigger.

    While we were adjusting the rifle, Alex declared “He just bedded down!”. Thankfully, she had kept an eye on the buck the whole time and was able to show us exactly the yucca plant under which he decided to lay down. I could just about make out his silhouette as well as his head with the flickering ears moving and with the help of a sunspot on his fur, Lera was able to point out the exact location of the vitals to me. I decided to take the shot while he was still lying down and being pretty much motionless, as I had a clear visual. Lera made sure we were all wearing ear protection and gave me the ok.


    Things got pretty intense in my head, as I tried to take long, slow breaths and it took several attempts until I could find a moment of stillness after exhaling. I also prayed that I would not pull the gun with the trigger, an annoying bad habit I do sometimes. The gun went off and jumped and I lost sight of my all too familiar yucca plant. Lera yelled “He is down. One shot! You really know how to shoot!” I could not believe that this had finally happened and that we had the best possible scenario of a fast, clean kill. This was the moment when I put my head on my arms and shed some tears…of relief and gratefulness about just having taken a wonderful animal.

    When we found the deer about 45 minutes later there were several surprises. It was a rather big-bodied buck for a whitetail and he had TWO antlers, one 3-point, and the other side being deformed and ending in one point. I was super excited about my special buck and so thankful that Lera helped us with taking professional photos…of the deer and of all three of us!


    When we started gutting, it suddenly felt like a deja vu, exactly like what we had been practicing in the field dressing classes at BOW camp. Then, with our help, my badass mentor lifted the 80-pound deer on her shoulders and carried him out!

    Back at camp, fortunately, I had lots of help with skinning and quartering the deer. Despite having gone through these steps in previous BOW classes, it was intimidating, as for the first time I completed the whole process from start to finish on my own animal. Thankfully, several participants and mentors stepped in when needed and gave tips and a helping hand.

    My character buck — the first big-game animal I’ve gotten — will be showcased in a Euro mount, a throw made from his hide, and will make lots of wonderful dishes for my family and friends.

  • October 26, 2023 1:12 PM | Anonymous


    Author: George H. Harrison.

    When the sun goes down and songbirds disappear into cover to roost, you might think that backyard wildlife watching is finished for the day. But the truth is that when darkness sets in, there is merely a change of characters on the backyard stage. The diurnal wildlife goes undercover and the nocturnal animals appear.

    Because it’s dark, it may be more difficult to see the new cast of wild animals, but they are there and you don’t need owl vision to watch them.

    How to Enjoy Wildlife at Night in Your Own Backyard:

    1. Install a spotlight that shines on your bird feeders, and turn it on periodically after dark.

    You may be surprised to find a number of birds and mammals carrying on at the feeders. Flying squirrels are especially common backyard residents that hang upside down on tube feeders munching on nyjer, sunflower and wild birdseed mix. Ten o’clock is a good time to look for them. Raccoons, opossums, rabbits and mice are likely nighttime visitors, too. In some regions, deer and elk also eat from bird feeders at night.

    2. Keep the birdbath water flowing all-night.

    It will attract a variety of wildlife that can be watched with the aid of a spotlight trained on the water source. In my yard, I remember watching an eastern screech owl having a drink at midnight on a New Year’s Eve.

    3. Cover the lens of a flashlight with a piece of red plastic wrap or tissue paper (you can use a rubber band to secure the filter).

    The eyes of many nocturnal creatures do not pick up the red end of the light spectrum, so you can shine this colored light on wildlife with minimal disturbance. The red light may also help your eyes adjust to the darkness.

    4. Look for earthworms in damp soil.

    Earthworms and other moist-skinned creatures take cover during the day to protect their bodies from the drying effects of the sun. On warm nights, they strike out in search of food. If you spot silvery trails across the ground, you can be certain slugs or snails are nearby (they produce a slimy substance to help them move about). Check low-growing plants in garden beds, woods and other moist places for these mollusks.

    5. Step outside after dark and listen—the night is full of sounds.

    Most of the year, owls can be heard, each calling their own distinct hoot or whine. In the spring and fall, tree frogs are also common nighttime songsters in many areas; they sound so much like birds that most listeners are fooled. Every spring in the wetlands adjacent to my home, I can hear tiny aquatic frogs sing their mating chants, producing a chorus of peeps, chirps and continuous chords. During breeding season, especially when the moon is full, northern mockingbirds may be at the top of their song, whistling and chirping dozens of different noise imitations. Black-crowned and yellow-crowned night-herons may be barking and squawking during spring and summer nights. A whip-poor-will may be calling incessantly from the nearby woodland.

    6. Hang a bed sheet in your yard and shine a white light directly on it.

    Insects are a big part of the nighttime backyard show. Depending on the season, the sounds of crickets, cicadas, and katydids may be so loud that they drown out other woodland sounds. Fireflies can be spotted flashing their mating lights, and moths of all sizes are attracted to patio or spotlights in the warm weather.

    7. You may be able to watch spiders from the comfort of your home if you leave a porch light on overnight.

    The light will draw insects that, in turn, will draw spiders looking for a feast. You can also head outdoors with flashlight in hand and embark on a spider safari. Look on the ground for trapdoor and wandering spiders; seek out web builders in bushes or on fences.

    8. Just before dark during warm weather, look up in the sky for chimney swifts and common nighthawks chasing insects on the wing.

    Both species range throughout much of the country. The smaller swifts make a chattering sound, while the nighthawks give a peent call. In some areas in late summer and early fall, masses of nighthawks can be seen around sunset as they migrate south.

    9. If you’re a fan of high-tech gadgets, consider purchasing a night-vision viewing device such as goggles.

    It will offer an entirely new dimension to wildlife watching after sunset by painting the nighttime world in a soft, greenish light.


    Originally Published by the National Wildlife Federation: https://blog.nwf.org/2005/10/mother-natures-late-show-9-tips-for-watching-wildlife-at-night/

  • September 28, 2023 10:11 AM | Anonymous


    Author: Elise Lange, AWF Communications Manager

    Each year, we celebrate National Public Lands Day and National Hunting and Fishing Day on the fourth Saturday in September. On this day, hunters, anglers, and wildlife watchers head outside and explore public lands familiar or new to them. Families visit their states’ national parks — free of entry, of course. New generations are introduced to the heritage of hunting, angling, and conservation. The day is rich with American’s utter appreciation for our public lands.

    This year was the 51st annual celebration of National Hunting and Fishing Day and the 30th annual celebration of National Public Lands Day! 

    What started in 1972 with the presidential proclamation, “I urge all citizens to join with outdoor sportsmen in the wise use of our natural resources and in ensuring their proper management for the benefit of future generations,” has grown into a movement to recruit new hunters and anglers while increasing public awareness of the connection between hunting, angling, and conservation.

    Similarly, National Public Lands Day’s 1994 beginnings with one federal agency, two public land sites, and 700 volunteers has grown into a national event that brings out hundreds of thousands of volunteers at sites all over the U.S. Several states, including Arizona (more on that below) even have their own public lands days now.

    But these days are not only about volunteering your time for trail maintenance or hunter recruitment. These two holidays that share their birthday each year are about reminding us how much the great outdoors is part of our identities as Americans. These holidays are about actually getting outside and enjoying our public lands! We are encouraged to get out and hunt, hike, fish, climb, explore, camp, and photograph our public lands. 

    These lands belong to the American public — you!

    With that “ownership” comes responsibility. We are the stewards of these lands and we are responsible for ensuring that our children, their children, and all future generations can experience and enjoy our public lands the way we do today. 

    This year, the Arizona Wildlife Federation celebrated these holidays with the launch of our new monthly hikes program. For this inaugural hike on Saturday, September 23rd, we partnered with the Arizona Trails Association and the Tonto National Forest to bring over 20 hikers on an exploration of the Highline trail near Pine. We used iNaturalist to identify flora and fauna of the area and made connections with new people all the way from Tempe to Payson.

    Our supporters might remember that we hosted a hike on April 1st, 2023 — which just so happens to be Arizona’s own Public Lands Day holiday! We celebrate Arizona Public Lands Day on the first Saturday of April each year. The bill creating the holiday was drafted in 2019 by a team of conservationists led by our own Brad Powell, Past President of the AWF. 

    That hike on Arizona Public Lands Day last April was the inspiration for us to continue hosting monthly hikes for the public. It’s a great opportunity for folks to join us and learn about Arizona’s incredible public lands, native wildlife, and endless recreation opportunities.

    These holidays serve as important reminders of all we have to be thankful and responsible for as American citizens. 

    It’s also important to remember that on the days we don’t formally celebrate hunting, fishing, or our public lands, we can still get outside, enjoy, and steward our state’s natural resources. What we give any day to the great outdoors, it gives back tenfold. We hope our hikes will keep that thought fresh in our minds each month.

    If you would like to join AWF on future hikes, we will be hosting a hike once a month on our state's diverse public lands. Check the events page on our website for upcoming hikes: https://azwildlife.org/events.

  • August 24, 2023 3:04 PM | Anonymous

    Author: Patrick Bauman, Owner of Colter Backcountry  and Get Outdoors Arizona Member

    One morning, almost a year ago, I found myself standing on the side of Arizona’s highway 67 at 6am toting a neatly packed backcountry kit and dangling a frozen thumb in the air. To my right, my less-than-thrilled girlfriend* smiled at the infrequent passing cars. Stuck after an unfortunate shuttling glitch, we were attempting to hitch hike to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The goal: complete a rim-to-rim hike, from the north side to the south. The secondary goal: fish Bright Angel Creek at the bottom of the canyon.

    *We are, I’m glad to report, still happily together, despite this cold misadventure in hitch hiking.  

    Now, for those who like their fishing with a side of physical discomfort and spectacular views: boy, do I have something for you! Most things named “great” or “grand” have a difficult time living up to their name. If you haven’t been, there’s one thing you need to know about the Grand Canyon: it delivers. Running nearly 300 miles in length, 18 miles across, and averaging over a mile deep, this canyon is, in fact, grand. Prior to this adventure, I had seen what 99% of Grand Canyon visitors see – the view from the top. On this trip, we would start on the North Rim, hike the North Kaibab trail down to Bright Angel Campground, spend the night, and then hike up the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim. This itinerary would be around 25 miles, lose almost 6,000 feet and gain almost 5,000 feet.

    We had started trip planning months ago when we secured a backcountry camping permit in January. At the time, lodging was scarce, and all accommodations on the North Rim were booked. So, we elected to stay at Jacob Lake Inn, a 40-minute drive from the North Rim. On our first day, we drove up from Phoenix, parked at the South Rim, and then hopped on a 4-hour shuttle that drove us to Jacob Lake. Despite assurances over the phone that a shuttle was available from Jacob Lake to the North Rim, we found out upon arrival that we didn’t have a ride to the trailhead. After dinner, we settled on the only plan we could think of: hitching a ride.

    The next morning, in the pre-dawn cold, we didn’t have to wait long. We were picked up by a friendly cardiologist and after an hour of pleasant chit-chat, we were filling our water bladders at the trailhead. At over 8,000 feet in elevation, the north rim is cool and forested compared with the rest of the park.

    As you hike down beneath the rim, you’ll start to pass through various rock layers. Limestone turns to sandstone, and sandstone gives way to shale. As the geology changes, so do the people. Cross body purses are replaced by trekking poles and stylish loafers slowly turn into Altras. Keep probing the depths of this canyon and you’ll probably even come across the rarest of creatures: an ultra-runner!

    Despite the menagerie of people, I was the only one carrying any kind of fishing gear. For much of its length, the North Kaibab trail runs alongside Bright Angel Creek, which eventually runs into the Colorado River. Originally home to native fish like the humpback chub, Bright Angel Creek now has populations of browns and rainbows as well. Known as a good fishery, it’s one of the more difficult trout spots to access in Arizona.

    As we hiked down, the weather grew warmer and warmer. By lunch, we had descended nearly 6,000 feet and had a relatively flat hike through Bright Angel Canyon to reach our campground. Despite colder weather on the rims, the bottom of the canyon is typically as hot as Phoenix. In this case, the high temperatures were well into the 90s.

    By mid-afternoon, we had reached Bright Angel campground. After setting up camp, we stopped at Phantom Ranch for a refreshing drink and afternoon snack. In between sips of lemonade, I quickly went to work rigging my rod. The campground area is pretty crowded, so I made my way upstream to some quieter water.

    Like many Arizona waters, Bright Angel Creek has a sand and gravel bottom and is housed in rock ledges and sprinkled with larger boulders. Unlike most Arizona waters, it is framed by the Grand Freakin’ Canyon. The views looking up while fishing are incredible.

    I fished the rest of the afternoon, catching only rainbows on a variety of flies. The fish were mostly concentrated under rock ledges and in deeper runs and plunge pools. This time of year, the water was crystal clear. Despite being near a trail, the creek feels remote, and the only visitors I had were a mule deer doe and fawn. As the light faded below the canyon walls, I headed back to camp for a hearty dinner.

    The next morning, we were up in the dark to tackle the climb up the South Rim before the sun rose too high. On this section, hikers are treated to fantastic views of the Colorado River as they transfer to the Bright Angel Trail. We moved upward with the sun, past the River Rest House and Plateau Point, and ate a full breakfast at Havasupai Gardens. We pushed onward through a throng of out-of-breath day-hikers wearing jeans who seemed baffled that we had come from the other side. Eventually we made it to the top, and after a quick rest, got back in the car to Flagstaff, in search of pizza and cold beer.

    For those interested: a rim-to-rim hike is well worth it. Whether you do it in one day or multiple, you’ll be amazed at just how much beauty lies within the inner folds of the canyon. And for those who like fishing, well, make sure to pencil in a free afternoon and pack along an extra rod. It’s always worth being the only weirdo carrying fishing gear.

    To read more blogs like this one, check out Colter Backcountry.


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