Last weekend, I stood atop Arizona’s highest peak. Summiting Humphreys required a nine-mile hike, during which I gained (and, even tougher on the knees, lost) about 3,300 feet elevation.
I’ve aspired to reach that peak since moving to Flagstaff in 2010. Humphreys is the tallest of the San Francisco Peaks, the distinctive mountains that give our town its flavor. I didn’t just hike Humphreys to bag the peak, though. I joined a group hike to represent my employer, the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The hike was sponsored by Arizona Highways magazine and led by its editor, Robert Stieve, and managing editor, Kelly Kramer. They wanted a wildlife expert to come along. Instead, they got me.
Thanks to working on Arizona Wildlife Views magazine, I know a little bit about a lot of wildlife subjects, but that doesn’t make me an expert. Undaunted, for days before the hike I brushed up on local field guides. I planned to enrich everyone’s experience with bird and mammal sightings and general information about the habitats we hiked through; a latter-day John Muir, Arizona-style. But Humphreys is a popular hike on a Saturday in August, and the trail was lively with human voices. That meant the wildlife sightings were few.
We did see mountain chickadees and dark-eyed juncos in busy flocks, gray-and-white Clark’s nutcrackers swooping from tree to tree, common ravens soaring along the ridgeline, and red squirrels feeding on pine cones. No elk, no deer, certainly no bears or mountain lions — animals one sees by chance and by sitting silently for a long period of time, not by hiking with a big goal in mind.
On the way to achieving that goal, we talked about the hike’s central theme: wilderness. Arizona Highways organized this and a few other hikes to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which is September 3. It may not sound like it, given the crowded trail, but we were in a wilderness area much of the time (Kachina Peaks Wilderness).
Wildlife sightings or no, it was a treat to hike that area in such good company. I was proud to wear the quail logo and represent Game and Fish. And, four days later, my legs have (almost) recovered!