Last week, after a late snowfall, I took my cross-country skis to Kendrick Park, north of the San Francisco Peaks. It was the first time in this dry Arizona winter that I’ve had a chance to do one of my favorite things.
There were only two other cars in the parking lot. As I donned my gear, I looked north, into the treeless park, and saw a sparkling expanse of newly fallen snow cut by a single set of cross-country ski tracks. I took a deep breath, smiled and set out, heart singing.
For the next two hours I saw no other humans … but I was not alone. Plenty of animal tracks decorated the fresh snow. As I glided along, I stopped now and then to look at tracks and think about their makers.
It can be hard to figure out tracks in snow. You’d think it would be easy, since they’re so visible: anywhere an animal walks in this soft surface, it can’t help but leave clues behind. The trouble is, the weather had warmed up quite a bit since the previous day. The tracks were already softening, which not only erases detail but widens the track.
Still, I had fun guessing about tracks and their makers. One trail I found looked like this:
I could tell from the size of the prints that it was left by a coyote. There’s an interesting sliding trail on the snow’s surface, just before each deep imprint of a paw: This coyote wasn’t lifting his feet much. Here’s a closer look:
I skied along happily, finding other tracks, and a bit later I ran across more coyote sign:
Was it the same coyote? I couldn’t be sure, but I guessed not. Look at his tracks more closely:
See how this coyote only slides one paw across the top of the snow? My sleuthing instincts told me it was a second animal with a different gait, but of course, when you’re trying to puzzle out the life of an animal you can’t see, nothing is certain.
I kept skiing, thinking about the coyote or coyotes, happy to be sharing this day with it or them. Then I came up over a slight rise and found this:
Everyone who loves wildlife is used to living with mysteries. But every now and then, it’s nice to solve one.
Here is another post about coyote tracks: https://words4wildlife.wordpress.com/2011/03/05/coyote_rail/
And a link to more photos from that day: https://flic.kr/s/aHsk5Et1wL