The recent rains made for expectations of good tracks on the river’s edges. We headed for the Gila River’s Bird Area, books and rulers tucked into backpacks. Along with us came the dog. I wasn’t certain whether one energetic dog would have the patience for three humans standing around staring at the ground for minutes at a time, but she did need the exercise.
The river was running really high and some of the edges were under water. There was one wash and several spits that were above the water line; they had been flushed by run-off and were rain-slick with mud. Since the light rain the previous evening, critters large and small had been dashing and dancing around, leaving a plethora of foot prints behind. The dog added tracks of her own, fortunately not overwriting the tracks we were most interested in deciphering.
As a highlight, we found absolute evidence of the resurgence of beaver on this stretch of the Gila River. We’ve seen the beavers’ signature tree stumps, chewed to points. And there’s a beaver dam under construction just a mile or so downriver from where we were exploring. But here, we found tracks – impressed in the mud just since last night. Our “take” for the morning: beaver; two different skunk species—hog-nosed and striped; raccoon; great blue heron; spotted sandpiper; and squirrel. We might have found more, but for time and a dog’s tolerance. We documented and submitted all but the sandpiper and squirrel to iNaturalist to become part of the scientific database.
The only downside was when my backside went down into the mud.
The next day took me in the opposite direction, down into the Chihuahuan Desert and in the shadow of Cookes Peak. We went to explore the remains of Ft Cummings, one of a string of forts originally built through the southwest along the Butterfield Stage line and set at critical water sources. These same forts were later instrumental in, first causing and as a result, defending against the Apaches in the 11-year Apache wars.
There’s not much left of Ft Cummings: a few bits of adobe wall; a cemetery hill whose occupants have since been moved; parts of the stone structure that was the stagecoach stop; and a springhouse that is not only still in use but has been brought into the 21st century by the addition of solar panels to pump out water for the cattle that are grazed on this piece of desert.
Stopped in the old corral area, where we thought to sit on the walls, water ourselves and have a bite of lunch. I wandered to the end of one wall to look for a seat in the shade under the only tree tall enough to cast any. There was already somebody stretched out. With due respect, I allowed as how he (or she) had first rights to the spot. Nonetheless, he (or she) decided to remove him (or her)self into hiding until we interlopers stopped staring, left the corral and a snake’s peace was restored.