Encountering Rim Wildlife


Welcome to one of the loveliest places in the land -- the Mogollon Rim area of the Tonto National Forest.

A place where you may hear the bugling of an elk, the splash of a trout on the end of your fishing line, the hooting of an owl greeting the night.


Great horned owls are permanent residents of the Tonto National Forest.

Take a deep breath of tree-scrubbed clean air. The scent is mostly pine -- ponderosa, juniper and perhaps a few remaining summer wildflowers.

American elk, mule and white-tailed deer abound in the forest. These mammals are herbivores. They gather in herds for protection against the predators they must watch for as they eat.

In spring male elk begin to grow antlers, as much as an inch a day during summer. By August, the bones have hardened. If the bull is successful finding food and water during the second year the unbranched antlers have begun to grow spikes. The antlers of a bull elk who continues to be successful in his herd's habitat will develop tines off the main branches.

By the time the bull is seven years old his antlers, called a "rack" may weigh as much as 40 pounds (five percent of body weight), spread more than four feet across.

Humans are the elk's primary predator, but coyotes and bears can kill young calves and mountain lions and bears can take down a full-grown elk.

Be mindful while driving at night and in the wee hours of morning when elk and deer are usually out foraging. A collision between a 500 to 850 pound elk is good for neither human or beast.

Elk share their habitat in the pines with peccaries, better known as javelina.

You might smell the musky odor of this wild animal before you see it.

Javelina are not pigs. They are distinguished by longer snouts, smaller legs and hooves, and bristly, dark-gray hair with white collars.

Their sense of smell is much better than their sight.

Tusks are another trait of javelinas.

As any wild animal, they can be dangerous.

When javelina are encountered, such as on an urban walk, the best thing to do is walk quietly away.


A display at the Payson ranger station helps identify wildlife tracks.

Want to while away a day beside the lake in hopes of catching a fish?

Green Valley Park lakes are part of Arizona's urban fishing program. A $16 license is required for anyone over 14.

The lakes at the park are stocked with trout about every other week from October until March.

In June 2005, Fossil Creek was restored from a flow of .5 cubic feet per second to its original flow of 43 cfs.

Since then, the area has been closely monitored by Northern Arizona University scientists to determine the success of restoration efforts.

The recreation area is a scenic water wonderland found at the end of a high desert canyon.

The trailhead is adjacent to the historic, but now decommissioned Irving Power Plant.

Fossil Creek is home to 2,100 native fish.

The creek is a great place for birdwatching, as are many areas of the Rim Country because it is a transitional zone between the desert and high mountains.

Migrant Canada geese abound at Green Valley Park.

In the fall and winter, the bald eagles who have a nest south of the park can be viewed in the skies overhead or surveying their territory from a tree.

Turkey vultures can be seen drying their dew-damp wings as they fly in lazy circles around 6 a.m.

The Tonto Natural Bridge is another great place to focus binoculars on woodpeckers, jays and Western scrub jays.

The best time to see birds is in the early morning when they are hungry.

For more information visit

Payson Ranger District on the Tonto National Forest

East Highway 260, Payson, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, closed from Noon - 1 p.m., (928) 474-7900

The ranger station has many free booklets, as well as books for sale, on area wildlife, hiking trails, and how to enjoy the forest wisely.

The Web site is: http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto/contact/districts.shtml

Off road vehicle laws and information: http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/ohv/

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