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.
According to the Forest Service, the vast reaches of the 2.8 million acres of the Tonto National Forest there are 93 known species of mammals. These range from mice and bats to black bears. Different species are found in different habitats. The Tonto vegetation in the Rim Country includes chaparral, woodland, conifer and water/riparian habitats.
Take a deep breath of tree-scrubbed clean air. The scent is mostly pine -- ponderosa, juniper and cedar.
American elk, mule and white-tailed deer abound in the forest. Drive with caution early in the morning and in the evening -- these majestic beasts often cross the area's highways to get to favored territory. A collision between a 500- to 850-pound elk never has good results.
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 that 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), and 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.
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 is not pigs. Longer snouts, smaller legs and hooves, and bristly, dark-gray hair with white collars distinguish them.
Their sense of smell is much better than their sight.
Tusks are another trait of javelinas.
As any wild animal, they can be dangerous. There is a greater risk of attack in the spring when the adults are protecting their young.
When javelina are encountered, such as on an urban walk, the best thing to do is walk quietly away.
Want to while away a day in hopes of catching a fish?
In June 2005, Fossil Creek was restored from a flow of .5 cubic feet per second to its original flow of 43 cubic feet per second.
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 bird watching, as are many areas of the Rim Country, because it is a transitional zone between the desert and high mountains.
The best time to see birds is in the early morning when they are hungry.
Mammals that you might spot in the Fossil Creek area are desert shrews, 11 different kinds of bats, the Arizona gray squirrel, desert pocket and deer mice, along with raccoons.
For more information visit the Payson Ranger District of the Tonto National Forest, East Highway 260, Payson The station is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, closed from noon to 1 p.m. Call (928) 474-7900 for forest conditions and weather-related closures.
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 forest Web site is:
Off-road vehicle laws and information are at: www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/ ohv/