Spring in the high country is starting to change the scenery, with the snow melting on the face of the Rim and the new grasses sprouting everywhere. The lower elevations have a head start, bringing a myriad of colors with wildflowers and a velvet green landscape. The abundant winter moisture has certainly revitalized all of Arizona.
The warmer temperatures and the growth of springtime vegetation are triggering the migration of big-game animals to their summer ranges on the Rim and other high alpine meadows. When this occurs, these animals often cross main highways like Highway 260 or the Beeline at any time during the day or night. This could be a single deer or elk or a herd of 10 or more animals.
With Payson being in the middle of prime elk country, we need to be extra cautious driving these main thoroughfares to the Valley, Flagstaff or the White Mountains.
This past week, I saw a small herd of elk in the desert at an elevation of just 3,500 feet, browsing on a hillside in a thick carpet of grass. It certainly caught my attention, and I realized elk habitat is moving south to the lower elevations, which dictates a higher awareness of driving defensively when going to the Valley.
Where there is thick timber north and east of Payson, it is even more important to drive defensively because oftentimes, the trees are within a few feet of the pavement, which can hide a deer or elk. The situation should create an increased awareness of the surroundings and hopefully a slower speed to avoid a collision with an 800-pound animal.
As the spring temperatures continue to rise, the grasses in the bar ditches along the highway right of way will start sprouting soon at the 6,000 foot elevation which also can create a driving hazard, especially in the reduced light of dawn and sunset. Deer and elk have a tendency to graze in these areas and will create another driving hazard.
There will always be vehicle-animal collisions in the mountain country of Arizona, often resulting in human fatalities and totaled autos, and almost always in the loss of an elk or deer, both valuable natural resources.
Nonetheless, we can improve the statistics by slowing down and driving defensively, which means the time of arrival at our destination might be two or three minutes later, which is not a big deal considering the alternative.
It is important to understand that elk and deer are on the move to their summer range, and they will not stop at the highway and look both ways. Expect them to do the unexpected when you see them browsing near the road, and always be ready for that animal that darts out of the woods unanticipated. Remember, an elk or deer is a valuable resource that has a tremendous economic impact in Payson and the rest of Rim Country.
This weekend, enjoy the springtime colors in the foothills of Arizona, God’s creation.