At first glance, it might seem like all the animals have disappeared in February. But it doesn’t take long before you can start finding wildlife, although it might take a little extra effort.
One of the best ways to see wildlife is to borrow some snowshoes from the Lehman Caves Visitor Center and head to the Baker Creek Road or Upper Lehman Creek Campground. Both roads are gated, but you can hike past the gates to look for wildlife tracks. Look for the distinctive hopping pattern of rabbits and try to guess if jackrabbits or cottontails left the tracks. Deer tracks are easy to spot, but if the tracks look a little bigger, then they could be elk tracks. Elk are still expanding in the area. If you see dog-like tracks, coyotes are the most likely contender. Cat-like tracks about the size of a small Gala apple would be bobcat. And cat-like tracks the size of a grapefruit would be mountain lion. Once in a great while you’ll get to see the animal itself. Weasels are amazing in that they change color in the winter.
Birds are also about. Wild turkeys meander all over the area. At the Christmas Bird Count in December, 184 wild turkeys were counted within the count circle, most in the park. Mountain chickadees may sing their “cheese-burger” song, while nuthatches will sound like a truck backing up (beep-beep-beep). A long-shrill whistle would be a Townsend’s solitaire. And be on the lookout for the Corvids — Clark’s nutcrackers are much lower in elevation in the winter, plus you may see pinyon jays, black-billed magpies, Steller’s jays, and Woodhouse’s scrub jays.
If all that wildlife watching is making you cold, head into 52 degree Lehman Caves (advance reservations highly recommended), or go to the Border Inn, open 24/7. A special opportunity to see Lehman Caves is during the annual Lint Camp, February 6-8. This camp allows volunteers to experience the cave in a completely different way, with a paintbrush gently removing lint that has drifted from visitors’ clothes to speleothems. Housing is provided in the park dorms, and it’s like camp.
To experience some local culture, head to the Winter Carnival, held at Baker Hall (the pink building in Baker) on February 9 in the evening. Eat some delicious tamales, try your luck at Bingo with prizes from local establishments, dress up in costume for the photo booth, try your luck in the raffle, or play one of the kids’ games. It’s small-town entertainment at its best, and a great way to help the local schools.
— Gretchen Baker
Visit Gretchen’s great outdoor adventure blog, Desert Survivor.