The gift of the Arizona Monsoons

[Source: Tom Brossart, The Payson Roundup]

Tom Brossart photo

We were looking for elk, maybe a deer or even a pronghorn antelope, but the largest wild animal we saw was a jackrabbit — she was big, but not quite the wildlife we were looking for on our hike along Rudd Creek at the Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area.

What we found was a wide variety of wildflowers along the nearly three-mile hike, which starts at the visitor center follows Rudd Creek to the Mckay Reservoir and then loops back around to the visitor center, which is the old ranch homestead and worth seeing in its own right.

There are more obvious areas in the White Mountains for a hike, hunt for wildflowers or wildlife, but few nicer than the wildlife area outside of Springerville for an early morning or evening adventure.

My wife and I were in Springerville for a different photo shoot at the Casa Malpais, and a Forest Service ranger had told us about the Sipe Wildlife area, which is managed by Arizona Game and Fish Department. Always up for a hike in the wilds, it was just too inviting to resist.

Tom Brossart photo

Since photographing wildlife was the goal of the day we rose early at 4 a.m., grabbed a quick bite of breakfast and drove the five miles on U.S. Highway 180/191 to the turnoff to Sipe. At the top of the mesa there is a sign and pretty good forest road that takes you to the 1,362-acre wildlife area, which is surrounded by national forest. The road is good, I don’t know that I would take a car on the road, but we did see one person with a car.

The night before the visitor center manager told us they spotted a large herd of elk, but after searching during the evening hours we found none. But we still had high hopes for the next morning’s hike.

Starting the hike at around sunrise we expected to see some wildlife, but they all must have known we were coming. There were lots of sign and tracks, but no wildlife this morning.

What we did find were isolated areas of a wide variety of wildflowers. There were no meadows blanketed with brightly colored summer blooms, but there were enough wildflowers to add interest to the hike since the elk were not cooperating.

The hike is an easy one. It follows a meandering trail along the creek up to an old cabin, and then circles through a forest area to the reservoir where you can find migrating birds in the fall and spring, but only one duck and his mate in July.

On the way back to the visitor center you pass an old Native American ruin with its own history that is worth a quick look.

Tom Brossart photo

The wildlife area is the former White Mountain Hereford Ranch, which according to the visitor center host, had problems with too many elk. Seems the rancher planted alfalfa to harvest for winter feed, but the elk ate the grains before it could be harvested despite the best efforts to the contrary. No harvest meant no winter feed for the Herefords, which probably meant it was too expensive of a proposition. So the ranch was sold and the state game and fish folks purchased it in 1993 to meet the objectives of the Arizona Heritage Fund Program for threatened, endangered and sensitive species and their habitats and also for recreational opportunities.

The site has several wetlands area, several easy to moderate hiking trails, a wildlife viewing area and a visitor center with numerous displays.

The visitor center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the wildlife area is open from one hour before sunrise and to one hour after sunrise.

Wildflowers are nice right now, but the best time for wildlife is fall and spring. There are special programs from time to time: such as the recent event that allowed the public to observe and photograph hummingbirds; and in early September AGFD conducts a basic wildlife-viewing workshop. For more information on special programs at Sipe, call (928) 367-4281.

Originally published on August 11, 2010

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