Summer Intern Stories: The Writing in the Sand—Wildlife Tracking in Aravaipa Canyon

Written by Aleidys Lopez Romero, a 2021 Sky Island Alliance Binational Internship Program participant.

While exploring the extravagant views offered within Aravaipa Canyon [this summer], Sky Island Alliance staff along with the Round River Conservation Studies group decided to go on a short wildlife tracking expedition. After a little bushwhacking, a rattlesnake sighting, and greeting several turkeys, we reached a couple of small caves hidden within the canyon.

The cave told stories that could only be understood with the language of tracking. With careful steps, we found the tracks of gila monsters, mountain lions, mice, and rock squirrels, among others. Standing among such rich biodiversity really put into perspective our place within this incredible landscape. We are not alone in our admiration for the rapid-fire growth of the agave, the durability of the cacti, and the almost motherly love offered by the willows’ shade.

As we stood among the plethora of tracks, we tried to imitate what the animals may have been doing and piece together the etchings on the sand. From imagining javelina napping in the shade to picturing a heated battle between a gila monster and a snake, our minds were bursting with excitement and our hearts were filling with empathy.

The more tracks we found, the more connected we felt to the wildlife around us. They too looked for quiet spots to nap, cover from heavy rains, and a safe space to raise their young. With enough imagination, we could even start to see a story developing within our own footprints, and we could only hope it was a story filled with the same kindness and understanding that lead us to this cave in the first place.

[Learn to track: Introduction to Tracking Large Cat Species in the Sky Islands]

Photo Caption: Mountain lion tracks, taken by Aleidys Lopez Romero.

Photo Caption: Mice tracks, taken by Aleidys Lopez Romero.

Photo Caption: Gila monster tracks, taken by Aleidys Lopez Romero.