Crossing the narrow bridge over the North Fork you make a hard left and scramble up the rutted incline to peak over the ridge but not before the automatic, four wheel drive kicks in as the tires loose a little traction on the rocky road bed. You breathe a sigh of relief when you spy the welcomed smooth trail ahead. Bumpy roads are hard to relax on especially when you would rather be looking for signs of wildlife rather than dodging sharp rocks or pot holes. Washboard ruts are an experience all by itself. With the sun rising straight ahead and right in your line of vision, you wished you had cleaned the windshield the night before. But with the washer pump not working your new wiper blades do not give you much relief. The view out of the side windows was great!
Winding down the road at a snails pace was so therapeutic. Straining to find a bit of nature staring at you from the woods edge is a real challenge. The key for spotting big game is looking for something horizontal in a vertical forest. The key for spotting small game or birds is being lucky. But there we were, willing to accept spotting any critters as success whether it was by skill or luck. Being there to experience God’s creation is reward enough under any circumstances.
“Wait! Wait! Slow down! Quiet! What is that? Do you see it? Back up and let me look at it with my binoculars. It’s an elk! No, it’s a deer! No, no. Look at the brown patch on it’s behind. It’s a cow elk! Look there’s another and another. Oh my goodness. There must be twelve, see the one lying down under the tree. Do you see the bull? It’s that time of year. Look! Look! Ten yards back in the trees! He is standing there sideways. Look at the rack. It must be six feet tall. How does he get through the trees? Ok, there they go. Not much in a hurry. It’s not hunting season yet, not for another week or so.” This is a sampling of our many conversations as we come across the sights and sounds of creatures of the forest.
Down the road we entered the edge of the large meadow, and crossed a small spring stream, or actually more like a smelly bog with the water just seeping through the tall grass with barely a trickle crossing the rocky road way. We pulled up about fifty feet where the air was fresher, quietly opened the car doors and stepped out with our binoculars in hand. As we scanned the perimeter of the meadow looking for any four legged creature, we spotted an osprey gliding to rest on a high branch of a lone pine that wi II no longer bare any leaves. It had been dead quite a few years but too soundly planted to fall. It was rooted near the confluence of the small spring stream and Paradise Creek, which was an accumulation of other springs run off, summer rain showers, and winter snow melt, all originating on the west slope of Mount Baldy. Rising 11,000 feet above sea level, the highest peak of the White Mountains is well above the timber line thus the name Mount Baldly and of course, the highest point is Baldly Peak at 11,403 ft. above sea level. Ord Peak is at 11,357 ft. and Paradise Peak is at 11,154 ft.
We walked quietly toward the osprey now with camera in hand, waiting for the perfect moment when it springs to flight. With the binoculars we watch its head flick about as it studies the intruders and hunts for prey simultaneously, but more concerned with the latter. We were almost close enough for a good shot; five more steps would be perfect …. four, three, four …. SWISH. Without any panic, the large predator leaped into a downward glide, its wings set ridged for flight and then gracefully the feathered hunter was scanning the creek for breakfast. We knew if it was unsuccessful here, just over the next ridge of pines it would be soaring over Horseshoe Cienega, a favorite lake for anglers and fowl alike.
“I missed another good picture again!” I whisper to Carol, even thought the Osprey was long gone. Years ago, when I first became interested in wildlife photography, I planned to make a gun stock into a camera support platform. Another one of those “when I get around to it” projects. But remember, if you want to see something worth while, you need to leave the camera behind. Although that can’t be entirely true when you consider all the nature programs we all love to watch.
North Fork Crossing was coming up. We had traveled four miles and climbed from about 6,430 ft. above sea level at McCoy’s Bridge to 8,200 ft. above sea level in a very short distance. We started at creek level and then suddenly found ourselves looking down at the water 500 feet below. What a spectacular sight. The common ponderosa pines give way to the elegant Engelmann Spruce which has the wispy, mysterious shape. As North Fork Crossing came into view we spotted someone standing just below the bridge. As we pulled up closer we could see that it was a Native American (A.K.A. Indian) fishing. He had a fly fishing rod just like mine, a Fenwick. We watched him for a few minutes and then Carol shouted “Hey, he just hooked a fish. Not real big, but a nice frying pan sized trout.” That’s what we fishermen say when we catch a small fish. As he landed the fish I whispered “Let’s roll up onto the bridge and talk “fish’n talk”. “Whatcha us’n?” “Did you catch breakfast”? “Any Lunkers?” I lean over and whispered to Carol “Indians tie a lot of flies. I have bought several of the most common used in this area at the Honda Indian Reservation Store.” He yelled back “worms”. “What did you say, worms?” “Good luck and have a nice day!” We’ll isn’t that something. Worms!” We headed up from the bridge toward SR 260 and headed back to the cabin as we were now getting hungry for breakfast .