Invisible Desert Dwellers

Desert dwellers are accustomed to the monsoon season and the rain it ushers in, a glass of water raised to cracked, thirsty lips.

We also know that with rain, the normally dry riverbed near our home begins to ebb and flow, its banks rising with churned-chocolate liquid. And while we understand that this sudden arrival of water attracts animals who’ve yearned for the wet stuff – suffered without it – rarely do we have the opportunity to see them dipping their toes (and hooves) into the water, dropping their heads gently to lap the cool sustenance.

Water in the riverbed.  Photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry

But don’t let the wild’s cloak of invisibility fool you. This time of year more than ever, the existence of the wild becomes tangible, immortalized – if only for a short time – in the riverbed floor.

Enjoy the evidence hubby and I discovered during our recent visit to the now-receded riverbed (water actually flows underground throughout the year, making this part of Arizona home to one of the largest mesquite bosques in the world. That band of deep green beyond the river in the above photo is the mesquite bosque).

Desert dwellers
This is, unarguably, THE largest mountain lion print we’ve ever encountered. Consider that my size 13-shoe-wearing, six-foot+, large-handed hubby is the “hand model.” Four of my thumb prints didn’t even fill one toe pad indent! Photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry


Desert dwellers 2
These are ‘big kitty’ scratch marks, covering urine. And let me tell you: we could still smell it, so these were fresh tracks. If you look closely, you can also see a raccoon track in there. Photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry


Speaking of raccoons… Fresh imprints (which I had HOPED were coati tracks, but I don’t believe they were) Photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry


 Roadrunner tracks. Meep! Meep! Credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry
Roadrunner tracks. Meep! Meep! Photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry


Lizard trails (I think). Photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry


We even saw these: barefoot human prints (ironically, RIGHT next to the giant mountain lion tracks). Photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry

While we understand that footprints may be invisible throughout the remainder of the year, we will be reminded, these photos as evidence, of what walks among us. We’re happy they share their desert home with us.

Other sightings around the ranch:

Desert dwellers 3
I admit to complete euphoria when I saw this American badger shoot over the hill behind my house while I was doing some rooftop reading and research. This butt shot was the best I could manage before he loped away. Photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry


My first-ever glimpse of a Vermillion Flycatcher near the river. Photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry


Animals in the wild offer a case study on subtlety, on magic, on fortitude. For the most part, they don’t want to draw attention, their movements subtle and often cautious. When we consider their ability to camouflage – we often walk right past them without seeing them – they offer a sort of magic (never mind the soul-awakening, magical effect they can exude on humans). And then there’s their ability to persevere, often against all odds. Which of these “wild” areas challenge you the most – subtlety, magic, fortitude?

*Originally published at What I Saw.  Reposted with permission of the author.




    1. I know… BADGER!!!! was my reaction, too! I’d been waiting years to see one alive (unfortunately I’d seen a few on the edge of the road). I never, ever expected one to be, literally, in my back yard! I’m with you —amazed by their resilience.


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