Last updated: March 6, 2014
Winter Wildlife in American Fork Canyon (or “Where the Wild Things Are”)
This time of year a large portion of my work is inside, dealing with the writing and planning that paves the way for a smooth summer season. The cooler temperatures that change my focus also frequently make wildlife more observable. As most readers know, Timpanogos Cave National Monument sits a short drive up the canyon, our small acreage surrounded on all sides by the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. This wild buffer zone, separating us from the urban sprawl of the Wasatch Front, allows the animals that live in the canyon to enjoy a place apart from people. The decrease in traffic brought on by winter invites the creatures of the canyon out where they are visible. Where the summertime visitor rarely sees the wild things that live here (not counting the rangers), those of us in the canyon off-season enjoy more frequent sightings.
For example, one fall a flock of wild turkeys ran through the monument. I was sitting working at my desk when the Chief Ranger walked in, glanced out my window, and exclaimed, “Turkeys!” Now, I’m not going to say I’ve been tricked before, but I turned slowly, because I’m convinced that on my forehead there is a sign, invisible to me, that says “Tease Me”. “Yeah right” I said, thinking he was jokingly referring to some of my co-workers, but nope, sure enough, there were a bunch of wild turkeys running down the side of the road.
A little white ermine was seen outside that same window a month or so later, hanging out in the trees by the river (I called him Pee-Wee Ermine). A couple more months brought Big-horn sheep sightings, driven lower in the canyon by winter snows. This same herd sometimes has young ones standing right on the road as I drive to work. They stand very still, watching curiously as I approach slowly in my car. I suppose they think I’m some kind of weird animal (which I suppose I am). They always react, explosively surprised, as they bolt away in response to my voice calling out through the rolled-down window, scolding them for licking the road salt off the blacktop.
As last winter waned, a little grouse was hanging out on the lawn of the historic rock house. When our Resource Management Specialist stepped out to get pictures, it snuggled against the wall, held still, and hid its head against the rock, in a childish game of “you-can’t-see-me-if-I-can’t-see-you”. When spring approaches, the Mule deer, moose, and Mountain goats again begin eating on the plants that turn green as the days warm; already this year we’ve seen a young moose munching. As I think about these wildlife sightings, it makes me look forward to the changes in seasons, for the potential of what it will bring. And it makes me glad I’m here in winter as well as summertime.