The answer is GRAY FOX.
The way you figure this out is first notice some of the basics:
- This is a diagonal walking animal
- The animal has an oval-shaped foot, four toes, and claws show in
the tracks. This narrows it down to the dog family (domestic dog,
fox, coyote, and wolf).
Then it’s a process of elimination.
- The size of a diagonal-walking animal is approximately 2 strides
(in this case, 16 to 24 inches – quite small). This rules out a
medium or large dog, adult coyote, wolf, and also borders on being
too small for an adult red fox.
- The perfectly consistent gait, especially over difficult
terrain, strongly suggests this is a wild animal, not a domestic
- The animal was alone, which pretty much rules out juvenile
- Note the extreme narrow trail width (2½ to 3½ inches) – this is
almost zero straddle, as if the animal was walking on a tightrope.
This further adds credence to ruling out the above larger members of
the dog family.
- So it’s a type of fox. Red foxes do not inhabit Arizona. Kit
foxes do not inhabit the high mountains. So this pretty much
isolates it to gray fox.
The tiny size of the prints, their delicate appearance with fine
claws, almost zero straddle, and the agile cruising down a boulder field
that was made extra tricky by being only partially covered by the
shallow snow layer are all consistent with gray fox.
Gray fox is a beautiful animal, graceful, balanced and secretive.
These tracks emulate all these characteristics, and were very inspiring
By the way, take a look at Photos 26K / 26L / 26M (below). These
tracks are not as pristine as the previous ones. But note how you can
identify an “X” shape in the toe ridges in the center of the track. The
“X” is another indicator of the dog family, and if you only had these
prints to look at, you could in theory still arrive at the correct
answer. A tip to keep in mind – to quote Tom Brown Jr, “The track that
is the hardest to see has the most to teach.”