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Backpacker Magazine – September 2000

Quest For The Jackalope

Is the legendary jackalope the most endangered species in the Lower 48 or just an old cowboy tale that refuses to die?

by: Annette McGivney


Expedition Planner

Big Bend National Park, Texas: This remote stretch of Chihuahuan desert is home to a healthy population of both mule deer and jackrabbits, making the deer-rabbit hybrid the most likely jackalope species in Big Bend. The best jack tracking will be in the little-visited desert basins. Try Telephone Canyon or the Chimneys Trails. Contact: Big Bend National Park, (915) 477-2251; http://www.nps.gov/bibe.

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico: These dunes offer unique jackalope siting possibilities. The oryx, an African antelope, was introduced into the adjoining White Sands Missile Range by New Mexico state officials, and the exotic ungulate now roams the park. It's quite possible that the dunes-adapted jackrabbit and the oryx have intermingled to create a jackalope species unique to this region. All hiking is cross-country in this trailless park, and backcountry camping is restricted to designated sites. For best results, schedule your jackalope search for a night with a full moon. Contact: White Sands National Monument, (505) 479-6124; www.nps.gov/whsa.

Chiricahua Wilderness, Arizona: The mountain foothills and desert grasslands in this remote corner of southern Arizona are home to the antelope jackrabbit, the closest living relative of the jackalope that's a scientifically acknowledged species. Prime jack habitat is at elevations around 5,000 feet in semiforested areas, where mule deer are often seen. An extensive trail network in the wilderness offers various multiday loop possibilities. Contact: Coronado National Forest, (520) 364-3468; http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado/.

Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota: The vast majority of visitors to this park come to see the attraction underground: one of the largest known cave systems. That leaves the Black Hills aboveground wide open to solitude-seeking backpackers and jackalope hunters. Various subspecies of jackalope could be present here, since the park is home to both deer and pronghorn as well as to jackrabbits and cottontails. A 6.2-mile segment of the Centennial National Trail runs through the park, and there are a host of trails that can be pieced together for gentle, multiday hikes. Contact: Wind Cave National Park, (605) 745-4600; http://www.nps.gov/wica.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota: The Sage Creek Wilderness area is the best place for backpacking and wildlife watching here. The hiking is mostly bushwhacking. Call ahead to make sure that the 15-mile access road is open: in rainy weather, the road is too slick for travel and often is closed. Be warned: It's easy to sprain an ankle while navigating this eroded land. Many a twisted ankle has been attributed to stepping in a prairie dog's hole, but it was more probably due to a cantankerous jackalope tripping up a hiker. Contact: Badlands National Park, (605) 433-5361; http://www.nps.gov/badl.




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