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Rural America ~ Desert Southwest Road-trips: Kanab to Ridgway   9 comments

On the Ralf Lauren Ranch near Ridgway, Colorado on a crystal-cold late fall morning.

America is a big place.  There are large swathes of it that retain a rural or even wild character.  In the rural areas you’ll primarily see homes surrounded by lawns and landscaping.  No garden, no chickens, goats or horses.  No dairy cow supplying milk to the family.  And in fact little visual evidence of a family.  Where are all the kids who once cared for those animals, and after chores roamed the woods and fields?   Most likely riding to yet another stop on their busy schedules or inside looking at screens.

Things have obviously changed.  But in much of rural America there remains just enough of the traditional character (and characters!) to allow a casual visitor to be transported back to a simpler age.  That is what this series of posts is attempting to do, at least with its pictures.  Since I believe in passing on some of what I know in this blog and not just waxing lyrical, I’m highlighting a few select road-trips that I’ve done several times, journeys that will get you off the main tourist routes while still hitting popular destinations that in my opinion are not to be missed.

Last time we traveled from one favorite national park to another: Death Valley, California to Zion in Utah.  Check out that post.  For an introduction to the geography, culture and history of the Desert Southwest, check out the previous post.  Now let’s continue our journey through the Southwest, traveling from Kanab, Utah to Ridgway, Colorado.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Utah.

Kanab to Ridgway

This trip begins where the last one left off, Zion Park.  Kanab is a short distance from Zion’s east entrance.  Unless you’ve already been there and want to save your time for new places, you’re going to want to begin with that scenic wonder.  Kanab is worth visiting for its movie history and small-town vibe.  Have breakfast at Nedra’s, where many old-time movie stars chowed down.  Rooms are fairly reasonable in town, but if you’re camping a great choice is Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park just north of town (image above).

An old barn in Kanab Canyon sits in a pasture used by horses cared for by the folks at Best Friends.

If you have two or three extra days on your hands, consider volunteering at Best Friends animal shelter a short drive north of Kanab.  Click the link to go to their site.  You can book it ahead and stay there either in a room or if you have a camper there’s a couple nice sites free for volunteers.  It’s the world’s largest true no-kill shelter and houses all manner of orphaned animals from dogs & cats to horses & pot-belly pigs.

Taking a break while walking one of the residents of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Utah.

If you’re traveling east from Kanab, you have a big decision to make.  You can either drive down Hwy. 89 to Lake Powell through Page into northern Arizona.  Or you can follow this trip and head north on 89 to join with Hwy. 12 east.  Both are spectacular journeys, and with a little time you could go as far as Page and then join this trip by either returning to Kanab or cutting across Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument on one of the rough dirt roads (high-clearance recommended).

An old western movie set slowly crumbles near Kanab, Utah.

So drive north from Kanab on Hwy. 89 and turn east onto one of America’s most scenic roads, Hwy. 12.  Head up through Redrock Canyon, stopping to take a short hike through hoodoos that are a preview of Bryce Canyon.  After a stop at Bryce a bit further east, continue to Escalante.  This is a very small town surrounded by stunning canyon country.  Stop and get a feel for what life was like for early pioneers in this isolated spot.  Self-reliance is still a prized commodity here, and you will meet some real characters.

Not far from the junction of Highways 89 and 12 in Long Valley, cows deal with the season’s first snowfall.

There is so much scenery and so many hiking and photographic opportunities in these parts that it is tempting to go off on a wilderness tangent.  I did a series on the Grand Staircase, so check that out for a little guidance and some image-inspiration.  Continue on to Boulder, a town subtly different than Escalante but still very much tied to its ranching roots.  The small towns around here are dependent on the steady stream of seasonal tourists.

Head up over Boulder Mountain, where you have a stupendous view out over the country you’re about to traverse.  The unique and spectacular Waterpocket Fold is at your feet up here among the aspens.  As you drop off Boulder Mtn., the country becomes greener.  Take one of the roads west off the highway and see some of the ranches and farms.  With a good map you can easily find your way to the little town of Torrey via the “back door”.  Torrey retains most of its original character and is less about tourism than most towns on this route.

Ranchland at the base of Boulder Mountain, Utah.

Bid a sad adieu to Hwy. 12 where it ends just east of Torrey.  Turn right on Hwy. 24 and drop down to Capitol Reef National Park.  Here you’ll find orchards and the preserved remains of Mormon homesteads, all clustered along the beautiful Fremont River.  Note that instead of going over Boulder Mtn. you can reach Capitol Reef by traveling the amazing Burr Trail.  Don’t worry, it’s a road perfectly passable in a passenger car.

Reefs in this part of the world are not underwater.  Quirks of the local geology, they are long, steep escarpments that formed a barrier to pioneers traveling westward in wagons.  Think of how reefs in the sea form a barrier to boats and you understand the name.  In this case the pass through Capitol Reef comes courtesy of the Fremont River.

A bit of the old west survives at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Going east on Hwy. 24 you enter arid, unpeopled country.  It’s the perfect place to prepare for exploring a desert planet, which is why not far off the highway lies the Mars Desert Research Station.  You can make an appointment to tour the MDRS.  Turn north at Hanksville to stay on Hwy. 24 and travel toward the Interstate along the San Rafael Swell.  This is a magical formation to explore, with great canyon hikes.  Since it is not protected expect to share it with off-road vehicles, but it is definitely off the tourist track.  At its base lie the strange hoodoos of Goblin Valley.

Turn east on I-70 for a short drive to U.S. 191, where you’ll turn south toward Moab.  Moab was for most of its life a small remote town.  It briefly boomed during the uranium mining boom of the early 1950s.  Despite its current tourist-town status, I like Moab.  It draws an interesting mix of rock climbers, mountain bikers and off-roaders.  Drop in to the Red Rock Cafe for breakfast and you’ll see what I mean.

Big beautiful cottonwoods grow in the canyons surrounding Moab, Utah.

Of course you’ll want to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.  But there are many other worthwhile hikes and bike rides in the region.  A great driving loop from Moab heads up over the La Sal Mtns. Loop Road and down to Castle Valley and the Colorado River.  Turn east on Hwy. 128 to visit Fisher Towers, then return west along the river back to Moab.  Many of the ranches along this route have been converted to guest and dude ranches.  But they give you a glimpse into the rural life of SW Utah.

Near Canyonlands National Park an old fence reminds of a time when cattle herding was one of the few jobs available.

From Moab go south on 191 a short distance to Hwy. 46 and turn left (east) toward La Sal and the Colorado border.  Cross out of Utah on a gloriously uncrowded route that becomes increasingly green.  You are in a transition now, passing off the Colorado Plateau into the Rocky Mountains.

Welcome!

Drive through tiny settlements with names like Bedrock, Redvale and Placerville, rural Colorado at its best.  When faced with confusing junctions, always take the road that heads east.  At Placerville, after driving through a lovely little valley lined with Colorado blue spruce, turn east again onto Hwy. 62.

A late-autumn scene on the Dallas Divide, Colorado.

Take Hwy. 62 over Dallas Divide through some of America’s most beautiful rural mountain scenery (images above and below).  For a closer look, turn up toward the peaks on the West Fork Road and drive through Ralf Lauren’s spectacular ranch (image at top).  To avoid trespassing stay on the road until you reach National Forest land.  Back on Hwy. 62, continue on to Ridgway, a still-authentic ranching community.  If it’s autumn and the aspens are in leaf, you will run out of space on your camera’s memory card!

A ranch is nestled among colorful aspens high in the San Juan Mtns. near Ridgway, Colo.

An off-pavement loop drive from Ridgway heads east up gravel county road 8 to Owl Creek Pass.  You can free-camp up here and then continue north to rejoin pavement near U.S. 50.  Turn left (west) here and drive to Montrose, the largest town in these parts.  Stock up and then make the short drive back down to Ridgway.  I’m going to leave you in Ridgway, which while lovely is rather remote.  From here you can go south through the interesting town of Ouray, then over the high passes of the San Juans and down to Durango.  You could also head north and east toward Aspen into the high Rockies of western Colorado.

Rural SW Colorado is perhaps best in the fall.

There are two big towns (Durango and Grand Junction) near enough Ridgway to drop the rental and fly out.  Denver is farther away but with enough time a trip that begins in Vegas and ends in Denver would be memorable indeed.  Despite our little foray into the Rocky Mtns. the next leg of our journey continues the Desert SW theme.  We’ll travel south through the Four Corners into New Mexico.  Thanks very much for reading and have a great weekend!

A corral sits in a remote Utah canyon as a storm moves through at sunset.

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A Very Special Shih Tsu   34 comments

Charl the shih tsu (pronounced shee tsoo) at his favorite place, the Oregon Coast.

Charl the shih tsu (pronounced shee tsoo) at his favorite place, the Oregon Coast.

I lost my friend yesterday.  He was named Charl.  I didn’t name him and, fittingly, it’s uncertain why his name is Charl and not Charles or Charlie.  He was a little shih tsu.  I have been blessed by having in the past 20 years two of the best dogs I could ever imagine.  First Sugar and then Charl.  Shih tsus are dogs originally bred in China for the households of royalty, where women with bound feet needed the warmth of their fur in wintertime.

Shih tsus have very unique and engaging personalities.  And this particular shih tsu had a truly unique personality even compared with others of his breed.  He was 16 years old and lived quite the full and exciting life.

Never let anybody tell you a small dog is not a “real” dog.  And never assume a small dog can’t go hiking and adventuring with you.  I had some of these preconceptions before I met Charl, and he shattered them all.  I inherited him from an ex when he was just one.  He was my companion for more than 15 years.

A little known fact about the old west that has been lost to history: shih tsu scouts!

A little known fact about the old west that has been lost to history: shih tsu scouts!

I swear he was part cat, especially with respect to having 9 lives.  There were many times when I thought he had been lost.  He had a habit of wandering from the trail and driving me crazy with worry looking for him.  One time he got lost while hiking high on Mt. Hood.  My uncle searched in one direction and I went the other.  When my uncle found him he was sleeping right at the edge of an enormous cliff.  Another time was in the snow and it had gotten dark.  I still don’t know how I managed to meet back up with him that time.

But until he got old he never shrank from a physical challenge.  I may have had to lift him up and over big rocks on climbs, but he would routinely do 15+ mile hikes with major elevation gains exceeding 3000 feet!  He was extremely healthy throughout his life, never sick and (almost) never a pain.   He could hold his pee for incredibly long periods if necessary.  And when he was too old to hike with me he’d wait patiently in my van for many hours.  He was a very mellow and relaxed little thing who almost never barked.

Charl in his later years was not as intrepid though he always played along.

Charl in his later years was not as intrepid though he always played along.

When on camping/photo safaris, as soon as I got up at dawn to photograph, Charl would move right into my sleeping bag.

When on camping/photo safaris, as soon as I got up at dawn to photograph, Charl would move right into my sleeping bag.

He almost became prey on a number of occasions.  On Hurricane Ridge in Washington it was only by very quick action on my part that he wasn’t taken by an eagle.  He even came face to face with a wild wolf, a lone alpha male in Yellowstone Park.  He was only 10 feet away, but again my presence saved him.  I snatched him up before the wolf could get any ideas about snagging a take-out lunch.

When he was a youngster he would disappear with his sister Abbi, most times at the beach.  Some time later I would get a call when someone found him.  Invariably they would’ve scored treats or even full meals.  He wore my phone number around his neck his whole life, and it was necessary in his case believe me.

This wolf is looking right at him but Charl had very little idea he was face to face with his wild origins.

This wolf is looking right at him but Charl had very little idea he was face to face with his wild origins.

On a trip to Yosemite National Park, Charl shows the local deer just how ineffectual he is as a hunter.

On a trip to Yosemite National Park, Charl shows the local deer just how ineffectual he is as a hunter.

All through these trials he maintained that extremely mellow disposition that everyone remarked upon.  When he was a puppy he was of course rambunctious.  But throughout his life he was a dog who could appreciate laziness in all its forms.  He slept many hours on my lap as I drove.  I thought of him as a lap dog who had adapted very well to an active life.  In fact, shih tsus are the most adaptable of all the lap dogs.

Charl was always happy to lounge on people and keep them warm, even little people.

Charl was always happy to lounge on people and keep them warm, even little people.

The great thing about lap dogs is you can take them anywhere.

The great thing about lap dogs is you can take them anywhere.

He learned how to hike by following my previous dog, Sugar.  There were some years of overlap when I had two dogs.  Sugar also taught him how to love streams.  He was afraid of them at first but after watching her cool down many times by plopping her belly down in cold creek water he got the idea and started following suit.

 

Charl goes canyoning in southern Utah.

Charl goes canyoning in southern Utah.

The only hassle was his fur.  It was the kind that doesn’t shed.  That made it strange.  It would pick up half of the forest floor as if it were velcro.  Powder snow would quickly ball up until he couldn’t walk for all the packed snowballs on his under-carriage.  He needed frequent combing and bathing.  Especially when his hair was long.  I always thought he looked more like a natural dog when his hair was long.

Charl is struggling in the snow because his fur picks up snowballs.  La Sal Mtns, Utah.

Charl is struggling in the snow because his fur picks up snowballs. La Sal Mtns, Utah.

So he got a free ride in my pack, the only time he skied!

So he got a free ride in my pack, the only time he skied!

His favorite place in all the world was the Oregon Coast.  He loved to run up and down the beach chasing the surf as it receded, chasing shore birds, having a ball.  He would run until he was a speck in the distance, and I would have to run after him.  He used to be so fast, like a flying dust mop!

Charl rests after some fun on the Oregon Coast.

Charl rests after some fun on the Oregon Coast.

The sand was good for playing in, but the warm rock is much better for napping on.

The sand was good for playing, but the warm rock is much better for napping.

Even the last time we were there, with him an old codger, he started to run for a bit before tiring quickly.  Because of his love for the beach I will be going with my uncle to the coast soon to scatter his ashes.  My uncle, Charl and I hiked many times together.

Charl as an old dog.  Though he eventually went blind, he aged gracefully.

Charl as an old dog. Though he eventually went blind, he aged gracefully.

I suppose I shouldn’t be sad that Charl is gone.  He lived a full life after all.  But I am sad, very sad.  I know that I will never meet a dog like Charl.  Rest in Peace buddy, you’ll be missed.

 

Charl: 1998 - 2014, Rest in Peace.

Charl: 1998 – 2014, Rest in Peace.

Single-Image Sunday: The Golden Years   8 comments

Thinking about the old days: my dog Charl

Thinking about the good old days: my dog Charl

My little buddy Charl the shih tsu, who I’ve known since he was a pup, is now in his golden years.  He is 15 and has been slowing way down lately.  He is pretty much blind now but shows no worrisome signs of ill health.  He’s been a remarkably healthy dog.

Although this photo is from last year, I chose it because he seems to be thinking back on the good times we’ve shared together.  He used to be one heck of a hiker, believe it or not.  With the most unique personality of any dog I’ve encountered, he’s been a constant source of amusement through the years.  I’m going to miss him when he goes.

My Little Companero   4 comments

Charl the Shih tsu at his favorite place in the world: the Oregon Coast!

Charl the Shih tsu at his favorite place in the world: the Oregon Coast!

I don’t think I have made my little buddy the subject of a post yet.  I don’t even include him in many pictures, though he is never far from where I am.  Unless I am going international, flying somewhere, he goes with me.  He’s my road-trip partner.

A shih tsu takes on a concerned expression, worried no doubt that more treats aren't in the cards.

A shih tsu takes on a concerned expression, worried no doubt that more treats aren’t in the cards.

And what a partner!  He never complains or whines, even about my driving.  He always seems happy to go wherever I want to go, and never makes me feel guilty about buying snacks and spilling crumbs when I munch while driving.  In fact, he LOVES when we get snacks.

A little known fact about the old west that has been lost to history: shih tsu scouts!

A little known fact about the old west that has been lost to history: shih tsu scouts!

He’s my little dog, named Charl, who I’ve had since he was a puppy.  It wasn’t my idea to get a shih tsu.  He belonged to my girlfriend at the time, and he latched on to me when I took him along on a trip to the Canadian Rockies with my other dog (a samoyed mix).   He learned how to lift his leg when he pees on that trip.

Charl usually takes over my sleeping bag when I go out for those cold dawn photo shoots.

Charl usually takes over my sleeping bag when I go out for those cold dawn photo shoots.

I didn’t even know what a shih tsu was.  To me, it was just one more poor excuse for a dog: a yapper, an ankle biter.  I’ve always had big dogs, dogs that could go skiing & hiking with me.  You know, real dogs.  But when the girlfriend and I split he came with me.

Charl checks out a slot canyon in Utah.

Charl checks out a slot canyon in Utah.

Now I’m a big shih tsu fan.  They are without doubt the best small dog in my opinion.  Perhaps it is his personality, which is uniquely mellow and quiet.  When he was young he barked some and ran around the house like an idiot with his sister.

Charl is struggling in the snow because his fur picks up snowballs.  La Sal Mtns, Utah.

Charl is struggling in the snow because his fur picks up snowballs. La Sal Mtns, Utah.

 

This is the ticket

Okay this is much better. Snow is too hard!

But in general shih tsus do not bark as much as other small dogs.  All they really want is to cuddle, so never be scared of a getting bitten by this dog.  I really feel it is ideal to have two dogs; an inside lap dog and an outside bigger dog.

Motorcycles are Scary.  What a trooper!

Motorcycles are Scary. What a trooper!

When Charl was young, he went on many hikes with me and my uncle.  He even climbed a few mountains.  He could do 15 mile, 3000-foot vertical hikes.  And that’s impressive considering how short his legs are.  He’s always loved snow but it clings to his fur and forms giant snowballs so he has trouble walking.  Also, he’s always loved the beach.

Charl the shih tsu, in the meadows along the Merced River in Yosemite N.P., stalks the completely unworried deer.

Charl the shih tsu, in the meadows along the Merced River in Yosemite N.P., stalks the completely unworried deer.

On on this last trip I even got him to run down the beach.  He rarely runs now.  He’s old (14) and sleeps most of the time.  He gets irritated when puppies try to play with him.  In other words, he’s retired.  I’ll be a sad man when my little buddy dies.  He’s enriched the lives of everyone he’s met.

Charl looking handsome after a haircut.

Charl looking handsome after a haircut.

 

 

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