Earth Day Love Letter from the Arroyo

Arroyo Self-Portrait

Arroyo Self-Portrait

Arroyos are the great gutters of the desert. As dry as this place appears much of the year, its shape is dominated by the rare running of water. Before I came to New Mexico, I had never even heard the word arroyo. I grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch farm country and I had no concept of what a dry river bed might look like; all the rivers I knew were wet. And even if I had tried to picture such thing as a dry river bed, with its intricate erosive layers, twists and turns, treasures and debris, I never would have imagined the Earth’s basement to be quite so beautiful.

In celebration of Earth Day, my favorite holiday, here are a few of my favorite shots from the arroyo in my big backyard. Enjoy!

 

Into the Arroyo

Into the Arroyo

Erosion is Beautiful

Erosion is Beautiful

Erosion is magnificent!

Arroyo Window

Natural Bridge: Erosion is improbable.

Natural Bridge

Arroyo Dogdoor

Arroyo Dogdoor

 

Watch Your Step!

Watch Your Step!

Desert Sandstorm: Erosion is happening all the time.

Wind Between the Walls

Shale Spillway

Shale Spillway, Filled With Tumbleweeds

Spillway Self Portrait

Spillway Self Portrait

Desert Dogs Bruce & D.O.G.

Desert Dogs Bruce & D.O.G.

Four Dog Hike

Four Dog Hike

Blue Eyes Bruce

Blue Eyes Bruce/ Salty Dog

Desert Seep

Evaporites

Desert Seep

Desert Seep

Desert Treasure: A giant bivalve from the deep blue sea

Desert Treasure: A giant bivalve from the deep blue sea!

Desert Seashell

Desert Seashell

Here was once an ocean

Here was once an ocean…

Swirly Juniper

Swirly Juniper

Epic Taproot!

Two-story Taproot!

Chimesa Bruce

Chimesa Bruce

Desert Denizen

Desert Denizen. Notice the cactus stuck to his face. I wanted to pull it off but I chickened out.

For more on water in the desert, check out my previous posts: Desert Snow, the Weight of Water and Flash Flood! Thanks to WordPress for featuring the Blonde Coyote on Earth Day!

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Science Writing, Sustainable Living, Vagabonding 101 | 8 Comments

EARTH Magazine: A New “Travels in Geology” Collection!

Burgess Shale Trilobites in Yoho National Park, BC

Burgess Shale Trilobites in Yoho National Park, BC

My favorite beat at EARTH magazine has always been the Travels in Geology column. Now EARTH has published a collection of travel pieces that includes six of my Travels in Geology features: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, New Mexico’s Ghost Ranch, Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, California’s Death Valley, Oregon’s Crater Lake and British Columbia’s Burgess Shale. The collection is available for Kindle. One of my photos even made the cover! I don’t get any royalties or proceeds, but it’s nice to see some of my favorite stories all in one place! Go here to check it out.

U.P. D.O.G.

U.P. D.O.G.

Becky limbs the chimney up to Kitchen Mesa in Ghost Ranch, NM

The chimney up Kitchen Mesa in Ghost Ranch, NM

Sky Pilot in Blodgett Canyon, MT

Sky Pilot in Blodgett Canyon, MT

Sunrise at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, CA

Sunrise at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, CA

Crater Lake

Crater Lake’s Bluest Blue

Stay tuned for a brand new Travels in Geology on Ireland’s Northern Coast!

Posted in Beyond the USA, Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Road tripping!, Science Writing, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 15 Comments

Climbing Cabezon

Cabezon Peak

On clear days, looking west from the summit of my backyard cliffs, I can just make out what looks like a giant haystack on the horizon. If I were to hike due west from my house, across the Rio Grande Valley, over the Jemez Mountains and into the Rio Puerco Valley, in about 100 miles, I would find myself at the foot of this massive mound of rock.

The Stackmaster & Cabezon

The Stackmaster & Cabezon

Cabezon Peak is an eroded volcanic neck, all that remains of a now extinct volcano. Millions of years ago, hot molten basalt shot up through the central pipe of this volcano, but instead of erupting, it solidified inside the mountain. Over millions of years, erosion removed the surrounding layers of rock, leaving behind a vertical spire of columnar basalt. Shiprock in northwest New Mexico and Devil’s Tower in Wyoming are both famous examples of volcanic necks.

Northside of Cabezon

East Side of Cabezon

Rising more than 2,000 vertical feet from the surrounding landscape, Cabezon is the largest of more than 50 volcanic necks in the Rio Puerco Valley, a region known as the Mount Taylor volcanic complex. Cabezon means “big head” in Spanish. The name is believed to be derived from Navajo legends about a giant slain on nearby Mount Taylor, whose head rolled down into the Rio Puerco Valley and became Cabezon Peak.

Overlooking the Rio Puerco Volcanic Field

Overlooking the Rio Puerco Volcanic Field

The closer you get to Cabezon, the more impenetrable it looks: sheer walls of vertical basalt columns are surrounded by an exhaustingly steep talus slope. But there is a chimney to the top: a scalable passage hidden somewhere in the rock face. Several years ago I tried and failed to find the path. I was hiking solo that day and every route I spied looked far too dangerous to attempt without a spotter.

The Way Up

The Way Up

Cabezon is considered a Class 3 climb, with two short Class 4 sections. The Yosemite Decimal System defines the five climbing classes as such:

  • Class 1: Walking with a low chance of injury.
  • Class 2: Simple scrambling, with the possibility of occasional use of the hands. Little potential danger is encountered.
  • Class 3: Scrambling with increased exposure. A rope can be carried but is usually not required. Falls are not always fatal.
  • Class 4: Simple climbing, with exposure. A rope is often used. Natural protection can be easily found. Falls may well be fatal.
  • Class 5: Technical free climbing involving rope, belaying, and other protection hardware for safety. Un-roped falls can result in severe injury or death.
Heading up the chimney

Heading up the chimney, just below the class 4 crux

We didn’t use a rope or harnesses and made it all the way up to the summit! The dogs made it about half way up before they were stopped by the first Class 4 section, below the beginning of the chimney. My dogs are experienced rock climbers and I let them decide what they’re comfortable doing. I left water and my jacket at the base of that tricky section and told them I’d be right back. They stayed there like good, loyal dogs, until we got back down. Never, ever, ever tie up your dog in coyote country!
Where we left the dogs

Where we left the dogs

Heading into the cleft that leads to the summit

Heading into the cleft that leads to the summit

Rod photographing the photographer

Rod photographing the photographer just below the summit

Summit Spiral

Summit Spiral!

Summit Register Sketch

Summit Register Sketch

More Summit Register Art

More Summit Register Art

The King of Cabezon!

The King of Cabezon!

Cabezon D.O.G.

Cabezon D.O.G.

At the trailhead. Please! No money! How often do you see that? The best things in life are free.

At the trailhead. Please! No money! How often do you see that? The best things in life are free.

Click here for more pictures of our climb up Cabezon and visit Summitpost.org for detailed  route instructions. It’s a beautiful day here in New Mexico and I’m off for another hike!

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Road tripping! | Tagged , | 6 Comments

On the Road, Again: Southern NM & AZ to Joshua Tree!

The Teardrop meets a Joshua Tree

The Teardrop meets a Joshua Tree

This winter I’ve mainly been traveling from home, exploring the desert on foot in my big backyard. But for years now, I’ve been saying that I’m due for a winter road trip across southern Arizona, one of my last big blank stretches of the Southwest. In the two weeks before my birthday I hit the road on two back to back voyages with two of my favorite copilots through southern New Mexico west into Arizona along the Mexican border all the way to Joshua Tree National Park!

La Ventana Arch in El Malpais, New Mexico.

La Ventana Arch in El Malpais, New Mexico.

Along the way we hit El Malpais and El Morro National Monuments, Pie Town, Truth or Consequences, and City of Rocks State Park in New Mexico and Chiricahua National Monument, Cochise Stronghold, Bisbee, Saguaro National Park, Biosphere 2, Organ Pipe Cactus and Tuzigoot National Monuments in Arizona. With all those National Parks and Monuments, I bought myself an America the Beautiful National Parks pass, which will pay for itself many times over in the next year. Here’s to seeing more of the world!

Big sycamores in Mogollon, New Mexico

Big sycamores in Mogollon, New Mexico

Revisiting one of my first childhood loves: climbing sycamore trees!

Revisiting one of my first childhood loves: climbing sycamore trees!

Camped at City of Rocks, New Mexico

Camped at City of Rocks, New Mexico

Lone Boulder Crack Climb, City of Rocks, NM

Lone Boulder Crack Climb, City of Rocks, NM

CR1-Panorama OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Table Mountain Sunset

Table Mountain Sunset

Cochise Head from Sugarloaf Mountain

Cochise Head from Sugarloaf Mountain

Climbing Chiricahua

Climbing Chiricahua

Chiricahua Sunset

Chiricahua Sunset

Cochise D.O.G.

Cochise D.O.G.

Happy Mary in Cochise Stronghold

Hiding out in Cochise Stronghold

Bisbee Self Portrait

Bisbee Self Portrait

Rotary Gas Pump

Old School

7 Miles from Mexico!

7 Miles from Mexico!  We passed through a dozen checkpoints but were waved through all of them with few questions and no searches.

Beware Coyotes

Beware Coyotes. We didn’t have any problems traveling and boondocking along the border. I left  a couple of gallons of water outside the Teardrop every night so that if somebody did sneak by us they’d hopefully get what they needed and keep going.

Saguaro Teardrop

Saguaro Teardrop

Cholla Teardrop

Cholla Teardrop

Biosphere 2!

Biosphere 2!

Inside Biosphere 2. The Earth is Biosphere 1.

Inside Biosphere 2. The Earth is Biosphere 1.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Such an incredibly lush desert landscape!

An Organ Pipe Cactus

An Organ Pipe Cactus

Home Sweet Home in Joshua Tree

Home Sweet Home in Joshua Tree

Following a hand and toe route up to a lookout

Following a hand and toe route up to a lookout

Life is Good

Life is Good

Joshua Tree D.O.G.

Joshua Tree D.O.G.

Check out my post How To Plan A Killer Road Trip for tips on how to put together your very own road trip. For lots more pix, check out my Flickr. I’ll be in New Mexico for another month or so before I hit the road for the summer. This year, I’m thinking Wyoming, Idaho & Montana! Stay tuned…

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 17 Comments

Happy Birthday Hike: Tetilla Peak!

Happy Birthday to me!

Happy Birthday to me!

Every year for the past seven years, I have climbed a mountain on my birthday. This year I made it up Tetilla Peak, just south of Santa Fe, not once but twice!

Four dog hike, Tetilla on the left

Four dog hike, Tetilla on the horizon to the left

I’ve been looking at Tetilla for years; it spikes above the long line of the La Bajada Mesa, northwest of where I winter in Cerrillos. I’ve always meant to climb it, but somehow it got left for last among the high points on my horizons (after Grand Central, Placer Peak, SandiaCabezon & Santa Fe Baldy).

No trails climb Tetilla, but a rutted former section of Route 66 will get you most of the way there. I turn off too soon and put the Rover to work down a pointy rocky excuse of a side road,  hoping I’m not asking for a flat on my birthday, and park at the abrupt end of the track. I’m still in love with my ’96 Disco; I’ve always wanted a vehicle that will take me all the way to the End of the Road!

The Rover on Old 66

The Rover on Old 66

The rocky, cactussy, junipery terrain rises, falls and rises again on its way to the summit and I eyeball the trek at about six miles, round trip. No sweat. Not my most challenging birthday trek, but this day isn’t about numerical superlatives. It’s about spending the day doing what I love: traveling on my own two feet to some place rare and beautiful.

To the top of Tetilla!

To the top of Tetilla!

I find my own path across the desert, weaving through the trees, over a barbed five-wire fence and another dirt road, this one fairer than the one I traveled. Underfoot: soft brown desert dirt, dotted with dark, pitted volcanic rocks and shards of softer sandstone. I don’t like leaving footprints on trail-free ground so I hop from rock to rock as much as possible, delighting in the slap of my soles against basalt, ever vigilant for early season rattlesnakes. The dogs – Dio and Bruce, conspiring together against the rabbits – mind their feet for cactus, but don’t think twice about their paw prints (or the specter of sunning snakes).

Desert Dogs

Desert Dogs  Dio and Bruce

In no time, it seems, I’m on top! The summit is clustered with massive, slowly yielding, lichen-licked boulders, garnished with a few gnarled scrubs and marked by a USGS marker and a summit register ammo can.

USGS Summit Marker, set in 1951

USGS Summit Marker, set in 1951

Bruce's Victory Nap, looking south towards Sandia

Bruce’s Victory Nap, view south towards Sandia

Under the can, weighted by rocks, I find a kite! A kite! A kite! The Universe has gifted me a kite! I unfurl the cheap dollar-store thing, and throw it aloft where it whips into the wind, too fragile for the swirling mountaintop currents.

Let's Go Fly A Kite!

Let’s Go Fly A Kite!

Frantic, luffing, it screams and threatens its thin thread until it crashes sharply into the summit rocks. I try again and it crashes again. Once more, I toss it aloft and this time it soars and I play out line, letting it pull me right back to childhood. Then the string snaps and the thing goes winging away, over the edge. I gallop after it, my gait childish, but my feet sure, bounding down the uneven slope of loose rock spiked with patches of cactus, and catch the kite far below, where it has crashed into a juniper. Then I turn around, set my sights on the summit once more and carry it back up to the top, where I fix the thread and roll it back up under the ammo can for another summiteer on another windy day.

Summit Self Portrait, looking north towards Santa Fe and the Sangre de Cristos

Summit Self Portrait at 7,203 feet, looking north towards Santa Fe and the Sangre de Cristos

Here’s to 32! I think I’ll go buy myself a real kite!

Revisit some of my past birthday hikes: The Pedernal, the inverted mountain of the Grand Canyon, Shenandoah’s Old Rag. Stay tuned for a post on the La Bajada Mesa, a stunningly beautiful historic place threatened by a proposed strip mine.

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | Tagged , | 31 Comments

Strawbale & Mud Plaster: My Warmest Winter Yet!

My winter digs. Notice the Teardrop in the background.

My winter digs. Notice the Teardrop parked in the background. That’s a solar oven in front, which obviously does not work when it snows.

The Teardrop is not for overwintering. It’s not so much the cold that would drive me crazy, but the limited daylight hours. Too many five-hour evenings in such a small space aren’t good for the soul. This year, I’m lucky enough to be spending my fourth winter in the backcountry near Cerrillos, New Mexico, a place that’s off the grid and off the map and as close to home as I’ve found in all my wanderings.

I’m staying in a little one room hut with a sleeping loft. It’s not fancy – the walls are literally made of straw and dirt – but it’s by far the warmest place I’ve ever wintered. Between the thick walls, big south-facing windows and a kick-ass woodstove, it’s often t-shirt weather in here, no matter what’s happening outside.

My place: when you're used to living in 50 square feet, 200 feels downright roomy!

My place: when you’re used to living in 50 square feet, 200 feels downright roomy! This place came with just enough furniture. I work at the stand up desk on the left, with a view of the Ortiz Mountains. 

My kick ass woodstove

My kick ass woodstove. That thing cooks!

My Trunk Library

Winter Altar

This place was built by my friends Amanda and Andy Bramble with their own hands. Together they run the Ampersand Sustainable Learning Center, where they live and teach the art of off grid living and sustainable building:

The Ampersand Sustainable Learning Center offers internships, classes and events, and retreats. We also share our experience through blogging and our website. We focus on Passive Solar Design, Greywater Recycling, Rain Catchment, Permaculture, Natural Building, Appropriate Technologies, and Land Restoration. We are dedicated to the land, to self-sufficiency, and to community. We do this because it brings us joy.  

I asked Amanda to write a few paragraphs explaining why my winter hut is so warm:

We built the strawbale cottage during the first summer on our property.  Four days a week we worked for money, and three days a week to make shelter for the winter.  We had never built with post and beam.  We had never built a strawbale structure.  But we figured it would be good enough to last a few years, and that it would be a good practice building to prepare us for our long term house.

Amanda's found objects altar outside my place

Amanda’s found objects altar outside my place

The reason why it’s so warm and cosy is partly because of the insulation.  Strawbales make serious walls.  All those little air holes in the stems of the grasses packed on top of eachother stop heat from moving through the wall.  The ceiling is insulated with straw and sawdust.  The south facing windows are roughly 25% of the floor space which is a good ratio for passive solar design in this area.  The insulated curtains that I made help seal the heat where you want it.  Lastly, the thermal mass holds the heat inside the cottage.  There are barrels of water that collect the winter sun during the day, and then release this heat at night.  It’s enough to take the edge off so you only need a small fire for the evening on a cold winter night.  Also all the mud plaster on the inside of the strawbales holds a stable temperature too.

A glimpse inside the straw walls

A glimpse inside the straw walls

Dirt is beautiful!

Dirt is beautiful!

We were still getting the mud plaster on when we got our first snow that first November.  Even so, it kept us toasty.  We lived in it for four and a half years.  It got small for two people after a while, especially once we started running our learning center and needing desk room.  It’s less than 200 square feet inside.  But our marriage survived, and our learning center has thrived with that little cottage as the foundation for our compound.  I still miss the east facing window that gives a good view of the sunrise from the sleeping loft.

Funny that Amanda mentions the sunrise window, because that’s one of my favorite features of this place! I wake up with the sun, climb down the ladder and tie up the insulating curtains to let in the sunshine and by the time I finish my morning yoga, the place is warm enough that I rarely have to light a fire. In the evenings, I close the curtains and light a fire just after sunset. I have to stop feeding the stove around 8, otherwise it’s too warm in the loft to sleep. I’ve been cutting most of my own firewood, so my heating costs this winter are almost zero.

Cutting my own firewood

Plenty of dead trees in this desert! Photo by my wood cutting pal, Mr. Fox.

I’ll be here through the end of March, then I’ll hitch up the Teardrop and hit the road again. In the meantime, I’m feeling as content as I’ve ever been. Here’s to my warmest winter yet!

Happy Mary

Happy Mary. This place also came with a yurt and a tipi!

Amanda and Andy are running an Indigogo campaign to raise money for flood damage repair and watershed restoration at their place. That big flood that hit Colorado so hard this past fall also hit this desert, washing out numerous roads and arroyos. Check out their pledge drive here.

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Road tripping!, Science Writing, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Writing on the Wall: Backyard Petroglyphs!

The Petroglyph Hunter. Most of the petroglyphs are found along this basalt dyke. I hiked up here from my place in the valley on the right.

The Petroglyph Hunter. Most of the petroglyphs are found along this basalt dyke. I hiked up here from my place in the valley on the right.

I love petroglyphs. Every time I find rock art, I feel a deeper connection to the rocks, the land and the people who came before me. Such etching is not easy. What calls a person to spend hours chipping away at dark rock to leave a lighter bird, snake, face, or abstract design? Petroglyphs evoke such thoughtfulness. Here in New Mexico, I’ve been finding petroglyphs all over my big backyard, along with some potshards and an old, hand-hewn horseshoe. When these artifacts were left and by whom and for what reasons, I’ll never know, but I love stumbling onto these treasures on my daily hikes.

My Big Backyard

My Big Backyard

What's happening here?

What’s happening here? Maybe I should run a caption contest!

Square-Head, Spiral-Tail

Square-Head, Spiral-Tail

Abstract Dragon?

Abstract Dragon?

Halo & Horns

Halo & Horns

Underfoot

Art Underfoot

Post-Spanish Crosses

Post-Spanish Cross

Petroglyph Dogs

Petroglyph Dogs

Broken Pots

Pile of Pottery

Sandstone Spiral

Sandstone Spiral

Labyrinth D.O.G.

Snowy Spiral D.O.G.

For more petroglyphs check out my previous posts from Utah, Sego Canyon, and Petroglyph National Monument.

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

The Blonde Coyote in the Guardian: Top Ten Parks in New Mexico!

Overlooking Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon

Overlooking Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon

Hey everybody, my latest state-by-state roundup of the top ten parks for the Guardian just went live! This month I’m featuring my favorite state: New Mexico! I’ve spent more time in the Land of Enchantment in the past five years than anywhere else and I fall a little more in love with this place everyday.

White Sands Sunset

White Sands Sunset

Also check out my previous top ten lists for CaliforniaNevadaArizona and Utah. It’s a tough gig, but somebody’s gotta do it. ;)

Posted in Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Road tripping!, Science Writing, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 5 Comments

Ouray Ice Climbing!

Ouray Ice

Ouray Ice

A few Januarys ago, my friend Drew called me for tips on planning his cross-country drive from Michigan to California. I gave him a few ideas and then said, “How about you pick me up in Pennsylvania and I’ll copilot?” A week later, we were rolling West on a very cold, very beautiful winter road trip through Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California.

In Colorado, driving the scenic route north up highway 550 between Durango and Silverton, we passed through the tiny mountain town of Ouray, where we were greeted by a crazy traffic jam and a banner across the road announcing the 16th annual Ouray Ice Climbing Festival. Never one to pass up a flash of road trip serendipity, we shelved our driving plans for the day and joined the spectators at the edge of the ice park.

Spectators

Ice Park Spectators

Within a few minutes, Drew ran into his friend Tom, who he knew from grad school in Michigan. Tom happened to be visiting his brother in Telluride that weekend and they had driven around the mountains to Ouray for the festival. A couple of years later, Drew and I ran into Tom unexpectedly once again at another world-famous climbing spot in the New River Gorge in West Virginia. Small world!

More Cow Bell!

More Cow Bell!

Highliner above the Ouray Ice Park

Highliner above the Ouray Ice Park

Chillaxing on the Highline

Chillaxing on the Highline

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

The Ouray Ice Park is a manmade ice climbing venue in a spectacular natural gorge just south of downtown Ouray. Boasting more than 200 named ice and mixed climbs in 14 distinct climbing areas, each winter the Ouray hosts the Ice Festival in part to raise money for operating the ice park, which is free and open to the public. For more information on the Ice Park check out their website at www.ourayicepark.com.

Big Ice 1

Big Ice 1

Big Ice 2

Big Ice 2

Thin Ice

Thin Ice

The Belay Shelf

The Belay Shelf

Ice Chute

Ice Chute

Getting Horizontal

Getting Horizontal

The 19th annual Ouray Ice Festival was held this past weekend. For my latest adventures in Ouray, check out my previous post Crossing Karmic Paths on the Road To Paonia.

Posted in Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Vagabonding 101 | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Hiking With Desert Dogs

Six Good Dogs

A few years ago, on a road trip from Montana to Oregon via the Olympic Peninsula, I hiked to Cape Flattery, a wave-crashed cliff on the very northwest tip of the continental U.S. Cape Flattery lies on the edge of the Makah Reservation, a tribe famous for hunting humpback and gray whales from wooden canoes.

Before heading to the trail, I stopped at the Makah Cultural Museum to see some relics from the tribe’s whaling heydays and get a recreational permit to hike the Cape Trail. The woman working at the museum that day was also named Mary and we talked at length . She was proud and open and meeting her was one of the highlights of that road trip.

As I was leaving, I asked her if there were any rules for dogs on the trail, if they needed to be leashed. Mary smiled and said, “No, we don’t have any rules for dogs. Dogs are better behaved when they live by their own rules.”

Wiser words have never been spoken. Here in New Mexico, I often hike with a pack of dogs. I have my two and I often run doggy daycare for a third and my neighbors’ dogs also occasionally join us on our walks, giving me 5 or 6 large canine hiking companions.

These dogs and I have hiked many miles in this desert together. We’ve crossed paths with cattle, horses, coyotes, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, jackrabbits and a whole herd of goats and never once have I had cause to put any of them on a leash.

Freckles & Bowie being beastly, Bobo refereeing

Dogs like these are rare in the world. They’re not so much pets as my partners. You can’t train dogs like these. You have to travel with them. Dogs evolved to travel alongside people; walking over the Earth with a dog brings out something instinctive in both of you. You become a leader, clear, calm and capable and they become your allies, obedient, loyal and willing to follow you to the ends of the Earth, no matter what you might encounter on the way.

Bowie, Dio & Trinity overlooking the Garden of the Gods

I don’t tell these dogs what to do. They know what to do. We’ll hike for hours and never once will I give any of them a command. It’s too quiet out here to yell and I rarely whistle. If my dogs are out of sight, all I need to do to get them back is stop walking. If I stand still for more than a minute or two, they will come running, even the deaf coyote. If I sit down to rest, they’ll all go lay in the closest shade, waiting patiently to see where we’ll go next.

Even at rest, I’m always watching for movement. There’s a lot of life in the world, even in the desert. It’s amazing how a few extra vertical feet of height helps me spot movement before the dogs and if I spot an animal first, it’s mine and they won’t go after it. My dogs have all learned their large animal lessons and know better than to chase anything big enough to turn the tables and chase them back. Occasionally, somebody will light out after a flushing jackrabbit, but the dogs have little chance. I let them go and watch them run and revel in the spirit of the chase.

I Spy a Coyote!

New dogs joining our pack catch on almost immediately. Sometimes, I dog-sit a Bernese mountain dog named Trinity who was abused and has a tendency to cower from people, other dogs and anything that moves or makes noise. After a few hikes with the pack, however, she’s a different dog. Her head and tail are up, she runs off on her own, exploring the world and comes right back with the other dogs when I stop to rest. Hiking in all this open space frees her from her anxieties. Out here, the world is a good place to be a dog.

My latest regular charge is Bruce, a charming boy with bright blue eyes that look right into my soul. He must like what he sees because sweet Brucie has fallen hard for me. He follows me anywhere and everywhere, trotting at my heels, away from his heartbroken human, without so much a backwards glance. Bruce has decided he’s on Team Mary. Never underestimate the allure of an enchanting pack leader.

Chamisa Bruce

Chamisa Bruce

Even surrounded by half a dozen desert dogs, I’ve been missing Freckles, my Blonde Coyote hybrid, who was the wildest of them all. On our walks, she would sometimes disappear for an hour at a time. I usually had no idea where she was, but she was always aware of me and would come back if I stopped to rest. In all our wanderings, I only lost her once. I found her, ecstatic, waiting for me at home.

Now that Freckles is gone, the wild girl role has been swept up by Bruce’s funny little greyhound girlfriend, Arie. At rest, she’s a weird looking dog, but in motion she makes perfect sense: the beast is built to move. Arie runs like a wild thing. In her, the Blonde Coyote lives on.

Here’s to all good dogs who run free.

Freckles & her Big Backyard. You could drop this dog off anywhere out here and she’d find her way home, no problem.

My Good Dogs, Watching a Raven

Bruce & Arie

Bruce & Arie

Happy Pepper

Happy Pepper

Bruce following his nose...

Bruce following his nose…

Desert Treasure

Desert Treasure

My Shadows

My Shadows

Desert Sunset D.O.G.

Desert Sunset D.O.G.

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Vagabonding 101 | Tagged , , | 15 Comments