Valley of the Gods was beckoning. The red desert. The open sky. A call I cannot resist.
I made plans. Rearranged them. Then altered them once more. There is always a detour somewhere, so I knew these plans were in no way solidified.
I used to get thrown off by changes and alterations, but at some point, after finding myself exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed for the umpteenth time, I learned to let it go. Embrace it. Run with it. Use it as a launching point for the next moment of adventure. I was, after all, out and about with my hounds, which is ultimately my end goal in every situation.
Thus I found myself on the road a day ahead of schedule, making my way north to VOTG
After six hours and one million dog hairs floating around my car, we arrived. Seventeen miles of dusty red dirt. Camping pull-offs every half-mile or so. The valley was our oyster.
The red dirt greeted us with a dusty coating. The sun welcomed our faces with warm, outstretched rays. The hounds immediately took to sniffing out the best spots...to pee. Everyone has their own priorities, I guess.
Our home base was tucked away down a side road -- a dirt road off another dirt road. There wasn’t much traffic on the main road, but this gave us an extra layer of privacy and seclusion. Keeps the hounds at a medium level of overexcitement.
Herc likes to gets huffy and puffy when other folks pass by: Hey! Hey you! Who are you?! What are you doing so close my mom? Why are you somewhere close enough that I can see you?! Move along! Scram! Skedaddle! Aroooo!
Cool Whip, on the other hand, just wants to know if they brought snacks to share: Hellooo! I see you are a human. Humans have snacks. What snacks do you have to share with me?! Hey, you get back here and give me your snacks!!
I set up camp facing my favorite group of monuments. A perfect view from the tent and the big rock I intended to use as the kitchen area. With evening fast approaching, we spent the last bits of daylight exploring our road and the local ravine.
The subtle hustle and bustle of the valley dropped to almost imperceptible hum. The breeze slowed. No other vehicles passed by. Essentially all I could hear when listening hard with the blood rushing through my ears. I imagined everyone else in the area was in a similar situation: silently staring up into the sparkling night sky. Heaven.
As dawn began sprawling across the land, the hounds started rustling about in the mess of blankets and sleeping pads. The usual start to our morning routines. I layered on everything I can find and we bustled out into the brisk morning air. Our breath puffs floated around us. Herc snorted about, checking for any traces of midnight visitors. Cool Whip sought out the closest bathroom bush, knowing that breakfast preparations start as soon as all potty pit-stops are complete.
Coffee is delicious. Coffee in the outdoors is a little extra delicious. Coffee in the outdoors on a crisp morning is the most delicious. The coffee that morning did not disappoint. In a classic Kris-type move, I had stopped at REI less than 24 hours before departure to gather the remaining “necessities.” This particular cache contained a new drip filter for my morning brew. Easy, lightweight, and small -- win!
Filled with adventure fuel, we set out to explore. We roamed and rambled. Stopping anywhere that called to us.
And that became our routine: Adventure and explore, soak it all in, refuel, adventure and explore more.
Hiking a trail with a specific route and checkpoints to reach has its appeal for sure. There is a definite point of completion and success. But there is something equally enticing about having the freedom to roam. Success is obtained by simply being there.
I’d categorize Utah is my freshy fresh 2017 love interest (the Supes are my local love and Canada is my big love). Utah caught my eye sometime late last year and has been on my mind ever since. It is the area of the map I’ve been searching as I make plans for new adventures.
There are wonderful national parks in the state, but I’ve found that national parks only seem to have one or two relatively short trails that dogs are allowed to hike. National forests, on the other hand are prime time adventure dog real estate! For this trip my eyes were on Dixie National Forest in the southeast corner of the state – Whipple Trail in the Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness, to be exact.
There is something to be said for planning ahead…we’ll just get that statement out of the way right now.
A week before we rolled out is when I decided we’d be rolling out. The plan was to leave work early on Friday to drive the 7 hours to the Pine Valley Recreation Area where the Whipple Trailhead is located. We’d camp at a designated campsite and start hiking right away Saturday morning, sleep in Whipple Valley, hike down Sunday afternoon to spend the night at the campsite again, and then head home early Monday morning.
Not a bad plan for a regular weekend, but a horrible one plan for Memorial Day weekend when everyone and their uncle’s cat decides to go camping and you’re trying to stay at a first-come-first-served campsite and work gets busy so you can’t leave until Saturday morning.
We still had a grand adventure!
We arrived in Pine Valley around 2:30pm. As expected, no campsite available. Luckily you can park for free at the trailheads if you’re just hiking for the day or doing overnights on the trails.
A three-person family was gearing up as I pulled into a parking spot. We compared notes on what we knew about the trail – rangers had yet to clear it, downed trees across the trail, potential snow at higher elevation on north facing areas.
The weather was warm and the elevation hit me a little harder than expected, but it was a beautiful hike with spectacular views and just enough shade to even out the warmth. The hounds were on their best behavior – or maybe the elevation was hitting them a bit as well. ;)
There was no water on the trail until we hit a few streams halfway up, which is also where we ran into our second human encounter. A couple was setting up camp and reported that they’d only gone halfway up the remainder of the trail before they turned back because it was harder than the first portion. Suuuuper!
I kept on trekking, taking breaks often, thinking about how easy it would be to turn back or just set up camp at any of the other sites we came upon after that point. We reach the first pocket of snow tucked up under some pines. Then a patch, closer to the trail. Another blob covering half the trail. Just as we came upon the next set of campers, snow covered the remainder of the trail as it headed from the summit area of the trail down to where the trail spilled out into the valley.
We hopped and slid down to the green space ahead – I stared in awe as we stepped from the trees into the grassy valley that opened up ahead. Green grass, little spring flowers, a stream down the center. There was still snow tucked away in the shadows of the tree line, rumpled up dirt where the snow pack had moved along, and water simply flowing out of the ground from the thawing process.
We located a narrow portion of the stream to cross and set up camp across the way. I could see two other campsites when we explored a bit more and saw the family of three arrive a short time later. We wound down with a beautiful sunset and retired for the evening.
The houndy hounds were a bit chilly at night (it dropped down below 40) because someone forgot their winter jackets – no names mentioned – okay it was me!! <insert multiple crying emojis> I covered them in every extra piece of clothing or fabric I had, but I was still thankful for the morning sunrays that were a toasty piece of heaven.
We explored the valley for a while before making our way back down the trail. Greeted by a dead car battery, I was grateful for friendly hikers willing to give me a jump and for my dad for making me carry jumper cables in my car at all times because the other hikers didn't have any. If you take anything away from this post, take that -- always carry jumper cables in your car!!
Even with a few detours to the original plans I'd cooked up at the last minute, I loved every second of our adventure and can’t wait to get back to Utah for another one.
We spent about 2.5 hours on Wildcat Trail.
30 minutes in, I lost the trail. I didn’t know I was lost until I saw the actual trail again. I’d honestly thought we’d been following it but it turned out we were just following a horse path…I’d noticed a prior set of footprints going up a dune right about as the trail went over portion of rock with no footprints visible. Understandable, right?! ... right.
Needed to find my zen with a little impromptu yoga. I call this the west-mitten-I-need-to-warm-up yoga class. ;)
Then my phone died. For the first time. Yup, there were multiple times. My best guess was that I had too many pictures on the phone and not enough memory free to continue taking the million photos I kept snapping. I quickly tossed around a few scenarios such as walking back to the car to charge the phone or grab the old phone I use as a music player, or just finishing the hike and enjoying the rest of it without technology to provide photographic evidence/reminders of being there. I opted for the no technology option and proceeded forward with fresh eyes trying to savor every last drop I could see.
Five minutes later I felt the need to snap a picture and tried turning my phone back on, juuuuust in case…success!! I took advantage of this bonus moment with a panorama photo – phone immediately dies!! Dang it. But at least I got the picture, and I think it turned out pretty neat seeing how it adjusted to the sun.
Then I came to the mitten & tree photo location. I needed this photo! Tried the phone again and it showed me a flashing red dead battery symbol. What is this sorcery?! ?!
Waited two minutes and admired the scenery. Tried again – it’s alive!! Aha!! Tried to open the photo app right away to delete photos – dead. Sigh.
So long beautiful mitten tree.
I continued hiking and mulled over my options once again. I knew I was at least half way. Do I simply enjoy the magnificent views and call it good, or hike back here after I got back to the car to plug in the phone and delete a few photos??
0.5km. I decided to try one last time…
Dead battery image of doom. -_-
Put the phone in my pocket to wait (still hiking)…
1km. Try again. Phone turns on…<tentative excitement>
Put phone in pocket very carefully as though any rough handling will cause it to get angry and shut down.
1.5km. Pause to try to delete several old videos and photos – success!! And the phone it still on!
Hustle back to the mitten tree, grinning like a goofball again!
The mitten tree photos may not have been the best I took on the trip, but they’re my favorite because getting to that point was half the adventure. I don’t think I’ve ever turned back around to capture a photo, but it was a fun reminder that readjusting the ‘plans’ you have in your head is totally okay. It is those little detours that make for good stories, even if those good stories matter only to you.
Also, I've now learned to always carry an extra battery and to listen to your phone when is says your storage is almost full.
Also #2, I love taking creeper-status selfies with my dogs. Am I the only one?! :D
8:22 am. The valley sprawled out ahead of us, empty of visitors but full of adventures.
After roaming about Goosenecks State Park and the surrounding area Sunday evening, I checked in at the hotel – Goulding’s Lodge. I chose this one because it was pet friendly ($20 per pet). A nice bonus was that the room looked out over the valley. We enjoyed a cozy stay and in the morning we were able to watch the sun start to rise (or look for critters, depending who you asked) from our patio. This was my signal the pack up and head to the valley (a short 4-mile drive from the hotel).
There was a $20 entrance fee, which was good for two days (wish I had known that before – I might have fit in an evening hike and a morning hike!). I checked in at the visitor’s center and logged my info in the Wildcat Trail hiker’s log. I returned to the car to retrieve the hounds (no dogs allowed inside the visitor center buildings!) and bundled them up for the windy and chilly hike ahead of us.
The start of the trail was like a red sand dune. As we lowered into the valley, it turned to packed red dirt and rock. I could see tracks from previous hikers, but they were blurred enough the night’s rain that I could tell they were from the day before.
We stopped frequently to enjoy the peace of the valley. Each moment brought changes to the colors of the valley as the sun rose higher and as clouds swept over the tops of the larger monuments. It was going to be a wonderful stroll along the Wildcat Trail.
Things I’ve decided to do:
So I guess this weekend was a super bonus excursion for items 1-3.
We left home early Sunday morning, cruising through the snowy mountains in Flagstaff just long enough to make me appreciate living without it. ;) The cool temps and rainy weather left low clouds completely obscuring to top halves of the in Flag and even monuments up in the Valley! I love fog and low clouds, so this had me grinning like a goofball!
Our first intended stop was Goosenecks State Park in southern Utah, just a tiptoe north of the AZ/UT border. The road takes you right up to the cliffs, so there wasn’t much for “hiking”, but the impressive view makes up for it!
I ventured up to the edge without the dogs to assess the situation. Yup, definitely a long drop if you fall over the edge. No small animals for the hounds to dart after, but it is windy so you never know what will blow by that they’ll determine needs to be chased… After several hours in the car, they were ready to rumble! My knees were already going weak at the thought of them dragging me over the edge! Eek!
Of course that thought didn’t stop me from leashing them up and following the short path along the canyon edge. It just added a little “excitement” to our exploration. ;)
The park was practically empty – just two other cars when we arrived and only one other showing up while we were there. It was a nice change from some of the hikes around town. As it turned out, visiting deserted parks was the theme for the weekend.