While a good portion of my travels this summer were an attempt at being a badass outdoors girl, it was also a chance to showcase my excellent relaxing skills. I am of the belief that both are of equal importance while adventuring. I found Utah’s Mystic Hot Springs on Airbnb and it seemed like the perfect mix of weirdo and paradise, so I booked a night. (I’d actually booked two but could only make it one night on account of a rockslide on the highway and 250+ added miles. Road trip problems, am I right?)
The place is run by Mystic Mike, a former Deadhead and accommodations range from tenting, mobile home, bus, or log cabin. Headquarters seem to be a converted recreation building that sits next to an empty pool. Around back and up the hill are the hot springs. There is one larger pool, but the real attraction are all of the vintage tubs built in to collect the spring water.
It is quiet, mystical, perfection and I spent the majority of my stay sitting in one of those tubs staring out over the desert landscape. I tried to read, but instead felt a draw to sit with my thoughts and let the beauty of the landscape fill my soul.
At night I watched the stars come out and curled up in an old log cabin from the 1800’s with Cooper at my side.
One of my favorite stops on my summer travels was in Bozeman, MT and as the area is ripe with predatory animals and my dog is the epitome of small, delectable prey, I looked to Airbnb for alternative (to camping or an expensive hotel) accommodations. And so it was that Cooper and I found ourselves staying in an old sheepherder’s wagon on a working farm.
We were greeted by Buster, a bottle raised sheep who had free rein over the farm. He likes grass, dandelions, ear scratches and Cooper. He was immediately enamored with my canine companion and greeted him with nuzzles and love. Coop was, to put it mildly, not amused, but tried to be a good sport.
I stayed in several Airbnb digs throughout my travels and despite being a bit off the beaten path, found them much more social than some of the crowded campgrounds. It was intimate social. My hosts invited me to dinner on my first night with the family staying in the other wagon and a couple who was parking their RV on the farm for the summer. Buster also came. I met a young man traveling up from Albuquerque and shared a campfire with a couple from Billings.
In the mornings Cooper and I would walk around the farm and say hello to all the animals; pigs, a cow named George (there were many cows but he was the friendliest), sheep, donkey, and chickens everywhere. Buster usually tagged along. We drove into the mountains to escape the mid-day heat and relax by the cool Galatin River.
John Steinbeck wrote, “I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.” Montana has a magic to it and I have a love for its big sky and looming mountains.
On my second night, I was invited to watch the birth of a goat. I stood in the barn as the mother panted and moaned until two small hooves and a nose appeared and then out she came into the world! I watched with mixed admiration and disgust as the mother quickly began to eat the placenta and clean off her new little girl. Apparently there is a sound that goats only make when they are talking to their young and I listened to her delivering what I can only assume were wise and loving motherly words. Then she sat back down and delivered another one. A sister.
Animals passed by the dusty barn door, occasionally stopping to see what was happening before moving on. A chicken came in followed by her day old chick to pick at the leftover birth. Two sisters took their first steps as mom continued to clean and nurture. I felt so much at that moment that this was life; beautiful, sometimes gross.
I once had a dream that I would spend my summer traveling the country. I would see great sights, explore, hike and then settle in at night in my tent or my covered wagon (yup, I stayed in one of those) and I would connect to a perfect and strong wifi signal and I would tell you all about the wonder of this great country.
Mother Nature, as it turns out, is not so into the wifi and connection. Hippie. She’s more of the Pull up a chair next to this fire and enjoy the fireflies I have released for you and no, you may not also Instagram them. You’re just going to have to be in the moment. Enjoy them! Listen to the sound of the wind in the trees or the waves crashing along the coast. And yes, that creepy sound you hear is probably one of my pesky little raccoons waiting to manhandle all of your things and possibly try to crawl into bed with you tonight. Ah, aren’t my creations GLORIOUS! And Mother Nature spreads her arms wide and spins and I wonder if she’s dipped into some peyote maybe a little bit. No, Mother Nature just loves her work and she wants everyone to sit and be and admire it. Love it.
Which is why I have not been blogging.
It is the rare day I can find wifi and it seems that Mother Nature keeps her best projects in those white regions of the cell coverage maps. She shrugs her shoulders. Oops! She winks. She’s not sorry.
I’m not really sorry either. I’d hoped to keep a timely chronicle so you could follow along with my adventures. Instead, I have been forced to disconnect and pull up that chair by the fire, watch the fireflies, listen to the waves or the mountain breeze. And sorry raccoons, but I knew you were coming and totally put away everything you could manhandle. Boom! Although that shit you left just outside my tent exactly where my head is was a nice touch. Touche.
Besides the snippets I have shared on social media, the bigger stories will have to wait, but they will come. I have trails to hike, sunsets to watch, naps to take in my hammock. I would tell you more, but today’s wifi connection is predominantly being spent figuring out how to get health insurance this fall. DAMN YOU, OBAMA! I THOUGHT YOU WERE MAKING THIS EASIER!!! I will not cry in this coffeeshop. I will not cry in this coffeeshop. Or I will just put it off for another day, go back to my campsite, take a hike along the Appalachian Trail, maybe ask Mother Nature about where she gets her peyote. I kid. The drug portion of my adventures happened back in California.
It is a long standing tradition in my family that when we go hiking (usually a mountain) we greet the mountain with, “I respect you, but I will beat you.” and afterwards, as we are a little sweatier but a little bit more accomplished we say, “Mountain, I respect you, but I beat you.” Because hiking isn’t just a walk in the woods. It is a connection. It is a recognition of the power and life on the landscape.
The day after I hiked Zion (see previous post) I made my way to Bryce, which is only an hour away. Zion is a park that is in the canyon, but Bryce makes you earn that experience. Roads and paved trails surround the rim of the canyon, but to really be part of it, to connect, is to hike down into it. So I did.
I did a 6.5 mile figure 8 trek that took me up and down and all through the canyon. There is very little consistency in this trail other than hard work and breathtaking beauty. It traverses in and out of the canyon, switchbacking up and back in many times. I am generally well prepared for hikes but wished I had 3 times as much water as I did.
I sweat into the land and during one particular upwards set of switchbacks a woman told her husband, “Let’s give this young lady the right of way. She’s earning it!” I let out the best kind of thank you I could muster in my exhaustion and tunnel vision hiking (“get to the top, get to the top, get to the top”). I was earning it.
And the land, the canyon, the life and hoodoos earned my respect in the end. But I beat it.
Last week while living off the grid in Utah, I spent a day hiking in Zion. The majority of the park is shuttle only, which usually makes me nervous as I’ve spent my life living in two cities with public transportation systems that leave much to be desired (I’m looking at you, Rochester and Austin!). But Zion does it right. The shuttles run continuously and I never waited more than a few minutes. They are comfortable and it creates a much quieter, zen experience without all the rest of the traffic in the park. That being said, if you plan to visit, get there early enough to get a parking spot. They usually run out around 10am.
The weather was mild by my Texas blood standards (high 80’s) and I hopped on board a shuttle to hit the trails. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and my only regret of my trip so far is not accepting the invitation of two girls I met to hike Angel’s Landing with them. A few days later when I was having dinner with a friend in California, she asked if Zion had been a spiritual experience. I think if I’d hiked Angel’s Landing it would have been. I know what she meant though. Nature has a way of reaching in and tugging at deep parts of our souls. Zion National Park is largely in the canyon rather than on the edge looking in. Standing with the canyon walls towering above me was profound, but not spiritual. Spiritual, at least for me, has to be earned. Hiking Angel’s Landing would have been earning it and really connecting with the soul of the land. Except it looked scary and I chickened out. Someday I will go back.
Instead I hiked to the upper, middle and lower Emerald pools. I looped back on a Grotto trail for a nice, solid hike. The views were stunning and hiking felt wonderful after days of driving. I hopped back on the shuttle up to the north end of the park and walked the riverwalk trail. It is a paved trail so it is densely crowded, but it ends at the start of The Narrows and I wanted to check it out. Hiking “The Narrows” isn’t so much a hike as a slow wade up river. There is no trail. It is simply a trek into a canyon by way of water. I went about a quarter mile just to check it out. It was a lot more crowded than I’d anticipated but I got a feel for what it’s like. Perhaps I will hike the whole thing one day.
Traveling with a dog definitely takes more planning than the wanderlust ideals of just hitting the road and seeing what happens, but I can’t think of a better companion to take a road trip with.
For those of you new to this site, this is Cooper, my recently one-eyed dog When people point out his eye, he tries to act all cool and say, “Well you should see the other guy!” (The ‘other guy’ was completely unscathed) and I interrupt him and say, “He just sees the better half of things now!” He is adapting remarkably. We both are.
He and I packed up our belongings in Austin, TX, put them in storage, and are traveling the country for three months. I am spending most of my time writing, hiking and exploring. Cooper is mostly interested in the varied squirrel populations.
Many have asked for advice for traveling with a furry friend, so here goes:
1. In Cooper’s case, he is putting a lot of effort into making sure I am not going to abandon him in whatever new place we arrive at each day. I keep assuring him that he is sticking with me, but so many new places and so much inconsistency can be hard on a pup and he is taking it out in his eating. After several days of trying to coax him to eat a solid meal, I finally stopped at a pet store and picked up some canned food. I bought the small cans and mix it with his dry food. He is in heaven and eating again.
2. It is important to plan ahead. It is good to know where you are going and what the rules are. Most (if not all) National Parks do not allow dogs on any of the hiking trails. They are allowed in camping areas and on paved surfaces only. A lot of the state parks are the same way, but it depends, so check their websites. I have planned on a lot of hiking on my travels, some of which is in dog restricted areas. Since I can’t leave Coop in a car or in my tent (dogs can easily make their way out of tents) and he is small and bait like for larger predators (which call many of these parks home), I can’t leave him tethered in a campsite either. Instead, I looked into alternative accommodations via Airbnb. For prices that are usually not much more than camping but certainly less than a hotel, I have stayed in log cabins and small casitas that allow me to safely and comfortably leave Coop for a few hours so I can venture off and hike. One of my Airbnb hostesses even asked if she could hang out with him for the day while I was out hiking. It was a total win win win!
3. It is ok to leave your dog in the car if you have to pee. My facebook feed is constantly littered in articles about how terrible it is to leave a dog in a car and how oven like the temperatures can reach. It is true! Cars can be lethal to pups in extreme heat, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do while out on the road, but I am here to tell you that if you leave the windows cracked, you dog will be completely and totally okay for the 120 seconds that it will take you to run into a gas station to pee. Even in hot places. I promise. You are not a terrible fur parent.
4. that being said, do not leave your pup in a car for anything longer than 2-3 minutes if it is anything in the category of warm out. I try to make all longer stops (grocery shopping, laundry, etc) while Cooper is safe and comfortable in a hotel or other structured accommodation. It’s all about planning ahead.
5. Dogs are a great excuse to stop often and enjoy the scenery. You need to get out and stretch your legs as much as they do. Take advantage of rest stops. Towns always have some sort of park, even if tiny, which can be a good place to stop for a short picnic.
6. Cooper has his own space in the passenger seat. He is small, so it works. I bought a soft, plush bed that fits perfectly and he can curl up in it. I bought a seat belt for him, but he prefers to go back and forth between his bed and the top of my things in the back seat. Often he will sit on the little consul next to me and watch the scenery for hours. If your dog is larger, it requires a little bit more finagling. One couple I met on my travels packed al of their things in the back seat of their Subaru and then the truck area was reserved for their lab.
7. It is better to ask for forgiveness than to assume you can’t take your dog anywhere. Restaurants and other food establishments generally don’t want dogs inside, but they are allowed on most patios or outdoor seating areas. Coop is small enough to throw into my bag, and I am amazed at how many places don’t care that I bring him in. Even walking on his leash, many places are welcoming.
8. Doggles!! I picked a pair up for Cooper back when we weren’t sure if he was going to lose his eye and he had to wear the cone for 6 weeks. I figured that when out for a walk, if he was wearing the doggles, it would protect his eye and he could have a reprieve from the cone. Now, while traveling, I let Coop look out the open window when we are in parks and driving super slow. He LOVES having the doggles because it allows him to see and smell and enjoy and not have so much wind and dirt in his good eye.
9. While traveling with a dog is definitely a little bit more work, it is well worth it! If you have any other questions or advice, please email me or leave them in the comments!!
10. Happy travels!
You can follow both of our adventures through all our social media. Cooper is on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @Coopterrier. Both of our links are off to the side! If you enjoy this post, please pass it along. Sharing is caring!
Alternative titles for this post include, Getting Naked in Utah and Peeing With Your Dog: A Bonding Story.
Last week I spent three days living with Katherine, who spends her summers in Utah living off the grid. She winters in the Caribbean working on boats. Pretty baller. Just a few miles down the road from Zion National Park, she lives up on a hill with neighbors that include wandering cattle and loads of rabbits. Four chickens run around her hill, proudly parading any bug or worm they find. The land is dry and sparse and beautiful. She has two gardens that were rich with fresh greens that she shared with me each day. I stayed in a small casita on her property that I’d booked through Airbnb. It had three walls of windows with stunning mountain views.
When I arrived, Katherine gave me the lay of the land. I knew it was going to be primitive, but I hadn’t quite realized the extent to what I’d signed on for. As soon as she showed me where the poop was composted (separate from the food compost, of course), I knew that I was going to spend these three days going all in. Because why not!
I am sure there are many ways to live off the grid and definitions of what ‘off the grid’ actually means. The larger house that she lives in (compared to my 8’x8′ abode) offers a few more luxuries by way of her solar panels that power her computer and wifi connection. I was powerless in my little hut, but it was fine. There is nothing in the way of cell service up there, so no need to charge my devices. It felt nice to have a break from screens and I was comforted with how easy it was to go without them.
Living off the grid is a lot like camping only I slept on a bed and was surrounded by solid walls and a roof. The back of the casita had a small table and rain barrel which designated my kitchen. I used my camping stove to make my meals and morning coffee. Living off the grid, like camping, is an exercise in taking time. Taking time to make a meal. Taking time to clean up after. Taking time to set up a shower. Taking time to relax and enjoy a storm as it rolls over Zion.
For those that are quick to call my four walls and a roof ‘glamping’, I refer you now to the bathroom situation. There is a designated area for all number 2 needs, which is a handicap toilet seat placed over a bucket. There is a tarp situation over the top (no walls), though I’m not sure how much it will keep off actual rain and I was glad not to have to learn that through experience. Next to the bucket is a large bin filled with saw dust, toilet paper, and some light reading, obviously. Katherine showed me the book on composting human feces and pointed out the pages she’d ear marked. I, of course, read them later. I mean, when in primitive Utah, right? I’m a fan of pooping outdoors. It’s a little weird, but the outdoor distractions sure beat playing Angry Birds on my iphone to pass the time.
Peeing is another story. Only a little bit of urine can be composted with the poop. It’s all about ratios and you can’t have it be too wet or it won’t work, so peeing is done wherever. Have to go? Pop a squat and do it. Of course, it’s the desert so there aren’t really any leaves to use for wiping, so I would just sort of squat there a little longer hoping the pee didn’t run onto my feet while I air dried. I didn’t think this was too weird. I’ve peed in the woods plenty of times. But the first morning I took Cooper out and we both started peeing at the same time. That’s a thing we have done together now.
Showering is typical camping style. Fill a black pouch with water, heat in the sun, hang from a tree, shower beneath slow trickle of water. I was nervous at first. I tend to have modest tendencies when it comes to nudity, especially out in the open, and being at the top of a hill in a sparse landscape is definitely out in the open. Except there was no one but some chickens and perhaps some wandering cattle to see me, and I as going all in, so I stripped down and went for it. Her shower rig system was a little low, so washing my hair, or really anything above my belly button, involved squatting down or even kneeling. It was as awkward as you can imagine, but it worked and after a long day of hiking each day, it felt good.
I’m not sure off the grid life is for me. I enjoyed a break from creature comforts, but I like having them in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps a less primitive version would work for me someday. I like the idea of working with the land and the surroundings and living sustainably.
I will admit that I have done Denver a bit of a disservice. I arrived on Sunday night and spent the majority of my day on Monday sleeping. In my defense, in the past 3 weeks I have endured Cooper’s surgery, moving out of my apartment, packing up my classroom, report cards, and two days of driving. Sleep was a necessity.
Yesterday I felt slightly more human, so I ventured to Boulder on the recommendation of my cousins. I stopped at Amante Coffee in North Boulder for the necessary caffeine and then thought I’d do a little mild hiking, or glorified walking, if you will, over at Chautauqua Park. As it turns out the milder hikes have to be hiked up to and I am, in fact, in as terrible shape as I had assumed. I am also going to take liberties and say that it was probably mostly the altitude. Obviously. I stopped every few feet to “admire the view” and try to look like I wasn’t dying in front of the ladies on their cell phones saying things like “yeah, I just came up for a little jaunt on my lunch break.” Jaunt my sweaty ass.
I really had intended to only follow the flattest path possible, but after sitting on a rock in the shade for a while I thought, why the hell not try the real trail. The real trail being the flatirons which are well beyond mild and definitely legitimate.
It wasn’t pretty, but I did it. At one point, a group of kids and their small dog were coming down from the top and saw their moms just a few switchbacks from where I was. “Woah, the mom’s are doing it!” they said. “We totally didn’t think they would.” And then as I continued I heard lots of cheers and claps and I pretended that they were for me. Thanks moms!
By the end my legs were burning and my lungs were heaving and I kept thinking of Kimmy Schmidt. “You can stand anything for 10 seconds,” says Kimmy Schmidt. “Then you just start on a new 10 seconds.” Only it my case it was 10 steps. I counted out each step up (because at that point the rocks formed their own natural stairs) and when I got to ten I would start over again. It was all kinds of pathetic but I owned it. What did give me some consolation is that I kept thinking how delightful the weather was for hiking and that at least I wasn’t dying of heat exhaustion. Thank you Texas blood!
I made it to the top and the views and sense of accomplishment were well worth the embarrassment of the puppies and small children that passed me with ease. Whatevs! I made it. I kick ass!
Cooper and I set off on our adventure bright and early on Saturday. I opted for the slightly more out of the way, scenic route through hill country because leaving town by traditional highway just didn’t feel right. It was totally worth it. We meandered through the rolling Texas hills and I cried the whole way.
Texas is astounding in its beauty and diversity in landscape. As the land began to flatten, I was struck by the incredible beauty of a horizon dotted with wind turbines. My plan was to stop at Palo Duro Canyon for the night and had it all programed into my map. We drove for hours through flat farmland and as my phone told me I was getting closer, I thought surely this place could not exist. I could see for miles and it was nothing but flat. And then suddenly, there it was. The ground opened up and there was a canyon.
Coop and I explored and hiked, had a picnic lunch and chased butterflies. Unfortunately, they were all booked up for Camping, so we continued driving until it felt like the time to stop.
Yesterday we continued the drive to Denver. Just before exiting New Mexico, I saw a sign for a state park and decided to turn off. Why not? It took us to a beautiful lake that we hiked around. It was incredibly muddy, so Coop was in heaven. The mud was caked on so heavily to my sandals that I felt like one of those mall walker ladies with the ankle weights. The forest of this park had burned in recent years. I kept smelling a campfire in the distance only to realize that it is the smell of this forests history.
I was glad to arrive in Denver where I will be for the next few days visiting cousins. If you want to see more photos, I have lots up on instagram at both Cooper’s and My accounts (@coopterrier and @accmusicblog). Also, if you enjoy this blog, please consider passing it along to your friends. sharing is caring!