Bruised Butts and Muddy Dogs – How To Do A Hike Wrong

Kim and I decided to head to the Uintas for a day hike. Our go-to guide for local day hikes listed Fehr Lake Trail as a short, easy hike, which was perfect for the amount of time and energy we had that day. You can find more about the trail here. This entry is more about the lessons learned from this trip, mostly related to taking my dogs with us.

I don’t often take my dogs hiking with me because I’d really rather be able to just relax and enjoy the experience. Taking one not particularly kid friendly dog and another shy, injury prone dog on a hike doesn’t lend itself to relaxation. But our hike would be short and the elevation gain would be minimal, so I figured I’d treat them to a little bit of the great outdoors.

Jack and Nina hiking
The calm before the mud.

Canine Lessons Learned

  • You probably try to avoid that muddy patch. Your dog doesn’t. In fact, your dog might want to step knee deep into that muddy patch, stick their nose in it, and splash around in it.
  • Bring towels for wiping your dogs down, and bring something to cover your car seats (see above). I had no towels. Luckily, though I didn’t bring a blanket specifically for this purpose, I had one that covered part of the trunk. Pro-tip – if you don’t have an all weather mat for the cargo area of your hatchback, you might be able to just flip the trunk carpet over so that the dogs lay on the plastic / rubber side.
  • Dole out post-hike food slowly, unless you want to see it again shortly. Jack doesn’t normally gobble up his food. He doesn’t normally throw up his food. Luckily, the blanket (see above) caught it…mostly.
  • If you use e-collars to refocus your dogs’ attention, and the rechargeable batteries in the collars need to be replaced, don’t wait for an off leash hike to discover that they are completely dead.
  • Don’t forget training treats for reinforcing good behavior.
  • If there’s water on the trail, dogs will drink it. Depending on the quality of the water, this might need to be avoided. Bring water for them. Collapsable bowls are awesome.
  • Your dog’s on leash and off leash behavior will not magically improve just because you’re on a trail rather than a sidewalk.

Human Lessons Learned

  • Make sure everyone has the right footwear. Flip flops on a trail that has a thin layer of mud over rocks – on a slope – is a recipe for a bruised bottom.
  • Even under the best of conditions, if you’re hiking your dog on leash because there are small children on the trail, the dog may put tension on the leash at the wrong time while hiking over a thin layer of mud over rocks on a slope. This may exacerbate the problem of wearing flip flops in those conditions.
  • Know what you want out of the hike and plan accordingly; however, misadventures can be more fun than adventures.

Now go out there and have some misadventures (but stay safe).

Hiking Unitas – Fehr Lake Trail

The wind wisping through the trees provided a calming soundtrack. Filtered sunlight kept us at that elusive ‘so perfectly balanced that neither hot nor cold are noticeable’ temperature.

Uintas Hike

One of the great aspects of living in Salt Lake City is the huge diversity of landscapes within a short drive. I’m becoming more familiar with the Wasatch Mountains, and I’ve made a few trips to explore the red rocks, hoodoos, and slot canyons of southern Utah. I finally had the opportunity to experience the beauty of the Uinta Mountains this weekend. Being just under an hour’s drive to the entrance of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest and boasting a bewildering number of lakes, it’s easy to see why this area is so popular with locals.

I’m planning on hiking King’s Peak later this summer, but because I’m pretty new to hiking as a serious hobby I wanted to see the area first hand before tackling an overnighter to Kings Peak. This trip didn’t really pan out as a recon exercise because Kings Peak is in a completely different area of the 1,376 square mile park, but I did get a small taste of overall beauty of the park.

Though the trail selection for the Uinta National Forest in this book is limited – probably due to the fact that only a small portion of the park falls within 60 miles of the city – Kim and I consulted our trusty 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Salt Lake City before heading out. We decided on an easy hike, the Fehr Lake Trail, loaded up the SUV with pups and gear, and hit the road.

Fehr Lake Trail

The Fehr Lake Trail is a great family friendly hike. Even with a starting altitude of 10,337′, the trail was populated by many an extended family with young children as well as older folks who didn’t appear to be regular hikers. You’re treated to small boardwalks over soggy, wildflower-dotted meadows, fir and spruce shaded sections, and numerous lakes and ponds that are the jewels of the hike. There are some slightly steeper sections of mud and rock, but no big deal with the right footwear.

We opted to continue on after the half-mile stroll to Fehr Lake past a couple of small, unmarked ponds to Shepard Lake. We didn’t have a detailed map with us, and after reading the tragic story of Carole Wetherton and her daughter Kim Beverly, I didn’t want to venture too far. We did lose the trail momentarily on the hike back, but given the topography of this particular hike, it was pretty easy to re-orient ourselves and find the trail just 15 yards or so away.

It Didn’t Bite

When mentioning the Uintas, you can’t avoid discussing mosquitos. Being a much wetter area than most of the rest of Utah, the little biters are more prevalent here. However, we didn’t find them to be too annoying on this hike. Maybe we were there at the right time of day. Maybe Kim’s little contraption provided enough cover for both of us. I waited to gauge the severity before spraying myself with repellant, but I ended up never needing to. I saw a few but never got bitten. Kim is a mosquito magnet, so she sprayed herself before the hike and wore the Clip-on. She didn’t get bitten either.

Despite arriving back to the car a muddy mess, we found this hike to be a great introduction to the Uintas. We plan on going back soon to camp and explore the area in more detail.

Deep Dreaming

You’ve heard about Google’s Deep Dream algorithm? If not you can read about it here, but in an overly simplified nutshell, it’s their artificial neural network’s attempt to recognize order and structures in an image. It finds structure where there is none, and things get really, really weird.

The team has released the code so that anyone can upload an image and have Deep Dream work its surreal magic.

I chose a picture I took one morning before hiking Mount Olympus in Utah. The picture faces east toward the Wasatch mountains a short time after the sun had risen above the mountain tops:

The result is an acid trip that is both whimsical and terrifying. It’s an almost carnival atmosphere where creatures of a pretty, yet hauntingly abstract form graze in a psychedelic field below a floating manatee and potato. A gazebo and the mirage of circus tents appear in the distance, and tower reminiscent of a scene from The Dream of Perpetual Motion maintains vigil over the scene. Or not. It’s an artificial neural network’s acid trip. Not mine.

 

A Pharmaceutical Win For Nina

Nina’s History

Nina

It’s been a while since I blogged about my dog, Nina. My last entry about her was not very optimistic. The poor creature had already had 2 knee replacement surgeries, and has shown some slight hip dysplasia symptoms since she was a pup.  She had been through intensive positive punishment training, which helped control extreme behaviors, but the anxiety was ever-present.

She still would lash out at Jack for no reason, with no warning. I know people think that dogs always signal before reacting to a situation. That is simply not true. I’ve dealt with Nina long enough to say with confidence that while she does usually signal, I’ve seen her go from no signs of discomfort to ready to attack with no signaling. At all.

Though operant conditioning helped control the extremes, Nina was still very fearful of new situations. She couldn’t be trusted to meet new people in anything other than a tightly controlled interaction. Interacting with new dogs was a definite no.

In what I thought was a last ditch effort, a friend and dog trainer agreed to take Nina, potentially permanently. The hope was that his better dog handling abilities would provide Nina the environment she needed.

Even that didn’t work.

Giving Meds A Try

I knew that Prozac was an option, but every professional who mentioned it as a possible solution said it should only be the used if all other options had been explored. Since I’m an ‘I can always do better’ type of person, I never really felt like all options had been explored. I could walk her longer. I could work with her on discipline more.

Finally, I decided that it was the right time to give medication a try. As soon as the prozac began to affect her behavior, I began to have my doubts. She wasn’t lashing out at Jack, but whatever ability I had to read her was gone. She didn’t seem to be enjoying anything, but she didn’t seem to be bothered by anything either. It was a stressful transition. I went from usually being able to read her mind to having no idea how a situation would affect her.

Gradually, her happiness returned, but the anxiety and fear aggression issues never did. She’s a different dog now. A little less responsive to commands, slightly less active. A lot more comfortable with her surroundings.

I’ve learned a few things from being Nina’s guardian. The first is that the expression ‘there are no bad dogs, only bad owners‘ is an insult to people who are doing the best they can with a dog that has mental issues. It was coined as a response to the falsehood that a dog is automatically bad if it is a insert-whatever-breed-is-currently-being-villified. A more accurate version of that expression would be: ‘there are no bad dog breeds.‘ Full stop. The end. Yes, dog owners are ultimately responsible for their dogs’ actions. No, a dog acting badly doesn’t mean the owner is a bad person.

The second lesson I learned is that if you are dealing with a troubled dog, don’t rule out medication as an option. It shouldn’t be your first solution. It may not be the right solution. It could be a life saver. For Nina, it was. She is still closely monitored when around new people, but she is much more comfortable with their presence. Conflicts between her and Jack are virtually nonexistent now. Nina is no longer completely terrified of new dogs.

If you’re to the point that you’re seriously considering the heart-breaking ‘e-word’ because your dog is still out of control despite your best efforts, don’t do it before trying medication.

My Greatest Adventure

So this is the song I wrote for Kim. I’ve been checking the mail for a grammy nomination, but haven’t seen anything, yet. There must be some delay at the post office…

Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Kim’s parents for giving her a name that rhymes so easily with “marry me.”

My Greatest Adventure

You are my greatest adventure
I love you. I love you to the moon and back
So would you take my hand in marriage
And make me part of your plans

You are my greatest adventure
I love you. I love you to the moon and back
I want to, I want to be your husband
And give you all that I am

I have to state, we’re gonna see every state
Even if you show up late. I won’t hesitate
We’ll make it all up as we go

You are my greatest adventure
I love you. I love you to the moon and back
So would you take my hand in marriage
And make me part of your plans

So Kimalee
Oh Kimalee
Will you marry me?
Will you marry me?

A Simple Plan

It was a simple plan, really.

Kim knew the ring was almost ready, so if I wanted to surprise her, I had to act quickly. All I needed to do was: lie, evade, or redirect any time that Kim asked if the ring was finished. Sneak over to the jeweler and pick the ring up. Buy a backpack-able guitar. Convince Kim to go on a hike to Dog Lake, even though it’s still a little too early in the season. Hope that enough snow had melted so that the hike wouldn’t be miserable. Convince Kim that I would carry my overnight backpack just as a conditioning exercise…when that fell through, convince my friend Zach to hike up to the lake with a table, chair, wine, and the newly purchased guitar. Write a song. Get over the fact that I’m not a great (or even good) singer.

It worked!

Barely.

My window of opportunity is small. Joe the jeweler is chatty. Guitar Center is packed. Kim was finished running errands by the time I got back home. Quick thinking and a poorly delivered half-truth as to my whereabouts almost derailed the entire thing. “I, um, got bored while you were gone, so I went to Guitar Center to play with some of the toys there.” The best lies are based in truth, perfect. The best liars believe the lie…nah, that ain’t me.

The plan almost fell apart as I test fitted the guitar…should have bought the backpacker, not the traveler model. Zach saved the day.

The hike was miserable from the get go. I’ve been on longer, steeper hikes. I’ve hiked snowed over trails without snowshoes before. But step for step, this was one of the sloggiest hikes I’ve done. Where there was no snow, there was mud. Where there was snow, post-holing knee deep was not uncommon. Kim was not feeling it. Her sunglasses broke and she didn’t have her eye glasses with her. My legs were achy from my Saturday run. “We must be getting close,” was either a statement of wish rather than fact, or it was one of those lies that if repeated long enough eventually becomes the truth. I had no way of informing Zach if we had to bail on the hike, so I absolutely had to get to the lake, even if I had to arrive alone.

The last stretch was the worst – the steepest incline, the deepest, slipperiest snow on the trail. Close enough to the landing site and not wishing to prolong the misery, I tell Kim to just hang out for a couple of minutes while I go check out the lake (and come up with a backup plan). I sprint, post-holing every third or fourth footfall, the last couple hundred yards. I grab the guitar, find Zach in his picture-taking foxhole, tell him we couldn’t finish the hike, and head back down the trail. Instead of just waiting for my return, Kim soldiered on. She wasn’t far behind.

“Why do you have a guitar?”

“Um. Some hippy hiked up here for some solitude. He was unprepared for the snow. He traded this for my pack!”

It was an unconvincing lie. I knew it when I said it. Her disbelieving smile was the reply I expected. Instant rejuvenation. We finished the hike to the lake.

Carefully rehearsed and memorized lyrics. A simple chord progression on the guitar. That’s all I had to do at this point. Well, the song I rehearsed didn’t include restarts and giggles. The song I wrote didn’t include such fine lyrics as “oh, wait. I messed that up” or “let me start this verse again” or “gimme a second to remember this part,” but that’s the song I performed.

Thankfully, she didn’t shriek in horror and run for her life upon hearing my tone deaf vocal treatment and amnesiatic lyrical delivery. She said yes!

See? It was a simple plan, executed without a hitch.

I Would Rather Be Ashes Than Dust

Sometimes it seems nothing in this world is as straight-forward as it should be. I’ve taken Jack London’s Credo as an indisputable quote for a long while now. Apparently the authenticity is up for debate. Regardless, this is a great way to view life:

I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.

(Mostly)

One sentence bugs, though. “I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.” If we’re talking chemotherapy for a cancer that cannot be defeated, I get it. Why go through the agony of that treatment if it will only add to your misery? If we’re talking about eating less salt and less fat, drinking less whiskey and more water, and exercising, that seems like an acceptable tradeoff to me.

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

The air was warm at Mesa Verde National Park. Much warmer than normal for this time of year. Despite that, all of the attractions that were normally closed during the winter remained closed. We didn’t realize that would be the case, but it’s understandable. We also didn’t realize that we were visiting on one of the free weekends. Score! I would have loved to see more of the park while we were there, but what we did get to see was amazing, and you can’t beat free.

The only cliff dwelling opened for our visit was the Spruce Tree House. We arrived just in time for a guided tour. If you ever have the opportunity for a guided tour here, or at any national park, take it. Wandering around the site on our own would have been fine, but I learned a lot more about the structures and the people who build them than I would have if we had gone alone. Our tour leader, park ranger Shawn Duffy, provided a highly entertaining description of life for the people who lived here.

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Ranger Duffy giving us some background before we head to the site.

 

From there, it was an easy walk down to the Spruce Tree House.

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Our tour leader spoke about the practical technology the builders of this society implemented, their potential reasons for moving into the canyons, as well as their probably reasons for leaving the dwellings. All fascinating stuff! He liked to point out that the ‘mystery’ about who these people were was mostly a marketing tool to generate interest as it’s fairly well understood that the modern Hopi are descendants of this culture.

As we toured the site, I tried to imagine what life would have been like for the inhabitants. Climbing the cliffs to reach the farm land above. Gathering wood for fires to keep warm. Retrieving water from the nearby springs. How much of the say was spent working?

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I had heard the word Kiva before, but I didn’t know what one was until this trip. The picture below is a Kiva that no longer has a roof. The small hole in the center is a sipapu, a hole that represents a portal from which their ancestors entered this world.

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The park does allow visitors to enter one of the kivas. I’m assuming that this one was rebuilt for the purpose of giving people an idea of what it’s like in one. The air was cool – many degrees cooler than the outside – and still inside the kiva. Thanks to its natural thermal regulation, it would be a great escape from both the chill of the winter air as well the summer heat.

Kiva in Mesa Verde National Park
The Kiva Descent

 

A view from a kiva
A view from a kiva

 

The pictures below are from the mesa top loop. We visited a few of the more primitive archaeological sites on the loop, and I took some pictures of the canyon and other cliff settlements.

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Square Tower House
Square Tower House

 

Far View Sites Complex
Far View Sites Complex

 

Far View Sites Complex
Far View Sites Complex

Ship Rock

Kim and I aren’t the best when it comes to planning a trip. We usually hit the road with a vague notion of what we want to see and do, and we figure out the details en route. This strategy pays off more often than not.

As we were heading out from Four Corners, I noticed a formation off in the distance. It reminded me of the Star Trek reboot scene in which the Enterprise, still under construction, towers over an Iowa corn field. Yes, my brain is weird.

ShipRock
A mysterious lump on the flat horizon.

 

We decided to check it out.

As it turns out, my imagination wasn’t too far off. European settlers referred to the formation as Shiprock. They saw it as a gigantic clipper ship. The Navajo name for it is Tsé Bit’a’í, or winged rock – a reference to their legend of a great bird that brought them from the north.

All of us see a vessel of some sort. I find that pleasing.

tinybrian
That’s a big rock. Or a little human. All depends on perspective.

 

Shiprock is actually the guts of a long ago cooled volcano. It’s framed on its western, southern, and eastern sides by large, natural dikes, also part of the dead volcano. The one you see in my pictures is the eastern dike.

An easy road in. The way out was a *ahem* little more challenging.

 

People have climbed Shiprock, but that activity is no longer allowed. I’ve read a few different reasons why. One site claims that a climbing death prompted the ban; another site thought of climbing the structure was considered repulsive to the Navajo, so they banned the activity.

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You can drive up to Shiprock, but Google map results can be a little deceiving. What appear to be viable roads when zoomed into Shiprock are paths more suited to ATVs. And these paths often dissolve into the sand.

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Our approach was easy enough. A turn off of the road near the eastern dike is a fairly straight, fairly easy path. Kim’s Impreza has all wheel drive, but not high clearance. We made it to the formation with relative ease. Twenty minutes. Tops.

The same can’t be said for our exit. We took one of those aforementioned disappearing paths because it looked like a road when zoomed in on the formation. Two hours, a lot of nervous dark of night gully hopping, many a mowed down scrub brush, one (accidentally, I swear) sprayed-with-dirt-from-a-wheel-that-lost-traction girlfriend, and the horrifying sight of a very robust gate that was luckily only wired closed, we finally made the 6.5 miles back to rte 13.

The thrill of navigating each impossible obstacle was met instantly with panic over what lay ahead. I KNEW we’d eventually reach an impasse. I thought we’d (I’d) be hiking out to find someone to haul the car out. We never did. The Impreza got us through it with nary a scratch, despite being on only two wheels more than once and mowing down brush windshield high.

This is how much daylight we had left when we decided to leave. Not much. I forgot my tripod for this trip. I had to hold the camera on this long exposure, so it came out blurry.

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My other attempts were much blurrier

 

It was an awesome experience – seeing this massive formation, making an Impreza do things it probably shouldn’t do, not getting stranded. I’m glad we didn’t have a plan to stick to.

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We took the long way home.

 

Four Corners Monument

Four Corners Monument

The weather out west has been amazingly warm (sorry, east coasters!), and gas prices are down, so Kim and I hit the road again for the long weekend. Other than seeing the Four Corners Monument in Utah / Arizona / New Mexico / Colorado (and Navajo land), we didn’t have exact plans. We thought about Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico, but it’s far from accommodations and despite the warm, sunny days, it’s still pretty chilly at night. That ruled out camping. The weather made it great for road tripping, but it did raise some questions as to what to bring for hiking – cold weather gear or warm weather gear? Good thing we brought a little of both…

Technically, this would be Day 1.5 because we got a head start after work and drove down to Moab, UT. Lunch at the Moab Brewery, then off to the monument.

The Four Corners Monument isn’t the most exciting destination, but it’s one of those things you read about in school as a kid, so it was neat to actually see in real life. If you’re considering making a trip to it, a few things are worth noting. First, it closes. I’m not sure if closing times are seasonal, but if I remember correctly 5pm was the posted closing time. Second, it’s pretty remote. Keep your gas tank topped off and keep snacks on board for the kiddos or those prone to the hangry. (That’s good advice anywhere, but especially in the west.) Third, there’s an entrance fee, $5 per person if I remember correctly. Fourth, it’s on Navajo lands. Respect.

We took the requisite “standing in four states at the same time.” We perused the hand-crafted Navajo trinkets and made a couple of purchases, then we made our exit.

BrianInFourStatesKimInFourStates

 

 

 

 

 

After leaving Four Corners, we noticed an odd formation off in the distance. It seemed like an alien space ship sitting patiently, waiting to blast off to its homeworld. I guess we see what we want to see in such things. I’m a sci-fi geek, so I see a space ship. Others might see a bird, or a different kind of ship – one that floats rather than flies. Regardless of what you see or what you call it, we decided that it would be our next destination, and it’s the topic of my next post.

ShipRock