Sunday, November 13, 2022

If You Could Die From A Broken Heart.....

Wyatt 2011 - 2022
I've used this blog once before to note an event of great personal sadness, when I lost my two husky/malamute companions in 2011.  Although not specifically related to the travels I've documented here they were there for many of the adventures, and their absence made remembering these trips a bittersweet memory.

So here I am, 11 years later once again processing profound grief due to having to say goodbye to the best dog I've ever known.  It's an unfortunate truth that the choice to share your life with a canine companion means that you will inevitably have to watch them die, but the time we are given is such an amazing gift it is almost worth the price. 


After the death of the "girls" (what I used to call them) in the spring of 2011, I vowed I was done with having a dog, mostly because of the anguish their passing left on my heart.  I've had dogs in my life almost continuously since I was a child, and the cycle of raising, loving, and eventually losing a beloved friend had become more than I could bear.

I was true to my word, at least for a while.  For only the second time time in my life I had no dog, and in many ways the freedom was liberating.  If you have owned a dog, you might know that many places are not "dog friendly" due to regulation or environmental challenges, and in the months that followed I took advantage of the fact that I had no such encumbrance to worry about.  There were of course moments along the way where I missed the companionship a dog can give, but I did not dwell on the absence.

When fall arrived and my travels came to an end, a little voice in my head suggested that maybe I should consider another dog.  At first I was able to dismiss the idea - although the grief of the girls deaths had subsided, I still remembered all too well the horrible choice I had faced not once but twice when the time came to end the suffering of my friends.

But the voice kept chiseling away at my resolve, and by January of 2012 I had decided to sign up with a Malamute rescue group.  I was in no hurry to adopt a new dog, but I rationalized that if one became available in the future I at least would have the option.  I imagined it would take a while, since the adoption coordinator initially told me there were no dogs available to adopt at the time, and I was just fine with that.

First look: Wyatt at 2 months
Barely a week had passed since my application when I received an email from the coordinator.  She told me that although no Malamutes were yet available, they had something else.  The picture says it all.

The email also contained information about his origins.  The story is he was turned over to the Arizona Humane Society. The person surrendering him found him as a stray, and had him for ten days before deciding not to keep him.

The Humane Society identified him as a Wolf/Hybrid mix, and because of liability involved with this breed could not offer him to the general population for adoption.  They reached out to wolf dog rescue groups to see if they could place him.  They set a deadline of Friday to find an organization to take him - if no suitable taker could be found, he was to be euthanized.

I don't necessarily believe in fate or destiny, but I do know that in some way the stars aligned in this case.  A big-hearted wolf dog rescue operator stepped forward to save this unbelievably adorable little guy from an undeserved end.  Although he was already at capacity, he found room in his home to take Wyatt.  He wanted to keep him, but he already had too many commitments to make it practical.  Using his network of connections he put the word out that Wyatt was available for adoption, and that's where I came in.

I might have hesitated for a second or two when I saw the picture.  Not because I did not want him, but because I knew immediately that making the decision would start the clock on this ultimate conclusion: the grief of once again losing something you gave your heart to in the fullest.  Despite that momentary misgiving, I told the coordinator I was interested.

The BEST dog in the world

The beginning of our relationship was odd.  I had to go to Phoenix (where he was found) to pick him up.  He had been transferred to another wolf dog rescue center because of space limitations with his original rescuer, and when I arrived I found Wyatt in a pen playing with a group of much smaller puppies.  As he had been passed around a few times before he met me I'm not sure he appreciated who I was or what was happening, but I loaded him up in a crate and put him in the car.  I was told by the operator of the rescue organization that she had noticed Wyatt was uncomfortable traveling in a vehicle, which manifested itself by uncontrolled drooling.  She was right.

Pandora and Wyatt
When I returned home to Flagstaff, Wyatt was greeted by my roommate's relatively new dogs - Pandora and Roadie.  They were also rescues and were still young.  Because Roadie had a few personality issues as well as congenital vision problems, it was Pandora who immediately took to Wyatt in his new home.

For the first few months I was somewhat apprehensive about what I had gotten myself into.  I had done extensive reading about wolf dogs, and knew that if the percentage of wolf vs. dog was high enough, I could be in for some significant behavioral challenges.  As time went on however it became apparent that my fears were unjustified, although he did exhibit some odd characteristics I did not initially understand.

I spend a a lot of time outdoors, being enamored of hiking and recreational travel.  I wanted a dog precisely for that reason, and Wyatt evolved into what I can only describe as the most well mannered and best behaved dog I have ever seen.  For starters, his housebreaking was practically non-existent.  He was crate trained, and he never protested going into his "den" when prompted.  He did not cry at night like some puppies.  He was very reserved towards me at first, as though he were waiting to see if this was actually going to be his forever home.

Initially I started walking him in the woods near the house, at first on leash because I did want him chasing any wildlife we might encounter.  Within an astonishingly short time I was able to turn him loose, something that was always a challenge with his predecessors.  He had almost no interest in taking off when the random deer or elk crossed our path, although he tried (unsuccessfully) to catch a few squirrels.

Wyatt at 4 months

During that first winter, his coat was short but dense, and the resemblance to a wolf is undeniable.  But as he grew something very odd happened - he became a woolly mammoth.  For the rest of his life, his fur was unbelievably dense, as though he lived north of the Arctic Circle.  Like most dogs of a northern origin (huskies and malamutes) he had a thick undercoat, which is supposed to disappear when summer arrives.  Although he did shed the undercoat, it seemed like it was always later than it should have been, leading him to pant consistently through the warmer months .

His discomfort with traveling in cars persisted well into his first year.  It was always wise to have a thick towel at hand to soak up the massive amounts of drool.  Fortunately as time went on it slowly became less of an issue, eventually disappearing altogether. This was fortunate, as we were to travel throughout the western U.S. over the next 6 years.

Wyatt in his winter glory

We took many trips until 2017, and would have probably taken more had I not suffered the loss of my truck and camper when we were run off the road by someone passing illegally.  Ironically we were on our way home from Colorado where we had just spent 10 days exploring the mountains.

The vehicle I ultimately purchased to replace my full size truck was somewhat cramped for Wyatt, and this dampened his enthusiasm for long distance travel.  Even so we still managed to hike extensively in the local area, but the crash effectively marked the end of any extended adventures.

Despite his size (well over 125 lbs.) Wyatt was the gentlest and least aggressive dog I have ever known.  This was fortunate because he was so big, and had he been even enthusiastically affectionate he could have been a menace.  On the contrary he was always very wary of people, going out of his way to avoid strangers.  This may have been due to whatever he experienced before he was rescued, or it may have been just a quirk of his personality.

A 130 lb. baby

Another unusual trait was his penchant for playing with rocks.  Yes, I said rocks.  I once knew a guy who had a dog who liked to chew rocks, with the unfortunate end result of prematurely wearing down his teeth.  Thankfully Wyatt's fascination with rocks was limited to rolling them down the hill and chasing them.  Watch the following video for a demonstration: 


I worked in the winter sports business for many years, and on occasion we would go to the ski slopes in the evening to hike.  He had a strong aversion to anyone on skis, frequently running great distances to avoid them.  This was particularly obvious the year I moved to New Mexico to work at a resort there.  The home we lived in had a view of the slopes, and anytime he was outside in the yard it was obvious that the people on skis and snowboards made him nervous, even though they were some distance away.

Another odd tendency he would display occurred when we would visit the Dog Park.  Whenever a strange man (usually with a hat) would approach, Wyatt would bark at him incessantly as though he had some reason to dislike men in hats.  Again, possibly a result of earlier experiences. Otherwise Wyatt liked the other dogs and was never aggressive, but was especially fond of female huskies.  It's funny that although he was neutered he always tried to hump any willing participant.

Wyatt on Mt. Elden 2019
Time passes all too quickly.  We all experience the sensation of wondering how so many years could have gone by without our realizing it, and with dogs their limited lifespan makes the interval seem even shorter.  By 2019 going for long and difficult hikes became mostly a thing of the past, as the physical effort became more apparent on Wyatt's aging body.  I reluctantly stopped asking him to accompany me, opting instead for shorter and easier walks in the forest around the house. 

This pattern would continue pretty much uninterrupted right up until the end.  In my heart I knew the day would come when even the easy walks would stop, and then I imagined it would just be a matter of time before he was gone.  I tried to be honest with myself in facing the inevitable, and I even imagined what it it would be like when I no longer had him in my life.  The truth is that nothing can really prepare you for the sense of loss, absence, and loneliness that follows.

Last year Wyatt had a small mass on his back that I suspected was a lipoma, a fatty tumor that frequently occurs in dogs as they age.  We took him to the vet to have it excised, and during the examination the doctor also discovered a much more serious growth on his tongue, a dreaded hemangiosarcoma.  After removal the vet cautioned us that although she thought she had gotten it all Wyatt could still develop other tumors, as this aggressive form of cancer often targets internal organs.

With cautious optimism we returned to the established routine, and up until very recently all seemed reasonably normal.  But in the last few months both my roommate and I had started seeing things with Wyatt's overall presentation that while not overtly alarming presaged the possibility that something was maybe not quite right.

While some may wonder if I should have taken him to the vet for some kind of intervention, the outcome would have likely been surgery which may or may not have prolonged his life.  In a dog of his size and age the most likely scenario is a few extra months with the additional consideration of pain and prolonged recovery from any procedure.  With that in mind I chose to let nature take its course.

Because of the hemangiosarcoma discovery, during this last year I suspected that one morning I would find Wyatt's lifeless body on the deck, having passed away in his sleep.  I should have known better, as no dog I have ever owned has had the decency to spare me the decision of whether to end their life.

When the end came it was sudden and abrupt.  I had gone to Phoenix to help my mother for a couple of days.  Just before I left Wyatt had begun limping, slightly at first then much more pronounced.  My roommate who has always looked after Wyatt when I have been absent for one reason or another agreed to keep an eye on him and let me know if things got worse.  As it happened his mobility rapidly deteriorated further, and before I could return home he had lost all ability to stand.

I came home as quickly as I could to find him sprawled awkwardly on the floor, whimpering in pain.  I had asked my roommate to administer oral pain medication while I was gone, but whatever was causing his suffering was obviously more profound than what the drug could control.  At first I just sat with him, telling him how sorry I was he was in pain, and that I loved him.

We could not move him, as he would not stand, and every effort only resulted in causing him more pain.  We had already made an appointment with the vet for that afternoon, but realized there was no way to get him there.  My roommate tried to find any local veterinarian who would come to the house, but no one was willing.  We were desperate when finally someone suggested a doctor who was relatively new to the area.  After leaving a message on his voicemail, we waited for an answer.

After what seemed like an eternity the doctor called and somewhat reluctantly agreed to come to the house that afternoon.  While it was not the best possible outcome it was the only way forward, and I stayed with Wyatt for the next 3 hours, doing whatever I could to comfort him.  It was obvious he was in terrible discomfort, and it was heart wrenching to see him suffering.  I promised him that his pain would not last much longer, knowing full well what that probably meant.

When the doctor arrived, he took a few minutes to assess the situation.  I knew what he would say, and the rest happened with the unstoppable force of a speeding locomotive.  Within 30 minutes Wyatt was gone.

The last couple of days have been unbelievably surreal.  My head knows that my beloved dog is gone because I buried his body in the backyard that very afternoon.  But as is the case with an environment that is rich in memory and experience, I look around fully expecting to see him on the couch, or on the deck, or in the kitchen at dinnertime.  The daily walks in the woods will never happen again, and I can't express how sad that makes me.  This house is too quiet.

Wyatt was a gentle soul who I loved with all of my being.  Words alone cannot convey what he meant to me, and the love, affection, and devotion he gave were beyond my ability to describe.  The time I was given is a gift beyond compare, one that I know I'll never have again.  Eventually the hurt will fade, but right now I am raw with emotion, and righteously angry that I live in a world where I am required to end the life of the most amazing companion anyone could ever ask for.

I've told myself once again that I will never make this choice for another dog.  I also know that this is just the way it is - when we agree to open our hearts to a dog we are living on borrowed time.  

Goodbye my furry friendThank you for trusting in me.  You were such a good boy, and I will always love you.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The BIG (Mostly) Yellow Rock

When I first heard of the place called Yellow Rock, I was not expecting to find a massive sandstone monolith rising from an already spectacular formation known as the Cockscomb (which in geologically correct terms is called the East Kaibab Monocline).

Located in what is arguably one of the most diverse and scenic landscapes on the Colorado Plateau, the Cockscomb is a textbook illustration of various faults, folds, and uplifts that interrupt the normally "tranquil" sequence of sedimentary layers found throughout the region.

Yellow Rock is a singular manifestation of Navajo sandstone, nearly 1/2 miles across and several hundred feet in elevation.  While mostly yellowish in hue, the stone is striped and swirled with multiple shades of red, purple, orange, and white.  The "staining" of the rock by chemicals such as iron and manganese does not always follow the bedding plane of the rock, resulting in wonderfully abstract patterns.

While not as popular (yet) as other nearby places such as White Pocket or the Wave, more photographers and slickrock enthusiasts are making their way to this relatively remote landmark for pictures and exploration.  In my humble opinion, there is more to see in this one area than either of the aforementioned locations, and there are certainly less hassles (no permits or difficult drives through deep sand) to get here.  Having said that, there is some effort involved.

Cottonwood Canyon and the Cockscomb
I won't give specific driving instructions here, since there are guidebooks and online resources that provide detailed information.  I will say that making the trip involves traveling the fairly well known Cottonwood Canyon Road, one of only three routes bisecting the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument.

This 46 mile dirt road is usually maintained, although conditions can vary greatly from season to season, and I'll repeat my frequent refrain about NEVER using a Utah backroad when rain or snow is in the forecast.  Check current conditions with one of several BLM field offices located around the Monument before heading out.

Anyone visiting the area needs to be aware of environmental hazards, specifically weather.  Summer temperatures regularly approach and sometimes exceed 100 degrees, and water is scarce. Thunderstorms are common from July to September, and lightning can be a significant threat along the higher terrain.

Flash floods can happen without warning, and rock near the edge is frequently fragile and unstable.  Cell phones almost never work out here - this is truly wilderness, and help can be hours away if something happens.  Be prepared for the unexpected, and use appropriate caution.

Once you are on the road, park your vehicle at the Brigham Plains road junction.  If you are planning on spending the night there are a few excellent camping spots just up the road to the east, around 1/4 mile or so.

Brigham Plains road marker
When you're ready, walk directly across the road to the west to find a faint trail heading for Cottonwood Wash.  There are several different paths as people pick their own way through the brush, but basically head for the wash and find a place to cross the very shallow stream.

Looking west towards the Cockscomb from the road

Cottonwood Wash
Once across the wash, look for a shallow canyon in the Cockscomb - it's the first one due south of the Lower Hackberry Canyon opening.  By now a more defined trail appears heading into the canyon.

Beginning of Yellow Rock trail
The path quickly begins a steep ascent of the slope to the right (north).  Wasting no time and not bothering with such refined constructions techniques like switchbacks, the trail climbs quickly to a narrow ridge connecting the outer canyon wall to the rim.

Up and more up

The good news is that the views more than compensate for the strenuous effort required to reach this point.  Take a few minutes to look across the valley, and soak in the panorama stretching to the north and south.

Brigham Plains road climbs steeply up the east rim

Looking north

...and to the south
The trail heads west, and the bulk of Yellow Rock soon appears over the horizon.  Cairns mark the path over slickrock sections, while the way is obvious through sand and soil areas.

The trail to Yellow Rock

Yellow Rock is not the only interesting formation

Cliffrose perfumes the air with heavenly scents

Altogether the hike out to Yellow Rock is about a mile, with the most challenging section being the swift climb at the beginning.  Once you reach the base, there is no trail, just unlimited slickrock scrambling.

Yellow Rock is larger than it first appears, and of course is fairly high as well.  Pick a line that allows you to explore the different features while climbing to the summit.  You'll probably want at least an hour or two to check out the various aspects and angles found all over the rock.  Here are some pictures of my visit:


The views from the top of Yellow Rock are pretty amazing as well.  One well known feature on the northern horizon is Castle Rock, a pinnacled dome of white Navajo sandstone.  Just on the northern edge of Yellow Rock you'll spot Lower Hackberry Canyon, where a nearly 20 mile long crevasse cuts into the Cockscomb.

Castle Rock
The southern end of Hackberry Canyon

To the south another canyon leads to the Paria Box, where the muddy and sluggish Paria River cuts through the Cockscomb.

After discovering the wonders of Yellow Rock proper, take some extra time and detour south towards the canyon there.  With some scrambling and off trail route finding there is much more to see.  Some examples:

Turtle Rock?

The Artist used the full palette here
While Yellow Rock may be the main attraction, in half a day of wandering I found more unusual and striking rock formations in a relatively small area than just about anywhere else I've seen.  And I have so much more I want to see on subsequent visits that I may have to live another 50 years to make it happen.  I'm working on it.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Sand Hills - Not Just Another Pretty Place

Although there is growing recognition of the features contained within and around the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, most people simply overlook the area as a whole because it is large, remote, and can be difficult to access.

Additionally, the few relatively well known places (The Wave and South Coyote Buttes) receive the majority of the attention but are subject to strict limitations on the number of daily visitors.

But what most people miss is literally the big picture.  The Paria Plateau (aka the Sand Hills) is big, and has a variety of beautiful and seldom seen sandstone formations scattered throughout the area.  The challenge of course is having a suitable vehicle to reach more isolated sections, and then having the time, ability, and desire to explore large ridges and bluffs on foot to discover these hidden gems.

The pictures here are from a day trip to an area known as Kid Pen Valley, named in reference to the early pioneer days when Mormon ranchers brought goats to the Plateau to graze on the semi-arid desert shrubs and grasses.  I spent several hours walking around a single outcropping of Navajo sandstone, and barely saw the half of it.

Rock pillars exist in abundance

Toadstools resulting from preferential erosion

Cross bedded sandstone twisted by soft sediment deformation and striking forms created by preferential erosion dominate the landscape.  Vibrant reddish orange colors resulting from iron and manganese saturated water percolating down through the sediments provide contrast and color, adding another dimension to the scene.

Cross bedded sandstone captures ancient dunes

Mineral rich waters seeped into sand layers from prehistoric seas

Moki marbles and iron rich concretions surround hardy plant life

Miniature arch

Getting permits to visit the Wave and South Coyote Buttes is difficult at best, but there are countless other alternatives available with comparable scenery.  Of course driving in the Sand Hills requires an appropriate vehicle and a willingness to explore off the beaten path.  For me that in and of itself is really what it's all about anyway.