Saturday, April 10, 2010

Desert Road Trip

We recently returned from a desert Southwest road trip with my mom and the dogs. We timed it to see the peak bloom of wildflowers in Death Valley (next to 2005, one of the most spectacular blooms of the century I'm told). We drove to Las Vegas, met family who flew in, rented a van and spent an entire day just tooling around DV. Baxter and Kirby, who are accustomed to having their own gated space at the back of the Subaru, were thrilled to ride unfettered in the minivan. Well, almost unfettered. I elected to play dog wrangler, sitting in the far-back seat with the other half folded down. The dogs frolicked in the back, but soon decided the seat would be more comfortable and both decided to jump onto my lap at the same time. Thank goodness my lap isn't big enough for both of them...but that didn't stop them from trying.

Of course, Death Valley was spectacular. It's always spectacular for its geology, but when you add a blanket of greenery and wildflowers that seem to spurt from impossible sandy soils and rocks, it's off the charts. I don't think the dogs quite appreciated the sweet smell of sand verbena on the wind -- something I couldn't get enough of and ended up spending a great deal of time on my knees bending down to get a stronger whiff. But they were pretty excited to find a nice patch of grass at the oasis around the visitor's center at Furnace Creek. Three days on the road and not a whole lot of grass to be found.

We turned in the van, said goodby to our air-traveling kin and went on to Sedona, Arizona (another of our favorate places). While both Baxter and Kirby are good travelers, I think they were glad to spend a few days on terra firma.

Kirby visited the area briefly as a pup, but Baxter has been to Sedona many times over the years and has a few favorite spots. He started whining as we drove down Verde Valley School Road in the Village of Oak Creek...winding our dusty way toward Red Rock Crossing. There, where the smooth red rocks slope gently down to Oak Creek, the water widens into a pool that is one of Baxter's all time favorite stick-fetching spots.

Now, while Kirby is far better at fetching on land (Baxter pretty much refuses, choosing instead to run off with the stick and chew it) Baxter is the king of fetch in the water. As soon as we released the dogs, Baxter made a beeline for the creek. With the enthusiasm of a dog half his age, Baxter took a leap into the ice cold water and gleefully swam out to fetch sticks over and over and over.

Kirby, who isn't a big fan of swimming, waited on the shore. Each time Baxter returned to dry land with a stick, Kirby proceeded to grab one end of it and run alongside him... A couple of times Kirby successfully wrested the stick from Baxter and cheerfully carried it over to drop it at our feet, as if to take credit. Bax didn't seem to mind, because he knew he was the only one who would venture back into the creek to fetch it again.

It was a warm, sunny day so we took a little walk to dry off the dogs and stretch our legs. We found a lovely spot in the trees, rested in the shade and admired the view of Cathedral Rocks (which Jamie painted and I attempted to sketch). It was a lovely afternoon.

The next day we went for a hike with the dogs, who were more than happy to hit the trail. But like any weekend warriors who are a tad advanced in age, Baxter started showing a bit of wear and tear. Between running across the sandstone and padding up the rocky trails, Baxter's feet were a little sore and his hips seemed a tad stiff. He stepped gently and slowly (no more pulling!) and decided he would only walk on pavement, avoiding the rocky yard at the front of the hotel. After a day of rest he was back in ship shape and rearing to go.

Kirby, whose pads are small and extremely thick (it's as if they have Nike air technology that allows him to bounce), didn't seem to notice any wear at all. Of course, he's young. It's amazing how resiliant young bodies are...a fact of which I am constantly reminded now that I'm no longer a kid myself...

The trip home, through Death Valley again, provided even more spectacular wildflower sightings. The blanket of desert sunflowers covering the hills was at least three times thicker the second weekend. We drove North along the East side of the snow-capped Sierras, up through our old haunts in Ashland (where we had a lovely Easter brunch with friends and Baxter and Kirby got to celebrate Baxter's 11th birthday (which fell on Easter, just like the day he was born) playing with their old friend Jackson.

It was a lovely trip. And while the boys seem very happy to be back home and into their normal routine, I think they had a pretty good time too.

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