Crag Dog Adventures in Utah

Here’s the problem with human companions: They come with too many variables. Ask someone, “Want to go out on an adventure?” and your response will inevitably be a “Yes, but _____.” There’s always something – yes but I have to work, or get my oil changed, or hang out with my boyfriend.

And here’s the thing about dogs: There are no buts. The answer is always “YES!” All it takes is one sniff of your backcountry gear piled by the doorway and they’re ready to hit the road ­– no matter what the adventure is.

Amble spent the first few months of her life traveling in a big yellow van, so she’s been groomed for a life of adventure since she was a pup. Nothing thrills her more than getting her paws dirty and sprinting like a torpedo through the outdoors. And you know, she might just love Utah wilderness as much as I do.IMG_8815IMG_8842

We sought out to hop around eastern Utah for a weekend with lady-friend Alex, with Joe’s Valley and Moab as our two destinations. I packed my climbing gear, Amble brought her freeze dried raw Merrick pet munchies, and we drove off into the mountains.

After a night spent folded like origami sleeping in my hatchback, the first stop of our mini-roadtrip was Joe’s Valley – one of my favorite places on earth. After exploring a few of my favorite boulders, the heat became unbearable, so we decided to drive back down country roads to a cluster of boulders we had noticed off a dirt road.IMG_8825IMG_8827

It look less than 30 seconds of peeking around the newfound boulder field to realize that we had just happened upon a sandstone goldmine. Rocks towering 30+ feet in to the air greeted us as we bumped down a very dusty forest road. I wanted to get closer to the field, so I coaxed my little hatchback further and further down the increasingly muddy road ­– and then it happened.

My tires started spinning, mud started flying, and my forward motion quickly ceased.

We were stuck.

Frankly, I was torn between pride and concern. I’ve always loved my little Scion for breaking the mold of adventure vehicles. It’s a city slicker, but my hatchback has traveled across the country a dozen times, navigates dirt roads like a champ, and always keeps me safe. The fact that it even took me to a place where I could get it stuck was a proud moment. And then I realized that didn’t exactly change the fact that I was stuck.

Alex and I quickly gathered as many big, flat stones as we could and wedged them under my tires. She pushed, I gave ‘er gas, and after a few attempts we freed ourselves from the mud. Defeated, we parked at a primitive campsite and walked the rest of the road to the boulders. Amble much preferred the walking over the driving.IMG_8819

I won’t say exactly where we were, because I’m selfish and want to go back there to scrub those dirty boulders until they resemble the beautiful lines they deserve to be. But the point is: these boulders are the real deal. While Amble investigated every inch of dry, cracked mud with her heeler nose, Alex and I set to work inspecting the rock faces and dreaming up boulder problems.DSC_0341 DSC_0326

Drained from the sun and stoked on our discovery, we retreated to the valley for another night crammed in my hatchback as rain pounded the desert outside. Left with soaked boulders, we ditched Joe’s Valley a few hours before sunrise and took off towards Moab.

Big Bend Boulders is one of the most convenient bouldering spots out west, if you ask me. It’s not the biggest, or the boldest – but it’s easy, sunny, and a great place to spend an afternoon. I showed Alex a few of my favorite lines, and we took turns flailing on projects and tossing sticks for Amble to chase.IMG_8861 DSC_0416DSC_0378DSC_0454

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Getting Wild 4 Backcountry

Can I just take a minute to gush about how delightful it is to have Amble around again? How much more magical being outside is with my partner-in-adventure? It’s almost too much. Campfires feel warmer, sleeping bags are snugglier, and trails always seem to get a little messier.

She was born to be an outdoor pup, and as she’s getting bigger it’s always remained a top priority to make sure she’s eating right. Amble has been grain-free since she was a puppy, and gets spoiled with fresh-cooked eggs, high protein meals, and a likely excess of healthy treats. When given the opportunity to let her do some gear testing of her own, I was a little skeptical about letting her try a new food – until I did some research on Merrick Pet Food. They use freeze-dried raw meat and locally sourced produce – all grown in the USA – from family farms. Plus, everything from raw ingredients to the final packaged product are produced under the same roof. I was sold.

But how exactly do you let a dog gear-test food?photo 2

I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to tell how Amble felt about the food. Would she react differently? Would I notice anything else? Who knew. Then I opened up her Pacific Catch kibble, fished out a little bit of freeze-dried salmon, and used it as bait to get her to go through her usual commands. After the treat disappeared into her mouth, she stared at me with the most intent, borderline-crazed expression I have ever witnessed. Clearly, she wanted more.

The second clue that Merrick got the Amble stamp of approval came when I introduced wet food into the mix. Amble has always been very into food, but once I mixed a few spoonfuls of Alpine Rabbit Stew into her dinner, she totally went bananas. She spent 20 solid minutes licking her bowl clean (it was totally clean after about 45 seconds). When she was done eating, she came right over to me, sat down, and kept looking from me to the countertop where the food was.

In that moment it became very clear to me how the whole “letting your dog gear test food” concept works out.

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Gratuitous photos of Amble the Blue Heeler Adventure Pup

Let’s face it, no one is interested in plain ‘ole me anymore. Now that I have an adorable puppy in my life, it’s all about Amble. No one asks me how I’m doing, they want to know about my four-legged daughter. And you know what? I’m totally down with that. She’s way cooler than I am.

A few weekends ago, a photographer spotted Amble hanging around the rock gym during a First Friday event  in Railroad Square. I wasn’t there when she asked Niko if she could take a few photos of Amble (uh, duh you can!) – but Niko gave her my e-mail address so I was surprised one morning with two beautiful photos of my little lady.

Just had to share them – I mean, who doesn’t love blue heeler puppy pictures? Feast your eyes, folks:

A gorgeous photo of Amble by  Donna Irene.Another playful photo of Amble by  Donna Irene.

Absolutely delicious, am I right? These photos are going to be hanging up on the wall of my future home. The photographer’s name Donna Irene, and she is clearly talented – I hate taking photos in the rock gym because it has notoriously horrible lighting for pictures, but Donna is a magician.

If you ever need photos taken in the Tallahassee area,
be sure to check out Donna Irene Photography!

And thank you, Donna, for this wonderful photographic gift. You captured Amble perfectly!

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Meet Amble, Future Adventure Pup Extraordinaire

Since long before we bought a van and traveled the country for a year, Niko and I have been dog-crazy. We love dogs, but have been limited to loving on the pups of others for way too long. The idea of getting a dog right before leaving on a big adventure wasn’t a wise decision for us, so we spent ten months playing with every dog we could get our paws on. There was sweet Philia in Joe’s Valley, lovable Aztlan in Squamish, Heidi’s pack of four-legged family members, our darling Daila in Denver, Oso the furry bear buddy, floppy-eared Watson in Seattle, and so many more pups that I totally lured into my van.

With our yearlong adventure finally winding down, Niko and I decided that we wanted to adopt ourselves a pup for Christmas. Jillian from Tenders and Trails connected me with a wonderful woman, Cathy, in Mississippi who helped Jillian adopt her malamutes. I told Cathy I was interested in rescuing a blue heeler mix pup sometime in December, but it only took her a few days before she started tempting me with beautiful heelers who needed homes. It was hard, but I resisted the first few dogs – we weren’t ready yet, and if we were going to jump the gun, we wanted to find the one.

One morning while Niko and I were sleeping on the side of a road in Chattanooga, I woke up to a photo Cathy sent me of two little six-week old abandoned pups. The photo was focused more on a black and white pup with pretty features, but I was instantly drawn to the speckly little lady snoozing in the back. I rolled over, prodded Niko’s sleeping bag, and said “I promise this is going to be worth poking your head out.” And it was. Our Blue Heeler mix puppy, Amble.

I told Cathy right away that we wanted the little speckled gal, and we started working out how we could get our hands on the puppy we had already named Amble. We made plans to leave Tennessee early to drive out to Mississippi and pick up Amble. It was a 13 hour detour, but it was worth every mile. As soon as we met Amble for the first time, we were in love. Cathy armed us with a bag full of food, well wishes, and records of the vaccinations she had received, and we loaded Amble into the van for the long drive to Florida. Amble, our blue heeler puppy, snoozes on the drive to Florida.Amble finally wakes up on the drive to Florida.

Amble has been an angel (well, mostly). She adores traveling in the van, and falls asleep as soon as the engine is running. She is a totally daddy’s girl, and follows Niko around wherever he goes. On our second day together, Niko taught her how to “sit” – and now Our first family portrait with Amble, our blue heeler mix puppy.she knows “leave it” “stay” and “come”. Our lifestyle is taking a pretty drastic change; it used to be all about us, all the time, but now our main focus every moment of the day is on Amble. She’s a lot of work, and will continue to be, but she’s the best thing that ever happened to us.

And she’s going to make one hell of an adventure dog. She needs to finish her vaccinations before she can become a proper crag dog and play in the woods, but we’re giving her a hefty dose of exploration every day. She’s met big dogs, little dogs, cats, ducks, chickens, and so many adoring humans. Amble already loves the rock gym, conquered her first set of stairs, and even crashed a wedding with us on a farm.

She might be a little rascally when we haven’t tired her out properly, but she’s the sweetest pup in the world – I hope y’all like puppy pictures, because you’re going to see a LOT over the next decade. 

I’m also taking bets right now: How much do you think Amble will weigh when she grows up? Blue heelers usually max out between 30-35 lbs, and at about eight weeks old, she currently weighs 7.2 lbs. She isn’t a purebred, and I think she has American bulldog in her based on the way she sits and the shape of her rump. I think she’s going to weigh 38, Niko says 30.3, and all the other votes fall in between the two. Winner gets a milkshake!

PS: Thank you so much to Cathy for helping us rescue Amble. She was so wonderful and allowed us to complete our little adventure family. If you’re ever looking to rescue a dog, Cathy is so dedicated to helping dogs in need, and I would highly recommend getting in contact with her to save a dog who needs a forever home!

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