Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sacred Monkey

Sacred Monkey?

Sacrificial Lamb?

Kinda weak for an end of the year post, but it's all I got. Just an interesting observation on amusing dog behavior.

You may recall one of the first posts about Sunny, entitled Sunny's Monkey. Shortly after choosing his monkey, Sunny picked out a stuffed and squeaker-embedded little yellow ducky. The yellow ducky quickly became a shell of its former self, appendages hanging on by a thread, as the stuffing and squeaker were immediately and roughly extracted.

Next came the fox. This one didn't have stuffing or squeaker. Instead, the poor little fox had a regular old recycled 8 oz plastic water bottle, which I shouldn't really admit, living as close to Boulder as I do. The fox also came equipped with a handy velcro opening in a rather nasty place, so when the bottle got flatted and not so fun to munch on and make crackly noises with, you could pull out the old one and shove a new one up there. (I know, I know. I'm ending my phrases illegally with prepositions, but considering how the sentence ends, that should be the least of your concerns. Besides, I rocked on my GMAT verbal and writing tests 23 days ago, so obviously I know how to write right when I want to.)

While shopping for dog food a few days before Christmas, Sunny picked out his Christmas present. Shown above, it's a sheepskin covered stuffed ball in alternating light and dark shades of sheep. After unwrapping it on Christmas, reports are (I only got the report later, as I was laying on a beach in Mexico at the time) that he quickly started shearing that sheep! So it was taken away and put in a safe place so that I could deal with the destruction upon my return. And now he is systematically destroying it, fluffy piece by fluffy piece. But he is making it last - we're at the 4 day mark right now and it's still more furry than bald.

The whole point of this ridiculous post should be obvious from the picture captions above. The monkey that he loved so much in October, while now largely ignored, has survived completely undamaged. It has squeakies in every appendage and a goose honker in its belly and lots of fluffy stuffing. By all means, the monkey should look like the little yellow ducky by now. But for some reason we'll never understand, the monkey is somehow sacred to Sunny. Or maybe we do know - just go back and look at the pictures and read the story.

And have a Happy New Year!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Buster Cube

A "Sunny Seizure" is a bad way to start the day. These aren't full on eyes rolling back, tongue hanging out kinds of seizures, but I'm sure they are no less scary to my little guy, when the pain in his bionic knee is so bad that he lays down shaking, limbs rigid and eyes dilated. I think the most I can do for him now is just sit with him and help him ride it through. It's only a few minutes before he is back to normal.

This had been coming on for a couple days, possibly the result of a long walk and his rough play (limited though I keep it, he only has one play level - super intense), colder weather, and maybe even the crazy scratching he does with those rear legs. The cause of increased itching? Possibly colder weather leading to more heat/drier air in the apartment. Maybe food related, as we try to find a food that helps his itchies without using carcinogenic preservatives.

This was the third "Sunny Seizure". I wasn't there for the first, but his other foster family described it well, so when he had his second one, I didn't totally panic, but I did call the vet and take him in for a visit. This time I was not surprised at all; his first walk down the hall when we got out of bed this morning looked very uncomfortable, and he succumbed almost immediately.

Since I had been observing increased discomfort in that leg over the past couple days, our ball play was on hold, necessitating other forms of recreation. Our trainer had been promoting puzzles for dogs, so we headed out to shop. We settled on the Buster Cube. Knowing that each new non-tennis-ball toy only holds his fascination for a short time, I worried about the value of this purchase, but so far it is working. However, I am concerned about the safety of the plant on the wobbly table in one corner of the room, and the DVD player on an overturned dog food box in the other.

The Buster Cube, if ya don't know, is a cube with one exterior hole, and some interior magic. I pour a handful of treats in, shake it up to get them into the magic, and put it on the ground. Sunny then has three maneuvers which he applies to the cube to get the treats back out. First he pushes it around with his nose, eventually getting it to roll over. Sometimes he kicks it with his foot, quite energetically as you might imagine. He also pulls on it with his foot, to make it roll back the other way. Sometimes he also tries to pick it up with his mouth, but that doesn't really do much except hyperextend his jaw.

Proceeding this way, he chases the ball around the room, getting extra work when he has to pull it out of a corner. He also periodically leaves the ball to retrace his steps and make sure no treats got left along the way.

Watching the adventure this morning reminded me of Harvey Wallbanger, my childhood pet hamster Harvey who, when put in the plastic ball designed for the purpose, rolled around the house banging into walls. My mother must have loved that noise.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Snow Ball Tournament

As previously noted, we are now on Day 3. Two days of nonstop snow have left us with a winter wonderland on All Hallow's Eve Eve. And Sunny has discovered, well, we both have discovered, that Snow Ball beats Apartment Ball hands and paws down.

This episode will be more visual and less verbal as Sunny tells the story in his own words and pictures.

"Woof woof. Woof woof."
Translation: First Mom tosses the tennis ball into the snow.
Then I stare at it intently to intimidate it.

Translation: "Attack!"

"Woof woof woof."
Translation: Repeat the sequence as long as Mom will allow.

"Wooooof, woof, woof, woof, woof. Woof woof woof woof woof."
Translation: I'm afraid that if I give the ball back to Mom,
she'll declare Game Over and drag me back inside.
So I devised a new strategy.
After I dig the ball out, I place it back on top of the snow,
then pounce on it and bury it again.
Then I get to play all by myself.
Mom can just go inside and leave me out here all alone.
Mom: "Nice try Mister. Not on your life."

"Woofity woof woof woof!"
Translation: This is so much fun!

Translation: Huh? Aw, Mom, please don't make me come inside.

Translation: The End!

Sunny's Snow Day

If you have dogs and don't live where there is snow, your pup is missing out on one of the great joys of dog life. I should know - Net and I lived 12 years without snow, and exhibiting puppy-like enthusiasm after his first snowfall when he was 13 was out of the question for my big guy.

This winter things are going to be much different because my new pup is young enough to let it all out on a snow day, and boy did he!

The calendar says winter will start in about two months, but the weather doesn't pay attention to the calendar. We had two feet of the white stuff in two days of nonstop weather activity here in Colorado in the last week of October 2009. And Sunny learned that chasing a tennis ball in the snow triples the excitement and enjoyment of the sport.

I didn't think about bringing the ball out on the first day. I didn't think much at all - I just bundled up and headed out because certain biological needs needed to be met. After taking care of business, Sunny had a blast leaping, bounding around, and didn't seem to mind the cold. Brrr.

By the second day, the sidewalks had been plowed, creating a channel with sides about as tall as Sunny, and that made the perfect dog track for running in. Two of his buddies happened along that morning as well, and the chase ensued. A chocolate, a golden and a Sunny - romping in the snow and racing in the track.

We tried the ball a little that morning, but lost it in the deep snow on the second toss.

On day 3, the snow had finally stopped falling, the sun was starting to shine, and we were able to stay out a little longer. Near a clean patch of deep snow I started tossing snow balls for him. Oh, that's a mean trick. He saw exactly where they landed but sniffed and dug and dug and sniffed and came up with nothing. After torturing him and entertaining me with that for a while, we headed back towards home. Popping into the apartment, I grabbed a tennis ball and a camera, and ... to be continued ... with more better pictures!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Every Dog Has His Day

Every dog has his day - the day he figures out there are people, or dogs, inside the television set.

"No, wait, maybe they're behind it.
Nope, they're not back there either.
Oh man, I'm so confused!"

The funniest part - the TV wasn't on! He just caught a glimpse of my shadow as I sat down in front to shoe my feet. And somehow, even without the sound, he knew to go look behind.

And then the flash from the camera - "Oh boy, is that another tennis ball?"

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Other Ball is Always Greener

Interesting contrast between Lily and Sunny:

Lily had one tennis ball per play session. You could not switch her. If you threw a different one, she chased it, maybe, but one sniff and she knew it was the wrong one and left it, coming back for The One. Next play session it could be any ball, but never a mid-game switch.

Now, Sunny, on the other hand, thinks every next ball is better than the last. I let him loose at the dog park today and he took off into the weeds, following his nose to the first ball. He played with that one for a while, then suddenly, mid-stride, he dropped it and circled around to follow his nose to the next one. Repeatedly throughout our visit, he would drop this ball and pick up the next.

Only once did I see him circle back after a quick double switch, and recapture the first of the three.

He's been known to carry 2 at one time, but I didn't see any of that today - just a case of The Other Ball is Always Greener.

Sunny's Monkey

This is another old story, out of sequence. It is from an email to friends, dated September 13th.

For your viewing pleasure...

I decided this week that a special toy might make Sunny's life a little better as he finishes his convalescence.

While I was busy surveying all the toys on the wall to find one that wouldn't excite him too much (he'd already had to give up a brand new kong and giant tennis ball because he got too excited), he picked the monkey out of the toy bin on the floor, at doggy eye level. He proudly carried his new monkey across the parking lot to the car, and again from the car into the house.

As you can see, Sunny loves his new monkey very much. He doesn't carry him around all day (although he does follow me from room to room). At night after he realizes that we are settling down in the bedroom, he runs back out to get his monkey and uses him like a pillow.

His arm is wrapped around the monkey,
who is whispering in Sunny's ear.

Sunny's Orange Ball

Funny Sunny continues to amuse, a week and a day after becoming permanently mine. First of all, he's a Ball Hound, as in the Scent Hound category on the dog shows. On more than one recent walk he has disappeared into the weeds only to return moments later with the prize - another dog's stinky ol' ball.

At a friend's house he played hard in the yard as the kids threw the ball we had brought along. After dinner, said friend insisted it was ok to let him back out in the yard alone to wander around, after all, we had checked that both side gates were closed when I arrived. Of course, when I stuck my head over the balcony to check on him a few minutes later, he was gone. Frantic new mom that I am, I bolted down the stairs and toward the gate that some neighborhood kids had opened while we were busy yakking. Fortunately my new kid came immediately when called, bounding happily from the neighbor's back yard with his new treasure, another tennis ball. How many miles away can he smell this green fuzz?

The grand prize last week was an orange squeaky ball. It had seen better days, sporting the chewed remnants of a handle, or maybe arms and legs. It wasn't too dirty, so I let him carry it for the rest of the walk and bring it home in the car, squeaking all the way.

At home when I get tired of wet balls in my lap, they go into the nearest closet, cupboard or drawer. Being gone for half a week, I had totally forgotten about the orange ball, until I opened the bathroom cupboard this morning to pull out a new roll of toilet paper, and found the orange ball in its cushy resting place. Almost as excited as Sunny to find the treasure, I pulled it out and let the games begin.

Soon it was shower time, for me. I was just settling in for a long hot one, when that orange ball came shooting out from under the shower curtain and rolled around the tub. I just laughed and laughed, at the ingenuity of this guy. Then I noticed the bulge in the shower curtain where his head was obviously waiting for the ball to be returned, which no doubt would lead to an unending game of shower ball. I declined.

After a while, I handed it out gently, and he assumed his usual shower position - curled up on the bath mat, as close as he could get to me without getting wet.

Another Early Photo From Aunt Debbie

Monday, October 5, 2009

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?!?

Less creative writing and more recording of the facts, I retroactively start to tell the story of Sunny.

About five days after his July 3rd surgery for a blown knee, I picked him up at the vet hospital. As he dragged me out of the vet's office, I wondered "What Have I Gotten Myself Into?!?". I had just voluntarily agreed to keep a 3 year old yellow lab quiet for 12 weeks so he wouldn't damage his rebuilt knee. This might not be as easy as I thought.

He showed a bit of spirit the first couple days as I put him in his cage in the office. He wasn't happy about that - definitely wanted to be where the action was - with Network and I in the living room. The sweetest thing I noticed in the early days was how he sat so patiently and without any fuss, let me put the dreaded cone on his head.

The second day I moved his crate into the living room, and after another day or two, I didn't put him in it again, and took off the cone too. He was a perfect angel - he didn't need any of that stuff.

He also was proving to be pretty mellow - and I never again felt that panic about keeping him down. In fact, after one or two failed attempts to get Network to play, Sunny kinda retired to his dog bed in a semi-depressed state of mind. And thereafter I was absorbed with Network's last days and I took care of Sunny's physical needs and he had constant company but I couldn't encourage play so he just kinda hung out and passed the time.

Fast forward through the rest of July and the first half of August. Then I took Sunny to his wonderful other foster home for 3 weeks so I could spend a last few days with Network and then run away for 2 1/2 weeks. Facing the daunting task of returning home to a home without a Network for the first time in 13 1/2 years (wow - that's a long time!) I found I was relieved that I would pick Sunny up the next day and have his company for a few more weeks as he finished his recuperation.

After a day of observing the still-depressed Sunny, I took on the task of bringing some joy into the little guy's life. I decided we'd go out for a ride in the car every day, also to help him learn that riding in the car isn't always a bad thing. Oh he was so sad the first time I took him to Deb's. I'd only had him for two weeks and had to leave town. What a sad little boy - I just sat in the back seat of the car with his head on my lap as we waited in the parking lot for Deb to arrive. Life was not treating him well as he realized he was on the move again. He had only arrived at Safe Harbor Lab Rescue a day before blowing out his knee, after what was probably a trip through an animal shelter and an inter-state transit to our region. What must he be thinking about this unending journey?

On our first day out, I also decided he needed a special toy. And I'll write about that in a separate post - Sunny's Monkey.

After Sunny's Monkey, things started to turn around. We were taking daily car rides, and longer and longer walks to rebuild his muscles. His attitude improved and his spirit started to show. When I left him alone for a few hours, he'd search the house for a piece of my clothes or my slippers. But he didn't do any damage. He just moved them - near his bed. One day I uncharacteristically left yesterday's clothes on the floor in the bedroom, and came home to find a pair of levis and a sweatshirt strewn across the living room floor! Laughter is good medicine.

While I was paying for his monkey at the pet store, he was busy shopping for a tennis ball from the strategically placed bucket of balls - just like the people stores putting irresistible kid stuff in the area of the cash register, to teach the parents how to say no. So I knew that after achieving his medical release, Sunny would be a ball dog. Actually, we already knew that. Deb had tried to give him a ball during his first stay with her, and her early reports were about what a clever boy he was that he taught them how to play ball while he didn't move off his bed. He rolled it away for them to retrieve. But, alas, he eventually got too wild and the ball had to be retired until he was fully healed. I similarly had given him a kong during his first week, and had to take it away within a day.

As soon as he received his medical release (or maybe a couple days prematurely) I introduced light ball play in the house. And I started to see the spirit of my Lily alive and kicking in our little Sunny. It was about that time when I started to think that maybe I couldn't give him up after all. And the rest is history.

No, the rest is future.

Early picture of Sunny taken by Deb.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

YADBS - Yet Another Dog Bath Story, with a twist

OMG - I LUV this dog!

I have never washed a dog in the bath tub before. I have read about such adventures, but never had the occasion or interest to subject myself and my bathroom to such torture. I think in my early days as a pet owner I bathed cats .... but not often - one could suffer great harm attempting that activity regularly. But now I'm a dog owner, and occasionally dogs require bathing.

In California, my home has an outdoor dog washing station, a heavy umbrella stand from an old patio set, with an old leash permanently attached. And it was used once or twice a year, strictly for fun and bonding on warm summer days, or when Lily's neck got so stinky I couldn't stand it anymore.

My dogs tolerated the bathing ritual very politely, but shook their furry wet bodies regularly to make sure we all enjoyed the experience equally. I laid half a dozen large dog towels on the warm concrete and when released from the water torture, they ran from town to town, oops, towel to towel, rolling on their backs and rubbing their faces. Then Lily tried to run into the backyard to roll in the dirt, and Network tried to run in the house to roll on my bed. Like I said - once or twice a year was just the right frequency for that bonding exercise.

So, yesterday, when the new vet said my new dog had a "skin condition" and needed a weekly bath, I wondered yet again, What Have I Gotten Myself Into?!? (I'll have to write that blog entry, out of sequence, next.)

As I prepared the battleground, he munched away on a tennis ball, following me happily from room to room as I gathered up supplies. A leash, oatmeal shampoo, Pet Hair-Snare to cover the drain and keep the hair top-side, a plastic container for transferring water onto said animal, in lieu of a hand-held shower head on a hose, and some dog towels. A totally bath-paranoid dog might, at this point, already have put 2 and 2 together and hidden in a closet. So far the pup gave no clue that he understood that storm clouds were brewing to darken his sunny Saturday afternoon.

Bathroom door closed, I started the water running, then stripped down to shorts and t-shirt. Collar off the dog, I slipped a noose around his neck. Then I had to stop and think. Do I pick him up and put him in. Do I get in first and pull him over. I know he can get in by himself - he'd hopped in, and out, a few times on frantic runs around the apartment, trying to escape his itchy ears in the middle of the night. So I faced my first hurdle, almost literally.

I decided to step in first...

[insert miracle here - some of you may be familiar with a certain canine comic strip]

This is where my little Sunny proved once again what a darling little angel he is.

He gingerly stepped into the tub all by himself!

Now tell me people, does this ever happen!?! Will it ever happen again?!?

With the leash strapped around my legs, I started watering him down. This is where he's supposed to shake and soak me and the bathroom, right? He just stood stock still and, well, didn't actually smile, but just allowed it to happen. I rubbed the soap in, let it sit, rinsed him off, and the only complaint I had was a sore back from leaning over him for ten minutes.

I might as well stop writing now. I obviously have NO story worth telling.

But alas ...

He got a good toweling off. I stepped out of the tub. He very carefully stepped out behind me, completely unassisted, no unsafe leaping off wet surfaces that could damage his newly recovered knee implant.

And then he shook. But this skinny little dog has hardly any hair, so - pff - I barely noticed.

Please, please, please, let him be as willing ... same time next week, and the next, and the next.

Sunny and I at his adoption 2 days ago

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

So Long Ol' Pal

Well, it's been three weeks now. Exactly, almost to the hour. So I suppose I owe my buddy a little send-off in honor of the wonderful 13 1/2 years that he gave me.

Network's neurological problems and failing health were affecting his quality of life this summer, so I decided, after much deliberation and consultation, to let him go peacefully, instead of waiting for a traumatic event that would be unbearably painful for both of us. Hard as it was to make the decision, I am glad that we do have that option with our beloved pets.

Contemplating the event was more painful than the actual event. Since he could still summon the excitement to trot to the car when he knew he was going for a ride, I didn't want that last trot to be wasted on the short last trip to the vet. So I decided we would take a longer road trip on our last morning together.

We hadn't been on the high side of Rocky Mountain National Park yet, so that seemed to be a nice destination. Other than that, we didn't have an end point in mind. We would just drive until it was time to turn around and get back for the appointment. As luck or fate or destiny would have it, that place turned out to be Rainbow Curve. The Rainbow Bridge story wasn't ever one that really resonated with me, but maybe there's something to it after all. A friend later commented that when she visits Rainbow Curve next time she will think of Network and know that his spirit is there. That's a nice thought - that from that beautiful high vantage point, I gave him a little head start on running free.

I didn't get him out of the car up there - too much of a chore. But I took some pictures, including the one below, the last one that I took of him. It perfectly captures his beautiful face as I remember it most. It is also how he spent the entire trip - with his head near my elbow on the center console. He didn't usually stay in that position for as long as he did that day - maybe he was trying to comfort me.

I wanted to write a story of Network's life, like I did with Lily (the first post in this blog), but what I realized while trying to write it is that Network's story is really my story, or a story about all the wonderful things that came into my life because he was a part of it. He was my first Lab, my first dog, and he changed my life. Most of the friends that I have now, especially the lifelong type, came to me because of him. Getting to know dogs, especially Labs and Goldens (he was part both), and the joy they bring to our lives has shaped my life.

Through volunteering with various dog organizations - Healdsburg Animal Shelter, Loving Paws Assistance Dogs, Canine Angels Service Teams, Solano County Animal Shelter and Safe Harbor Lab Rescue - I have been touched hundreds of times by being able to play a role in improving the lives of dogs and people when wonderful matches are made. This is something that Network gave to me. He also gave me dog photography, one of the great passions of my life.

So on that last day, he executed a flawless leap from the car (lately he'd been more likely to crash on his head if I let him get out on his own), gobbled down the Sausage Egg McMuffin that I had saved for him since breakfast, and walked proudly under his own power in to the vet's office, (after stumbling and falling on the hill, just to reassure me that he really wasn't in as good shape as it might appear).

The vet and his assistant were absolutely wonderful, although we had never met them before. We were escorted to a lovely spot on the lawn under a tree behind the animal hospital. They gave him a heavy sedative, so that he could just rest with his head in my lap, which he did for about ten minutes before they returned to give him the final injection. And then he was gone. It was just as peaceful as could be, and the whole day was as nice as it possibly could have been.

Goodbye my faithful friend. There will never be another like you.


February 17, 1996 - August 19, 2009

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Clear Creek Trail

As the brochure says, "The Wheat Ridge Greenbelt Conservation Area is a treasure along the Clear Creek Trail". I lab tested a section of it with Jasper, an energetic black lab who is enjoying some R&R at nearby Rover Retreat, while he waits for a foster home or forever home through Safe Harbor Lab Rescue.

I picked this trail simply by soaring over Wheat Ridge in my personal flying machine (aka Google Maps satellite view). I saw what appeared to be a long, long trail surrounded by lush greenery, and decided it was worth checking out. I was not disappointed. I am amazed at the vast quantities of amazing parks right in town. Good job, Colorado!

We started out from Anderson Park on W 44th Avenue at Field Street and headed west. In this section, the flat, paved mixed use trail is surrounded by lovely trees and Clear Creek on one side, and a large park on the other.

The trail meanders a little towards and away from the fast moving creek. At one point, a dirt side spur took us down to a calm section where my companion was happy to sink down and soak his belly in the cool water after slurping a little refreshment.

We hung a left at the Independence Bridge, as a sign announced this was the Clear Creek Trail, but once across the bridge, the trail appeared to leave the shaded creek-side and enter a residential neighborhood. We did an about face and continued west. When we ran into what appeared to be the end of the trail at Kipling Street, we headed back towards the car.

Coming from this direction, there is an additional sign at the Independence Bridge, indicating that one should cross the bridge here if they wish to cross Kipling and continue on towards the west where four different lakes sit near the west end of the trail.

We covered just over 1/2 mile of the trail, and it stretches another mile and a half in each direction, spanning almost 4 miles between Harlan and Youngfield. Along about the middle of our journey, we picked up a beautiful trail guide from a box hanging on the large map sign.

Monday, May 25, 2009

South Valley Park

Tucked behind a hogback ridge in the Ken-Caryl Valley is the stunning South Valley Park. Of the three cloudy days this Memorial Day weekend, this one started out the least overcast and seemed a good day for a dog hike.

Trail testing was provided by the energetic and youthful Lucy, a beautiful yellow lab I was taking care of over the long holiday weekend. She contains much of the beauty and spirit of my Lily (see first post) and it was a joy to have her leading this trek. We were joined by another human, and glad to have the company and the supplies he provided, which would prove later to save the day.

We parked at the larger parking lot at the north end of the park and headed in on the Coyote Song Trail.

About a half mile along the trail, I led us up a little connector trail called Lyons Back, which includes some nice natural rock steps to help one traverse the steep bits. This little stretch leads to the Pass Trail, which descends to the Columbine Trail, which in turn connects to the Cathy Johnson Trail. We decided that we had left the more beautiful valley behind and retraced our steps to rejoin the Coyote Song Trail. Although it provided a nice view back out of the valley, we would pay later for that detour!

Continuing on for another .8 miles, we ended up at the south parking lot. Not desiring to return by exactly the same route, we tried half-heartedly to find the advertised creek bottom trail, but didn't linger longer, deciding to start back where we were more confident about the route, as a dark storm was a-brewing.

.4 miles back up the trail, we took the left fork .2 miles to the Swallow Trail. Sho 'nuff - less than a mile from the car, we were caught in the downpour. If we were a little closer to one of the spectacular rock formations, we might have holed up in a cave. Instead we took cover under some dense brush, and as the lightning got closer I was sure we were going to be tomorrow's crispy headline.

The next thing we knew, it started to hail, beating my friend on the head even through his hat! After we were pretty much soaked to the skin, he remembered the solar blanket his father insists he carry in his pack. It was sufficient to keep the chill to a tolerable level and to shield the camera bags from further soaking. Thanks, Josh's Dad!

After 30 minutes, the worst of the lightning had moved past, the hail had stopped and the rain was letting up enough to high-tail it back to the car. Still wrapped in the tin foil blanket, I made a heck of a racket trying to hustle along the trail. I didn't even realize it had stopped raining with all that noise in my ears. Back at the now empty parking lot, we had mixed feelings about being the only fools caught out in the storm.

Foothill Community Park/Wonderland Lake

The unplanned hike

How could it possibly disappoint?

With no preset expectations.

And the icing on the cake - 

To round the corner and stumble on a lake 

One didn't know was there.

Hiking trails run along the base of the foothills...

Offering access to the hills themselves...

And views of the hang gliders soaring past.

And the bonus feature - 
they connect to the loop around Wonderland Lake.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

RMNP Trip 1

On the road again. Mid-way through today's trip, I wondered what had possessed me to add 5000 feet and subtract 20 degrees, when I was finally getting warm after six months of winter at Denver's mile high altitude.

I can lay partial blame on the dog. At 13, his life resembles a typical mammal's early days - eat, sleep, poop, lather, rinse, repeat. Approximately every 2 hours he awakes, struggles to arise, and engages in a vigorous round of "I can bark louder than you and I will not stop until you give in", which is my reassurance that despite his weakening body, his spirit is still alive and kicking!

As he has no interest in the treasures of his youth, stuffed squeaky toys and chicken flavored nyla-bones, we are left with two options - food or walk, and walk is only acceptable to the beast if it is followed by food. We have now added a third approved activity: road trip. Unfortunately, his favorite road trip activity is barking. Sigh. Someday soon I will wish for that bark, so I try now to let him go for it, until I just can't stand it anymore.

Today's destination was Rocky Mountain National Park, hopefully the first visit of many. I have traded, figuratively speaking, my ski season pass for an RMNP annual pass, and I hope to continue my pattern of venturing out mid-week once weekly, as part of my promise to myself to enjoy unemployment, or at least do some things that I won't be able to do regularly when I begin my next 20+ year working stint.

Checking out the park web page a day or two ago, I was pleasantly surprised to read that my canine co-pilot could accompany me into the park. I had previously believed that state and national parks were especially prohibitive in that regard. Of course, he isn't welcome in the back country or on hiking trails, but "wherever cars are allowed" seems reasonable and is good enough for me and my geriatric companion. I don't dare let him out anyway, lest he not be able to load back up again. I can't exactly lift his 100 pound mass.

Approaching Estes Park, I was excited to encounter this scene. Two hours later, my frame of reference was reframed.

Having left my map at home, I flipped a coin in Estes Park and followed the signs to the south park entrance, which led me to the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and Beaver Meadows Entrance Station. On a future visit, I will go the other way to the Fall River entrance, only a short way further on Highway 34. Or maybe not - it appears that I can enter at Beaver Meadows on Highway 36 and head northwest from there, connecting to Highway 34. Of course I will do it both ways eventually.

Heading southwest into the park, we passed Moraine Park, and made a mental note to stop there on the way back. It looks like one of those obligatory photo spots. At Hollowell Park, I used the facilities while the hound sounded the alarm. Being mostly deaf and partially blind, he totally missed my return, and I had to make a giant fuss until he realized I was back safely.

Wildlife spotted at this stop included a magpie (I love their bold black and white outfits) and a couple of what I am going to guess were mountain blue birds. I didn't have the equipment to capture the shot, and I wasn't close enough to see precise detail, but it seemed that it was almost completely blue, matching internet pictures labeled "mountain blue bird", and I was in the mountains after all. Plus I know I can believe everything I read on the internet, so there you have it, proof positive.

The end of the road today was at the Bear Lake Trailhead. Time to stop and smell the photos.

Now tilt your head to the right.

Tilt back to center.

Hazy gloom up top - will try for better images on a future trip.

Driving back down the mountain, I pulled over again and again, to the increasing frustration of D O G.

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

I'm an "arm-chair" photographer, or maybe just plain lazy, typically shooting through an open window, or standing on the center console to pop out through the sunroof. Occasionally on a road trip I will actually park and get out for a better angle. Occasionally I will even stop driving before shooting.

I keep an eye on the dog with a fish-eye mirror. Boy was he ever pissed when I pulled over on a side dirt road and killed the engine to quietly watch and shoot the wildlife (no hunting allowed in the park - I was shooting with a Canon Rebel).

This is the road-side scene that trivialized my earlier excitement.

It wasn't easy to get them all to pose this way.

After repeatedly breaking my promise to barky boy to head for home, I finally hit the highway and stopped stopping (well, just one more stop). He was relieved. Wildlife patrol is exhausting when your eyes and ears are useless and your nose is your primary patrol tool.

Back at home, Network waits for me to unload him. After maneuvering him onto the blanket, I pull it until his front half clears the edge, then gently lift him out the rest of the way. He is too unstable to use a ramp - he is, after all, the human equivalent of a 90 year old man.