Get Away with Your Bestie

Because who you travel with is almost as important as where you’re going.

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LouDog leads the way in Labyrinth Canyon

In 1962, John Steinbeck wrote the definitive book on traveling with a pet. Travels with Charley chronicles the iconic American author’s road trip across the United States with his standard poodle, Charley. “A dog is a bond between strangers,” Steinbeck famously said. You tend to explore the world differently with a four-legged companion. A dog—or a cat—is sure to find the sunniest spot when it’s cold and the coolest spot when it’s hot. A seemingly tame campground becomes a wild hunting ground. A pet interprets for us the language of the sounds and smells of wildness. Best of all, you have a sympathetic pal along to inhabit your vacation memories and selfies.

Rolling on the River

LouDoug and his gosling

By Dax Williamson

We must have been an odd sight pulling into Canyonlands’ Mineral Bottom boat ramp: a crew of shaggy hipsters, a yellow lab and a baby goose, all crowded together in a kayak. The best trips write their own story and this particular voyage—LouDog’s first float trip—included an unexpected passenger.

I got LouDog shortly after he was born—he’s probably been more places than most humans will visit in a lifetime and he’s certainly gone where few dogs have gone before. He accompanied me on all my Utah adventures, even on a memorable float trip through Labyrinth Canyon on the Green River.

This section of the Green River Labyrinth is a great float because it’s all flat water, which is ideal for traveling with a pet without prehensile hands to hang on in white water. You’ll need a BLM permit to run the river. This 68 miles of the Green is remote and services are non-existent—plan to carry lots of drinking water. Cell phone service is not available and you are required to carry out all waste created by you and your pet.

We put our Aire Boats in at Green River State Park. The inflatable Outfitter and Tributary  are great for hauling lots of gear. I made Lou a comfortable spot in the front of the boat. I was surprised—and relieved—at how happy he seemed in a kayak all day. On board I kept him shaded with an umbrella so he didn’t get overheated and during the hot parts of the day, I would let him swim a little. Labs, of course, love water.
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Lou inspects his river running crew

Because the river is mostly calm,  you don’t need an expert to secure your gear—it’s a safe float for families or newbies and perfect for a large dog. Still, the Green is a big river and has some strong undercurrents. You always need to treat it with respect.  Always keep a close eye on your pet when in camp. The current can carry off even a strong dog and you’ll wind up with a rescue that is dangerous to everyone.

Wildlife is abundant—Lou saw owls, blue herons and other critters. If you have time, hike some of the side canyons—Horseshoe Canyon is a good bet. This float connects with Still Water Canyon before flowing into  the Colorado River and entering Cataract Canyon.

The weather was great during most of our trip. Heavy rain—and the flash flooding that resulted—made several fascinating but temporary waterfalls off the red rock. (Notice where the water flows after heavy rain and don’t set up camp in these vulnerable areas.)

After the big storm rolled through, we hit the river bright and early only to come across a baby Canada Goose separated from its mother in the storm  and stuck in an eddy. We got it out and for the next three days, ”Eddie” the gosling became part of our group.

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Eddie, the Canada gosling makes a friend along the river

Lou didn’t seem to mind and the two of them cuddled up in our tent like they were old friends. It took us about five days to make it down to Mineral Bottom, where a river guide saw Eddie and offered her a good home on a farm in Moab.

After an emotional parting, we left Eddie and headed for a post-float burger at the famous Ray’s Tavern in Green River.

Lou Dog died last February on Leap Day at 15. I have dedicated this summer to spreading his ashes in the 10 best places we traveled over the years.

You can follow Dax Williamson’s ongoing tribute to Lou Dog at

Caesar’s Sawtooths

He came. He saw. He marked it.

By Debbie Hummel

The first time I set eyes on the Sawtooth mountains of central Idaho was during a last-minute Memorial Day trip with Ezra, my boyfriend of a few months, and his cat, Peaseblossom. Peasie and the rest of us were staying in Sun Valley, where Ezra’s family have spent summers since the late ‘60s.

The valley is breathtaking from the top of Galena pass, about 30 minutes north of Ketchum. I remember thinking I hadn’t seen anything this open and lovely since the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone. The Sawtooth Mountains, rising out of a sagebrush plain, are jagged and alluring like the Tetons.

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Caesar chaperoned his person on dozens of camping trips in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains

Peasie was fine as a companion, but I couldn’t wait to get back up there with my dog Caesar.

Caesar was a houndy 90-pound mutt with intimidating black and tan markings and a goofy streak surprising in a mature dog. For nearly eight years, Caesar and I made the trek  in my 1997 Toyota RAV4, summer and winter, to visit Ezra in Idaho. The well-used RAV had truck tires mounted, making it excellent for rocky back roads.

When traveling from Salt Lake to central Idaho with a dog, I try to make the six-hour drive as easy as possible. Pack a sandwich and stop at a rest stop to let the dog have a break in the pet area. I recommend Hailey, Idaho—the Albertson’s has a shady street on the west side where you can park, pop in to grab a few groceries and give your dog a break before the hour-long homestretch through Ketchum, over Galena pass into the Sawtooths.

The valley is part of the National Forest Services Sawtooth National Recreation Area and dogs can be off leash on most trails, but must be controlled. As you head up into the mountains, the Sawtooths to the west and the White Clouds to the east, you find yourself in wilderness, which mandates that dogs are on leash from Fourth of July through Labor Day.

I’ll never forget Caesar’s silhouette against the sky as he sat on a knoll while we made camp on a backpacking trip to Alice Lake (about five and a half steep miles in from the Petit Lake transfer camp.) When we found ourselves in the sagebrush flats, I chose to believe Caesar’s chasing ground squirrels was play and not covered by the prohibition against harassing wildlife.

To get a camping spot around one of the three largest lakes (Alturas, Pettit, Redfish) at the base of the Sawtooths means making a reservation early for busy summer weekends. If you’re willing to forgo pit toilets and other amenities, there are many National Forest informal camping areas up any dirt road that strikes your fancy. A couple low-impact rules: Pick a place that has been camped in before and leave it as you found it.

In the fall of 2012, sensing that every hike with Caesar, now 13, was gravy, I took him up Fish Hook Creek trail near Redfish Lake. It’s an easy mile or so up to a meadow with an amazing view. The hike was a deliberate excursion to focus all my attention on the dog who had chaperoned me through my 20s to Mr. Right. This valley had gone from a camping destination to our part-time home and Ezra’s business.

When Caesar died a few months later, I was grateful for that hike. I still am. 

Now, we have Chester, a houndy 60-pound mutt with an orange coat and the over exuberance of a dog half his two years.  When we adopted him in, I told him he wasn’t going to believe his luck—he was going to spend a lot of time in the mountains of Idaho.

Camping Cat

Frito finds her place in the food chain.

By Glen Warchol

It wasnt until a camping trip to Glacier National Park that our dominatrix ginger tabby cat learned her true place in the food chain. Frito had camped dozens of times, always assuming the West’s high-altitude deserts and craggy mountains were basically extensions of her Marmalade District ecosystem. There, the tiny street-smart tabby terrorized mice, voles, rats and squirrels. Lithe, endlessly patient and pitiless, our orange predator dragged home rats three-quarters her size to share with her pride, to which, apparently, we belonged.

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Frito the camping cat never quite accepted she wasn’t the alpha predator

Sure, the neighborhood had large dogs, but they were, Frito judged from a kittenhood friendship with the neighbors’ aging Belgian shepherd, just slobbery walking bean-bag furniture. At their worst, she filed them with garbage trucks under “Things to be artfully avoided.” Thus, in the wilds, we had to restrain Frito with a leash and harness —otherwise she struck off towards the horizon in search of adventure and fresh meat. She had zero clue that a walkabout could end with her own sudden death at the fangs of a coyote or the talons of a horned owl.

Finally in Montana’s Lost Creek campground, as Frito led us up a deeply wooded trail, a mule deer stepped out into the sunlight a dozen feet away. We can’t know for sure what went through Frito’s mind when she and the buck saw each other. But we got a clue when she inflated to several times her size like an orange blow fish. The deer calmly drifted back into the shadows.

After that, cat camping was easy. Frito preferred human backup at the end of a leash on her forays. She was the epitome of a good camper. On long trips she curled up in the driver’s lap or between his head and the headrest and dozed. Unlike a dog, Frito had no interest in sticking her head out the window, didn’t drool and never threw up.

On arrival, Frito calmly waited until camp was set up, then hopped into a camp chair. Because cats sleep about 90 percent of the day, she was adaptable to any hiking schedule. At the campfire, she preferred a long tether, allowing her to explore the outlying shadows. Later in our tiny “canned-ham” trailer’s bed, Frito slept on my wife’s head—a symbiotic relationship, particularly when we camped in Arches one snowy Christmas Eve when the thermometer sunk to single-digits.

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Two years ago, we were excited to introduce Frito to the towering redwoods in Humboldt County, California, figuring the smug, tree-climbing feline would be put in her place. It was an anticlimax. As we waited with cameras ready, Frito sat down at the base of a 300-foot redwood … and began bathing herself. A drive to the nearby Lost Coast, however, intimidated her. The pounding Pacific Ocean surf sounded like a highway clogged with garbage trucks.

During our last trip with Frito, camping across Washington to the San Juan Islands, she settled into her niche in the campground ecosystems with their target-rich environment of squirrels and various rodents and shrews. Only Frito’s retractable leash saved the scampering mammals. But in Lassen Volcanic National Park, she met her match. Frito would chase a pika into a hole, then curl up patiently to await their return, like a sewer rat, to the surface. Instead, the pika would pop out another hole, usually behind her, and whistle. Frito never got close to getting one, but never stopped trying.

Shortly, after we returned, Frito disappeared. We’ll never know for sure, but her urban ecosystem is frequented by red-tailed hawks, great horned owls and, of course, coyotes. It’s a circle-of-life thing.

Lapdogs of Luxury

High thread-count camping in Sedona

By Amy Peterson-Millis

After spending nearly six months in Mexico, the idea of staying in a swank hotel for our anniversary, with available spa treatments and ample opportunities for outdoor recreation, sounded literally foreign to my husband and me—and because our pets didn’t come with us on our trip south of the border, we wanted to bring them along. Pups need pampering, too.

L’Auberge de Sedona is not far from the tourist vortex of Sedona, where signs offer aura readings, chakra cleansings and past-life healings—but in substance, it could not be further away. Set in Sedona’s breathtaking red rock and nestled on the peaceful banks of Oak Creek, it’s a best-of-both-worlds escape when the desert climate seems unforgiving.  Our chakras must have been in good order because as fate would have it, the resort offers many packages—including a pet-friendly one: Red Rocks & Ruff.

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Rico and Flash test the waters

We attracted some looks as we strolled through the lobby of the upscale L’Auberge with Rico, our seven-year-old Australian Shepherd, and Flash, a smaller, moppy mutt we’d rescued from the pound less than a week earlier. Flash, just days after his adoption, had been neutered—obvious to everyone who saw him, thanks to the humiliating cone of shame around his neck.

Our room turned out to be a private creekside cabin, and we were greeted with gift bags for each of the pooches with toys and treats from the locally owned Whisker’s Barkery (do the pet puns ever end?). Each pup received its own doggie bed and food and water dish—all part of the pet-rec package. Best of all, the cabin featured a handy outdoor shower we used to rinse the red dirt off  the dogs before entering the cabin.

We, on the other hand, had to settle for a luxurious king-sized bed but no chew stick.

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Flash: Nothing limits a getaway like a cone of shame

In addition to the spectacular view from our cabin, the location was perfect for letting our dogs outside to do their business. Rico enjoyed the access to the creek while his new playmate watched from the riverbank. The trail that runs along side the creek is low-impact, a nice change, for Flash at least, from the area’s more vigorous hikes.

We enjoyed a lovely wedding anniversary dinner at one of the resort’s two locally-sourced onsite restaurants—Cress on the Creek (no dogs invited), the prix fixe foodie paradise, where we were seated al fresco next to the babbling creek. We then retreated back to our cabin and relaxed on the porch with a bottle of wine and the dogs at our feet. I’m sure old-dog Rico felt pampered, but I’m crossing my fingers that Flash doesn’t assume life at the L’Auberge is the norm.

301 Little Ln, Sedona, AZ , 800-905-5745,

Dog vs. Antelope Island

City-slicker Atticus meets his country cousin coyote.

By Michael Mejia and Mindy Wilson

It begins in skepticism. Because we’re rebooting ourselves as campers by way of an overnight at Antelope Island, just a 45-minute drive from Salt Lake, close enough that if our incompetence overwhelms, we can just come home. Because we’ve got a nice bottle of red and stainless steel wine glasses, but we’re renting our tent. Because the weather’s perfect for biting gnats—announced on a flashing digital sign like Tony Bennett headlining the Peppermill—which maybe explains others’ ambivalence to our exuberance. Still, our horns aren’t as green as Atticus’s, our three-year-old Jack Russell Terrier. He’s flown coach and been a guest at Sundance Resort, but he’s never spent a single night under the stars.

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A first time camper tries to decide if he’s still on Earth

The Bridger Bay campground is full of newbies—not first-time campers, but first timers to Antelope, just discovering, as we are, the pleasures of settling into our primitive site on what first glance suggests is just a hot rock in a brackish sea. Atticus reclines on his beach towel under the pavilion sheltering our picnic table, watching us assemble a nylon bubble off in the brittle grass, wondering what’s that for? Will it dispense treats? But he won’t give up his shade to come sniff it out. To our right, beyond the sun-punished scrub, the briny strand scrolls past the Island Grill, where campers and day-trippers can grab a shower, ice, and a burger made of local bison. Biting gnats? A breeze shoos them away.

A dusty jackrabbit raises Atticus’s interest as we depart on a short, hot hike along the western shore’s weird, pacific beauty. (Buffalo Point is also accessible from the campground for an elevated sunset view.) But it’s the smell of spice-rubbed steak on the grill and our typical pre-dinner industry that relieve Atticus’s look of concern: are we going home after this? One unseasoned tip of beef, he knows, is his.

Just before sundown, Jay, the golden mixed-breed next door, pipes up. There’s a coyote on the beach, yipping at the spot where we’d seen a fat-flanked deer earlier. Atticus emits a low interrogative growl. For a few minutes our gear, our needs and comforts are forgotten as we listen to these two in conversation, different dialects of the same root language, the coyote’s “I’m king of this hill.” Atticus’s “Really? But who are your people? Where’s your bed?”

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By the time we reach the water’s edge, the coyote’s loped off. Atticus soaks his paws amid swarms of brine flies and poses for a few dramatic silhouettes against a transfigured scene, abstract strokes of orange, black and astral blue. On our walk back, in the near-ideal-stargazing dark, another camper alerts us to the R-Pod-sized bison grazing directly ahead, just another shadow or rock to us, but a distinct, mammalian fragrance to curious Atticus.

Winding down by the fire, we laugh when our boy, snout drooping and eyes red-rimmed, climbs back in the car—This was great. Time to go!—and we realize we need to show him tonight’s sleeping arrangements. Collars off, we curl up a little tighter than usual (a two-person tent is really just a pup tent), the thinnest layer ever between us and the wild. Atticus growls just once—Who’s that?—his ears and nose gathering intel we’ll never be privy to. His city slickness is just a rain fly veiling superior animal confidence and adaptability. Then he sighs an all-clear, collapses into unperturbed sleep. Over the next morning’s victory breakfast of blueberry buttermilk pancakes, peppered bacon, and lamb kibble, we’re already plotting next time.

Need a recommendation for a pet-friendly place to visit? Look no further (than here).

Salt Lake Magazine
Salt Lake Magazine
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