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A Cliff-Hanging Tail

The sky islands of southern Arizona are great places to camp, hike, and mountain bike; thus we've returned to them, after three years off the road. We had a strange experience here, four winters ago. In fact I am looking out the window at the exact spot on the mountain, as I type. 

It was just a couple months after the little poodle had been rescued above Book Cliffs near Grand Junction, CO. I've edited this oldie-but-goodie. Tonopah AZ...

Walking right from the RV's front door of our solitary boondocking site, we headed for the nearest mountain. These small mountain ranges can be quite photogenic; even better, they are finite: you can look at them from a variety of angles on one day. It was topped off with a cliff and caprock that almost made it look like a mesa. A large hole in that cliff had attracted my eye for days.

It got steeper as we approached the cliff, so much so that I had to scramble on all fours. At the foot of the cliff the little poodle froze in place, perhaps because he thought it was too steep or because his hiking boots were curtailing him a bit. Since I didn't want to baby him, Coffee Girl (the younger and larger dog) and I kept going to the hole in the cliff to see what it actually was. The walk was cold and dark in the shadow of the cliff. 

But where was the little poodle? He was only a hundred yards away, so I wasn't too worried. But maybe I should find an easier way down for him. As we descended there was still no sign of him, despite my calling. Then I started blowing the whistle, which also failed.

By now I was getting worried. I shifted horizontally, back to his last location at the foot of cliff. Anxiety boiled into anger and panic by now. He was so close -- why didn't he just bark to help out! (And everybody thinks that a quiet dog is the ideal dog!) At least he could only go in one direction, since the cliff was vertical. 

Something caught my peripheral view. It was on a small saddle of a rocky ridge: oh no, ghastly teddy bear chollas!

Then I saw a half dozen...what? Coffee Girl saw them at the same time. Off she ran, downhill at full speed, right through those horrible teddy bear cholla. She reached a saddle about 100 feet lower where five desert bighorn sheep huddled in a dense pack, apparently paralyzed as to what to do.

You seldom get a chance to see Ovis Canadensis nelsoni this close, so I fumbled with the camera while she did her puppyish best to harry them. They were not frightened by my voice since they were focused entirely on her. Apparently they were practiced in the art of defense against coyotes. Then they walked towards me with a close-packed, military precision. I couldn't believe they didn't see me!  

Coffee Girl was so interested in the sheep that she forgot about the teddy bear cholla. Finally her luck ran out. Then she dutifully limped up the ridge to me, like a brave warrior, wounded in action. She had segments on all legs, which were easy to flick off with a comb. Her mouth was in pretty good shape, showing once again what a few minutes of dog saliva can do to cholla spines.

At any other time this would have been an interesting experience, but I wasn't in the mood. Where is that damned little fool of a poodle!? The worst thing about losing a dog is not knowing how to proceed. I decided to try to return to the exact spot where I last saw him. And there he was, at the foot of the cliff. He was motionless, except for the shivering. Had he even moved for the last thirty minutes? Once he got going he actually enjoyed glissading down the volcanic talus with me and Coffee Girl, who was enjoying the romp of her young life today.

I was furious with him for not barking to help me locate him long ago; but then we would have missed the desert bighorn sheep.