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Disney Movie at Book Cliffs

This page is written in chronological order: the oldest comes first.

Part 1

My little poodle and I were hiking near Book Cliffs, north of Grand Junction, CO. It's just before hunting season so lots of guys on our road were taking target practice. In fact it was as noisy as a war zone. Apparently this frightened the little poodle. When I was checking out the bottom of Book Cliffs as a possible campsite, he took off and didn't come back. I don't see how he could survive out there for very long. I decided to get ready for the worst.

He was my first dog. But I don't want to weep in public about it. Most people have lost parents, spouses, human friends, as well as pets. Nor do I want to bandy Hallmark Card platitudes. Nor do I want to be one of those maudlin dog owners who remembers his pet in terms of its death.

What a story that little dog has been in my life. Why did the final chapter have to read like this?! I disliked dogs when I started my career as a full time RVer. One day a group of bicyclists and I were set upon by a marauding pack of Welsh Corgis. Once I realized that they weren't going to bite us, and that they were just on a romp, excited by our motion, and all feeding off of each other's energy, my point of view went through a sudden and radical turn. Was this not the very thing that people enjoy when they exercise outdoors with their "pack?" In seconds, years of hate were replaced by the idea that dogs were my soulmates. It's great fun to experience rapid conversion, a la Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus.

It was my first inkling that the experience of travel could be about more than mushing and gushing over pretty scenery -- that travel could change us through situations and experiences that might not happen in a more conventional lifestyle.

Perhaps you have to be a solo traveler, who is outside the demographic mainstream, to understand how important a dog can be.
If I hadn't taken the chance of being a full time RVer, I probably would have missed the experience of being a dog owner. 

I still can't believe this happened. He was such a perfect little dog. He never did anything wrong. I don't want to visualize him dead or disemboweled by predators, up there in Book Cliffs. Here is how I will remember him:

Part 2: Saying Farewell

Soon I will hitch up and head off to Prescott AZ. I am still camped near the spot where my little poodle, my travel companion of ten years, disappeared at the foot of Book Cliffs, north of Grand Junction CO. He is dead presumably.

He has a chance if a predator doesn't catch his scent. Recent rains have left many puddles. Also if he headed downhill, he could have chosen any gully he wished, and in seven miles he would have reached ranches alongside the Colorado River. 

On the second night of camping right at the spot where he disappeared, at the foot of Book Cliffs, I shone a powerful flashlight at the sandstone and shale cliffs; John Wesley Powell described them as one of the most wonderful facades in the world. The blood-curdling screams of annoyed coyotes came back at me so quickly that it seemed as if light itself had been transformed into sound.

The next morning I was getting hitched up to move downhill, halfway to town, when something so odd happened that the reader will think I am making it up just for effect. Aiming my voice at the cliffs I spoke my farewells to my little dog. Then a hawk flew down right in front of my trailer. It was no more than ten feet ahead of me and just stood there, looking at me, moving its head a little.

At first I thought it was a falconer's bird, but there were no strings or hood. This hawk had only an ankle tag. Then he flew off. Maybe the ankle tag made me think of a dog collar. Even the most die-hard atheist would have felt some astonishment at all this. In his "Skeptical Essays" Bertrand Russell said "There is a stark joy in the unflinching perception of our true place in the world, and a more vivid drama than any that is possible to those who hide behind the enclosing walls of myth." 

This quote doesn't fit the mood I was in, right then. I genuinely longed for the comforting myths of an earlier age, such as the transmigration of souls. A person of an ancient era might have said that the hawk was the new vessel for the little dog's soul. And he had come down from his new life soaring amongst those cliffs to say good-bye to me, and to reassure me that all was well. Thanks to Progress, we can only see this experience as a coincidence, some gushing sentimentality from a Disney movie, or a poetic image at best.

As I drove away from the cliffs that claimed my little friend's life, I couldn't even push down on the accelerator pedal. I just let gravity slowly sag the vehicle down to the Colorado River. My head sagged down onto the steering wheel, and for the first time in my adult life, I bawled my brains out.

Part 3: Breaking in a New Dog

Hope is one of the four cardinal virtues that the early Christian theologians used to replace the ancient Greek tetrarchy of moral virtues. I think they were mistaken. Hope is cruel. It is cowardice disguised as virtue.

Going to the animal shelter every day to check on the miraculous appearance of my lost poodle, I turned away from Hope in pure disgust, and started thinking about living dogs.

You could say she adopted me.

There's nothing quite as winning as having a dog notice you, run to the edge of the cage, and hit you with all the body language that she has. She was quite different than my little poodle was: a mid-sized dog in the cattle dog family. I never really cared for herding-group dogs that much. And she would shed. These disadvantages started to look like advantages. I didn't want my new dog to compete against the old. I wanted her to be the opposite of him in many ways.

I adopted her and we both started a new life together, and I forgot about the dead poodle. We drove 500 miles from Grand Junction CO to Prescott AZ in 24 hours. It's been a long time since I pulled a trailer after sundown, and boondocked down an unknown dirt road in red rock Utah, risking getting trapped in sand. I drove through Moab and Monument Valley without stopping or taking a picture. She doesn't act like she's been in
a car much. She has a bad separation-anxiety problem. Right now I must work this loving girl into a new lifestyle. I hope it works.

Part 4: Learning the Lifestyle

It is good luck to be in Prescott, AZ for the next two weeks. There are plenty of interesting trails and dirt roads to explore with my new dog. The stability and bonding, without any long drives, should be good for her. And the weather should be perfect.

My new dog -- still unnamed-- is some kind of cattle dog/shepherd mix, I guess. I don't really care. She is intelligent and very responsive to my voice; she returns to me quickly.
It would be nice if she and my RV lifestyle adjusted to each other and contributed to each other.

Every winter I threaten to hang around the chilly periphery of Arizona snowbird country in order to escape the crowds and the bleak scenery of the Mojave Desert, Yuma, Quartzsite, etc. Then a cold snap hits and my knees buckle.

Perhaps if I emphasize hiking and mountain biking with my larger dog I will be able to tough it out in cooler and more scenic places, and have a better winter lifestyle.

Part 5: Homeward Bound on a High Plateau

Prescott AZ. It's been two weeks since I lost my long-time travel companion, my little poodle, near Grand Junction CO. The first week was torture: hope, guilt, and disappointment.

The second week has been great: the new dog is very loving. She does have a separation-anxiety problem and needs a lot of reassurance, but she makes progress every day.

I woke up early in the morning to find five messages from the same phone number with an area code that I didn't recognize. I was disappointed to look up the area code and learn that it wasn't Grand Junction CO.
But why did he call five times -- surely not to give me the bad news. My brain wasn't quite awake. I dreaded another cruel cycle of hope and disappointment.

The messages were from "Will", an elk hunter from Idaho. Miles from where the little poodle went AWOL, Will found him thin and muddy, with hurt feet, but in good health and spirits. I still didn't want to believe it, but how else could an Idaho man have my dog's name and my phone number unless he was reading the tag on his collar? When we talked later that morning, I was astonished at the location where the little poodle was found. I am presently on the way to Farmington NM to pick the little survivor up.

Will said
my little poodle trotted up to his pickup truck and cleaned them out of an entire chicken breast. I haven't got the story straight yet. It will have to wait until I meet the heroes tomorrow morning. I don't know whether I should wring the little poodle's neck or strangle him with hugs. 

I must drive carefully tomorrow and act humbly. The gods are scrutinizing me; they are alert for the tiniest display of hubris, which would cause all that seems so good to be destroyed. Nothing is certain until I have that little urchin in my arms.

Conclusion: Heroes
I got to Farmington NM where Will, the poodle's rescuer, had arrived to visit his parents. Here are the Super-Heroes, Will and the Little Poodle:

The poor little dog's weight has dropped by 20% over the 14 days. But his bodily processes are pretty normal. The groomer cleaned him up. He's acting tired and easily scared. His feet are healing. A vet has checked him out, of course.

Will and his step-father, Darren, were elk hunting when they found the little dog on top of Book Cliffs, about 5 air miles away from where he had gone AWOL fourteen days earlier at the bottom of those same cliffs. This miniature poodle, scared to death by the gunfire echoing off the cliffs, had climbed up the canyons or trail that surmount these 1500 foot high cliffs!

There were campers and hunters up there. If only the little dog had gotten lucky earlier! There were several nights when it went down to the low or mid 20's. But there was water. How did he ever survive coyotes and mountain lions for 14 days?

Here's what the bottom of Book Cliffs looked like, where the little fool went AWOL:

If only he had headed downhill to the Colorado River and to ranches! But of course that's where all the noisy target practice was, which was what caused him to freak out in the first place.

The first day after his disappearance I hiked halfway up the 1500 foot high cliffs. It seemed hopeless. I decided to move the trailer halfway down to the Colorado River and intercept him, as futile as that sounded. But he kept going over the top of Book Cliffs.

The small white oval is drawn around my travel trailer. Of course, I had the "porch" light on all night, and was out there blasting the cliff with a four D-cell Maglite flashlight. But nothing had worked because he had been climbing the cliffs, and moving away from my trailer.

Epilogue: The Dogs of War

A week after his dramatic rescue on a high plateau near Grand Junction CO, the little poodle got a chance to frolic with this strange new black dog. It was pure delight to see him at his old tricks, hammering away with his characteristic fanaticism. Naturally he insisted on asserting his authority over the "new hire" by leading her on the rampage. It made no difference to him that she was younger and three times his size.

The forest was quite attractive on this trail. It was semi-open, featuring ponderosa pine and oak. Ahh oak, a tree with leaves. After ten years of being out West I still miss seeing a real tree. The truth is that most western forests are unsightly, monotonous, and overgrown.

A week ago, before the little poodle was rescued, I took the new dog out on this same single track. Accustomed to a little munchkin of a dog, it made a great impression on me to be followed by a large, mostly black, dog who resembles a German Shepherd when her ears perk up.

It felt giddy to fly along that single track, which is something that ponderosa forests are good for, with their thick soil. Soon I wasn't in the ponderosas of Arizona's Central Highlands anymore. 

I was in the opening battle scene in the "Gladiator;" the northern forest was cold, dark, and dangerous. The Imperial Roman forces were thrashing the barbarians. General Maximus was followed by his mighty Dog of War, a blackish German Shepherd. Losing a hand-to-hand combat with a huge Teutonic barbarian, he is finally rescued by the vicious lunge of his loyal War Dog.