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Hiking Happenings July 2004

Walkabout with Rory Tyler:


Resting in cool water on a hot day.

Some people are sentimental about dogs. Not me. I like some dogs…others, no (like the one yapping outside the window, now)…but mostly I’m ambivalent about any particular dog. My canine interests tend more towards following a set of coyote tracks through an obscure canyon passage and less towards expressions of undying devotion. But, now that summer is here I’m reminded of the pity I’ve felt seeing some peoples’ pets hobbling and hurting after a day in the desert with their beloved masters. If you love your dog, then there are some things you should know.

First, slickrock. The various expanses of exposed sandstone called ‘slickrock’ received the name from 19th century wagoneers who went across it with their shod horses and their iron-rimmed wheels. But, for paw pads it’s abrasive in the extreme and can be very damaging, especially to dogs that aren’t used to it. Don’t overdo it on the slickrock!

Sand is the second thing that literally burns dogs up. Sand gets extremely hot, especially along well-defined trails. It can burn and blister a dog’s feet. Most experienced Moab mutts minimize their exposure to this hazard by running ahead of the hiker to the nearest bit of shade, lying down until the walker has passed, then racing ahead to the next pool of cool. Nonetheless, at the end of a long walk even an acclimatized canine can get pretty sore from walking on hot sand.

Other hazards include cactus thorns and tumbleweed spines. It’s important for dog walkers to take a tweezers. Thorns lodge in the front of the paws and the tumbleweed spines get caught between toes. If your dog isn’t used to having you handle his sore feet you may even want to do a couple practice sessions before you go walking.

Of course, water is always a concern. If you’re going somewhere dry bring a small bowl or saucer with you. A lot of valuable water can get spilled into the sand if you’re trying to get your dog to drink out of your hand. Don’t waste what you both might need later.

The City of Moab acts on a good idea.

The City of Moab has developed a lovely trail system that parallels Mill Creek from Rotary Park all the way to the Moab Sloughs. The concrete gets pretty hot, but there’s plenty of shade and ample opportunity to let your dog play in the water. An extremely welcome improvement to the trail are doggie-posts with bags and containers for cleaning up animal waste products. While I often find it informative and instructive to examine, for example, a coyote’s scat or an owl pellet, even a cursory observation of pet-sign tends to be unfailingly unrewarding, particularly when combined perforce with the unwelcome inspection of the bottom of my shoe. Most conscientious dog owners realize that there are certain inconveniences associated with dog ownership and, given the opportunity, will voluntarily mitigate these unpleasant side effects. So, hats off to the City for recognizing this problem, its solution, and taking appropriate action.

While Mill Creek Canyon is a popular dog-walk for locals and visitors alike, it does not have any of the sanitary amenities that you find along the Parkway (including those designed for humans). Most dogs seem to find this a particularly alluring aspect of this extravagantly scenic canyon. I do not share the sentiment. Despite these disparities between canid and hominid fascinations, Mill Creek is still a great place for people and dogs. Together, they have been reveling in its pools and rills for thousands of years. If all that you and your dog leave behind are tracks in the trail, you will happily help sustain the canyon’s mostly-pristine character for thousands of more years. Take Mill Creek Drive to Sand Flats Road and turn right. Turn left at Powerhouse Lane. The trailhead is at the end of the lane.

Cane Creek is an intermittent stream that carves out several canyons between the La Sal Mountains and the Colorado River. In early summer there is almost always a shallow flow of water through the lower canyon’s cool, sandy bottom. To get to Cane Creek Road turn at McDonald’s and follow the cliff line. After five miles the pavement ends and there is a large parking lot. This is a good place to let the dogs loose. If you drive a few more miles along the gravel road, up over the hill and down the other side, you’ll see a nice little spring coming right out of the rocks. Just around the corner is more parking. Head down-canyon from here and wear something on your feet that you can get wet.

One drawback to this area is an occasionally nasty hatch of biting flies. If you get bitten immediately and repeatedly, don’t fight it. Just get in your Humvee and go where you will be welcome as something other than a target. There is no wisdom or honor in battling the inexorable expressions of Nature in any of its guises.

Rory Tyler leads custom rock art tours and backcountry hikes for people of all skill levels for Canyon Voyages Adventure Company.

Cryptos (krip’ tose): The surface of Moab’s desert is held together by a thin skin of living organisms known as cryptobiotic soil or cryptos. It has a lumpy black appearance, is very fragile, and takes decades to heal when it has been damaged. This soil is a critical part of the survival of the desert. The cryptobiotic organisms help to stabilize the soil, hold moisture, and provide protection for germination of the seeds of other plants.

Without it the dry areas of the west would be much different. Although some disturbance is normal and helps the soil to capture moisture, excessive disturbance by hooves, bicycle tires and hiking boots has been shown to destroy the cryptobiotic organisms and their contribution to the soil. When you walk around Moab avoid crushing the cryptos. Stay on trails, walk in washes, hop from stone to stone.

Whatever it takes, don’t crunch the cryptos unless you absolutely have to!


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