Yesterday as Bear and I took an afternoon walk around Cone Mountain, I took a few snapshots of the desert in bloom as mementos of our time together on the trails. Later on as we circled the mountain, as we passed a boulder closer to the trail than this one, the tall grasses began to shake and rattle. I instinctively told Bear to leave it (we’ve been practicing whenever my beloved lizards scamper across the trail) but he wasn’t showing any interest in any case. To be sure he understood what I wanted him to ignore, I backed up a few feet, still far outside striking range, to make sure he saw the rattlesnake. He looked at me the same as when I stop for a picture, ready to go when I am, so we continued on our way.
I’m delighted he didn’t try to position himself between me and the snake, or show any interest at all, but the snake was fairly hidden in the tall grass so perhaps it would have been a different story if the snake was slithering on the trail in front of us. Odds are highly in favor of it being a western diamondback but it was so obscured I couldn’t tell with a quick glance and didn’t take a picture since I didn’t want to risk disturbing it any further or to take my eyes off the pup.
Bear gets formal snake training in a few weeks but I’m glad to see he passed the test, this was his first rattlesnake. It’s a test he’ll have to pass repeatedly to be allowed to hike in the desert in the warmer months. Sadly our afternoon hikes will come to an end soon as hot weather is fast approaching, then it will be early morning hikes only for him. There are more dangerous things than rattlesnakes.
Today marks Bear’s 1 year anniversary with us! We’ll count it as his birthday since we don’t know when it really is or even how old he is (he’s probably 7 or 8 now). He wasn’t as easy an adoption as Ellie but easy is not the same as worthwhile. Glad you found your home sweet home, pup.
A few weeks back Bear showed signs of pain around his neck and the vet recommended some pain killers and no playing or walks until the medicine ran out. So far the long rest seems to have done the trick, I was able to leave work a little early on Tuesday and took him on a short hike in the desert and he practically dragged me down the trails. Friday afternoon we took his first hike to the Marcus Landslide where lots of wildflowers were blooming, yesterday we took my favorite loop up at Brown’s Ranch. His rattlesnake training got pushed out a month due to his injury but thankfully we haven’t encountered any of the bitey bits of the desert yet.
As part of his continuing education Bear and I have been hiking each weekend, I take him on a mix of trails he’s well familiar with as well as some new ones, to give him some new sights and sounds and see how he does on different types of terrain. He’s been doing great, on this occasion I took him up Brown’s Mountain, when we met a woman on a horse he immediately stepped to the side and sat and earned praise from the rider and a treat from me.
When we got to the overlook near the top of the mountain I planned to take his picture with the summit behind him but I couldn’t as this was my only view of him. He was transfixed by the view of the desert below, to the point he wouldn’t drink his water and even only ate his carrots if I reached around and placed them in his mouth, so he didn’t have to avert his eyes for even a moment.
I wondered if he knew our house was off in the distance by the mountains to his right? That the dozens of trails we had walked lay near and far below us? That seeing him blossom on our walks first in the neighborhood and now in the desert brings me such joy? He gets so excited when he sees me put on my hiking clothes he starts chasing his tail, and when we arrive he bounds down the trail with such enthusiasm I once wondered aloud if he was making up for lost time. Which perhaps he is.
I realized he had probably never been up this high before and let him soak in the view for a while. A fighter jet roared overhead to celebrate our achievement, or perhaps to fly over the Super Bowl on the other side of the valley. A woman the size of an ant appeared on the trail below and he let out a quiet growl to let me know something wasn’t right. I assured him she was so sleight because of our great height but he wasn’t convinced. When he was finally ready to go our wandering wizard had reached the overlook, thankfully she had transformed back into full size and Bear was happy to continue on our way.
Far and away my favorite rock is folk rock but Cathedral Rock is pretty nice too (given how many made up names I use for my favorite places in the preserve, I should point out this is the official name of this massive rock formation at the foot of Cholla Mountain). This visit a couple of weeks ago was Bear’s first, I’ve been here before but not in a while as the potholes can hold water long after it rains, which tends to attract my arch-enemies the bees. I had a wonderful experience here with two desert spiny lizards in 2018, and in the same year saw two of the three Gila monsters I’ve ever seen on the trail leading here, which is a good reminder to visit more often when the rocks aren’t buzzing.
Last weekend I took Bear up to some favorite trails, we were going to visit the Amphitheater again but he started down a different trail and since he hadn’t been down it yet I decided to go with it. He soon started snuffling real hard and, like with the coyote pack, I eventually had to physically turn his head so he could see what he was smelling. Not too far away were a pack of mule deer, two does and their fawns. He sat still, quiet and transfixed, and since the deer weren’t showing any of their various signs of alarm, I let him watch for a while before we continued down the trail and left them to their grazing.
On the way out of the park as sunset approached I stopped him for a quick picture in the warm light. I always try to sneak in a little wildlife in my non-wildlife shots, in this case behind him is a Harris’s hawk on a saguaro. We met several members of the family a few moments prior, one of whom was relentlessly dive-bombed by an angry kestrel.
A couple of weeks ago I took Bear to my favorite trail, arriving late in the day both so there would be fewer people and so by the time we reached the Elephant the light would be getting soft, with time left to get back to the car before closing. Except my timing was off because I planned for how long it takes me when I dawdle along and not the go-go-go pace set by the Great and Mighty Bear, so we arrived at the Elephant 45 minutes earlier than expected.
This was his second time meeting her and I’m confused why he isn’t more animated when he sees her, normally he perks right up around mammals, but he was as calm as if he was next to an inanimate object like a tree or boulder. I’m glad though he didn’t spook her, she’s an old friend and has suffered much, mostly long before we met, with damage spreading across her extremities the last couple of years.
On Friday I wasn’t able to get my work done as far away computers weren’t working, by late afternoon I gave up and took Bear for a walk in the desert instead. Earlier on a snack break I heard howling in the distance so when he started sniffing the trail so hard I thought a pizza or a pot roast must be walking up ahead of us, I had a clue as to the real source of his interest. He was so focused on their scent I saw them before he did, I pointed his head directly at the most easily visible coyote but he didn’t pick it up until it moved slightly. Then he was transfixed watching the three of them saunter across the desert, cross the trail, and head down a game trail.
He didn’t want to move for a while, I like to believe he was reflecting on the wonder of it all but I suspect he was just hoping they’d be back. When he was finally ready to resume our walk I took him back down to where they had crossed the trail, if I hadn’t had a good hold on his leash the coyote pack might have gained a new member.
I was thankful they each judged each other not to be a threat, he far outweighs them but he stayed quiet and relaxed and once they sized him up they went about business as normal. We resumed our now familiar loop and towards the end with sunset approaching on this cloudy and comfortable day, I stopped him for this picture. Which I realized later is almost identical to one I posted in December when we first discovered this trail.
Since he’s been doing so well in the less crowded part of the preserve near our house, I’ve been taking Bear onto some more popular trails while still avoiding the congested areas where I know a number of other dogs might be present. On this occasion we started off near my favorite saguaro, The Green Elephant, on the Latigo Trail then went up to the Vaquero Trail to visit Witch Hazel, then continued up to where I took this picture at The Amphitheater (its actual name and unlike the others not just a name I made up to help me navigate to my favorite places in the park). At this point I knew he was ready for a water and snack break so I got out his water bowl and a bag of baby carrots. It makes me laugh as he eagerly gobbles them down as I can hear Ellie shouting down from heaven, “No Bear! Carrots are vegetables! Make him give you real treats!”
There are lots of mammals in our desert but you actually had a chance of seeing a Bear on the trails the past few days as I’ve been taking the pup into the section of the preserve closest to our house. I want to get him more exposure to hikers and especially cyclists than we typically get in the neighborhood so this is a good opportunity as there aren’t nearly as many people as the other parts of the park. His on-leash behavior still needs some work but he is miles better than he was when we adopted him, I would have never attempted this back then both because of his behavior and because he was overweight and not used to long walks.
His weight is looking good these days and he’s a champ on the trails, so naturally leading me down the path that I think the mix part of this black lab mix must have made for a good sled dog. I found the collapsible water bowl we got for Ellie so we take frequent water breaks as though it isn’t hot, it certainly is dry.
Today when I had him step off trail and stay beside me to let a cyclist go past, I stayed for a moment as I could hear another cyclist coming. As he passed and saw how still Bear was, he said “What a great dog!” and while I didn’t look at the pup, I felt some serious side-eye as I’ve only ever said he’s a good boy.
I haven’t been out for any photography this week but what a joy it is to spend time with him in this beautiful place.