My Desert Dogs

A bit about my Arizona dogs.

I’ve had dogs almost my entire life and four of them have lived with me in Arizona’s Sonoran desert.

Spot and me in front of my old house in New Jersey. Spot didn’t really like the desert much.

The first was Spot or “Country Squire Rorschach,” a Dalmatian that I got for my birthday years ago when I lived in New Jersey. Spot was getting on in years by the time I moved to Arizona and he wasn’t the brightest bulb on the tree. He never quite understood the importance of finding and standing in shade on hot days. I took him hiking out in the desert just once with me and I thought he would die of heat stroke by the time we got back. I have a photo somewhere of him standing by a big saguaro cactus, but I can’t seem to find it right now; if I do, I’ll post it here.

Next came Jack the Dog, a Border Collie/Australian Shephard Mix. My soon-to-be ex-husband and I adopted him from the local shelter about a year after Spot died. He proved to be an excellent hiking and horseback riding companion. He liked going out on horseback rides so much, that he once followed two friends of ours when we let them ride our horses without us. He was a true “desert dog,” spending most of his time loose in the backyard, overseeing the scant traffic on the road that led to our house and barking at any vehicle that didn’t belong. When he was forced to spend time in Phoenix, in the tiny condo my husband had bought, we did what we could to get him out and about on long walks. But I know he was happiest at home and on the 40 acres of ranch land we owned near the Grand Canyon.

Jack at Howard Mesa
Jack the Dog taking in the view at our Howard Mesa property in northern Arizona.

Charlie on a Rock
It’s hard to believe that this photo was shot only a year ago, when my soon-to-be ex-husband and I were on a hike out in the desert behind our house. He’s taken Charlie from me; all I have left of him are photos and memories.

Charlie came about a year after Jack’s demise. My husband and I had gone to an adoption event in Phoenix, feeling ready to bring home a new dog. After taking two unsuitable dogs for short trial walks, I spotted Charlie, wet from a dog wash and looking pretty ragged. We took him out for a walk — against his will, I might add — and decided to make him ours. It’s unfortunate that he spent most of his time at that damn Phoenix condo, but when I was with him there, I took him to various Phoenix dog parks so he could run free with the other dogs. We also played catch daily with tennis balls at the condo’s unused tennis courts. Like Jack, he was happiest in Wickenburg, though, roaming around the yard or accompanying us on Jeep rides or hikes in the desert. The horses were gone by then, but I sure think he would have liked accompanying us on rides. It saddens me to think of his current life with my husband in Phoenix and Scottsdale, in walled-in yards and boarding facilities. A dog like Charlie needs to roam free.

Penny on a Rock
I shot this photo of Penny just the other day — on the same rock I’d shot the above photo of Charlie on the year before. She’s hard to take photos of; she just won’t sit still!

I got Penny the Tiny Dog in Quincy, WA near the end of June, 2012 as a foster dog. I missed Charlie terribly — he had become an important part of my life during the long days I was stuck at the Phoenix condo the previous winter. Although my husband and I had been talking about him and Charlie spending the summer with me in Washington, my husband had gone silent (again). Still, for some dumb reason, I had high hopes of them arriving, perhaps on my birthday at month-end. I really looked forward to seeing Charlie and Penny playing together — Charlie loved playing with our neighbor’s Chihuahua in Phoenix. But three days after I got Penny, I got the birthday call from my husband asking for a divorce. Penny has been a huge comfort to me since then — I officially adopted her only two weeks later. She travels almost everywhere with me — even in the helicopter and on airlines — and, like Jack and Charlie before her, loves hiking out in the desert. She’s outside now, as I type this, walking along the top of the short wall around the backyard, looking for lizards on the hillside below her.

My days in the Arizona desert are numbered now — when the divorce winds up, I’ll finally be on my way with Penny. Although I’ll miss the hiking and Jeeping here, I know there are new adventures ahead of us — in other deserts and in canyons and forests and along rivers. Penny and I are both up to the challenge.

Hiking with Strangers


Now that I’m back in shape, I’m very interested in staying in shape. That means exercise.

I tried the gym in Wickenburg, but soon got tired of waiting for the seniors using the equipment to stop resting on the equipment when I was trying to go through my workout routine. I’ve got some weights at the house and I use them pretty regularly now to build back muscle tone, especially in my upper arms.

For other exercise, however, I’ll stick to the thing I like best: hiking.

Recent Hikes

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I’ve gone out of my way to find people to hike with. These folks start out as perfect strangers, but if I hike with them repeatedly, they become friends. So I basically kill two birds with one stone: I get exercise doing something I like to do and I make new friends.

(I should mention here that losing my husband has made all this possible. With him around, I didn’t do much of anything outdoors — and I certainly didn’t have any opportunities to meet new people. He’s not interested in expanding his horizons. He’s just interested in staying in his cocoon with the people he’s comfortable with. That means about six friends for dining out and going to the occasional ball game. That “social life” was the absolute pits for me. I’m so glad I’m able to do so much better without him.)

At West Fork Hike
Two of my friends from the Phoenix Atheist Meetup Group on the West Fork hike. The primary focus of the hike was to enjoy the fall colors.

The first group I started hiking with was the Phoenix Atheist Meetup Group. This is a huge group of people with many activities every week. But a subset of the group does weekly hikes — usually on Sunday mornings when other folks are at church. I’ve been on three hikes with them so far: Grapevine Canyon (Mayer), Soldier Pass (Sedona), and West Fork (Sedona). They are a great group of people and I really enjoy their company. I’ll be doing another hike with them in a week or so out in the Superstition Mountains.

I also hiked with another Meetup group, the Arizona Sierra Club Singles. Their hike was close to home for me: Vulture Peak. I didn’t blog about it, mostly because I didn’t have much to say that was positive. The group was small, they started the hike too late in the day — after 9 AM — so it was brutally hot on the return trip, and they weren’t very friendly. Indeed, each person seemed interested in hiking alone or with just one other person. No one waited for anyone else, no one seemed to care whether the last person was having trouble keeping up. I made the hike to the saddle quicker than I had ever done before, then made the tedious climb to the top of the peak to join the four or five other people up there. No one seemed to care whether I fell to my death in the hand-over-hand climbing part that really is dangerous. And when I got up there, triumphant, exhausted, and sweating like a pig, they were all ready to come back down. Not wanting to be left up there alone, I hurried after them, spending less than five minutes on the peak. Needless to say, I probably won’t be hiking with them again. I just wasn’t impressed.

It’s interesting to me how two groups of people can be so different. The Sierra Club members, who supposedly care about the environment, etc, were all caught up in their own little worlds, completely unfriendly and mostly uncaring about newcomers. The Atheists, who are frowned upon by god-fearing Christians who consider them immoral and perhaps evil, were friendly and caring, eager to make me feel welcome, even on my first hike with them. Whodathunkit? So much for stereotypes.

Hiking with the Around the Bend Friends

When I mentioned on Facebook that I’d be spending a few days in Las Vegas for business and was interested in doing a hike while I was there, one of my Facebook friends suggested the Around the Bend Friends hiking group. I followed the link and found a simple Website that showed pictures from recent hikes and a calendar of upcoming hikes. I was amazed to see that these people had a hike schedule almost every single day. When I got to Las Vegas and realized my Saturday morning was wide open, I checked the site again, found two hikes scheduled for that morning, and joined the group for the shorter of the two: Pine Creek in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. From the hike description:

The leisurely Saturday hike leading off the month will involve another partial loop route, but it will be somewhat shorter at 3 miles. After passing the Wilson homestead foundation, the trail crosses the creek just after the start of the Arnight Trail, then branches off heading upstream along the creek toward the base of Mescalito Peak. One more crossing of the creek to the north bank involves some very minor scrambling. Overall, the hike is rated easy to moderate and gains between 100 and 200 feet of elevation. The group will meet at Best Buy for an 8:30 AM departure.

I met the group as scheduled in the Best Buy parking lot on the west end of Charleston Boulevard. I was among the first to arrive. I signed in as a guest and chatted with the hike leader, Rick, before dashing across the street to get a cup of coffee at Burger King. (Don’t ask.) At 8:30 sharp, Rick did a brief introduction to the hike and the 16 people who had gathered climbed into cars and headed out to Red Rock Canyon park.

Pine Creek Trailhead View
A waning gibbous moon is setting behind the mountains in this view from the Pine Creek trailhead.

I drove alone, top down, enjoying the cool morning air. It was less than 10 miles to the park entrance and then another 10 miles to the trailhead. The road wound through the desert, past amazing red rock formations and parking areas for overlooks and trailheads. At the Pine Creek parking areas, I took the first parking spot I could find and climbed out to join the group at the trailhead.

The Around the Bend Friends bill themselves as “a group of young-at-heart people age 50 and over who participate in outdoor activities in the areas and states surrounding Las Vegas.” That’s a good description. At 51, I was one of the youngest in attendance. But these weren’t old folk like those catching their breath on the exercise equipment at Wickenburg’s gym. These people were active and physically fit. And, as we headed down the trail, it was clear that they were light on their feet and well able to scramble around and over the rocks in our path. Yes, they were older folks. But I know plenty of young people that wouldn’t be able to keep up with them.

The terrain was rugged, with more rock formations and lots of almost salmon colored sand under foot. The trail wound through the desert, passing the ruins of an old homestead before descending down to a spring-fed creek. There were plenty of photo opportunities that included not only trees turning yellow for autumn, but views of the distinctive Mescalito Peak.

Autumn Colors Along Pine Creek
Autumn colors along the Pine Creek Trail.

Mescalito PeakMescalito Peak from the Wilson homestead ruins.

We crossed the creek by hopping from rock to rock, then followed the narrow trail that snaked along the other side in the shade. I was surprised at the vegetation: a mix of manzanita and the biggest holly bushes I’d ever seen, along with cacti and other native plants. Because of the relative moisture in the area, the plants grew large and close to the trail. There was a lot of scrambling around rocks and bushes along the way.

The pace was moderate — not too slow to be boring, but not too fast to leave people behind. Rick was in charge of making sure we all stayed together and he led the group accordingly. Although we did stretch out several times, he paused to make sure we’d all gathered together before going on again. It was nice to see someone taking responsibility for the hike. (The Atheist group uses handheld radios for the same purpose, mostly because of the wide range of hiking skills among members of the group.)

My Fellow Hikers
My fellow hikers.

Rock wall with climbers



The rock wall where we saw the climbers. The insets are blown up from the original image; not clear but clear enough to see the climbers.

Back on the creek bed, where the trail began its return loop, we stopped for a rest in the shade. We’d been hiking about an hour. We chatted among ourselves while munching energy bars and pieces of fruit and sipping water. It was about 10 AM and it was cool in the shade. One of the members looked up at the rock wall we could see between the trees and spotted climbers. We counted four of them; we met others on their way to the rock wall on our return hike.

Once we’d rested for a while, we continued the hike’s loop trail, returning along the base of the rock wall in the sun. Although I’d started the hike with a sweatshirt on, I soon stripped it off. The sun was strong, but not yet overpowering. I really felt its heat on my black jeans. If the hike had been later in the day, I probably would have roasted. (But then again, I probably would have worn shorts.)

I handled the climb back up to the trailhead admirably. In my fat days, I would have needed at least three rest stops along the way. But with 45 pounds less weight to lug around, I didn’t even get winded on the way up. I was left again to wonder why the hell it took me so long to get that extra weight off — and why other people don’t do the same.

Rick passed around the sign in sheet for each of us to sign out. It was after 11 AM; I had four hours to kill before my afternoon meeting. I climbed back into the car, put the top down, and headed back to the city.

Hiking with Strangers

Would I hike with the Around the Bend Friends again? You bet!

With resources like Meetup to find hiking groups and other groups like the Around the Bend Friends out there, it’s easy to get out for a hike with others. Even if they start out as strangers, they can soon be friends.

Canyon Hike with New Friends

Nature + intelligent people + good conversation = a great time.

One of the reasons I’ve been so unhappy living in Wickenburg over the past few years is the lack of friends my own age who have similar interests.

As the years went by and Wickenburg shifted from being a ranching/tourist town to being a retirement community, all of our young friends moved away. There was Barb and Barry, who moved to New Mexico. Then Janet and Steve, who moved to Colorado. Then Lance and Keri, who moved to (of all places) Michigan. Some of our young, seasonal friends — John and Lorna come to mind — prefer hanging out with the old folks at the retirement community where they park their RV for half the year, opting for an ice cream social over a Jeep ride in the desert or a coffee gathering over a hike up Vulture Peak.

Because the town doesn’t offer enough employment opportunities for young people, it’s population continues to age, with more older folks coming here to retire, at least seasonally. I — or we, I guess I could still say — have quite a few friends old enough to be my parents. Sadly, most of these folks are not nearly as active as we are. And every year, when I return from my annual migration to Washington for work, I discover that one or more of them has died: Pete, Bill, Danny — rest in peace.

It’s depressing for someone like me who wants to remain active. While it was tolerable while I still had a husband at home — at least we could do things together on weekends — with him gone, the situation is bad. I decided to get proactive to find some friends.

I turned to Meetup.


Meetup is a social networking service that makes it easy to find and meet up with — in person — people with similar interests for all kinds of activities. I’ve been a member for years and, in the past, have used it to hook up with a photography group based in the Phoenix area and a social group in the Wenatchee area. Last week, I worked it hard, looking for Meetup groups that might do activities near where I live. I didn’t expect to find any in Wickenburg — indeed, there are no Meetup groups within 25 miles of Wickenburg — but I found quite a few in the Phoenix area that do activities all over the state.

Last week, after hitting the Arrowhead Mall for a makeup consultation, I joined the 39 and Holding Club‘s “Hump Day” dinner, which was being held at Chili’s in Surprise, AZ. Although it was more than 30 miles from my Wickenburg home, it was still on the way home from the mall. It was a nice evening out with pleasant people. I met an interesting woman — I’ll call her “M” — who is also going through an ugly divorce that has been going on for two years now. (I sure hope mine doesn’t take that long.) M is the one who told me about Couch Surfing, which I linked to in one of my “Interesting Link” posts. So not only did I get to spend a nice evening out with new people, but I learned about some services I might want to take advantage of in the future.

I signed up with a bunch of groups for a bunch of activities ranging from wine tasting/pairing to hiking to archery lessons. My calendar is now quite full. And with new activities listed all the time, I don’t think I’ll have much trouble at all finding something interesting to do with others.

The Phoenix Atheists

I don’t usually blog about my religious non-beliefs because it results in a firestorm of comments by religious fundamentalists damning me to hell or worse. Of course, this means nothing to me because I don’t believe in hell. If you feel your anger rising now, take your blood pressure pills and move along. Comments blasting me (or others) for religious beliefs (or non-beliefs) won’t appear on this blog, so don’t waste your time posting them.

Yes, I’m an atheist. If you’ve been reading this blog regularly for a while and have somehow missed that point, shame on you. It’s not as if I hide it. If this is news to you and it upsets you, I’m sorry. I’d like to assure you that I have very strong moral convictions that don’t require an all-mighty being to supervise. I’m not a militant atheist — one who’s blasting believers all the time — I’m a live-and-let-live kind of person. If you want to believe in god, fine. Just don’t expect me to do it just because you and others do.

That said, I believe that atheists or “freethinkers” or “secular humanists” or “skeptics” — some of the names we apply to ourselves — are generally better educated, more intelligent, and better able to reason things out than the average person. I’m not saying all atheists are smarter than everyone else. I’m just saying that as a group, they tend, on average, to be brighter than the general population, better able to think before speaking, and better able to express their thoughts without offending others.

I’m not a dummy and I like talking to smart people. I like talking to people who are as smart as or smarter than me. People who can challenge me to think in a conversation. People who are able to discuss things deeper than what they saw on television last night, what’s in the news, or what they got in the latest Obama-bashing (or Romney-bashing) email in their in box. People who make me think about things that are interesting or important. People who can help me get a new angle on things, to possibly see things in a new way and build my own new conclusions. I like talking to people who can challenge me to think and to discuss things as an equal.

atheists.jpgI figured that a group of atheists should fit the bill. So when I found out that The Phoenix Atheists Meetup Group was going for a hike at Grapevine Canyon in Mayer, AZ, I decided to join them.

Because the trailhead required a 1-1/2 mile drive down a narrow, rough road, I took my Jeep and offered up rides to anyone who didn’t have a high-clearance vehicle. I got a call from another member — we’ll call him “D” — who was driving up from Yuma in his Toyota. We agreed to meet at the shopping area at I-17 and Carefree Highway, which was on my way north to Mayer. At 7:00 AM yesterday morning, I loaded up Penny, a fanny-pack full of frozen water bottles and snacks for both of us, my camera, and my monopod, and we headed out.

I got to the rendezvous point early. I topped off the Jeep’s gas tanks, then parked by McDonalds and started looking for others in the group. Another Jeep was supposed to meet there. What I discovered is that the McDonalds there is a popular meet up place for all kinds of groups of people. I’d stop at a small group and say, “Are you here for the hike?” (I didn’t want to mention atheists because some people get silly.) One of the people in the group would respond, “No, we’re going off-roading up by Crown King. You can come with us if you want.” Or, “No, we’re going scuba diving. Want to come with us?” Or, “No, we’re with the Miata Club.” (No invitation there.) I realized that even if I had nothing planned, I could go to the McDonalds, ask around, and go with the group that seemed to be doing the most fun thing. Whoa.

I finally found the other Jeep driver, “G,” and his companion. Then D. We chatted, loaded up, and headed north on I-17 to Mayer. I followed G’s Jeep.

I thoroughly enjoyed my chat with D during the 45-minute ride to Mayer. He’s a civil engineer who works with traffic control — light timing, traffic pattern design, etc. We talked about his work and mine and about each of our divorces. He was very supportive and offered some general advice from his own experiences. Although we didn’t talk much about that — I really didn’t want to — our chat helped clear my head and put me in a more positive mood for the hike ahead.

At the turnoff, there were more members of the group. I took on another passenger and followed a Toyota FJ Cruiser down a mildly rough road, with G’s Jeep taking up the rear. At the end of that little drive were more people and vehicles. I think our group wound up with a total of 14 hikers. A good sized group.

We parked and unloaded our gear. After a briefing from the group leader, we started off up the trail.

After driving down a rough forest road and parking, we did our hike in the area marked in red. We followed Grapevine Canyon most of the way.

We were on the eastern foothills to the Bradshaw Mountains. The Bradshaws aren’t very big — I think the tallest peaks might be around 6,000 feet — and the hills climbing up to them are mostly metamorphic rock and low bushes such as holly and manzanita. I kept Penny on her leash, mostly because there had been talk of mountain lions in the area and I didn’t want her wandering off. She walked with us like a little champ and only had to be lifted over one fallen log.

The trail started as a road, then narrowed to a wide trail. At a marked fork, we took the left fork, which was supposed to be level. It wasn’t. It climbed pretty steadily but not too steeply. Because we were hiking near a dry stream bed, there were some tall tress, including oaks and various pines. Scattered clouds and the trees helped keep the sun off us. Still, I’d dressed wrong in a pair of jeans instead of shorts. It wasn’t long before I was working up a good sweat.

Hand-carved Slingshot
We found this hand-carved slingshot hanging from the vertical poles of what may have been a hunting blind in a clearing along the trail. Magnificent workmanship! Of course, we left it where we found it; I hope other hikers do the same.

Members of the group split into smaller groups and chatted as they walked. Occasionally, the front groups would stop to let the stragglers catch up. It was very rewarding to me to be able to get into a conversation with any group I wound up walking beside. I was never excluded, other members seemed to go out of their way at times to engage me in conversation. It was exactly what I wanted from the experience: a good workout with good conversation.

Meanwhile, as the trail narrowed and climbed along the dry creek bed, it became tougher to follow. Soon, we were following cairns — piles of rock left to mark the trail. After a while, I was glad I’d worn long pants — others were getting their legs scratched walking through brush. Penny kept up very well, surprising me and others.

Eventually, we reached a dry waterfall with a seep-like spring. Thick green moss, which is rare in the desert, carpeted the rocks. Small flowers bloomed here and there. Butterflies flitted about. Facing an even narrower trail up the canyon, about half of us settled down to wait for the others to continue their explorations. Because various members had hand-held radios, we were able to keep in touch with all the groups. It wasn’t long before they’d had enough and began coming back.

Flower in the Sun
I captured this flower in a beam of bright sunlight.

The hike back was easier, probably because it was mostly downhill. Again, I found myself walking with different people along the way, talking about different things. It really helped keep my mind off my personal tragedy and the pain it was causing me. Being able to meet and talk to so many interesting people really pumped up my spirits.

Penny Resting on a Hike
We stopped for a long rest on the way back, mostly to gather the whole group together. I took this opportunity to give Penny some more water and let her rest.

Afterwards, we went to Leff-T’s Steakhouse in Dewey. The group insisted on us sitting on the outdoor patio so Penny could join us. I’m in the process of weaning myself off my diet — I’m very close to my final weight goal — so I ordered steak fajitas and ate about 1/3 of the portion, taking the rest home for the next two days. One of my companions kindly gave me a taste of his chicken fried steak — I love that stuff but will probably never be able to enjoy a full portion again. (Which really is a good thing, after all.)

We split up after that. D and I climbed back into the Jeep with Penny and headed back down toward Phoenix. Although it probably would have been closer for me to drive through Prescott, I admit that I looked forward to D’s company for part of the drive. We talked a lot more about what I was going through — he seemed genuinely interested and offered up all kinds of supportive words and advice. He also gave me some specifics about his post-divorce recovery process that I could apply to my own life and what I might face. It was extremely helpful to me.

After I dropped him off at McDonalds, Penny and I headed home. It was hot — seriously, I don’t understand how people could bear to live in Phoenix when the temperature is still hovering around 100°F on the first day of autumn. We made good time getting back and I was glad to pull the Jeep into the garage just as it was beginning to get dark outside. I gave Penny a much needed bath and took a hot shower to wash off the day’s sweat and dirt.

I was tired but I felt happy and hopeful for my future.

I’m really looking forward to my next outing with this group.

HappyThe hike leader, Al, posted a huge batch of photos that he shot before, during, and after the hike. Among them was this gem.

The ugly divorce I’m dealing with right now has been eating away at me day after day and night after night. But Al managed to capture the truth in this photo: my spirit is still alive and strong, I can still have fun, I can still be happy.

Thank you, Al. Seeing this photo really made my day.

Charlie’s Four Games

That’s it.

Charlie and Friend
Here’s Charlie, trying to get another dog to chase him.
After a while, he did.

I took Charlie to a dog park in Phoenix today. It was surprisingly large and relatively well kept, although there was a nasty area of wet mud on one side that Charlie just had to lie down in. We were there for about 30 minutes and during that time, there was anywhere from 10 to 20 dogs of all sizes in the enclosure with us.

I watched with fascination as Charlie fetched balls and then played with the other dogs. After having him for only about seven weeks, I realized that he likes to play just four games:

  • You can’t catch me. This is poetry in motion. He gets a dog (or two or three) interested in chasing him and he runs away. He’s pretty fast. But what’s interesting is that he’ll match the speed of his fastest pursuer so that he stays just a few feet in front of him, just out of reach. If the dog behind him speeds up, he speeds up, too. There was only one dog in the park today that could catch him. It should come as no surprise that he was likely the same breed or mix of breeds. I should mention that sometimes he gets other dogs to chase him by grabbing a ball or something else they might want to play with.
  • You can’t get past me. In this game, he corners another dog against a wall or in a corner, usually with a small obstruction like a bush or a tree trunk between them. The other dog tries to get out of the corner, but Charlie darts in front of him. This goes on for minutes sometimes, with the two dogs going back and forth. He plays this game with my neighbor’s Chihuahua sometimes and it drives the little dog crazy. After a while, it gets frustrated and barks.
  • Tug of war. He played tug of war with a pull toy for hours on end with a friend’s dog when we were away recently. He’ll occasionally play it with us.
  • Catch. Don’t confuse this with Fetch. He will fetch a ball or Frisbee, but he really likes to catch them in the air. Balls, anyway. He doesn’t always bring them back and, if he does, he doesn’t always release them. Not much fun for his people. Also, if something isn’t moving, he’s not interested in it at all.

Our last dog, Jack, didn’t like to play with other dogs. He just wanted to play with us. While it’s nice to have a dedicated dog, it’s even nicer to have a dog who can play well with other dogs.

After all, there are only so many times you can throw a ball in a day.

A Few Aerial Views from Today’s Flight

Any excuse to fly.

Don and I went flying today. Don had left his jacket at the Payson Airport (PAN) restaurant. I had just gotten a pair of Bose A20 headsets I wanted to try. Seemed to make sense to fly up to Payson, retrieve Don’s jacket, and give the headsets a try.

We left Deer Valley Airport (DVT) at about 10:30 AM. As usual, I had a GoPro hooked up on the helicopter’s nose, recording 720p video. The photos throughout this blog post are frames from the resulting 2 hours of video. I figure I’ll let the photos and captions tell the story.

Northbound over DVT
My usual view of DVT as I depart to the north. Helicopters are instructed to cross the runway midfield at 500 feet AGL. Planes take off and land beneath us; the traffic pattern is above us. (You can see a complete departure on video here.)

Johnny Carson's House?
Don was told that this little ranch once belonged to Johnny Carson. Who knows? All I know is that it’s in dire need of a new roof right now.

Indian Ruins
Although nearly impossible to spot in this photo, this ridge was completely covered with the ruins of an ancient indian pueblo. I can think of nearly a dozen such sites — all inaccessible by road or trail — in Arizona.

Desert Valley View
On first reviewing the video, I thought this was the Verde River Valley. It’s not. The Verde River is over the next mountain range. Whatever.

Verde River
We joined the Verde River just north of Horseshoe Lake, which is pretty much empty right now.

Verde River
The river twists and turns through a canyon that’s wide in some places and narrow in others.

Verde River
Sometimes I follow the river quite closely.

Verde River
It’s great to fly with another pilot who doesn’t freak out when you bank a little sharply. What do you think? Not quite 45°, huh?

Verde River
The trees along the river — and in any narrow canyon where cottonwoods can grow — are all beginning to change color.

Verde River
Who says Arizona doesn’t have seasons?

East Verde River
At the Confluence of the East Verde River, we turned right and followed that toward Payson. The wind kicked up here and we got bounced around a little, but nothing bad enough to spoil the flight.

Payson Airport
Eventually, we arrived at Payson Airport. I crossed the runway midfield low-level and set down on the ramp.

At the airport, Don and I went into the restaurant and had a late breakfast. There were boxing up pies for sale — tomorrow is Thanksgiving after all — and I bought two of them. Don and I dug into one right at the restaurant, since Mike doesn’t like strawberry rhubarb and Don and I both do.

Departing Payson
We took off along the taxiway (sort of) and headed south along the main road toward Roosevelt Lake.

Rye, AZ
Along the way, we passed over the town of Rye, shown here in its entirety from about 500 feet up.

Tonto Creek
We hooked up with Tonto Creek and followed it down along a canyon neither of us knew existed. There’s nothing I like better than discovering new places when I’m out flying. This might have been the first time I’d flown between Payson and Phoenix.

Roosevelt Lake
Eventually, we reached the north end of Roosevelt Lake on the Salt River. The water level was down, but not nearly as much as Horseshoe Lake.

Roosevelt Lake Bridge
The lake is created by a dam on the Salt River. There’s a really nice looking bridge near it. I had to get kind of close to get this shot. Funny how the water looks green from certain angles.

Dam at Roosevelt Lake
We rounded the bend at the dam and headed down the Salt River Canyon toward Phoenix.

Apache Lake
Next up was Apache Lake, shown here near the motel/marina complex, which is quite a way down the Apache Trail’s unpaved road. As we neared the canyons on the downstream side of the lake, the wind started bouncing us around pretty good.

Apache Lake Dam
This dam creates Apache Lake. Two items of interest here: the helipad on the lake side of the dam itself — really! — and the network of wires running down the canyon. I would not like to land at that helipad. (Well, actually, I would, but that’s because I’m curious to see if I could do it gracefully.)

Canyon Lake
Canyon Lake is one of my favorites. A bit more accessible by car than Apache, the lake winds through canyons after this point. Next year, when I bring my little boat back from Washington State, I’ll take it out on this lake for a weekend with my camping gear. Lots of places to camp along the lake.

Saguaro Lake
We flew past the big “S” of Saguaro Lake from the uptake side. Saguaro is the most accessible of the Salt River Lakes so it’s usually the busiest on weekends. We flew over on a Wednesday, so it was pretty quiet.

Fountain Hills
After flying along the Salt River for a while and seeing a handful of wild horses standing in shallow water there (sorry, no good photos), we headed west, over Fountain Hills.

Then we crossed over the southmost end of the McDowell Mountains and descending into the Scottsdale area. We headed toward Scottsdale Airport (SDL) and crossed over the top at 500 feet AGL, right behind a Cessna doing touch and goes. Then I adjusted course to Deer Valley Airport.

Landing at Deer Valley
I landed at Deer Valley from the west, as I usually do, making a sharp right turn over Deer Valley Road. The red circle in this photo is my landing zone at Atlantic Aviation there. It’s a tricky LZ, mostly because it’s such a tight confined space and there’s a few light poles to avoid on the way in.

Don left while I took my time getting my things together. It had been a nice day out.

Any excuse to fly works for me.

The Joy of City Living

After living in the sticks for more than 14 years, I realize what I’ve been missing.

We moved to Wickenburg, a tiny western town on the edge of nowhere back in 1997.

We’d come from a small town in northeastern New Jersey, less than 20 miles from midtown Manhattan. Our NJ town was small and quaint and our neighborhood was nice and quiet. Yet we were always within range of everything New York had to offer.

Wickenburg was different. The town didn’t offer much in the way of shopping or dining opportunities. Because the population varied with the season, some businesses simply closed down for the summer when the snowbirds went home in the spring. We were at least 40 miles from reliable shopping and dining and more than 60 from the heart of a major city (Phoenix). We learned to do just about all our shopping for nonfood items online and found ourselves driving an awful lot. Or simply settling for whatever the local shops and restaurants had to offer.

It didn’t bother me much until all our young friends started moving out of down and our older friends started dying. That, coupled with idiotic local politics, a terrible local economy, and mind-numbingly slow Internet access speeds at our home, I was beginning to lose my mind.

When Mike began working in Phoenix and the real estate market sunk, we bought a little condo near the “Biltmore” area of Phoenix. Nothing special, but certainly quite comfortable. It took a while to get used to living so close to other people — after all, our Wickenburg home sits on 2-1/2 hilly acres, so privacy is not an issue — but the benefits of living in a city soon outweighed the drawbacks.

This point really hit home yesterday.

After being the subject of a video interview via Skype to promote one of my new books — something that would have been impossible in my Wickenburg office — I checked in on Facebook. Two of my friends there had gotten into a discussion about a wine called Amarone, which is made in Italy. They apparently loved this wine and thought I’d like it, too. So I told them I’d hunt down a bottle.

Because I was in Phoenix, this turned out to be very easy. There’s a Total Wine shop less than a mile from our condo. After dinner, we went over there and were soon trying to decide which of the 10 brands of Amarone we should take home. I knew that the wine sources in Wickenburg — the Basha’s and Safeway supermarkets — would not have a single bottle of this rather costly wine. Yet in Phoenix, walking distance from my home, I was faced with 10 different options.

Of course, this isn’t the only occasion that I’ve reaped the benefits of living in a city. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to hop in the car and drive 40 miles to buy a computer cable I needed but couldn’t find in Wickenburg. Here, I’m not only walking distance from Best Buy and Staples, but there’s even an Apple store a short walk away. And I remember the day I went crazy looking for lady fingers to make tiramisu for a party I was going to. I spent three hours and drove more than 100 miles to get those damn cookies. I’m pretty certain that I can find them at the A.J.’s Fine Foods supermarket about 2 miles from here. That’s just a bike ride away.

And don’t get me started on restaurants.

It’s funny that I went for so long without being bothered by the lack of goods and services close to home. I’d talk to friends and family members who had easy access to things and it never really struck me as an inconvenience. Until, of course, I no longer had that inconvenience.

We still go back to Wickenburg, of course. It’s like a weekend home for us. Our house sitter, John, is taking care of things while we’re away. He doesn’t seem to mind the lack of goods and services.

I’m kind of hoping he’ll offer to buy the house from us one of these days. Although I’m not quite ready to let go of it, if the price is right, I might realize that I’m a lot more ready than I thought I was.

Adopting Charlie

The state of dog adoption in Arizona … and elsewhere?

Jack the Desert Dog
Jack, the desert dog.

Last year, our dog Jack became ill and had to be put down. It was heartbreaking for us. Jack was only about 10 years old and he was a great dog that was really part of our lives.

Since our lifestyle was in flux, with me away from home nearly half the year and Mike commuting weekly between our Phoenix and Wickenburg homes, we decided to take a break from having the responsibility of caring for a dog. But this past summer, we began talking about finding a replacement for Jack — for filling the void his death had left in our lives.

I knew several people who were taking in foster dogs. Wickenburg had a Humane Society branch and was looking for foster homes. It seemed like a good idea — to take the responsibility of caring for a dog when it was between full-time homes.

But I soon learned that the approval process for becoming a foster home for a dog was long and drawn out, requiring multiple interviews and visits to our home. I knew they’d never approve us — one of the things they required was an enclosed backyard and although our Wickenburg yard has a low wall around it, it doesn’t have a fence. We live on 2-1/2 acres of desert and our dogs have never strayed out of our yard — let alone far from our house.

So it looked as if fostering a dog was not an option.

I also inquired about adopting a dog from the Wickenburg humane society. It shouldn’t surprise me that they had the same requirements. Apparently, they thought it was better for dogs to live with them in cages than to live with a loving family who might actually give them a life beyond a cage.

I can’t tell you how angry this made me.

Early last week, Mike met a woman who rescues Australian shepherds with visual or aural impairments. She told him about a big adoption event at the Franciscan Renewal Center on E. Lincoln Drive in Scottsdale. She said there would be lots of dogs up for adoption. So on Saturday morning, at 10 AM sharp, we were among the hundreds of people who showed up for the event.

There had to be over 200 dogs up for adoption. We looked around; it was hard to choose. We were interested in border collies and Australian shepherds but didn’t need (or even want) a full-bred dog. Jack was a mix of those two breeds, so we were familiar with them. But we just wanted a dog that was smart, could be trained to mind us, and wasn’t too big. We were especially interested in a dog that could be trained to be out in the yard by himself — with us at home, of course — and didn’t need to be on a leash all the time.

We found a group that rescues border collies and saw one we liked. I asked about the dog, who seemed very timid. Jack had also been timid, but he came out of his shell within two days.

“Oh, that’s one of the Texas dogs,” the woman told me, as if I should know all about the “Texas dogs.”

“He’s from Texas?” I asked.

“Well, haven’t you been to our Web site?”

I admitted I hadn’t.

She then proceeded to show me a printed “catalog” — what else could I call it? — of dogs available for adoption and explained how the adoption procedure worked. It was the Wickenburg humane society all over again, but with this group, we’d get multiple visits by the dog’s current foster “parent” before and after taking delivery of the dog to make sure everything was okay.

I told her I didn’t like shopping for a dog in a catalog.

She explained that even if I found one online that I liked, it might not be available. Or they might recommend a different one based on our lifestyle. In other words, the catalog was window dressing to suck you into the process — the long, drawn-out process that made you question your worthiness for owning a dog — before you’d be permitted to give the dog a home.

At least those dogs had foster families. As far as I was concerned, they’d be better off staying where they were.

We inquired at a few booths that had dogs that interested us and got the same bullshit routine.

Let me set something straight before you all jump on me. I’m not so naive to think that all dogs go to great homes. I know that some people are abusive or adopt for reasons that might not be in the best interest of the dog. I know that not everyone takes as good care of their animals as we do. I know that many dogs spend most of their time in outdoor kennels or, worse yet, crates. Some are abused. Some are neglected. Some have really crappy lives.

But I also know that a dog that lives with us has a very good life. While we don’t permit a dog to sleep in bed with us — or even sit on the furniture — and we don’t allow anyone to feed a dog from the table during meals, we do treat our dog like a member of the family. He lives indoors with us and sleeps in our bedroom on his own bed. He comes with us anywhere we can take him. He’s well-fed, gets all his shots, and gets professional medical attention promptly if he needs it. We play with our dog, pet him for no reason other than to show how much we love him, and teach him tricks. Our dogs have always been well-behaved and devoted to us. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship — the way we think a person/dog relationship should be. Best of all, because I work from home, our dog is seldom left alone for more than a few hours each week.

So I know damn well that I can give the right dog an excellent life — far better than he would have living in a cage at the Humane Society or maybe even with a foster family.

I’m not interested in trying to prove it to a bunch of strangers who would be judging me by the type of fence I have in my backyard.

Fortunately, we did find a dog we liked in the booth of an adoption organization. In fact, we found three.

I knew this organization was different from the others — they’d put low fencing around the entire booth and most of the dogs ran lose inside it. (Most of the other booths had their dogs in cage-like crates or on leashes held by foster families.) They were all mutts, all healthy looking, and all getting along fine together. We’d stopped there on the way into the event — they were right near the entrance — and Mike had liked one of the dogs. That dog had been adopted during the 40 minutes or so since our first visit. No bullshit there; this organization wanted to find homes for its dogs immediately.

When I showed interest in one of the dogs, the woman in charge, Carrie, immediately offered to let me take it for a walk. Unsupervised, if you can imagine that.

It was a small black dog with short hair. She was about a year old; the woman still had its mother, which was part Australian shepherd. The dog didn’t want to leave the pen containing her friends, but I was encouraged to just tug her out on the leash. We took a short walk; the dog was very skittish. But when I knelt down to reassure her, she was fine. I could see that with a little work, she’d be a good dog.

Mike, in the meantime, was looking at another dog who was larger and more self-assured. He said the dog was alert and following his every move. He was also one of the few dogs there in a cage-like crate — I think that should have given us a clue about his personality. Once out on a leash, he was pulling Mike everywhere, sniffing everything, trying to get to know every other dog. He was not controllable — at least not yet. I walked him for a while and soon got tired of the pulling. That dog would need a lot of work to get under control. Were we willing to put the time and effort into doing it right? I didn’t think I was.

Charlie the Dog
This is Charlie in the truck on the way home from Phoenix.

We went back just as a helper brought back a black border collie that had just been to the dog wash. He looked terrible — wet yet still kind of matted — but reminded me a lot of Jack. We took him for a walk. Although he didn’t want to go with us at first, we didn’t have much trouble pulling him away. He was more confident than the little dog I’d walked, but less outgoing than the larger dog Mike had walked. He felt right.

His name was Charlie.

Charlie had been picked up by Animal Control — the same folks we used to call “the dogcatcher” when I was a kid — in Show Low, AZ a week or two before. He had a collar but no tags. No one had claimed him. Carrie’s organization works with Animal Control in Show Low and had picked up Charlie and brought him down to Phoenix. He’s about a year old and Carrie claimed he might be full-bred border collie. (I tend to doubt that, but don’t really care. I wanted a dog, not a label.) He’d been to the vet to be neutered and get his rabies shots just the week before.

He was a stray dog without a home. Just like Jack had been.

We decided he was a good match for us.

We filled out some paperwork and some money changed hands. Carrie’s helper helped Mike cut off Charlie’s old collar — the buckle was broken — and put on a new one. We put on a leash and left. Mission accomplished — same day — no interviews, no home inspections, no trial periods.

On the way out, we stopped to ring a bell the Franciscans had set up to signal an adoption. Peopled nearby clapped and cheered and congratulated us. The Phoenix Animal Care Coalition (PACC), which had sponsored the event, gave us a bag of goodies that included sample dog food, dog shampoo, a tennis ball, and PetSmart coupons.

Back at the car, I spread some throw rugs on the back seat. It didn’t take much coaxing to get Charlie to jump in. We rolled his windows down halfway, just in case he was the kind of dog who like to stick his head out. (He wasn’t; at least not then.) Then we drove him to the PetSmart near our condo and brought him inside with us. We bought him a new bed, some chew sticks, a dog dish, a water bowl, dog food, dog cookies, and a toy.

Back at the condo, we let him walk around to check the place out while we loaded up the truck. He was very interested in Alex the Bird. We put his new bed in the back seat of the truck beside Alex’s lucite box and coaxed him up on top of it. Then we made the long drive to Wickenburg, making two short stops along the way. He was very well behaved and snoozed for most of the drive.

At home, we fed him and made sure he had water before doing the odd jobs we needed to do around the house. We walked him around outside the house, both on and off leash. He stayed close by and showed no desire to run off. He chased a lizard under a woodpile and, when I called him, he came right to me.

Mike brushed him, removing a shopping bag full of old hair. (Better in the bag than on my carpet!) He looked a lot smaller — and thinner — with the extra hair gone.

We discovered that he didn’t know how to climb stairs, but Mike fixed that by giving him a few gentle tugs on the leash as he started up the stairs; once he got past the first four steps, he was fine. (No trouble coming down later, either.) When I sat on the sofa, he jumped up next to me and I told him to get down. We went though this three times before he understood and lay down on his bed, which we’d brought upstairs for him.

Later, after it had cooled down, we took him to the dog park. I’d been there once before, with Jack. Jack didn’t like playing with other dogs. Charlie does. We stayed for about and hour and chatted with the other dog owners. Most of them were pretty amazed by how well Charlie got along with the other dogs and how he already knew us, after less than six hours with us.

Last night, he slept on his bed or on the tile floor outside our bedroom door. He was quiet. He didn’t have any accidents in the house.

This morning, he came downstairs for breakfast with me. I fed him and he gobbled it down. Later, after breakfast, we fed him some more. We need to fatten him up a bit; he really is too thin. I’ll take him to our local vet on Monday, if I can get an appointment, and weigh him so we know how much he should be fed. I’ll also ask whether puppy food would be better than adult food for him until he’s at the right weight.

Today, we left the back door open wide enough for him to go out on his own. He stayed close by, except when he was chasing rabbits. He got into some cactus but managed to pull most of the bigger spines out on his own; we pulled the rest out while he waited patiently.

Later today, we’ll take him down to Box Canyon, where the Hassayampa River flows through a narrow slot canyon. We’ll see what he thinks about riding in the back of a Jeep with the side and back windows off and whether he likes water.

This week, we’ll buy him one of those soft-sided Frisbee-like discs to see if we can teach him to catch.

And I’m already looking into sheep herding training for him, just to see if he’s got what it takes to be a real ranch dog.

For the next ten to 15 (or longer?) years, Charlie will be our not-on-the-furniture, no-begging-at-the-table, no-jumping-up-on-people-univited kid.

He’s a lucky dog — even if most dog adoption agencies don’t think we’re good enough to have a dog — and we know we’re lucky to have him.