The Pups of Mt. Evans, Colorado (and Their People)

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Marble-sized rocks are shifting and tumbling down, to my left, but I’d thought all the tourists were to my right. I’m just one turn from the mountain’s peak, just off the trail, to snag a selfie that looks a tiny bit different than the ones everyone else is taking at the summit.

Back on the trial I hear one sharp bark, high pitched. It was really a yap, or maybe a yip, the kind that gives small dogs a bad name. A deep, gruff rumble answers, sounding big. . . big, yet playful. The two trail dogs launch into an animated conversation, chasing one another to higher altitudes. They don’t appear to be suffering any altitude sickness.

More rocks cascade to my feet, from the rocky mountainside just above me, and two hikers emerge, kicking up dust. Did they come from the rocks? I didn’t see any trail, but I’m no desert navigation expert. I’m no hiking expert. I’m out of my element all together, and I’m feeling the effects of being at 14,000 feet of elevation. (Spoiler Alert: we drove most of the way up the mountain, passing cyclists, hikers and one very determined cross-country skier, practicing on rollerblades in the “off season.”)

“What’s that, down there?” the first hiker asks, not even winded or short on O2.

“That’s the end of the road,” I explain, “It’s the highest paved road in the United States. Tourists park their cars down there and are walking the rest of the way on  foot.”

“Oh, so there’s really no reason for us to go down there,” the woman suggests, tilting her head towards her companion, clad in high-tech (read expensive) ultra-performance fabrics, and wearing a hydration pack.

She’s giving her hiking partner puppy dog eyes, and a desperate look that says “Please don’t make me go down there with all of the tourists.”

“Well, if you need a bathroom. . . . .” I trail off. If these hikers had been out climbing amongst the boulders all morning, I’m sure they had found alternate ways of relieving themselves of the pressure and discomfort of a full bladder. They had climbed a jagged, rock-strewn trail, with towering boulders that time had worn away. They gave the appearance of being expert at this, thought not from the area.

“There are water fountains down there too!” I offer, cheerfully! I’d been warned that at high altitudes, in dry heat, it’s especially important to stay well hydrated.

They gesture toward their Camelback packs, more than half full, and shake their heads. Below, a full parking lot is spilling over onto the next curve of the switchback. These experienced hikers have no interest in mingling with the masses, and they have plenty of water to make their decent.

As these hikers move along, I hear one let out a sharp, beckoning whistle. A spirited, energetic mutt comes scurrying over, as surefooted as a mountain goat. He is the same dusty color as the rocks, with a bristly coat, and he’s hiked in the mountains before – I’m sure of that! He lurches forward, ahead of his people, not worried about finding the path. He’s blazing his own trail.

“The road to the top of the 14,260-foot (4,346 km) peak of Mount Evans is the highest paved road in North America and is maintained and operated by Denver City Parks Department. It is known as the “road into the sky”. Trip Advisor rates Mount Evans #2 of 146 Denver Attractions.” (Couture Colorado)

Dogs on leash are welcome on Mt. Evans (see guidelines at: https://www.alltrails.com/parks/us/colorado/mount-evans-wilderness/dogs-leash). On this day I decided to become friends with a few of them, so let’s start back down at the parking lot:

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Meet Silver & his Family: This handsome canine is a Chocolate Lab with a recessive gene that results in his silvery short coat. This is a lot of dog in front of me, and this pup knows it! He walks proudly ahead of his Dad, chest puffed up. There are sights to see, sounds to investigate and smells to smell! Earlier in the day a woman had told me that her dog was “reading the news,” as he stopped to smell every tree trunk, every patch of flowers and jutting rock. This adventurous pup, Silver, is doing the same.

Silver’s Mom has hurried up ahead, after Silver’s “little brother”. The family’s newest edition is still in diapers, and he’s just learning how to really use his legs, so he’s “off to the races!”

“The goat is eyeing your dog,” the Park Ranger interjects, “You might want to move along, and bring your dog back to the road, especially with all of the kids around. He’s eyeing the dog pretty hard. . . ”

Dad pauses, sizes up the resident goat’s impressive headgear, and decides it’s time to take his furry best friend back to the family SUV.

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It’s Husky x 2: Not far up the mountain I spot a pair that might be auditioning for an L.L. Bean catalog, or in the middle of a “Backpacker Magazine” photoshoot. They are posing on the rocks, looking rugged. They stand in that “adventure-seeking” pose, you know the one, for longer than you might expect of a run-of-the-mill tourist.

Then the dog raises his head, gives his Dad a quick lick on the hand that’s holding his leash, and is rewarded with a quick scratch on top of the head.

There’s nothing petite or fragile about these two – they take up their own space in the world, confident and competent. They are ready to hike! I try to imagine what they saw from their vantagepoint, but I won’t know until I climb higher.

Hound Dogs on the Move: Beagles are lower to the ground than many of their adventurous puppy friends. They are busy sniffing at bugs, cacti, and deep cracks in the mud, instead of checking the “ID” of nearby hikers, sniffing at crotch-level. Beagles are sociable, on the move, and boy are they cute! They mingle easily among the tourists, day hikers, cyclists and locals, with one person after another stooping down to stroke their heads and feel their silky-smooth ears.

If a hiker drops ½ of a granola bar these fellas will let you know about it. Or perhaps they won’t – the “treat” will be gone before you even glimpse the colorful wrapper on the path.

Mid-sized, these dogs waver between (a) eager readiness for their next adventure and (b) wishing the human at the other end of the leash would just pick them up and carry them the rest of the way. The car ride home will fly by in a blink, because these fellas will be asleep in the back seat a few minutes after the engine starts.

Snickerdoodle & the Kids: Take the “look” of a Standard Poodle, mix it with the temperament of a Golden Retriever, breed it be the color of a snickerdoodle cookie, and you have a dog so sweet you might want to check your blood sugar levels if you’re in his company for an extended period.

“Goldendoodles are gentle and affectionate dogs with an easy-going temperament. They are extremely intelligent, and according to the Goldendoodle Association of North America, they score in the top 4 of the 150 smartest breeds. They have an extremely social personality and love to be with their fur parents.” (Goldendoodle Guide)

This pup, who I cleverly named Snickerdoodle (in my own mind), was spending the day on the mountain with his “big brother” and “big sister.” They were casually relaxing on the rocks, eating PB&J sandwiches and drinking out of their REI thermoses. They realized it was hot and were attempting to teach the dog to drink water from their Camelback bladder.

“Your dog is really cute,” I mention to the boy, in passing.

“I know – everyone tells us that. . . .  all the time!” he declares, making me chuckle and pause.

“Well, get used to it, because he’s really a cutie,” I caution.

Snickerdoodle is less than a year old, but I suspect he’ll have a lot to teach his playmates over the years. He realizes that the trio is going to be hanging out on the mountain for a while longer and settles in, to gaze out at the mountainous landscape.

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Daisy Girl, her Dad & the Rest of the Pack: A “pack” of about 6 humans are scattered around Daisy, lounging on the rocks and eating granola, beef jerky and sandwiches out of reusable metal containers. She is getting affection from the whole group but seems to favor one. That’s Dad! It was hard to tell who the alpha is . . . . it might very well be Daisy.

I had been admiring this short-haired brown and white puppy, with her coarse coat and spunky spirit. There was clearly terrier in her blood, and wisdom in the way she carried herself, though her face had not yet begun to turn white with age.

Wanting to meet her, I was just about to strike up a conversation, when I heard “Daisy, come!”

My heart didn’t know whether to sink, heavy with sadness, or float up into the clouds, with a lightness that only comes from puppy love. I realize in that moment how much I miss my own Daisy Girl, who looked so much like the puppy standing in front of me.

That puppy love – the unconditional sort of love that gives us a surreal confidence in ourselves, a sense that all things are possible and that the world is an Okay place, after all. Life is better definitely with our furry companions in it.

So I chat for a few minutes with Daisy’s Dad, who confirms that she has the Terrier spirit. She’s carrying her own snacks, in her awesome backpack, and is tugging on her leash, ready to get going again, ready for the next adventure. There’s no holding her back! (Reminds me of a pup I know!)

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Miss you, Daisy!

“I love my dog, as much as I love you,” Cat Stevens.

Listen here: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qcqk_SEsLPU&list=PLS5NppiXSvkJhwrROiN3kOXcacJ9HtIr4&index=15)

Take your pup on your next adventure,

~ Kat

Related Links:

Mt. Evans Scenic Byway: https://www.denver.org/things-to-do/day-trips-around-colorado/mount-evans/

Couture Colorado – “Fun Fact Mount Evans”: https://www.couturecolorado.com/lifestyle/fun-fact-friday-mt-evans/

Dogs on Leash – Mt. Evans: https://www.alltrails.com/parks/us/colorado/mount-evans-wilderness/dogs-leash

Goldendoodle Guide: https://canna-pet.com/breed/goldendoodle/

“I Love My Dog” by Cat Stevens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qcqk_SEsLPU&list=PLS5NppiXSvkJhwrROiN3kOXcacJ9HtIr4&index=15

 

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