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Breaking in

Edit: before the comments get too crazy, I would like to point out that this is a story not about breaking rules, but about going to some length to follow them (and respect the purpose behind them if the specifics of those rules were unclear) . Note that although the authors do not agree with all the rules, there is no description of any rule breaking (either real or fictional) in this story, other than needing to sleep outside a designated campground when it was full. All photos were taken within <100 yards of a parking lot, where NPS allows dogs on leash. We welcome debate about the effectiveness of these rules, but ask you to keep it classy in the comments.

If you’re a dog, you know that the world isn’t fair. It doesn’t matter that you put on a tie before going to the office every day. It doesn’t change a thing that you’re sweet and loving to nearly everyone that you meet (except the suspected murderers). No one cares that you have a service human who carries your leash around everywhere and picks up your poop. No matter what a good boy you are, there are just some places where you’re not welcome, and the worst of them are the National Parks.

National Parks pretend that they are dog-friendly by saying we can walk around in restraints in campgrounds, car kennels and “developed areas” (whatever that means), but dog-citizens aren’t allowed on trails or in wilder-ness areas. What dog wants to see a car kennel? And what fun can an offleash human get up to on a sunny day while their loving and faithful companion guards the car? The rangers make up all kinds of reasons why dogs can’t take their humans to enjoy the name-brand nature together, and some of them might even be true. In general Mom and I keep out because we don’t want to go anywhere that doesn’t want our whole family. But on this trip, Mom and I decided that enough was enough, and we were going to take a stand by sneaking in to Death Valley. There are a few reasons why we picked Death Valley to stage our rebellion. First of all, it’s is enormous. Death Valley National Park is bigger than a lot of those puny excuses for states over there in The East. It also doesn’t have guard tardises, where rangers stick up unsuspecting travelers for their wallets. Finally, you practically have to go through Death Valley if you’re traveling from the inside of Oregon to Las Vegas like we were.

Also, Mom wanted to visit the place with the traveling rocks.

So Mom and I hatched a plan to sneak into Death Valley. We would infiltrate the park by cover of night, and sleep somewhere near the walking rocks so that we could visit at dawn, take some pictures, and then sneak back out before anybody noticed. I would stay on the leash the whole time, so if we got caught Mom would smile and apologize, and maybe the rangers wouldn’t mug us. “It’s not like you’re going to disturb a sensitive habitat any more than a human would,” Mom pointed out. “It’s Death Valley, nothing worth chasing lives out there…” During our escape, as a coups de grace we’d illicitly stop at some funny-colored mountains before making a break for freedom.

As we drove through the off-brand desert of Nevada, Mom noticed that there was something off about the directions. “Why does it say that it’s going to take us almost 7 hours to drive 250 miles?” she asked. “Especially since we’re on this 70mph freeway for almost 200 miles of it…” I don’t know how numbers work, but 250 miles sounded like a long way to travel in less than a day. “Because we’re going to drive at warp speed!” I said. “No, that’s too slow,” Mom said. “It means we’re going to be driving school zone speed for like 3 hours.” Since I’d just given away that I had no clue what she was talking about, Mom asked The Witch to explain. “Dog doo! It says here that it takes 3.5 hours on a gravel road to get there. We just passed the last gas station, I don’t think we’ll have enough gas to get in and out.” “We can ditch the Wagon and run!” I suggested. That’s what we’d done before when the dirt roads were too long. “How long is this road anyway?” “It’s about 60 miles long. It says here that high clearance and all-wheel drive are a must. We don’t have either of those.” Then she read on, “Flat tires are common, and there is no cell service.” “Mom, that doesn’t sound like a fun adventure…” “Okay, let’s come back someday when we can rent a Jeep. Deal?” “Deal.”

But just because it was dangerous, illegal, and a really bad idea wasn’t enough to make Mom accept that the walking rocks were out of our reach, and for the next hour she kept trying to bargain with The Witch to find a way in. She was still bargaining when we reached the turn to Certain Doom. As we blew past at freeway speed, Mom read a big glowing sign that said ROAD CLOSED 22 MILES AHEAD. NO ACCESS TO DEATH VALLEY. “Damn!” Mom hissed, as the Wagon shot on toward the painted rocks 100 miles further, and a few hours closer.

As planned, we entered Death Valley in the dark of night, and because there was no ranger to see Mom’s annual park pass, and the machine didn’t care, she paid the entrance fee. “This will prove that I’m an honest human,” she explained, so we would have our stories straight if they separated us in an interrogation. “Who’s asking?” I said nervously. I know from watching cartoons making fun of Old West movies that The Law in these parts can be pretty tough. “The rangers,” Mom said, like she was letting me in on a big conspiracy. “Or just busybodies.”

With our Get Out of Jail Free Card sitting in front of the driving chair for The Law to see, we dropped down, down, down out of the mountains to below the level of the ocean. I had never been exactly here before, but I knew the place names from stories about the Badwater Ultramarathong where people run until their shoes melt. As we approached the target, Mom looked for a place to station the Wagon for the night. But everywhere we pulled over there were “No Camping” signs. Mom couldn’t prove that she was an honest human if we wasted our Get Out of Jail Free card by sleeping in an empty car kennel. “Why don’t you just pull off into the dirt?” I asked. That’s what we usually do when we’re in the wilder-ness and there are no car kennels to stop in. “There was a sign saying that’s prohibited too,” she moaned. “I think we’re going to have to go to a campground. National Parks are the worst!”

So like good Park citizens we turned around and drove all the way back to the last campground, where we found another big sign that said, CAMPGROUND FULL! “Oh for heaven’s sake! It’s a Monday night!” Mom said. “If they want you to follow the rules, they’ve got to at least give you a chance to do the right thing.” That’s when Mom gave up on the straight life and broke bad. She found a little dirt service road and we hid the Wagon in the open desert, where it glowed under the full moon all night for anyone driving past to see.

Mom stayed on guard for The Law all night, but they never came to haul us off to jail. So we were still free at dawn to follow the signs up the paved access road to the paved car kennel to complete our mission. “Oh wow! It’s a bathroom with a trash can that gets emptied regularly!” I marveled. Usually Mom uses the dog bathroom outside the National Parks. If we can find a people bathroom, they’re usually filled with trash. No wonder National Parks were so exclusive… this was fancy stuff! “And is that a full roll of toilet paper?! I thought those were all gone because coronavirus!” “We didn’t come all this way for a pit toilet,” Mom said. “Look behind you.” I turned around and looked at the mountains, which were just turning on in the first light of the morning. “What about it?” I asked. “It’s called Artist’s Palette. Do you see the colors?” “No.” “Oh. Right. Well, all of the hills are different colors like someone spilled Easter-colored paint in the desert. You’re just gonna have to believe me on this one.” No wonder they have so many rules in the National Parks, if graffiti is such a problem. Dogs don’t do graffiti, so I think we were framed.

When the sun came up enough to see by, Mom took me by the leash, and we walked out of the car kennel toward the hills. “Mom! What if we get arrested! Dogs aren’t allowed on trails or wilder-ness areas!” “But dogs are allowed in parking lots and settled areas,” Mom announced, like she had it all figured out. “A case could be made that as long as we can see the parking lot, we’re not breaking the rules.” “Who are you going to make that case to?” “Anyone who asks…” Mom said, a little less confidently. “Who’s gonna ask, Mom? No one’s here…” Mom never did get to argue her carefully-crafted case, because no one came to give us a hard time the whole time I was posing for pictures in front of the hills.

Once we had seen all there was to see of the Easter hills, Mom and I proudly left Death Valley, not furtively like fugitives, but in the light of day like innocent citizens with a clean record. Before we turned onto the road that led out of the park, Mom read the freeway signs. In one direction they said, “Gas 1 mile. Next gas 96 miles.” But in the direction we were going, there was no sign. Mom, who was feeling very clever and logical, decided that that meant that there were so many gas stations in the direction we were going that they didn’t even need a sign about it. “We don’t need gas yet,” Mom shrugged, and then she bravely turned the Wagon away from the Last Gas Station in Death Valley, and toward Las Vegas.

Seventy miles and one state later, we still hadn’t seen any towns but ghost towns. Twice we saw signs, only to find that the gas stations under them were dead. “The map says that the next gas station isn’t for 45 minutes,” Mom said. She sounded less confident than she had when we’d conquered Death Valley a couple hours before. “I sure hope we make it.” When we pulled off awhile later, we didn’t see a sign for a gas station at all. Mom pulled up to a tardis, but instead of a Ranger poking their head out the window, there was a man with a very big gun standing there. The gun was so big that I didn’t bark, so Mom barked at him instead. “Google says there’s a gas station here.” “There’s a gas station on base, but it’s only for military vehicles, ma’am,” the man with the big gun said. “Where’s the next gas station?” Mom asked. “Which way are you coming from?” The Gun asked. “The direction with no gas stations for 100 miles,” Mom didn’t say. Instead she pointed toward Las Vegas. “I’m going that way…” “It’s about…” The Gun thought for a moment. I leaned forward in suspense. “…30 miles,” The Gun concluded. “Dog doo!” Mom said, and drove away before she remembered to say thank you or show him any documents to prove that she’s a good human.

We stopped at one more extinct gas station before we found one that could feed the Covered Wagon. “How is there not one gas station in the 135 miles between here and Death Valley? What ever happened to urban sprawl? I can see Las Vegas from here,” Mom grumbled in the voice she uses when she is not just upset, but also has to use the bathroom. “You can see Las Vegas? I can’t see anything in these rain clouds,” I said. “Do you want to go on a short hike before the end of the day?” Mom asked. “Why do you keep trying to take me for hikes in the rainiest city in the desert?” I asked, watching the Wagon wipe rain out of its eyes over and over like a gif. “What?” Mom said. “Every single time we’ve come to Las Vegas it’s been raining,” I complained. “Why do we keep coming here?” “We come here because it’s the only way out of California in the wintertime. And that’s not true about the rain. This is a desert. What about the time…” Mom thought about it for a second. There was the time we got lost and the weather turned, the time she had to jump into a freezing puddle up to her butt, the time we visited Valley on Fire and the rain had put the fire out. Even the few times we didn’t get wet, the sky looked like it wanted to let loose at any moment. “You know, you’re right…” she said. So the Weather Jinx and I set out to explore one more Las Vegas canyon in the rain.

Oscar the Outlaw



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