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Remember when I said that I wished we could just walk across the desert forever? Well… I changed my mind.

Mom and I had tried to hike in Red Rocks the last time we came through Las Vegas, but the campground was full and we had to drive more than an hour into the bush before we found a place to sleep. This time we are wiser and more experienced and just parked the covered wagon by the side of the road. When they unlocked the gate in the morning, Mom and I couldn’t believe our luck. The weather was beautiful and clear, and we could see all of those spiky striped candy corn mountains to one side, and the lumpy pinstripe mashed potato rock formations to the other side. When people say that the desert is ugly, they just don’t know where to look. You can almost never see the best parts from the interstate.

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Karen or any signs that humans have ever been here. It seems like we are just walking aimlessly into the desert. That never works out well for the dead bodies on CSI.” “I know,” mom said. “I wouldn’t believe it either except that I have been checking the GPS every two minutes and we are definitely on the trail. I think that we just follow this wash most of the way up the mountain.” “What’s a wash?” I asked, taking a step away just in case this was an elaborate ruse to get me to take a bath. “It’s a dry river. This is what the inside of a river looks like when the water is gone. Those big rocks that we have to scramble up would be waterfalls. Not big ones, but pretty enough to take a picture.”

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A handsome dog waits patiently for Mom to fix the problem and show him the best way up the Oscarfall.

The further up we went, the more waterfalls we had to climb. Sometimes I couldn’t figure out how to get up, so mom had to show me the places that I should jump. Sometimes, I didn’t understand which of her paws I was supposed to follow, or I would forget the sequence and had figure it out as I climbed. A few times, I missed and to keep myself from falling I had to jump back down, bouncing off of rocks on the way down like a pinball. If I was really confused, I just stood at the bottom of the Oscarfall and barked until Mom came down and showed me again, tapping on each step of the route and standing by to spot me. A few times, Mom tried to give me a boost but I’m no wussy dog and so I made her go the long way around to find a new route. There were times when Mom could have gotten through by gripping and pulling with her front paws, or spreading her back legs and climbing up opposite walls like a monkey, but no one who hikes sensibly with four paws on the ground could follow her so we would backtrack and find a different way.

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This was the mountain we were trying to climb. We didn’t make it.

So we started picking our way back down the mountain. The way down presented its own problems because sometimes things that were easy to climb up were harder to climb down, especially if you happen to prefer climbing with your front legs first and leading with your noggin. We had just picked our way down a very challenging and confusing waterfall to a flat spot when, mom looked at the map to see what direction to go next. “Oh crap,” she said. “This isn’t the trail; the trail was up there.” We looked back at the waterfall we had just come down, but couldn’t see a way for me to get back up it. We spent about 5 minutes trying, and then Mom climbed back up to see if there was an alternative route. She looked like a fly climbing up a wall with all of her paws. When she came back down, she said, “Okay, let’s reframe this. Our problem isn’t really getting back to that trail, but finding a way back to the car. Maybe the easiest way is to take the long way round.”

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With our new companions, it was much easier for me to get up the tricky stuff. When it was just me and Mom, I wanted to keep an eye on Mom at all times, which meant that she always had to go up things before me. But now that I had the human lady and greybeard dog to follow, I could let Mom and the man walk behind me. When it was just the two of us, I had given in and let Mom give me a boost in a few spots where we were really stuck, but now if I faltered, The Man could grab my tight little butt and give me an an ally-oop, which really helped. The greybeard didn’t needany ally-oops. She just got a running start, and bounced her way up vertical walls. “Psst. How old are you?” I whispered to her. “Twelve,” the greybeard told me matter-of factly, as she climbed a route that I needed a boost to get up. Twelve! Like I said, the hikers from Las Vegas are the toughest in the world. I bet the 4 3/4-year-old dogs here can fly! With the help of about about 100 effortless ally-oops, we crossed a distance in about 10 minutes that it would have taken Mom and me an hour to figure out. The Woman said, “I think this is the top!” “I love you!” Mom blurted out.


We still had a couple of frigid miles to hike back down to the Covered Wagon, but there was very little scrambling, and we only had to backtrack a few times. We hardly noticed the backtracking anymore. After what felt like 100 lifetimes and seven harrowing miles, we stepped off of the gravel wash and back onto the main trail. Mom clicked the leash back into place, not like it was necessary. My exploring was done.

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Thomas’s Mom, one of my second favorite humans in the world. was going to be in Las Vegas on Sunday, and Mom and I had been thinking about sticking around in the low desert to go on a hike with her. “Do you want to stay?” Mom asked. “We can do a walk on the strip, and relax in the Covered Wagon with the heat on, and maybe get a fancy dinner at McDonald’s for you…” “Nah. These flat landers are gross. I don’t want to be near them.” “I agree. Well, do you want to come back here tomorrow and do an easier hike? Something with a real manicured, maintained, and marked trail?” But after such a big expedition today, an easy hike would just feel like a walk, and I knew we would spend the whole time staring up at the rocks and wondering what it looked like from up there. “Well, we could go to Joshua Tree. Or Death Valley… Mojave?” “Nah.” The truth is, I was adventured out. I would need a really long cooling off period after this one. So we did what we do after all of our road trips: we hurried home as fast as we could and spent the whole drive trying to think of a way to live on the road for the rest of our lives.

Oscar the Free Solo Dog


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