Closer Look

Traveling out west with a dog added to the experience

Avatar photo

Deena Bouknight

Since Macon County seems replete with dog lovers – as evidenced by the packed dog parks in Franklin – I decided to feature my dog, Mingo, in this travel piece. I was also encouraged to do so by friends and family, who enjoyed the many and varied photographs of Mingo during a recent out-west jaunt. 

A Pyrenees-husky mix who celebrates her fourth birthday April 27 (the day before mine, ironically), her 85-90-pound, miniature-horse size belies her demeanor. She is a gentle giant in every sense of the phrase. Thus, we are able to travel with her without worrying about her bowling someone over everywhere we stop. 

MINGO SURVEYS the deep Shafer Canyon Road accessible from the Canyonlands National Park in Utah.

With that introduction of Mingo, I share with readers that several months before my husband, Dan Finnerty, and I, were asked by the nonprofit Kavod Family to oversee a new community newspaper, we committed to trying camp hosting at a state park in Utah for the month of March. Dan is a retired Navy veteran and two years ago took a four-month stint with the National Forest Service in West Yellowstone, Mont. We both have wanderlust and we are avid hikers, so we felt like camp hosting would be an opportunity to fulfill interests – and it was. 

But what to do with Mingo for more than a month? 

Dead Horse Point State Park near Moab, Utah, (between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks), hired us and conveyed that it was very dog accommodating. So, Feb. 29, we loaded up our large and extremely furry white dog into the back seats – yes, she takes up the entire space – and hooked up our 1969, 14-foot, vintage Shasta camper (with wings) and began our four-day drive to Utah. 

MINGO LOUNGING on a cliff edge at Dead Horse Point State park near Moab, utah.

Often, we had to remind ourselves that we had a dog along with us. As soon as Mingo enters the back seats, she falls asleep and will sleep for hours and hours, until roused at a gas station to “do her business.” Often, the only reminder that she is in the back seat when we travel is that her long legs are sticking straight up in the air because she is sleeping on her back. 

We arrived on March 3 at Dead Horse Point State Park, so named because of an unfounded story that some mustangs were supposedly left stranded at the point and died there. The park’s name completely contradicts the majesty and grandeur of the vast views there. In every direction, there is something exceptional to take in. 

Once settled in meeting park rangers, seasonal staff, and other camp host teams, we learned our roles in terms of helping to oversee camp sites and yurt sites, and established a pleasant routine: checking and cleaning sites until noon, hiking until dinner time, cooking in the Shasta or gathering for pot lucks with other workers around a roaring fire. And, of course, we worked remotely for Macon Sense!

MINGO TAKES in one of the many grand views from atop innumerable mesas in southeastern Utah.

What Mingo enjoyed, other than the myriad other dogs she met at the state park and elsewhere, was the barrage of petting and compliments about her looks from other hikers on the dozens of trails we traversed. Where we resided temporarily in Utah is an arid desert landscape with innumerable rock types and formations. While some days were cold and windy and slightly snowy, we were able to hike all but one rainy day. 

Mingo (and us, of course) was able to experience the crusty and spongy biological soil prevalent all over that area; it is actually live, growing soil, made up of many organisms that retains water. We meandered the floors of numerous narrow and wide canyons, with sheer cliffs extending hundreds and thousands of feet into the air. We walked and drove along cliff edges, scrambled over massive boulders, climbed metal ladders installed into cliff crevices, and stood below enormous natural rock arches and bridges. 

All of us, including Mingo – who is used to wading in mountain streams – enjoyed one hike of crisscrossing for miles a tributary of the Colorado River only to end up at its source: a spring emitted straight from the side of an immense rock and gurgling loudly through a crack in the rock. 

We hiked various Bureau of Land Management trails and at National Parks (six in all) in both Utah and neighboring Colorado. In total, we managed 110 miles of hiking during the month we were there.

MINGO ROLLS in the snow accumulated at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado.

Mingo enjoyed it all, but especially areas where she could run, slide, and dig in both deep sand (Great Sand Dunes National Park) and snow (Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Mesa Verde National Park). And, regularly exhibiting a wolf-like stance, she climbed to the top of buttes and mesas to regally look out upon the landscape. 

MINGO OVERLOOKS Canyonlands National Park at sunset from a knoll near Moab, Utah.

Mingo traveled 6,000 miles with us from the end of February through the first week in April, and we plan for her to travel more with us in the months and years ahead. Traveling to the areas we managed to see reminded us of the wonders and diversity of creation, and experiencing it with our dog made it that much more fun. The photographs accompanying this piece communicate best.

We highly recommend the canyonlands of Utah – and we are more than happy to offer itinerary suggestions to anyone considering traveling there. Just email me. 

MINGO RELAXES in the back seat of the truck during the cross-country trip to Utah.