In honor of National Puppy Day, we bring you happy tales of a canine adventure that took place this past weekend. For the first time in his life, or at least in the over nine years that we’ve had him, Owen finally visited a national park. He’s spent much time in the Angeles National Forest and in the Santa Monica National Recreation Area. He’s hiked in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and has visited many of California’s state parks. But he’s never been to a national park. That is, until Saturday. For what was hopefully the first of what will be many national park adventures, Owen and his girls visited Joshua Tree National Park.
When deciding on where to take Owen, we considered several factors. First, we researched whether dogs were allowed at Joshua Tree and where we would be able to take him. Our fluffy buddies are not allowed on hiking trails, in park buildings, or in the backcountry. We were not planning on doing any backcountry hiking; we only had a day to explore and our family can be prone to wandering. That said, dogs are allowed to be within 100 feet of roads and campgrounds, and there are a number of unpaved roads that are far enough away from the crowds so as to create almost a trail-like experience and also close enough so that three females and their dog would not be entirely alone. And for us, Joshua Tree National Park which is about a two-hour drive from the San Gabriel Valley, is close enough to be worth a day trip.
Last Saturday was a fine day for such an adventure. The mid-March morning, just one day before the start of spring, yielded a perfect sunny day- not too warm, and comfortable for man and canine alike. Our two-hour drive to the park was smooth, and even with a stop at Taco Bell for an early lunch, Owen was a happy camper riding in the back. We took another quick stop at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center to purchase our annual parks pass and then got back on the road for the five mile trek to the park entrance. By the time we got in the queue to enter, he was ready to start exploring.
Emily had read up on where we could take Owen ahead of time. We headed over to Queen Valley Road, just behind Barker Dam. There we would take Owen exploring while still being in compliance with the park rules. Owen just loved sniffing all the new smells, marking new plants, and just spending time with his folks on a beautiful day. We kept the hike short; while he does hike quite a bit with me still even in his more mature age, we were worried about the heat. It was a fine day, but he is a very large and shaggy puppy. We brought plenty of water, a few treats, and his supplies. The one thing I failed to pack were his booties to protect his paws. We were extra careful in where we were leading him, and kept an eye our for any critters or sharp objects what could hurt him. We were in the desert after all.
After exploring Queen Valley Road, we headed back in the direction of Jumbo Rocks. There, Sami had fun climbing the rock formations, which was what she was looking forward to all day. Owen and I walked around exploring and hopping on some of the smaller boulders. We spent the bulk of our time there just playing, until it was eventually time to leave and grab some dinner. In all, it was a happy adventure and one we hope to be able to do again, either at Joshua Tree or at another park. I think Owen would have fun in Yosemite. And yes, he did earn his bark ranger tag.
Some things to consider:
There are a number of national parks that participate in the Bark Ranger program. This however does not mean that your pup will have access to all parts of the park. This was the case at Joshua Tree. The hiking trails were off limits, but there were many other places we could explore while still following the rules of the park. Be sure to check out the rules for visiting with pets on your specific national park website.
B.A.R.K. Ranger stands for: (nps.gov)
Bag your pet’s waste
Always leash your pet
Know where you can go
We tried our best to adhere to the guidelines set forth by the park. We made sure to leave no trace when it came to Owen’s waste. He was also kept on his 6-foot leash while we explored close to the roads. We did not see much wildlife other than birds or ants, and we left them all alone. We had a fun time together while still trying to be respectful of our environment.
Be weather ready. Even though spring days are very mild and heat was not as big a concern as it can be at Joshua Tree later on in the year, we still considered what Owen’s limits might be. We brought plenty of water for all of us, as well as sunscreen for the humans.
There is limited cell service once you enter the park. I lost signal about three miles into the park. This was nice, as I am trying to hold Saturdays as designated family time, however, no cell service also means no way to contact people in the case of an emergency. I let at least my mom know what we are doing for the day so that she can check up on us and make sure we were okay later in the day.
Most of all, have fun! National parks are special places. By following the rules of the park and leave no trace practices, we can all have a great experience with our favorite buddies. After all, national parks are the perfect places to celebrate life’s adventures meant to be shared.
To plan your trip, visit: