Doggin’ America’s Best Rocks
Some of the best outdoor touring with your dog in America is to look at rocks. Here are some of the best...
Grand Canyon (Grand Canyon, Arizona). Dogs are not allowed on trails below the rim at the Grand Canyon but there is a surprising amount of canine hiking you can do otherwise considering the immense popularity of the park. Dogs are allowed on trails throughout the developed areas of the South Rim, including the Rim Trail that stretches from the Village Area to Hermit’s Rest. There are plenty of canyon views from the partially paved 2.7-mile trail. For dog owners wanting to hike into the canyon a kennel is available on the South Rim; call (928) 638-0534 for details. The less visited North Rim is also less inviting for canine hikers. You can get the dog only on a bridle path between the lodge and the North Kaibab Trail for a bit of exercise.
Valley of Fire (Overton, Nevada).
When the sun reflects off the red sandstone formations just west of the Lake Mead they can appear to be on fire. Hence, the Valley of Fire. Two thousand years ago the Basket Maker people traveled to this land of great shifting sand dunes and left rock art reminders of their visits that can be seen today. In 1935 the Valley of Fire, now spreading across 34,000 acres fifty-five miles east of Las Vegas, was dedicated as Nevada's first state park.
Dogs are welcome on all nine short interpretive trails in the Valley of Fire State Park, each easily accessed from the main park roadways. Many trails lead to fanciful rock formations like Elephant Rock, Arch Rock and the Seven Sisters. In many places the canine hiking is over fine red sand trails that are paw-friendly when the sun isn't blazing (temperatures climb over 110 degrees in summer). One trail leads to petrified logs that washed into the area from an ancient forest about 225 million years ago. Some of the best prehistoric Indian petroglyphs can be seen in a small canyon on the trail to Mouse's Tank. The tank is a natural basin in the rock where water collects after a rainfall and is named for a renegade Indian who used the area as a hideout in the 1890s. The feature trail at Valley of Fire is the White Domes Loop Trail in the far northern section of the park. The path circles through rock formations and a slot canyon on its one-mile odyssey. On the White Domes Loop Trail, look for the stone ruins of a movie set from The Professionals where Lee Marvin led a crew of four hard-edged adventurers on a rescue mission for a kidnapped woman. Many movies have used the Valley of Fire as a backdrop but this is the only set in the park as filmakers are no longer allowed to abandon their sets. Star Trek fans will recognize some of the scenery in Fire Canyon.
The quick hikes in the Valley of Fire are especially attractive for dogs visiting Las Vegas in the summer but canine hikers visiting in more hospitable weather can also enjoy red rocks on the other side of town in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (west of Las Vegas on West Charleston Boulevard). A 13-mile scenic drive winds through the iron-tinged sandstone mountains and climbs about 1000 feet. Parking areas are liberally sprinkled along the route that provide access to 19 hiking trails. Many of the routes explore side canyons with only moderate elevation gains of a few hundred feet. Some trails are unimproved and your dog may encounter loose stones and rock scrambles but nearly all of these trails can be handled by the novice canine hiker. The most difficult of the Red Rock Canyon trails is the climb along the Turtlehead Peak Trail. This five-mile round trip is never too punishing as it makes its way to the 6,323-foot summit. Your purchase is sweeping views of the Calico Hills and the city of Las Vegas.
Garden of the Gods (Colorado Springs, Colorado). The indigenous Ute Indians referred to this area of protruding, jagged red rocks as “the old red land.” The story goes that when the original surveyors of Colorado Springs discovered the sandstone remains of an ancient ocean floor, one referred to it as a great spot for a beer garden. Fellow surveyor Rufus Cable, of a more romantic bent, protested the majestic muted crimson rocks were more suited to be a “garden for the Gods.”
Charles Eliott Perkins, president of the Burlington Railroad, bought 240 acres here for a summer home back in the 1800s but never built on the rocks, preferring to leave the formations as the wind and water carved them. Perkins died before formally bequeathing the land to the city for a park but his heirs honored his wishes and gave 480 acres to Colorado Springs for a park in 1909. About to celebrate its Centennial, the park has nearly tripled in size.
Garden of the Gods Park is enormously popular - attracting more than one million visitors every year - so contemplative hikes with your dog can be problematic. A good place to start is on the Garden Trail where a paved pathway winds through the heart of some of the most towering formations. The Chambers/Bretag/Palmer trails are a combination of routes that nearly circle the park for three miles with a modest rise of 250 feet. The Bretag leg is a dirt trail through scrub oak just far enough away from the rocks to present sensational skyline views.
For a bit of relief from the crowds try the trails outside the park’s main drive that circles the Garden. It will take the better part of a day to fully explore the sculpted rocks, whimsically named for what they resemble: kissing camels, Siamese twins and balanced rock among them.
There is one designated area where dogs can run unleashed; south of Gateway Road, West of 30th Street, and east of Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site.
Goblin Valley State Park (Green Valley, Utah). If there were a perverse award for Best Place To Hike Where Your Dog Can't Go, Utah might win the prize. Its national parks are world renowned as a hiking mecca but dog owners have to work a bit harder to get a taste of the fantastic rock formations and trails the state has to offer - those trails are canine non-grata. The remote Goblin Valley is one of those places your efforts will lead you.
Those national parks were already drawing visitors before word of this otherworldly place leaked out from cowboys searching for lost cattle who were the first to report on the bizarre gnome-like rock formations. You may have already seen the "goblins" yourself if you saw the movie Galaxy Quest. The park was used to create the hostile planet Thermia as Tim Allen and Sigourney Weaver starred in as actors in a popular space travel television series who are kidnapped by real aliens to fight on real war - albeit in Goblin Valley.
The goblins are formed by uneven weathering of sandstone rocks of varying hardness. Water erosion and the smoothing action of windblown desert dust conspire to shape the hoodoos and spires in the valley. Cowboys searching for lost cattle were the first to report on the bizarre gnome-like rock formations that cover this off-the map valley. The State of Utah acquired 3,000 acres to create the park in 1964.
The park does not maintain many formal trails but you are free to drop into the Valley of the Goblins and explore the intricately balanced rock formations with your dog close-up. The valley is flat and any level of canine hiker can enjoy weaving in and out of the goblins. More spirited canine hiking lies just outside the park on the vast lands of the Bureau of Land Management. The Bell Canyon/Behind the Reef Road/Little Wild Horse Canyon trails can be welded to form an eight-mile loop into dry washes and slot canyons. The walls of these canyons constrict to barely the body width of a Golden Retriever at times.
Goblin Valley is deep in the interior of Utah. The park is 36 miles southwest of Green Valley, the nearest town. From I-70 take 24 south to Temple Mountain Road and follow signs into the park.
New York’s “Gorge”ous Gorges.
Several times in its history all of New York has been covered completely in glaciers one mile thick. These ice sheets did not melt gently like cubes in your summer lemonade. Instead, the glaciers died an angry death - clawing and scraping and gouging the land as they retreated. Their handiwork can be seen in the Finger Lakes, 11 elongated parallel lakes in the center of the state. Surrounding the lakes are hundred of gullies and gorges, seven of which have been developed as New York state parks. Much of the work building trails and overlooks in these parks was done during the Great Depression of the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the "tree army" put to work by President Franklin Roosevelt.
Most of these gorge trails are closed in the winter and often the ice lingers in the cool shadows of the gorge walls into May so this is a good time to consider visiting with your dog. Gorges can be dangerous places to hike (the Ithaca Fire Department has many a sad tale to tell of a gorge rescue) but stay on marked trails and don't cross barriers where trails are closed and you will be fine. Here is a survey of the the seven Finger Lakes gorge parks:
WATKINS GLEN STATE PARK (Franklin Street/Route 14 in town of Watkins Glen at south shore of Seneca Lake) Let's start with the most famous and least appealing for your dog - Watkins Glen. Watkins Glen is the only gorge your dog cannot hike through. Dogs are allowed on the South Rim Trail and Indian Trail above but views are few and far between. Watkins Glen was the first gorge to open when newspaperman Morvalden Ells received permission to charge admission to the series of wooden walkways and bridges built for workers to access a mil in the glen. The grand opening was July 4, 1863. History buffs might recognize that date as one of America's most important. On that day Robert E. Lee'sinvasion of the North was stopped at Gettysburg, insuring the South would never win the Civil War and at the same time the critical river town of Vicksburg, Mississippi was surrendering to Ulysses S. Grant, winning the West for the Union. Chances are the opening of a private concession in a New York gorge was not front-page news.
LETCHWORTH STATE PARK (Exit 7, Mount Morris) off I-390) The biggest and most popular of the parks is a bit west of Conesus Lake, the westernmost of the Finger Lakes. The Genesee River attracts plenty of spectators to gawkat its hydrospectaculars in the "Grand Canyon of the East" so, if you can, come early with your dog to hike the Gorge Trail. You can certainly escape the crowds on the park's more than 70 miles of trails behind the museum on the Mary Jemison Trail where you'll learn about the woman kidnapped by marauding Seneca Indians as a child who the lived more than 70 years among the Iroquois. In the northern expanse of the park, around the campground, are several isolated trails that lead to gorge views.
BUTTERMILK FALLS STATE PARK (Route 13 south of Ithaca)Buttermilk is the shortest, narrowest and most intimate of the gorges. You will feel like you are being squeezed through the gorge with the water as you lead your dog into this chasm. There is only one rim trail, on the north side and it climbs steeply to complete your loop. The plunge basin of Buttermilk Falls is a fine place for a doggie swim if the pool is not open.
ROBERT H. TREMAN STATE PARK (Route 327 off Route 13, west of Ithaca) This is the biggest canine gorge hike with the Gorge Trail and both rims trails clocking in at about two miles. The park is named for New York banker Robert H. Treman and Buttermilk Falls in the 1920s. This spot in Enfield Glen was Treman's favorite. He served as the first Finger Lakes state park commisioner in 1924 and helped shape these public treasures. At Treman you will probably enter in the Upper Park and I would suggest taking the Rim Trail down Enfield Glen, rather than plunging right into the gorge. Delaying your pleasure does two things: one, you will be hiking through the gorge upstream that affords longer views of such cataracts as the 120-foot Lucifer Falls and two, your dog will be going down the amazing Cliff Staircase instead of trudging up it. Dogs are not allowed in the swimming area in Enfield Creek but she can slip in for a refresher from both sides on the Gorge Trail and the Rim Trail, which gives you an idea of the ups and downs waiting for you on the rim.
FILLMORE GLEN STATE PARK (Route 38, south of Moravia) The park is named for the 13th President of the United States, Millard Fillmore, who was born in a log cabin about five miles from here. Fillmore was the first unelected President, ascending to office when Zachary Taylor died mid-term. Filmore then served without a Vice-President of his own, the only chief executive to do so. After taking the Gorge Trail through this pretty glen, the favored return route is on the North Rim Trail that rolls through a rich hemlock forest. The South Rim Trail mainly connects picnic areas.
TAUGHANNOCK FALLS STATE PARK (Route 89, north of Ithaca) This park is the opposite of its gorge park sisters - the Gorge Trail here is the gentle, benign hike. So easy in fact, that it remains open all year long. Only 3/4-mile through a flat, wide opening between 400-foot walls, your destination is 215-foot high Taughannock Falls, the second highest single-drop waterfall in America east of the Rocky Mountains and three stories higher than Niagara Falls. The two rim trails can be combined for a sporty canine hike of about an hour.
STONY BROOK STATE PARK (I-390 Exit 4 south on Route 38) Stony Brook glen was developed as a resort in the late 1800s - you can still see the massive concrete supports in the gorge from a high railroad brdge that once brought tourists to a train station where the campground is today. Your dog will be going about one mile into the gorge, passing three major waterfalls along the way.
Northeast Ohio is a place that doesn't off bubble to the top of lists of vacation hot spots but if you have an active trail dog, you'll want to consider it. The main attraction are "ledges," limestone that has weathered, eroded and cracked into massive jumbles of SUV-sized blocks. You are actually hiking on the floor of an ancient seabed that once covered Ohio. Millions of years later retreating glaciers covered most of the limestone with scraped soil but some areas were left exposed to the mercy of wind and water that have created fanciful rock formations. While you'll marvel at the scenic wonder of these ledges your dog will love poking in, racing around and romping on top of the rocks. One advantage of visiting ledges in the summer is that these hikes tend to be many degrees cooler than the posted high temperature for the day. Here are some of the best Northeast Ohio parks to experience ledges:
Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park (Garrettsville, SR 282)
You'll get right into it with your dog at this small park. A series of ledges run north-south for about one mile, bracketed by waterfalls at either end. Separate trails run to the top (white-blazed and easy), across the front (blue-blazed and the best way to view the mossy rocks) and down and through the massive, scrambled rocks (red-blazed and difficult). You may chuckle when you see names on the Red Trail such as Fat Man's Peril, the Squeeze and the Devil's Icebox but it won't be a laughing matter on the hike when watch your dog's wagging tail race ahead as you stare at a seemingly impossible passage through the rocks.
Hinckley Reservation (Hinckley, Bellus Road)
Hinckley is famous for the return of buzzards, turkey vultures actually, from the south every March 15. Two separate sets of ledges and cliffs are in the park for your dog's exploration, each reached by a trail about one mile long. A short climb to one of the highest points in Northeast Ohio will bring you to the base of Whipp's Ledges where your dog can easily scale the 50-foot high rock cliffs. Keep control of your dog as you cross the top of the ledges that feature sheer, unportected drop-offs. In the the southern end of the reservation are the mossy Wordens Ledges that feature rock carvings of religious symbols.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Peninsula, SR 303)
The highlight of the trail system at Happy Days Visitor Center is a band of 30-foot high ledges that run for the better part of a mile. The Ledges Trailcircles the rock formations that don't require the crazy passages emblematic of some of its area cousins, making this trail suitable for any level of canine hiker. Spur trails will take your dog to the nooks and crannies and the top of the ledges. Still, there are dropoffs here to be aware of.
Gorge Metro Park (Cuyahoga Falls, Front Street)
The Cuyahoga River Gorge has been luring adventurous hikers since 1882 when it was the site of the High Bridge Glens amusement park. One hundred and twenty five years earlier, 10-year old Mary Campbell was taken from her Pennsylvania frontier home by Delaware Indians and brought to a cave in the gorge, becoming the first white child in America to reach Ohio. The Gorge Trail today is a 1.8-mile loop whose highlight comes when you dog has to pick her way through a maze of jumbled rock ledges. Trail signs label this stretch as "difficult" and a bypass is offered but there is nothing here your dog can't handle. In fact, some stone steps have been cut into the most troublesome passages.
The West Woods (Russell Township, SR 87)
These dark woods and sheltered rock outcroppings have long propogated rumors. Runaway slaves were hidden here on th eUnderground Railroad. Civil War soldiers took refuge under the ledges. Bootleggers operated illegal stills in the hollows. The destination of a 1.5-mile trail in this Geauga County showcase park is Ansel's Cave, named for an early settler from Massachusetts who may have squatted here. This journey is conducted completely under tall, straight hardwoods on wide, paw-friendly compacted stone paths.
South Chagrin Reservation (Chagrin Falls, Hawthorne Parkway)
The Chagrin River that dominates this Cleveland Metropark was designated a State scenic River in 1979. On the east side of the river the Squirrel Loop Trail slips cautiously above the water under rock ledge sentinels. This is a hike for calm, well-behaved dogs only as steep drop-offs are unfenced. Across the river you can view the rock carvings of Henry Church, a blacksmith and self-taught artist who became celebrated as a primitive folk artist after his death.
Seneca Rocks (Seneca Rocks, West Virginia).
Legend has it that the spectacular crags of white/gray quartzite that soar 900 feet above the flat valley of the North Fork of the Potomac River were the childhood playground of Snowbird, beautiful daughter of Seneca Indian chief Bald Eagle. To determine the warrior who would win her hand in marriage she staged a contest to see who could scale the magnificent cliff. The first documented roped ascent of the Seneca Rocks, however, didn't take place until 1935. A switchbacking 1.3-mile hard-packed trail ascends the north edge of the Seneca Rocks to a wooden viewing platform. Sure-footed dogs can climb a bit further up bare rock to notches at the very top of the rocks for views of the Allegheny Mountains to the west. The trail is a steady climb but well within the means of even the novice canine hiker. To get back to the flat valley floor you will retrace your pawprints rather than try one of the nearly 400 mapped climbing routes to the rocks. The Visitor Center is located in the town of Seneca Rocks off US 33 and West Virginia Route 28.
Franconia Notch State Park (US 3, New Hampshire).
The Old Man of the Mountain, or Great Stone Face, was a geological oddity some 200 million years in the making. It hovered regally 1,200 feet above the floor of the Notch valley until crumbling in 2013. You can view the Old Man’s ghost position from turnouts in the highway or leisurely from the 9-mile paved recreational trail that runs the length of the notch. Another natural formation nearby may not be so obvious. Just to the north, a rock formation can be seen suggesting a cannon profile poking from a fortress parapet, hence the name Cannon Mountain.
The Wisconsin Glacier scoured and gouged the granite mountains of the Franconia Notch, a deep slice between Franconia Ridge and the Cannon-Kinsman range. The retreating ice mass left behind an embarassment of natural wonders that began attracting tourists in 1808 with the discovery of the Flume, a natural 800-foot gorge with perpendicular granite walls less than 20 feet apart. Stagecoach roads to the area began opening in the middle of the 19th century when Nathaniel Hawthorne immortalized the Old Man of the Mountain, five layers of rock sticking out of Profile Mountain. The 40-foot ancient rock formation emerged from Hawthorne’s writings to become the state symbol of New Hampshire. The greatest of the tourist camps was Profile Inn but after the hotel burned to the ground in 1923 its owners put their entire holdings of 6,000 acres up for sale to be cut as timber. A campaign began immediately to save the notch and the state of New Hampshire matched the $100,000 raised to create Franconia Notch State Park in 1928.
Canine hikers are not allowed down the Flume Trail, the most popular walk in Franconia, but with the abundance of other great hikes it won’t even be missed. Entering the notch from the north, the first trail is Artist’s Bluff Trail, where one short, rocky climb bags the 2,368-foot summit and superb views of beautiful Echo Lake. An easy walk along a lightly wooded ridge with plenty of filtering light tags Blue Mountain (2,320 feet) to close the loop.
In the heart of Franconia Notch is dog-friendly Lafayette Campground, a jumping off point for the best walks in the park. From the campground, the Pemi Trail traces the Pemigewasset River to the Basin, a smoothed-out pothole that has absorbed 25,000 years of pounding from the stream. For an engaging loop, abandon the level Pemi Trail and climb along the boulder-strewn Cascade Brook Trail to Lonesome Lake for views of the Kinsman Range. The mountains plunge to the alpine waters at 2,743 feet. Close the six-mile loop with a steep, rocky descent to the campground on Lonesome Lake Trail.
Across the parkway from the campground awaits a classic White Mountains hike for the hardiest of canine hikers - the loop to the Franconia Ridge Trail. Begin on Falling Waters Trail, boulder hopping along and across several waterfalls. The ascent to the ridge is accomplished on the grueling “45,” so named for the severity of the climb. Once on the ridge you join the Appalachian Trail and walk two shelterless miles above the treeline, crossing Haystack Mountain (4,840 feet), Lincoln Mountain (5,089 feet) and Lafayette Mountain (5,260 feet). Some of the rock formations can be challenging for a dog but there is nothing insurmountable on this spectacular hike. Return from the ridge down Old Bridle Path that features a long, rocky descent across open slopes before dipping into stunted pines. The full loop will cover 9 rewarding miles.
At the southern end of the notch, the summit trail to Mt. Pemigewasset offers views from ledges in three directions in little over one mile. The Indian Head profile is on the mountain.
Alabama Hills (Lone Pine, California).
If you've ever watched a Hollywood Western or the opening to the Lone Ranger you will recognize this place as you hike with your dog. The Alabama Hills consist of rounded, weathered granite boulders placed across a desert flatlands that form a sharp contrast with the sharply sculptured ridges of the nearby Sierra mountains. These majestic backdrops and rugged rock formations began attracting the attention of Hollywood, 212 miles to the west, in the 1920s.
You can hike with your dog along Movie Flat Road, a wide, dusty dirt road that runs through the Alabama Hills and is one of the most recognizable movie sets in Hollywood history. Beginning with Tom Mix in the silent era, every major Western star rode down the road on horseback at one time or another. Roy Rogers appeared here in his first starring role in Under Western Stars and Bill Boyd, known on the screen as Hopalong Cassidy, filmed so many roles in Lone Pine that he moved here.
The Alabama Hills hosted one of the largest location shoots in history when 1200 extras staged the climactic battle scene in Gunga Din. Other notable westerns among the more than 100 films shot here include The Lone Ranger, How The West Was Won, and The Gunfighter.
Although the golden age for Lone Pine has gone the way of the Hollywood western, film crews occasionally still appear. Bad Day at Black Rock(Spencer Tracy/Robert Ryan) used the area to build an entire town along the railroad tracks in 1955 and, more recently, Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon battled giant earthworms in the Alabama Hills in Tremors.
The canine hiking in the Alabama Hills is along wide dirt roads for the most part and you won't find any canine swimming holes so make sure to bring plenty of drinking water, especially in hot weather (you are less than a two-hour drive from Death Valley). And keep an eye out for movie crews. You dog may be the next big star.
Red River Gorge (Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky).
The Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768 during the French and Indian Wartriggered a rush to settlement of the wilderness, then part of the great Virginia Colony, that stretched to the Mississippi River. The most prominent pioneer was Daniel Boone from Berks County in Pennsylvania, thanks in part to an autobiographical narrative he published in 1784. After the American Revolution, veterans received land grants for their service and by 1796 nearly a quarter of a million people came into the area on the Wilderness Trail, little more than a horse path. Some mined coal, some mined saltpeter necessary to manufacture gunpowder, and some logged but most farmed small plots of cleared land. When the Daniel Boone National Forest was established in 1937, 98% of the dwellings were of log and pole construction and the average number of acres on a farm in cultivation was only 17.
There are more than 500 miles of trails in the 700,000-acre national forest that occupies a 140-mile slice of eastern Kentucky. The great variety of trails from flat and easy to steep and twisting help spread out the five million annual visitors. Save for the designated swimming areas, your dog is welcome everywhere in the Daniel Boone National Forest. The Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail courses through the entire forest for 269 miles. The footpath, blazed in white turtle markers (Sheltowee is the Indian name given Boone when he visited the area meaning “big turtle”), connects the major day-use areas as it visits deep canyons, long ridgetops and craggy rimrock cliffs.
The first destination for many canine hikers in the Daniel Boone National Forest is the Red River Gorge where 300-foot sandstone cliffs and overhangs are decorated with grotesque rock formations. The more than 100 natural stone arches in the area give represent the greatest collection of stone arches east of the Mississippi River. Numerous rock shelters and arches can be found along the driving tour of the Clifty Wilderness in the Cumberland District. Easy explorations include the Natural Arch Trail that reaches a bridge of sandstone more than 100 feet across and seven stories high and the Nathan McClure Trail along the shores of Cumberland Lake. The lake is graced by towering sandstone cliffs.
Shawangunk Ridge (New Paltz, New York).
The Shawangunk Ridge south of the Catskill Mountains is an ultra-hard gumbo of quartz pebbles and sandstone. It resists weathering while the underlying shale erodes relatively easily. The result is a series of dramatic cliffs and talus slopes, particularly noticeable when approaching from the east, which have been sculpted by retreating glaciers. The “Gunks”, as they are affectionately called, have become one of the prime rock-climbing destinations in North America. Luckily for your dog, going vertically up a rock face is not the only way to explore the Shawangunk Ridge.
Alfred and Albert Smiley opened the Shawangunk Mountains to the vacationing public after the Civil War when they built the Mohonk Mountain House. Later, a disagreement caused Alfred to move on and build the Cliff House nearby. The last guest checked out in 1979 and the state of New York stepped in to prevent any further development on the Ridge. Today the top of the ridge is mostly public land primarily in Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Mohonk Mountain House, Sam’s Point Preserve and Mohonk Preserve. Of this quartet, only the first and last are open to your dog.
Most of your dog’s hiking atop Shawangunk Ridge will take place on wide, carefully graded carriageways. After decades of jostling for tourist dollars the Smiley brothers eventually reconciled and began building a network of these graceful roadways between the two hotels. Expect to share the carriageways with plenty of bicyclists. In Minnewaska State Park Preserve several long parallel carriageways between Lake Awosting and Lake Minnewaska can be combined for loop hikes of several hours duration. For spectacular views of the Hudson Valley use the Castle Point Carriagewayto Castle Point, the highest summit in the park. Looks at the Catskill Mountains come quickly on the short, steep Sunset Path near the entrance parking lots.
The narrow hiker-only paths, however, are where the adventure begins for canine hikers on the Ridge. These trails are generally moving up and down, leading to treasures deep in the Shawangunks like Stony Kill Falls. The trek to Gertrude’s Nose bursts from a dark hemlock forest for extended walking on exposed clifftops. This is not the place for a rambunctious dog (no fencing and long drop-offs) and inexperienced canine hikers may have trouble with the rock scrambles but otherwise is worth every step of the two-mile detour off the Millbrook Mountain Carriageway.
The unique environment on the Shawangunk Mountain ridge is extremely sensitive and access to the park is limited to reduce the impact of human - and canine - intrusion. Capacity in the parks on any given day is limited by the number of parking spaces in the lots. it is not unheard of for the park to be closed before it actually opens - so many cars are lined up for the 9:00 a.m. opening. When one car leaves, another is allowed in. Even with the restrictions the park averages more than 1,000 visitors per day. If you arrive early and get in, however, you will find the trails generally uncrowded, especially on the hiker-only footpaths.
Petrified Forest (Four Corners, Arizona). The mineralized remains of an ancient Mesozoic forest were tens of millions of years in the making but the nation’s largest field of petrified wood wasn’t formally described until 1851. The Atlantic and Pacific Railroad built though this area in the 1880s bringing profiteers to the forest. They carried off petrified wood specimens and dynamited the largest logs in search of quartz and purple amethyst crystals.
In 1895 the state of Arizona began petitioning for federal protection and on December 8, 1906 Theodore Roosevelt designated the petrified forest as America’s second national monument. In 1962, with the addition of the scenic landscape of the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest became America’s thirty-first national park.
Pets are banned from the 93,533 acres of backcountry and the popular Painted Desert Rim Trail near the Visitor Center but there is ample opportunity to experience the petrified forest with your dog. Three paved loops - all less than a mile long - lead into the barren desert amidst remains of the petrified forest. Although short and easy to hike, these interpretive trails are completely without shade so have a supply of water ready on hot days.
The Crystal Forest Trail meanders through the remains of obliterated petrified logs, leaving you to only imagine what these crystalized trees once looked like before the pillaging that led to the creation of the Petrified Forest National Monument. Some of those prehistoric trees can be seen on the Long Logs Path. Extinct conifers form the largest concentration of petrified wood left in the park.
The Agate House Trail leads up a slight rise to a reconstructed Anasazi Indian Pueblo built entirely of colorful petrified wood sealed with mud. Also available to canine hikers is the one-mile Blue Mesa Trail. A sharp drop in the path leads to an ampitheatre surrounded by banded badlands of bluish clay called bentontite. Rainwater is the brush that creates streaky patterns in the porous hills.