Sunday, September 10, 2017

Montana Road Trip

Our other adventure this summer was a road trip all the way from Maryland to Montana! Its been way too long since I was out west, and we made it a road trip so we could bring the dogs.

I used to love driving through the Western US when I lived there, because every trip through New Mexico or Oregon or Colorado is full of public lands, incredible scenery, and great places to hike and camp. The problem though when you live in the east is that to drive through those places, you have to first drive through some places that are less stunning. 

To break up the monotony of the Midwest, first stop was Indiana Sand Dunes State Park, where Lake Michigan feels like the ocean and you can just barely see Chicago on the other side.

The first two days were still rough, so it was a relief when we finally crossed the border into Montana and saw our first sage. 

That smell just transports me back to when I was a young, wild woman living in a cave in Moab, or in a little place in Santa Fe. 

Florian did most of the driving, but Fozzie loved it when I took over so those two could cuddle up in back.

It was a relief to finally pull into Missoula and our little rental, on a hill outside town. What I love about towns like Missoula is the easy access they provide to getting outdoors. The Clark Fork River runs right through the center of town, so we didn't waste much time before we got the dogs down there for some stick-based recreation. 

There are also lots of trails just outside town. 

Including in the Rattlesnake Recreation Area, where we went for a gorgeous hike through the fragrant ponderosa pine forest,

along a stream 

and then steadily uphill until we were too tired to climb anymore. 

Some of our time in Missoula was spent just enjoying walks along the river or through town with my cousin and her fiance, who live there, 

getting ice cream cones for the dogs.

We had a great time at our rental, making dinner with a couple of Florian's dance friends who live in Missoula, 

Watching the Lolo Peak fire in the distance, which is still burning along with the rest of the Western US.
You can't go to Montana without seeing the amazing national parks in the area, although national parks are not as dog-friendly as most other public lands. 

So we drove through National Bison Range, a kind of spooky expanse of rolling grasslands where we saw one bison. That bison seemed extremely happy, as at one point he lay down and proceeded to roll around on his back in the dust, hooves flailing in the air. Just like certain dogs we all know about. 

Bison Range was on the way to Glacier National Park, 

which we once again drove through to take in all the stunning sights. 

We did have lunch in the park, enjoying some nice grounding bread 

after eating wayyyy too many Flathead cherries all morning.

We had to leave the park to get in a good walk with the dogs though, but the Flathead River was perfect and right outside the park.

When we returned that evening I went out to have a beer with my old coworker who's working on the fire, 

and I knew Florian and the pups would have a blast at home with the huge TV.

They watched Pit bulls and parolees. 
We left Missoula on the day of the eclipse, after we had brunch with our friends in the park 

in the strange dark, cool morning.

The most stunning was yet to come! You hear about how amazing Yellowstone is but nothing quite prepares you for being there.

Everywhere you look there are steaming geysers erupting from the earth,

multicolored landscapes of mineral deposits and rock

as you walk along the wooden pathways built by the NPS to keep park visitors from being burned alive in the boiling springs

So magical. 

It was really an otherworldly landscape, 

and even more surreal when we got caught, more than once, in a traffic jam occasioned by bison walking along the road, 

taking their sweet time. 

Yellowstone was a tough act to follow, but there's still some incredible country east of it as you drive through Wyoming. 

But whew, what an empty, vast landscape. Beautiful but monotonous after hours and hours of driving. 

We did try to stop for a hike at least once each of the three days it took to drive home, to stretch our legs and get the dogs nice and tired. 

And when we finally got home, it was good to feel a bit of humidity again and see all that lush Midatlantic vegetation. I imagine we'll move out west someday, but for now its good to be home. 

I hope everyone living in fire and flood zones is safe!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The 200,000 Satos of Puerto Rico

You heard all about the scenery and adventures of our trip to Puerto Rico, but just a little about dogs--who were an enormous part of our experience. 

We drove all over the eastern 2/3 of the island, traversing many windy little roads. And on pretty much all of them, we saw dogs. Most of these strays--satos, as they are called--once belonged to a family, many have been on their own for a long time. 

Most were on roads with some houses, and those taco stands you see everywhere. Apparently a lot of people just leave their dogs in those places thinking that they can scrounge from the trash piles. 

How compassionate. 

But some were on roads with very little human habitation. I don't know how they survived. Fortunately there were lots of streams everywhere we went, and maybe other wacky tourists stopped and fed them. 

All of them were really hungry, and a few were friendly, cuddly, and waggy!

We quickly realized we couldn't go anywhere without dog snacks so we stocked up. 

It felt good to feed and cuddle with them, but it would have felt a lot better to load them all up in the rental car and take them to a better place.

We did that with one. I was napping as Florian drove back from the caves, and he woke me up at the sight of a black and white dog by the side of the road. Skittish at first, after I put down the rest of our food he started to change his mind. Two friendly officers were on the roadside and came to help; they said he'd been there all day and was following them around. They thought he was probably abandoned because of the bit of mange on his face. 

This was a big road with no houses or water anywhere and I knew this pup needed help. Florian wasn't sure we should do it but when I went around behind the dog and lifted him up to put him in the car, there wasn't much else to be said. 

That picture is from before two slices of pizza, this picture is from after.

He was pretty much on my lap the rest of that trip. I named him Papi. 

I really wanted to sleep with him that night but the hotel wouldn't let him in, so we got him 3 cans of food and some mixed veggies and yucca, which he devoured, and I stayed out in the car with him all night. 

When I walked him, he kept stopping to jump up on my legs and hug me.

In the morning, we brought him to the Humane Society of Puerto Rico in San Juan, where we were devastated to leave him but encouraged by the assurance that they are no-kill and by the evident kindness of their staff. 

That was at the beginning of our trip, and the next few days we traveled around and saw all those other dogs, and some goats. 

I was happy to learn that there is a proliferation of rescue groups on Puerto Rico and that they frequent some of the roads we traveled feeding and picking up satos like the ones we saw.  

There are also groups dedicated to rescuing dogs from the beaches, which is another place where many get dropped. 

But I could not stop thinking about Papi. 

Fortunately Florian's rubber arm was easily twisted to go back to the shelter on our last day, which was an opportunity to meet some of the other babies up for adoption there

and to have a somewhat deeper connection with one of them.  

And we got to take Papi for a walk! 

He was so happy to see us. Hard to leave him again but I felt much better. 

When we returned from our trip, I set about right away researching what help exists for the satos of Puerto Rico. After emailing about five organizations that rescue, feed, spay and neuter, and arrange for the travel of the island's strays, I heard back from the amazing people at Island Dog

And a few emails and Paypal transactions later, and Papi was out of the shelter and romping around with his rescuer's six dogs.

Not long after that, he was on a United flight bound for New Jersey and the Humane Society of Atlantic County. And just days after that, he was adopted!

I hope he is eating lots of pizza and having the best time ever. I have no doubt that he is cuddling and jumping up to hug his adopter at every opportunity. 

One down, 199,999 to go. Who wants to help? 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Vacation in Puerto Rico!

Florian and I just got back from Puerto Rico. It was an incredible trip!

We tried to pack in to one week all the amazing things you're supposed to do in Puerto Rico, like explore the neighborhoods, 

ruins, and scenic vistas of Old San Juan, 

hang out at our friendly little hotel with the resident cat, 

and drive around most of the island checking out the gorgeous vegetation, the cool architecture, and the little food shacks along every road.

The coast all along the island has incredible beaches, and we went to one in Luquillo where we saw some beautiful fish along the reefs that were close to shore, although the reef themselves were gray and covered with algae. 

Not vibrant, the way I remembered them from when I went SCUBA diving in Honduras 12 years ago. I wish everyone could go snorkeling in some gorgeous reefs just once, maybe everyone would realize how important it is to stop global warming before they all die. 

On a happier note, we did see this dog in Luquillo who just kept swimming around and around in circles, riding the waves. 

After a day at the beach, we decided to do some inland exploring and checked out the Rio Camuy Cave. 

We actually went on a tour through this incredible cavern, 

my favorite part of which was actually the tropical forest surrounding the cave, which was just oozing with sumptous vegetation

and the lighting was magical. 

So was the cavern.

The cavern was  a major tourist attraction, but we also explored some amazing things off the beaten path like this swimming hole and waterfall nearby, which we discovered on our way back to San Juan

Right before we discovered this dog. 

More on that later!

Before we get to that, I'll just say that El Yunque National Forest was spectacular

With a lot of stunning vistas, 

gorgeous vegetation, 

and cool waterfalls to explore

So hot and humid, as you might imagine, that it was great to have places to cool off. 

Another famed tourist attraction in Puerto Rico is the bioluminescent bays, most notably on the island of Vieques off the main island. We planned to take a ferry to explore, but after some confusing waiting around the crowded ferry terminal in Fajardo we figured out that all ferries to Vieques and Culebra were sold out until August. 

So we decided to take a water taxi to the closer, and smaller, Isla Palomino.

So glad we did! The beach we landed on was like the ones on postcards, and we had it almost to ourselves

We snorkeled for hours, got thoroughly sunburned, and saw incredible fish swimming among the reefs. 

It was so peaceful just swimming along, getting lost in all the strange and beautiful sights. The colorful angel fish and parrotfish, the spooky lionfish, 

and a barracuda! I swam fast when Florian showed me that.

That afternoon was definitely a highlight of the trip, although the evening--when we went on a nighttime kayak tour of a bioluminescent bay, which we got to after traversing a narrow canal through dark mangroves--was also incredible. 

As was the next day, when we drove around feeding stray dogs and found an amazing, cool swimming hole in the forest
It was an incredible trip, but also kind of emotionally exhausting due to the endless stray dogs. Who will be the subject of a post all their own. Stay tuned!