Travels With Rosie
“People don’t take trips— trips take people.” – John Steinbeck
When Steinbeck wrote Travels with Charley, he was on a journey across America, traveling with his large blue poodle in a camper named after Don Quixote’s horse, Rocinante. Charley had crooked front teeth and communicated his bathroom needs by saying “Ftt.” I was traveling with Rosie, my Australian Shepherd/Husky companion. She doesn’t say “Ftt,” but with her porcine-like snort, she could probably win the hog calling contest at the Illinois State Fair. She’s also the canine version of a Hummer, weighing in at 87 pounds of what feels like pure muscle when I’m at the other end of the leash. Unfortunately for Rosie, I wasn’t traveling in a large camper but in a car named Fiesta, and she required most of its back seat. Steve was heading to the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, and Rosie and I had signed up for the ride.
We were eight hours behind schedule (not bad for us) when we left Bandon, and we drove late into the night to make up for our dalliance. The changing landscape was lost in the blur of speed and darkness, and we finally stopped a few miles shy of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Southeastern Oregon is a land of lonely roads and sweeping, burnished fields. But sometimes this quiet place erupts, and when it does, it’s usually over a four-letter word: COWS.
In January 2016 the quiet community of Burns became the epicenter of a simmering conflict over federal control of public lands. Ammon and Ryan Bundy came to Burns to join a rally in support of two ranchers being jailed for arson under a federal anti-terrorism statute. But after the protest they led a small group of protestors to Malheur’s headquarters. Bearing arms and waving an American flag, the group announced their intent to open the refuge to grazing, logging and mining. They plowed new roads, cut cattle fencing and hung a sign at Malheur’s entrance, renaming the refuge “The Harney County Resource Center.” When the FBI finally ousted them 41-days later, they left behind 18,331 rounds of ammunition.
But on this cool fall morning, the refuge was again silent. And with no time to explore the wetlands and with waterfowl and raptor migration still weeks away, we saw more cows than birds on rural ranch roads.We stopped several times to let Rosie run and swim in rivers, and knowing that Steve had a deadline to meet the next morning, kept driving until 2 a.m. We turned off on a forest service side road and pulled out our gear at the first pullout. Too tired to explore, we crammed ourselves into sleeping bags and woke to find ourselves surrounded by silhouetted firs and mountains half-concealed by swirling mist.
Several hours later, I dropped Steve off at the Jackson Lake Lodge, and Rosie and I found a free national forest campsite with unobstructed views of the snow-capped Tetons. While Steve attended the conference, Rosie and I waded into cold creeks flowing through smooth gray and mauve rocks and explored river valleys where rising mist touched the tips of clouds. We saw foxes on moonlit nights and woke to the haunting calls of bull elk on icy mornings. And in the snowberry bushes on the dirt roads leading to forest service land, we spied two black bear cubs having breakfast and a lone grizzly lumbering between turning aspens.
On our last journey to Pilgrim Creek, we watched a coyote stalking rodents in the tall grasses. Rosie was determined to meet her wild kin, but the coyote ignored her excited snorts, tilted its ears to locate a tasty rodent, and scored a mouse at the end of its jump.
Useful Links For Dog Lovers:
Dogs, for good reason, aren’t allowed on backcountry trails in Grand Teton National Park. But they can do their daily sniffing on park roads and hike with you on trails in the adjacent Teton National Forest.