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Go on a Desert Retreat With Your Dog

By Jennifer Viegas

November weather may conjure up thoughts of cold, rainy days, with you and your dog huddled indoors dreaming of summer fun. But picture this: If you and your furry pal visit the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, you can replace that dreary November scenario with scenic vistas, fresh air and T-shirt-worthy temperatures.

November through April is the perfect time for you and your dog to hike through this beautiful national monument, which is located in Southern California. Resorts, celebrity getaways and world-class golf courses surround the area. Few activities, however, beat the exhilaration and freedom of getting out into nature with your best canine friend.

Dog Hiking Heaven
Dogs usually crave adventure and socialization, but they sometimes wind up squabbling with other canines or running out of steam early on in the confined space of the local park. Not so on these outings. “I have a large dog and a small dog, and the hikes are perfect for them,” says Arielle Maccio, director of volunteer services for Friends of the Desert Mountains, the organization that supports the hikes as well as conservation, research, education and other activities associated with the protected area. “On the desert hikes, your dog can socialize with other dogs in a controlled, safe situation.”

Maccio explains that all dogs are on leashes, with hikers led through the trails by certified interpretive guides. The duration of trips is just right for most dogs. The weekly Saturday hike, for example, starts at 9 a.m. and lasts for 2 1/2 hours. If you are a dog lover without a dog, you can still join the group. But most hikers show up with their canines.


Two Choices
Visitors with dogs can choose between two trails: the Cove Oasis Trailhead in the city of La Quinta, Calif., or the Homme-Adams Park and Cahuilla Hills Park trail in the city of Palm Desert, Calif. The latter is “a 3-mile hike that includes some hills,” according to Maccio. She recommends it for more seasoned hikers. The one in La Quinta “does not feature as much elevation,” she says.

The substrate for both trails consists of sandy washes and hard-packed ground, says Maccio, so tender dog paws tend to fare well. Some owners put protective booties on their pets, but Maccio says those aren’t necessary for the leisurely paced hikes, which stop every 15 to 20 minutes to allow for education and engaging discussion.

Dogs Allowed -- Or Not
Guided desert hikes with dogs are extremely rare across the country, and for good reason. “Dogs, like their cousins -- the wolf, coyote and fox -- exert pressure on prey animals by acting aggressively and marking their territory with scent,” explains Ginny Short of the Center for Natural Lands Management in Thousand Palms, Calif. “This type of behavior causes additional stress in the prey animals that must now expend precious energy preparing a defensive action.”

Although your dog might be the perfect picture of good health, he could also still be a carrier of certain viruses that could spread to wild animals that may be more vulnerable, according to Short. Trails allowing dogs are very limited as a result of these risks, but that’s one reason why the Southern California desert hiking opportunities are so unique and special.

Tips for Desert Hiking With Your Dog
Maccio and guide Emily Horner ask that you bring the following:

  • Water for both you and your dog
  • A collapsible water bowl
  • Doggy bags
  • A leash (required)
  • Sunscreen, since temperatures are often between 70 F and 80 F

Because up to 15 or so dogs can be on any given hike, your pet must be well-socialized. Maccio also recommends that dog participants be used to outdoor activities and warm weather.

Learn About Sheep While Bonding With Your Dog
In addition to seeing other happy dogs, you might spot beautiful bighorn sheep -- or at least learn more about them. Peninsular bighorn sheep are endangered, so conservationists work hard to help protect them, which includes keeping dogs on the trails. That’s one reason these special hikes were established.

Once you and your dog go on a desert hike, it probably won’t be your last. “The information you’ll learn about introducing your dog to natural environments can be taken elsewhere, on other adventures,” explains Maccio.

If you have cabin fever and would like to visit the national monument, the area offers many other dog-friendly spots, including at least three dog parks nearby: Fritz Burns Park in the City of La Quinta, Calif.; the City of Palm Desert University Dog Park; and the City of Palm Springs Dog Park.

Copyright (c) 2011 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.

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