Pooch Picks: Northern Arizona

Hello, friends! It’s been so long since I’ve popped on here to share my recommendations with you. What can I say? My mom can’t seem to keep up with her own shit, and it’s kind of hard for me to type without thumbs. But here we finally are.

Before I get settled in to my new ‘home’ in Canada, I wanted to take a few minutes to give you some pro tips for visiting Arizona. I have to admit, the climate here wasn’t my favorite. Most of the state is made up of volcanic fields or some type of desert – high desert, mid-desert, semi-arid desert, arid desert… I don’t know what they all mean, but they do all have one thing in common: sharp things. There’s cacti, tumbleweed, lava rock, foxtail grasses… Everywhere you go, your feet hurt. You also can’t snuffle around off-trail because of all the rattlesnakes. It’s really kind of lame. I got some cool hiking boots my parents thought would help, but even those chafed my feet. They are super cute and sturdy, but clearly weren’t designed with the long-toed, prominent-dewclawed, Asian dog in mind. But I digress…

While I am definitely more of a forest, mountain, and lake lover, there’s still some pretty cool stuff to explore here. If you pups ever find yourselves in Arizona with your people, make sure to point them toward this list of must-dos!


Best activity: Lizard hunting

I have three words for all you southwest explorers that will change your lives forever: Western fence lizards.

If your people try to convince you that the Grand Canyon is the most magnificent natural wonder in the state, they are either lying or clueless. It’s lizards! Until now, I’ve always been a rodent-loving dog. Squirrels, chipmunks, prairie dogs, mice, moles, rabbits (my mom says these are technically lagomorphs)… those are my jam. Until I came to Arizona, I never knew how much fun hunting lizards could be. This could very well be my new passion in life.

If your people try to point you toward some sort of pretty Arizonan scenery, resist. Keep your noise trained downward, examine every log, and be ready to give chase. Those artful little reptiles are everywhere, and they are ridiculously fun. Alright, now that you know the best part of Arizona is the lizards, I’ll let you in on another pro tip: where to find them…


Best trail: Benham National Recreation Trail

Did you think Arizona’s best trail could be found in the Grand Canyon? Perhaps Sedona? Or maybe tucked away in the Superstition Mountains? Wrong, wrong, and wrong. The Benham Trail up Bill Williams Mountain is probably Arizona’s best-kept secret. This hidden gem was just a few miles behind our house, just off Historic Route 66 in the tiny town of Williams.

Located in the Kaibab National Forest, Bill Williams Mountain is one of the ‘big four’ peaks of Arizona’s San Francisco Volcanic Field, standing at 9,256 feet in elevation. This mountain apparently erupted three million years ago – way before dogs were around – and kicked off a period of volcanism around northern Arizona that lasted for millions of years. There are now two hiking trails that wind to Bill Williams’ volcanic summit – the more popular Bill Williams Trail (#21) and the Benham Trail (#28). If you go all the way up to the lookout, either trail is about nine miles with 2,000’ of vertical gain round-trip. If you or your people don’t want to go the whole way, though, that’s okay too. The greatest concentration of lizards is actually nearer the bottom.

The best part of this trail is, you guessed it, those lizards. The lower half of the trail runs through an area where the USFS has been performing prescribed burns to reduce the risk of wildfire. My people bemoaned the lack of scenery, but they obviously weren’t looking in the right spot. They should have been focused on the ground where all the lizards reside. Those wily little guys hide in and around the scorched pieces of wood, making a dash as soon as you put your nose near them. Unlike rodents, they mostly stick to the ground cover around the logs, rather than scurrying up a tree. This means there is always the potential to dig them out, snuffle them out, or simply wait them out… it’s amazing.

One day on the trail, I hunted a lizard so hard that it ran up my dad’s pants. He didn’t believe my mom and I when we told him it was there; but a half mile further up the trail, the little stowaway came wiggling out of his shirt. He was shocked enough to start taking his clothes off right there on the trail, and my mom almost peed her pants. Me? I just stood there staring completely unamused by the spectacle, totally annoyed that my dad managed to catch a lizard before me!

Aside from the lizard hunts, the second best part of the trail was that I had the whole place to myself almost every time we visited! I have no clue why no one was ever there. Probably all the humans were busy dragging their unsuspecting dogs around the lizard-deficient Grand Canyon.

After two to three hours of chasing those guys through the disintegrating remains of charred logs, I was habitually covered with sand, sap, soot and scrapes. It was perfect. The only bad part about this trail was having to leave. I have no idea why my mom and dad insisted we go home for supper every night, but they did. And while my people may have always won, I never let them go without dogged protest (see what I did there?). I’d dig my feet into the dirt, tuck my tail, pull on the leash, or go lay down in the grass and sulk… I tried everything I could. I’ll tell you what, it sure does suck being only twenty-five pounds.


Best food: Mexican donuts from Martanne’s

Since some of you pups may visit Arizona for activities other than chasing lizards, I’ll let you in on a couple more secrets. The best thing I ate in Arizona: the Mexican donuts from Martanne’s in Flagstaff. Oh my gosh… they were airy, lightly-fried, covered with cinnamon sugar, and served with a side of ice cream. I went totally crazy over them!

This family-owned business is one of the best in Flagstaff, it’s located right on Route 66, and it even offers dog-friendly ordering (i.e. online for pickup). Martanne’s is famous for their traditional chilaquiles, so convince your humans to go there for that generously-portioned specialty and then request they tack on an order of the donuts. Strategy: they’ll be too full to eat many of the donuts and will be forced to share more with you. As a self-proclaimed foodie with six James Beard nominated restaurants under her belt, I assure you this one’s a winner.


Best national park: Petrified Forest

While I totally hyped the Benham Trail earlier, chances are your humans are still going to want to visit one of Arizona’s more well-known national parks while they’re in town. The good news is that both the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest National Parks offer dog-friendly hiking options! Better yet? It’s not just the ‘dogs can walk around the parking lot’ silliness offered at most national parks, but real trails. If you visit the Grand Canyon with your people, all trails above the rim (South Rim only) are open to dogs. At Petrified Forest, all paved and backcountry trails are fair game.

My favorite national park in Arizona was undoubtedly the Petrified Forest. I mean, did you guys know that trees could turn into stone?! My mind was blown. I love jumping on stumps and logs, and I love jumping on rocks. It was so cool that I could jump on both at the same time. My mom told me these fossilized trees were around 200 million years ago – when North America was still part of the supercontinent Pangea and around the time the first dinosaurs appeared! Gosh, I wish I could have seen what those lizards looked like. I know I could have taken them.

While I’m not typically into the desert, I was totally jiving with this place. My favorite was the Historic Blue Forest Trail. It was a narrow dirt path that wound up and over the badlands, and it made me feel like an intrepid explorer. It had some super cool fossilized trees for me to climb on, and I had the trail all to myself. It was pretty much perfect.

If you’ve got time after sniffing all the trails and fossilized trees, head over to Dobell Ranch. It’s just a couple miles from the park’s south entrance and is beyond cool. The Dobell family owns forty acres of land beside the national park, and you’re allowed to legally collect your own petrified wood here. Rhonda, the family’s matriarch, was so excited to meet me. After generously offering me a Milky Way mini, she invited me to jump into a hole and start digging alongside my people. I mean, who welcomes you to their house just to tear up their yard?! Thanks, Rhonda… I had so much fun.


Wrap-pup

Although I wasn’t meant to be a desert dog, I was able to find some serious joy in Arizona. From the host of national forests and wilderness areas to explore, to the fried and meaty Mexican meals, this place turned out to be pretty okay. If your humans bring you out here, get ready to explore a whole new universe. And seriously… seek out those lizards!

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