In our last episode we brought you to Mono Hot Springs in Sierra National Forest. This time, we discuss hiking with dogs and we explore a not-so-visited grove of giant sequoias.
In this episode we talk less about humans and more about our pets: specifically, dogs. Neither of us (Kerry or Ezra) has dogs but hiking with them looks like a lot of fun.
Our friends also talk about how tough it can be to find dog-friendly hiking spots and to keep them safe. So this episode is all about where to take them, where not to take them, and how to prep them for the outdoors if they’re not quite ready yet. We also found a place on the way to Yosemite National Park where both humans and animals can get a treat.
We knew there was only one way to do this story: spend some time with dogs and their people. We invited four buddies with furry friends to join us for a day in the woods. Meet Norah, Duke, Bart and Kuma Diego, and their owners: Mackenzie, Christine, Michelle and Joey.
There's a grove of giant sequoias...where?
We began at a giant grove of sequoias. It’s not in a national park. In fact, it’s a place even many locals don’t know about. It’s called Nelder Grove. It’s not too far away from the mountain town of Oakhurst and about an hour and half from Fresno. A few miles north of town on highway 41 you turn right onto a country road and twist and turn for seven miles.
There, we met up with Brenda Negley, a local volunteer and guide with a long history in the area.
“My grandparents were the first volunteer hosts up here at Nelder Grove," Negley says. "There’s a tree up here named after them. That tree is the Hawksworth Tree. My husband proposed to me under it.”
Brenda’s worked here as a camp host for eight years, and she even wrote a book about the area called "Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoias: A Granddaughter's Stories." She says this grove of 99 sequoia trees has seen a lot of change.
"Ten to 15,000 years ago the North Fork Mono lived and traveled through here; 5,000 years ago it was the Southern Sierra Miwok," says Negley. "For the American Indians this place was called a pass through. It was almost like the highway of the day back then. Galen Clark was here in 1858 and named the area Fresno Grove at the time, and it's now known as Nelder Grove."
At one time there were over 350 giant sequoias here, but over 250 of them were lost to logging.
In the late 1800s, John Muir stumbled upon this wilderness while he was trekking across the Sierra Nevada. He found something surprising: A cabin with a man living in it.
“So he met John Nelder," Negley says. "John Nelder had just finished building his cabin up in Nelder basin and that’s where they met. He stayed here about a week and a half while John Muir and John Nelder explored the grove. Nelder showed him the trees, his pet trees, everything unique to the grove.”
The area features interpretive trails with log cabins from that era and a really cool handmade replica of the grove, complete with topography and trees. Today, the grove is protected from logging, but felled trees still scar the landscape, slowly decomposing.
“If we look over here near the interpretive center we have a giant big stump and then off to the south west is a giant log," Negley says. "That log has been on the ground for 150 years and it hasn’t decomposed. It is solid.”
That history was interesting to the humans among us, but after a long conversation the dogs were ready to go. We took them on a one-and-a-half mile hike and stopped for lunch at a sequoia tree that had been hollowed out by lightning.
How to hike with a dog - and enjoy it
Finding places to take your dogs in the outdoors can be surprisingly hard because every type of land falls under different guidelines. In Kings Canyon, Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks, dogs have to be on leash and generally can’t be on trails. But in Wilderness Areas, places owned by the Bureau of Land Management, and in Forest Service lands like Nelder Grove, dogs are welcome and sometimes allowed off leash. To be safe, it’s a good idea to look up the dog rules and always carry a leash just in case.
But the rules aren’t the only challenges. We asked our friends what they find tough about hiking with dogs, and why they sometimes leave their pets behind and hike solo. Our friend Christine loves the outdoors, but today is her first hike with her dog Duke. Duke is an adorable little furball, and Christine’s worried that he’ll look delicious to wild animals.
“The first thought that comes to mind for me is, what’s the wildlife situation like out here, animal wise,” she asks.
On the other end of the spectrum, our friend Michelle takes her dog Bart into the wilderness about once a week. She’s had the time and experience to solve the challenges she comes up against. For one thing, her old dog used to get tired on the trail—so she’d actually carry him out. Her new dog Bart can’t go on trails in national parks, so she’s found dozens of other nice dog hikes—like Shaver Lake, Courtright Reservoir, Tollhouse, and her favorite destination: the Eastern Sierra.
But what’s maybe most impressive is the training Michelle’s found to help Bart behave in the outdoors—including something called rattlesnake aversion therapy. The service she used involves giving dogs negative reinforcement with electric collars whenever they encounter a rattlesnake.
“So it's good because they teach them what to smell, what they sound like and what they move like,” Michelle says, “so if they see it out in the wild they're not going to go, ‘oh, what's that!’ Bart's a hunting breed—and he doesn't need to be hunting rattlesnakes.”
This training thing—it struck a chord for our friend Mackenzie, whose dog Nora is unpredictable and sometimes uncontrollable.
“She's an entirely different dog off the leash than she is on the leash. On the leash she's anxious, she's pulling, she's jumping on people, you take her off and she just is free. My right arm is probably way more muscular than my left at this point, just from walking her,” she says. “There's this stupid joke where everyone's always rolling their window down and they're like, ‘you walking the dog or is the dog walking you?’ So, yeah, I'm not interested in a leash walk. I don't do it unless I have to.”
Mackenzie’s concern is a pretty common one: How to control your dog so you both enjoy the outdoors. We wanted to know the answer, too. So a few days after the hike, we interviewed Candace Gregory, a retired firefighter based near Oakhurst who blogs about hiking with her dog—Sally E. Smith.
“Every dog needs to have a last name and a middle name,” Gregory says.
Candace has been hiking with the 5-year-old weimaraner for years, all throughout the Valley and the Sierra Nevada. She says the keys to making a dog wilderness-ready are understanding your dog and training it.
“If they haven’t been out on leash and haven’t been on hikes or walks, keeping them on leash and in control is an important thing,” she says. “And some dogs don’t play well with others. But knowing your dog is probably the best advice I can have, and knowing their limitations. Sometimes you’ll see dogs out on the trail that have muzzles on them. And it’s not because they’re necessarily mean dogs, but it’s because that owner is being responsible and making sure that dog doesn’t have the opportunity to do something bad.”
And, she says, sometimes it’s the dog owners themselves who need training.
“A dog really would like to please and do well, but sometimes we don’t know how to make that happen,” she says. “A trainer has been around the block many, many times and can help you give good, clear, consistent cues to your dog.”
It may sound pretty basic, but Candace reminds us it’s important to pack supplies for your dog—not just water and food, but maybe a water filtration system and a lightweight water bowl. She also carries a doggie first aid kid, ointment for sore paws, and…little dog booties?
“Sally has outfits, so she has different boots to go with her outfits, too,” she says. “She has real thin ones that I carry in a pack as a backup emergency in case I have to put them on, and she also has snow boots that go up to her knees. If you put them on your dog the first time, it is hilarious—have your video ready. They are stepping high and prancing, but they get used to it pretty quick.”
Okay, so we’ve talked about training, food and water; sweaters and boots, too. But what about Christine’s question? Are dogs in danger? Gregory says, well, yes—and she has the story to prove it. It all happened a few years ago on an old bulldozer trail at Shuteye Pass.
“Sally was walking about 20 feet or so in front of me. Sally started crying and yelping, and I ran up real quick and a mountain lion had her,” she says. “It had Sally’s head in its mouth and was trying to break her neck. It had all of its feet and claws hooked into Sally and wasn’t letting her go.
“I started backing away; I figured Sally was a goner. And then my hiking partner Rick ran up with his hiking pole and started beating on the mountain lion, and it did let go of Sally. I had Sally heel and we backed out and walked back to the car.
“She had lots and lots of stitches. Her personality didn’t change any—she still loves hiking and all—but I’m a little more cautious taking Sally in mountain lion country.”
So we asked her: is hiking with a dog worth all the risk and work?
“If you like to walk and hike, and if your dog likes to walk and hike, I think there’s probably a hike out there you both can do together," says Gregory. "And start small—it can just be walking down the street or in your local park. And don’t let it overwhelm you.
“I have a goal in life of having one adventure a week; being open to looking and seeing what you’re experiencing out there on the hike, whether it’s a beautiful fall leaf or a reflection in a creek or the snow-covered mountains. And sometimes your dog helps you find those things.”
Don't forget the wine and dog biscuits
If this is still all worth it to you, at the end of the day, know that there’s a place you can treat yourself and your pet. We’re talking about a dog-friendly wine bar called Yosemite Wine Tails. It’s located right on highway 41 in the middle of Oakhurst and about a half an hour from Nelder Grove.
From the outside it looks like any other business on this street, but inside there’s plenty of space for people and their pets. While humans peruse a long list of wine, beer and other goodies, every 4-legged patron gets a free treat and water from doggy fountains.
Colette and her husband run the bar along with a feed store and an animal boarding house. They love helping animals and their owners.
"I have taken those two passions and then turned them into a place where people can come, sit down and maybe explore wines that they under normal circumstance wouldn’t necessarily drink," says Goga. "If you’re a chardonnay fan it's time to come to Yosemite Wine Tails and try a malbec or a blend or something sweet. We’re not pretentious, we’re not going to tell you what to drink first second and third, but I will offer things that will appeal to different people and we do offer craft beer."
While we’re sipping wine the dogs get a little restless. Colette knows what to do. She walks over to a few tables covered with what look like pastries and cookies.
"They are not [for humans] and don’t they look amazing," says Goga. "The cannolis look like cannolis, there are cinnamon rolls that genuinely look like cinnamon rolls and truffles. They are all doggie cookies.”
As we move on to red wine, Colette tells us more about her motivation for opening this dog friendly wine bar. It all comes back to her relationship with her dog.
"That relationship between fur kids and their owners is a bond and it's amazing," says Goga. "People go everywhere with their dogs. So the marriage there is to enjoy a glass of beer or wine and have their pet legitimately be able to come in and just be without having to label it a service dog. Why? The answer is because I love my dog."