Wanderlist – Hiking With Dogs
There are some great places to hike in Texas, and they are even greater when you take your most loyal friend. On the podcast, we'll visit with Melissa Gaskill, author of “Best Hikes with Dogs: Texas Hill Country and Coast.” We'll also reveal some of our listener's favorite hiking spots, under the Texas sky.
UTTS: S3:E9: WANDERLIST – HIKING WITH DOGS
[SPONSOR] Under the Texas Sky is Brought to you in part by Toyota, a proud supporter of Texas Parks and Wildlife Programs. Toyota, Let’s Go Places.
[NARRATION] When it comes to hiking trails, Texas is like a treasure chest full of beautiful vistas, flora and fauna, scenic waterways with interesting and diverse topography in every region of the state. And when it comes to hiking companions, there’s probably no partner more willing to join us for adventure than our furry and loyal canines.
On the Wanderlist, Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine Editor Louie Bond and I discuss hiking with dogs. We’ll share some of our listener’s favorite trails with their companions, and we’ll talk with Melissa Gaskill, author of the book “Best Hikes with Dogs: Texas Hill Country and Coast.” She’ll share some important tips for us to remember the next time we hit the trail with our best friends. Stay with us.
[NARRATION] From Texas Parks and Wildlife, this is Under the Texas Sky’s Wanderlist. I’m Randall Maxwell, and joining me by phone is Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine Editor, Louie Bond.
[RANDALL & LOUIE]
[RANDALL] Hi Louie, how’s it going?
[LOUIE] Hi Randall. Doin’ great. How are you?
[RANDALL] Well I’m great, and this episode of Wanderlist is all about hiking with dogs. And Louie, you had kind of a close encounter of the unfortunate kind recently related to this topic didn’t you?
[LOUIE] Yes, unfortunately Randall, I’m coming to you from my bed today because I have a broken ankle. One of my favorite things to do is go walking in the woods and there is no better way to enjoy that than with your fur baby and I have a new Golden Retriever puppy, 5 months old and we go for a walk every morning out in the woods. It’s been all crisp and fall-like and I brought along my daughter’s dog on a long leash, a big old lab German Shepard and we were having the best time and looked down on the ground and there’s a big loop in the leash and my foot’s in the middle of it and I bend over to... well, you can imagine what happened. Snap, there goes my ankle.
[RANDALL] Oh goodness.
[LOUIE] While I love walking in the woods with the dogs, I’m going to have to take a break for a little while.
[RANDALL] Well, I hope it wasn’t too bad. I did see pictures you know because we’re connected on Instagram, and you know goodness that leg. It looks like you’ve got a storm trooper costume on.
[LOUIE] Well it’s a good thing we’ve been watching some of those Walking Dead TV shows ‘because I had to kind of zombie it back to my house through the woods after that. (laughter)
[RANDALL] Oh gosh.
[LOUIE] The dogs are fine by the way. (laughs)
[RANDALL] Well that’s good. (laughs) Well, dogs can be a priority in many situations when you’re hiking out in the woods or in the natural spaces. You need to look out for them don’t you?
[LOUIE] Right, besides my safety and not being a klutz, it’s like bringing a child. I mean you’re totally responsible for their experience, which could be wonderful or it could be awful if you’re not really paying attention to their needs.
[RANDALL] Now Texas State Parks do have rules about hiking with dogs. What are some of those Louie?
[LOUIE] You know, they are very generous rules, I mean, dogs are really welcomed in the park. But you just need to follow some basic safety procedures to make sure the dog is safe and that other campers are not, you know their enjoyment is not hindered by your dog’s presence. So if you go on the TPWD website, and you go into the parks section, you can find the rules very easily. The first one is that they always have to be on a leash. If they are not in a crate or in your car, they need to be on a leash no longer than 6 feet. The second rule is you can’t bring them into any of the buildings. And you might think that makes sense if there’s a little museum or a gift shop, but this does include cabins and restrooms, so you need to plan accordingly when you’re going to camp with your dog or visit. You can never leave your dog unattended, even at the campsite. Can’t leave them in the tent while you go for a hike, that’s not going to work. They are not allowed at designated swimming areas, but it doesn’t mean they can’t get in the water, but there are areas that are designated for public swimming and a lot of people don’t want to swim with dogs. Of course you have to have a current rabies vaccination. And of course you have to pick up and dispose of the dog’s waste. And a few parks have natural and cultural resources to protect, you know, cave paintings and some precious things like that. So, if you’re at Big Bend Ranch State Park, Enchanted Rock, Government Canyon, Hueco Tanks, Seminole Canyon, pay attention to signs and rules, ask at the office. And of course in this time of Covid, think about Covid safety as well for your dog. Don’t go up and pet other people’s dogs, or have them approach your dog. Keep a distance. It’s not hard to do and it keeps everybody safe. We don’t really know what role animals play in Covid, but no sense not being safe about it.
[RANDALL] Absolutely. Well, our listeners told us through our Instagram account of several places they like to hike with their dogs. What were some of the ones that stood out for you Louie?
[LOUIE] You know there were really some great responses. I think they mentioned just about every state park, every possible place you could go. Plus, other parks I’ve never even heard of. Some, like @kalynbaur, told us they’ve “Gotta keep it secret!” and I can appreciate that. (laughs) I totally agree with those like @Exploremoredfw and @firetigr26 and @joerod0077, they told us anywhere is perfect, as long as they’re with their fur babies. I one-hundred percent agree with that.
[RANDALL] Aww, that’s a good spirit isn’t it?
[LOUIE] Yeah it really is. Some like walking the beach. That’s a great place to walk your dog by the way, they really get freaked out by the waves crashing. Fastogpops walks the beach at Port A, Port Aransas, with his pal. We also want to give a huge shout out to our friend Dale Blasingame. He visited every state park in one year with his black Lab, Lucy. And so, he got on Instagram and answered our question about where do you like to hike with your dog by saying, “I’ll answer for Lucy: Palo Duro State Park.” And I’ve got to say, that is one great place to hike. I’ve never brought my dog there, but I’d like to do that.
[RANDALL] Well I know teresaanne46 mentioned South Llano State Park. There was a lot of mention, crystall_pistol said Lost Maples, Big Bend of course by mc_grammer. Ruddcharles said MacLean Park. Like you said, some of these places I’ve never heard of but they’re obviously great resources for people to get out and hike with their dogs.
[LOUIE] I think they are in every corner of the state, you know, the local parks, the big state parks, the national parks, anywhere that there’s a little space, some greenery and some sunshine, and if you’re lucky, a little bit of water running. It’s just a great place to share with your dog. It makes the whole experience so much richer. I find myself just smiling when I walk with my dog, not in my own thoughts, but sort of in my dog’s head where I just feel that freedom and that freshness of the air and it really gets you back to that place you need to be.
[MUS—LET'S GO FROLICKING]
[NARRATION] Next, we’ll speak with Melissa Gaskill, author of the book “Best Hikes with Dogs: Texas Hill Country and Coast.” But first…
[SPONSOR] Support from Toyota allows us to bring you stories from Under the Texas Sky. Toyota has been a proud sponsor of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation since 2002, providing generous support to help the department provide outdoor programs for Texans and to conserve the wildlife of the Lone Star State.
This is Under the Texas Sky’s Wanderlist from Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Randall Maxwell…Wanderlist is a collaboration with Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine. We’re talking about hiking with dogs, and joining me by phone is frequent and long-time contributor to Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine, Melissa Gaskill. She’s author of the book “Best Hikes with Dogs: Texas Hill Country and Coast.”
[RANDALL & MELISSA]
[RANDALL] Welcome Melissa. How are you?
[MELISSA] Thanks for having me. I’m good.
[RANDALL] Awesome. Well, you know this podcast is about hiking with dogs, all over Texas, but you specifically wrote this book about the Texas Hill Country and the coast. What’s good for dog owners to keep in mind when they take their companions out for hikes?
[MELISSA] Well, like anything, preparation is important. Hiking with your dog is great. Dogs love it, so it’s good for people, great times with your fur babies, but it pays to condition a little bit, which is easy, just go on walks and make sure your dog is in reasonable shape and good on a leash. And I recommend getting them used to any equipment or gear you might use. For example, a backpack is great. Most dogs can carry their own water and snacks and poop bags, but you want to get them used to that. You don’t want to go to the trailhead and put the backpack on ‘em for the first time. It might kind of freak them out. It’s pretty easy, you know, just put it on them. Make it pleasant. Give them treats, get ‘em used to it. Same thing with booties. There are a lot of places you hike where booties might be a good idea. Sharp or hot rocks, stickers, things like that. And again, you just want to get those and put ‘em on them at home and make it a pleasant experience and get them used to it so that they’re ready to go when you get to the trail.
[RANDALL] Well you know, I always think about water, and I see people carrying extra water bottles and things like that because they don’t know exactly where they will end up. What’s your view on how much water to take and picking places where there might be accessibility for water?
[MELISSA] Yeah, that’s a good point. I know there are a lot of places where there will be water. I do recommend carrying water for your dog as well as yourself because this is Texas and you may make a hike and there was water there the last time and there’s not water there this time. It’s also not necessarily safe to drink, even for your dog. I remember the past couple of summers here in Austin the lake had blue-green algae in the water which is toxic, and will kill dogs. So to err on the safe side, having them carry your own water is always a good idea, or some way of filtering water for them. The other issue with water is a lot of parks in Texas have alligators, and they recommend that you not let your dog drink out of pond that an alligator might be in, so yeah, I think carrying your own water is a good idea.
[RANDALL] And that is probably pretty important around the coast right?
[RANDALL] What about leashing. And the heat, and you know the other factors that can really beat down on animals?
[MELISSA] Yes. Heat is probably the biggest hazard out there. Dogs are much more susceptible to heat than we are. You know, they don’t sweat, they pant. If you’re hiking with your dog, he’ll keep going, you know, as long as you do, but you need to watch for warning signs. When they start panting really heavily, their tongues are hanging really far out. You know, the normal panting is kind of... hah, hah, hah, hah. But when they start going’... ah-herrrsk, ah-herrrsk, ah-herrrsk, like that, that there.. They are getting overheated, and it’s real important to pay attention and when you see those warning signs to stop, get in the shade, cool ‘em down, which if you can ‘em in water that’s a great idea, or if you can pour water on their head, if you can get their feet in water. Dogs also cool themselves off through the pads of their feet, which can create an issue if you’re walking on hot surfaces, it can make them even hotter. If you don’t have a creek or some water that’s safe to let them to get in, you can just take a bandana, get it wet and put it over their head. The main thing is stopping and getting in the shade and letting them rest. And leashes, it’s really important, you know state parks, they are supposed to be on a leash, and I know people love off-leash places, but really when you’re hiking out in nature it’s important to keep your dog on a leash and to stay on the trail, because some other hazards are things like snakes, which you know, your dog’s going to go running off the trail and into a bush or stick his nose in a culvert and run into a snake, so the leash is a real, a good thing to keep the dog safe as well. And the wildlife. You don’t want your dog harassing the wildlife, right?
[RANDALL] Exactly. And those are great points Melissa. Some of that terrain out there can be very rough, and I know you mentioned booties.
[MELISSA] On the coast you can have sharp shells. Some of the areas, grasslands, you’ve got a lot of stickers. You think of Enchanted Rock; I wouldn’t take my dog up the rock. I would take my dog to Enchanted Rock and do the loop trail, which is a great hike. If you are on granite, like at Enchanted Rock, that can be hot, and it can be sharp, so booties are a great idea just about anywhere.
[RANDALL] So, what went into doing research for your book Melissa?
[MELISSA] A lot of hiking (laughs). There are 55 different hikes in the book and I did all of them. So, it was over the course of about six months pretty intensely. I think I hiked about 300 miles.
[MELISSA] My dog, I had a mutt, a big 70 pound, beautiful Brindle dog who just wasn’t sure about hiking at first, but he grew to really love it. I kept a backpack, I had a particular backpack that was packed with all my gear for hikes, and he knew when I got that backpack out that it was time to go hiking and he would get pretty excited. But you know, we just went and did the hikes and experienced them ourselves. It was a lot of fun because I got to spend a lot of time out hiking and get paid for it. So, what can be better than that?
[RANDALL] Awesome, that sounds great. So what was the most memorable hike you can share with our listeners?
[MELISSA] Well, I will mention we did the loop hike at Enchanted Rock, as I mentioned. It’s a great hike. Fairly level, fairly dog-friendly in terms of the surface. There are some places you go over granite, but it’s a nice long hike, and the trail is nice and big and wide, and you can’t get lost. But it’s pretty brushy and gnarly on either side of the trail. And we came around a curve and I saw something in the trail up ahead and I thought, huh, a big stick in the trail. I kept walking and I got a little closer and I was questioning like... hmm, that’s not a stick, that’s a big snake. And took another few steps and said, that’s a big rattlesnake. Well, I’ll just kind of slowly approach and it will move away, right? So, we kind of slowly approached, and it didn’t move away (laughs).
[RANDALL] Oh no.
[MELISSA] It kind of lifted its head and looked at us. And I was like, okay, we’re going to back track and find a way around (laughter). It took some doing because it’s not like, you know, in the forest it’s real easy to go off the trail and go around and keep the trail in sight, but this was, again, it was pretty brushy, cactus, scratchy stuff, rough ground, but we found a way around. We did not go over the snake.
[RANDALL] Now, I’m just curious, you know, and I hear this from a lot with other hikers. Do you hike with a walking stick?
[MELISSA] I hike with a staff sometimes, a walking stick. I have a whole collection of them. I don’t always. But it probably would have been a good idea in that instance, but really if I see something like a snake, avoidance is the best thing. I’m going to avoid it, I’m going to give it a wide berth, I’m going to leave it alone. Hiking with poles, if you’re doing elevation change, it’s helpful, although that can get tricky if you’re hiking with a dog ‘cause you’re holding a leash.
[RANDALL] Yeah, and even more so, you know I would think encountering wildlife, that’s another real good reason to have a leash.
[MELISSA] Exactly. And my dog, his name is Max. Max will, he didn’t really pay a lot of attention to snakes. Some dogs are too curious about snakes. They don’t naturally, they don’t have that natural knowledge that that’s possibly a dangerous thing and I should avoid it. I know a lot of hunters take their dogs to snake aversion training because the dogs aren’t naturally necessarily worried. One of the interesting wildlife encounters we had, Max and I were at Palmetto State Park, and there was an armadillo out in the broad afternoon, rooting’ around in the leaves and stuff (laughter). You know, armadillos, I don’t think they see real well or hear real well, they don’t run real fast. It was kind of ignoring us, and Max was real curious. He was like, what the heck is that thing?
[MELISSA] He’s getting closer and closer, sniffing it, and finally the armadillo kind of went “woah” and ran off (laughter).
[RANDALL] Oh man, what memories, right?
[MELISSA] My recommendation if you’re going hiking somewhere you haven’t been is to talk to the rangers. Certainly the state park, the staff there, they know their parks. They love to talk about the parks. Ask them about trails, ask them about the weather, ask them, you know, what they recommend. They are very helpful and approachable.
[RANDALL] Yes, checking in with park staff is always important, you know, and weather is always a concern, right Melissa?
[MELISSA] Yes, it is. You know, this is Texas. We have thunderstorms that can come up without warning. We’ve got places that flood, flash floods, those are big hazards, and you don’t want to go wandering off and be four miles deep into the wilderness and get stuck in a big storm, so, that’s one thing that, again, the park staff or rangers are going to know. They can say, hey yeah there’s a big storm coming this way, take a short hike, or take the high ground. You want to know what the weather’s going to be and be prepared.
[MELISSA] And another thing is having some basic first-aid. The most common thing that’s going to happen probably with the dog is they’re going to scrape or cut their foot pad. I certainly didn’t want to carry my 70-pound dog back to the trailhead. You want to have just something to disinfect the wound, maybe some antibiotic lotion, gauze, tape, and then those booties. Because that way you can clean that wound, you can wrap some gauze around it and you can get the booty on and your dog can walk themselves back out.
[RANDALL] So bring treats, water, some you know, make sure you got some cool spaces for the dog if he gets real hot. Those are all great tips, and thanks so much for your time Melissa.
[MELISSA] You bet, you're welcome. Thanks for having me.
[MUS—BACK AT HOME]
[NARRATION] We’re done wandering for this podcast…but Louie Bond and I—or our executive producer, Cecilia Nasti—will be back with more fascinating things to see and places to explore in the Lone Star State.
Before heading to any state park, historic site or natural area, call ahead.
Also, keep an eye on the Under the Texas Sky Instagram account, which is @Underthetxsky. We’ll use it to notify you of some of the Wanderlist subjects we plan to cover, and give you a chance to ask questions, some of which we’ll answer on the podcast.
Under the Texas Sky is a production of Texas Parks and Wildlife. We produce our Wanderlist series in partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine in the Media Production Studios in Austin, Texas. Yours truly did our sound design. Whitney Bishop does our social media. And we get distribution and web help from Susan Griswold and Benjamin Kailing.
Stream or download Under the Texas Sky and Under the Texas Sky’s Wanderlist wherever you get your podcasts. And please leave a review while you’re there and let us know how we’re doing and what you’d like to hear.
Until next time…keep on wandering Under the Texas Sky. I’m Randall Maxwell.