By Melissa Bowersock – 

Hiking with your dog in Arizona can be pure pleasure… and challenging. It’s no secret that Arizona presents a unique set of circumstances to those who enjoy exploring with their dogs. In the Verde Valley, we have every kind of wilderness to explore, from mountain trails like Doe Mountain to more level trails like the Bell Trail to longer, more arduous trails like Sycamore Canyon.

I live in Camp Verde, about 7 miles east of I-17 off Highway 260, and while the trails near me are not quite as well known as the above, there are still plenty to choose from. When choosing a hike, the most important aspect to take into consideration—first, last, and always—is the weather.

A leisurely dry hike (most of the time) is Wickiup Creek, a large wash that cuts across Highway 260 east of Camp Verde. It’s an easy hike on level ground, but on either side of the wash are scrub mesquite and desert willow, and thick brush of catclaw and wild grasses. Very often hidden among those grasses are hedgehog and prickly pear cactus.

As much as my Airedale, Annie, would love to roam freely, there are just too many hazards to being off-leash. If Annie jumped a jackrabbit, she’d be off like a shot, and cactus be damned.

I always pack water for Annie, but in the summer when it’s hot, we also have to take “shade breaks.” Annie loves to burrow into cool, shady sand, digging and rolling, so those breaks add to the hike time.

I also use a cooling vest on her. She doesn’t like it—runs and hides when she hears me wringing the water from it—but I do believe it keeps her cooler in the heat.

There are many cooling vests available, and most act like a portable evaporative cooler. I soak Annie’s in water, let it suck up as much water as possible, then wring it out and put it on her. When we return from our walks and I take it off of her, her back is still nice and cool.

Hiking Wickiup Creek wash is better in cooler weather, but then I have to be mindful of rain. Since the wash starts up in higher terrain, monsoons there often trigger flash floods. Even days after a heavy rain, hiking is difficult due to the many pockets of sticky clay.

My first experience with those pockets led to many hours of washing the clay out of Annie’s soft coat and feet. She was definitely not a fan.

Another fun but dry place is Teepee Rocks. This is just off Fossil Creek Road, not far from Highway 260. Teepee Rocks were formed by fumaroles venting volcanic gases thousands of years ago. Now, they are a crazy and fascinating landscape, looking a little like a cross between Bedrock City and Luke Skywalker’s home planet. This is another place that gets very hot during the summer, and actually should be avoided until cooler weather, as the rocky surfaces really radiate heat.

For the best wet adventure, we go to West Clear Creek. Most of the time, the creek is a gentle stream with a few burbling waterfalls created by dams of rocks and lodged deadwood.

Those dams back up into peaceful pools where Annie can wade or swim, and of course get a long drink of clear, cool water. But, as with all watercourses in Arizona, the creek can become a raging river when we get unrelenting rain, and we’ve seen it grow from ten or twelve feet across to fully a quarter-mile wide at high flood.

Whether you’re hiking wet or dry, yes, watch the ground, but always keep an eye on the sky!