If you go to the nearest freeway on a clear day and face south you can see a mountain in the distance with a giant rectangle tombstone on it. That mountain is Mt. Umunuhm, which Mom pronounces by singing, “Mt. Umunuhm, doot-doooo-de-doo-doo, Mt. Umunuhm, doot-doo-de-doo…” We had never visited a mountain whose name was a song, so we decided that it would be a good weekend adventure. Mom checked the park’s website, and when she saw the little icon that looked like me being a good boi, she set the map and away we went.
We drove toward the tombstone on Mt. Umunuhm (“doot-doooo-de-doo-doo”) until the freeway lost interest. Then we followed skinnier roads that twisted and turned to hang on to the mountain like a rodeo. When we got to the park entrance, a sign said, “NO DOGS ON TRAILS, ROADS, PARKING LOTS, OR IN CARS!”
“What the…” Mom said, slowing down and looking around with more attention. “No dogs in cars? Is this a joke?” As we went deeper into the park, someone had nailed a sign with my picture and a big line through it to every No Parking, and Speed Limit sign on the road like NOT WANTED signs. “All right, all right, I get the hint…” Mom said, turning the car around and driving back the way we’d come.
Across the bucking mountain road from the no-stowaway-dogs park was another park. California dogs need to be experts in the different kinds of parks if they don’t want park bounty hunters to demand a reward for capturing them, or spend their whole lives driving from one mountain to the next looking for a place they’re allowed to hike. National and state parks are the worst, and never let dogs leave their cars behind. National Forests and Wilder-ness areas are more open minded to four-legged hikers. Open Space Preserves are backstabbing traitors because each one makes up its own rules, and sometimes changes its mind in the time it takes you to drive there after you’ve looked up the rules on the internet. But a county park was a new place to us, and we didn’t know what their dog rules would be.
From the parking lot we could see signs in every direction that said, “ALL PET OWNERS MUST CLEAN UP AFTER THEIR ANIMALS!”
and, “BAG YOUR WASTE!”
and, “THERE IS NO POOP FAIRY!”
and the most welcoming sign of a dog-friendly trail: a birdhouse full of free poop bags next to a trash can! What’s more, this trail must have preferred dog hikers to human hikers, because despite being a lovely and clean dog bathroom there was no human bathroom at all.
When Mom and I got out of the car, the man in the car next to us was also getting ready for his hike. “Are you going to be heading out soon?” the man asked. “Because if so we’ll wait for you.”
I walked up to him with my butt flapping in friendship, “Hello! Do you have imaginary friends? That’s a little strange, but that’s okay. I like strange people,” I told him as I sniffed at the hand he held out to me.
As his smell of relaxation and friendliness hit my nose, something else hit my ears. “YOU GET AWAY FROM THE CAPO, YOU STINKIN’ JABRONI! HE AIN’T LETTIN’ YOU KISS HIS RING!” his car screeched.
“HEY BLOCK HEAD, ONCE WE GET OUTTA THE SLAMMER YOU’RE REALLY GONNA BE SORRY!” the car squealed. I looked up, and inside the man’s car was a wriggling pair of Italian greyhounds climbing all over each other for the best spot to bark their rage.
“OH! A WISE GUY, HUH?!”
“GET OUTTA HERE! GO ON! SCRAM! SCREW!”
Mom and I hurried down the trail without looking at a map so that The Mob could start their hike. But after a minute or two, the trail bumped against the road and we had to turn around. When we got back to the parking lot access path, the kind man and his two dainty goombas. He stopped so we could pass, and I shouted, “HEY, YOU TWO BIG-MOUTHED FIDDLEHEADS!” I barked at them. “THIS COUNTY PARK AIN’T BIG ENOUGH FOR THE TWO OF US!” I had no idea if that was true, but since Mom had brought a real authentic-looking cowboy hat for me to wear today, talking with old west sass was fun.
Then Mom shouted, “Sorry! I don’t know where we’re going!” Then she hustled on down the trial so that we could give the pint-sized goons their space.
Not far down the trial Mom found a big rock that she liked the looks of. It had different colored moss all over it, and curly witch trees behind it. She told me to “up-up” onto it, and put my very authentic cowboy hat on my head for a few pictures. I had taken a disliking to that hat, though, and let it drop off my head as soon as she put it on. When she gave up taking pictures and leaned over to pick up the very authentic cowboy hat, she saw the nice don with his two bantam hooligans out of the corner of her eye. She clipped the leash on me in a hurry, and hustled down the trail as fast as the bum in her leg would let her walk. But they had gained too much ground on us while I was having my photo shoot, and now they were gaining on us.
“On your mark, get set, go!” Mom said, and then she did something that she hasn’t done in months: she waddled a few steps in something like a run. It wasn’t fast, and she stopped after about ten seconds, but for a few moments it was like the good old days where we knew everything the other was doing without having to say anything or even look at each other. Then she slowed down to a walk again. But every time we heard the tinkle of dog bling behind us, we jogged for a few seconds to get ahead again.
After about a mile of low-speed chase by the Italian greyhound mafia, Mom decided that as good as it felt to be sort-of-running again, she didn’t want to spend our whole hike fleeing a couple of half-pint hoodlems. So when the witch trees opened up onto a huge meadow with views of Mt. Umunuhm (“doot-doo-doo”) and all the other peaks around them, we wandered away into the meadow to let our stalkers pass.
When we got to the next fork in the road, we could see the bantam heavies guarding the trail a little ways up, so we decided to go in the downhill direction. The trail turned out to be a dead end, which means that there were dead people at the end. It crept behind the hill into a private valley where the other mountains couldn’t see. Further along that valley, before the mountain fell away into even deeper solitude, we found an old cemetery guarded by a wild turkey. Mom wanted to look at the gravestones inside the fence, but there was nothing there but old stumps. I wanted to chase the turkey, but Mom wouldn’t let me. So I barked at him, and he moseyed slowly in terror into a grove of witch trees. “This cemetery ain’t big enough for the two of us!” I barked after him. I thought that maybe I should use another bad-sass western phrase, but Mom and I haven’t seen many westerns so that was the only one I knew.
Even though I don’t know much about the Old West, this park sure did. We walked for miles and miles, and around every bend in the trail I discovered more ruins from the gold rush. There wasn’t just the giant tombstone on top of Mt. Umunuhm (“doot-doo-doo”) and the old stump cemetery. I also discovered an old mill, wooden stilts for mine cart tracks, and many, many old houses lying in all the positions of relaxation between house-shaped and wood-pile-shaped. Each of the ancient ruins I discovered had a sign or two in front of it explaining what the wood pile was before it fell down. I would have had Mom read them to me, but the didn’t have any colors or dogs in them, so I figured they must be very boring.
After more than five miles of hiking, we were on our last new trail before hiking back to the car I saw a stick lying in the middle of the trail. What was strange about this stick was that there were no trees as far as the eye could see, so a dog with a lot of self control must have carried it a long way without stopping to chew it up. When Mom saw the stick, she froze. Then she took a step forward, and the stick moved.
It wasn’t a stick at all! It was a spaghetti monster! “There’s something I’m supposed to remember about these things,” I said, straining at the leash to get my nose close enough to take a better sniff.
“NO!” Mom yipped, taking a step back so that we would be further away from the spaghetti monster.
“No, I think it was really important!” I said, pulling even harder so that I could get at the spaghetti monster before it disappeared off the trail. “Whatever it was, it was something that I was really supposed to remember.”
Just then, we heard a humming sound and Mom pulled my leash even shorter. When the yellow plastic pine cone on the back of the spaghetti monster the only part of it left on the trail, a bike with a man on top came buzzing around a corner. Mom had been frozen staring at the spaghetti monster, but she flash melted and waved at the man to come closer to us. But the man was too enchanted by what a good looking dog I am, and didn’t pay any attention to where he was going or the crazy lady waving her bingo wings next to me. At the last second, he looked back at the trail in front of him where the spaghetti monster had been only half a second before, and then he saw the spaghetti monster sneaking into the bushes. He made a surprised noise and almost fell off of his bicycle as he jerked sideways. Luckily, both the man and the spaghetti monster were alright and kept going on their way.
By the time we got back to the car, we had hiked more than seven miles and still had only seen a small part of all the things the County Park had to show us. Which is good, because the air conditioning in the Covered Wagon doesn’t work, so it’ll be good to explore nearby adventures that we don’t need the Covered Wagon to get to.
Oscar the Pooch