Roaming Free with Max and Cooper
Words and photos by Alison Turner of @alisontravels
I’ve circled the country a few times over the last nine years with Max, and I can’t imagine traveling without him – or with Cooper, my newly adopted rescue pup. When I adopted Max at a farmers market in 2009, little did he know (or I, for that matter) that he was about to embark on a completely new lifestyle of traveling to unknown destinations and seeing the country.
With my trusty old 4Runner and a newly purchased tent, we hit the open road for two years without a plan. Before the world started using iPhones and smart phone apps for directions to the perfect camping spot, I relied on the analog version of Google maps…an actual map. For tips and recommendations of unknown places, I used the little green tent triangle printed on some maps, random signs on the road, or I would put my faith in complete strangers to point me in the right direction. Having Max by my side every moment of the day made me feel less alone, and less afraid of taking risks to find an unknown destination. Even though he’s the size of a small pillow, he was the main reason I kept traveling and exploring. He brought comfort and laughter to my life each day, which was a welcome break from the stress and uncertainty that solo travel can bring at times. He taught me to take things a little slower and was a daily reminder to enjoy the small moments, like taking walks. Anytime I felt stressed, I just had to look at him and my anxiety would melt away. After two years in a tent together, I upgraded to a VW Eurovan Camper and never looked back. Living in a van during our travels with a hard shell added another layer of security and luxury to our adventures.
After 9 years of traveling together, I’m starting to see signs of him slowing down a bit. For reasons I am not 100 percent sure of, I decided on a whim in early January to adopt Cooper, a cattle dog mix puppy I saw at a rescue dog adoption event. He wouldn’t take his eyes off of me as I walked around his cage and once I took him out, I didn’t have the heart to put him back in… so off we went! Now we’re a pack of three and learning how to travel as a team together.
These days, it’s much easier to get away from the crowds and find solitude with your dog, or dogs. With just a few clicks, you can find paradise not too far from where you currently reside. As much as I think I know my current town or region, there are still millions of miles of land to explore in America.
I hope you turn down an unknown road in your area and find your perfect place to roam with your best friend. Here are a handful of places where we love to roam free:
I am often asked for dog friendly destinations and I seem to always tell people to seek out your local BLM lands. www.blm.gov – Because our public lands are so dog friendly, I search for them first so Max and Cooper can be free to roam and explore. Our personal favorite BLM locations are:
At the base of Mt. Whitney lies a place called Alabama Hills. Unique rock formations to climb and trails to explore make up this popular spot among boon dockers. It’s right off highway 395 in Lone Pine, CA, and is worth a stop to spend the night under the stars. There are plenty of dirt roads to take in search of your perfect spot to camp and the dogs can wander as they please.
Bonneville Salt Flats
The area is a great place to take photos since everything is against a white background. It’s one of those places where you just want to soak up the beauty and explore. You can unleash your pups and wander as you please. You can drive along the flats and stop wherever you want. The surrounding areas are a great place to camp for free.
Max, Cooper, and I come alive when we get to run around in the dunes. This location, like many dune locations that permit off road vehicles, allows dogs to run free. There is something about soft sand that gets Max and Cooper excited. Cooper is a digger and he’s free to dig while Max and I love the feeling of soft sand beneath our feet. We also enjoy Coral Sands State Park in Utah and the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado.
Eastern Sierra – Hwy 395 in California
If you venture out of Yosemite and head east, you’ll hit prime Eastern Sierra spots. My recommendation would be to stop at the ranger station near Mono Lake and ask about the best places to remote camp. I’ve found some amazing spots just by telling the ranger a little bit more about myself and what I’m looking for. If they don’t tell you exactly where to go, they will give you a map to explore. If you enjoy hot springs, they are scattered about the area and you’ll find some remote camping spots throughout the area.
There is so much BLM land in Utah, but our favorite spots are in Southern Utah.
Of course you’ll find some amazing national parks, but just outside of those parks, you can find hidden gems. As with the Eastern Sierras, I would locate the ranger station in Kanab (or any other city with a BLM ranger station) and ask about some dog friendly remote camps.
Joshua Tree Dry Lake Bed
You can camp next to people in the National Park with your pups on a leash, but just outside of the park is a large dry lake bed where you can camp wherever you want for free. It’s just a few miles off the main road in Joshua Tree, and once you make a few turns, you’ll be driving on the lake bed where you can boon dock anywhere. You can walk for miles and get lost in the hills or stay put and hang out where you are. Be sure to bring water and everything you need since there aren’t any services. As with any destination, be aware of the heat.
The Oregon Coast
One of the most dog friendly states I’ve found is Oregon. Although not all beaches allow your dog to roam free, I have yet to find a beach that didn’t allow dogs on a leash.
White Sands National Monument
Most National Parks allow your dog to enter and stay with you at a campsite but they are not allowed on the trails. For the most part, dogs are allowed off pavement in the park. One of the exceptions is White Sands National Monument. For $3, you can camp at a designated walk in site and bring along your dog(s). Don’t forget to bring food and water along with you. The campsites are primitive and the hike is about a mile in. You will never forget the sunrise over the dunes and the way the light hits the sand as the sun sets. Also, the sand is made out of gypsum crystals so it stays cool to the touch even when it’s hot outside.
While those are just a few of our favorite spots, as with many travelers, we have a few secret spots as well. The best part about traveling is exploring unknown roads and staying curious to what lies beyond the next curve in the road. I hope you get out there and enjoy the beauty of nature.
Alison Turner is a photographer, writer, and constant wanderer. She can be found roaming the country with her rescue dogs, Max and Cooper. You can view more photos and stories from the road on Instagram @alisontravels or on her website, www.AlisonTurnerPhoto.com.