Great, I remember thinking. After driving hundreds of miles to get to Big Bend National Park, now I find out my dog isn’t even supposed to be on any of the trails. Fortunately, I tended to treat some rules regarding dogs loosely at the time. Brutus was my only companion on this brief vacation, so we would avoid any crowds — part of the vacation plan, anyway — and keep a low profile whenever on the trails.
Big Bend temperatures were already soaring in early June, so few people were there anyway. To avoid the sun’s blistering mid-day heat, I scheduled most activities for morning or late afternoon, and planned to head back to camp daily for a mid-day meal and some serious siesta time.
The morning after our arrival, Brutus and I headed out to Boquillas Canyon, in the eastern part of the park. We arrived early enough to find a totally deserted scene along the Rio Grande. We took the short walk from the parking lot to the canyon opening where Brutus got to enjoy romping around at the edge of the river. Suddenly, he looked around and started barking as he saw a family approaching.
“Touch me and I’ll throw you in the river, dog!” the father announced loudly, more cheery than threatening. Brutus backed off a bit, startled, and ran over to me to check in. I assured the fellow Brutus was harmless. “Oh, I know,” he said grinning, and came over to greet us. Brutus happily accepted a new set of friends., and over the next several days, we would run into these folks several times throughout the park. Without fail, every time he saw us, the father would shout out, “Et tu, Brute!” both alarming and intriguing Brutus.
One day, we started to go to the Hot Springs but found the road closed at the highway, due to flooding. Since it was only a couple of miles from the road, I parked and we headed off down the closed dirt road about mid-morning, enjoying the guaranteed solitude.
Eventually, we reached the trail by the Hot Springs, and found the river quite high indeed, overrunning the sidewalk wrapped around the cliffs that would lead to the ruins of the Hot Springs settlement. I would have been willing to walk on the flooded trail up to my knees, but realized Brutus might be washed away in the current, so we gave up and headed back to the van.
By now, the sun was baking the landscape, bleaching the colors out with bright light. Walking back up the dirt road, Brutus started a routine of running ahead of me to squat down in whatever slight shade a small bush might provide. He would watch me walk past him, wait a minute or two, then give up the shade to tag up with me, then trot slowly on ahead, panting, headed for the next minuscule patch of shade.
Finally, he found a some scrub brush large enough to cast a shadow that would cover his whole body. This time, as I reached him, he was completely covered by the shade, panting but smiling as I walked past. I went a ways further, figuring he’d come running — but this time, he didn’t. I walked a little further still, till I thought he’d have to follow along, but still no Brutus. I yelled for him to come to no avail. Already hot and bothered myself, I strode angrily back to where he was, saying, “C’mon, now!”
But when I reached down to grab him, he bared his teeth and growled. “Okay,” I said gingerly, backing up. He looked sheepish but insistent. “We can rest a little.” He let me share a little of his shade and in a matter of minutes, willingly joined me for rest of the walk back to the van.
After a couple of days camping in the Rio Grande Village, we moved up to the Chisos Basin. My big goal for the trip was an overnight hike to the South Rim, some 14 miles or so round-trip. To check out the trail — and my stamina — I decided to go part of the way up with a half-pack one day, and then return to make the whole hike the next. When I reached the Laguna Meadows trail juncture where I planned to turn back, I realized I’d made over half the elevation change — and it hadn’t been easy. Thinking about returning the next day to do it again, but with a heavier pack, I took a deep breath, turned to Brutus, and said, “Let’s keep going.”
Sure enough the rest of the hike up went smoothly, and we made the crest of the South Rim where the incomparable vista stretches out around you, across the desert flatlands and the river with its canyons to the distant mountains of Mexico. I may never get there again, but me and Brutus made that hike.
That night, I was awakened not by a sound or a sight, but a smell. The stench of a javelina invaded my tent and my nose and I got up to chase the beast away, only to discover the smell was — Brutus. Somehow, he’d gotten that powerful odor all over him — chasing one or rolling around near a dead one…who knows? But I found I could not get back to sleep with him lying near the tent so I finally chained him to the picnic table 20 feet away so I could get some rest. “Sorry,” I explained as he settled down to rest, looking insulted, “Nothing personal.”
After one final day in the Chisos Moutain Basin, we headed for the highway and the long drive home. Somewhere out along that West Texas highway, I stopped at a roadside picnic table to take a break. Brutus popped out of the van and headed under the barbed wire fence and disappeared. He seemed to find something of intense interest over there, so after waiting a few minutes, I went over to check it out. I found him chewing up a family-size packet of steaks — that had gone seriously green. He was one or two steaks in and had another to go when I saw him. “No!’ I shouted, and started to take the stinking meat away from him. For the second time that trip, Brutus growled at me, making it abundantly clear he was not leaving until he was done. I gave up and walked back to the van to wait.
He came trotting over sheepishly a few minutes later, jumped in and we started down the darkened highway again, windows wide open to the West Texas night. About 10 miles down the road, I heard Brutus starting to gag a couple of times. When I looked over, I saw him turn to the window, lean out further out and heave, ridding his body of the rancid meat.
He turned to me with a broad doggie grin, never once connecting the barfing to the green steaks — just happy for both.