Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sometimes the best hikes are close to home

As our year with Smokey is drawing to a close, we are trying to make every minute count. We are working hard to reinforce his learned commands so he's ready for IFT (In for Training). We are verifying that he's met all the required exposures.  We want him to be successful and we want him to be ready for the next part of his life's journey.  Selfishly, tho, we're also spending lots of quality time with our little boy, enjoying each and every moment we have left with him. Smokey is such a loveable little guy and he has brought such joy to our hearts this past year!

One of the things we really enjoy is hiking.  We are not what some would call "bushwackers", meaning we kind of like staying on established trails.  We have enjoyed hiking in the mountains of Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Glacier National Park, the Rainforest in Washington state, the Appalachian trail in Tennessee and even on a glacier in Alaska.  One of the things we love about living in Texas is our mild  winters. On this brisk winter day, we wanted to spend some quality time with Smokey, outdoors - letting him be a puppy, and enjoying a luxurious romp in the woods.

It just so happens that we live right next door to about 1500 acres of wildlife refuge which is part of the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge.  It has been a wildlife refuge for about 10 years or so.  Prior to that it was a working ranch.  Funny as it sounds we have never taken advantage of the trails right next door.  Smokey gets to go on a "fun walk" (eg non-"working") walk every once in a while, so we picked a relatively cool day and set out on a hike next door.

Come on mom, we're waiting on you!

We used a "long line" on Smokey because even though it was a "fun walk" we also worked on recalls along the way.  Having a guide dog that doesn't "come" when called is not too useful, so we work on recalls often.

One of Smokey's most favorite things is spanish moss, which is prolific here on the Texas Gulf Coast. When in jacket, Smokey is trained to ignore distractions such as moss, but today we're on a fun walk and we let him play with it for a little while. He is still a puppy, and we let him embrace it today...

 After a minute or two of play, he dropped the moss on command and walked away.  Such a good boy! 

We started out thinking this would be a short hike to Scoby lake, a horseshoe shaped lake that is nestled in the middle of all these woods. When we first bought our property and built our house, the lake was within view of our kitchen window. Our boys would take the kayaks out to the lake and catch bass, and even run from an alligator or two.The woods are now thick and dense, and we can no longer see the lake from our house.  But, we thought it would be a quick hike to the lake. After walking for quite some time, and much to our surprise, we found a bench tucked away in the woods.

Nestled in these woods are some very large and very old Live Oak trees. In fact, the largest Live Oak trees in the state of Texas are here in the San Bernard National wildlife refuge.

Some of these live oak trees are over 200 years old. They date back to the days when the Karawanka, local native Americans, hunted and lived in this area.

Smokey - checking out all the smells.
Maybe he will find a long lost arrow head?!

Nah, just some rabbit pellets. Ew. Yuk!

You can see the trails are pretty well maintained.  With the drought here in Texas, mud sure isn't a problem. We walked for several hours out here, enjoying the sunshine and the creek running alongside the property.

Almost like Little Red Riding Hood finding Gradma's house in the woods, we came across this beautiful park and pavillon...a well kept secret here in the wild.  What used to be the care taker's ranch house is now a ranger station, park, and picnic grounds.

Nearby is a pier built out over the lake (at this moment, the lake bed is still dry due to the long Texas drought) and a blind, or hut, for wildlife viewing such as alligators and water fowl (when there is water, that is!).

Smokey checks out the hut..

hey mom, you got a snack? We've been walking a long time and I'm hungry!

Yeah, I thought so!  Mom always comes prepared.

Time for a little nap...Walking makes me sleepy.

Ahhh..this is the life...

After several hours of hiking and play, it's time to head for home.

Oh, what a beautiful day!

Until next time.....

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