Scarpa North America Blog

The Desert Dawg Trail

Feb. 3rd 2014

A piece from Ace Kvale, professional photographer and adventure-seeker.

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” ― John Muir

I went out for a walk this fall, a long walk. I walked out my front door and returned a month later, and in that time, I only crossed only one road. It took four years of planning the desert and canyon wilderness hike, with water sources, weather, and conditions all having to be just right.

I live right on the edge of the second-largest wilderness in the lower 48: the endless, wild and raw Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument. It is almost 2 million acres bordered by the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Capitol Reef National Park, and Canyonlands National Park. I headed out to find ancient routes, to explore, to step back in time. And it was right out the door.

I’ve always been intrigued by feats of endurance. Long-distance voyages and mountaineering classics fill my bookshelves. I’ve been on my share of expeditions, too. I have carried heavy loads, stood atop the summit of some beautiful peaks and had my share of close calls and near misses, but I’d never walked big distances. I had trekked in Nepal and India for more than a month, but for the most part, that’s not in the wilderness. I’ve also looked at other famous long-distance routes –the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail – but they seemed too popular to me. These places involved people setting records, GPS coordinates and companies that place your caches for you. I wanted to find my own way.

Since moving to Utah from the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, I have slowly, and respectfully, increased my knowledge of the desert and what it takes to explore this incredible region. It has grabbed hold of my imagination and my psyche. There is a raw beauty of this place – intense sunrises and sunsets, brutal wind and cold, and stifling heat. As I got to know the area, I spliced together three ten-day trips to form a big loop from the house and back.

I called it the Desert Dawg Trail. Desert Dawg is my long suffering, faithful companion cattle dog – a blue heeler I got from Sawpit, Colorado in 2005. Appropriately named Genghis Khan, the dog is a real trooper. Throughout the trip, he hardly even got a cactus spine in his paw.

The Desert Dawg and I pulled it off perfectly. My partners brought in my caches of food and supplies, and the weather cooperated mostly; we even brought enough tequila and dog food. We had some tense moments when water was scarce, but we always found a pothole big enough to get us through the night. One of the biggest challenges was navigation. I had routes marked on my maps, but to find them was complex and stressful. Sometimes I walked miles and miles across benchlands to locate a route into a canyon. I had all 17 maps loaded in my phone for safety, but we never used the app. Instead, we used only map and compass, the old-fashioned way. It was a long walk, but a worthy one.

Follow Ace & the Desert Dawg’s other adventures at

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