How to honor your late pet in nature without leaving a trace (2024)

Table of Contents
3 things to do The must-read P.S.

There’s no getting around it: Losing a pet is awful. No matter the circ*mstances, it leaves a hole in one’s heart that will never completely go away.

When your pet was also a loyal companion on outdoor adventures like hiking and camping, those experiences can take on a whole new meaning. Suddenly a favorite activity that provided relaxation and escape is shaded with melancholy because you’re missing the four-legged friend who made it feel complete.

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In the early days of the pandemic, I started hiking with Daysi, a golden retriever mix my family adopted seven years ago. It was an excuse to get out of the house and explore the far reaches of the San Fernando Valley, Riverside and Orange County on blissfully empty freeways. We’d usually return home happy, tired and energized by the change of scenery.

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Taking a break on Kenter Fire Road Trail.

(Laura Randall)

Daysi wasn’t an especially athletic dog. Rescued from the streets of Tijuana at about a year old, she found other dogs (and most children) annoying, favored sleep over playtime and never met a tennis ball she wouldn’t let bounce off her nose.

But her loyalty to her family was unmatched. She was always there to lick away tears, curl up at our feet for hours and project deep, unconditional love with her hazel eyes. She was a Velcro dog who never wanted to be left behind. We took her on road trips to Big Bear, Sedona, Sequoia and even the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

“Thank you for bringing me,” she seemed to say with her ear-to-ear grin as we steered the packed car onto the highway. “I have no idea where we’re headed, but I’m sure it will be fun.”

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Daysi on the road.

(Laura Randall)

She brought that same spirit to the local trails we explored, including Marshall Canyon in La Verne, Kenter Fire Road in West L.A., the upper Arroyo Seco Trail in north Pasadena and O’Melveny Park in Granada Hills.

When Daysi died of lymphoma last year at the too-young age of 9, it shook my family to the core. Adjusting to life without her was hard for all of us.

I was afraid hiking without her would be too painful, so I stayed off the trails for a while. But as the weeks went by, I realized I wanted to do something that honored her and brought me some closure at the same time.

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Cooling off in the creek along Marshall Canyon Trail.

(Laura Randall)

I discovered there are many options to pay tribute to a pet in Southern California. The L.A. Pet Memorial Park is an oasis of shade trees in Calabasas and the final resting place for celebrity animals including one of the MGM lions and Hopalong Cassidy’s horse. Individual makeshift graves along trails honor dogs, cats and even turtles, though most are unsanctioned and even illegal. At Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve in Escondido, you can hike up to a post affixed with dozens of collars left by the owners of dogs that once frolicked in the property’s creeks and forests. (The memorial is so covered in collars that it’s best to just admire the view there rather than add to it.)

Nothing seemed quite right for Daysi, so I reached out to the Southern California hiking community online about honoring a canine hiking partner. The responses I received were thoughtful and sympathetic but united in their firmness: Don’t do anything that will disturb nature. A couple of people suggested picking up trash or the abandoned plastic poop bags that every hiker knows and loathes. Another person proposed taking the GPS coordinates of a tree on a favorite trail and leaving a micro amount of her ashes at its base.

I ultimately built a small cairn for Daysi in my backyard under a camellia tree. Every few days, I place a newly fallen flower next to the cairn. It never fails to make me think of her and the joy she brought to our family.

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The author and her dog, left, in Bryce Canyon National Park. A backyard cairn memorializes the author’s hiking companion without leaving a trace.

(Theo Kimble; Laura Randall)

I’ve also returned to hiking with enthusiasm. Sometimes I bring our new dog, a goofy, ebullient golden retriever named Boris. Other times I opt for trails that don’t allow dogs, like Temescal Ridge in Pacific Palisades or the backcountry trails of Crystal Cove State Park.

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Wherever I go, I try to follow Daysi’s motto and enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

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3 things to do

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Sandstone bluffs and wildflowers along the trails of Gypsum Canyon Wilderness in northern Orange County.

(Laura Randall)

1. Hike amid wildflowers and rock formations in Orange County
Gypsum Canyon Wilderness is a breathtaking oasis of sandstone bluffs, oak-lined meadows and expansive views on 500 acres near the intersection of the 241 and 91 freeways. Part of Irvine Ranch Open Space, it opened in November and is accessible to the public only through scheduled programs and monthly wilderness days. On Saturday, its six miles of easy to moderate trails (abloom with native plants and wildflowers like white sage and Matilija poppies right now) are open for self-guided hiking and biking from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. No registration is required, but access is first come, first served until parking capacity is reached. For more information, go to letsgooutside.org.

2. Pick blueberries in Somis
It’s berry season in Southern California, and Underwood Farms in southern Ventura County is bursting with them. The farm’s Somis branch offers pick-your-own opportunities every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Containers and pull wagons are included in the $3-per-person admission cost, plus the cost of the berries ($3.50 a pound for strawberries, $6.50 a pound for blueberries and $5.50 a pound for raspberries). The Somis branch is smaller and typically less crowded than Underwood’s Moorpark facility, and it includes picnic tables, a play area and opportunities to pet goats, alpacas and sheep. For more information, go to underwoodfamilyfarms.com.

3. Protect the ocean in Long Beach
In honor of World Oceans Day, the Long Beach Lifeguard Assn. and Algalita Marine Research and Education Center are hosting a beach cleanup at Junipero Beach Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. The zero-waste event will provide reusable gloves and bags to all volunteers. Visit eventbrite.com to register and get more information.

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The must-read

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(Mat Voyce for The Times; photo by Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Many of my favorite hikes, like Beaudry Loop and Amir’s Garden, made it into The Times’ latest guide to the best trails in Los Angeles. But I also learned about some new ones that I can’t wait to try: Hoyt Mountain above La Cañada Flintridge, the Cave of Munits in West Hills and Long Canyon in Simi Valley’s Woodridge Open Space. Whatever your hiking level and neighborhood, you are likely to find a compatible hike (or 10) on this wide-ranging list. And if you see any of your favorites missing, feel free to drop us a line.

Want to spend even more time in the outdoors? Check out this guide to scoring a campsite near L.A. without booking ahead.

Happy adventuring,

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P.S.

Rattlesnake season is underway and hikers from all over Southern California are posting about close encounters with the venomous predators. Before hitting the trails, I recommend checking out this Times article, which covers everything from how to react to a snake on the trail (don’t scream, for one) to what to do if you get bitten.

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For more insider tips on Southern California’s beaches, trails and parks, check out past editions of The Wild. And to view this newsletter in your browser, click here.

How to honor your late pet in nature without leaving a trace (2024)
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