The wildlife and landscapes of summer on the tundra in northwest Alaska


Tiny hunting cabins speckle the landscape as you drive down Kougarok Road, which skirts the Sawtooth Mountain range. I definitely wouldn't have minded making this little blue hut - or any number of the cabins, really - my summer home. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Tiny hunting cabins speckle the landscape as you drive down Kougarok Road, which skirts the Sawtooth Mountain range. I definitely wouldn't have minded making this little blue hut - or any number of the cabins, really - my summer home. © Jaymi Heimbuch


After a long trip, it takes a few days to catch up on sleep and the emails, snail mail, laundry, unpacking and other chores waiting for me at home. It takes a few more days to sort through images, deleting the misfires and almost-hads and what-was-I-thinkings, and sorting the maybe-winners from the definitely-winners. It takes a few more days after that to think about what I have left, and what of those images that I truly love and work as a photograph.

By the time I'm ready to sit down and show some images, I'm weeks removed from the trip and the memories are fading. I go from remembering details across many hours of each day to remembering just the highlights of each day. Often, those highlights coincide with the favorite images. Favorites are more than just keeper photos. They nearly always have real memories attached to them.

In early June, a good friend of mine, Donald Quintana, and I visited Nome, Alaska. It was his second time there, but my first, and my first time witnessing the height of summer just south of the Arctic circle where days are so long you forget how to tell time. There's also birds in breeding plumage that you never see farther south. And baby musk oxen with their squee-inducing moments of cute. But the light, especially the hours of gold on each side of twilight, just might be the best gift of summertime this far north.

Gathered here are my favorite little moments from five days on the tundra next to the Bering Sea.

A large male musk ox still shedding his winter coat was the first mammal spotted on the trip, quietly grazing on a hillside in the golden light of late (very late) evening.  © Jaymi Heimbuch

A large male musk ox still shedding his winter coat was the first mammal spotted on the trip, quietly grazing on a hillside in the golden light of late (very late) evening.  © Jaymi Heimbuch

We were lucky in our timing of the trip, arriving with the full moon. The first evening we saw it rise over the bearing sea, and a few hours later watched it drop back down into the blue. Nome, Alaska and the Bering Sea just before sunrise. © Jaymi Heimbuch

We were lucky in our timing of the trip, arriving with the full moon. The first evening we saw it rise over the bearing sea, and a few hours later watched it drop back down into the blue. Nome, Alaska and the Bering Sea just before sunrise. © Jaymi Heimbuch

While we had the full moon dropping down to the horizon on one side of us, we had the sun rising over the mountains on the other side. Pink woolly lousewart flowers (Pedicularis lanata) are backlit by the rising sun. © Jaymi Heimbuch

While we had the full moon dropping down to the horizon on one side of us, we had the sun rising over the mountains on the other side. Pink woolly lousewart flowers (Pedicularis lanata) are backlit by the rising sun. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Our jeep was a good friend to us on the trip. Always happy to handle bumpy roads without complaint! © Jaymi Heimbuch

Our jeep was a good friend to us on the trip. Always happy to handle bumpy roads without complaint! © Jaymi Heimbuch

Though they are mostly a drab grey with a white neck during winter, red-necked grebes sport gorgeous deep copper necks during the breeding season. The glistening feathers are quite a sight in the setting sun. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Though they are mostly a drab grey with a white neck during winter, red-necked grebes sport gorgeous deep copper necks during the breeding season. The glistening feathers are quite a sight in the setting sun. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Two red-necked grebes do a courtship call in a pond during mid-day. It was interesting to see birds paired up and staking out nesting sites on all the ponds in the area. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Two red-necked grebes do a courtship call in a pond during mid-day. It was interesting to see birds paired up and staking out nesting sites on all the ponds in the area. © Jaymi Heimbuch

An early morning catch of a muskrat made a great breakfast for this red fox. He didn't stay long to pose for us before trotting off proudly with it. © Jaymi Heimbuch

An early morning catch of a muskrat made a great breakfast for this red fox. He didn't stay long to pose for us before trotting off proudly with it. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Speaking of muskrats... Here is a happy, healthy muskrat staying well clear of the foxes. They waffle between being adorably cute and a creepy-looking ROUS, depending on how they're watching you. But most of the time, they're pretty adorable. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Speaking of muskrats... Here is a happy, healthy muskrat staying well clear of the foxes. They waffle between being adorably cute and a creepy-looking ROUS, depending on how they're watching you. But most of the time, they're pretty adorable. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Sometimes you get weirdly lucky. We were driving along a stretch of road when Don noted that just up the road was a snow patch was where he photographed an accommodating rock ptarmigan the year before. Sure enough the snow patch was still there, and as we neared it, Don exclaimed, "No way!" and pulled over. At the top of the very same patch of snow was a rock ptarmigan that, for all we know, is the very same bird. Because of the changes in plumage over the seasons, we can't know for sure. But this one was equally as accommodating for us, quietly hanging around while we got our fill of watching. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Sometimes you get weirdly lucky. We were driving along a stretch of road when Don noted that just up the road was a snow patch was where he photographed an accommodating rock ptarmigan the year before. Sure enough the snow patch was still there, and as we neared it, Don exclaimed, "No way!" and pulled over. At the top of the very same patch of snow was a rock ptarmigan that, for all we know, is the very same bird. Because of the changes in plumage over the seasons, we can't know for sure. But this one was equally as accommodating for us, quietly hanging around while we got our fill of watching. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Tundra swans were gathered on large ponds but most of the time they were quite far from us, and with their skittish nature were difficult to photograph. However, one evening a pair was paddling back and forth across a pond that was small enough for us to approach on the far side, and allow the swans enough distance to feel comfortable. There is really something just magical about the light of summer in the far north. Golden hours last for ages, and the soft glow it gave to these swans for the long minutes we watched them glide over the water was simply spectacular. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Tundra swans were gathered on large ponds but most of the time they were quite far from us, and with their skittish nature were difficult to photograph. However, one evening a pair was paddling back and forth across a pond that was small enough for us to approach on the far side, and allow the swans enough distance to feel comfortable. There is really something just magical about the light of summer in the far north. Golden hours last for ages, and the soft glow it gave to these swans for the long minutes we watched them glide over the water was simply spectacular. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The long-tailed duck has gorgeous plumage in both summer and winter. It has a white head and neck in winter but it darkens to black with just a light grey patch around the eyes during the summer. This pair was looking for the perfect patch of reeds in the pond to build their nest. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The long-tailed duck has gorgeous plumage in both summer and winter. It has a white head and neck in winter but it darkens to black with just a light grey patch around the eyes during the summer. This pair was looking for the perfect patch of reeds in the pond to build their nest. © Jaymi Heimbuch

It seems as if no birds are lonely in the arctic summer. It is the season to devoting all your time to family. One of these two gulls was staked out on this bit of rusty dredge every time we passed by, and it was great to see a moment when the pair were there together. © Jaymi Heimbuch

It seems as if no birds are lonely in the arctic summer. It is the season to devoting all your time to family. One of these two gulls was staked out on this bit of rusty dredge every time we passed by, and it was great to see a moment when the pair were there together. © Jaymi Heimbuch

One of the most spectacular moments of the trip was the time spent with two short-eared owls. Especially this particular interaction with this particular short-eared owl. I have another blog post on the way talking more about this wonderful interaction with watching this owl hunt. It is not baited and not called in. © Jaymi Heimbuch

One of the most spectacular moments of the trip was the time spent with two short-eared owls. Especially this particular interaction with this particular short-eared owl. I have another blog post on the way talking more about this wonderful interaction with watching this owl hunt. It is not baited and not called in. © Jaymi Heimbuch

At the center of our attention, this short-eared owl was exciting to watch every time we spotted it. We we had seven sightings, most of which gave us an opportunity to photograph the gorgeous raptor. © Jaymi Heimbuch

At the center of our attention, this short-eared owl was exciting to watch every time we spotted it. We we had seven sightings, most of which gave us an opportunity to photograph the gorgeous raptor. © Jaymi Heimbuch

And at times, the sightings were a matter of yards away as it flew by, making passes back and forth along the tundra looking for squirrels, voles and other rodents. © Jaymi Heimbuch

And at times, the sightings were a matter of yards away as it flew by, making passes back and forth along the tundra looking for squirrels, voles and other rodents. © Jaymi Heimbuch

One of the big draws about Nome for wildlife photographers is the presence of muskoxen. However, a grizzly with cubs had been spotted in the area so there were very, very few around. Those that were brave enough to stay were kind enough to let us hang around. © Jaymi Heimbuch

One of the big draws about Nome for wildlife photographers is the presence of muskoxen. However, a grizzly with cubs had been spotted in the area so there were very, very few around. Those that were brave enough to stay were kind enough to let us hang around. © Jaymi Heimbuch

There were a couple large males in one of the herds but it was abundantly clear who was boss with just a glance around. © Jaymi Heimbuch

There were a couple large males in one of the herds but it was abundantly clear who was boss with just a glance around. © Jaymi Heimbuch

This is also the season when the calves are born, and watching them move around the herd was wonderful. The herd is protective of its calves, so approaching in a way where everyone could stay relaxed and go about their business gave us great opportunities to watch the herd dynamics. © Jaymi Heimbuch

This is also the season when the calves are born, and watching them move around the herd was wonderful. The herd is protective of its calves, so approaching in a way where everyone could stay relaxed and go about their business gave us great opportunities to watch the herd dynamics. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The red phalarope is probably my favorite bird species photographed on this trip (other than the owl, of course). They are feisty, confident and yet miniscule birds. This particular bird was my favorite, spending probably a good 20 minutes working the shoreline in front of me for little bugs and critters to snack on. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The red phalarope is probably my favorite bird species photographed on this trip (other than the owl, of course). They are feisty, confident and yet miniscule birds. This particular bird was my favorite, spending probably a good 20 minutes working the shoreline in front of me for little bugs and critters to snack on. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The mergansers were another story, living up to their reputation for skittishness. Still beautiful to witness when they'd let us. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The mergansers were another story, living up to their reputation for skittishness. Still beautiful to witness when they'd let us. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Gold mining is a significant part of the area's past and present. Dredges of all sizes are a common sight, however, the tundra is slowly reclaiming a good number of those that have been left abandoned. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Gold mining is a significant part of the area's past and present. Dredges of all sizes are a common sight, however, the tundra is slowly reclaiming a good number of those that have been left abandoned. © Jaymi Heimbuch

A large female walrus came ashore one evening. Walrus are having a difficult time in our warming climate, with less summer sea ice to use as resting places in between trips to sea for feeding. The marine mammals are forced to take longer journeys and haul out on shorelines in large groups instead of spreading out on sea ice. © Jaymi Heimbuch

A large female walrus came ashore one evening. Walrus are having a difficult time in our warming climate, with less summer sea ice to use as resting places in between trips to sea for feeding. The marine mammals are forced to take longer journeys and haul out on shorelines in large groups instead of spreading out on sea ice. © Jaymi Heimbuch

On the last day of our trip, we finally spotted a moose close enough to photograph. It was a large cow, and she wasn't alone... © Jaymi Heimbuch

On the last day of our trip, we finally spotted a moose close enough to photograph. It was a large cow, and she wasn't alone... © Jaymi Heimbuch

...After a few minutes, her two calves came out of the willows to explore. Both of them walked delicately on their stilt-like legs and mirrored each others movements. © Jaymi Heimbuch

...After a few minutes, her two calves came out of the willows to explore. Both of them walked delicately on their stilt-like legs and mirrored each others movements. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Willow ptarmigan are the state bird of Alaska, and they are one of the most fun to watch. There is always a slightly comical edge to their movements, and their call makes me laugh every time I hear it. They are in the grouse family, but you can't help but think of them as their nickname, the arctic chicken. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Willow ptarmigan are the state bird of Alaska, and they are one of the most fun to watch. There is always a slightly comical edge to their movements, and their call makes me laugh every time I hear it. They are in the grouse family, but you can't help but think of them as their nickname, the arctic chicken. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The variety of coat coloration in red foxes is amazing, and this beauty with his light ginger and cream shading sported one of the most elegant of all the foxes we saw. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The variety of coat coloration in red foxes is amazing, and this beauty with his light ginger and cream shading sported one of the most elegant of all the foxes we saw. © Jaymi Heimbuch

We often saw red foxes in pairs. What I love is watching them move along while always considering where their mate is. With this pair, the larger of the two crossed the road well ahead of its partner, then paused on the other side watching back to see where his or her partner would pop up. When the second fox still didn't appear, the first fox trotted back across the road to check on the other, who finally emerged from the shrubs and they trotted off together. © Jaymi Heimbuch

We often saw red foxes in pairs. What I love is watching them move along while always considering where their mate is. With this pair, the larger of the two crossed the road well ahead of its partner, then paused on the other side watching back to see where his or her partner would pop up. When the second fox still didn't appear, the first fox trotted back across the road to check on the other, who finally emerged from the shrubs and they trotted off together. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Salmon Lake in one of its many moods. The week was so warm that we witnessed the ice melting off the surface at a considerable rate. The difference in ice between the first day and the last day on our trip was surprising. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Salmon Lake in one of its many moods. The week was so warm that we witnessed the ice melting off the surface at a considerable rate. The difference in ice between the first day and the last day on our trip was surprising. © Jaymi Heimbuch

We checked out every pond, lake, creek and river to see what was around to photograph, whether it was flora, fauna or simply the gorgeous landscape. © Jaymi Heimbuch

We checked out every pond, lake, creek and river to see what was around to photograph, whether it was flora, fauna or simply the gorgeous landscape. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Reindeer herds are found in the game management areas. Reindeer are the domestic cousins to caribou and were introduced to the continent from Siberia in 1892 as a new source of food for native Alaskans when whaling started to decline. About two-thirds of the reindeer found in Alaska are found in the Seward Peninsula. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Reindeer herds are found in the game management areas. Reindeer are the domestic cousins to caribou and were introduced to the continent from Siberia in 1892 as a new source of food for native Alaskans when whaling started to decline. About two-thirds of the reindeer found in Alaska are found in the Seward Peninsula. © Jaymi Heimbuch

In one area particularly rich in blooming tundra flowers, a patch of Alaska cotton caught my eye. I clambered up the boggy hillside to it and was surprised when I caught a strong whiff of rosemary. It turns out that I'd walked through bog rosemary, a species I didn't know existed until that surprising fragrance hit me. The diversity of flora on the tundra is amazing. © Jaymi Heimbuch

In one area particularly rich in blooming tundra flowers, a patch of Alaska cotton caught my eye. I clambered up the boggy hillside to it and was surprised when I caught a strong whiff of rosemary. It turns out that I'd walked through bog rosemary, a species I didn't know existed until that surprising fragrance hit me. The diversity of flora on the tundra is amazing. © Jaymi Heimbuch

One of the things I loved the most about the entire area was the crystal clear streams of clean water. Born and raised in an area where water is scarce and river beds are usually dry, it was exciting and refreshing to see so many creeks and rivers filled to the brim with freshly melted water. It was definitely one of the great joys of visiting the area. © Jaymi Heimbuch

One of the things I loved the most about the entire area was the crystal clear streams of clean water. Born and raised in an area where water is scarce and river beds are usually dry, it was exciting and refreshing to see so many creeks and rivers filled to the brim with freshly melted water. It was definitely one of the great joys of visiting the area. © Jaymi Heimbuch

A special sunrise: Photographing the colors of the light spectrum


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I know I've been a bit dog-centric lately. Okay a lot dog-centric. I promise some diversity in the near future. I have five articles I'm working on that have nothing to do with dogs (from burrowing owls in the Bay Area to Midway's plastic problem and more) and I'm on my way out the door to Nome to photograph the wildlife of northwest Alaska. So there is plenty on the way to break up all the four-legged fluff. In the meantime, I wanted to take a moment to relive one of the most lovely sunrises I've had the pleasure of seeing since moving to San Francisco.

Something that tops my list of most enjoyable things in life is to head out the door while it's still dark outside, and drive to a favorite hiking trail with my dog and my camera. Nothing beats the cool, crisp air, the quiet broken only by birdsong, the smell of damp sage or fallen leaves, and most importantly, the colorful transition of night to day.

Sometimes the sky changes simply from black to pale blue. But sometimes you get extra lucky, and a whole broad palette of colors is painted across the sky, shifting as the sun inches closer to the horizon. This particular morning was a lucky one.

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We drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and wound up the hills of the Marin Headlands. I kept glancing out over the spectacle of the gold and blue sky over the bay so often I felt like I had a twitch so I finally pulled over just to take it in for a moment. We got out and I stared while my dog sniffed.

But I love to be on the trail, not in the car, as the sun comes up, so Niner and I piled back in and hurried down to our spot.

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A storm had come through not long before so a lagoon that is usually separated from the ocean by a stretch of beach was actually so full that it ran all the way to the waves. The calm water running parallel to the shoreline was just gorgeous, especially with the incredibly colorful light reflecting off of it from the sky.

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The only way to get from the parking lot to the beach was through the over-flowing lagoon so, through we went. I was glad I'd brought my muck boots, but I think Niner found the flooding to be a fantastic bonus at the start of our hike.

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We continued up the trail overlooking the coastline but I kept stopping every few feet just to stare. Some mornings the sky changes its colors so many times you think you've seen the best it has to offer, and yet the gifts just keep on coming. From radiant orange we shifted into soft pink and gold...

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...and from soft pink and gold, the sun crested the horizon and we actually had a Red Five. It was amazing. I didn't get very many photos because in the brief moments of spectacular color, I was just staring at everything and how it all glowed red and orange, getting even more vivid by the moment until everything just looked unreal.

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By the time I collected myself and got a shot composed, the party was nearly over. The sun was up, and now we shifted into the lovely golden hour.

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For me, the day holds the best magic between the minutes when the sky shifts from black to white. There is an extraordinary amount of color to be seen on the special mornings when the weather and sun play nice together to create such amazing painterly combinations of purples, pinks, golds, oranges, reds, and blues.

And when the sun is finally high enough that the sky is washed of color, it's not necessarily the end of the celebration. It is at that point I can bask in the fact that I still have a whole long day ahead of me, and look at all I've already had the luck to witness!

Sunrises are just flat out the best part of a day.

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Photos © Jaymi Heimbuch. All rights reserved. Most photos on my site are available for purchase as prints. If you see an image in a blog post that you’re interested in, please send an email. I’d be happy to work with you to create a print you’ll love.

Conservation Canines rescues dogs that save wildlife around the world


The CK-9 patch is a badge of pride and a source of love. Conservation Canines rescues shelter dogs which in turn assist researchers in conservation efforts protecting species and ecosystems all over the globe. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The CK-9 patch is a badge of pride and a source of love. Conservation Canines rescues shelter dogs which in turn assist researchers in conservation efforts protecting species and ecosystems all over the globe. © Jaymi Heimbuch


There are two consistent truths in the conservation industry:
1. No one works in conservation for money, fame, or easy success. The work is difficult, time consuming, and often thankless. Still, you do it because truly passionate about the good you are accomplishing.
2. You cannot succeed on your own. You need to consistently enlist help.

Sometimes the help comes in the form of a four-legged assistant who can make the work more efficient and effective, and also add a dose of joy to the job.  And sometimes all the thanks you really need after a long day in the field is the wagging tail and gentle, panting smile of your sidekick.

Such is the case with the dogs of Conservation Canines.

Heath Smith plays with two dogs in the Conservation Canines training facility's play yard. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Heath Smith plays with two dogs in the Conservation Canines training facility's play yard. © Jaymi Heimbuch

For the last 18 years, Conservation Canines has been rescuing dogs and training them to work in scent detection for the Center for Conservation Biology at University of Washington.

The non-profit doesn’t select just any dog. “We work with the juvenile delinquents of the dog world,” Heath Smith tells me as we stand on the grass outside the kennel, throwing a ball for one of the newest recruits.

Smith is the Program Coordinator and has been with the program for 14 years. He’s seen an incredible array of dogs come and go, but there are two things that, despite age, breed, or size, they all have in common: endless energy and an insatiable ball drive.

Ranger is a dog with energy that he can barely contain. He is the kind of dog who would go crazy sitting in a yard most of the day, yet thrives with the outlet of scent work. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Ranger is a dog with energy that he can barely contain. He is the kind of dog who would go crazy sitting in a yard most of the day, yet thrives with the outlet of scent work. © Jaymi Heimbuch

This combination is usually the reason why the dogs fail as pets and end up in a shelter in the first place, with many of them on a fast track to be euthanized. Most families don’t want an overly energetic, toy-obsessed dog as a pet. They bring the dogs to the shelter (if the dog is lucky) and the dogs sit and wait for a prospective new owner to take interest -- something that is unlikely to ever happen once it is clear just how much daily exercise they require simply to stay sane, and how much daily training they require just to make them a remotely enjoyable companion.

Yet these very characteristics that make them a nightmare of a pet, make them ideal working dogs. Once they are given a job that exercises both their brains and bodies, the dogs can thrive — moving away from being a problem dog and into being a problem-solving dog.

A new recruit sniffs around the grass in the play yard. This mixed-breed male may not make the cut, but the team wanted to give him a trial run and see if he has the energy to keep up with the demands of the job. If the dog shows promise, they will give him or her a chance. © Jaymi Heimbuch

A new recruit sniffs around the grass in the play yard. This mixed-breed male may not make the cut, but the team wanted to give him a trial run and see if he has the energy to keep up with the demands of the job. If the dog shows promise, they will give him or her a chance. © Jaymi Heimbuch

It is not just the lives of dogs that the program saves. The future of dozens of species in dozens of ecosystems around the world also need the help of these smart, driven dogs.

The dogs in the Conservation Canines program are trained to detect the scat of multiple species, and they are deployed into the field to lead handlers to these treasures of information.

Scat can provide a wealth of data to researchers, including which species are present, the abundance of the species, what the animals are eating, the status of their health, even whether or not females are pregnant, and so much more. The importance of scat to a study can’t be understated, and to be able to use dogs to quickly collect scat of one or several target species in a large range over often rugged terrain is a tremendous asset.

Conservation Canines notes, “Sampling with detection dogs tends to be far less biased compared to traditional wildlife detection methods (remote cameras, radio-collaring, hair snags, and trapping). No other method can acquire such a vast amount of reliable information in so short a time, making this approach incredibly valuable for conservation planners and land managers.”

Sampson zeroes in on scat during field work collecting carnivore scat for a study.

Sampson zeroes in on scat during field work collecting carnivore scat for a study.

I recently went into the field with three handlers and three dogs doing work in the wilds of a national park in Washington. Suzie Marlow was paired with Jack, a cattle dog and new recruit to the program. Jennifer Hartman was partnered up with Scooby, a leggy black Labrador mix. And Julianne Ubigau was paired with her old friend Sampson, a black Labrador.

While Jack is fairly new to the program, Sampson and Scooby each have seven years under their belts. Both were adopted in 2008, and since then have learned to reliably and consistently detect an amazing variety of species.

Sampson’s resume sticks more closely with North American species, including wolverine, American pine marten, Sierra red fox, northern spotted owl, barred owl, Pacific pocket mouse, lynx, sea turtle nests, Mt. Jemez salamander, moose, woodland caribou, white-tailed deer, gray wolf, cougar, bobcat, and swift fox. 

Meanwhile, Scooby has learned to detect a more exotic array of wildlife. His list of species includes wolverine, gray wolf, moose, woodland caribou, Indochinese tiger, Asian leopard, puma, jaguar, cheetah, lion, caracal, serval, wild dog, spotted hyena, tapir, grizzly bear, black bear, bobcat, white-tailed deer, mink, and fisher.

These two dogs may have the longest list of species, but each of the dogs in Conservation Canines is trained in multiple species. This allows them to be deployed to many different sites and be useful for various studies.

Suzie and Jack double check their pack while Julie and Jennifer go over the routes for the day's field work. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Suzie and Jack double check their pack while Julie and Jennifer go over the routes for the day's field work. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The ability to find multiple species is especially important for the particular study underway during my trip, which is looking at how the different carnivore species are utilizing the park. The dogs are on the look-out for wolf, coyote, cougar and bobcat, as well as white-tailed deer, a common prey species. The goal is to collect scat that will ultimately provide insight on things like the density of the different species, their territories, their health, and of course what they are eating. All of this together provides a picture of the health of the entire ecosystem.

I arrived shortly after the team began their four weeks of field work. They managed to find accommodations by renting the guest house of a wonderfully kind retired couple who had built a home along a river. The couple seemed overjoyed to host their guests who are, let's admit, a lot more interesting than the average traveler. And, compared to the usual accommodations of a smelly tent pitched in a campsite or clearing in the woods, this was pure luxury for the team.

Each morning of field work requires the team to split up, each handler and dog team taking a "cell" of a few square miles to loop through, the dogs sniffing out scat and the handlers collecting samples and noting down data. After a few mugs of coffee and a bit of breakfast, we piled into the vehicles and headed out to the day's sites.

Technology is a must in the field. The teams use a program that tracks the survey areas they need to cover and provide necessary data including maps and forms for inputting information about each scat they collect. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Technology is a must in the field. The teams use a program that tracks the survey areas they need to cover and provide necessary data including maps and forms for inputting information about each scat they collect. © Jaymi Heimbuch

I trailed Julie and Sampson for the first half of the day, and Jennifer and Scooby for the afternoon, doing my best to keep up with their speedy movement up and down hills and ravines, across streams, down old logging roads, and through "chopstick" terrain of fallen trees crisscrossing one another.

One thing that became quickly clear is that each team has a style, a way their personalities click. The job is technically identical for each team: dog finds scat, dog alerts handler, handler rewards dog and collects scat, team moves on. But that is where the similarities end.

Sampson trots up an old logging road while Julie walks swiftly behind. The handlers let the dogs set the pace to keep their interest and enthusiasm of the "game" at a high all day long. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Sampson trots up an old logging road while Julie walks swiftly behind. The handlers let the dogs set the pace to keep their interest and enthusiasm of the "game" at a high all day long. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Julie and Sampson move rapidly and smoothly over the terrain. They both exude a confident but buzzing energy. Julie lets Sampson set the pace but because Sampson is older, Julie is very aware of how far he is going and minimizes his extra movement as much as possible.

Both handlers and dogs wear tracking devices to monitor how far they go, and the goal for Julie is that she and Sampson travel around the same distance. Other younger, more energetic dogs might travel as much as 60-80 percent more than the distance their handlers travel, as they run here and there following scents and paying ball throughout their day.

The health of the dogs is a top priority for the handlers; Julie knows Sampson won't quit until he drops so she plays the role of coach, reeling him in and keeping extra running at a minimum so his body stays as fresh and rested as possible.

When he finds his target, Sampson's reward is the chance to play with a ball for a few moments. This is the thrilling reward he works for, and his excitement is palpable every time the ball comes out. © Jaymi Heimbuch

When he finds his target, Sampson's reward is the chance to play with a ball for a few moments. This is the thrilling reward he works for, and his excitement is palpable every time the ball comes out. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Meanwhile, Jennifer and Scooby have a different energy. While Sampson reminds me a bit of a trusty NASCAR, Scooby reminds me of a bullet train -- one on which passengers barely have time to get aboard before it is speeding to the next stop. Indeed, Scooby has a habit of leaving Jennifer behind and heading to the next scat before she is done processing the first one.

Trotting quickly but steadily, he finds his target and sits, waiting (almost) patiently until Jenniter (finally!) gets to it. He hangs around for his reward and a short break but as soon as she shows signs of wrapping up, he is off again.

Scooby waits at a scat while Jennifer approaches. Sitting at a location is his way of telling his handler he found something they want to see -- and reward him for detecting. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Scooby waits at a scat while Jennifer approaches. Sitting at a location is his way of telling his handler he found something they want to see -- and reward him for detecting. © Jaymi Heimbuch

It is understandable to me now why each handler has their favorite dogs that they like to work with best.

"When handlers come aboard and meet the dogs, I ask them right away which is their favorite dog," says Smith. "When they tell me who it is, I let them know that's the very last dog they'll work with."

Smith has a strategy for what may seem like a mean trick. It is far too easy to fall into a rut as a handler if you immediately find and stick with a dog whose personality clicks with yours, that lets you stay in your comfort zone as a handler.

Instead, by working with dogs they don't understand as easily, who frustrate them or have strange quirks they have to work through, the handler gains experience in all the many ins and outs of working with dogs. He or she is more likely to learn tiny nuances to dog body language and behaviors, and will be provided with important opportunities to grow as a trainer.

The terrain can be tough. Deep snow, thick brush, rushing streams, dank culverts, slippery rock-covered ravines, hot savannas, and dense trees are all just a matter of course for the teams. © Jaymi Heimbuch.

The terrain can be tough. Deep snow, thick brush, rushing streams, dank culverts, slippery rock-covered ravines, hot savannas, and dense trees are all just a matter of course for the teams. © Jaymi Heimbuch.

Without that kind of experience, handlers will stay limited on what dogs they can work with, and thus what studies they can be hired to work on. The future of the nonprofit is in providing the best dogs working with the best handlers to be able to collect the highest quality samples in any terrain or situation.

To this end, the program works every bit as hard to train their handlers on the subtleties of working with dogs as they spend training the dogs in scat detection. This way, the dog and handler together can be as effective as possible in any study.

Winnie is a favorite dog for a couple of the handlers, who playfully compete over who gets to work with her. With her smaller size and exceptional balance, she specializes in fisher (among other species) as she can run along thin logs following scents. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Winnie is a favorite dog for a couple of the handlers, who playfully compete over who gets to work with her. With her smaller size and exceptional balance, she specializes in fisher (among other species) as she can run along thin logs following scents. © Jaymi Heimbuch

And yet, such bouncing around from dog to dog does not detract from the extraordinary bond handlers develop with their sidekicks. It seems to actually strengthen it.

Not only do handlers gain the skills they need to work with any of the dogs in the kennel, but they have a deeper appreciation for those dogs with whom they do simply click, the dogs that they very well may adopt as their own when he or she retires from field work.

There may be favorites, but there is no doubt that every dog in the program is loved. I noticed something with every single handler I met: the expression in their eyes change when they look at the dogs. There is a gentleness that overcomes them, a softening at the edges of their eyes, that makes obvious the fact that they do what they do because they love it, and because they love their four-legged coworkers.

Suzie and Jack have a loving moment in the morning sun on their day off. Taking a day off every two or three days is essential for letting the dogs rest up. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Suzie and Jack have a loving moment in the morning sun on their day off. Taking a day off every two or three days is essential for letting the dogs rest up. © Jaymi Heimbuch

After six or so hours of hiking through the woods with the two teams, I was wiped out. With legs that felt like jelly and sore spots where the straps of my pack had rubbed against my hips, I considered the fact that these teams do this every day, taking a day off every few days to let the dogs rest while the handlers catch up on "office" work. It is an incredible amount of energy that goes into the job, and yet, it is nothing compared to the amount of time and energy that would be required were dogs not in the picture.

While a human alone could have found a fair amount of scat while keeping an eye out along the path they were walking, it would have taken easily a day or two to find the amount that the dogs found in just the few hours we were out. There's just no denying it: a nose and four paws on the ground is one of the greatest assets a biologist can have in the field.

Scooby waits for a third or fourth toss of the ball while Jennifer inputs data about the carnivore scat he just detected. The job is all about play and reward to these energetic dogs. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Scooby waits for a third or fourth toss of the ball while Jennifer inputs data about the carnivore scat he just detected. The job is all about play and reward to these energetic dogs. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The job is also one of the greatest assets that energetic, obsessive dogs can have. It is abundantly clear that the work is a game to these dogs -- a game they love to play and will play all day and into the night if the handlers let them. The go-go-go spirit of the dogs is endless, as is the patience and care of the handlers. Without this job as an outlet for their play drive and energy, many of these dogs would have been ushered out of this world without having been given a chance to show all they have to offer.

This combination of rescuing dogs while working toward species and habitat preservation is what drew me to Conservation Canines in the first place. I have been following their work for several years now and this year couldn't resist diving in to see how I could help out.

I am creating a 12-month calendar that will be sold to raise funds for the program. I have selected portraits of 12 of the Conservation Canines dogs I met while staying with them to turn into a beautifully crafted full-color, press-printed calendar.

I am working on a completely volunteer basis; every last penny of funds raised through calendar sales goes directly to benefit the Conservation Canines program. Your purchase of the calendar will not only help these once forgotten dogs but also benefit wildlife species worldwide.

If you would like to order a calendar, you can use the form below to be added to the announcement mailing list for when the calendars go up for sale:

Name *
Name
Would you like to be added to the 2016 calendar mailing list? *

My time out in the field with the handlers and dogs, and the time I spent at the training facility, are days I will not quickly forget. The job that Conservation Canines performs is tough, both emotionally and physically. But the joy of the dogs and the satisfaction of knowing they are truly making a difference around the world makes all that effort and energy worthwhile. Plus, there are belly rubs involved, and that is a win for everyone.

Scooby rolls over at Jennifer's feet for some cuddle time. During his days off, he takes on the role of lap dog. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Scooby rolls over at Jennifer's feet for some cuddle time. During his days off, he takes on the role of lap dog. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Jack lets Suzie know his opinion on things. Team work is about communication, after all. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Jack lets Suzie know his opinion on things. Team work is about communication, after all. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Winnie shows off her skills at balancing while Caleb points her along. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Winnie shows off her skills at balancing while Caleb points her along. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Jennifer and Scooby have a special bond, even if he often wishes she moved along faster. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Jennifer and Scooby have a special bond, even if he often wishes she moved along faster. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Jack takes a moment to enjoy the cool, clear water of a river. He would stay in all day if he could. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Jack takes a moment to enjoy the cool, clear water of a river. He would stay in all day if he could. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The days in the field can be very long, but having each other as company as well as coworkers is a perk. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The days in the field can be very long, but having each other as company as well as coworkers is a perk. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Ruffwear donates the gear Conservation Canines needs to do their work in the field. It is heavy-duty and made to last, just like the team needs. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Ruffwear donates the gear Conservation Canines needs to do their work in the field. It is heavy-duty and made to last, just like the team needs. © Jaymi Heimbuch

For the dogs who aren't working in the field, daily exercise is a must, including a dip in the pond near the kennel. © Jaymi Heimbuch

For the dogs who aren't working in the field, daily exercise is a must, including a dip in the pond near the kennel. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Swimming, bike riding, running, and training are all part of keeping the dogs in top shape and happy between surveys. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Swimming, bike riding, running, and training are all part of keeping the dogs in top shape and happy between surveys. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Conservation Canine Skye flies over a fallen log. The ability to be agile and speedy even over obstacles is a necessary trait for the team's dogs. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Conservation Canine Skye flies over a fallen log. The ability to be agile and speedy even over obstacles is a necessary trait for the team's dogs. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Caleb and Captain have a roll in the ferns. Playing together is part of building a bond of trust between handler and dog. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Caleb and Captain have a roll in the ferns. Playing together is part of building a bond of trust between handler and dog. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Suzie and Jack enjoy a game of fetch at sunset. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Suzie and Jack enjoy a game of fetch at sunset. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The nonprofit relies on donations of gear and food, just as much as it relies on financial donations from generous supporters. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The nonprofit relies on donations of gear and food, just as much as it relies on financial donations from generous supporters. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Julie gets Sampson's harness ready before heading out. A bright orange reflective vest and a canvas harness with a handle are part of the gear that keep the dog safe and also signal to the dog that he is now on duty. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Julie gets Sampson's harness ready before heading out. A bright orange reflective vest and a canvas harness with a handle are part of the gear that keep the dog safe and also signal to the dog that he is now on duty. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Having a strong connection and bond of trust is key to being successful in the field, and allowing both the handler and the dog to have a great time during what is often grueling work. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Having a strong connection and bond of trust is key to being successful in the field, and allowing both the handler and the dog to have a great time during what is often grueling work. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The Conservation Canines handlers see potential in dogs that many other people have given up on. Some dogs who "flunk out" of the program still sometimes find a home as the pet of a handler that fell in love. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The Conservation Canines handlers see potential in dogs that many other people have given up on. Some dogs who "flunk out" of the program still sometimes find a home as the pet of a handler that fell in love. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The perks of field work in the middle of nowhere include front row seats to spectacular night skies. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The perks of field work in the middle of nowhere include front row seats to spectacular night skies. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Handlers always have the dogs' backs. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Handlers always have the dogs' backs. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Play is the most important part of life to the dogs of Conservation Canines. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Play is the most important part of life to the dogs of Conservation Canines. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The work is hard, but the rewards are more than worth it. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The work is hard, but the rewards are more than worth it. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Photos © Jaymi Heimbuch. All rights reserved. Most photos on my site are available for purchase as prints. If you see an image in a blog post that you’re interested in, please send an email. I’d be happy to work with you to create a print you’ll love.

Dogs take a hike! Behind the scenes of the 365DogHikes project


We started the morning shoot with an extraordinary sky filled with pink-hued fog.  The color lasted only a few minutes but photographer Natalia Martinez was ready to capture every second of it for her 365DogHikes project. © Jaymi Heimbuch

We started the morning shoot with an extraordinary sky filled with pink-hued fog.  The color lasted only a few minutes but photographer Natalia Martinez was ready to capture every second of it for her 365DogHikes project. © Jaymi Heimbuch


Toward the top of my list of things most dear to me are my dog and being on a hiking trail. I am certainly not alone in this. Thousands of people take to hiking trails every day with their dogs at their side, tackling everything from short local hikes to thru-hikes on the Appalachian Trail (with kennel detours for the dogs for the restricted areas). Companies like Ruffwear answer the call for durable gear for hiking and camping with dogs, there are programs match hikers with shelter dogs to get the dogs out of the kennel for some much-needed exercise and stimulation, and websites like DogTrekker provide details on dog-friendly trails. In short, hiking with your dog is a much-loved activity by many, and something people are emotionally attached to.

That emotional connection, as well as the desire to find local dog-friendly hikes and information about preparedness and gear, is something addressed by a gorgeous new photo-centric project by photographer Natalia Martinez of The Labs & Co. Her new project is called 365DogHikes, a website that brings together gear reviews, tips and training, and gorgeously photographed field notes.

In selecting hikes, Natalia takes a wonderful approach: she asks people to invite her and her rescue dog Willow along on their favorite trails, where they act as guide and tell her all about why they love hiking with their dog in this particular place. As she shadows the hikers, she documents each turn of the trail and joyful moment.

Natalia is both an inspiration to me on the professional front and a kindred spirit and dear friend on the personal front. When she began her project, I was more than eager to jump aboard and go on a hike or two with her and Willow. So at sunrise one spring morning, we met up at the start of a trail where we were greeted by a most fantastic pink sky filled with low thin clouds. While she photographed the hike for her project, I turned the camera and the interview around onto Natalia about everything from how approaches her photography to smart tips for the hiking trail.

Willow is an intrepid explorer and Natalia's constant companion on the trail. Being alone together in nature is an important part of their daily routine, getting the fresh air and emotional recharge they need. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Willow is an intrepid explorer and Natalia's constant companion on the trail. Being alone together in nature is an important part of their daily routine, getting the fresh air and emotional recharge they need. © Jaymi Heimbuch

JH: What do you get out of hiking with Willow? Tell me a little about when this became a routine and what it means to you to get outdoors with your dog.

NM: I think this really became a routine when we moved to the North Bay. Our lab, Corbin, (who was a lot younger then) really enjoyed it. Through my old job, we made a really good friend who introduced me to most of the trails I know and love today. And when Willow came home with us as a behavior foster, hiking became a safe and stimulating outlet for her energy, a great way to teach her to enjoy being a dog and begin to form a bond based on trust and fun.

As a fearful and shy 6-month-old puppy, she missed out on a lot of things. But through hiking and having fun with Corbin and other dog friends, she got to experience new things and be introduced gently to new people and places in a gradual and fun environment.

Corbin has since retired from hiking nowadays (he prefers the beach), and after we claimed our first “foster fail” badge with Willow, she has now become my ultimate hiking buddy and my muse.

The funny thing is, I was so focused on observing how happy hiking made my dogs, that I overlooked how much joy I got out of it. You know what John Muir said about going into the mountains and washing your spirit clean? That’s it. If I can’t get out there and hike often enough, I feel my body and mind take the toll. The same way some folks take to running, or yoga, or meditation… hiking is the same for me, and sometimes a combination of all three.

The act of hiking is one thing, but being able to share it with my favorite dog in the world takes it to a different level. Seeing Willow happy makes me happy, we feed off each other’s joy when we are out in the wilderness. We make each other feel safe, we play, we create photographs, we face uphill challenges and savor conquering new heights.

I can hike without her, but it is just not the same, and I just don’t want to.

Willow looks up with love at Natalia as she breaks out the water dish. Being a safe hiker is important, and that includes taking breaks for water and snacks. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Willow looks up with love at Natalia as she breaks out the water dish. Being a safe hiker is important, and that includes taking breaks for water and snacks. © Jaymi Heimbuch

What was the catalyst for this project? How did the idea get started and build into what is now 365doghikes?

During my hikes with Willow, I started taking pictures of her with my iPhone. The best camera is the one that is with you, right? We would also work on our training together, mainly “stay,” “perch” and “recall.” After a dear friend nicknamed Willow as “ Willow the Wild,” calling out her wolfish nature, I started thinking more about my composition.

She gave my iPhone pictures more life and personality with her insanely graceful body shape, wolfish yellow eyes and her dark coat turning her into a walking silhouette that would contrast nicely against most backgrounds. I started sharing these photos on Instagram under #willowthewild and it started to grow from there. 

I believe personal projects to be crucial, to keep you inspired and in love with your work. I had been looking for a project for sometime, and I had done a daily or weekly project before, but it didn’t fulfill what I felt I needed. One of my biggest pitfalls is having a deadline. I found that deadlines took the joy out of personal work for me; they became work and I became disappointed in myself if I failed to log my project for the day or the week. So, not having a deadline would be important. Then it just grew out of combining a few of my favorite things: Willow, hiking, photography and writing.

I let my imagination run wild and thought about what my “Everest” would be. Imagine being able to photograph, log and write about 365 different dog-friendly trails… Imagine if it weren’t just me looking for these trails, but people who share that interest, photographing them and their dogs… Why not?

I toyed with making it a 52-week project, but I’d been there, done that and I did not want that deadline. With our work and schedule, not to mention travel and life in general, I wanted something I could find refuge in and just do when I was able to. 365 is just a good and whole number, so that would be it, 365 Dog Hikes. No deadline, just that many different trails and experiences.

Then I just had fun with it, creating a brand for it, a website that would engage people and added one more aspect to it: testing and reviewing gear. Might as well be productive right? Before I knew it, my little personal project started growing wings of its own.

It would not longer be just for me and Willow, but a great channel to network with like-minded people, for anyone out there who shares those passions, an educational resource, and shining a light on great gear made to enhance an active lifestyle with your dog and above it all, following my bliss: photographing what you love. 

Goofing off, enjoying the scenery, taking deep breaths, and generally adoring being in one another's company is a big part of the 365DogHikes project for Willow and Natalia. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Goofing off, enjoying the scenery, taking deep breaths, and generally adoring being in one another's company is a big part of the 365DogHikes project for Willow and Natalia. © Jaymi Heimbuch

What is compelling to you about hiking with other people and their dogs?

Being a super introverted person, I am not readily inclined to be the social butterfly at parties, networking events, etc. I value genuine, one-on-one conversations over small-talk. I would rather listen than talk, and I would rather chat about things I am passionate about.

If my job has taught me one thing, is that I am not alone in those values and interests, and that has been the greatest and loveliest surprise. So I wanted more; I wanted to hike with friends I knew shared my love of dogs and hiking and I wanted to meet new people and dogs who were willing to share their favorite trail and their story.

I am fascinated by all those little things we have in common, regardless of where we live, what we believe in and what kind of dog we have. It is a sense of community and I wanted to create something that pays tribute to that, inspires others and highlights those things we have in common.

I love listening to people’s stories as we hike. Barriers come down and I am honored to be able to catch some of the feelings and moments we talk about in photographs.

And if Willow is along for the ride, she gets to meet new dog friends and new human friends; and any positive experience I can offer her with others is very important to me.

An introverted girl with her introverted dog making new friends through shared passions.

Natalia follows the light, the scenery, the mood, and the conversation during the hikes, as each is an equally important part of creating the photographs that capture the sense of place and time. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Natalia follows the light, the scenery, the mood, and the conversation during the hikes, as each is an equally important part of creating the photographs that capture the sense of place and time. © Jaymi Heimbuch

What do you look for when photographing the hike? How do you manage to capture the feeling of the hike as well as the views?

It’s a bit of a game of balance and multitasking. I listen and chat, and often answer questions, but I am also always paying attention to the light. That is my job: seeing light and how it interacts with my subjects, in this case the dogs, the trail and the person.

I try not to interrupt a story and I let things happen organically, just photographing moments as I see them; but if I see a perfect ray of light, or tree or landscape, I bring my subjects into it.

Paying attention to what my hiking partner is saying about what they love about this place opens my eyes to seeing it, looking for it and ultimately capturing it for them, for us. Every hike is different, and lighting can change the mood in a scene dramatically.

I do try to get one good portrait of the person with their dog. Most of the people I have hiked with have no reservations around being photographed in their favorite place with their dog. I think they know how important this photograph will be as time passes and life happens. We may move away, our beloved dogs become stars in the sky, we form new relationships, etc. But this moment is all it should be, and my photographs will hopefully remind them of what the wind felt like on their face, how cold or warm it was, what scents were in the air and so on.

The same things apply even when Willow and I are hiking on our own. She and I are together in discovering this trail, and she adds that little touch of life and action to any of my landscapes. And at the very least, I am creating those memories for me.

Natalia points out that passion projects are an important part of keeping a photographer creative and inspired. This project has helped her discover what she most loves and hone her niche in companion animal photography. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Natalia points out that passion projects are an important part of keeping a photographer creative and inspired. This project has helped her discover what she most loves and hone her niche in companion animal photography. © Jaymi Heimbuch

What are some of your most memorable hike moments, or particular photos that stand out in your mind?

Magic hour (whether near sunset or sunrise) is always a surprise I look forward to, especially when someone is not used to hiking at these hours and suddenly gets introduced to this beautiful light. Their trail all of a sudden looks very different and they get to enjoy it in a new way.

Like the hike we did with you and Niner - we knew it would be lovely, but I had never seen such a pink sunrise and I don’t know that I’ll ever see anything like it again! What are the odds of us being there for that moment?

I love it when I have met someone for the first time after corresponding via email, scheduling our hike, etc, and you just hit it off. And not only that, your dogs hit it off too. Such was the case when I met Alta and her pack of Cattle Dogs. We had a blast, but Willow and her little girl Leilani took the cake, hiking side by side, tugging and watching over each other.

And catching little moments - unexpected and ones that you would never be able to fake or choreograph - I have so many of those so far and they might be my favorite: Niner jumping on Bill’s back when he was tying his shoe, Nalu putting his arms around Alta causing her to crack up and laugh, Pancake and Willow getting a case of the zoomies… too many to name.

Willow gets to explore new places while hanging out with old friends and meeting new ones. Each hike is more of an adventure with friends! © Jaymi Heimbuch

Willow gets to explore new places while hanging out with old friends and meeting new ones. Each hike is more of an adventure with friends! © Jaymi Heimbuch

What are your goals for readers with this project?

At the very least, to find a good trail to try out with their dog, maybe one they have never tried before and were inspired to try it because they saw our photographs and read about our hike.

To inspire others to take up hiking safely and responsibly with their dogs. To write about our experience with gear and products that can help enhance your time outdoors. To create a deeper sense of community by highlighting what we have in common, and not what makes us different. To inspire readers or visitors to want to form a deeper understanding of their dogs and have fun together.

Dogs make hikes more fun. They don't even have to try. It's their secret super-talent. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Dogs make hikes more fun. They don't even have to try. It's their secret super-talent. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Any big goals down the road? Like a book or guides?

The idea of a book or a guide book once the 365 hikes are complete is very tempting. We’ll have to see. It will at least be a good body of work.

I would love to keep networking, and testing and reviewing more gear. I get a lot of requests to travel outside of CA to document more hikes and I would love to do that, but since it is a personal project at this point,  sponsorship would be the only way I could do that unless I happen to be traveling in the area.

This project has also helped me hone down my dream client and my dream target market: outdoor, adventure, active lifestyle with dogs. It has started to open a few doors for us, which is amazing.

I would also like to eventually open the blogsite to other contributors, so that more dog-friendly trails can be logged and written about, making it a well-rounded resource for dog hikers everywhere.

Exploring new trails and enjoying old favorites through someone else's eyes is all part of the magic of the 365DogHikes project. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Exploring new trails and enjoying old favorites through someone else's eyes is all part of the magic of the 365DogHikes project. © Jaymi Heimbuch

What are some of the most important tips you have for people who want to enjoy hiking with their dog?

There are a couple of investments to take very seriously to make the most out of hiking with your dog: a good pair of shoes and a good set of skills for you and your dog.

Invest time and effort in your dog’s training by making it fun for both of you. Gain important trail skills such as a reliable recall, polite walking when on leash, an “easy” or “wait” command when going down a steep hill on leash, and moving off to the side to let others pass you by in peace.

Never take your dog’s (or your own) safety and comfort for granted. Bring water and snacks, always. 

Please be kind to others, please.

Mind leash laws, not just for the sensitive wildlife and ecosystem, but for those who need space from other dogs and people, and for your fellow dog-hikers. As more and more areas become less welcoming to dogs, I feel it important for those of us who love enjoying these places together to lead by example. Willow is not a dog park dog, she is not a “walk-around-the-neighborhood” dog either. We need these peaceful places away from the crowded streets to decompress and reconnect, and I know there are many dogs out there with similar needs.

But always, always be kind, to yourself, to your dog, to others and to the trail you are enjoying. 

It is my sincere hope that being responsible with our dogs will allow us to go more places together. 

*   *   *

Willow knows Natalia always keeps goodies around for rest breaks during hikes. © Jaymi heimbuch

Willow knows Natalia always keeps goodies around for rest breaks during hikes. © Jaymi heimbuch


I have a blog post coming soon covering this last topic, which will address the ways we impact wild flora and fauna on the hiking trail without even realizing it and how to be an ecologically aware hiker with our dogs by our sides. By being aware and responsible when hiking with our dogs, we can play a big role in keeping trails open to our four-legged companions.  In fact, this is one aspect of the 365DogHikes project I love; Natalia takes the time to discuss the care and thought that goes into everything from safety to having a light footprint. These are just as important to a joyful hike as the weather and the light in your dog's eyes as they take in the wilderness around them.

But I think what I love most about Natalia's project is that you feel like you've gone on the hike alongside her just through her images. She captures the details, the mood, the feeling of the hike -- as I say often, her images have soul. So if you have an emotional connection to dogs and the outdoors, you're going to see it reflected and amplified in her photo-essay Field Notes from each hike. You will certainly be inspired to try the trails out yourself, just to experience the same beauty in person.

See our morning through Natalia's lens in her Field Notes for this hike, and explore the rest of her project on her website, on Instagram, and on Facebook.

You never know when you're going to get to see something truly magical, like pink fog hanging low in the sky at sunrise. If that's not inspiration to get outside more often, I don't know what is. © Jaymi Heimbuch

You never know when you're going to get to see something truly magical, like pink fog hanging low in the sky at sunrise. If that's not inspiration to get outside more often, I don't know what is. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Photos © Jaymi Heimbuch. All rights reserved. Most photos on my site are available for purchase as prints. If you see an image in a blog post that you’re interested in, please send an email. I’d be happy to work with you to create a print you’ll love.