Driving Across America with Pets: A Furry Road Trip

For the first 12 days of July, I took my dog, Felix, and cat, Tiny, on a 3,200-mile road trip from Seattle to Austin. Normally I would not take pets on such a long journey, especially through states whose sweltering summer temperatures can kill, however we were moving across the country, so the animals had to come.

Yosemite Valley

Both pets had taken a cross country road trip before, so I knew they could handle the rigor of the road; however, I was still concerned that the car might break down somewhere with surface-of-the-sun temperatures that would harm them before help could arrive. To mildly alleviate this concern, I brought 15 glass bottles of water for emergency use only. We saw a family huddled under a pop up shade tent by a barren New Mexico freeway while they waited for a tow truck to arrive. I made a mental note to buy this Easy Shade for the next road trip, as much of the Southwest landscape we drove through had no natural shade, and was basically a treeless moonscape.

People are amazed that Tiny was such a chill road tripper since cats don’t have a reputation for being pleasant travelers (i.e. terrified moaning and eardrum shattering shrieks).

Tiny can’t believe how red the rocks of Zion NP are.

I reintroduced her to the car for 10 minutes each day during the month prior to embarking on the trip. I would outfit her in a harness, carry her to car, and then feed her the wet food she loves, but normally can’t have because of her corpulence. After three of these outings, Tiny realized that putting on her harness and being carried to the car meant delicious, forbidden food, so she became quite enamored of the experience. She did not ride in a carrier during the trip, but stayed in her cat bed on the passenger side floor wearing her harness and leash.

Tiny surveying her Bryce Canyon kingdom.

We primarily stayed at Best Westerns because they are usually pet friendly, although each hotel operates as a solo franchise, so you must call ahead not only to verify that they take pets, but also to check if they have weight limits. I forgot to do this at one Best Western, and found out when we arrived that dogs over 40lbs were not allowed, so Felix at 60lbs was too big. Our average pet fee was $20 for both animals, but we did stay at a Comfort Inn in Richfield, Utah that charged $20 for the dog and $30 for the cat. We were told this is because cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies, so rooms must be cleaned more extensively after a cat has been in them. All hotels made it clear that dogs are never allowed to be in the room alone because of the potential for barking, whining and furniture destruction.

We visited multiple national parks on this trip, and found that they all had the same rule: pets are allowed on the park’s paved paths, but not on any of the “real” trails or hikes. We saw only a handful of dogs in any of the parks we visited, which was surprising considering  the fact that there were teeming masses of people in most of them. This post at Pet Friendly Travel has a great breakdown of each national park’s pet rules.

We drove up to the iconic Glacier Point view at Yosemite because Felix wasn’t allowed to hike it with me. Yosemite was incredibly crowded.

Durango, Colorado describes itself as a “doggone friendly town”, which seemed very accurate. It was also the very definition of charming, with a clean, quaint Main Street and the sparkling Animas River running through it. Felix and I took a walk by the water, and we saw dogs of all types playing in it or accompanying their humans on runs. The city seemed like Paradise Found, so it’s on my list of Must-Revisit Locations.

Felix peers at Animus River rafters in Durango

After spending a night at the very cost-efficient and dog-friendly Best Western Mission Inn in Las Cruces, New Mexico, we headed to White Sands National Monument. After driving an hour through brown, barren desert landscape, the sudden appearance of snow white sand was rather surprising. We arrived at the park around 8:30am, but the heat was already intense as we walked across the sun-reflective sand. Felix loved the sand in the same way he loves the snow; it gave him a strong case of the zoomies, but because he wasn’t allowed off leash, he had to contain his Sand Euphoria.

There are hiking trails at White Sands, but due to the unfriendly temperatures we just snapped some photos and left. The previous year, a vacationing French couple died of heat-related issues while hiking the sands.

Marfa, Texas, is a media and hipster darling, and it seems the epicenter of Marfa’s coolness is  El Cosmico, an 18-acre trailer, tent and teepee hotel and campground off a busy road. I booked one of El Cosmico’s Safari Tents for $118, and made the very erroneous assumption that because the tent has an electrical outlet and an electric mattress warmer in the winter, there would also be an effective means of staying cool in the summer.

We arrived at El Cosmico at 3pm, tired from driving and ready to relax. My car said the outside temperature was 105 degrees. After checking in and using a giant Radio Flyer they provide to haul our stuff to the tent, we entered an uninhabitable oven; it felt dramatically hotter inside the tent than outside. They provided a small, vintage fan, but it didn’t make a dent in the sweltering temperature.

The El Cosmico managers were gracious enough to refund us half our payment, and we headed to a pet-friendly, air-conditioned hotel in town, the Riata Inn.

Despite the fact that we were at El Cosmico for only an hour, I was impressed by how many campers with polite pups there were on the property. It seemed like a genuinely pet friendly place, and I’m sure if we had gone during a temperate time (April?), it would have been a relaxing experience because the well-manicured grounds were covered in hammocks and shaded places to sit. During our drive through downtown Marfa, we were struck by its cute town square, eclectic eating options, and amazingly friendly people who waved at us from their vehicles.

The colors of Utah are unreal.

Only a marathon away from Marfa (26.2 miles) was Alpine, Texas, which had an adorable downtown surrounded by mountains. It was wonderfully cool in the morning, and I wanted to take Felix on a hike, but we had to be in Austin by early afternoon, so couldn’t stay. The only downside of Alpine seemed to be its remoteness – the closest airport is in Midland, which is a 2.5 hour drive from Alpine.

Austin was a six-hour drive from Alpine, and there seemed to be few inhabitants off the long stretch of I-10. The drive became pretty when we exited onto 290 and headed into the hill country. We didn’t have time to stop in the hill country this time, but if you’re headed that way with your animals, be sure to check out this post about pet-friendly places there!

It’s hard to believe that Zion National Park isn’t listed among the Natural Wonders of the World.
Tiny was a hit among tourists – people don’t see many traveling cats.

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