Giving thanks for Angel Canyon


This Thanksgiving, as we reflect on what we're most grateful for, I’d like you to join me on a trip down memory lane as I describe something that changed the course of my entire life.
It started in 1994, on a road trip to Mexico that I took with some friends in my beat-up 1979 Dodge Colt. The car was classic, with each panel a different color, representing all of my fender-benders.  We decided to stay until we ran out of money. Puerto Vallarta was our last hurrah after undergraduate school and before I was scheduled to head to the University of Virginia School of Law.  

When we finally ran out of money, with just enough cash to pay for gas and for all of us to have a candy bar each, we embarked on the 1,800-mile trip back to Utah. One person in our group convinced us to stop by Best Friends Animal Sanctuary on our way back. She wanted to visit a dog who she was sponsoring, and the rest of us reluctantly agreed. 

And this is where my life changed in an instant. 

The very moment we drove into Angel Canyon and saw the Sanctuary, I was overcome with emotion at the sheer magnitude of the sweeping salmon-colored rocks making up the canyon walls, the rolling hills of red sand that flowed so effortlessly around and under each and every rock, green trees for miles, and skies that were the most vivid shade of blue I had ever seen. It was nothing short of magical. 

I recalled these words from a book called The Alchemist that I read while in Mexico: “the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, above all, following our dreams.” And I realized, this is my dream. 

I called my dad to break the news that I was not going to law school, and the rest is history.
I know I’m not alone in feeling the transformational essence of this place. In fact, one of the things we hear most commonly about the visitor experience at the Sanctuary is that it’s life-changing — the inspiration for so many people who have gone on to save thousands and thousands of animals over the years.

Angel Canyon is a sanctuary for all who enter; human or otherwise, all are protected. The canyon is an oasis in a harsh landscape, thanks to the life-giving springs and seeps that generously flow from the Navajo aquifer, pure and cool. There is a community of life here, and we are just the latest arrivals. 

It is no surprise to see a family of mule deer paused by the side of one of the Sanctuary’s dirt roads, exchanging curiously untroubled eye contact with human passersby, or a parade of wild turkeys slowly walking across a road as drivers wait patiently. Maybe a coyote or bobcat will cross your path and, if you’re very lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a shy mountain lion going about his or her business, wanting above all to hide from humans. Hawks and eagles soar effortlessly above and nosey, noisy ravens keep an eye on everything. 

Angel Canyon has a power and magic all its own. It is much more than just a beautiful place; it is truly the spirit of our organization. It has always been an active agent in the creation of the Sanctuary. The founders say it was their role to give shape and form to something that was here all along — a refuge, a safe place within one of the most awe-inspiring places on the planet. 

I wouldn’t trade this breathtaking “office” for anything in the world. While other organizations’ headquarters are in cement and steel buildings in the downtown of a metropolis, I am grateful that ours sits among sheer red-rock cliffs in one of the most beautiful canyons in southern Utah.  

This Thanksgiving, please join me in giving thanks for the incredible land that is our organization’s pulse, and a home-between-homes for about 1,600 animals. This place continues to inspire us each and every day to help save lives everywhere.  

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society