National Howl-iday Scene, Part VI: President’s Park

Pathway of Peace 2013

Tavish beholds the National Christmas Tree from the Pathway of Peace in President’s Park. The national tree has been illuminated by GE since 1963–originally with thousands of incandescent bulbs and now entirely by eco-friendly LEDs. The lighting design changes each year.

Intrepid Pup Tavish has been in dogged pursuit of the best of the national howl-iday scene. In Christmases past and present, he’s sniffed out “Season’s Greenings” activities at the U.S. Botanic Garden, Christmas at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, yuletide preparations at The Biltmore, and much more (see the blog index for the others).  His next stop? The National Christmas Tree!

The tree lives year-round on the grounds of President’s Park, 82 acres maintained by the National Park Service and encompassing the White House itself. For much of the year visitors take little note of the evergreen on the Ellipse, but come December, it becomes the focal point of the park. Fitted with a mantel of LED lights, the tree is officially turned on by the President during a televised ceremony complete with a concert.

Tavish in President's Park with the 2012 National Menorah

Lighting of a national menorah was a tradition begun by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 in nearby Lafayette Park. The 30-foot menorah was incorporated into the President’s Park festivities in 1987. Here’s Tavish in 2012 on the final night of Hanukkah.

President Franklin Pierce is credited with putting up the first Christmas tree inside the White House in 1856, but it wasn’t until 1923 that President Calvin Coolidge lit a national tree outside for the benefit of the American people. For more than 90 years, the storied tradition of a national Christmas tree has continued. Early on, the ceremony took place either on the White House lawn or in nearby Lafayette Park, and various trees were designated as the “national community Christmas tree.” During WWII a national tree was decorated but never illuminated. When the ceremony permanently moved to its existing location on the Ellipse in 1954 to better accommodate crowds, the National Park Service began annually cutting and transporting a tree to the site. By the early 1970s, however, they returned to having a planted tree, and there have been 5 since. The long standing 1978-2011 tree was removed after irreparable storm damage. Its replacement lasted only a year before succumbing to transplant shock. The current National Christmas Tree—a 28-foot-tall Colorado Blue Spruce—was planted in October 2012.

Just as the trees have changed, so too has the pageantry at President’s Park evolved. Various elements have been added, such as a menorah (1987), a model railroad (1993), and Santa’s Workshop (2008); others have fallen by the wayside like the Yule Log (2012) and live reindeer. Performances by local choirs and musical groups occur nightly (except Mondays) following the initial tree lighting ceremony and continue all the way up until Christmas Eve. What has remained a constant since first introduced on the Ellipse in 1954 is the Pathway of Peace, a walkway lined by cut Fraser Firs to flank the National Christmas Tree each December. The Pathway now contains 56 tree representing all 50 states, plus Washington, DC, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each is decorated with distinctive ornaments handmade by schoolchildren and artisans from that region.

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38°53′41.57N,  77° 2′10.98W
The National Christmas Tree
, President’s Park, Washington, DC
Annually, early December to January 1 ( site is accessible 10 AM – 10 PM)

National Tree 2013

The 2013 National Christmas Tree with the White House in the background.

President’s Park ranks a “1″ on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter for being relatively easy to get to and for providing a unique experience once you’re there. If you’re coming with your dog, plan on doing some walking as you can’t bring your pup on the Metro system. Metered street parking is available, though, and we’ve found that it’s usually a little easier to find a space in the blocks west or north of the White House. Timing your visit for during the week or early in the evenings also helps.

Leashed dogs are permitted on the grounds of the National Christmas Tree, and admission is free—no tickets or reservations are required. Be forewarned, however, that there are typically large crowds, which aren’t always every pup’s cup of tea. If your dog doesn’t like getting jostled or is otherwise prone to claustrophobia, simply forgo walking along the Pathway of Peace; you can still enjoy the tree lights from afar from various vantage points throughout the Ellipse. It’s also been our experience that visitors are so busy looking at the tree that they’re not necessarily looking down and may even be startled to see a pooch in their midst. For your and your dog’s comfort, we recommend visiting at an off-peak time. If you’re going at night, consider adding something reflective so your pet stands out and is visible to other passersby (Tavish’s Chilly Dog® jacket has reflective piping, and he sometimes wears his Nite Ize® SpotLit blinking LED collar light, too). Your best photo ops will come a bit away from the fray, where the Pathway leads south from the tree and opens up onto the Ellipse. With the tree and the White House as your backdrops in the middle distance, you also won’t be holding up throngs of foot traffic to get that perfect shot!

Ahhh-zaleas!

Azaleas

Tavish smiles at the sight of the Arboretum’s azaleas, spanning the color spectrum from to pale pink to deep purple.

Washington, DC’s cherry blossoms are justifiably famous, but don’t be fooled…there’s a rival bloom in town! By late April the cherry trees’ delicate pink petals have long given way to tender green leaves. But a mere 4 ½ miles from the oft-photographed Tidal Basin, some 15,000 azaleas are just reaching their peak at the U. S. National Arboretum.

Established by Congress in 1927, the National Arboretum’s 446 acres are managed by the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). And while there’s admittedly way more to the Arboretum than the Azalea Collection, there’s no denying that it sure makes one heck of a first impression. Visit on a sunny spring afternoon, and you’re in for a retina-jarring display of deep magentas, purples, corals, oranges, and ruby reds.

National Arboretum

Picture perfect: Tavish, boxwood, and vivid azaleas fill the frame in this shot of the Morrison Garden.

The core of the Azalea Collection  is comprised of hybrids that were carefully cultivated at a USDA research facility in Glenn Dale, Maryland, and planted in 1946-47 to blanket the slope of the Arboretum’s Mount Hamilton. Rising just 240 feet, it’s a pretty meager mountain, but as one of the higher elevations in the nation’s capital, Mount Hamilton’s real street cred lies in being a living wall of color. Over the course of more than half a century, the historic Glenn Dale shrubs have matured, sprawling outward and reaching towering heights. A strategic pruning  in 2012-13 has  rid the area of invasive plants and dead branches, improving growing conditions so that this floral legacy will continue to flourish for years to come.

Tavish the Intrepid Pup visibly enjoys romping along the Henry Mitchell Walk in this section. When he’s not literally snuffling the azaleas, he’s absolutely entranced by the bees methodically inventorying the buds. The casual landscaping that otherwise characterizes much of this hillside is punctuated by two garden settings. The Lee Garden features Japanese azaleas set amidst stonework and a pond, and the compact Morrison Garden is even more formal with manicured ornamental hedges interspersed with samples of the Glenn Dale hybrids. The latter was designed by Benjamin Morrison who was not only the Arboretum’s first director but also the USDA plant breeder responsible for creating the Azalea Collection. Take note:  the Morrison Garden seems to be a magnet for folks wanting to take pictures of families, babies, and dogs—and we were no exception!

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Dogging the Details

38°54′30.65″ N,  76°58′18.95″ W
U. S. National Arboretum, Washington, DC

With free admission, 9.5 miles of roadways and 14 distinct garden “collections,” the Arboretum is ideal for exploring with a canine companion, and you’re bound to see several other dogs during your visit. Just be sure to abide by the rules:  you must keep your dog on leash and out of the plantings. You’re also required to pick up after your pet, so bring those bags along. Finally, no dogs are allowed in either the visitor center pavilion or its adjacent National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.

National Arboretum

These koi aren’t coy! Tavish is mesmerized by these guys. And with good reason: the largest are upwards of 18″ in length!  A nearby coin-operated machine dispenses handfuls of pellets for feeding the fish, and boy, do they know it. The koi charge to the surface in a burst of color and nearly launch themselves onto the patio!
Note: The ornamental pond surrounding the Administration Building is being restored in 2013, so the fish aren’t there at the moment. Look for them to return when renovations are complete.

The Arboretum scores a “1″ on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter as a truly accessible place for all seasons. Crocus, daffodils, magnolias, redbuds, and flowering cherries greet spring visitors. Summer gives way to water lilies, herbs, crapemyrtle, and wildflowers. Hosta, hibiscus, and ornamental grasses are the stars of autumn, and winter showcases holly and the conifers.

Though trails and roads are well-marked, it’s easy to lose track of time and distance at the Arboretum. Even the most casual of wanderings will quickly add up to a few miles, so be sure to carry water for you and your dog and/or seek out the bubbler by the National Herb Garden—it has a pet-accessible reservoir and a special tap for refilling water bottles. When the capital’s infamous humidity hits, head for the grass and shade of the National Grove of State Trees.  Tavish never fails to take a breather beneath the boughs of the eastern white pine that is the official tree of his home state of Maine. Another refreshingly cool spot just beyond the grove is Fern Valley, a naturally wooded area rife with native plants. A half-mile trail loops through a meadow and past a small pond.

National Arboretum

Veni, vidi, vici! Tavish surveys the National Arboretum’s sweeping landscape from the vantage point of the Capitol Columns.

Bring your camera to zoom in on the blooms, but go for the wide angle shots, too. The Capitol Columns make for a particularly dramatic backdrop. Completed in 1826, these 22 sandstone columns were among the 24 that once supported the east central portico of the U.S. Capitol Building. They’ve witnessed every presidential inauguration from Andrew Jackson’s through Dwight D. Eisenhower’s. Modifications to the Capitol necessitated their removal in 1958. With marble replicas going into the Capitol facade, these columns were subsequently restored and permanently sited at the Arboretum in 1990.

Canine Connections with the Interior

U.S. Department of the Interior

Tavish checks out the view from 1849 C Street, NW. While the U.S. Department of the Interior dates to 1849 (easy to remember because it’s also the street address!), this headquarters building opened in 1937.

Given the Intrepid Pup and Team Tavish‘s affinity for national parks, it should come as no surprise that making a stop at the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has been on the “to do” list for awhile now. The Department’s 70,000+ employees are scattered far and wide—all throughout the United States, U.S. territories, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau. DOI’s main headquarters building located just north of the National Mall in Washington, DC, contains offices for some 2,000 of them.

Simply put, DOI is a huge agency with huge responsibilities concomitant with being the steward of approximately 20% of U.S. lands. The National Park Service? DOI. Bureau of Land Management? Also DOI. Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Reclamation, Surface Mining, Ocean Energy Management: all DOI.

If you imagine a federal building encompassing two full city blocks to be pretty imposing, you’d be right. Portions of DOI are open to the general public, however, including an extensive research library, a cafeteria, the Indian Craft Shop and the Interior Museum (Note: while the museum’s galleries have been closed since late 2010 as part of building-wide renovations, public programs and work with the collections continue).

Pet-friendly walking tours

“Pups and Petals”–especially timed for the National Cherry Blossom Festival– is just one of several pet-friendly ranger talks presented within the National Mall and Memorial Parks.

As you might have guessed, the “general public” gaining admittance to DOI doesn’t include the canine variety, so Tavish the Intrepid Pup had to be content with seeing the exterior of Interior. But just because dogs can’t enter the building doesn’t mean dogs aren’t well represented within its halls and walls. Case in point:  the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service has expanded upon an initiative first piloted in the 1990s by newly training four retrievers—Butter, Lancer, Locket, and Viper—as “wildlife detector dogs” stationed at various ports throughout the country. The dogs can sniff out protected species as well as smuggled wildlife products like ivory, canvassing as many containers in a few minutes as a person working unassisted can inspect in a single workday.

Within the National Park Service, Denali National Park & Preserve is the only national park in America with historic, working kennels. A corps of approximately 30 sled dogs performs an integral role in the ongoing management of the park, especially during Alaska’s winter months. You can even track new litters of pups on the park’s puppy cam. And clear across the country, the National Mall and Memorial Parks has integrated dog-friendly, ranger-led walks into its roster of interpretive programming. What a fun, healthy way for people and their pets to get out and enjoy the parks!

Details from DOI murals with dogs

Finally, there are the DOI building’s murals. With more than 50 of them embedded throughout the 1.3 million square-foot structure, there is more Public Works Administration artwork here than in any other U.S. government building. And the icing on the cake? Four of these murals feature dogs. Let’s take a closer look…

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Dogging the Details

38°53′36.86″ N,  77°02′33.21″ W
Stewart Lee Udall Department of the Interior Building, Washington, DC

Murals tours at the U.S. Department of the Interior are offered to the public free of charge. Check here for times and reservation information. Tours last approximately one hour.

North County by Gifford Beal

North Country by Gifford Beal (1879-1956).Oil on canvas, 1941,
104.5″ h x 224.5″ w

When the current DOI headquarters started being built in 1935, 1% of the construction budget was expressly earmarked for art. Interestingly enough, that concept continues to this day via the  U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) Art in Architecture Program, through which GSA “reserves one-half of one percent of the estimated construction cost of each new federal building” for commissioning artwork.

DOI’s murals thus technically belong to GSA, but staff of the U.S. Department of the Interior Museum are the ones who provide murals tours to the public. There’s not enough time to visit every mural in the building, but the guided tour takes you past dozens and gives you a good workout to boot; there are nearly three miles of corridors!

Alaska mural by James Michael Newell

Alaska by James Michael Newell (1900-1985). Fresco, 1939, 114.5″ h x 234.5″ w

Some of the most illustrious artists of the 1930s were commissioned to paint these murals. You’ll find that some are oils on canvas while others are frescoes (painted onto wet plaster) or seccos (painted onto dry plaster). The murals portray the work and salient themes of DOI’s bureaus contemporary to 1935, making them both artistically and historically significant for today’s viewers.

So, it’s a particular delight to discover the dogs in four of the murals. It’s akin to Forrest Gump showing up at seminal moments in American history, except here it’s dogs at the Oklahoma Land Rush,  homesteading, and the opening of Alaska.

The Alaska fresco by James Michael Newell is up on the 6th floor. There are three huskies in a panorama which also contains narrative elements about Eskimos, fishing, and prospecting for gold. The remaining three dog murals are on the 5th floor. Gifford Beal’s North Country is also set in Alaska, with a team of seven sled dogs in the foreground as the focal point.  Finally, both of John Steuart Curry’s massive 19-foot murals (see below) include canines.  In Rush for the Oklahoma Land – 1894, a black whippet races along, caught up in the melee of people, horses, wagons, and even a  train all streaming westward.  Curry’s other painting across the corridor, The Homesteading and the Building of Barbed Wire Fences, shows a far more tranquil scene. A shepherd-like dog in the background keenly follows along behind two men pounding fence posts into their newly claimed land.

If these works have inspired you to take the murals tour at DOI, tell them the Intrepid Pup sent you! This excursion earns a “1″ on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter for packing art and exercise into the same visit.

Rush for the Oklahoma Land - 1894 by John Steuart Curry

Rush for the Oklahoma Land – 1894 by John Steuart Curry (1897-1946). Oil on canvas, 1939, 109.5″ h x 235″ w

Homesteading and the Building of Barbed Wire Fences by John Steuart Curry

The Homesteading and the Building of Barbed Wire Fences by John Steuart Curry (1897-1946). Oil on canvas, 1939,109.5″ h x 235″

National Howl-iday Scene: Part II

Tavish with the holiday lights at the US Botanic Garden

“Season’s Greenings” from the U.S. Botanic Garden! The colorful holiday lights outside merely hint at the wonders that lie within.

Throughout this series, Tavish the Intrepid Pup has been providing an insider’s guide to the national “howl-iday” scene. In his quest to find the most iconic—and dog-friendly—holiday spots the capital region has to offer, Tavish’s “pick of the day” is the annual Season’s Greenings display at the United States Botanic Garden. The institution falls under the auspices of the Architect of the Capitol. Dating to 1850, it has been in its present location on the wedge of land between Maryland Avenue and First Street, S.W., since 1933.

Okay, let’s just start by saying this place is beautiful year-round and is especially so during the holidays. In a city chock-a-block full of monumental and famous structures, it’d be easy to lose this one in the mix. But to do so would be a big mistake. The Botanic Garden takes the lead on horticultural education and issues of sustainable landscape design. With elaborate outdoor terraces and indoor habitats ranging from desert succulents to exotic orchids, there’s something for everyone. Not too be missed is the unique perspective from atop the canopy walk in the tropical rainforest that grows within conservatory’s 93-foot dome. And be sure to check out the magnificent Bartholdi Fountain set upon two acres of rose gardens just across Independence Avenue.

Tavish under the kissing ball at the US Botanic Garden

Will sit for kisses: Tavish has strategically planted himself beneath the mistletoe on the northeast terrace.

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38°53′17.90″N, 77°0′45.46″W
United States Botanic Garden’s “Season’s Greenings”, Washington, DC

Season’s Greenings is on display from late November through early January; check website for exact dates. Admission is free.

Pups aren’t allowed inside the Botanic Garden’s buildings, but fortunately you can lap up pretty good views of Season’s Greenings by peering through the conservatory’s picture windows after dark. One glimpse of the Enchanted Forest in the east gallery is enough to make you want to return on your own to explore inside.

Tavish looking at the train display at the US Botanic Garden

Tavish gazes longingly into the “Enchanted Forest,” just one part of the Season’s Greenings display. Model trains, decorated trees, and fairytale lighting make this a feast for the senses.

Planning for Season’s Greenings takes nearly a year, with the Enchanted Forest alone requiring approximately three weeks to install. It shows in the details. A carpet of poinsettias in 17 varieties. A towering 24-foot tree—one of the largest indoor decorated trees in the region. Eight hundred feet of track for the model railway. A line-up of live music on select evenings. And a mind-boggling assortment of DC landmarks created in miniature and entirely from natural plant materials!

Parking out in front of the Botanic Garden or at meters off Independence Avenue shouldn’t prove too difficult after hours. What’s more, it’s a “two-fer”: soak in the splendor of the lighted gardens and then make the three-minute  stroll across the street to take in the Christmas tree on the west lawn of the U. S. Capitol (read the Intrepid Pup’s earlier account here).

A trip to the grounds of the Botanic Gardens earns a “1″ on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter as a free and pretty spectacular photo opp for you and your intrepid pup!

National Howl-iday Scene: Part I

Tavish with the 2012 Capitol tree


GO FIGURE:  Intrepid Pup particularly liked the theme for the 2012 Capitol tree: “The Great Outdoors”! Culled from the White River National Forest in Colorado, this 74-year-old Engelmann spruce made stops in 30 different towns en route to Washington, DC. The tour was sponsored in part by Choose Outdoors, an organization dedicated to connecting Americans to public lands through outdoor recreation. The tree stands 73 feet tall and is laden with approximately 3,000 ornaments, most of which were handmade by Colorado schoolchildren.

With the holiday season comes an explosion of colorful decorations. Elaborate displays crop up in downtowns across America, and for a few short weeks everything takes on the magical luster that only twinkle lights can impart. The Washington, DC metro area is particularly picturesque in December, and the weather is usually still temperate enough that touring around is not a completely frigid proposition.

Over the next several posts, Tavish the Intrepid Pup will give you an insider’s tour of the national “howl-iday” scene, scoping out what are arguably among the most iconic—and dog-friendly—holiday spots the capital region has to offer.

*  *  *

Tavish’s first destination is the 2012 Christmas Tree on the grounds of the United States Capitol.

The original Capitol Christmas tree was a Douglas fir specifically planted on the property in 1964 to fulfill that role. When it eventually succumbed to storm damage, the Architect of the Capitol enlisted the help of the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service to sustain the holiday tradition. Every year since 1970, the trees destined for Capitol Hill have been cut and harvested from various national forests. Citizens from the home state supply thousands of handcrafted ornaments showcasing aspects of their state’s heritage, earning the Capitol tree the apt designation as the “People’s Tree.”

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38°53′23.24″N, 77°0′40.19″W
United States Capitol Christmas Tree, Washington, DC

The 2012 tree is on view December 4 – 26, 2012.

While the Capitol tree is one of Team Tavish‘s favorites in the metro DC region, it’s also the most fleeting. The cut tree arrives shortly after Thanksgiving and takes a little more than a week to be secured and decorated before a public tree-lighting ceremony with the Architect of the Capitol and the Speaker of the House in early December.  Thereafter, the tree is illuminated nightly from dusk to 11 pm until shortly after Christmas.

Timed parking on the street and in nearby surface lots makes the Capitol tree readily accessible during the evening hours. The large West Lawn can accommodate a LOT of people before ever seeming crowded, and that truly distinguishes this setting from some of the others on the “howl-iday scene.”  You can get right up close to the tree without being rushed or jostled, and that makes it great for checking out the diversity and creativity of the decorations. This year’s tree is an Engelmann spruce from Colorado, so many of the ornaments depict Colorado wildlife, mining and skiing-related imagery, and symbols from Native American tribes.

On the evening of our visit, construction related to President Obama’s upcoming second inaugural was well underway on the Capitol portico and lawn. . . perhaps explaining why this year’s tree will only be on view through December 26. The 7,000 LED bulbs produce a riot of color, with the luminous dome of the Capitol providing a signature backdrop for photographs.

Tavish was the only dog in sight when we arrived, although a couple more arrived as we were leaving.  Tavish seemed more than content to pose with the tree and sniff at the low-hanging boughs. Remember to keep your dog on-leash (the area is patrolled by Capitol Police) and bring bags to clean up; trash receptacles are located by the gateways on First Street, S.W.

The comparative lack of crowds makes this outing a pleasant one for dogs and humans alike. Combine that with the ability to capture some great holiday photos at a truly unique venue, and this excursion gets a “3″ on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter.