Intrepid Pup

Intrepid Pup Heads to Virginia’s Hunt Country

Hunt Country Collage

Virginia’s Loudoun and Fauquier counties await you and your dog!
From left: downtown Middleburg, Barrel Oak Winery, and Glenwood Park

Just an hour’s drive west of Washington, D.C., gridlock—both vehicular and political—gives way to polo grounds, stunning equine facilities, foxhounds, and vineyards. That’s right, Virginia has wineries. . . approximately 200 of them!

Click to see what a 3 on the Wag-A-Meter means
Here are three activities that will not only get you out to Virginia Hunt Country but also keep you coming back. Collectively these have earned a “3” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter for appealing to your canine sensibilities, whether in viticulture, field sports, or history:

 

BOW_bottle

The Barrel Oak label features a dog gazing up into an oak tree and graces everything from a tasty Tour’ga Franc to a popular “Chocolate Lab” dessert wine. Tavish approves.

38°52′58.42″N,  77°54′13.95″W
Barrel Oak Winery (BOW)
Delaplane, Virginia

There’s a lot to love about a dog-friendly vineyard that turns out award-winning wines and whose official greeter is a Vizsla named Birch.  Sited on 22 acres with sweeping views of  the foothills of the Piedmont, Barrel Oak Winery (a.k.a. BOW) has all the comforts of your living room—if you happen to have 20,000 vines growing in your backyard! Founders Brian and Sharon Roeder planted their first grapes in 2007, opened to the public in 2008, and haven’t looked back since.

While several of Virginia’s wineries now permit dogs on their grounds, it’s BOW that goes the extra mile by welcoming dogs into its lodge-like tasting room as well.  That means your pup can sit patiently at your feet as you decide whether to sample 6 wines or splurge on the full flight of 12. Varietals include Viognier (Virginia’s state wine grape), Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Petit Manseng, Chardonnay, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Traminette, Chambourcin, and Norton.
BOW_Birch

Vizslas unite…what a life! Tavish feels right at home hanging out in BOW’s expansive tasting room with the vineyard’s top dog, a senior Vizsla named Birch. When he’s not chilling out, Birch–with a slight hitch to his gait–systematically makes the rounds of checking on each and every table of guests on the patio. Birch is such a beloved staffer that the vineyard annually celebrates “Happy Birch-Day.” That’s just awesome. 

BYOP (Bring Your Own Picnic), and select a wine from BOW. They’ll uncork it and bring the bottle out to you chilling in a bucket of ice.  Plant yourself at a picnic table or at one of the bistro tables on BOW’s spacious patio overlooking the vineyard, and you’re good to go!  There’s rarely a weekend when there isn’t live music, and BOW also generously hosts and supports various charity fundraisers, including animal rescue organizations, since the Roeders have  four dogs of their own. As for your pups, “Doghaus Rules” apply; they need to stay leashed and at your side, and BOW makes that a fun place to be by providing a water bowl and complimentary dog biscuit.  Intrepid Pup has now been out to BOW on several occasions, and there’s never been a time when Brian hasn’t personally come over to say hello. It’s that kind of hospitality that defines the BOW experience and makes a lasting impression on canine and human alike!

 

Middleburg races

Tavish watches the field intently at Glenwood Park.

38°59′25.79″N,  77°44′8.79″W
Steeplechase Races at Glenwood Park
Middleburg, Virginia

Experience the beauty of Virginia’s Hunt Country by taking in one of its oldest and most unique traditions: a steeplechase race.  The “season” here begins in late April and runs through mid October. While the Virginia Gold Cup and the International Gold Cup races are the most celebrated, there are plenty of smaller, more accessible events.

Glenwood_paddock

Crowds can get an up-close look at the horses warming up in the paddock prior to each race. It’s also great for spotting other spectator dogs: lots of Jack Russells and GSPs! Always double-check the event listings beforehand just to ensure that your leashed dog will be welcome.

We particularly enjoy heading out to Glenwood Park, a 112-acre grassy expanse at the edge of Middleburg that serves as the venue for several equine and agricultural events throughout the year. We go specifically for the Middleburg Spring Races and Middleburg Hunt Point-to-Point (both in late April) and the Virginia Fall Races in early October.  Pricier tickets get you into tents and enclosures (think fancy hats, fascinators, and gourmet spreads). We tend to opt for general admission, which can range from $40 for a carload of 4, all the way up to $30 per person, depending upon the event. We bring along the Intrepid Pup, a blanket, a couple of collapsible chairs, a picnic, and a bottle of wine; honestly, if the weather is glorious, there are few better ways to spend an afterHunt Country lawn jockeynoon.  We set up on one of the knolls overlooking the course and watch the pageantry unfold over timbers, hurdles, and on the flat.  A horn is sounded to call “riders up,” and a race steward in a perfectly tailored red hunt coat leads the field from the paddock to the start.  Since the course is fairly open and sloping, you have a clear view, even when the horses are traversing the far sections. The crackle of excitement is palpable as the announcer calls the race over the public address system, and it’s a thrill to witness the colorful blur of silks as the horses thunder past on the final uphill curve to the finish.

Want to be an insider? Take note of the iconic Red Fox Inn dating to 1728 as you head into town. Each year, the lawn jockey at the corner of the property is painted in the winning silks of the Temple Gwathmey Hurdle Handicap which is run during the Middleburg Spring Races.

 

National Sporting Library and Museum

Outside the National Sporting Library & Museum is a heartbreaking bronze sculpture by Tessa Pullan of a haggard horse. It’s the gift of philanthropist Paul Mellon, in memory of the 1.5 million horses and mules of the Union and Confederate armies who were killed, wounded, or otherwise died of disease during the Civil War. As the accompanying plaque notes, many perished in June 1863 in battles fought within just 20 miles of Middleburg.

38°58′1.29″N,  77°44′19.32″W
National Sporting Library & Museum
Middleburg, Virginia

Even though your dog can’t join you inside the National Sporting Library & Museum, you’ll be rewarded (and your pup will give you style points!) for having explored the literature, art, and culture of equestrian and field sports.  Located on Vine Hill in the heart of Middleburg’s charming downtown, the organization started out as just the library in 1954.  Today the library occupies a modern day carriage house constructed in 1999. Its former home—a historic brick residence on the property—was restored, expanded, and reopened with much fanfare in October 2011 as a museum dedicated to sporting art.  This handsome facility draws upon a strong collection and rich exhibition tradition.  The museum’s inaugural show, Afield in America: 400 Years of Animal and Sporting Art (2011), was exceptional for the diversity and quality of artifacts.  Dog-lovers, take note:  other recent exhibitions have included Intersection: Field Sports and the Evolution of Conservation (2012) and American Sporting Heritage: A Portrait Survey of Contemporary Hunters and their Gun Dogs by Jesse Freidin (2013).

Summer Fun: 5 Dog-Friendly OBX Destinations

Tavish on the beach by Jennette's Pier

OBX:  three little letters stand for North Carolina’s Outer Banks and a summer full of fun for dogs and people alike. Many locations along the Outer Banks are denoted simply by their milepost number along U.S. Highway 158.  At Whalebone Junction, the road becomes a decidedly less-congested N.C. Route 12 and is the gateway to Cape Hatteras, designated the country’s first national seashore in 1953. Beaches are dog-friendly, with regulations varying by town and season. Here are the Intrepid Pup’s picks for the top five scenic and sandy spots at this east coast playground:

Bodie Island Light Station

After wandering the grounds, be sure to follow the 1/8-mile boardwalk through the marsh for a picture-perfect view.

35° 49′ 5.30″ N,  75° 33′ 51.53″ W
Bodie Island Light Station
, Bodie Island, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina
Open March – December

Throughout the centuries, the storms and shoals defining this stretch of coastline have wrecked more than 600 ships. Were it not for the area’s lighthouses and lifesaving services, this Graveyard of the Atlantic would have claimed even more. Don’t miss Bodie Island Light Station, the 164.4-foot black and white striped beacon whose light is visible from 19 miles at sea. Constructed in 1872, it’s actually the third light station to occupy that approximate location. Since 2000, it’s been maintained by the National Park Service, and you can even take a ranger-led tour up the tower.  While dogs aren’t currently allowed inside the light station, that wasn’t always the case. A Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Chess used to climb the tower every day, accompanying his master Vernon Gaskill who served as Bodie Island’s last civilian-era keeper (1919-1939).  According to Elinor De Wire’s book, The Lightkeepers’ Menagerie—on sale in the light station’s gift shopChess had no problem with the heights but apparently drew the line at entering the lantern room, because he didn’t like the odor of kerosene!

Tavish at the Lost Colony

The emptiness here adds to the mystery and kind of proves a point. After all, it is the Lost Colony.

35° 56′ 9.79″ N,  75° 42′ 35.35″ W
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Roanoke Island, North Carolina
Open year-round

A newly renovated visitor center at this National Park Service site interprets the history of Roanoke Island, from Algonquian homeland in the 1500s to a refuge for runaway slaves during the Civil War. But the spot is perhaps best known for what it wasn’t, namely a successful English colony. In fact, no one knows for certain what became of the English settlers who’d arrived in 1587.  When Governor John White returned to check on his transplants to the New World three years later, the 117 colonists plus White’s ill-fated granddaughter Virginia Dare (the first Christian baby born in Virginia) seemed to have vanished into thin air.  An abandoned fort and the word “CROATOAN” carved into a post are the scant clues in this unsolved mystery.

You, too, can explore the grounds of the lost colony. Pass a reconstructed version of the original earthen fort and join up with the Hariot Nature Trail for what amounts to about a 20-minute walk. We came upon a flock of ibises unhurriedly picking their way through the clearing. The wooded trail is slightly overgrown in spots and is punctuated by markers identifying types of trees and habitats. Sprinkled in are quotes drawn from accounts in Old English affirming the myriad challenges that the colonists faced. The trail provides a  picturesque view of Albemarle Sound before circling back to the Visitor Center.  Let us know if you happen to make the separate 2.5-mile round-trip hike on the Freedom Trail out to Croatan Sound—we were unfortunately thwarted in our attempt by a severe thunderstorm!

NagsHeadBeach

The Intrepid Pup officially “off duty” on the beaches of Nags Head.

35° 54′ 36.32″ N,  75° 35′ 43.77″ W
Nags Head Beaches & Jennette’s Pier, Nags Head, North Carolina (milepost 16.5)

Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the towns of Duck, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, and Southern Shores all permit dogs on their beaches with varying degrees of seasonal access and leash laws. Team Tavish and the Intrepid Pup particularly like the beaches in Nags Head, because dogs are allowed on the beach year-round and at any time of day so long as they are on a maximum 10-ft leash and owners clean up.

Jennette's Pier

A bronze sea turtle stands watch by the pier house on Jeannette’s Pier.

While Tavish loves the water, he isn’t big on swimming, and that’s actually just fine here, because one does have to be mindful of the dangerous rip currents that can lurk offshore. But the beaches are clean and wide…perfect for an Intrepid Pup to snuffle the sand, poke at shells, crabs and seaweed, and skitter through the foamy surf. Walk the beach at sunrise and you’re sure to catch glimpses of skimming pelicans and playful porpoises offshore. Hard to miss at the heart of the beach’s Whalebone District is Jennette’s Pier (see photo at top). It’s been at this location since 1939, and  its current iteration is all concrete and extends 1,000 feet  into the Atlantic Ocean. Dogs aren’t permitted in or beyond the pier house, but you can get as far as the oversize bronze sculpture of a sea turtle. From that vantage point you can watch all the anglers heading out onto the pier to catch bluefish, cobia, skate, pigfish, mackerel, sea mullet, and more.

Tavish at Jockey's Ridge

The dunes at this state park are very cool…just be mindful of your dog’s paws, because the sand can get hot, hot, HOT!

35° 57′ 50.37″ N,  75° 37′ 59.38″ W
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
, Nags Head, North Carolina (milepost 12)
Open year-round

Did you know that this 420-acre state park represents the eastern United States’ largest natural dune system? It’s open to the public year-round, though park hours vary by season. Parking and general access are free. Dogs are allowed, so long as they remain on 6-foot leashes. From the visitor center, you can stroll a 360-foot boardwalk to a dune overlook, set out on the 1.5-mile “Tracks in the Sand” interpretive trail, take a mile-long walk on the “Soundside” nature trail…or simply scale the dunes. The shifting sands create a ridge that varies in height from 80 to 100 feet, providing spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and Roanoke Sound. With fairly steady prevailing winds, Jockey’s Ridge is a favorite destination for kiteboarders and sandboarders. On the morning of our visit, hang gliding lessons were just getting underway, and the park was also gearing up for a big kite festival. We’d been forewarned that the sand at Jockey’s Ridge can get anywhere from 10 to 30 degrees hotter than the air temperature, so Tavish came prepared wearing his Ruffwear Swamp Cooler™ vest (a real godsend that made all the difference in his comfort in the dry heat), and he had his protective paw booties at the ready.  A word to the wise:  try taking off your shoes. If it’s too hot to walk on the dunes barefoot, it’ll definitely be too hot for your pup!  When we reached the ridge, the radio announcer for the kite festival approached us to pet  Tavish. Taking stock of all of our water bottles and gear, he remarked, “Wow, I can’t tell you how many people I see come up here with no water for themselves, let alone for their dogs. Big mistake.”

Tavish Wright Brothers National Memorial

The sky’s the limit at the Wright Brothers National Memorial!

36° 0′ 51.20″ N,  75° 40′ 4.40″ W
Wright Brothers National Memorial
, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina (milepost 7.5)
Open year-round

Modern aviation is indebted to two Ohio brothers who journeyed to what at the turn-of-the 20th century was a remote patch of dunes. Carefully chosen for the winds, lack of distractions, and sandy landings, Kill Devil Hills was where Orville and Wilbur Wright first achieved powered, controlled, and sustained human flight on December 17, 1903.  You can follow in the brothers’ flight path with a visit to this National Park Service memorial. With Tavish in tow, we covered a total of approximately 1.5 miles walking the grounds. A pathway with stone markers traces the trajectories and landings of the Wrights’ first four powered flights. Trek uphill to get a panorama of the site, topped by a 60-foot granite memorial; it’s the same promontory from which the Wrights had earlier experimented with glider flights. Before turning back to further explore the informative Visitor Center, head downhill beyond the memorial. At the apex of the trail loop is a bronze and stainless steel sculpture group entitled, December 17, 1903. It captures the same instant of first flight as the iconic photograph and makes for a pretty nifty photo opp all its own!

Dogging the Details

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter meansYou see a lot of dogs on the Outer Banks enjoying outdoor activities a-plenty. So at first we were puzzled by the fact that dog-friendly lodging and dining weren’t as abundant. It turns out that many dog-owning OBX vacationers rent beach houses by the week (Sunday to Saturday) so they’re not needing as many hotels and always have the option of cooking in.  That being said, there are approximately a dozen pet-friendly overnight accommodations. We stayed at the Dolphin Oceanfront Motel (milepost 16.5), finding it to be minimalist but functional, with its key attribute being that it had a primo location right on the beach. By no means inexpensive, it was still comparatively less pricey than the pet-friendly rooms at the national hotel chains and some of the local B&Bs.

Tavish at the Front Porch Cafe

Chillaxing at the Front Porch Cafe

Foodwise, we stopped at a couple places with patio dining only to discover that dogs weren’t allowed.  We hit the jackpot, though, in finding the Front Porch Cafe for breakfast. We ate at their locations in Nags Head (milepost 10.5) and Kill Devil Hills (milepost 6). In addition to making a good cup o’ joe, they have a wide assortment of muffins, pastries, and breakfast sandwiches. We sat outside in roomy Adirondack chairs, and the staff was quick to offer Tavish dog biscuits and a bowl of water.  Pigman’s Bar-B-Que was our other find. We took our order out to their picnic tables, and Tavish happily sampled our Carolina-style Que, hush puppies, fries, slaw, baked beans, and cornbread. OBX ranks a “2” on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter for providing enough canine fun in the sun, sand and surf to blow Tavish’s ears back! Grab a leash and go!

Gettysburg: Intrepid Pup Ventures to Hallowed Ground

Gettysburg_collage

Gettysburg’s hallowed ground. At left: the Virginia Memorial overlooks the field where Pickett’s Charge took place and General Lee lost more than 5,000 men in a single hour. Center: Cannon dot the fields along West Confederate Avenue, near the Observation Tower. At right: A memorial to the 5th Michigan Infantry in the Rose Woods.

Seven score and ten years ago, there was Gettysburg. Or, more to the point, the Battle of Gettysburg, the “High Water Mark” of the Civil War and its most devastating battle. The first three days of July 1863 turned Pennsylvania farmland into a blighted battlefield, claiming some 51,000 casualties and 3,000 horses. It’s a battle rightly memorialized—its tactics, weather, and personalities endlessly scrutinized.

Team Tavish’s visit to Gettysburg came about after spending the better part of a day hiking the trails at Maryland’s Catoctin Mountain Park (see blog post).  In consulting a map, Gettysburg looked to be close by, just across the Mason-Dixon line (and the Maryland-Pennsylvania border).  Before heading on, though, we consulted with a local just to be sure. Even as she confirmed that it’d indeed be a short trip, she began shaking her head. “You know, we used to take our horses out to ride the bridle trails at Gettysburg,” she said, her face clouding. “But those horses spooked every damn time. And if you were riding by yourself? Forget it. It’s like they knew.”

Gettysburg_20thMaine

Tavish traced the footsteps of fellow Mainers en route to Little Round Top and this memorial commemorating the role of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

So with that little sense of foreboding, we drove up the road to Gettysburg, covering in a half hour a distance we knew would’ve taken Civil War troops infinitely longer.

With a late afternoon arrival and a lot of hiking already under our belts, we opted to experience Gettysburg this time around via the 24-mile auto road.  A map obtained from the Visitor Center guided our way, and the sixteen stops provided ample opportunity to get out and explore. Cannon, historical markers, and memorials are at every vista. It seemed fitting for Tavish as a native Mainer to check out the memorial at Little Round Top dedicated to the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment. As we traversed the path through the copse to the monument, the stillness was in marked contrast to the bedlam of July 1863. There, on the battle’s second day, Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and his Maine volunteers were charged with holding the beleaguered Union line at all costs. . . which ultimately translated to a bayonet attack and fighting at close range. The line held, and for his leadership that day, Chamberlain was awarded the Medal of Honor. Chamberlain would also go on to personally see the Civil War through to its conclusion at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, in 1865; General Grant asked Chamberlain to command the Union troops overseeing the surrender of weapons and colors by General Lee’s infantry. Notably, Chamberlain ordered his men to silently salute the Confederates as they passed. Chamberlain remains one of Maine’s most beloved native sons—for his battlefield valor as well as his post-war contributions as Maine governor and president of Bowdoin College. Chamberlain’s house remains open to the public and is interpreted as part of the Pejepscot Historical Society in Brunswick, Maine.

Gettysburg_wolfhound

Tavish meets the gaze of the wolfhound at the memorial to the Irish Brigade in the Rose Woods.

Our last task at Gettysburg was to locate the monument for the three New York regiments of the Irish Brigade.  The narrow approach skirts The Wheatfield—where fierce fighting killed and wounded more than 4,000 men—and then snakes into the Rose Woods.  Despite all the tourists at Gettysburg  on the afternoon of our visit, we were strangely alone when we came to Sickles Road. Dappled sunlight streamed through the trees, and it was here more than anywhere else that day that it wasn’t a stretch to imagine spooked horses. On the left of the roadside, a Celtic cross reaches some 19 feet skyward. Crouched in perpetuity at its base, head resting between outstretched paws, is a lone Irish wolfhound sculpted by William Rudolf O’Donovan, a veteran of Gettysburg.  The noble hound is meant to signify the fidelity of the Irish Americans who fought for the Union. The Irish Brigade had already suffered heavy losses in the war and on the evening of July 2, 1863, added another 76 to its grim tally of wounded, missing, and dead.

Gettysburg_IrishBrigade

The solemn stare of Gettysburg’s Irish wolfhound.

While the wolfhound on the Irish Brigade memorial is symbolic, many actual dogs have been documented in the annals of Civil War history. Some were adopted as unofficial regimental mascots,  others followed their masters to war, and still others were strays seeking human companionship in the encampments in the wake of the conflict.

Gettysburg demonstrates the power of place, and reminds us still—in the words of President Lincoln—”that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion….”

 

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter meansDogging the Details

39°48′40.08″N,  77°13′31.50″W
Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Gettysburg earns a “2” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter for the many ways in which one can experience the military park and its canine connections. Make like the Intrepid Pup, and embark upon your time at Gettysburg with a stop at the national park’s Visitor Center.  An outdoor sculpture of Abraham Lincoln (see below) provides a good photo op. Once oriented, you can set out by bike, via hiking trails, with a licensed battlefield guide, or on a self-guided auto tour.

Gettysburg_Lincoln

Penny for your thoughts? Tavish and President Lincoln sit for a spell at Gettysburg’s Visitor Center.

Leashed dogs are permitted on trails and grounds throughout Gettysburg National Military Park. Be sure to bring ample water for yourself and your dog; it can get pretty toasty on the battlefield, especially during the summer months. As always, be sure to clean up after your dog.

Pets are not allowed in the Visitor Center itself or at Soldiers’ National Cemetery where Lincoln delivered his now-famous Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863—a little more than four months removed from the battle. To fully appreciate the extensive interpretive offerings at these two venues, you’ll need to return on your own.

One final note:  unlike Tavish—who unfortunately missed seeing this on his visit—you’ll want to be sure to seek out the monument to the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, located on Doubleday Avenue in the northwest corner of the park.  At its base lies a bronze replica of the regiment’s scrappy mascot, a bull terrier named Sallie. She was present at Gettysburg and had become separated from her regiment during the turmoil. Soldiers later located her at the day’s original battle line, where she was keeping vigil over the wounded and the dead. Sallie’s heroics were well documented throughout the Civil War. She had participated in the battles at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville; purportedly received a tip of the hat from President Lincoln during a review of the troops earlier in 1863; and was subsequently wounded at Spotsylvania. Sallie died of a gunshot wound in 1865 during the Siege of Petersburg. Her comrades buried her on the battlefield.

Gearing Up for Summer: Intrepid Pup Reviews Ruffwear’s Swamp Cooler™ Vest

Dog Days

Maybe when I open my eyes that thermometer won’t still read 100 degrees!

Summer is almost here, and—for us, anyway—that means it’s going to get HOT.  Hot, as in: 80° at 7AM and with the heat index frequently topping 100. You get the idea. And, oh, the humidity! Truth be told, there’ll be days the air quality won’t be fit for man nor beast, and all are advised to “stay indoors and keep activity to a minimum.”  Yeah, well, um, try telling that to a vizsla.

Yet while Tavish may be the Intrepid Pup, he fades quickly in the heat. But he also goes completely bonkers if he doesn’t spend some time outside every day, so there’s got to be a happy medium during the dog days of summer, right?

Hydration is of course always critical, but for years we of Team Tavish have experimented with various additional ways of keeping Tavish cool:

  • Oceans/ponds/streams:  Yep, he loves ’em all, but they’re not always close by when you need them.
  • Spray bottles:  Tavish thinks it’s grand to be misted while out on a walk. . . but then he’s a very wet dog.
  • Cooling bandannas:  You’ve seen the various kinds with the gel beads that you wet and put in the fridge or freezer? We truly had high hopes for one we’d purchased awhile back, and it really had promise. . . until it encountered our region’s special brand of humidity. We followed all the instructions, but the gel beads apparently went into overdrive, and the bandanna swelled up so much that we initially couldn’t even velcro it around Tavish’s neck! When we finally could, poor Tavish looked like he was in traction wearing a neck brace. He gave us those puppy eyes and couldn’t turn his head. Off it came. *Sigh*
swampcoolers_horiz

“T” is for tea leaves and Tavish–all made more comfortable via the evaporative properties of a swamp cooler. Pictured at left is an industrial swamp cooler we noticed in use at the Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina, to keep conditions in the greenhouse consistent and just right for young tea plants. Pictured above at right is the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler ™ vest keeping Tavish one cool Intrepid Pup in Virginia.

So. . . cue the Swamp Cooler ™ vest, a relatively new product from Ruffwear, the well-known Oregon-based manufacturer of performance dog gear. Full disclosure here: Ruffwear contacted Team Tavish last year after IntrepidPup.com won “Best New Blog” in the BlogPaws 2012 “Nose to Nose Awards,” wondered if we’d be interested in trying out this product (no strings attached), and sent us one.  It turns out we’ve independently been very happy Ruffwear customers and have purchased several of their products (leashes, collars, and a pack) over the years. Since Ruffwear’s commitment to “active outdoor dogs” really resonates with the Intrepid Pup, we welcomed the opportunity to test the vest.

Originally being from coastal Maine—where high heat and humidity is kind of an alien notion—Tavish wasn’t familiar with the magical properties of the swamp coolers all you folks in the southwest have been enjoying for ages. For those not already in the know, a swamp cooler is a fairly low-tech device that works by moving hot dry air over water (or through water-soaked material), setting up an evaporation process that results in cooling. Ruffwear has managed to translate the concept into a three-ply breathable vest for dogs.

Tavish with Swamp Cooler VestSizing & Appearance

As a 42-lb. vizsla, Tavish’s slight build and a deep chest often makes sizing problematic. Pay attention to the recommended fit measurements on many dog products, and we humorously wind up with stuff clearly intended for much smaller breeds. Go by weight or girth, and Tavish ends up swimming in the “big dog” sizes. So when we find something that fits the Intrepid Pup appropriately, it’s pretty darn exciting!  Tavish went with a size medium Swamp Cooler™ that proved to be the perfect fit, affording maximum coverage of his topside while remaining lightweight and providing ample flexibility and range of motion.  It’s an easy on-off with side buckles. Tavish  took to it immediately.  No squirming here!

The vest only comes in a color officially listed as “graphite gray,” a light, icy blue intentionally selected to reflect the sun’s rays and help keep your dog even cooler.  While it’s not necessarily a color you’d pick otherwise, hey, this is about staying cool and not about runway fashion.

SwampCooler_Test1_2Performance

Counter-intuitive though you think it might be to put a vest on your dog in the middle of summer (yes, anticipate the occasional quizzical look from passersby). . . think again!  Simply douse the Swamp Cooler™ vest in cool water, gently wring it out so it’s not dripping, and put it on your dog!

Our first test of the vest was on an afternoon last July.  It was an exceptionally muggy 100° at 4PM.  Lovely.  Because it’s the Intrepid Pup, you just know our “proving ground” had to be someplace of historical interest, so we  headed for picturesque Fort Ward in northern Virginia. It dates to 1861 and was built as one among several forts defending the nation’s capital during the Civil War. Today it’s part of a city park with a 0.6-mile loop road favored by joggers  and dog walkers alike. When the temps aren’t akin to being inside a convection oven, Tavish is game for as many laps on this loop road as we are with no problem. In several previous late-day attempts without the Swamp Cooler™ vest, however, Tavish wasn’t even making it 1 full lap before pulling his impression of a mule and opting out in favor of a shade tree. What happened that afternoon?  On went the vest, and off went Tavish!  He did nearly 3 laps before calling it quits. Ok, so this isn’t as “scientific” as laboratory testing, but in our book, the Swamp Cooler™ vest bumped up Tavish’s staying power roughly 150%.  He panted but was never in distress, and his skin remained cool to the touch.  Depending on the temperature, you’ll find as we did that while the vest’s top waffle-weave layer will dry out and you may need to re-wet it, the middle and inner layers will absorb water and take on the workload of transferring the cooling effect to your dog.

The vest appears well-designed and sewn, and another nice touch is that it includes reflective trim for low-light visibility. There’s also a fabric loop on top near the neckline for attaching a beacon or other lightweight item. Our one suggestion would be to move that feature further back on the vest and perhaps switch it to a durable metal ring so it could double as leash attachment.

SandstoneFalls

The Swamp Cooler™ vest performed respectably in high humidity and predictably did even better when it was hot and dry–as it was the afternoon we took to the trails and boardwalk at Sandstone Falls in West Virginia’s New River Gorge National River recreation area.

Overall Assessment

The Swamp Cooler™ vest retails for approximately $54.95. For many dog owners, that may not constitute an impulse purchase, but it is ultimately reasonably priced for an accessory that works as advertised, fits comfortably, and is well-made.

Remember that—like any swamp cooler—the Swamp Cooler™ vest works optimally in a dry heat.  While high humidity will diminish the vest’s effectiveness, we’ve witnessed Tavish reaping measurable returns even on muggy days.

When it becomes simply too hot, you’ll find Intrepid Pup inside or in the shade with a big bowl of water. But for all those other times when some extra cooling comfort makes all the difference in being able to get Tavish out and about without bonking on the trail, we’re going with Ruffwear’s Swamp Cooler™ vest all the way.  We have several outdoor adventures planned for over the summer, and you can be sure our Swamp Cooler™ vest will be the go-to accessory when we’re on the go!

 

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!

Click to see what a "1" on the Wag-a-meter means

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.