Intrepid Pup

There Be Dragons!

Tavish at Deal's Gap's Tail of the Dragon

Tavish seemingly not intimidated by the Tail of the Dragon with a motorcycle in its clutch.

Tavish the Intrepid Pup‘s therapy dog vest sports several pins, many of which represent places he’s traveled. Mostly they’re conversation starters, and by far the one that attracts the greatest attention—primarily from kids—is the Day-Glo yellow one shaped like a road sign bearing the silhouette of a dragon and the words, “At the Gap there be dragons.” Here’s the backstory:

Last July, Tavish and Team Tavish were visiting friends in Tennessee who were eager to show us the Tail of the Dragon. It’s a storied stretch of Highway 129 that straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. More accurately, it’s 318 curves in 11 miles with up to a 12% grade and 1800 feet in elevation. Hence the vivid and apt comparison to a jagged dragon’s tail. Were it a TV commercial, it’d have that impossibly fine print flickering across the bottom of the screen saying, “Do not attempt. Professional driver on a closed course.” Indeed, there have been vehicle performance tests done here, and for obvious reasons, the road is a magnet for motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts.

We had visions of “slaying the dragon” Easy Rider-style, with a Doggles®-wearing Intrepid Pup in a cool sidecar. The biggest problem with this plan was that neither we nor our friends own motorcycles. So, we did this trip in decidedly less hip fashion in what was probably an affront to the road itself: our friends’ 2001 Hyundai Elantra. Eat your heart out, James Dean.

Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort's Tree of Shame

Who says that kinetic, post-modern sculpture can only be found in she-she art galleries? Deal’s Gap has a pretty good example with its “Tree of Shame.”

Our friend drove and would periodically concede to the far more intrepid bikers by easing into paved pull-offs, earning us many appreciative nods and an occasional wave. It was also blisteringly hot that day, so the Intrepid Pup was favoring the Elantra’s AC vents over lolling out the window. But even without a white-knuckled Nürburgring experience, this was still a drive we’re glad we did.

There are a handful of entrepreneurial outfits that station photographers along the Tail of the Dragon. The business model is akin to having your photo taken at an amusement park while on some giant roller coaster and then having the opportunity to purchase said photo as you exit the ride. (Editor’s note: We did go online afterwards and easily found ourselves in that day’s batch of pictures…after all, there aren’t exactly zillions of silver Elantras amid the supercars and slick Harley-Davidsons. And, as you might’ve guessed, our souvenir car shot is best left to your imagination.)

Rounding the final curves and easing down that last slope (Wheelie Hill), reward you with the gateway attraction that is Deal’s Gap. Touting its own special brand of self-proclaimed “two-lane tourism,” Deal’s Gap consists of Tail of the Dragon LLC (an outlet store and de facto visitor information center) on one side of the highway and Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort (with accommodations, a shop, and a 65-seat pub) on the other.

Deal's Gap statuaryThere are two standouts in this spectacle. One is the signature green “tail” pictured above. The other is the Tree of Shame  located in the motorcycle resort’s parking lot. This crowd-sourced totem is part whimsy, part rite-of-passage, and part cautionary tale. Basically it’s 20+ years of jetsam—smashed reflectors, blown tires, broken headlights, dented hubcaps, and shorn fenders—lobbed in frustration by those unlucky enough to have been “bitten by the dragon.”  The tree is always in flux as pieces get added or otherwise shift among the branches (a nearby sign warns, “CAUTION: Watch for falling parts from Tree of Shame”). It’s also a good reminder that riding the Tail of the Dragon carries an inherent risk; over the past 12 years, there’s been an average of slightly more than two deaths a year.

The parking lot is better than any showroom for gawking at the bikes, and it was here that Tavish made a few new friends. He plunked down in the shade by a random, concrete statue (doorstop?) of a bikini- and bandanna-clad biker and drew his fair share of affectionate pats from bikers returning to their rides. Many intended to traverse the route several times that day, and one biker nostalgically reminisced to us about his own pup that he never wanted to be away from for too long.

Maybe, just maybe, Tavish will get that ride in a sidecar yet!

Dogging the Details

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

35°27′59.77″N,  83°55′9.99″W
Highway 129
(a.k.a. Tail of the Dragon),  Tennessee/North Carolina, with a stop at Deal’s Gap

35°18′22.87″N,  84°00′46.45″W
Cherohola Skyway (Routes 143/165), North Carolina/Tennessee

This excursion rates a “1” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter. It was a fun, scenic outing and, aside from the driving, was not very strenuous…particularly if you’re a dog! In all, we covered 113 miles that afternoon, but this represented three hours of actual driving time, because speed limits are just 30 mph on the Tail of the Dragon and 40 mph on the Cherohala Skyway.

Cherohala Skyway

The Cherohala Skyway is the “mile-high legend.” Tavish proves it by standing at the Santeetlah Overlook, the route’s highest elevation at 5390 feet.

We had started out just south of Knoxville, snaking southeast on the Tail of the Dragon. En route we passed the Cheoah Dam. Besides holding back the water of the Little Tennessee River, it’s also famous for being the dam from which Dr. Richard Kimble—portrayed by actor Harrison Ford—swans dives in the 1993 thriller The Fugitive. It wasn’t easy for us to pull off the road right then, so there’s no Intrepid Pup photo…you’ll just have to take our word for it. We decided to extend our drive by daisy-chaining from the Tail of the Dragon right onto the Cherohala Skyway, a 60-mile, high-elevation road running west from Robbinsville, North Carolina, to Tellico Plains, Tennessee. But be sure to top off your fuel tank at Deal’s Gap as there are no gas stations on this segment. The route takes its name from the two national forests (Cherokee and Nantahala) it transects.

We made a couple stops along the Skyway to check out some pretty amazing vistas. From the sheer elevation, it’s easy to see why much of the highway gets closed during wintry weather.  Before a passing thunderstorm hit, we were also able to stretch our legs and get in a short 0.75-mile hike with Tavish along a roadside trail with interpretive signs about railroads and timber harvesting.

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Journey to the Edge of Shangri-La

Catoctin Trail

That got your attention, didn’t it? OK, so while Tavish the Intrepid Pup technically didn’t stumble upon the mystical paradise described in Lost Horizon, he came pretty close to a Shangri-La. In Thurmont, Maryland, that is.

Catoctin Mountain Park, administered by the National Park Service, is some 10,000 acres of hardwood forest interspersed with recreational areas and a lot of history. Its past is interwoven with that of sawmills, whiskey stills, tanneries, charcoal production, and pig iron. In the 1930s it was shaped into the Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area by the WPA and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Of this expanse, the Hi-Catoctin Camp for families of federal workers caught the eye of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a viable spot for a presidential retreat. Roosevelt hadn’t been too keen on adopting his predecessor President Herbert Hoover’s retreat (Camp Rapidan) in Shenandoah, in part because its remoteness presented challenges for Roosevelt’s physical condition. But Hi-Catoctin was just an hour northwest of Washington, DC, and refreshingly cooler in the summer to boot. Roosevelt first visited Catoctin in April 1942, and the existing camp was quickly converted to a presidential retreat he dubbed “Shangri-La” after the utopia in James Hilton’s popular 1933 novel. It became a true haven for the president during World War II, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill even came there for the Third Washington Conference in 1943. After Roosevelt’s death, President Harry Truman recognized the importance and significance of Shangri-La and preserved it through an arrangement with the National Park Service. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower came into office, he readily embraced Shangri-La but with one significant modification: he renamed it Camp David after his grandson! It’s kept that name ever since and has seen several historic moments, from visits by Leonid Brezhnev, Nikita Khrushchev, and Margaret Thatcher to the 1978 summit with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin culminating in the Camp David Accords. As you might suspect, Shangri-La (a.k.a. Camp David) is neither visible from any of the park roads nor open for visitation by the general public even if you do find it.

However, you have the whole rest of the park at your disposal, and with 25 miles of available hiking trails ranging from easy to strenuous, you can readily assemble an itinerary that strikes your fancy. We ended up covering about 5 miles during our visit by hiking the out-and-back Cunningham Falls Nature Trail (2.8 miles round-trip, with a nice view of the falls), the Hog Rock Nature Trail loop (1.5 miles, featuring 14 kinds of trees and nice vista of the Monocacy Valley), and the Blue Ridge Summit Trail (0.6 mile round-trip, with a rocky overlook at an elevation of 1520 ft). Just to manage expectations: at no time did Bo, President’s Obama’s Portuguese Water Dog, come bounding up to us. In fact, we were kind of surprised by how uncrowded the park was, but we chalked it up to the fact that rain in the forecast was keeping folks away. We’ll definitely be back to tackle some of the other routes!

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

39°39′1.54″N,  77°27′50.65″W
Catoctin Mountain Park, Thurmont, Maryland

39°37′5.79″N,  77°24′56.46″W
The Cozy’s Camp David Museum, Thurmont, Maryland

This excursion is a solid “2” on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter. Catoctin is a great natural setting that welcomes leashed dogs, and the hiking trails are very well marked and maintained.

Catoctin Mountain Park

Tavish on the lush and shady Cunningham Falls trail. We passed a total of six other dogs on this popular route.

Make the Park Service’s Visitor Center at Catoctin Mountain Park your first stop. There is no entrance fee for the park, although rates do apply if you’ll be availing yourself of any of the four cabin camp rental sites. The ranger can outfit you with a trail map and recommend what hikes will best suit your group and the time you have available. Particularly neat is the park’s current initiative, the “Healthy Park | Healthy People Challenge.” You’re given a pamphlet listing a combination of 13 interpretive trails and scenic overlooks in the park. With each destination attained, you have a ranger record it on your sheet. Make it to all 13 spots and you’ll earn a special Catoctin Mountain Park carabiner!

The Visitor Center contains restroom facilities, outdoor trash receptacles, a small museum covering the cultural heritage and natural history of the region, and a park bookstore/gift shop that even carries collapsible water bowls and pet bandanas stamped “National Bark Ranger” (um, yeah, we bought one).

After truly enjoying hiking in the park, our next stop was the historic Cozy in downtown Thurmont. Established in 1929, Cozy is Maryland’s oldest restaurant still run by its founding family. That in and of itself makes the Cozy noteworthy in this day and age, but it’s the Cozy’s other claim to fame that had Team Tavish intrigued. In addition to the Cozy Country Inn and Cozy Village Shops, the Cozy complex is home to the nation’s “only museum of Camp David history.” You come upon the outdoor painted plaque that says that Mamie Eisenhower and Babe Ruth are among the notables who’ve dined here, open the door to the family-style restaurant,  and boom:  there’s the Camp David Museum.

Camp David MuseumA modest-sized room off the main dining area serves as the gallery chock full of photographs and memorabilia highlighting the Cozy’s Camp David connections to 13 presidential administrations and counting. There’s a perfect photo opp beneath a rustic “Camp David” sign, but sorry, no dogs allowed inside.

For security reasons Camp David doesn’t show up on the Park Service trail maps, but area residents are accustomed to Camp David hubbub and seem happy enough to demystify things for you. One nice lady we met (alas, didn’t catch a name) recalled how broadcast journalist “Barbara Wawa” would hike up her skirt and vault a fence so she’d be the first out to the helicopters that used the parking lot of a local car dealership as a  landing pad. Time was that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secret Service agents stayed at the Cozy. JFK’s cabinet members often dined there, and the Cozy was the lodging of choice for guests attending President George H. W. Bush’s daughter Doro’s wedding at Camp David in 1992. And then there were tales of television reporters who had their favorite yards or trees downtown that they’d always use as backdrops for reporting “live from Camp David”…even though all the locals watching the evening news knew better.

Yet, despite the G8 Summit being held at Camp David just two months ago (May 2012), Team Tavish detected a hint of wistfulness in our new-found Thurmont-er friend. “It’s not quite like it used to be,” she said. “Now all those world leaders just Skype and email each other, you know. And President Obama really seems to be more of a beach kind of guy, so I don’t think he gets up here as much as some of the other presidents did.”

Everything in the Cozy’s various displays has been donated over the years by visiting White House staffers, dignitaries, and members of a generous press corps. It seems that the bus tours that stop for repast at the Cozy are a pretty discerning bunch, and it apparently hasn’t gone unnoticed that the Obama section of the Camp David Museum is a little sparse. Don’t blame the Cozy, however, as they know their audience and aim to please. They’ve submitted requests for items through “official channels” and have even improvised by adding a few generic images of the First Family. But at the end of the day, Team Tavish had to concur with the assessment of our casual acquaintance: “Photos downloaded from the internet somehow just don’t cut it.”

So, if someone at the White House happens to be reading this (and we know hope you are!), the Intrepid Pup encourages you to  “throw a bone” to the Cozy’s Camp David Museum in the way of some Obama swag and a few recent photos of the president at Camp David. Who knows? It might just translate to some key votes from Thurmont-ers and Cozy-philes in the November elections.

Monticello, Dogs, and the 4th of July

Monticello Thomas Jefferson’s name gets bandied about quite frequently on the fourth of July. Famously linked to this date first for his role in writing the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson also made history by dying on July 4th fifty years later…the exact same day as his Declaration co-author and former political adversary John Adams.

So, on this our country’s 236th birthday, Intrepid Pup shares a recent visit to Thomas Jefferson’s hilltop home of Monticello.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was a young nation’s first Secretary of State, second Vice President, and third President…a veritable trifecta that meant he was indeed a busy man whose home—despite being started in 1768—took forty years to complete. Today, the distinctive plantation with its Palladian architectural influences is the only U.S. residence that’s also a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.

Moniticello

Tavish overlooks Jefferson’s gardens from the airy pavilion, much as Bergère and her progeny might have done more than 200 years ago.

Historians are always quick to cite Jefferson’s intellect and endless fascinations:  natural history, architecture, gardening, cooking, viticulture, farming, literature, politics. But dogs? This founding father seemed to take a purely utilitarian view—not uncommon in late 18th-century America—of the canine species. Jefferson opined that, in general, the dog population should be highly controlled (and even regulated and taxed) as dogs often proved to be carriers of disease and a scourge upon livestock. A comprehensive article on this topic appears in the “Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia” section of Monticello’s website.

That all being said, Jefferson also felt that certain birds and animals from the Old World should be introduced to America. Among these was a “shepherd’s dog,” and Jefferson took it upon himself to import three such dogs from France (a female named Bergère and two puppies she whelped during the trans-Atlantic passage) in 1789. There’s been much speculation as to just what kind of herding dogs these were, since Jefferson’s archival records lack this particular detail. The experts’ best guess? Large Briards. Jefferson’s farm animals included sheep, cows, and various poultry, and it seems that Bergère et al were kept as true working dogs. More of the “chien de berger” came to Monticello in 1790 and 1809, with the latter dogs personally selected by the Marquis de Lafayette! As Albemarle County landowners increasingly acquired sheep, Jefferson’s dogs came into high demand, and correspondence indicates that he carefully bred his dogs and supplied the puppies to relatives, friends and neighbors.

Bergère’s happy—but, presumably, purely coincidental—legacy is that Monticello remains a dog-friendly destination. So long as you keep your dog leashed and outdoors, dogs are welcome to explore Monticello’s historic grounds.

 

Dogging the Details

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter means 38°0′35.34″N,  78°27′9.85″W
Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia

For Monticello’s pet-friendly culture and sheer number of things to see and do, this excursion ranks a “2” on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter.

Your visit will begin in the parking lot. Don’t miss seeing the African-American graveyard. It’s near the picnic area and entrance to the 2-mile Saunders-Monticello Trail (important note: dogs are permitted only on the section that runs through Kemper Park at the opposite end of the trail). From the parking lot you’ll approach the Visitor Center for your tickets. There’s a theater showing a 20-minute introductory film, an educational center, a cafe, and a well-stocked museum shop (sorry, no dogs in any of the buildings). Though your dog also can’t accompany you into the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Gallery, you’ll want to check this out, too. This compact museum space addresses diverse themes—from slavery to Monticello’s design—and tackles abstract concepts like Jefferson’s words and ideas in a creative way: see for yourself!

Monticello

Dogs can’t take the shuttle (left), but the walking trail (right) begins just across the road from the Visitor Center shuttle stop.

To cover the distance between the Visitor Center and the house with your dog, you won’t be able to ride the courtesy shuttle. Not to worry: there’s a gently sloping, shady 0.6-mile gravel path through the woods that only takes ~20 minutes. Allow more time if you stop to linger en route at Jefferson’s gravesite.

We were pleased to find trash receptacles placed throughout the grounds (though not on the woodland trail), and we were conveniently able to refill water bottles for Tavish from restroom facilities and from the drinking fountain at the Museum Shop adjacent to Jefferson’s extensive vegetable garden.

Monticello beer cellar

Tavish cools off in Monticello’s beer cellar. Jefferson’s wife Martha (1748-1782) oversaw the brewing of 15-gallon batches every two weeks. A British brewer visited Monticello in 1813–due to being detained in the War of 1812!–and, based on his input, the estate switched to producing biannual 100-gallon runs of ale.

Since dogs aren’t allowed inside the main house, Team Tavish took the timed-entry guided tour in consecutive one-hour shifts. This meant that Tavish had a full two hours to explore Jefferson’s estate, and there really was plenty to hold his (and our) interest. We’d been informed that Tavish could accompany us on any of the seasonally-offered “gardens and grounds” tours included in the general admission fee. While we saw many of these in progress, we opted to explore on our own and even encountered a few other visiting dogs. The beautiful flower beds on the west lawn were in full bloom, and from the north terrace we could just make out in the distance the Jefferson-designed rotunda at the University of Virginia. We surveyed the orchards from the vantage point of the garden pavilion. And when we needed some shade, we took a self-guided tour through the cool cellar passage that runs the full width of the main house and terraces and gives you a peek at Monticello’s dependencies .

Plan on spending a minimum of 3 hours at Monticello to savor the history and the views!

 

 

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A Rewarding Moment

One excited Intrepid Pup

What’s Tavish all excited about? Intrepid Pup is now an AWARD-WINNING blog!

There’s rarely a dull moment where Tavish is involved. The latest case in point: Intrepid Pup has been honored by BlogPaws as Best New Blog. Wow!

BlogPaws was founded in 2009 by Caroline Golon, Yvonne DiVita, and Tom Collins. It’s the go-to resource for pet enthusiasts, pet bloggers, shelters, rescues, and the brands who serve them. BlogPaws offers online and offline opportunities to partner on projects and campaigns, be educated on social media, and meet people all over the country. Its annual conference unites hundreds of attendees from around the globe for professional development, networking, and cause marketing. Introduced with this year’s BlogPaws conference was the first annual Nose-to-Nose Pet Blogging and Social Media Awards, officially sponsored by Halo, Purely for Pets and Freekibble.com.

As BlogPaws states, “This is the only awards program where pet bloggers (and pet people who “microblog” on Twitter and Facebook) are being judged by a panel of distinguished professionals on their expertise, creativity, and performance.” Team Tavish was notified back in mid-May that the Intrepid Pup had been nominated and was among the finalists for 2 of the 12 possible awards! Intrepid Pup was humbled to be with such talented company in the categories of Best Blog Writing (“judged on overall writing skill”) and Best New Blog (for blogs “less than one year old, with good content and engagement”).

Then came the waiting.

Unfortunately we couldn’t make it out to Salt Lake City to be on hand for the red carpet gala on June 23, 2012, so we were really grateful that BlogPaws was live-streaming the awards ceremony on UStream. Leading pet lifestyle expert, endangered animal and rescue advocate, best-selling author, and TV personality Wendy Diamond was the emcee, and the ballroom was filled with two- and four-footed guests!

We had just returned from an exhaustingly fun Conestoga Vizsla Club event, and Tavish was getting  comfy on the living room sofa while we were frantically tuning in to the live video feed and concurrent “BlogPawty” on Twitter…all seamlessly orchestrated.  And shortly after 8PM EST, here’s what we saw:

Amazing. When we first launched the Intrepid Pup’s interactive website at the end of January 2012 and then the blog—a mere 5 months ago…what a blur!—we were prepared for the journey but uncertain where it would lead. In inviting you to “Come! Adventures Await”, we combine imagery and narrative to promote lifelong learning and an active lifestyle with one’s pet by chronicling Tavish’s own adventures at national parks, natural wonders, museums, historical sites, events, and attractions throughout the country. From time to time, the blog also reflects upon Tavish’s inspirational experiences as a certified therapy dog working with children and the elderly in a variety of settings. It’s pure enjoyment: part wonderment, part educational, and all about being out and about in the world with one intrepid pup.

So, it’s an extremely special combination to be new to the pet blogging community and to be recognized in BlogPaws’ inaugural awards as the “Best New Blog.” Making it all the sweeter is the fact that the award comes with an opportunity to give back. Sponsors Freekibble.com and Halo, Purely for Pets have teamed up to allow the BlogPaws award winners to donate 5,000-meals apiece to the organizations of our choice.

If you’re not already familiar with these two companies, you should be! Since 2008 Freekibble has donated more than 7.7 million meals to dogs and cats at shelters, rescues, and foodbanks by featuring  daily trivia questions on its websites Freekibble.com and Freekibblekat.com. Visitors to the sites submit their online answers and—right or wrong!—automatically contribute 10 pieces of kibble to homeless pets. Halo, Purely for Pets has been Freekibble’s official pet food sponsor since 2010 and annually donates upwards of one million meals of Halo Spot’s Stew that Freekibble then distributes to shelters and rescues throughout the United States. What a winning combination! Halo, co-owned by animal advocate (and comedian/television host/actress) Ellen DeGeneres, has been making all-natural pet food since 1986.

So, what is the Intrepid Pup’s charity of choice to receive the 5,000 meals?

AWS logoThe Animal Welfare Society (AWS) – West Kennebunk, Maine.
Although Tavish didn’t come from a shelter, we at Team Tavish truly believe that Tavish owes a good deal of his sociability, confidence, and training to the many classes— puppy, obedience, agility, rally—that we took at AWS, our local shelter while we were living in Maine. It’s for this reason that we want to award 5,000 meals to AWS and give a special shout-out and thank-you to our former AWS trainers Kim, Amy, Maryjane, and SaShell. It’s especially important for folks to realize that through various outreach programs, quality shelters like AWS can and do play a vital, continuing role in fostering a positive human-pet bond beyond initial adoption services.

About AWS
AWS is a private, non-profit humane society. Begun in the early 1960s by a group of caring individuals, the AWS incorporated in 1967 and today is a vibrant 13,000 s.f. facility which in 2011 added its own in-house spay and neuter clinic. AWS currently provides municipal shelter services to 21 contracted towns representing a population of nearly 150,000 people throughout southern Maine. AWS is an open-admission facility and accepts every animal—strays, transfers, and surrenders—regardless of health, age, or perceived “adoptability.” Through its day camps, school and museum visits, classes, presentations and other community-based initiatives, AWS actively promotes kindness, the elimination of cruelty to and neglect of all animals, and the lifelong commitment of people to their pets.

As Nose-to-Nose winners, we were given one final opportunity to “pay it forward.”  Collectively the awardees from all 12 categories were asked to vote on which pet-related organization should receive one of BlogPaws’ traditional closing ceremony donations. Happily, a $2,000 donation is going to World Vets, a non-government organization founded in 2006, which provides veterinary aid in developing countries and veterinary disaster relief worldwide. Its primary focus is to make veterinary care accessible to the 99 percent of animals in developing countries that never see a veterinarian. This North Dakota-based non-profit has deployed more than 3,600 volunteers to 36 countries on six continents and collaborates with animal advocacy groups, foreign governments, US and foreign military groups and veterinary professionals abroad.

Click to see what a 3 on the Wag-A-Meter meansMany thanks to BlogPaws, Freekibble, and Halo for their generosity and support of these awards and animals the world over. We’re truly honored. And finally, thanks to the Intrepid Pup’s friends old and new. As many faithful followers of the Intrepid Pup already know, one hallmark of Tavish’s adventure-related blog posts is a “Dogging the Details” section with a Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter reading…and this one definitely tops out at a 3!

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O Say Can You Sailabrate?

Sailabration 2012

Tavish gazes at Baltimore’s Sailabration festivities and the visiting ARM Cuauhtémoc, a Mexican Navy tall ship whose home port is Acapulco.

From June 16 through June 19, 2012, Baltimore put the “charm” in Charm City by rolling out the welcome mat, inviting more than 40 tall ships and navy vessels, and dialing in some stellar low-humidity “Chamber of Commerce” weather…all in the name of a Star-Spangled Sailabration commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812.

Not one to miss an historic event, Tavish the Intrepid Pup joined the throngs last Saturday. With activities happening citywide at five separate locations, this had the makings of being a logistical and traffic nightmare, so we were pleasantly surprised at how easy it actually was to get downtown. We decided to forgo parking at M&T Bank Stadium when we saw people lined up to park and catch shuttle buses to the various venues and opted instead to park a little further north in Redwood Garage on South Eutaw Street for a reasonable $16 daily rate.  Turns out that this parking garage is a neighbor of the historic Bromo Seltzer Tower and the Baltimore City Fire Department. A few of the firemen standing in the open bay for Engine 23 offered up dog biscuits and a head pat to Tavish as we walked back by. What a nice welcome! It was just a few more blocks down to the heart of the Inner Harbor area. To take it all in, we headed all the way over to the south side and up the embankment of Federal Hill. It offers a  pretty spectacular panoramic overlook of the Inner Harbor, even when there aren’t performance stages, food pavilions, an Adventure Zone, and all those visiting ships!

There were Class B tall ships hailing from ports throughout the country, Class A tall ships (square-rigged, over 40 meters) from as far away as Indonesia and Brazil, and research vessels and gray hulls representing Canada, Denmark, Japan, Mexico, Norway, the UK and the USA. Bedecked with signal flags, they were a colorful sight to behold. All the ships were open for free public tours, but Intrepid Pup was content to skip the lines and take in the views dockside.  We even caught a few glimpses of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels doing their precision flyover formations as part of the afternoon airshow.

Just because Sailabration has now concluded doesn’t mean that the official celebration has. Four historic ships are permanently berthed in the Inner Harbor and open for tours:  USCGC Taney (the last surviving warship of Pearl Harbor), the submarine USS Torsk, the Lightship Chesapeake and the sloop USS Constellation. And what’s more, with the War of 1812 so firmly embedded in Baltimore’s cultural identity, its related must-see attractions (Fort McHenry and the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House) are open year round.

Star-Spangled Banner Flag House

Tavish stands watch outside the historic Star-Spangled Banner Flag House.

With its proximity two blocks east of the Inner Harbor, we viewed a walk over to visit the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House as a good chance to temporarily escape the growing congestion on the piers.

The red brick Star-Spangled Banner Flag House dates to 1793 and is a registered National Historic Landmark for good reason:  it was here in 1813 that flagmaker Mary Young Pickersgill and eight other women took six weeks to fulfill a purchase order from Fort McHenry’s commanding officer Major George Armistead for an enormous 30′ x 42′ garrison flag. It was this same flag—still flying after British bombardment of the fort on September 13-14, 1814—that inspired attorney Francis Scott Key to pen the poem that would become the U.S. national anthem. What’s striking about the building is its size. Though relatively roomy by 19th-century standards, you have to keep in mind that this was not only Pickersgill’s house but also her office and “factory.” Most of the flags she sewed or painted for vessels in the Port of Baltimore were far smaller in scale. The soon-famous “star-spangled banner” was fashioned from approximately 400 yards of (ironically) British wool bunting. Each of the 15 stars measured two feet tip to tip, and each of the 15 stripes was two feet wide. In short, this meant that the nearly 100-pound flag was far too cumbersome to piece together in her house, so Pickersgill secured permission to finish it on the malthouse floor of Brown’s Brewery a block away! Amazingly enough, the signed receipt for the flag is retained in the museum’s archival collections. The total bill came to $405.90 for the labor and materials to create the star-spangled banner and a slightly smaller storm flag for the fort to use in inclement weather.

 

Dogging the Details

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter means
39°16′49.01″N, 76°36′31.27″W
Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland

39°17′14.89″N, 76°36′12.57″W
Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, Baltimore, Maryland

 

Dog-shaped nutcracker

Check out this dog-shaped nutcracker! Intrepid Pup approves. It’s one of many typical 19th-century household implements displayed in the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House. Look for it on the mantel above the hearth in the kitchen when you visit!

As always, we had plenty of water on hand. And, ever mindful of the heat of the midday sun, we made frequent stops for our shade-mongering Intrepid Pup. Fortunately, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is pedestrian-friendly and well equipped with watering holes, benches, and scenic views for the two- and four-legged alike.

As one might guess, the historic Star-Spangled Banner Flag House isn’t pet friendly, but the exceptionally helpful visitor services staff did allow our Intrepid Pup a brief respite in the adjoining modern, air-conditioned visitors center where we watched a 10-minute introductory film. In fact, all this hospitality is what earned our Sailabration excursion an enthusiastic “2” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter! While half of Team Tavish then went on the approximately 30-minute tour of the house (you can choose between docent-led or self-guided via cell phone), the other half of Team Tavish stayed outside with Tavish.

Tavish at the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House

Outside the Flag House, there’s a spacious courtyard. Tavish is sitting on a clever outline map of the U.S. where each “state” is made of the official state stone (i.e. Petoskey stone for Michigan, granite for New Hampshire, etc.). The flag in the background is the same size as Mary Pickersgill’s 1813 star-spangled original. What Tavish didn’t get to experience was the house tour and the museum gallery and kids’ discovery center on the first floor of the visitors center…but he did see the film!