The National Howl-iday Scene, Part V: The Biltmore

Biltmore_grounds

Being there: Intrepid Pup Tavish heads to North Carolina’s Biltmore Estate to see how America’s largest home–and also among the most dog-friendly–prepares for the holidays.

Tavish and the Biltmore lion

Tavish cozies up to one of the lions flanking the entrance to the Biltmore.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, so it’s high time for Tavish the Intrepid Pup to resume his series on the national “howl-iday” scene, scoping out what are arguably among the country’s most iconic—and dog-friendly—holiday spots. (Visit the index to find the four other venues that have made Tavish’s list to date!)

The Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, defines elegance and hospitality on the grandest of scales. George Vanderbilt II—grandson of renowned American industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt—was a prominent art collector who carved out his own considerable legacy in taking six years to build his magnificent country retreat on 125,000 acres with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With Richard Morris Hunt designing the house and preeminent landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted masterfully curating the grounds, Biltmore’s châteauesque appearance is reminiscent of fine European estates and stands as a testament to the sumptuousness of the Gilded Age. Vanderbilt debuted his home on Christmas Eve of 1895, so it’s especially fitting to make a visit during the holiday season. The annual “Christmas at Biltmore” festivities run from early November to mid January, and although most of the outdoor formal gardens have gone dormant for the winter, the home itself is arguably at its most splendid.

Antler Hill Village

Tavish extended his Biltmore experience at Antler Hill Village, five miles from the main house but still on the grounds of the estate! There you’ll find the winery, an exhibition gallery, a farmstead, trailheads, and (weather-permitting) ample dog-friendly patio dining.

The transformation of Biltmore to its opulent yuletide finest is a highly orchestrated affair involving legions of designers, florists and staff. There’s different themed décor each Christmas, and preparations are well underway by September. According to one of the guides we met, the final two weeks of October are when things really hit a fever pitch. A giant live tree (always at least 35 feet tall!) is carefully installed in the Banquet Hall and adorned with hundreds of ornaments. Garlands are hung, and pastry chefs put the finishing touches on the signature gingerbread house. Unfortunately, photography isn’t permitted inside Biltmore, so you’ll just have to take our word for it that everything is as magnificent as you’d hope!

The tickets required for entry to the grounds  include parking, shuttle service, a brochure-guided tour of the house, and access to the estate’s Antler Hill Village. Don’t miss the winery, where you’ll receive a complimentary tasting. Special Candlelight Christmas Evening tours are also available. Plan on spending a minimum of 90 minutes on the house tour—longer if you partake of the recorded audio guide (an extra fee applies). You’ll traverse three floors of living space—plus the basement kitchens, servants’ quarters and recreation areas. With 250 rooms, you can readily see why Biltmore is the largest private residence in America!

Leashed dogs are welcome at Biltmore, and while they can’t go in the house, there’s plenty of room to roam outside. You’re expected to clean up after your pet, and receptacles are conveniently located throughout the grounds. Biltmore offers a few outdoor self-service kennels, but we recommend savoring the Biltmore wonderland by exploring with your pup!

Dogging the Details

Click to see what a 3 on the Wag-A-Meter means35°32′26.02″N,  82°33′8.35″W
Biltmore, Asheville, NC

Biltmore earns an enthusiastic “3” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter for its unique offerings, canine heritage, and dog-friendly experiences.

Asheville is a refreshingly dog-friendly destination with—at last count—more than 30 accommodations for those traveling with pets. Team Tavish stayed at the Days Inn Biltmore East on Tunnel Road, just a 15-minute drive along I-40 to the Biltmore. Like many area hotels, ours offered the convenience of purchasing Biltmore passes directly from them at no markup. We visited Biltmore on the Saturday after Thanksgiving (one of the estate’s busiest days of the year) and even though we arrived shortly after the grounds opened for the day, parking spaces were already filling rapidly. Shuttles chauffeur guests from the various lots right to the front door. Dogs aren’t allowed on the shuttle, but when we let the parking attendant know we were traveling with a dog, he radioed ahead and kindly directed us to a parking area within easy walking distance instead.

Deer Park Trail

Tavish ran the Deer Park Trail, which offers varied terrain, panoramic mountain vistas, and great views of the house. The trailhead for this 2.6-mile round trip hike is adjacent to Biltmore’s South Terrace. It feels like the backdrop for a movie set, and indeed portions of the films Being There, Last of the Mohicans and Forrest Gump featured these very grounds!

Tavish was eager to burn off some energy, so we checked out our hiking options. After George Vanderbilt’s death in 1914, his wife Edith “downsized,” selling off 87,000 acres to the U.S. Forest Service. Not to worry:  8,000 glorious acres remain with some 22 miles of trails from which to choose. A series of short loop routes (each under a 1/2 mile) total 2.5  miles in just the gardens alone. Longer trails of up to 4 miles round trip originate from the main house and also from the Antler Hill Barn near the winery, a 15-minute drive from the main parking lots. Since we were taking turns going on the house tour and walking Tavish, we selected the Deer Park Trail which begins at the house’s South Terrace and meanders through a hilly landscape down to the Lagoon. Racing through the tall grass, catching fleeting scents of various wildlife that consider Biltmore’s grounds their home, Tavish was following in the paw prints of the many dogs who’ve gone before.

Dogs have historically been numerous and well-loved at Biltmore. George and Edith Vanderbilt had a kennel of Collies and owned Borzois/Russian Wolfhounds and St. Bernards. The dogs purportedly had run of Biltmore’s first floor. Imagine that! The Vanderbilts’ only child Cornelia shared their affection for canines. As an adult, Cornelia maintained a kennel of Llewellin Setters and later, with her husband John Amherst Francis Cecil, had Salukis. And it seems the tradition continues; upstairs in the main house, we spotted a circa 1990 Cecil family portrait complete with a regal looking standard poodle named Blackberry.

The Biltmore's dog-friendly legacy

This circa 1910 photograph (inset) depicting Cornelia Vanderbilt and beloved St. Bernard, Cedric, was replicated on Biltmore’s grounds in a 2010 sculpture by Vadim Bora (1954-2011). It was the artist’s final commission.

But of all Biltmore’s dogs, it’s Cedric that represents the pack. Cedric was the pet St. Bernard who appears in several vintage photographs held in Biltmore’s Archives. The Vanderbilts even gave Cedric’s progeny to family and friends. He lives on as the “voice” of the home’s audio tour for children. And if you head over to the estate’s Antler Hill Village, you can’t miss Cedric’s visage on the sign of his namesake tavern.  If the weather is nice, sit out on the dog-friendly patio and raise a glass of Cedric’s Pale Ale or Brown Ale in his honor. A charming statue of Cedric playing with young Cornelia is out front (see photo above). While you’re there, you’ll also want to pop into the neighboring Outdoor Adventure Center and the Mercantile—Tavish discovered that the shopkeepers offered a complimentary treat to visiting pups! Biltmore’s staff members seem to genuinely embrace the pet-friendly ethic, making this historic home a great place to visit at Christmas or in any season.

“Bark Upon the Gale”: Adventures on D.O.G. Street

Colonial Capitol

For 81years, Williamsburg was the seat of Virginia government. It was in this Colonial Capitol building on May 15, 1776, that it was proposed to “declare the United Colonies free and independent states.” The rallying cry, taken up by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, led to the Declaration of the Independence.

Extending just shy of a mile between Williamsburg, Virginia’s Colonial Capitol and the steps of the historic Wren Building is the primarily pedestrian-only thoroughfare known as Duke of Gloucester Street.  Abbreviated to just “D.O.G. Street” by the locals, it’s coincidentally also a great place for experiencing America’s colonial history with your dog.

Preservation and restoration of the downtown’s 18th-century buildings began in 1926 with the financial backing of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.  Opened to the public in 1932, Colonial Williamsburg today constitutes the nation’s largest living history museum.  Costumed interpreters stroll the streets, bringing the “Revolutionary City” to life for some 1.5 million visitors a year.

Begin your visit at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center.  Pets aren’t allowed on the shuttle buses, but it’s only about a quarter-mile walk on a wooded path from the Visitor Center to the heart of the historic district. The walkway comes out near the Governor’s Palace, approximately halfway down D.O.G. Street.  Keep in mind that if you want to go inside certain buildings you’ll need to go solo (and buy a ticket), but otherwise it’s a dog-walking feast for the senses.  Lots of bonnets, tricorn hats, and horse-drawn carriages. Kids perfecting their hoop-rolling technique on the palace lawn. Sheep munching away in their pens. Colorful gardens. You might even talk with “Patrick Henry” or “George Washington.”  We found many of the colonials eager to engage, and Tavish got his share of head rubs as we made the rounds past Bruton Parish, the Courthouse and the Colonial Capitol.

Wren Building

Tavish sprawls in the shadow of the Lord Botetourt statue on the grounds of the Wren Building, the oldest academic building in continuous use in the United States.

Nearing lunchtime, Team Tavish headed to Merchants Square at the far western end of D.O.G. Street and ordered take-out from storied The Cheese Shop. Seriously, this place has been fueling the masses since 1971.  In a not-so-scientific taste test, Tavish always approves of the roast beef and cheddar sandwich with “house dressing,” The Cheese Shop’s signature condiment. While patio seating in the Square is an option, do you and your dog a favor and take your picnic lunch to where the tourists aren’t: just across the street at The College of William & Mary.

To borrow—with a bit of poetic license—from the chorus of William & Mary’s alma mater, here’s your chance to “hark (or bark?!) upon the gale” and check out the campus of this Virginia state school. Thanks to a 1693 charter from King William III and Queen Mary II of England, the College is the second-oldest in America and is the academic home for approximately 6,200 undergrads and 2,000 graduate students. Famous alumni of this “Public Ivy” are as diverse as Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Monroe and Tyler; actress Glenn Close; NFL coach Mike Tomlin; and “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart.

Crim Dell

Tavish mugs for the camera at the College’s picturesque Crim Dell. “Legend” has it that if lovers kiss as they cross the footbridge, they’re destined for marriage…indeed, many a wedding proposal has taken place here. Romance aside, all degree candidates walk over the bridge as part of a final processional through campus preceding each commencement ceremony.

The oldest part of campus abuts Colonial Williamsburg and features a triumvirate of stately brick buildings:  the Sir Christopher Wren Building (it holds the distinction of being the nation’s oldest academic building), the President’s House (yes, the College president really lives there), and The Brafferton (formerly an “Indian School”). To embark on about a mile-long walking tour loop of campus, take the brick path around to the other side of the Wren Building and be rewarded by a vista of the Sunken Gardens, a grassy common where you’re likely to find students studying or sunbathing. Walk down James Blair Drive on the right, and you’ll pass the Campus Center and catch a glimpse of Zable Stadium where William & Mary’s Division I  football team plays. As the drive curves and slopes downhill to the left, glance across the pond for a view of Crim Dell; it’s consistently in contention as the most-photographed spot on any college campus. Glance to your right and you’ll notice a small amphitheater and the entrance to the Wildflower Refuge. If you take this shaded path and eventually bear to the left, it comes out across from Swem Library. Turn left and follow Landrum Drive past Barksdale Field and various academic buildings and dormitories until it connects with Jamestown Road. Make one final left, and hug the sidewalk, walking along the backside of more dorms…you’ll be back at the Wren Building in no time!

 

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

Governor's Palace

Tavish stands tall at the gates of the Governor’s Palace in Colonial Williamsburg. The original structure dated to 1722 and was home to seven royal governors, plus Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.

Dogging the Details

37°16′34.18″ N,  76°41′41.09″ W
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Chalk up a “1” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter for Colonial Williamsburg! Having your dog along means you won’t be able to enter ticketed areas like the Governor’s Palace and garden, some 22 sites where interpreters are plying their 18th-century trades, or many of the historic dining taverns. However, exploring the general historic area is free, and if the weather is pleasant, you’ll find it readily walkable, and there’s no shortage of things to see. You can quite literally cover a lot of ground in just an afternoon. Although Colonial Williamsburg is attractive in any season, the summer months tend to be hot and humid, so be sure to keep your pup and yourself plenty hydrated.

WilliamsburgAlewerks

As of October 2013, expansion plans for AleWerks’ existing microbrewery and tasting room/retail shop call for pet-friendly outdoor seating and a “taproom” offering light snacks.

If your dog is spooked by loud noises, be mindful of when the colonial militia is doing artillery demonstrations on the grounds.  A confession: Tavish the Intrepid Pup is completely unfazed by fireworks and thunderstorms, but he categorically abhors smoke—be it from a grill, a cigarette, a car’s tailpipe, or a musket salute (Tavish once held up an entire parade because of this, but that’s another story).  So while Tavish was fine with the cannon firing near the colonial Magazine during our visit, he was completely undone by the ensuing cannon smoke that was drifting our way, and we had to beat a hasty retreat upwind.

Finally, are you looking to extend your excursion? Two other nearby points making up the region’s “Historic Triangle” are Historic Jamestowne (the 1607 site of the first permanent, colonial English settlement in North America) and Yorktown Battlefield (where the Revolutionary War ended in 1781 with the British surrender to General Washington).  Both welcome leashed dogs in the outdoor areas.  And if you do end up venturing further afield, you’re going to need additional sustenance. Might we suggest AleWerks Brewing Company? Located on the outskirts of town in an industrial park, Williamsburg’s (only) microbrewery came onto the American craft beer scene in 2006.  Another edge-of-town option is Pierce’s PITT Bar-B-Que, a long-time establishment based on a secret family recipe. From the comfort of the outdoor picnic tables, your dog can happily score a couple of samples from your hickory-smoked, down-home meal…just like Tavish did!

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!

National Howl-iday Scene: Part IV

montage of Christmas at Mount Vernon images

Tavish revels in “Christmas at Mount Vernon.” From the greenery adorning the entrance gates to the themed decorations within, George Washington’s estate is a festive place to be all the way through the holiday season. The Intrepid Pup posed in front of the one of several lavish Christmas trees and drooled (literally) at seeing the elaborate display of gingerbread houses. He even had a few friendly licks for Mount Vernon’s dog-loving plantation manager whom he met on the grounds!

If you’ve been a longtime follower of the Intrepid Pup, you might recall that Tavish originally introduced you to dog-friendly Mount Vernon in IntrepidPup.com’s first-ever blog post.  Now, Tavish returns to George Washington’s historic home on the banks of the Potomac River for Part IV in his round-up of the best of the DC metro area’s national “howl-iday” scene. (Visit the index to find the other spots that made the list)

“Christmas at Mount Vernon”  is celebrated annually at the estate from late November through the first week of January. To the authentic artifacts and educational experiences that already draw nearly 1 million visitors a year, Mount Vernon adds special activities for the holidays. You can watch costumed interpreters explore historical foodways by making chocolate, view a gingerbread display depicting a half dozen of Mount Vernon’s buildings, and find richly decorated Christmas trees throughout the orientation center and museum.  The rarely-seen third floor of the main house is open to visitors, and there are designated evenings prior to Christmas for candlelight tours.

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

38°42′29.65″ N,  77°05′07.67″ W
Christmas at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens, Alexandria, Virginia

Christmas at Mount Vernon runs from late November through early January; check website for exact dates each year.

Tavish with Aladdin the Christmas Camel at Mount Vernon

“So, how long are you here?” Tavish shares a moment with Aladdin, the five-year old camel who puts in a guest appearance each year especially for “Christmas at Mount Vernon.”

 

As we’ve noted earlier, Mount Vernon does permit leashed dogs. While dogs do need to enter and exit via two public buildings, they’re otherwise instructed not to linger inside and understandably are not allowed at all in any of the historical structures.

There’s plenty to do on the 500-acre grounds—even in wintertime—and there are two things in particular to seek out that can only be seen during the six weeks encompassing “Christmas at Mount Vernon.”

The first is the camel. Yes, you read that correctly. George and Martha Washington used to welcome hundreds of people to their estate each year and were purportedly the consummate hosts. Records show that at Christmastime in 1787, Washington paid 18 shillings for the thrill of having a  “Christmas camel” come to Mount Vernon to entertain his holiday guests. This tradition has been kept alive in the present day through Aladdin, a real live camel. Aladdin’s regular home is on a Virginia farm with other exotics, but for six much-anticipated weeks a year he’s the celebrated guest at Mount Vernon. On the morning of our visit, Aladdin was contentedly sitting in his outdoor enclosure. Mount Vernon’s plantation manager was also on hand giving a short spiel. Then a large and very excited group of Cub Scouts arrived and peppered him with questions. What we gathered from this fairly humorous exchange is that Aladdin is five years old—very young in camel years—and quite tame. No, he isn’t the same camel that Washington met(!), nor is he a descendant from that camel. Camels are used to cold nights in their natural desert habitat, so Aladdin is not bothered in the least by December temperatures in Virginia. He doesn’t spit, since apparently that’s a learned behavior. Oh, and his best friend is a zebra. The plantation manager caught sight of Tavish and noted that Aladdin is comfortable around dogs, so he invited the two to make an acquaintance. Tavish was clearly intrigued, and he and Aladdin peered curiously at one another through the fence.

Tavish with Cobbler and Gobbler

Tavish maintains a respectful distance from the presidentially-pardoned turkey, Cobbler and his buddy Gobbler.

The other highlight to find is the turkey. Mind you, this isn’t just any turkey. This year it was Cobbler, who was officially pardoned by President Barack Obama as the National Thanksgiving Turkey in a White House ceremony on November 21, 2012. As part of the deal, Cobbler and his pal Gobbler greet the public throughout “Christmas at Mount Vernon” and then live out their retirement with other heritage breed animals as residents at Mount Vernon’s nationally recognized livestock facility. Tavish wasn’t nearly as keen on checking out the turkeys as he was the camel. Maybe it had something to do with Cobbler and Gobbler being pretty vocal and fanning their plumage, but Tavish elected to give them a very wide berth.

“Christmas at Mount Vernon” earns a “2” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter, because just mentioning a dog, a camel, and a White House turkey in one breath sounds like some comedian’s opening line, right? Seriously, though, how many places can you witness such an unusual and historical combination for the holidays?