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!

 

Canine Connections with the Interior

U.S. Department of the Interior

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

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

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

If you imagine a federal building encompassing two full city blocks to be pretty imposing, you’d be right. Portions of DOI are open to the general public, however, including an extensive research library, a cafeteria, the Indian Craft Shop and the Interior Museum.

Pet-friendly walking tours

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

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

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

Details from DOI murals with dogs

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

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

Dogging the Details

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

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

North County by Gifford Beal

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

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

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

Alaska mural by James Michael Newell

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

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

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

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

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

Rush for the Oklahoma Land - 1894 by John Steuart Curry

Rush for the Oklahoma Land – 1889 by John Steuart Curry (1897-1946). Oil on canvas, 1939, 109.5″ h x 235″ w

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

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

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Four Ways to Savor the End of Summer with your Dog

Lounging

Don’t throw in the towel on summer just yet: Tavish the Intrepid Pup has—count ’em—FOUR great ideas for eking out the last bits of summer fun.

Labor Day Weekend is upon us, officially signaling that summer is drawing to a close. But just because the sun is setting earlier and the number of BBQs is dwindling doesn’t mean there isn’t still fun to be had. To that end, Tavish the Intrepid Pup has picked four can’t-miss activities to help you and your dog savor these last days of summer and tide you over ’til next year.

Click to see what a 3 on the Wag-A-Meter meansEach of these tops out the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter at a “3” not only for being canine-specific but also for being fun for dogs and people alike. While they all happen to take place within the greater metropolitan DC area, Team Tavish suspects that there are similar events elsewhere in the country…let us know in the comments section below!

 

Canine Cruise

Ahoy! Tavish spent the whole Canine Cruise facing into the breeze.

Canine Cruise with Potomac Riverboat Company, Alexandria, Virginia
38°48′18.40″N,  77°2′22.99″W

Only two more cruise dates remain in the 2012 season: Thursday 9/6/12 and Thursday 9/13/12 at 7PM and 8PM, weather permitting

Here’s your chance to get out on the water! The Potomac Riverboat Company offers a whole host of water taxi services and scenic tours along the Potomac, but this one is billed especially for dogs. Board the double-decked, open-air Admiral Tilp from the Alexandria Dock at the base of Cameron Street; look for the dog-friendly drinking fountain near the gangplank! Though you’ll have to purchase a ticket ($15/adult; $9/child, reservations are suggested), your dog rides for free and usually even receives a complimentary dog biscuit from the crew!

There were approximately six other dogs sharing the upper deck with us on the evening of our 40-minute excursion. It was typical, sultry end-of-summer weather, so the light breeze off the water was welcome. The captain pointed out the highlights and shared a few pieces of trivia, but otherwise this was not a highly narrated affair. You’ll head as far south as the impressive Woodrow Wilson Bridge and as far upriver as Bolling Air Force Base. Along the way there are lovely views of Old Town and National Airport on the Virginia shore and National Harbor and the Naval Research Laboratory on the Maryland side.

Dogs are required to be on 6-foot flat leashes.

Dog Swim

Tavish prefers wading and splashing to actual swimming but had an absolute blast at last year’s Dog Swim at NVRPA’s Great Waves Waterpark.

Dog Swim at NVRPA Waterparks
38°48′18.04″N,  77°6′1.56″W
Saturday 9/8/12 – Noon to 4PM

On the final day of the season before the pools get drained, all five of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority’s waterparks go to the dogs! Although the “rides” and slides are off limits, there’s plenty of action to be found in the wave pool, play areas, giant bubblers, and waterfalls. Come prepared to fill out a waiver/registration form and to pay the entry fee of $5 per dog. Once you pass through the security gates you can let your dog off leash, but be sure to keep your dog in view. Remember to bring a towel, doggie bags, fresh water for your dog to drink…and a camera! The sight of all those dogs racing around and grinning away (easily 50 at any given time) was priceless!

Though you may be tempted to join in the frolicking, only dogs are allowed in the water on the Dog Swim afternoon. And one final tip, shared from personal experience:  As your dog careens through the pools, be mindful of his toenails and paw pads, since the concrete decking can rapidly wear them to the quick or cause a tear. If your dog is due for a nail trim, don’t do it right before the Dog Swim.

NPS tour

Fala, you sly dog, you! Tavish poses with the bronze statue of Fala, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famed Scottish terrier and confidante, at the FDR Memorial. It’s the only presidential memorial to include a pet.

Presidential Dogs and Four-Legged American Heroes Tour, beginning at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, Washington, DC
38°53′2.24″N,  77°2′38.89″W

Upcoming dates are Sunday 9/9/12, Sunday 9/16/12, and Saturday 9/29/12, beginning at 5PM…plus a couple dates in October TBA, beginning at 4PM.

How better to explore man’s best friends’ contributions to our nation than via DC’s national memorials? Well-behaved, leashed dogs are welcome on this innovative (and free!) walking tour led by a National Park Service ranger. This particular tour is a relatively new offering—the first one was a month ago— and is rapidly growing in popularity. The tour convenes at the bookstore at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and, fortunately, finding late-afternoon weekend parking nearby on Ohio Drive isn’t impossible. In about 90 minutes’ time, you’ll cover approximately 1.5 miles at a leisurely pace, with built-in stops for water breaks and dog treats. Ranger Eddy Kahle readily held the attention of our multi-generational group consisting of 10 people and 5 dogs. Brimming with anecdotes and a dog-owner himself, Kahle is clearly passionate about the important role pets play in our lives. You’ll learn which president had the most pets in the White House (hint: one was a pygmy hippo!), who had a pair of beagles named “Him” and “Her”, and what dog joined the president on his morning jogs. As the tour moves away from the Tidal Basin and toward the war memorials, the focus shifts to the role of dogs in wartime and their value to returning veterans.

For your dog, bring along doggie bags, fresh water and a 6-foot leash. For you? Don’t forget a camera. After all, how else are you going to get that requisite photo of your dog alongside a super-sized Fala immortalized in bronze?

Yappy Hour

Tavish discovered that the Hotel Monaco’s open-air courtyard is a pretty happenin’ place.

Doggie Yappy Hour at the Hotel Monaco, Alexandria, Virginia
38°53′2.24″N,  77°2′38.89″W

5PM on Tuesday and Thursday evenings through October, weather permitting

One of the very first dog owners we met the winter we moved to northern Virginia told us point blank, “Come April, you must go to the Hotel Monaco.” That’s when the boutique hotel opens its brick courtyard for the much-anticipated Doggie Yappy Hours that take place every Tuesday and Thursday evenings all the way through October.

The ground rules are simple: no more than 2 dogs per handler, no paws on the tables, and dogs must be on 6-foot leashes and have current rabies tags. There’s a good vibe, and the people/canine-watching is pretty sublime. It’s not uncommon for the café tables and cushioned wicker sofas to be filled to capacity, with close to 25 dogs of all breed and sizes (plus a few adoptable dogs from the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria) lounging alongside. Hotel Monaco staffers are quick to accommodate with water bowls and complimentary dog treats. There’s no cover charge, but don’t think you won’t need a wallet. There’s an eclectic mix of non-draft craft beers available from the outdoor bartender. Wait staff will help you choose from a tasty selection of small plate “new American tavern” dishes from the hotel’s Jackson 20 menu. (Think fried green tomatoes, BBQ sliders, shrimp fritters, waffle fries with pulled pork and smoked gouda…yum!)

If you time it right on a Thursday, you can have drinks and appetizers at the Yappy Hour and then walk the three blocks down to the waterfront to catch the Canine Cruise described above.

Oh Shenandoah, I Long to See You

Brown House at Rapidan Camp

In visiting Rapidan Camp, Herbert Hoover’s presidential retreat in Shenandoah, the Intrepid Pup follows in the footsteps of such luminaries as aviator Charles Lindbergh and inventor Thomas Edison. Here, Tavish lounges on the porch of Brown House, the Hoovers’ personal cabin, at the terminus of the 2-mile Mill Prong Trail.

Rapidan's Outdoor Hearth

Rapidan Camp’s outdoor fireplace provides a good backdrop for photos, just as it did in Hoover’s time.

From 1929 to 1932, President Herbert Hoover and First Lady Lou Henry Hoover relished their rustic fishing camp in Shenandoah. Fortunately, three of the 13 original buildings constituting their Rapidan Camp have been preserved, and you can enjoy it, too.

One option is to board a shuttle bus at the Byrd Visitor Center for a ride down a fire road as part of a three-hour, ranger-led tour. But you can’t bring your dog. And that hardly seems sporting when the second option is a moderate hike that’s dog-friendly. The trail to Rapidan winds through the very forests that so appealed to the Hoovers as a presidential retreat just 100 miles from the pressures and summer humidity of Washington, DC. The Hoovers built the camp with their own funds, the design largely influenced by the First Lady’s own experience in working with the Girl Scouts. Their personal cabin, known simply as The Brown House, had a comfortably open floor plan, welcoming hearth, and Navajo rugs. The president maintained a separate bedroom/office so he’d not disturb his sleeping wife when White House business kept him burning the midnight oil. Meals were eaten in a communal mess hall to promote camaraderie. Days were spent fishing, horseback riding, and entertaining a steady stream of official guests.

The Hoovers' Norwegian Elkhound Weejie

The Hoovers had several dogs, but it’s their Norwegian Elkhound named Weejie who most often appears in Rapidan Camp press photos like this one from 1932. This particular AP image is part of the onsite interpretive exhibit at Rapidan’s Prime Minister’s Cabin.

Hiking into Rapidan affords you the opportunity of getting the lay of the land. Outdoor signage marks where the other buildings used to stand, and the Prime Minister’s Cabin (so dubbed for Ramsay MacDonald’s visit in 1929) now contains a comprehensive exhibit about the Hoovers and how their presence shaped development in the region. In addition, a park volunteer is on hand most of the year to answer questions and provide hikers with impromptu tours of the Brown House. Our arrival was met by a very personable and knowledgeable history Ph.D. graduate student named Jonathan who was living onsite in the Creel House and serving as Rapidan’s resident caretaker for the summer. From him we learned that Hoover gifted Rapidan Camp to the government upon leaving office, and the camp was incorporated into Shenandoah National Park in 1935. The camp enjoyed use by the Boy Scouts up until 1959, when the Park Service removed all but the existing three structures. Rapidan continued to host senior U.S. officials into the early 1990s, although Maryland’s Camp David had long since supplanted Rapidan as the official presidential retreat.

The grounds and buildings underwent a full restoration in 2004 to return them to how they appeared during the Hoovers’ residence, and they remain a fascinating time capsule of a bygone era.

Dogging the Details

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter means38°29′26.49″N, 78°25′10.93″W
Rapidan Camp, Shenandoah National Park, VA (trailhead at Milam Gap)

The Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter registers an emphatic “2” for this excursion. It requires a modicum of  pre-planning, but the pay-offs include a good workout and a unique historical destination.

With more than 500 miles of hiking trails and only 10 trails on which pets are not permitted, there’s a lot for you and your leashed dog to explore at Shenandoah National Park. If you’re coming by car, there’s a $15 entrance fee per non-commercial vehicle (slightly less if it’s December – February), and your pass is good for the day of entry and the next 6 days, so you’re definitely getting your money’s worth. Road and trail maps are available at any of the ranger stations, and you can download a map for the Rapidan Camp area here.

Mill Prong Trail

Tavish at one of three stream crossings en route to Rapidan Camp

Begin your journey by parking at the Milam Gap pull-off just shy of mile marker 53 along Skyline Drive. The Mill Prong Trail is the most direct route to Rapidan Camp, and the trailhead is just across the street from the parking area. The path is shady, well-groomed and well-marked with tree blazes and concrete posts at trail junctions. It’s two miles downhill on the way in. There are three water crossings, but unless the streams are running high, you can easily ford them by stepping from boulder to boulder. With the last water crossing at Big Rock Falls—a distinctive but gentle cataract flowing into a shallow pool—you’re on final approach to Rapidan Camp.

Nature-wise there were butterflies, huge millipedes, and a couple of chipmunks. Ultimately we encountered more gnats (note: insect repellent is helpful) than hikers and saw no other dogs…but we suspected that it gets more crowded on the weekends. Hiking in took an hour but included several photo stops. For the return trip, we hiked out the same way we came (for a 4-mile round trip total). But if you’re up for a longer circuit hike (7.4 miles total), the alternative is to pick up the Laurel Prong Trail at Rapidan Camp and follow it until it intersects with the Appalachian Trail, which turns northward over Hazeltop Mountain and ends back at the Milam Gap parking area.

Pet-friendly lodging:

Team Tavish enjoys camping, but for this particular trip we had sought a night’s stay in pet-friendly accommodations and were pleased to find a few choices. There are a limited number of in-park, pet-friendly rooms at Lewis Mountain Cabins, Skyland, and Big Meadows Lodge.  We opted for a traditional room at Big Meadows, as it was closest to the trailhead for Rapidan Camp. It was reasonably priced and offered adequate amenities: coffee maker,  double beds, and a small bathroom (no phones or TVs, but there is wi-fi and a TV room in the main building, if you’re so inclined). While dogs aren’t allowed inside the main lodge where the dining options are, you can get pub fare from the Taproom restaurant and eat on the terrace with its none-too-shabby view of the sunset over the Blue Ridge. We saw probably a half dozen dogs being walked on the grounds the next morning, so clearly we weren’t the only ones availing ourselves of the pet-friendly lodging.

Tavish sees a snake

From a safe distance, Tavish observes what was by all accounts Rapidan Camp’s resident non-venomous snake.  We’d read that snakes can strike at a distance up to half their body length. Had this been one of Shenandoah National Park’s pit vipers—identifiable in part by their more triangular-shaped heads—Intrepid Pup wouldn’t be posing for a photo.

Special considerations:

Mosquitoes and ticks are almost givens in any woodland excursion, but hiking in Shenandoah presents two additional cautions (yay!): snakes and bears. Poisonous copperheads and rattlesnakes do reside in the park. Read up on dog-versus-snake encounters, and you’ll be sufficiently freaked out. Dogs usually weigh less than people and thus are more readily “incapacitated” (to use a euphemism) by snake venom. That being said, the snakes in Shenandoah aren’t exactly out trolling for hikers and dogs and would much rather be left alone. In the end, Team Tavish concluded that basic avoidance was going to carry the day, and our modus operandi was hyper-vigilance about not letting Tavish stray from the main trail so he could literally let sleeping snakes lie.

Shenandoah National Park also has one of the densest populations of American black bears in the United States, and pretty much any piece of park literature you’re apt to find includes information about bear safety. They’re purportedly “skittish” and tend not to pose any threat so long as you give them a wide berth, keep food out of the equation, and don’t run away. Another oft-repeated piece of advice is to “let the bear know you’re human” (i.e. wave your arms, make noise, speak in normal tones, etc.), but our travel companion—a close family friend and fellow blogger—joked that in the event of a bear encounter she would also be readily enumerating her other human attributes like, “I can read, I have opposable thumbs, and I have relatives that care about me.” As it turns out, we were glad to have reviewed bear basics because while hiking the 4-mile Rose River Loop Trail the next day, some oncoming hikers alerted us that they had just seen a bear not 200 yards ahead. They said it had shuffled off into the woods when it heard them approaching and, indeed, we never saw it.  We did, however, catch a glimpse of a bear standing at the side of the road as we were driving out of the park.

Special gear:

While you can count on temperatures being cooler in the mountains, you still need to keep hydrated, so bring plenty of water for yourself and your dog. Team Tavish used a CamelBak for water and snacks, and Tavish carried his own water and gear in Ruffwear’s Palisades Pack™ (be on the lookout for an upcoming product review in the near future). Remember to keep your dog on a 6-foot leash as the park’s leash policy is enforced for the safety of dogs, visitors, and wildlife alike. Finally, beautiful scenery is at every turn, so don’t forget to pack a camera!