Tavish for President

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Decision 2016: Tavish for President! Left? Right? Something in between? Intrepid Pup is a new breed of candidate to make America sane again. What do you think of his qualifications? Vote November 8, 2016.

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A Day at the Bay

St. Michael's collage

Glimpses from around the 18-acre campus of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland. Clockwise from left: a) Goofing around with the cut-outs in front of the museum; b) In the boat building workshop; c) Surveying the shoreline with the Hooper Strait screwpile lighthouse in the background; d) A tasty view of the harbor from atop the 1879 lighthouse; e) Catching some rays on the pilothouse of the buy boat Thor; f) Exploring the history of Maryland’s crab fishing industry.

It was a beautiful spring day, and we decided to head to Maryland’s eastern shore to do some exploring in St. Michaels, a town known for its Chesapeake Bay breezes, traditional Maryland fare (think:  blue crab and Smith Island cake, which are the official state crustacean and state dessert, respectively), and history (more about that later). To reach St. Michaels, you head for Annapolis which is a pretty snazzy dog-friendly stop in its own right, go over the Bay Bridge, and about 50 miles later (less than an hour, if the traffic gods are smiling upon you) wind up at your destination.

We didn’t set out with a real plan this time other than to savor the sights, the day, and okay…maybe some crab cakes. We followed Route 33/Talbot Street about a half mile into St. Michaels’ downtown and turned right to park in the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum’s lot.

Tavish at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum

What!? Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is dog-friendly. How cool is THAT?!

We of Team Tavish were trying to figure out where along the fence line was the best spot to photograph Intrepid Pup Tavish with the museum’s signature lighthouse in the background, when…. whaaaaat?? Wait. A. Minute. Just on the other side of the fence we spied a Mutt Mitt Dispenser! You wouldn’t have one of those planted there if dogs weren’t welcome, right? So we stopped into the museum’s Admissions Building and inquired.  “Yes, of course!” the visitor services attendant replied. “You’ll need to keep your dog on a leash and clean up after him, but otherwise he’s allowed anywhere on the campus, except in buildings that have carpeting.” With that, we happily shelled out our entry fees (Tavish was free) and ended up spending nearly three hours there!

The museum was a real treat:  unexpectedly dog-friendly and far more extensive than we’d imagined. There were only four carpeted pavilions Tavish couldn’t go into. For those, we just took turns while one of us waited outside with Tavish, who did his share of rolling in the grass and watching the passing boats. Tavish even spied a beautiful tabby keeping an eye on us from a scrub pine. We later learned she’s a former stray who is now the museum’s resident salty boatyard cat, Ms. Edna Sprit! As for places Tavish COULD venture into, there were many! We wended our way through the Small Boat Shed housing the nation’s largest collection of Chesapeake Bay watercraft. We explored a dredgeboat to learn all about oystering and clambered out on the wharf to the working waterman’s shanty, where we got to check the eel pots and clumsily experiment with using oyster tongs.  And a real highlight was navigating a narrow spiral staircase and crawling through a hatch to reach the top of the 1879 Hooper Strait Lighthouse!

Tavish with Chesapeake Bay Retriever

An homage to Maryland’s state dog: Tavish sizes up this cast iron statue of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever outside the “Waterfowling” pavilion.

A bonus for dog lovers is the museum’s waterfowling exhibit chronicling a key element of bay heritage. While Tavish couldn’t partake of the fascinating display of hand carved duck decoys and tools of the trade, there was a stolid cast iron Chesapeake Bay Retriever statue outside with an interesting story (see photo at right).  It just so happens that in 1807, Marylander George Law was sailing home from England aboard the Canton, when he intercepted a sinking British vessel and rescued its crew and two Newfoundland puppies. When Law arrived safely at port, he purchased the puppies from the captain and brought them home. He named the male Sailor and the female Canton. Since Law ultimately had to go back out to sea, he gave the dogs to two men who allowed them to breed with local dogs, probably coonhounds. Their progeny had dense dual coats, took exceptionally well to the water, and were prolific in their versatility and ability to retrieve waterfowl. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever as a breed was born, and in 1964, it was recognized as Maryland’s official state dog.

 

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

 38°47’14.35″N,  76°13’13.73″W
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
, St. Michaels, Maryland

St. Michaels ranks a “2” on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter for being exceptionally dog-friendly and offering plenty to do for pup and person alike.

 

Tavish at the Crab Claw Restaurant

Hmmm. . . lobster I’m familiar with from living in Maine. You? Not so much!

If you’re spending the day in St. Michaels, you’ll need to grab a bite to eat, and fortunately there’s a quintessential Maryland-y option that’s also dog-friendly: The Crab Claw Restaurant. This is definitely fair-weather casual dining, because with your pup in tow, you’ll be eating outside on the partially covered, spacious deck. Be prepared to wait a bit for your picnic table, since lots of people will have this very same idea on sunny weekends. It’s worth it, however, for the good food and spectacular view of the bay. Truth be told, the people-watching is equally entertaining, as folks pull up in boats of all shapes and sizes. After noticing a young couple a few tables away too full to finish off their dozen crabs, we decided to order the less messy and labor intensive option: crab cakes. Tavish was acting particularly winsome that afternoon, and it wasn’t long before the woman from the couple came over to pet and take pictures of Tavish.  And. . . somehow we ended up with the remainder of their steamed crabs! Tavish is a shameless charmer and seemed both intrigued and pretty smug about this turn of events (see photo at left). Unbelievable.

Tavish at the Broken Rudder Doggie Bar

Talbot Street in St. Michaels caters to dogs with this complimentary, walk-up watering hole: the Broken Rudder Doggie Bar.

You’ll want to walk off your lunch, and St. Michaels’ Talbot Street/Route 33 is lined with plenty of shops, including a pet boutique named Flying Fred’s. If you pause to read historical plaques along the way—or fancy ducking into the St. Michaels Museum at St. Mary’s Square—you’ll learn that St. Michaels was where young Frederick Douglass lived as a slave from 1833-36. You’re also bound to hear how the resourceful residents of St. Michaels “fooled the British” during the War of 1812. With the British fleet approaching in August 1813, townsfolk hung lanterns high in the trees at the outer boundary. The British fell for the ruse and aimed their cannons such that most overshot the village, ultimately sparing it from a worse fate. We encountered many dogs along our walk, and several local businesses had treats for dogs and bowls of fresh water outside.

At this point, you might have worked up a thirst of you own, so a stop at Eastern Shore Brewing is in order. This local microbrewery opened in 2008 and operates out of a historic mill complex right on South Talbot Street.  They have a couple of year-round offerings and a half dozen seasonals on rotation. We tentatively poked our heads into the entrance just to survey the scene, assuming we’d have to come back another time minus our dog. No sooner had we done so, however, than one of the brewery staff spotted Tavish and hurried over to greet us.  “No, stay!” he said. “If your dog’s friendly, we’re dog-friendly. Heck, most dogs are better behaved than some of our patrons, so come on in!” And with that, we were swept inside to where a live band was playing and there was already a healthy crowd gathered for mid-Saturday afternoon. The bartender immediately brought over a bowl of water for Tavish, who promptly settled himself into a care-worn overstuffed leather chair (and got his photo taken by a few smartphone-wielding guests), while we tried a couple pints.

From there, we crossed Talbot Street and headed down West Chew Avenue to San Domingo Park, scenic green space that overlooks San Domingo Creek. If you bear to the right, you’ll see a trailhead and a covered bridge. The short paved trail runs more or less parallel to Talbot Street but through residential neighborhoods. A fifteen-minute walk will deliver you to Railroad Street, and you can hang a right to re-connect with North Talbot Street again.

On our next visit, we’ll definitely take the narrated, 70-minute sightseeing cruise aboard the two-level, 149-seat Patriot. We simply ran out of time that afternoon to fit this in, but in talking to the Captain dockside, we learned that the cruise is pet-friendly at his sole discretion. We’ll be back! Also nice to know is that even though ours was just a day trip, St. Michaels boasts several pet-friendly lodging options, from motor lodges to inns to vacation rentals.

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!

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

Dog Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tavish with Swamp Cooler VestSizing & Appearance

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

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

SwampCooler_Test1_2Performance

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

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

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

SandstoneFalls

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

Overall Assessment

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

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

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

 

Ahhh-zaleas!

Azaleas

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

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

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

National Arboretum

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

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

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

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

Dogging the Details

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

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

National Arboretum

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

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

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

National Arboretum

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

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