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!

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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.

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…

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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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National Howl-iday Scene: Part II

Tavish with the holiday lights at the US Botanic Garden

“Season’s Greenings” from the U.S. Botanic Garden! The colorful holiday lights outside merely hint at the wonders that lie within.

Throughout this series, Tavish the Intrepid Pup has been providing an insider’s guide to the national “howl-iday” scene. In his quest to find the most iconic—and dog-friendly—holiday spots the capital region has to offer, Tavish’s “pick of the day” is the annual Season’s Greenings display at the United States Botanic Garden. The institution falls under the auspices of the Architect of the Capitol. Dating to 1850, it has been in its present location on the wedge of land between Maryland Avenue and First Street, S.W., since 1933.

Okay, let’s just start by saying this place is beautiful year-round and is especially so during the holidays. In a city chock-a-block full of monumental and famous structures, it’d be easy to lose this one in the mix. But to do so would be a big mistake. The Botanic Garden takes the lead on horticultural education and issues of sustainable landscape design. With elaborate outdoor terraces and indoor habitats ranging from desert succulents to exotic orchids, there’s something for everyone. Not too be missed is the unique perspective from atop the canopy walk in the tropical rainforest that grows within conservatory’s 93-foot dome. And be sure to check out the magnificent Bartholdi Fountain set upon two acres of rose gardens just across Independence Avenue.

Tavish under the kissing ball at the US Botanic Garden

Will sit for kisses: Tavish has strategically planted himself beneath the mistletoe on the northeast terrace.

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

38°53′17.90″N, 77°0′45.46″W
United States Botanic Garden’s “Season’s Greenings”, Washington, DC

Season’s Greenings is on display from late November through early January; check website for exact dates. Admission is free.

Pups aren’t allowed inside the Botanic Garden’s buildings, but fortunately you can lap up pretty good views of Season’s Greenings by peering through the conservatory’s picture windows after dark. One glimpse of the Enchanted Forest in the east gallery is enough to make you want to return on your own to explore inside.

Tavish looking at the train display at the US Botanic Garden

Tavish gazes longingly into the “Enchanted Forest,” just one part of the Season’s Greenings display. Model trains, decorated trees, and fairytale lighting make this a feast for the senses.

Planning for Season’s Greenings takes nearly a year, with the Enchanted Forest alone requiring approximately three weeks to install. It shows in the details. A carpet of poinsettias in 17 varieties. A towering 24-foot tree—one of the largest indoor decorated trees in the region. Eight hundred feet of track for the model railway. A line-up of live music on select evenings. And a mind-boggling assortment of DC landmarks created in miniature and entirely from natural plant materials!

Parking out in front of the Botanic Garden or at meters off Independence Avenue shouldn’t prove too difficult after hours. What’s more, it’s a “two-fer”: soak in the splendor of the lighted gardens and then make the three-minute  stroll across the street to take in the Christmas tree on the west lawn of the U. S. Capitol (read the Intrepid Pup’s earlier account here).

A trip to the grounds of the Botanic Gardens earns a “1″ on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter as a free and pretty spectacular photo opp for you and your intrepid pup!

National Howl-iday Scene: Part I

Tavish with the 2012 Capitol tree


GO FIGURE:  Intrepid Pup particularly liked the theme for the 2012 Capitol tree: “The Great Outdoors”! Culled from the White River National Forest in Colorado, this 74-year-old Engelmann spruce made stops in 30 different towns en route to Washington, DC. The tour was sponsored in part by Choose Outdoors, an organization dedicated to connecting Americans to public lands through outdoor recreation. The tree stands 73 feet tall and is laden with approximately 3,000 ornaments, most of which were handmade by Colorado schoolchildren.

With the holiday season comes an explosion of colorful decorations. Elaborate displays crop up in downtowns across America, and for a few short weeks everything takes on the magical luster that only twinkle lights can impart. The Washington, DC metro area is particularly picturesque in December, and the weather is usually still temperate enough that touring around is not a completely frigid proposition.

Over the next several posts, Tavish the Intrepid Pup will give you an insider’s tour of the national “howl-iday” scene, scoping out what are arguably among the most iconic—and dog-friendly—holiday spots the capital region has to offer.

*  *  *

Tavish’s first destination is the 2012 Christmas Tree on the grounds of the United States Capitol.

The original Capitol Christmas tree was a Douglas fir specifically planted on the property in 1964 to fulfill that role. When it eventually succumbed to storm damage, the Architect of the Capitol enlisted the help of the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service to sustain the holiday tradition. Every year since 1970, the trees destined for Capitol Hill have been cut and harvested from various national forests. Citizens from the home state supply thousands of handcrafted ornaments showcasing aspects of their state’s heritage, earning the Capitol tree the apt designation as the “People’s Tree.”

Click to see what a 3 on the Wag-A-Meter meansDogging the Details

38°53′23.24″N, 77°0′40.19″W
United States Capitol Christmas Tree, Washington, DC

The 2012 tree is on view December 4 – 26, 2012.

While the Capitol tree is one of Team Tavish‘s favorites in the metro DC region, it’s also the most fleeting. The cut tree arrives shortly after Thanksgiving and takes a little more than a week to be secured and decorated before a public tree-lighting ceremony with the Architect of the Capitol and the Speaker of the House in early December.  Thereafter, the tree is illuminated nightly from dusk to 11 pm until shortly after Christmas.

Timed parking on the street and in nearby surface lots makes the Capitol tree readily accessible during the evening hours. The large West Lawn can accommodate a LOT of people before ever seeming crowded, and that truly distinguishes this setting from some of the others on the “howl-iday scene.”  You can get right up close to the tree without being rushed or jostled, and that makes it great for checking out the diversity and creativity of the decorations. This year’s tree is an Engelmann spruce from Colorado, so many of the ornaments depict Colorado wildlife, mining and skiing-related imagery, and symbols from Native American tribes.

On the evening of our visit, construction related to President Obama’s upcoming second inaugural was well underway on the Capitol portico and lawn. . . perhaps explaining why this year’s tree will only be on view through December 26. The 7,000 LED bulbs produce a riot of color, with the luminous dome of the Capitol providing a signature backdrop for photographs.

Tavish was the only dog in sight when we arrived, although a couple more arrived as we were leaving.  Tavish seemed more than content to pose with the tree and sniff at the low-hanging boughs. Remember to keep your dog on-leash (the area is patrolled by Capitol Police) and bring bags to clean up; trash receptacles are located by the gateways on First Street, S.W.

The comparative lack of crowds makes this outing a pleasant one for dogs and humans alike. Combine that with the ability to capture some great holiday photos at a truly unique venue, and this excursion gets a “3” on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter.

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.