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Tag: tourists

Steinbeck Country: Monterey or bust

“The beaches are clean where once they festered with fish guts and flies. The canneries which once put up a sickening stench are gone, their places filled with restaurants, antique shops and the like. They fish for tourists now, not pilchards, and that species they are not likely to wipe out.”

John Steinbeck’s return to a much-changed Monterey in 1960 was more bitter than sweet — he found it much improved cosmetically, and economically, but its old fishing character and its saltiness were gone.

It wasn’t home anymore.

The town’s transition from a sardine-based economy to a tourist-based one was well underway by then, and while that would ensure that Monterey would continue to thrive, seeing how much had been erased — fish guts and all — returned Steinbeck, a native of the area, to the kind of funk he seemed to teeter on the edge of, periodically, in “Travels with Charley.” 

“My return caused only confusion and uneasiness,” he wrote. “… Tom Wolfe was right. You can’t go home again because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory.”

If he were to return again today to this spic and span city by the sea, he’d likely be even more displeased. Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf are now full-fledged tourist attractions that, while giving nods to the past, no longer have much connection with it.

And, quite possibly, he’d be downright irate over how his name and likeness have become an integral part of the area’s business and tourism marketing.

He probably wouldn’t think much of the way his name has been seized by business operations large and small: Steinbeck Garden Inn, Steinbeck Jewelers, Steinbeck Mortgage, Steinbeck Travel, Steinbeck Credit Union, Steinbeck Country Bail Bonds.

Steinbeck shunned publicity. In fact, he once moved out of the area to avoid it. Maybe he’d be OK with his bust being on display, in Steinbeck Plaza, but to see his face flapping in the breeze on banners above the streets in Cannery Row? I’m guessing he wouldn’t care for that.

The Steinbeck bust is right in the middle of things, and tourists regularly stop and have their photos taken with it. It faces away from the bay, toward the traffic, which probably wouldn’t have been his preference, either. He stares, somewhat solemnly, into the distance. Not even Ace could get him to break into a smile.

Monterey, and the surrounding area makes much of its Steinbeck connection — Steinbeck Country, they call it — from the flatlands of Salinas to the hilly bayfront of Pacific Grove.

It was in the family cottage there, purchased by his father as a family retreat, that Steinbeck wrote several novels and got started on “Of Mice and Men.”

Steinbeck stayed in the cottage with his wife Elaine, as he headed south through California and then back east on the trip that would become “Travels with Charley,”

He visited old haunts, at least those still standing, and old friends, at least those who were still around. Between the people who had died or moved away and the makeover the city had received, Steinbeck felt out of place.

“The place of my origin had changed, and having gone away I had not changed with it. In my memory it stood as it once did and its outward appearance confused and angered me.”

Monterey was a new place. And Carmel, he wrote, ”begun by starveling writers and unwanted painters, is now a community of the well-to-do and the retired. If Carmel’s founders should return, they could not afford to live there…They would be instantly picked up as suspicious character and deported over the city line.”

Ace and I visited Cannery Row, then drove by Steinbeck’s former cottage in Pacific Grove to snap a quick photo. We found a nice spot, cliffside, near Lover’s Point, to rest our weary paws.

We walked Fisherman’s Wharf, which once served as the major port on the Pacific and whose fishermen once set off daily on quests for huge whales, and later tiny sardines — until overfishing brought the sardine industry, which thrived during the Depression, to a grinding halt in the 1950s. By 1960, as Steinbeck noted, tourists had become the city’s salvation.

In the 50 years since, the supply of them has not depleted. I’ve visited Monterey  several times, first  in 1987, and a couple more times in the early 1990′s, once for a story at Ford Ord, the once massive military base that was shut down in 1994. This visit, I was surprised to see mostly emptiness on the massive Army base by the sea, built in the 1940s to train soldiers for World War II. And surprised, too, that, given our times, it hadn’t been reopened.

Funny how sardines are limited, but we seem to have an endless supply of wars. Even over-warring doesn’t seem to bring an end to that industry.

Ace and I stayed at Motel 6 near what used to be Fort Ord, in a town called Marina, which I don’t even remember existing when I was last here. But we spent most of our time in Monterey, which, despite all the tourists trappings, despite never being my home, still never fails to touch my soul.

It’s not because of anything man has built; it’s not because John Steinbeck slept here. It’s the pockets of nature that still exist between the seafood restaurants and wax museums and souvenir shops and boutiques. It’s the topography, the way the peninsula stretches into the bay, and the wildlife that, despite all man’s tinkering, still call it home.

To me, that, more than anything else — moreso even than the famous writer — is what still gives salt-free Monterey  character:

The pelicans, the gulls, the seals and sea lions and all the other squirmy sea life you can see, not just in the confines of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but in their natural habitat.

If I ever return — and I hope I do — that will be why.

We survived Niagara Falls

I almost lost Ace at Niagara Falls – and in the worst imaginable way.

After leaving Saugerties, we headed across New York state, stopping overnight in Syracuse,  mainly because Ace desperately needed a bath. I think even he – scratching a lot of late — agreed with that assessment. He jumped right into the Motel 6 bathtub, sat patiently as I used the ice bucket to soak him down, and smiled as I scrubbed him with an oatmeal-based flea and tick shampoo, rinsed him and toweled him off, using every flimsy white towel in the room

The next day, smelling better — him, at least – we continued to Buffalo,  where I got a break from motel charges and fast food by staying with an aunt and uncle in Amherst.

My father’s brother and his wife, while dog lovers, are not believers in the whole idea of them living in the house. Their children’s dogs, and even their own dog, were never permitted in the house. I respected that, and figured, with the temperatures still above freezing, one night as a real dog wouldn’t hurt Ace.

I laid his blanket near the door, and he had a spacious, well-manicured, fenced backyard at his disposal. He seemed to enjoy everything about being outside – except for the fact that the people were inside. He’d sit at the window and gaze in forlornly, especially when he sensed food was being served

Only twice during the night did I hear him whine – and in a way I’d never heard him whine before. Usually he will emit a two syllable sound, when he’s upset or impatient. Something like “ruh-ROOOO.” On this night, he came up with a four syllable one, something like “ruh-REEE-RAAA-rooo.”

The next morning, when I stepped outside, he was the most energetic and playful I’ve seen him since our trip began. I think a night in the fresh air, as opposed to a Motel 6 smoking room, did him good. The stop did me good, too. My aunt and uncle fed me well, and sent me with a sack lunch on my visit to Niagara Falls.

It was only a slight hassle entering Canada after crossing the Rainbow Bridge  (not be be confused with the mythical one where pets wait for their owners before going into heaven). I feared, with all I’m toting inside and atop my car, someone might feel the need to search it all; instead I just got a verbal grilling.

“What’s the purpose of your trip? What’s all that in your car? Are you carrying any firearms? Do you have any tobacco?”

My answers seemed to satisfy the Canadian agent – except for the one pertaining to the purpose of my trip. He spent a long time looking at the ohmidog! magnet sign on the side of my car.

“It’s a website about dogs,” I explained. “Right now, I’m traveling across the country with my dog, like John Steinbeck did, and writing about it.”

His face had a blank look.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “Do you sell stuff on your website?”

“Not really,” I answered.

“Do you breed dogs?”

“No.”

“How many dogs do you have in there?”

“In the car you mean? Just one.”

He handed me back my passport and signaled me through, and I followed the signs to Niagara Falls, which led me to an $18 parking space a short walk away from the falls.

Once there, as has happened at other scenic wonders, some of the tourists seemed more taken with Ace than the tourist attraction.

At least 20 people took his picture. Some asked to pose with him. One  volunteered to take a picture of the two of us together, with the falls in the background, as if we were honeymooners. And at least 30 asked the eternal question: “What kind of dog is that?”

Although the sun wasn’t in the right place, I tried to get some photos of Ace with the falls in the background. The edge of the falls, on the Canadian side, is blocked off by a railing. There’s a stone wall, about two feet high, with iron rails running above it. The stone wall was wide enough for Ace to get up on and sit, so I had him do so — right next to the sign that said “Danger.”

I had taken a few shots when a gaggle of tourists stopped, one of them with a little girl who just couldn’t stop squealing at Ace — squeals of delight, but squeals all the same. Ace isn’t a fan of the squeal. As I was holding on to his leash, putting my camera away, and answering questions about my dog, Ace – I think to distance himself from the squeals — jumped over the rail.

There was grass on the other side, about six feet of it, before the sheer drop. He walked toward the edge, to the point that I was leaning over the rail, holding his leash, trying to reel him back in. I pulled him back to the wall, and when I told him to jump back over he did.

Fortunately, no authorities saw the incident and I didn’t get the scolding I probably deserved. Then again, neither do all those people who seem to not give a second thought to holding their young children over the rail to give them a better view.

We moved along after that, weaving through all the tourists – and there were hordes of them, from all over the globe, some stopping me so they could take Ace’s photo, some asking to borrow him to pose with (Okay, but not near the rail), some wanting their children to meet him. One Japanese man, clearly wanting to ask about Ace but not a speaker of English, simply gave me a thumbs up.

It was a lot like our experience at the red rocks of Sedona, only multiplied. Then, too, Ace’s close call reminded me of that sad story we heard at Glen Canyon.

Back in the car, well away from the falls, I scolded myself again for letting my attention get diverted, and unwrapped the ham sandwiches my aunt had prepared.  I ate one of them. You can guess who got the other.

Sitting there in my $18 parking space, happy I hadn’t lost my dog to the roaring natural wonder, I gave silent thanks – that the only Rainbow Bridge either of us were crossing that day was the real one, and for the day I met him at Baltimore’s animal shelter.

After five years, the honeymoon continues.

Take another little piece of my heart

Already on this trip — with more than four months and 14,000 miles logged so far — I’ve left my heart in a number of places, and we haven’t even gotten to San Francisco yet.

To name just a few, Bandera, Texas, Best Friends in southern Utah; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Provincetown, Massachussets; Bar Harbor, Maine; and now, Saugerties, New York.

The latter, being my grandparent’s hometown, already had a piece of it; and, to be more accurate, I didn’t really leave my heart in any of those places, they just got it purring and pumping again.

When one leaves my grandparent’s former house, they can — and I’d recommend doing it very carefully — turn left or right on Highway 212.

Left is Saugerties, a tidy little village that’s like stepping into the distant past. Its main claim to fame, nowadays, is antiques. Every block downtown seems to have several.

Turn right and you end up in Woodstock, an art colony that gained more fame when its name was used for the legendary 1969 concert, which was held 40 miles away. “By the time we got to Bethel” wouldn’t have sounded nearly as cool.

Once I was 9 or so, I’d visit Woodstock whenever we went to visit my grandparents — first at the urging of my sister, who once persuaded my brother and I to walk there (it was about six miles), later on my own volition.

There we could see art, and funky shops and hippies — a world far removed from the quiet one my grandparents lived in, whose beat never varied, muted and steady as the tick-tock of the grandfather clock in the dining room.

I’m sure they looked at Woodstock’s transition as if it were an alien takeover, and annoying, too, what with all the added traffic, including lots of Volkswagen vans, that zoomed by their house once Woodstock became a destination — first for artists, later for hippy pilgrimages.

On our visit last week, Ace seemed to take Woodstock — still an artsy place, since the 1970′s a souveniry one as well — in stride. He’s actually yawning in the picture above, as opposed to singing along with Janis Joplin, whose cardboard cut-out stands behind him.

We spent a couple of hours there, and can report its still a great place for people watching — the real ones, anyway. The cardboard ones get boring pretty quick.

We spent a couple of hours on the quieter, non tie-dyed streets of Saugerties and made a quick visit to the Saugerties Lighthouse, whose bright beam of light  guided ships along the Hudson River from 1869 up until 1954.

Then the lighthouse keeper was replaced by a machine, and later the lighthouse went into disuse.

It was scheduled for demolition until residents got it listed as historic in 1979. Now fully restored, it serves as a bed and breakfast (pet-friendly, but it costs $200 a night, and rooms need to be booked at least a year in advance.)

Getting there by land requires a half-mile walk through marshes — recommended at low tide. It was quiet but for woodpeckers pecking, birds chirping and squirrels scurrying.

After that, we went back to our campground, located just across the street from “grandpa’s fire house,” as we called it.

Rather than put out fires, as my grandfather did, I started one, then circled around it, thinking about all the memories the day brought back as I tried to find a spot where I could get the heat without the smoke. I popped open my can of Spam, and cut it into big chunks. I slid a stick through the middle of each piece and held them over the fire a few minutes to give the flavor a little more character.

Ace drooled as he watched. (Of course he got some.)

I went to bed early, under my sleeping bag and two of Ace’s blankets, thinking warm thoughts on a cold night.

Dog dies in car while owner visits museum

A tourist from Michigan was charged with animal cruelty Monday after leaving his two dogs inside a minivan while he visited the the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Rosie, an 8-year-old Chihuahua, died of heat stress after being inside the minivan for more than an hour, said Sabrina Fang, a spokeswoman for the Washington Humane Society.

Pebbles, Rieff

Rosie had been left inside a plastic storage bin. A second dog, a 15-year-old beagle mix named Pebbles, was kept inside a crate made for dogs. She was treated for heat stress at an animal hospital, and was expected to be released today, according to the Washington Post.

Washington Humane Society officials say more tourists seem to be leaving pets inside cars, unaware of how quickly the temperatures can rise.

Police arrested Kenneth Reiff, and his daughter was taken into custody by Child Protective Services, Humane Society officials said.

Giving dogs a brake in Madrid

Madrid — the one in New Mexico, pronounced MAD-rid — wants you to slow down.

It’s not just to make you less likely to run over a valued tourist; and it’s not just to make you, if you are a tourist, more likely to stop at one of the galleries in the funky artists’ colony and make a purchase.

No, the advice — to many, at least — is aimed at protecting dogs. Because, as the sign says, Madrid loves its dogs.

In addition to the official 25 mph speed limit signs posted throughout town, I spotted a couple of these — hand-painted pleas (it is an artists’ community, after all) reminding motorists to be on the lookout for dogs.

Madrid, which turned into a ghost town when the mines closed in the 1950s, has been enjoying a revival since the early 1970s, when artists began moving here and opening galleries and shops. It’s home to what’s purported to be the longest bar in New Mexico, at the Mine Shaft Tavern, and dozens of galleries featuring paintings, photography, sculpture, crafts, pottery, textiles and more. A haven for motorcyclists, it also served as the setting for the movie “Road Hogs.”

It’s also home to some road dogs — pooches who, though owned and loved, are of the free-range variety. I saw a couple of them walking alone along the road, and generally doing a better job of avoiding traffic than the tourists did.

I’m proud to report that I made it through Madrid — at 25 mph — without running over either.

Seven things you can’t avoid in Santa Fe

There’s one thing you can’t avoid in Santa Fe, and that’s dogs.

They are everywhere — tall dogs, short dogs, big dogs, small dogs, black, white, brown, red, yellow and brindle dogs.

There are smelly hippy, just-passin’-thru dogs (and I’m not saying from where the odor is emanating – human, or canine, or perhaps the sweatstained, refrigerator-sized backpack).

There are gigantic purebred poodles, as regal-looking as their owners.

And there are a whole lot of Labs, shepherds, terriers, hounds and who-knows-whats in between.

Santa Fe calls itself “the city different,” for numerous reasons, but perhaps nowhere is its diversity more noticeable than in its dogs.

Some I’ve seen, like Shadow (below), who all but blends in with the dirt paths of the dog park, look like they might even have a little coyote in the mix.

You see dogs on street corners. You see them in Santa Fe Plaza, the town’s main gathering place. You see them in outdoor restaurants, poking their heads out of passing cars and, by the dozens, at Frank S. Ortiz Dog Park — an expansive swath of high desert, dotted with cholla and juniper (provided by nature), and dog bowls, plastic chairs and poop bags (provided by its users).

Despite its lack of frills, Frank S. Ortiz Dog Park — it’s named after a one-time mayor –  has arroyos and hills, miles of paths, and commanding views of the town. (By virtue of its size alone, it appears destined to make our top 10 dog park list.) Yes, dogs are one thing you can’t avoid in Santa Fe.

Dogs and art.

Art, too, is everywhere — street corner stands,murals, ritzy galleries, rustic studios. The only thing there may be more of than dogs in Santa Fe is artists, many of whom draw their inspiration from the scenic beauty around them.

So, actually there are three things you can’t avoid in Santa Fe — dogs, art and nature’s beauty. It — along with a climate sent from heaven — make it a highly liveable, and visitable, city. Beauty can be found in nearly every direction you look, from the Jemez Mountains to the west to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, rising high to the southeast.

Speaking of rising high, there are actually four things you can’t avoid in Santa Fe — dogs, art, nature’s beauty and high prices. There’s no escaping high prices. Sooner or later, they will get you — or perhaps even stress you out.

If so, you can always visit a spa, because actually there are five things you can’t avoid in Santa Fe — dogs, art, nature’s beauty, high prices and spas. In town, on the edges of town, up in the mountains, there is an abundance of places to get wrapped, scrubbed, rubbed, boiled and oiled. I’m not sure who goes to all the spas, probably the same people that buy all the art and eat the high priced restaurant meals — namely tourists.

Which — in addition to dogs, art, nature’s beauty, high prices, and spas – are another thing you can’t avoid in Santa Fe.

So that makes six things you can’t avoid in Santa Fe, if you count the tourists, who stay in hotels that, like all other structures in town, are made of adobe, which is the seventh thing you can’t avoid in Santa Fe — adobe. I’ve yet to see a house exterior of wood, brick or — heaven forbid — vinyl siding.

On top of those seven things, there are plenty of other things that can be found in abundance in Santa Fe– sunsets, rainbows, good food, opera, legends, history, crafts, and, my personal favorite, clouds.

Here’s my theory on the clouds, and why cooling afternoon showers are fairly common here. Clouds come in from the mountains, usually –  like tourists — in a group. The clouds look down and like what they see — harmony, art, spirituality, pleasing terrain, disposable income, seekers, healers and art appreciators. And, being an art form themselves, the clouds decide to stay around a while — so that they may both appreciate and be appreciated.

In my five days here, I’ve noticed that, unlike clouds in most places, neither the big fluffy ones or the wispy flat ones — to use the scientific terms — seem to be moving, and, if they are, it’s imperceptibly slow. Instead, they seem to be lingering, hanging out, enjoying the view. Meantime, new clouds come in, and they decide to linger, too. And so on and so on, until there are so many clouds, elbowing each other for space in the formerly big blue sky, that they become entangled, much like the traffic downtown.

As a result of all that brushing up against each other, and moving into each others’ space, meteorological things begin to take place, and — not to get too technical – rain and wind result.

Sometimes, after that, you get rainbows. Sometimes, you don’t. That’s life, in Santa Fe.

(To read all of “Dog’s Country,” the continuing story of one man and one dog spending six months criss-crossing America, click here.)

An unrushed Sunday in Sedona

Giving ourselves plenty of time to get to Utah, Ace and I spent an unrushed afternoon in Sedona yesterday, figuring it would be the sort of place that I could unleash not just my dog, but possibly my chakra.

Possibly, I reasoned, simply driving through its red-rocked beauty might magically re-align my life energy, and perhaps my car’s as well.

I don’t think any of those things happened, but we had an excellent lunch, which, of course, is far more important.

We started off with a short walk among the red rocks at one of the pullovers, where a group of tourists flocked to Ace’s side, and asked if they could take their picture with him.

For the next ten minutes, that’s what they did.

Later, I pulled into Tlaquepaque, an artsy-craftsy community in town. There we found the Secret Garden, which really isn’t secret at all. I learned about it, and its dog-friendliness online.

We were seated on the patio, where five other dogs — three poodles at one table, two mutts at another — barely raised an eyebrow. The humans in the restaurant were another story, many of them pointing at Ace, and commenting on his size and, of course, handsomeness, and three stopping at my table to inquire as to his breed.

The waitress brought Ace a huge bowl of water, which he was happy for, and me a portabello mushroom sandwich, with roasted red peppers and a few other vegetables on sourdough bread. I made a point of asking them to hold the chakra.

(Note: Chakra is not a vegetable — in case any of you, like me, may have once thought it was a hybrid of chard and okra. No, it’s quite different. According to Wikipedia, “Chakra is a concept referring to wheel-like vortices which, according to traditional Indian medicine, are believed to exist in the surface of the etheric double of man.” Clear enough?)

The sandwich was pretty good, even without any meat, and the restaurant had a nice relaxing vibe, which, in Sedona — the rusty-terrained land of psychics and spiritualists, hallowed rocks and the hopelessly holistic – is pretty much required.

Strolling past the art galleries afterwards, we followed the new age music and came upon a keyboard player named Robin Miller, who interrupted the song he was playing to greet Ace, then entertained him by making barking noises on his keyboard.

Ace was doted on — and deservedly so — by a few more people before we left. It’s amazing how he brings smiles to so many faces — my own included. Moreso than my chakra, I think, it is he that keeps me aligned.

From Sedona, we headed to Flagstaff (the closest affordable motels) on 89A, a winding mountain road along Oak Creek. My car seemed to putter some on the climb, leading to me to wonder if maybe there’s something to that  “Malfunction Indicator Light” after all. Possibly my car’s chakra needs work.

But we made it to Flagstaff. And yes, it’s still here. Other than a little smoke in the mountains, the fire you’ve probably heard about is burning out and not threatening the town.

Tomorrow, we’ll continue on to Kanab, Utah, where on Tuesday, we’re scheduled to do a little volunteer work at Best Friends, the animal sanctuary.

(To read all of “Dog’s Country,” from the beginning, click here.)