Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Traveling with Dogs

Greetings from Floyd Street
Travels with a Chihuahua
By Ellen Jo Roberts

Dozens of airplane trips.
13 states.
Two countries.
Eleven years.
5 pounds of Chihuahua.

    We are those crazy people who take our dogs with us wherever we go. They're our family and we can't leave them behind. Bringing dogs along always makes for extra planning, expenses and hassles, but in the end their presence adds so much to the experiences that it's always worth it. Floyd, at 11, is the eldest of our canine pack and has enjoyed the most adventures.

Floyd was born on a Verde Valley ranch in 2003. He was a tiny puppy when I first met him, in a cardboard box with his siblings, for sale at a local horse tack and feed store in Cottonwood. After seeing a roadside sign that read, “Chihuahuas for sale” I pulled a quick u-turn and headed back to have a look. Soon we were proud owners of a handsome and feisty Chihuahua. Others have since added on to our “pack”, but Floyd was the first. Despite his tiny physical size, his personality is the largest.

   We have four dogs now: two Chihuahuas, a "Chiweenie" (Chihuaha-Dachshund mix) and a Boston Terrier. Because they're all small they're easy to travel with and combined they only add up to the size of one "regular" dog. Despite this they are each separate beings and often times try to head in different directions. I hook their leashes to my belt with carabiners and the very moment forward momentum stops I am converted to a human maypole, my legs tangled in brightly colored straps.In addition to being knotted up, there are other hassles when it comes to traveling with pets. We must plan locations that are pet-friendly.Motels, campsites, hiking trails all must allow dogs. Rental cars must allow them. Airplane flights must be booked well in advance with special additional reservations in place for the pets who join us, in carry-on travel cases stashed under our seats.

In his 11 years, Floyd has traveled from coast to coast, from deepest valley to highest mountains.
He’s slept in cabins, boats, tents and historic hotels. And on our laps. Lots of lap naps.
He’s been to ghost towns and mansions. He’s cruised storied roads like Route 66 and Highway 1.
Floyd’s set foot in the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, the Sea of Cortez and the Great Lakes, and most of the rivers throughout the desert southwest. He’s been to the Southernmost Point of the United States, in Key West Florida,  closer to Cuba than to Miami. He’s visited his Mexican heritage south-of-the-border, touring the state of Sonora, and he’s also had his photo taken in front of the White House in Washington D.C. However, his very favorite places to travel are within our home state of Arizona. The amazing variety of landscape and ecosystems make Arizona a lifetime's worth of adventure. The dramatic rock formations and big skies can only seem even more impressive to a little guy who stands 12 inches off the ground!

 Arizona is rich with public lands, affording us many great camping, hiking and day-trip opportunities. Though there is an ever present fear of Floyd getting carried off by a hawk or eagle, he is truly a wilderness Chihuahua and a fan of hikes in Arizona's bounty of state parks and national forests. He also enjoys joining us on raft floats along the Verde River, along the Verde River Greenway and along the Lower TAPCO River Access Park, now called "Verde River @ Clarkdale". He's an excellent co-pilot.

In general, national parks are not overly pet-friendly. Most don't allow dogs off the pavement. In Arizona, dogs cannot go below the rim of the Grand Canyon. There are many exceptions to this however-- many Arizona national monuments and more remote parks are pet-friendly. Tuzigoot, Montezuma's Castle (and the nearby Montezuma Well) and Petrified Forest National Park are some that allow leashed pets on the trails.

 Most Arizona state parks, with the exception of historic buildings like Riordan Mansion and Jerome State Historic Park, allow leashed dogs. Red Rock State Park in Sedona is one park that does not allow dogs, though the neighboring Red Rock Crossing provides a nearby alternative. Dogs can deter wildlife viewing, and this is the reason they are sometimes not welcome, leashed or not. Dead Horse Ranch in Cottonwood is a great place to hike with dogs, and also offers great river access points and fun sandy beaches.

National Forest trails throughout Arizona's National Forests allow leashed pets, so Floyd's wandered the aspen forests of the San Francisco Peaks and the red maples of Oak Creek Canyon's West Fork.


Arizona is a fun place to travel with your pets. Here are some tips to help your dogs enjoy a visit to the Grand Canyon State:

Excessive heat can be deadly to dogs. Dogs don't sweat and their only means of cooling off is transpiring heat through panting. We never leave the dogs in a parked car unattended. We always carry lots of water for both ourselves and the dogs no matter the season. We try to coordinate summer hiking along water sources, so we can soak the dogs now and then to keep them cool. Sun-baked sandy trails can burn the pads of their feet, so we minimize midday hiking in the heat.

Travel Crates and Bedding.
We have several varieties of travel carriers and crates. We have one that pops up like a tent that makes a handy place to stash pets in comfort while we break down camp. In addition to their own bowls and food the dogs also have their own blankets and bedding.

On the Road.
Dogs should be secured safely in cars, just as we are. Allowing them to wander freely can be a dangerous distraction to the driver as well as a risk to the animal should you get into a fender bender. Ours travel in their comfy airplane carriers when we take longer road trips. In addition to providing them calm, safe places to sack out, this method also prevents them from shedding all over us and the interior of the car.  

Always make sure your pets are up to date on current vaccinations. We've never been asked about them, traveling within Arizona, but most dog parks request pets be current on vaccinations, and to fly on planes the airlines do require rabies vaccine be current.

Pets are not welcome in many places, but you'd be surprised how many places do welcome your furry friends. Restaurants with outdoor decks and patios often allow your dog to lay at your feet during your lunch. Crema in Old Town Cottonwood welcomes your furry friend in their courtyard. Historic lodging like La Posada in Winslow, and the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook allow dogs and do not charge any additional pet fee. Always get permission. Call, ask the extra fees (if any), tell the desk clerk you are traveling with pets. Some properties have rooms dedicated to those traveling with pets. Campgrounds generally always allow pets, and primitive camping in the National Forest is also a great, pet-friendly option.

Another reason dogs are not allowed: poop. We always carry poop bags and no matter where we are or what a hassle it may be, pick it up and pack it out. The more dog owners that do this, the more venues will become pet friendly.  

Just like anywhere, Arizona has some creatures that can be a danger to your pets if you're not paying attention. Coyotes have been known to eat small dogs and cats. Skunks can spray. Rattlesnakes can bite with deadly results; Scorpions and spiders as well.  Javelina, with their poor eyesight, tend to go on the offensive and can gore a dog easily. Bear and mountain lions are top of the food chain in the wilds of Arizona. And as mentioned, raptors such as hawks, eagles and owls can easily steal your tiny dog right from your own back yard! Most wild animals are elusive and will avoid you, but the key is simply being aware and respectful of native creatures.

Our lives would probably be easier without all these animals underfoot, pestering us for treats and getting their fur on everything… But it would certainly be quite a deal less amusing.

One thing we’ve realized in our years of traveling with Floyd is that no matter where we go, he is home as long as he is with us. No matter how different the landscape or the temperature, or the duration of the expedition, he is game for any location as long as we together. As we’re packing for a trip I often times find him curled up in my suitcase, nestled among my clothes as if to say, “You’re not leaving without me.”

Another thing we’ve learned in our years traveling with Floyd: No matter the location, big city street or dusty wilderness trail people will always smile at a tiny Chihuahua walking past.

Perhaps some day you will see Floyd strolling the streets of your town!

Floyd is the founding member and president of the Clarkdale Chihuahua Club.
He shares his space with Ivan, a Boston Terrier, Hazel, a Chihuahua-Mix, Simon, his young mini-me, and Ned, a big frisky house-cat and the largest of the bunch.
 As always, for more Floyd travel fun, visit....

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Nutty for Neon

I am a neon nut. We'll travel well out of our way to get a glimpse of some magnificent roadside signage, day or night, new or old, big or small, lit or dark. Sometimes the sun-baked signage that shares a trip back in time, a faded glimpse of a bypassed route, is the most interesting of all. The most thrilling perhaps is the vintage signage long dark that has been painstakingly brought back to life. 

With its wealth of historic highways, vintage motels, cafes, taverns and roadside attractions, Arizona is home to a great array of neon beckoning to travelers. Historic highways 60, 66 and 89A are some of the best native habitat for neon signs. Here are some of my favorites...


Highway 60

The Starlight Motel on Route 60 in Mesa features a sleek animated diver leaping from the top of the towering neon sign, into a splash of blue water. Since 1960 the Diving Lady was a beacon for travelers from the east announcing their arrival in town. In subsequent years, she symbolized an earlier time, when the motel still had a pool, and when Mesa was still at the sleepy edge of the desert. In October of 2010 the sign was knocked over and destroyed by a severe thunderstorm. Things looked grim for the Diving Lady, but she made a comeback in 2013, rebuilt with donations from the public eager to see her figure leaping into the night air over Mesa once more. 

Mesa's Highway 60 is home to an excellent collection of vintage neon, including the display for Bill Johnson's Big Apple, created by the same sign builder who originally built the The Diving Lady, Paul Millet.

Further southeast on 60, the road takes you to the interesting vicinity of Superior, Miami and Globe, all picturesque historic mining towns each with heaping helping of classic signage. 

Highway 60 to the west of Phoenix is also rich with vintage neon, though much of it rural and in semi-disrepair yet still striking, artistic and evocative of Arizona's long history as a snowbird paradise. We've pulled many a U-turn in Aguila, to snap shots of Burro Jim's fun donkey-themed sign and the chipped, faded and gloriously broken Sunset Motel sign.

Route 66

Perhaps Arizona's biggest bounty of neon occurs on Route 66, a necklace of midcentury magnificence from Holbrook to Kingman. Business 40, a.k.a Route 66, is certain to please any neon nut. Highlights include an abundance of classic cafes: Joe and Aggie’s in Holbrook, the Brown Mug across the street from Winslow’s La Posada Hotel, Flagstaff’s Grand Canyon CafĂ©, the “World Famous” Sultana Bar in Williams, and the Snow Cap in Seligman. Seligman is a tiny town with a disproportionately outsized collection of neon motel signs attracting visitors from as far away as Europe and Asia. Naturally, the Mother Road is heavy on hotel and motel business, with each property competing to catch the eyes of road trippers driving by with their ever more flashy neon. Kingman’s Hilltop Motel sign is a frequently photographed Route 66 icon.

My first job upon arrival in Arizona was working as a front desk clerk at Flagstaff's Hotel Monte Vista. It's red-hot roof sign invited rail travelers from afar, though sometimes it was on the fritz and beckoned guests to the "EL VISTA" or "HOT MON STA".

Highway 89A
     Along Historic 89A through Yavapai County we enjoy lots of brightly lit signage, small and large. My town, Clarkdale, is home to two glowing beauties: the Main Street Cafe's very succinct message "GOOD FOOD" and the neighboring 10-12 Lounge's original sign from it previous incarnation, re-installed on its new structure rebuilt on the footprint of the original tavern.

The animated neon arrow of the View Motel on Cottonwood's Main Street directs travelers up the hill to the 1940s-built property, and its view of the bustling Verde Valley below. 


For decades along Historic Highway 89A, the Shep's Liquors/Package Goods sign was a well-weathered sentinel announcing arrival in Old Town, even long after the original Shep's business was a distant memory. Five years ago, the Ledbetter Law Firm renovated the adjacent vintage motor-court for use as office space. In conjunction, they also renovated the liquor store sign, replacing the letters to read "Welcome: Old Town". In October of 2009 a celebration was held to ignite the new neon, drawing a crowd of Verde Valley dignitaries and residents to cheer the new beacon for Old Town. Of course I was there, and the moment they flipped the switch we all shouted in glee. For many long time locals they could barely remember the last time that sign lit up the night. 

Prescott, Arizona's original territorial capitol, is a city rich with history, and naturally rich with classic neon, especially on Whiskey Row. The Palace, a Prescott landmark, is famous for its guests the Earp brothers, and its appearance in films like "Billy Jack" and "Junior Bonner". Their neon signage is dwarfed by its massive architecture, and still charmingly features the logo for Arizona's A-1 Beer, long defunct.

Why am I so kookoo for neon? Am I hypnotized by the pretty colors and intoxicating glow? The artful script? The insistent arrows and graceful Googie-style swoops? Am I sentimental for a different time, a simpler time long before I was even born? Yes, probably all of these things. The scene in Disney's "Cars" where the neon of "Radiator Springs" (inspired by an amalgam of Arizona's Route 66 towns) comes back to life always gives me goose-bumps and causes me to get a lil' choked up.

Celebrate our state's classic, fantastic neon, whether it's old and new, glossy or faded, working or broken. Neon! It's a gas! 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sweet Summer Dreams in the Verde Valley

This story was written for Arizona Office of Tourism's Arizona Insider "Guest Blogger" program. The post, which ran July 14th, 2014, was edited and chopped up a bit strangely, making my story a lil' clunky/klutzy in their version. I thought I'd share my original here:

Sweet Summer Dreams in the Verde Valley

Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ
Brassy big band tunes waft over us from the landmark gazebo, packed full of percussion, strings and horns. Sinking deep into the dark edges of the park's soft summer lawn, we look up at the endless stars that echo the crowd of lawn chairs and blankets below. Cool breezes rolling down from Mingus Mountain add a faint hint of chill to the night air. Though, for a moment it feels we are part of a movie or some bucolic small town dream, in reality, it's the Town of Clarkdale's free Summer Concert Series and just one aspect of this season's magic in the Verde Valley. With live music scheduled on select Saturday evenings through September, it's not at all unusual to witness spontaneous acts of waltzing, two-stepping and foxtrotting in the historic town park.

Summer Concert Series, Clarkdale Park, Clarkdale AZ
The Verde Valley, named one of Lonely Planet's Top 10 US Travel destinations for 2013, is comprised of several historic, high desert communities, each springing forth from the 19th and 20th centuries to utilize some abundant natural resource or fill some urgent local need: mining, ranching, agriculture, military presence and bootlegging. Jerome, Clarkdale, Cottonwood, Sedona, Camp Verde and Cornville each have its own distinct personalities yet remain cohesive. The rivers connect us and flow through us, tangling us together as Oak Creek and Beaver Creek make its way toward the Verde. The region’s ideal climate has long made it an idyllic human habitat as evidenced by ancient dwellings throughout the area, including Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot.

Verde River as seen from Verde Canyon Railroad, running red during summer monsoon season, 

A variety of attractions, adventures, art, wining and dining provides a wealth of intrigue for visitors. 

Cathedral Rock, Sedona, AZ

Scenic Sedona is the best known Verde Valley town, straddling the border of Yavapai and Coconino counties. Highlights include its expanse of national forest girdling the town, its many hiking and mountain biking trails, resorts, world class spas and cafes. This red sandstone wonderland is renowned for its spiritual energy, vortexes and new age sensibility. But Sedona is not just a postcard or a movie set. It's also a real place behind the scenes, where people live and work. It's where we go to the dentist and where we see movies!

Buddha Beach, Oak Creek, Sedona, AZ

Summer is our warmest season, and for this reason the most popular for riparian fun. We locals spend a good percentage of June, July and August along the shady river and creek banks, picnicking, paddling, splashing, floating or just totally submerged neck-deep in the cool water. The Verde Valley is enjoying some fresh renown as a river fun zone, with day-use access areas being improved from north of Clarkdale through Cottonwood, continuing past Camp Verde. Cottonwood’s Dead Horse Ranch State Park provides great trails, camping, fishing and river access. Verde River Adventure Center in Clarkdale rents kayaks, tubes and other inflatables, providing guide and shuttle service for easy day trips.

Verde River, Beasley Flats, Camp Verde, AZ

Another great way to enjoy the river canyon scenery and wildlife, without getting splashed, is to take a train ride aboard Clarkdale’s Verde Canyon Railroad. Running year-round on a varied schedule, this heritage railroad dates from 1912 and provides a comfortable climate-controlled way to catch a glimpse of the very rare ribbon where riparian and desert ecosystems meet. Starlight rides are a sensational seasonal specialty, heading out in late afternoon and returning through sunset and moonlight.

A flight at Caduceus Cellars, Jerome AZ

While in Clarkdale be sure to visit the newest additions to historic Main Street: The Copper Art Museum and Four-Eight Wineworks, book-ending the area’s mining past and wine future. The Verde Valley’s booming viticulture scene began in the 1990s in Cornville, a sleepy rural town near Oak Creek. Along the winding Page Springs Road, you’ll find the starting point for the region’s growing wine notoriety. Vineyards cascade down the sandy hillsides and wine-tasting rooms cluster like grapes. From here, the wine flows throughout the valley like the creeks that connect us.

Camp Verde, a river town with an adorable historic Main Street, is home to cowboys, horse ranches, pecan farms and Fort Verde State Park. If games of chance and glow-in-the-dark bowling suit your style, Cliff Castle Casino is an entertaining diversion run by the area’s Yavapai-Apache tribe. More daring yet: zip-lining over lions and tigers at Out of Africa Wildlife Park!

Old Town Cottonwood has enjoyed a renaissance over the past decade. Once best known as the bootlegging epicenter of the Southwest, by the 1990s this part of historic Main Street was a sleepy, going-to-seed, slow-down spot. Today, this vintage stretch of 89A is not just a place to tap your brakes. It's worth pulling over for serious exploration. Packed with pedestrians, wine-tasting rooms, antique shops and galleries, great restaurants and fun lodging, Old Town makes a great starting point for an area visit.

And there, mile high, twinkling and winking in the cool nighttime, Jerome watches over all from its lofty perch on Cleopatra Hill. This former ghost town is an exceptional place to enjoy a sunset glowing Sedona red in the distance. Ideal to explore by day or night, Jerome is home to great architecture, shops, museums, wonderful places to eat and historic, haunted hotels where you can rest your head. 

 The town’s popular ARTwalk takes place the first Saturday of every month; from 5:30pm-8:30pm galleries and studios stay open later than usual into the tranquil mountain evening, serving refreshments and conversation with real live local artists. We lived in Jerome for a number of years and enjoyed the tightly-knit community, a crazy mash-up of native long-time locals, hippies, artists and big city escapees. In the 1960s and '70s counterculture types arrived in Jerome and essentially saved the town's history and buildings with their gumption and elbow grease.

Jerome, AZ

With its milder, high desert temperatures, glorious landscapes and vibrant communities there are endless amusements in the Verde Valley, a variety to keep visitors delighted all summer long. As residents, we see a lifetime’s worth of beauty, adventure and cinematic moments everywhere we look.

Clarkdale Classic Station

Ellen Jo Roberts is an artist and shutterbug who lives in Clarkdale, Arizona, where she spends the workday as the group coordinator for Verde Canyon Railroad. Read more of her writing on: Ellen Jo is a part of the Arizona Office of Tourism’s Guest Blogger Program.