Friends have told us we’re crazy for traveling with two large dogs for a year. Sometimes, we do feel a little crazy. But you know what’s really nuts? Living with eight dogs in one house for a week.

My mom has a dog problem — she can’t stop bringing them home. After our family dog died two years ago — after, by a miracle of God, surviving 16 years of eating popcorn and licking ice cream bowls — my mom began volunteering with the local SPCA. Her goal was to foster dogs. She failed. Every dog she fostered she kept. Gradually her quiet, dogless house began to fill with adopted Shitzus, poodle mixes and chihuahuas. She’s at six.

My mom is not alone in this. My stepdad, Dar, who is by nature a surly, tough-talking jokester, now openly sweet-talks the dogs as he prepares their meals of boiled chicken, rice, cottage cheese and wet dog food.

These dogs are a ratty crew of misfits — pesky and demanding. But they’ve suckered my parents into surrendering their home, their bed and their lives to them. All it takes is a snort from a shitzu or a prairie-dog-style beg from a chihuahua and my folks turn to putty in little paws. Each of the six dogs has its own behavioral issue, health problem or social anxiety. Some are old. Some were peripheral victims of the housing crisis. Some were abused and left for dead. All were abandoned and homeless — until they met the world’s biggest suckers.

As if rescuing this bunch weren’t enough, each week mom and Dar head to the pound to pick up a filthy dog in need of some grooming and a little TLC. For dogs so matted and dirty you can’t see their face, a bath and trim can be the difference between being adopted and not. Dar struggles with visiting the pound. For all his tough talk, seeing several rows of unwanted dogs is too much for him to bear. My mom, in her capris and heeled sandals, surveys every cage looking for a small dog — adoptable, dirty and scared. She keeps a standing appointment with a groomer — every Thursday. On this Thursday, she picks a scruffy terrier mix. He has a good disposition and big brown eyes. Mom likes him; Dar does, too — but not enough to entertain the thought of a seventh dog in the house.

Scott and I joke about our own mutts and their mysterious pedigrees — Jack being part pig, Isabel being equal parts jackal and demon. We’re proud to have rescues. We always will — even though we’ve been known to drool over the occasional well-behaved Rhodesian Ridgeback or Great Pyrenees at the dog park (usually while Jack is taking a dump in the worst place possible and Isabel is barking at some dog from the top of a picnic table).

(Left to right, clockwise) Travis, Mia, Lucky Spike, Miss Priss, Kiki, Scruffy

At mom’s house, dogs come and go as they please through the open sliding glass door separating the living room and back patio. A barricade prevents the sassy six from entering the dining room, hall and guest bedrooms. Little dogs with big personalities and behavioral issues can’t be completely trusted. Look at a small dog cross or ignore the little bugger, and he’ll invariably get even by lifting a leg on a dining room chair.

Jack loves small dogs with his whole 75-pound being. But unnerved by the six kamikaze balls of fluff traveling in a swarm like killer bees with high-pitched barks, Jack cowered and looked to me for help. Isabel, not fully convinced she’s a dog, found higher ground with the people, a healthy distance away. But soon enough, all the dogs settled. The pack went went from six plus two to an integrated eight within an afternoon.

Evenings at my mom’s house were peaceful, if not entertaining. At night we took to the couch for a movie. Jack and Isabel at the foot of the sofa. Miss Priss sleeping atop the couch cushion. Travis on Dar’s lap. Mia on mom’s. Scruffy pacing with indecision about whether to be on the couch or on the ground or on the couch. Lucky Strike standing guard at the slider. And Kiki doing what Kiki does best — seducing me with those ridiculous chihuahua eyes.

It might be crazy, but it works. Six dogs in one house. It’s loud at times, and there are the occasional “accidents,” but I’m sure my folks couldn’t imagine it any other way. These furry rescues have done more than just infiltrate my parents’ house — they’ve helped mom and Dar find a cause into which they can pour their time and love (and, quite possibly, my inheritance). Little dogs all over California’s Central Valley are better off because of it.


I spent only an hour photographing rock climbers at Joshua Tree National Park. But it’s still the most time I’ve ever devoted to watching a climber up close. It looks easy, the grace and pace with which they work their way up the rock.  I know it’s anything but. One thing’s for sure: It’s beautiful. Especially with blue sky and the Joshua trees as a backdrop.

It seems to me that rock climbers are an odd bunch. They are fearless and fit and incredibly focused. But there’s also something geeked-out and techie about them. Climbers might be the athletic equivalent of architects or engineers — equal parts intelligence and obsessive compulsion. They’re calculated thinkers, and they don’t seem at all bothered by the cumbersome collection of carabiners, rope, quick-draws and bolts that hang from their hips as they work their way up vertical rock. It’s weird that a sport as pure and raw as climbing requires so much technical gear. I, with my hip bag of lenses and compact flash cards, stood below marveling at the ease in which they move upward — a little jealous of their abilities, plenty jealous of their physique, but pretty content with my feet comfortably on the ground.

I now have a better idea why photographers like Corey Rich have devoted their careers to documenting the sport. But I have to remind myself that shooters like Rich are as bold and gifted as the climbers, maybe even more so. Imagine traversing a 5.10 (I don’t even know what that means, but I know it’s really hard) while carrying all that gear plus a 5-pound camera and multiple lenses.

Maybe next year, we’ll return to Joshua Tree, sans dogs, and give the climbing thing a go. Until then, I will daydream about my future awesome climber’s physique, as opposed to the whiskey-swilling, gumbo-eating one I’m working on right now.


Jill and I are not cool enough for the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, and it would be deceitful to pretend otherwise. But we keep coming back anyway.

We were naïve enough to think we “discovered” the Ace last spring during a weekend visit to Palm Springs. Jill got a tip about the place from a Los Angeles-based model she photographed during a fashion shoot. That should have been our first clue we were about to wander too deep into the hip end of the pool, but we were blinded by the promise of $89 rates.

Unlike the Hotel Congress, the subject of an earlier post, the Ace’s coolness is not the product of historical preservation. Rather, it’s the result of a Weird Science-style experiment in hotel design by a group of impossibly young and stylish entrepreneurs from Seattle. The principal visionary behind Ace Hotels, Alex Calderwood, used to throw warehouse parties in that city during the grungy heyday of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana, et al. Seattle is also the site of the flagship Ace Hotel, which occupies a former halfway house and features shared bathrooms.

The Ace in Palm Springs used to be a Howard Johnson back in the ’60s, and the hotel’s accompanying restaurant, King’s Highway, was formerly a Denny’s. But the only legacy the Ace preserves from its predecessors is negative space; beyond rooflines and room volumes, the hotel is a wholly new creation.

A stuffed coyote wearing a pearl necklace stalks you at reception. A snow-cone stand sits beside the swimming pool. A record player and stacks of vintage vinyl await you in your room. If W is the Pussycat Doll of hotel brands, Ace is the André 3000.

There are indeed $89 rooms to be had at the Ace, but only nine of them, and none allows pets. The hotel’s dog-friendly rooms are located on the lower level and have enclosed patios with gas fireplaces and L-shaped couches. These rooms, however, are considerably more expensive, especially during Palm Springs’ spring tourist season. And a $350 hotel room is not in our budget.

But one lesson of road travel is that Lady Luck often will smile on you if you simply introduce yourself and exchange a few pleasant words. This is what happened to Jill and me on the night of the Academy Awards, when our heads rested inside a tent at Joshua Tree National Park but our hearts longed to watch the Oscar telecast. With a dark, cold evening ahead of us, we decided to make the half-hour drive to Palm Springs in search of a TV. We thought we might find one at the Ace’s bar. We were right.

That bar, called the Amigo Room, sits atop the desert floor, but it feels like the underground lair of a Mexican outlaw. The brick walls are painted greasy black, and every tabletop is inlaid with old Pesos. The barkeep said the flat-screen TV mounted at the end of the dark room was installed in anticipation of Oscar-night patronage.

During a couple of commercial breaks I went out to the car to rouse our sleeping dogs, and each time I made small talk with the hotel’s friendly front office manager, Sean. Tipped off by our outdoorsy duds and loaded-down vehicle, Sean deduced that we were camping. I told him about our trip and how earlier in the day we saw snow at Joshua Tree. “It’s supposed to get down in the 20s tonight,” I said.

“You guys should stay here,” Sean replied.

“Well, we’d love to. If only those lousy dogs didn’t keep us out of the cheap rooms. The last time we were here, back when y’all first opened, we loved it.”

I wasn’t fishing for a discount, not at all, but Sean lobbed one at me anyway. “We like to take care of our repeat guests. I could probably go 99 dollars for you on one of our patio rooms.”

A $99 hotel room is not in our budget, either, and our sleeping bags were already awaiting us us back at Joshua Tree. But after three days of camping in an icy wind, a gas fireplace and hot shower sounded awfully good. I asked Sean if his offer would stand the following night, and he said it would. Jill, who had been a study in rosy cheeks and clenched shoulders since the Colorado Plateau, was thrilled.

The irony of us taking a hiatus from campgrounds to stay at the Ace is that campground-style living inspired the Ace’s design. “There are elements of camping, elements of communal living, elements of nature,” Roman Alonso of the design firm Commune, which created the Ace’s aesthetic, said of the hotel in an Los Angeles Times article.

The patios certainly reflect that back-to-nature vibe, but the rooms’ décor seems to answer the call of the sea. You can stare at the walls all you want, but you won’t see any; that’s because they’re covered by canvas sailcloth and louvered panels. You don’t feel like you’re staying in a retrofitted Howard Johnson as much you feel you’ve ventured below beck on the yacht of a flamboyant record executive — maybe David Geffen — in the year 1979. Only the faux animal skins on the floor and the Willie Nelson album next to the turntable reel you back into Far West reality.

Jill and I might not be cool enough for the Ace, but we sure dig it. We especially enjoyed sitting in the hot tub and sunbathing next to the pool less than 24 hours after shivering amid snow-dusted Joshua trees. (An aside: The pool towels at the Ace Swim Club are like soft-spun crack. I might pay 99 bucks just to curl up in a warm pile of them.)

The only real complaint I have about the place concerns the restaurant’s breakfast menu. Ricotta hotcakes? Irish porridge? Coconut-bread French toast? Organic or not, such foo-foo fare makes me want to hurl all over David Geffen’s sailcloth. Give me a Denny’s Grand Slam any day.

But, heck, push-button fireplaces on the patio and L.A. models on the pool deck more than offset posh porridge and $8 French toast. All you Phoenix folks out there should definitely deal yourself an Ace weekend sometime. It’s a short drive, and you can stop at Joshua Tree on the way. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you spot a coyote accessorized like Barbara Bush.

If Sean is behind the front desk, tell him the guy from Tennessee who warmed his pizza in the patio fireplace sent you. A poser like me can use all the Ace points he can get.


I hate hippies. That’s right. I said it. I hate dirty, dreamy, delusional hippies. They can’t dance, they can’t get your order right, and they have no appreciation for SEC football.

The only thing I hate more than a dirty hippie is being mistaken for one. Some folks assume that just because I don’t have a job, shave infrequently and live out of a car with a bleeding-heart-liberal California girl, I must be a free-spirited member of the counter culture. I get offered pot. It’s assumed I like Phish.

Well, like the good people of Muskogee, Okla., I don’t smoke marijuana. And I deplore Phish and just about every other trippy-dippy jam band whose frontman wears a Jesus beard and an oversize sweater.

But about 11 times a day I find myself making an exception for Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. This is because Jill has fallen in flowery, hairy, hippie love with the song “Home.”

We have Jessica Stefan of Santa Barbara, Calif., to thank for introducing us to “Home.” We’ve never met Jessica, but she’s a friend of a friend who discovered the blog and thought “Home” might suit us. And it does.

Make no mistake: I would never pitch a tent next to these people, and some of the guys I might be inclined to punch in the face without provocation. But I do love to listen to Jill sing the lyrics as she bobs and sways in the passenger seat like a Muppet on Ecstasy.

Thank you, Jessica, for following our blog, brightening our days and broadening our musical horizons. When we make it to Santa Barbara, we would love to meet you. I’ve got a Lynyrd Skynyrd mixtape I think you might dig.