Rod and Amy Burkert might just be as crazy as we are. The only difference between them and us is they have paying jobs and a Winnebago.

The Burkerts are the creators of, an online resource for people, like us, who travel with their pets. The site lists pet-friendly hotels, B&Bs, campgrounds and RV parks throughout the U.S. and Canada. allows users to search for the best deals and make reservations, and it also includes a handy Roadtrip Planner.

To keep their website accurate and up-to-date, the Burkert’s have hit the road in a new Winnebago with their two dogs, Buster (a German Shepard rescue) and TY (a Shar-Pei).

Courtesy of

Rod and Amy launched in 2009, leaving behind their business-appraisal firm. Since then, they’ve spent 80 percent of their days on the road, researching and blogging.

Scott and I have a lot in common with the Burkerts: We, too, quit our jobs to hit the road and now live every waking moment together. And, like us, Amy and Rod acknowledge their dogs’ flaws. It’s nice to know other road-tripping dog owners struggle with mutts who bark, tug on their leashes and act like fools when meeting other dogs.

We “met” the Burkerts through our blog.  A mutual love of traveling and being with our dogs made us instant friends. Somehow, in our six months on the road, we’ve managed to travel on opposite sides of the country from the Burkerts, but we’re bound to cross paths eventually and meet face-to-face amid a cacophony of barking. Until then, we do our best to keep each other informed about worthwhile pet-friendly finds.

Rod and Amy know just about everybody in the dog-loving cyber community, so we were flattered when they invited us to be featured on their blog, Take Paws. Check out our Q&A.


Jill and I follow the girl in the wispy cotton dress and dirty cowboy boots across the grounds of El Cosmico, our footsteps lifting puffs of dust and crunching snarls of gray grass. We walk past a woman with unshaven armpits doing yoga in the paltry shade of a mesquite tree. She sits cross-legged atop a purple mat, seemingly oblivious to both our presence and the rumble of a one-ton pickup truck motoring northward on Highway 67.

I silently wonder what the rancher behind the truck’s wheel must think of El Cosmico — this quasi-campground, quasi-commune scattered across 18 acres of West Texas nothingness, where ladies contort their bodies beneath mesquite branches and guests pay good money to bathe outdoors in old tubs. It must beat anything he ever saw.

I just hope the old boy doesn’t pull over and ask why I’m about to fork out 75 bucks a night to sleep in a teepee. Because, at the moment, an explanation eludes me.

Jill had been talking about El Cosmico for months and miles. She saw an article about the place in ReadyMade Magazine and was intoxicated by the photographs of empty landscapes and old trailers. Initially, I was skeptical about the idea of paying extra dollars to sleep in an old camper when we owned a perfectly good tent, but our stay in a vintage trailer in Patagonia, Ariz., softened my stance. So when we drove through Marfa — a windswept town 400 miles west of Austin and 200 southeast of Juarez, Mexico — and sighted El Cosmico’s red neon sign, I shared at least a smidgen of Jill’s giddiness.

Asking someone who has stayed at El Cosmico to describe it is a little like asking a proudly eclectic musician what genre of music his band plays. Don’t expect a straight answer. El Cosmico is not a motel, but you sleep there. It’s not a campground, but you can pitch a tent there. It’s essentially a scattering of refurbished trailers, modernized yurts, safari-style box tents and one teepee.

El Cosmico is the brainchild of Liz Lambert, a former lawyer who almost single-handedly turned Austin’s once seedy South Congress neighborhood into the hipster–friendly “SoCo” district. She is also the creative force behind two boutique hotels in that area — Hotel San Jose and Hotel Saint Cecilia — as well as the Hotel Havana in San Antonio. (She is not, however, the Liz Lambert who violently yanked the ponytail of a collegiate soccer foe to became a YouTube legend.)

Lambert said she envisioned El Cosmico as a “community space that fosters and agitates artistic and intellectual exchange.” She might be disappointed to learn that the fellow guests we encountered there were a pretty cloistered bunch. There was the young Canadian couple with a penchant for skinny jeans, billowy scarves and furtive glances. There was the precocious teenager who had apparently convinced her parents it would be a grand idea to vacation in a 1953 Vagabond trailer next door to the Marfa Border Patrol station. And there was the group of bicyclists, en route to Key West from San Diego, who upon arrival summarily ate, showered and collapsed in their tents.

None of those folks collaborated artistically with us (or the dogs) during our stay at El Cosmico. But we did enjoy lengthy intellectual exchanges with the groundskeeper, a fascinating man who claimed to have lived three years on the shores of the Rio Grande before winding up in a Mexican prison. When I mentioned this story to the property manager, Sarah (the  girl in the cotton dress and cowboy boots), she was incredulous. “I’ve told him to not talk to the guests,” she said, brightly. “Half of what he says is complete bullshit.”

Sarah herself seems like a straight shooter. After all, she convinced us to choose the teepee over of one of the vintage trailers, which proved one of our wisest decisions of the trip so far.

The El Cosmico teepee is a replica of an authentic Sioux dwelling. It is big — 22 feet in diameter and nearly 20 feet tall — and furnished with a futon bed, four floor pillows and two stool/tables made from recycled tires. Cowhides cover the ground, and a 55-gallon fire cauldron sits in the center of the room. (A Duraflame log and firewood are provided.) A well-hidden extension cord carries electricity into the teepee (something the Plains Indians would have relished, I’m sure, had they brandished iPhones in need of recharging), and a lamp shrouded by a bell-shaped wicker shade hangs over the bed. The shade casts disco-ball-like light against the tent walls — a nice touch — but no nighttime glow beats the fire’s flickering flames.

We wasted no time lighting a fire and plugging in our portable speakers. We fell asleep with mesquite smoke and Sade’s voice wafting through the teepee’s vented ceiling toward the Texas stars.

I’m not sure staying in a tricked-out teepee counts as camping. But even when I’m not camping, I like to feel like I am, and El Cosmico granted me that desire.

Nearly every vacation I took as a boy entailed camping. Year after year, the campgrounds remained the same — Fall Creek Falls and Cades Cove in Tennessee, the Myrtle Beach Trav-L-Park in South Carolina — but my family’s accommodations kept evolving. We began in a 1978 Ford F-150 pickup truck with a fiberglass camper top; my parents slept atop a piece of foam in the truckbed, and I slept crossways above them on a piece of plywood. Later my parents moved into to a canvas Coleman tent, and I moved down to the big foam in the truck. Next came an Apache pop-up camper, then a bigger Apache pop-up camper, both of which had tiny sinks and stoves and fridges. Finally, the coup de gras: a 21-foot Coachman trailer that belonged to my granddad; it had a shower and a microwave, even curtains.

The teepee, though, was a quantum leap for me. It is the most sublime form of camping I have ever experienced. I would go so far to say my night with Jill in the teepee, warmed and illuminated by fire, sleeping beneath a Bolivian wool blanket, the dogs curled up at our side, made for the most memorable accommodations of our trip — and maybe my entire life.

(Jill and I also tried out one of El Cosmico’s yurt-like “eco shacks” — with their white fabric walls and bamboo floors — but after two nights in the teepee it was like relocating to the camel-tender’s tent from the sultan’s quarters. The yurts are groovy, but they lack panache.)

Aside from the teepee, my favorite thing about El Cosmico is its bathhouse. At many campgrounds, bathhouses are cesspools of dread. They tend to be dank and dirty, besmirched by puddles of other people’s shower runoff and strands of other people’s body hair. Cobwebs span nearly every right angle, and all manner of critters — spiders, beetles, roaches, frogs, lizards, slugs — creep across tile floors.

Not so the bathhouse at El Cosmico. It’s an open-air structure with concrete floors, exposed plumbing and truncated walls of slatted wood. Sunlight (or moonlight, depending) seeps through the wood slats, and the West Texas wind keeps everything relatively fresh and dry. Unisex bathroom stalls and showers — separated by canvas-and-rope privacy curtains — might make overly prudish persons feel awkward, but I enjoyed the invigorating sensation of showering outdoors. (Jill was less enamored of the facilities but still agreed to the idea of building an open-air shower in our backyard when we return home to Phoenix.)

The teepee and bathhouse compensate for El Cosmico’s imperfections, which are not few. There is little shade, thorny goatheads cover the grounds (that sucked for the dogs), and none of the trailers is equipped with air conditioning.

And the lifelong camper in me questions some of designers’ logic, wondering things like, “They ran a water line to that trailer, so why not extend it 30 feet and put a spigot near the teepee?” Or, “Why put a tub in the bathhouse? Who wants to use a communal bathtub?” Or, “I’m cool with the outdoor kitchen being way out yonder, but a picnic table or two would be nice over here.”

But El Cosmico is still in its infancy — it opened in November 2009 — and I’m sure the kinks will be worked out soon enough. The place probably will never win over hotel snobs who blanche at the idea of showering in a bathhouse or salty campers who balk at spending $125 to stay in a 60-year old travel trailer, but it’s a hoot for everyone in between.

Still, if the folks who run El Cosmico want to alter the personal cosmos of every traveler who periodically longs to sleep somewhere besides his or her own bed, I can bolster their business plan with three simple words of advice: Build. More. Teepees.

Those suckers are heaven on Earth.

— Scott

Sometimes a girl just needs a kitchen. I don’t care what degree of feminist I claim to be, it’s in my blood to want a stove, a fridge and some beautiful food to prepare. When you’re on the road, this sort of urge is difficult to satisfy.

So far on this journey I’ve made sandwiches on the hood of the car, let goat cheese go bad in our cooler and mastered an Italian sausage pasta using small backpacking pots. I’ve poured many bowls of cold cereal in motel rooms, and botched a vegetable-filled omelette atop a wet picnic table. And I’ve had to wash every dish in a stream, beneath a campground spigot or in a bathroom sink.

But one glorious night in Roswell, N.M, I found myself in a fully equipped kitchen, chopping lettuce for a salad, prepping potatoes for baking, and seasoning a T-bone for the stainless gas grill outside. And when it was all over, I loaded the dishes in a dishwasher and pushed a button. It was awesome.

I have Britt and Veronica of Cozy Cowboy Cottage Rentals to thank for my night of domestic bliss. Scott and I weren’t finding much by way of lodging in Roswell other than chain hotels. On a whim, we searched online for vacation rentals — even though we were going to be in town for only one night. We found an inviting studio apartment, but it was a 30-day rental. Scott sent an e-mail anyway, and we were surprised by Brit and Veronica’s reply. The studio wasn’t available, but a bigger place was.

This is how we ended up in the “Roswell House Moderne,” a two-story, three-bedroom home with a fenced backyard — for $50 cash. Britt and Veronica apologized that the cable TV and phone weren’t in service, but we didn’t care. The house was way more than we needed, and the washer and dryer were almost as much of a godsend as the kitchen.

We had intentions of checking out downtown Roswell’s hokey alien attractions, but we abandoned those intentions after seeing the House Moderne’s backyard. Instead, we kicked off our shoes and sat in the sunshine, reading our books as the dogs snored by our sides. Later we enjoyed a candlelit dinner on the patio, and I took a bubble bath.

Basically, we played house far away from home. It was nice.

I could probably road trip for the rest of my life. I love traveling. I love camping. But every once in a while, I need to work through a natural desire to nest. This alien environment allowed me to do that, and I moved on, feeling refreshed.


The highway from Alamogordo, N.M., to White Sands National Monument is straighter than a country preacher and patched with black tar. The tar patches, stretching before us in a continuous squiggle of crests and troughs and splotches, called to mind a line of Arabic characters. I imagined they spelled out ancient wisdom, or maybe a warning, as if a Muslim cleric were in charge of road maintenance here and considered the work sacred.

This day-dreamy mental lurch was no doubt influenced by the Saharan vision on the horizon: a hazy expanse of sand dunes that came into more crystalline focus with each passing mile. It was an anti-mirage — a rifle-sight view of endless sand between a blurred corridor of gas stations, drug stores and tattoo parlors. A strong tailwind gave me the sensation the car was being sucked forward by this sea of sand. The air that curled into my open window tingled the hair on my forearm and dried my lips. I was terribly thirsty.

White Sands National Monument is surely one of our country’s oddest federally protected natural attractions. The 275 square miles of dunes that constitute the monument seem strikingly out of place, even in the rugged landscape of southern New Mexico. Smooth and elegant and rhythmic, the waves of sand stand in stark contrast Alamogordo’s cluttered cityscape and the lumpy peaks of the Sacramento and San Andreas mountains. It’s as if God busted a brobdingnagian hourglass above the valley and then did a half-ass job of blowing the glittery, granular mess away.

Adding to the monument’s surreality is a couple of neighbors prone to secretive maneuverings and roaring backyard parties. White Sands Missile Range has been known to disturb the dunes with errant missiles (oops), while Holloman Air Force Base occasionally punctures the monument’s tranquility with a sonic boom.

But neither missiles nor jets can compare to the splitting of atoms. A once-secret site in the northern reaches of the missile range is where, in the pre-dawn hours of July 16, 1945, American scientists detonated the first atomic bomb. The historic big bang vaporized steel, turned sand to glass and shattered windows 120 miles away. It also, of course, changed the world. The dunes near ground zero still carry a trace of radiation from the 65-year-old test blast.

That’s a heavy backstory for a place where children now spend sunny days sliding down dunes atop plastic sleds and flattened cardboard boxes.

Make no mistake: For all its geological weirdness and military history, the number one reason people come to White Sands National Monument is to play in the sand. I lived in New Mexico for four years and have visited White Sands on several occasions, each time making the obligatory tour of the visitor center to learn how the dunes are formed and what critters and plants survive in them. But the monument’s visitor center is one of those rare museum-like environments where my Inner Child bullies my Inner Nerd away from the exhibits and out the door.

A fact about White Sands that both my Inner Nerd and Inner Child can appreciate is that the dunes are made of gypsum crystals, which, unlike the quartz sand of most beaches, do not readily convert the sun’s energy into heat. That means the sand usually feels cool to the touch and you can tromp across it bare-footed during the hottest of summer days.

One other fun fact about the gypsum: It’s actually translucent, not white. But as the wind bounces the sand crystals along the ground, they collide and scratch each other. The scratches alter the way light reflects off the grains, making the sand appear white to our eyes.

That gypsum is really what makes White Sands unique. Tom Charles, an Alamogordo insurance agent who in the early 1930s led a movement to make the dunes a national monument instead of a mineral factory, argued that “gypsum may be divided into two classes — commercial and inspirational. The former everybody has, but as for recreational gypsum, we have it all. No place else in the world do you find these alabaster dunes with the beauty and splendor of the Great White Sands.”

Charles’ logic won out. President Hebert Hoover proclaimed the dunes a national monument in 1933, creating a sandbox of mythical proportions for future visitors to enjoy, and, more immediately, providing construction jobs during the dark days of the Great Depression. When FDR took office, his Works Progress Administration crews quickly got to work building the visitor center, public restrooms, maintenance facilities and park residences — all of which are still in use today.

Those WPA restrooms were a welcome sight after the long drive to the monument from Magdalena. We would need to avail ourselves of them again four hours later, after consuming a gallon of water while playing in the dunes. We had a blast. Isabel frolicked in the sand like Scrooge McDuck in a pile of gold. Jack’s thunderous paws scratched more gypsum than a week’s worth of windstorms. And, like a child, I badgered Jill to take my picture as I leaped from the crest of the tallest dunes I could find.

We watched the moon rise and the sun set, and somehow managed to get back to our car without losing our way in the blanched landscape of confusing sameness.

Back on the highway, my calves ached. Grains of sand shifted in my underwear. The dogs slept the sleep of the dead. The car wheels whirred hypnotically on the roadbed as Arabic tar scripture passed between them.

I wanted to think the tar held a sage message for weary, happy travelers like us, but I’ll be damned if I could decipher it. I just pointed the car toward Texas and put my bare, sandy foot to the gas pedal.

— Scott

I like Phoenix. I like its grit. Same reason I like great cities like Milwaukee, Chicago and San Francisco. I want some diversity, some authenticity, some signs of aging.

The only grit I found in Carmel-by-the-Sea was the puddle of coastal sand collecting in our car’s floorboard. This town is one of the cleanest, meticulously maintained cities I’ve ever been in. And the only thing that seems to be aging is its populace — the median age is 54.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is beautiful and charming, but it seems a little self conscious about just how beautiful and charming it is. I guess this vibe is to be expected from a city that feels the need to add a hyphenated prepositional phrase to its name. Carmel-by-the-Sea. Did former mayor Clint Eastwood approve of this?

Being a Californian who grew up near dairy farms and cotton fields instead of the coast, maybe I’m just a little bitter. But what makes Carmel different from other upscale California beach towns is not its hyphens; it’s the city’s absolute devotion to dogs. And I mean all dogs — not just ones that fit inside Louis Vuitton bags.

Scott and I probably aren’t the kind of dog-loving guests the Carmel tourism board prefers. Unable to afford a hotel by the sea, we camped at a Veteran’s Memorial Park in neighboring Monterey. Unable to afford lunch by the sea, we picnicked on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But one thing in Carmel is free, and we drove 5.3 miles from Monterey every day to enjoy it: Carmel City Beach.

At nearly any time of day, Carmel City Beach is full of off-leash dogs. They play in the sand, fetch sticks in the ocean and trot along the surf. This beach is all about dogs, and I’ve never seen so many dogs so happy.

Carmel City Beach is a great example of how responsible dog owners and a committed city can maintain a clean beach that is fun for dogs and dog owners alike. And this is not just any beach — it’s extraordinarily beautiful. The northward shoreline parallels Pebble Beach Golf Links and affords a view of the course’s much-photographed Lone Cypress Tree. If only managers of other California beaches, many of which don’t allow dogs at all, were as dedicated as Carmel’s city fathers.

This was Jack and Isabel’s first (legal) taste of off-leash beach life, and they loved it. But it would be a stretch to say they fit right in. Carmel City Beach is the ultimate dog pageant. Awards could be handed out for best coat, most fit and longest swim into the ocean for a stick. If, like me, you are fascinated by pure-breed dogs, then this is the place to see the best of them — Great Pyrenees, Bernese Mountain Dogs, German Shorthairs, Basenjis and more. Introducing our mutts into such a blue-blood playground was a bit like taking shoeless bumpkins to a private school. I was worried Jack and Isabel might develop a complex, but they were recklessly oblivious. Isabel chased sticks into the sea while Jack chased toy poodles along the shore.

At one point, Jack climbed the steep inland bank and squatted above the green, grassy rough along a Pebble Beach fairway. Scott now can forever say he picked up dog poop on one of America’s greatest golf courses.

Tired dogs are well-behaved dogs, which made it possible for us to peacefully relax at one of Carmel’s many dog-friendly, outdoor patios after our first visit to the beach. We chose Cypress Inn.

Owned by Doris Day and located a few blocks from the beach, Cypress Inn is not only pet-friendly — its patio provides an area to rinse off your dogs after a day of playing in the sand. The Garden Courtyard is a great place to nosh on a cheese platter and have a cocktail while the dogs relax by the outdoor fire. We even caught a glimpse of a Cocker Spaniel joining its owner for dinner inside the restaurant.

Downtown Carmel is doggie heaven. Owners walk their dogs, sip coffee with their dogs, shop for their dogs. The Forge in the Forest is one of several restaurants with a special menu for dogs, offering kibble, hamburgers, chicken strips or a $13 New York steak.

There are nearly 50 eating and drinking establishments in Carmel that are dog-friendly — that is, if your dogs don’t act like jerks.  Dog boutiques cater to extreme dog lovers with specialty items such as gingham puppy harnesses ($34) and angora sweaters ($56). You can also find the latest Ed Hardy gear for your four-legged friend. But you won’t catch Jack or Isabel wearing a sweater, much less a hoodie with a panther and koi fish bedazzled on the back.

For all of Carmel’s fuss over gourmet dog menus, boutiques and day spas — including massage and color-therapy services — it’s the off-leash beach that makes the city such a dog lover’s dream. You could spend a small fortune making your dog look good, but nothing compares to watching your filthy mongrel, pink tongue flapping and chin bearded in slobber, sprint through surf and bound over driftwood in an effort to catch some poor woman’s white poodle.

That kind of joy can’t be bought, by the sea or anywhere else.

— Jill