TRAVELS WITH FRANKIE: Discovering Pet-friendly Perks at Dateland, Arizona

by Edie Jarolim

Many years ago, I went to Spain with a man who turned out to be an Ugly American. The beer was never cold enough for him and he often mangled the language, but got annoyed at even my mildest attempts at correction.  So I kept my mouth shut when, in a bar in Barcelona, he loudly insisted on a “servicio frio, muy frio” rather than a chilled cerveza. The bartender, not comprehending why anyone would demand a very cold bathroom, nevertheless pointed him towards the men’s room.

These days, I mostly travel with my small terrier mix, Frankie. He rarely embarrasses me and never by being arrogant. But Frankie presents the opposite problem to my Spain experience: that of the very hot bathroom.

Let me backtrack a bit.

It’s almost an annual tradition, my summer drive from Tucson to San Diego, started when I moved from Manhattan to Arizona nearly 20 years ago. I go to escape the triple digit desert heat and to visit friends I made when I was doing dissertation research at the University of California, San Diego.

Once you get on to I-8 from the soul destroying I-10, the drive, through pristine swathes of Sonoran Desert, is spectacular. Few people slow down to enjoy the view, however. Keeping up with the traffic flow means going about 85mph. I’d zip along until I reached Yuma -- at the Arizona/California border and about the halfway point in the seven-hour drive -- and get gas at one of the many convenience store/stations clustered near the turnoff and use the bathroom. 

At least that’s what I did until I got Frankie, my first dog, a few years ago.

I was aware that leaving a dog in a car in even moderate heat, even with the window cracked, is very dangerous. What I didn’t know was that you’re not permitted to take a dog into a convenience store because it’s considered a health violation. 

Ha! The frozen burritos they sell in those stores...those are health violations. A small dog enclosed in a carrier? I think not.

It was about 105 degrees in Yuma the day I discovered this unjust ordinance. I managed to bully my way past the officious clerk into the ladies’ room with Frankie, telling her that if I had to leave my dog in the car, his death would be on her head. I may also have hinted something about letting Frankie relieve himself right outside the store’s front door.

It was an idle threat. Frankie is not a pee-on-demand pup. But desperately having to pee myself called for desperate measures.

The problem was only temporarily averted, however. Not only were convenience stores not convenient for solo travelers with a pet in tow but, because of budget cuts in both states, most of the rest areas along I-8 in Arizona and California were closed. Under the best of circumstance, it’s tough for a woman to pull over to the side of the road to relieve herself. In the desert -- no way. Even huge saguaro cacti don’t provide enough cover. 

Luckily, I re-discovered Dateland.

As I’ve said, I usually zoomed along I-8 because...well, because I could and because I-8 advertises few roadside attractions. But one year I’d been lured off the interstate at Arizona’s Milepost 67,  about ½ an hour east of Yuma, by a billboard announcing “Famous Date Shakes.”

I found a classic diner and gift shop near a towering grove of date palms, along with a dusty RV park and a gas station. A historic marker noted that this had been the site for two of General Patton's desert training camps in World War II, Camp Horn and Camp Hyder (see here for more history: www.dateland.com/aboutdateland.htm

More to the point, the date shake, a straw-defying blend of vanilla ice cream and Medjools, deserved its claim to fame.

It was only when I started contemplating buying date cream pies -- “house gifts for my friends in San Diego,” I rationalized -- that I realized Dateland might be a detour best avoided in the future.

Not until the summer following my convenience store encounter did I succumb to Dateland’s siren call again.

A dog-loving friend, hearing about my Frankie-and-bathroom dilemma, suggested I advertise for a ride share on Craigslist. Reluctantly, because I didn’t relish spending seven hours in my car with a stranger and because I enjoy a long stretch of listening to talking books, I agreed it was a smart -- and economical, given the rising price of gas -- idea.

My driving companion turned out to be terrific -- a University of Arizona senior who shared three of my key interests: literature, dogs, and food. It was her enthusiasm for the last that inspired me to suggest we stop at Dateland so I could show off my roadside dining discovery.

I couldn’t find the place at first. I was looking for a shabby billboard and almost bypassed the slick highway turnoff sign for Dateland, one with nary a mention of shakes. But how many Datelands could there be?

It turns out the sign wasn’t the only thing that had been gussied up. The funky diner had morphed into a faceless Travel Center with a vast souvenir shop and a Quiznos full-service restaurant.

But the place still sold date shakes, and they were as good as ever.

And then I saw a sign that made me forgive all gentrification: Dateland had added shaded and misted kennels where your dog can safely stay outdoors while you browse inside. You can bring your own lock to secure your pup’s pen or get one from the front desk for a fully refundable deposit. 

A brilliant marketing strategy -- and a godsend for me and Frankie.

I now travel to San Diego with a combination lock and a sweet anticipation of date delights. In theory, I could just use the facilities and forgo the shake, but that seems wrong. How many times do you get to blow a diet and blame it on the dog?

 

Edie Jarolim earned a Ph.D. in American literature from New York University; edited guidebooks at Frommer's, Rough Guides, and Fodor's; published myriad travel articles and three travel guides; and generally led a respectable but dogless life until 2004, when she began palling around with terriers--specifically, one small terrier mix named Frankie. Cluelessness about dogs in general and Frankie in particular inspired her to begin reading up on all things canine and, eventually, to write AM I BORING MY DOG: And 99 Other Things Every Dog Wishes You Knew (Alpha/Penguin). Read more about her and Frankie at her blog, http://WillMyDogHateMe.com.

 

Photos by Edie Jarolim and Litandmore via flickr.

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