Friday, September 8, 2017

10 fun facts about ‘Foamhenge’ at Cox Farms

This year marks the first of Foamhenge’s new home at Cox Farms. You might be asking at this point, what is Foamhenge? 

If you haven't heard of it and are wondering, it’s a unique piece of art. A life-sized foam reproduction of the historical Stonehenge in England. 

Where did it come from? Who created it? How did it end up at Cox Farms? If you're still wondering, read on.

10 fun facts about Foamhenge

1. Foamhenge was built in 2004 by Rockbridge County-based artist Mark Cline of Enchanted Castle Studios. For more than a decade he maintained the unmarked, yet very popular, site which was located in Natural Bridge, Virginia.

2. Cline originally designed and built Foamhenge as an April Fool’s Day stunt. Cline has told the media he never thought it would last more than a year. Instead, it lasted for 12. And it wasn’t dismantled out of lack of interest either (the attraction gained a sort of a cult following over the years), it was a forced removal which took place in late August 2016.

3. The pieces that make up Foamhenge are made of beaded foam and weigh approximately 420 pounds.

Some pieces of Foamhenge

4. Foamhenge was built by a small group of men and took six weeks to build. Cline was meticulous to ensure Foamhenge was an exact replica of Stonehenge and checked with an astrologist to see that it was astronomically correct. 

5. The foam was delivered from Winchester, Va. to Rockbridge County by tractor trailer – it took four trips!

6. Over the years many people traveling through Virginia stopped at the Natural Bridge exit in search of seeing Foamhenge in person, myself included (I learned about almost a decade into my Virginia residency. I made the stop six months after I first heard about it. At the time, I didn't know it, but Foamhenge was literally in its last days at its original home).

7. Despite no advertising, signage or anything indicating the big foam pillars stood just off the roadside, up a hill and behind some trees, Foamhenge ended up being featured on The Discovery Channel, Smithsonian Channel, TBS and MSNBC (and the Zippy the Pinhead comic strip too). Not bad for something that was originally a gag! Turned out Foamhenge was really good for local tourism. 

At the old location, a short walk up the hill to Foamhenge

8. A Merlin statue stood at the original site watching over Foamhenge. 

9. Foamhenge was moved in late 2016 as the property it sat on was designated to become part of the new Natural Bridge State Park, which also had formerly been privately owned. Officials gave the reason that Foamhenge did not “fit” with Virginia’s state parks’ mission.

10. After many buyers from various places in the United States expressed interest in purchasing the unique landmark, Cline ultimately decided to sell it to Cox Farms. Cox has since moved it to its property in Northern Virginia.

There you have it – 10 fun facts about Foamhenge. If you want to see Foamhenge in person, its new home is at Cox Farms, located in western Fairfax County. Cox Farms is a popular destination for locals and tourists, especially known for its’ phenomenal fall festival and Fields of Fear. Foamhenge will be making its debut in its new home on September 16, 2017.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

16 fun facts about the John F. Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is a vast cultural center which is wholly dedicated to the performing arts. A highly visible building as you drive over the Potomac River on one of the bridges from Virginia into the District, the center is one of D.C.’s top venues to see performing arts.

Partial view of the front exterior of the Kennedy Center

The Kennedy Center welcomes millions of people each year to enjoy a show, learn something new or to simply explore the building and what it has to offer. Want to know more?

16 facts about the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

1. The Kennedy Center is located on 17 acres and was designed by architect Edward Durell Stone.

The rooftop terrace at the Kennedy Center

2. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation (the National Cultural Center Act) in 1958 to establish a building dedicated to the performing arts. A few months prior to his death, President John F. Kennedy had signed legislation to expand the newly designated cultural center which increased the number of trustees and extended the time for raising private funds. The Eisenhower Theater, which sits 1,164 people, is named in President Eisenhower’s honor.

3. The newly-designated center was renamed as a national living memorial to President John F. Kennedy following his 1963 assassination. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill on January 23, 1964. 

4. At the groundbreaking ceremony in December 1964, President Johnson used the same gold-plated shovel used for the groundbreaking ceremonies of the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials.

5. Opening night for the John F. Kennedy Center was on September 8, 1971. The world premiere that evening was Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers” and was performed at the Opera House.

6. The Hall of States showcases a bright display of 50 flags, each representing one of the states. They are hung along the ceiling in the order they entered the union. U.S. territories and District of Columbia flags are also displayed.

Hall of States

7. The Hall of Nations also displays flags. In this grand hall, you can see flags from all of the countries with which the United States maintains diplomatic relations.

Hall of Nations

8. An impressive 630 feet long, 40 feet wide Grand Foyer showcases 16 Orrefors crystal chandeliers. Each chandelier weighs one ton.

9. President Kennedy is honored by a bust made by Robert Berks; it weighs a whopping 3,000 pounds.

10. The center’s Concert Hall has more than 2,400 seats.

11. The Opera House at the center, with its more than 2,300 seats, is illuminated by Lobmeyr chandelier, a gift from Austria. Its diameter is 50 feet and has almost 2,000 light bulbs!

12. Free performances can be found at the center’s Millennium Stage at 6 p.m. every day. A variety of art forms can be seen, including but not limited to dance, comedy, improv and various types of music.

13. Other performance spaces in the Kennedy Center include the Family Theater (324 seats), Terrace Theatre (490 seats), Theater Lab (388 seats), the North and South Plazas and the Terrace Gallery.
14. Visitors are able to roam the River and Roof Terraces and take in the views of the city and of Northern Virginia. Highlights include the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument, Washington National Cathedral, the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery. Boats, kayakers and other water travelers can be watched going up and down the Potomac River.

View of NW DC and to the left is Virginia

15. Along the River Terrace’s marble walls, you can read engraved quotes by President Kennedy that was said with emphasis on the arts in American culture.

16. The Kennedy Center is currently undergoing a massive renovation. Its first renovation since its build, the Kennedy Center will see three pavilions: A Welcome Pavilion, Skylight Pavilion, and a River Pavillion. The new spaces will add studios, rehearsal rooms, classrooms, lecture hall and other spaces dedicated to education. There will also be a large outdoor wall for video presentations, along with a cafĂ©. 

Existing cafe inside of the Kennedy Center
As a long-established and highly acclaimed center for the performing arts, over 3 million people visit the John F. Kennedy Center each year. Visitors are welcome to the center to visit and free tours are offered daily.

Personal observation
Brochure and booklet picked up at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Kennedy Center website  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

10 facts about the Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Grove

Did you know there is a living memorial dedicated to President Lyndon B. Johnson in the District? I had first heard there was a memorial about a year or two ago but just stumbled upon it earlier this summer. 

The site is right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C. but it is also a hidden gem as it’s not well-advertised and I found signage to be vague. 

Want to know more? Read on.

10 facts about the Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Grove

1. Plans for the memorial were started in 1973, shortly after the President’s death. Money for the site was raised by the LBJ Grove Memorial Committee which totaled over $2 million in donations from people all over the U.S. The memorial site was chosen by Lady Bird Johnson.

Path leading up to the memorial

2. Located on Columbia Island, which has since been renamed Lady Bird Johnson Park, the memorial is a serene place sandwiched in between busy roadways, the Boundary Channel and has views of the beautiful Potomac River.  Mrs. Johnson chose this site because she and the President would often stop here as it was a favorite place to relax and reflect.

3. Two parts make up the memorial. The first consists of paths and pine trees and its center is a large granite monolith. Surrounding this section of the memorial are four quotes from LBJ carved into stone on the ground. The second part of the memorial is a grass meadow made up of various trees, flowers and other foliage.

4. The memorial was designed by landscape architect Meade Palmer. The granite was sculpted by Harold Vogel. Mrs. Johnson worked closely with these designers during the process.

5. The granite monolith is 19 feet tall and was quarried in Texas, the home state of LBJ. 

6. There are 900 white pine trees that surround the memorial, except the side that faces the Potomac. Views of D.C. are clear, along with the Washington Monument. Other foliage that frames the memorial include dogwoods, azaleas and rhododendron.

7. The memorial grove opened on April 6, 1976. At the dedication ceremony on this date, Lady Bird Johnson said, 
“This strip of land will always be a special place for me... It appears at the moment when you come over a rise and look down into the Potomac Valley and see the capital spread out with its great monuments... The years never diminished the feeling of pride and elation we felt in those beautiful buildings that belong to all of us.” (courtesy of National Park Service
8. You can see the Pentagon across the way from the Columbia Island Marina, which is located on the island where this park is located.

9. Benches are placed in the grove for visitors to sit and also reflect. In the warmer months, you’ll see birds, butterflies, bees and squirrels, to name a few. 

10. The site is open year-round during daylight hours and closes at dusk.

You can enter Lady Bird Park from the George Washington Memorial Parkway. It’s a little hard to find as once you see the sign directing you to the memorial, when you pull in, we did not see any markers leading us to the grove. You pull into the parking lot and the memorial is off to the right; the marina is straight ahead and then winds to the left of the channel. There are also restrooms and an eatery located next to the parking lot.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

10 fun facts about Washington D.C.’s Tidal Basin

Washington D.C.’s Tidal Basin is probably best known for the thousands of cherry blossom trees that dazzle the region every spring when they bloom. During this time visitors and locals alike flock to this pooled area of water to enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Aside from the cherry blossoms, the Tidal Basin also is rich in history. Not to mention is a beautiful place to visit year round. Want to know more about the Tidal Basin? Read on for some more fun facts. 

Fun facts about the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.

1. The Tidal Basin is a partially man-made body of water, it spans an area of approximately 107 acres and is about 10 feet deep. It lies between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel.

2. A devastating flood took place in 1881 which led to the construction of the Tidal Basin, which began in 1882. Completed in 1897, the area was designed to control the levels of the Potomac River to flush out the silt and sediment from the Washington Channel and to prevent flooding. The engineering involved with building the Tidal Basin created approximately 723 acres of new land and many of the memorials currently stand on that man-made land.

Aerial view of a portion of the Tidal Basin (I'm inside the Washington Monument when I took this shot)

3. The basin’s original name was “Twining Lake” named after William Johnson Twining, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Washington DC's first Engineer Commissioner.

4. Did you know there was once a bona fide beach at the Tidal Basin? It was located near where the Jefferson Memorial stands today and lasted for less than a decade. However, during those years it was “the place” to be according to WETA’s history blog. The official opening came with huge fanfare in 1918 (people had been swimming in the area for a few years before this) and it came with all the things you’d see at any popular beach location, changing rooms, food vendors and other beach-y like amenities. 
Image credit: By National Photo Company Collection. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Tidal Basin Bathing Beach closed in 1925, never to reopen. One of the reasons for the closure was the fact the beach was segregated and funding for a second beach was cut by the Senate in February of 1925. This led to Congress permanently shuttering all beaches at the Tidal Basin. The buildings were demolished and carted away and the summer of 1925 the "shores" were reverted to being "the Tidal Basin". 

5. In modern days, a whopping 250 million gallons of water from the Potomac River comes into the Tidal Basin twice a day through the inlet gates. This water is also used to keep the water levels in the Lincoln Reflecting Pool consistent, that was a new addition in 2012 after the pool underwent an extensive renovation.

6. There is a 2.1-mile long footpath that goes around the Tidal Basin where pedestrians can stroll and enjoy the views. On this walk, you’ll see up close the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the George Mason Memorial (you’ll have to cross a street to see this one).  Same with the John Paul Jones Memorial.  

The 2015 cherry blossom peaks were stunning. Many people came to walk around the basin

7. While the monument is not on the basin's footpath, you’ll also get stunning views of the Washington Monument, which is able to be seen from pretty much any point of the National Mall.  Taking photos from the Tidal Basin you can get some nice reflection shots of the monument in the water.

Photo taken one morning at dawn

8. The famous Yoshino cherry blossom trees were a gift to the United States from Japan in 1912. They were given by Toyko's Mayor Yukio Ozaki. A total of 3,000 cherry trees were given and some of the original historic trees still remain. You can see the place where the first cherry tree planting took place on March 27, 1912. The busiest time of year in Washington is during the peak views - people flock here each spring to see the blossoms in their magnificence.

9. A 350+-year-old 10-foot granite lantern also can be seen. Another gift from Japan, dedicated in 1954, there is a twin in Japan which signifies Japanese-American friendship. It is lit annually during the cherry blossom festival. A Japanese Pagoda, also made of granite and a gift from Japan in 1957, is also located on the Tidal Basin.

10. Paddle boats are a popular attraction on the Tidal Basin, you can rent by the hour. The rides are seasonal. The boats hold two to four passengers and there are a couple of electronic ones so you don’t have to peddle (I believe those are part of the two passenger option).

There you have it! Ten fun facts about Washington's Tidal Basin. If you haven't been to the Tidal Basin, it's a wonderful walk around if you have the time. Also, it offers some pretty views during sunrises and sunsets. 

Additional sources:

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Great places to go for a run in Washington DC

If you are a running enthusiast and are looking for a place to run when you're in the Washington D.C. area you'll be happy to learn there are several great places you can head to get your workout in.

The best part about taking your jog in the District is the beautiful picturesque and scenic areas you can run through. You can choose to run along the many paths located in the heart of the D.C. where the action is at or you can opt to jog along the tranquil beauty of places such as the Potomac River.

Here are a few of the top jogging areas located in the immediate vicinity of the U.S. Capitol: 

National Mall

What better place to go for a jog than right smack in the middle of the spirit of Washington D.C.? There are many terrific paths which wind around the reflecting pool and monuments and capture the true inner beauty of the nation's capital city. Other routes you can try are around the Tidal Basin or around the grassy areas between the Smithsonian museums.

Many people opt to run these paths daily and one of the best features of this is you can vary it enough where you run a different route every day. I’ve been aiming to work myself up to being able to run this next year. Not quite there yet though!

George Washington Memorial Parkway

Great Falls is a park off the George Washington Memorial Parkway

The George Washington Memorial Parkway is another ideal setting for a run. This highway, also known as the Mount Vernon trail, is unlike most of the other main thoroughfares located in the D.C. metro area. Technically, it's in Virginia.

The trail runs for approximately 18.5 miles and encompasses many wonderful views. Jog along the scenic Potomac River, and along the way you'll come across several parks and other scenic views. Jogging enthusiasts are likely to be pleased with the flat and well-maintained terrain of the trails located here. You can easily run for miles and enjoy the relative tranquility of this highway (as much as you can in this area, as it's hard to escape traffic)!

Capitol Crescent Trail

This trail was built along the former B&O rail line which is no longer used. The trail runs from Washington D.C.'s Georgetown up to Silver Spring, Maryland. It runs 11 miles, and the 7.5 mile stretch from Georgetown to Bethesda is paved with the remainder constructed of crushed stone. The Crescent Trail is still a work in progress, but many people regularly use this scenic trail as a good place to go for a run.

These are only a handful of the great places to jog in Washington D.C. These are only a few of the fabulous paths which lead through D.C. The city itself is very jogger friendly, but if you look to branch out to the towns and cities which surround the Capitol city you'll find there are also many other wonderful parks and streets you can visit to go for a run as well. Once thing we have around here is a lot of straight and flat! (Unlike when I lived in a mountainous area of New York and the roads were mostly all steep and winding).

Friday, August 4, 2017

Photos on Friday: Scenes from the Occoquan River

Earlier this summer, in July, we visited Occoquan, a small town located in Northern Virginia, not too far from I-95. Yet, when visiting, you'd never know you were so close to the interstate. It's a quaint little town and sits on the Occoquan River, which is a tributary of the Potomac River. 

Occoquan's official website compares the town to "Main Street, USA", and I'd have to agree with that assessment.  There were a few shops open on that Friday evening but most were closed, along with a museum I'd love to pop into. The town is seeping with history and I want to learn more about it. 

I plan to go back and do a proper visit and will write a more detailed post at that time. For today's post, I wanted to share some scenes of the river. 

Footbridge across the Occoquan
Small waterfall on the other side of the footbridge
Partial shot of the boardwalk. Nightlife was hopping on that Friday evening.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

10 interesting facts about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a highly visited memorial on the National Mall. Conceived in the late 1970s by Jan Scruggs, a service member who was in Vietnam from 1969-70, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was designed as a healing place. Scruggs, who had been an infantry corporal, founded the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc. (VVMF), to bring the idea to fruition.

The memorial was designed and built in the early 1980s. Since that time, millions of people have come to visit and remember those who served during this war (about 5.6 million a year).  

10 interesting facts about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

1. VVMF (incorporated in April 1979 by a group of Vietnam veterans) lobbied and received legislation, signed by President Jimmy Carter, to have the memorial built. No federal funds were used to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The organization raised approximately $9 million through private contributions from businesses, foundations, veterans and other groups, along with 275,000 individual Americans. Three acres were designated for the memorial.

2. The memorial’s design was determined by a nationwide competition. There were stipulations each architect had to follow which included a) must contain the names of every American who died in Vietnam or remained MIA, b) not contain a political statement about the war c) be contemplative in nature and fit within the surrounding areas of the National Mall. More than 1,400 designs were submitted and the winning proposal was created by a Yale architecture student named Maya Ying Lin. It was judged anonymously by a panel of eight artists and designers.

3. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial took three and one-half years to build and was dedicated on Veterans Day in 1982. At this time, control of the memorial was transferred to the National Park Service (NPS).

4. The memorial’s “v-shaped” walls are each 246.75 feet long and are constructed of black granite which was gotten from Bangalore, India. Each panel is 40 inches in width. The smallest panel has one name and the largest, 137. The Wall starts off narrow and widens as you walk through the Memorial, then narrows off again as you reach the other side. 

5. The names of more than 58,000 U.S. soldiers who were killed during the Vietnam War names are inscribed on the 70 panels. They are listed in chronological order by the date of casualty. According to the National Parks Service, the names “begin and end at the origin point, or center, of the memorial where the two walls meet. Having the names begin and end at the center is meant to form a circle – a completion to the war.”

6. The Three Servicemen Statue (unveiled Veterans Day, 1984) was designed by Washington sculptor Frederic Hart. The statue was cast in bronze by Joel Meisner and Company Foundry.

7. The Vietnam Women’s Memorial Statue (unveiled on Veterans Day, 1993) was designed by Glenna Goodacre, a sculptor from New Mexico. It represents the heroism of women who also served in the war.

8. The Memory Plaque (unveiled Veterans Day, 2004) was added to recognize those soldiers who died due to illnesses and other conditions that were attributed to service during the Vietnam War but whose names were ineligible to be inscribed on the Memorial Wall itself.

9. Many names have been added to the Wall since the Memorial was dedicated. When the Wall was first built, there were 57,939 inscribed names, as of May 2017, it totals 58,318.

10. Every day many people leave photos, flowers and notes at the memorial. Other items left at the base of the panels are military medals, dog tags, and other mementos. These items are gathered each day and taken to a storage facility, located in Maryland. Some of these artifacts are placed on view at traveling exhibits.

In the beginning, the memorial was controversial but today you don’t see too much evidence of that when visiting. For me, I always am overwhelmed when I see all the names listed, it’s very powerful and emotional. According to, the controversy settled down when the additional monuments were added.

This year, 2017, commemorates the 35th anniversary of the Wall.

Additional sources: 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Reviews: Big Meadows Lodge, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

We’ve visited Shenandoah National Park numerous times but to date, we’d only done day trips. These outings are great except, due to the ride, it doesn’t give us a lot of time to really explore the trails and scope out the wildlife as much as we’d like.

A few weeks ago we decided we would spend the night in the park to give us a good two days to explore. We chose Big Meadows Lodge. 

Main building of the lodge (hard to get a clear shot of the whole building due to the trees)

Being the lodge was filling up and only two types of rooms left, we booked one of the traditional rooms before those were sold out. After we booked, we did more research and came across some off-putting reviews about the lodge so we considered canceling. The lodge advertises itself as being historic, rustic and basic. We were not concerned with that, it was the online complaints about vermin and cleanliness. In the end, we decided to stick with our room and see how it panned out. Always up for an adventure!

Check in and room condition

Sure glad we didn’t cancel. We left early in the morning so we could do some hikes and listen to some ranger talks between the Dickey Visitor's Center (mile 4.6) and Big Meadows (mile 51). After spending all morning and part of the afternoon at the park, we arrived a bit early for 3 p.m. check in. We figured we’d hang out in the Great Room until our room was ready, however, our room was all set so the staff gave us the keys despite us being 90 minutes early. The staff was very welcoming and friendly.

Our room was in the Blackrock building, #54. It was indeed from the mid-20th century, charming and clean. Since there is no air conditioning in this room, the windows were all open. The only immediate issue we saw was the screen on the bathroom window was hard to clasp, so we closed the window. Not really a problem.

Additionally, our room had an alarm clock, a fan, some extra lamps (ceiling lighting is dim) and there were plenty of outlets. No Internet, television, phones or good reception are in this group of rooms. You might want to download some music, movies or games before you arrive if you need entertainment beyond playing cards, board games or reading a good book at night.

Unfortunately, I neglected to take photos inside the room (I was focused on the outdoors!) but our room looked a lot like this one with some slight differences.

Location, location, location!

Convenience is a big draw for staying at Big Meadows and the lodge is located near several key places to visit, including the Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center, a wayside (gift shop, camp shop/grocery store and an informal eatery) and, of course, the meadow and several trails. We relaxed in the room for a few minutes before heading back out for some hiking. Feeling refreshed, our adventure was off to a great start. The popular Dark Hollow Falls trail is nearby and we headed straight there.

Bedding and bath

After our day’s adventure, we showered and played some cards before going to sleep. The bathroom was old, but water pressure was good and the lodge provides shampoo, soap, lotion, etc. Towels were abundant and of good quality. For the first shower, it took a few minutes for the water to warm up but every shower afterward was perfect.

We were tired so our card game did not last long. The beds and pillows were really comfy and the lodge did have darkening drapes in our unit so we barely noticed any light nor did we hear the second round of rain that came during the night. The day had been hot (in the 90s) and, despite this and no A/C in our room, the temperature was comfortable. We all had a great night’s sleep and it was pretty quiet, even though the lodge was booked to capacity.

Restaurant and the main lodge

There is a full-service restaurant and a tap room at Big Meadows Lodge. I can’t really say much about these since we did not eat here except once for breakfast. We did not get the buffet, but ordered off the menu and enjoyed what we got. You can order ala carte or a meal which ran, on average, about $10. I think the breakfast buffet was about $15. (The reason why we didn't eat at any of the properties was that we decided on a whim to have lunch at the annual Blackberry Festival. Our packed sandwiches in the cooler we had for dinner). We didn’t visit the tap room at all. There is also nightly entertainment.

The Great Room is large and looks like a cozy place to hang out, but we only spent a few minutes there since we were busy off in the park. 
There are numerous seating areas, along with some tables and, in the corner, are puzzles and board games to enjoy. Many people were sitting in the rocking chairs along the big windows that faced the mountains. There is some limited Wi-Fi in the Great Room, but it's probably the only place you'll have it. Mobile reception is very poor with most carriers, so hot spotting it is likely not an option. 

About those critters…

Coming in, we had already decided we would not bring any food into the room so not to entice mice, so we had packed extra zip lock bags and stored our double-wrapped food in a cooler in our car so as to not attract any bears. After reading the binder the lodge left on the desk, I noticed they do state not to bring food into the room. We only brought in sealed drinks and kept them in the ice bucket provided. We had absolutely no issues with mice or any other critter. Didn’t even see a bug!

We would definitely spend another night at Big Meadows and are already talking about when would be a good time to go. While there are negative reviews online, and there are some cabins that did look a little run down (it's my understanding there is a long-term plan to renovate them all), if you keep food out of your room and don’t go in expecting modern conveniences, you’ll probably have a great stay. 

We were going there to explore the outdoors and not planning to really spend too much time in the room anyway! If you're looking to unplug and don't care about fancy accommodations, but also not looking to truly camp in the great outdoors (like me!), this is the perfect place for you.

[ Related reading: 10 fun facts about Skyline Drive ]

A short uphill hike on the Blackhead Trailhead (.2 miles) on the lodge's property brings you to some beautiful views.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Touring the monuments on the National Mall by foot

A trip to Washington D.C. isn't complete without a tour of the monuments and memorials located on the National Mall and along the Potomac River. One of the great things about D.C. is the National Park Service doesn't charge entry fees for the monuments – so much to see, for free! In my opinion, the best way to navigate the National Mall is on foot and by using public transportation.

Take advantage of public transportation

You don't want to spend your time tied up in traffic or searching for a parking space. If you take the Metro and walk, you avoid wasting time with the parking hassles. You see much more if you are on foot anyway.

The Smithsonian Metro station (on the Orange Line) is the most convenient Metro stop because it is located right in the midst of the National Mall. It is center to the museums, monuments, Capitol building and other federal buildings. There are also some buses which I noticed recently – most notably the DC Circulator. They’ve added a route that takes you around the National Mall – I haven’t tried it yet but sounds like a great way to save some time and still see everything on foot. You can either get to the Capitol side of the Mall or to the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorial sides.

If you do want to drive...

If you do prefer to drive, there is some free parking
by the monuments. But unless you're a real early bird, these lots fill up pretty quickly and some stipulate limited parking hours which puts you back in the find a parking spot loop. On the plus side, if you drive downtown on the weekends and are early enough, you can typically grab some free parking along Constitution Avenue. Paid parking is also available but it is not cheap. If we do paid parking, we’ve used Panda Parking but primarily park at Union Station and start at the Capitol and walk down or just hop the Metro’s Red line and transfer to other ones to get us where we want to go.

Start at the Washington Memorial and loop around

Since the memorials are laid out symmetrically, it is
easy to make the most of your time and see it all. The best place to start is the Washington Monument because this is the only monument where you need tickets if you want to go inside and ride to the top.
Tickets tend to go quickly, so you will want to secure these as early as possible. Tickets are free and distributed on a first-come, first-served basis; you can get these at the 15th Street and Jefferson Drive kiosk. If you wait too long to get them, there may be no availability or a wait of several hours to get inside the memorial, taking away time from seeing everything else or, alternatively, you can pay a small fee and reserve your place online. (Just to note, the elevator is temporarily closed for repairs until 2019).

After seeing the Washington Monument, it’s a

relatively short distance to the World War II Memorial. Afterward, you can stroll along the reflecting pool to get to the other side where the Lincoln, Vietnam Veterans and Korea War Memorials are located. This is a nice walk, and you can often spot a lot of wildlife along the way.

Want to see it all? Just keep walking

WWII Memorial, Reflecting Pool and Lincoln Memorial
If you are ambitious and want to see most, if not all of the monuments in one day, after visiting the Lincoln Memorial, head south to loop around to the FDR Memorial on Ohio Drive and Jefferson Memorial on Raoul Wallenberg Place. This is a bit of a hike, but a neat walk. 

There is also a hidden gem along this route, the not
highly publicized District of Columbia War Memorial. The memorial commemorates District of Columbia citizens who served in WWI; you can pass through
here on your way to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. and Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorials.

District of Columbia WWI Memorial
If you want to see it all, and don't mind the walking, after seeing the FDR Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial should be next on the list. After visiting the Jefferson Memorial, continue around and the Holocaust Museum is on Raoul Wallenberg Place.

This route will loop you around the Mall and bring you closer to the center of where the rest of the museums are located. Chances are visiting the monuments will take up most of the day; if you're pressed for time, all can be seen in the same day, but if you have time to linger you can always pick up where you left off the next day.

At this point you'll be back at the Smithsonian Metro Station, where a number of the Smithsonian museums are located. All are right near the station; the Smithsonian museums are free. Chances are though you'll want to save these for another day. It is easy to spend hours in each museum, so if time is limited, you might want to plan ahead of time to determine what you want to see most. There's much to see, but by planning it well, you can see most, if not all, of what you want and more. 

What to wear

Plan to wear a good pair of walking shoes though because you'll be putting some mileage on your footwear. While the monuments look close together on a map, or even by eye, they aren't as close as they appear. Dress for the weather too. In the spring, summer and even sometimes in the fall it can get rather hot. Early spring is unpredictable and winters can be cold! So definitely check your weather app before you plan to spend the day walking around the National Mall. Also, there is not much in terms of food down on the Mall but there are kiosks and often truck vendors located in scattered places.

Be warned: No matter how much you do, your visit is likely to leave you wanting to see more. Even after 10 years, I still keep going back to see it again and again.