Wednesday, October 5, 2011

WETA TV 26 Presents More Unusual Attractions – The WETA Guide

  • New Local Documentary Premieres October 7 at 9 p.m. on WETA TV 26 and WETA HD and Repeats October 10 at 9 p.m. —
Washington, D.C. — A new local documentary from WETA TV 26, More Unusual Attractions The WETA Guide, uncovers more of Greater Washington’s lesser-known landmarks and destinations.  A companion piece to 2007’s Unusual Attractions, the latest production inThe WETA Guide series explores 18 local hidden wonders. This half-hour WETA production premieres Friday, October 7 at 9 p.m. on WETA TV 26 and WETA HD and repeats Monday, October 10 at 9 p.m.

More Unusual Attractions provides viewers with more exciting places to explore locally,” commented Kevin Harris, vice president and television station manager of WETA. “We are proud to premiere this entertaining showcase of one-of-a-kind attractions in our region.”

The program will introduce new sites to even longtime residents of the region, spotlights intriguing locations in MarylandVirginia, and Washington, D.C., and revealing places of interest for all ages. Among others, the documentary divulges where visitors can walk alongside giant dinosaurs, pay tribute to the chivalrous men who died on the Titanic, and climb a bearded giant breaking free from the earth.

The film includes the following quirky places of interest, beautiful escapes and off-the-beaten-path landmarks:

  • Acorn Gazebo
  • Awakening Statue at National Harbor
  • Boundary Stones of the District of Columbia
  • Boy Scout Memorial
  • Dinosaur Land
  • Fireman Monument in Glenwood Cemetery
  • Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America
  • Globe Water Tank, AKA "earthoid"
  • House of the Temple
  • Movie Sites Tour of Washington
  • National Firearms Museum
  • National Museum of Crime and Punishment
  • National Pinball Museum
  • President Lincoln’s Cottage
  • The Maine Lobsterman Statue
  • Theodore Roosevelt Island
  • Titanic Memorial
  • Zero Milestone
More Unusual Attractions follows the tradition of previous programs in The WETA Guide series such as The WETA Guide to Montgomery County and The WETA Guide to Christmas (available for streaming at by spotlighting special places and happenings in the region.

The complete WETA television schedule is available at Viewers can watch WETA TV 26 over the air on channel 26.4, and on Comcast 26 and 267, Cox 26 and 802, Dish 8076, FiOS 26 and 471, and RCN 164. WETA HD is available over the air on channel 26.1, and on Comcast 220, Cox 1026, FiOS 526, Direct TV 26 and 26-1, and RCN 613.

WETA Television and Classical WETA 90.9 FM are public broadcasting stations serving the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia with high-quality programming. Classical WETA 90.9 FM brings classical music, concerts and specials to Greater Washington. As the leading PBS station in the nation’s capital, WETA Television broadcasts on four channels: WETA TV 26, WETA HD, WETA Kids and WETA Create. WETA Television celebrates the people and history of this region through programs such as WETA All Access, WETA Around Town and WETA Extras. For national PBS audiences, WETA produces PBS NewsHour; Washington Week with Gwen Ifill and National Journal; history films by Ken Burns such as Prohibition, premiering this October; and performance specials from the White House, the U.S. Capitol and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Embracing the educational mission of public broadcasting, WETA creates leading public service websites such as, and; and develops community outreach programs to engage people of all ages in the joy of lifelong learning. WETA’s headquarters is located in Arlington, Virginia. Sharon Percy Rockefeller is president and CEO. More information on WETA and its programs and services is available at

Saturday, April 23, 2011

National Capital Trolley Museum Rises Out Of Ashes - Larger and More Engaging

If you have never been to the National Capital Trolley Museum, either because you thought it went up in smoke years ago from a devasting fire (it did), or you've never visited it because you weren't aware of it - now is an  opportune time to visit one of the countries premiere trolley museums. 

It's a great way to entertain children as well as older adults who recall the trolleys that operated in their home towns. Full trolley operations have resumed at the recently opened National Capital Trolley Museum's new and enlarged facilities in Northwest Branch Park near its previous location. Permanent displays, video presentations, a model of the Chevy Chase trolley line, Street Car Hall, a gift shop and unlimited trolley rides through the park await the visitor.

I was really impressed at the size and new features of the museum, for example, in the lobby, there is a model of the Chevy Chase trolley line.  It is a scale working model that kids can operate, and the adult can enjoy the evocative scenes of this primary route, Dupont Circle, the Woodley Park Bridge and other landmarks from this bygone trolley artery.  My 4 year old son delighted in setting the trolley in motion with an easy to operate lever and followed the car as it made it's round trip.  The bookstore is larger and filled with models, books, and other trolley ephemera.  The addition of a small movie theater is also a great way to wait prior to going on actual ride.

Each half hour or so, the conductor makes the announcement in the lobby letting everyone milling about know that they can get ready to board.  Getting my son pried away from the model railroad was a chore at this point.  Finally, our ride on the street car was the living interpretation of bygone days - a ride into the woods as Maryland and Virginia would have looked more than 100 years ago when the first electrical street cars went out beyond Washington DC city limits.

The street car ride itself circles through Northwest Branch Park right next to the new ICC which you can see soaring over the old site of the museum.  While you won't get a full "urban" experience, the ride covers interesting terrain and as the conductor will note, this mode of transportation allowed people outside of the city limits to make their way into town.

The museum's mission is to collect and preserve objects related to the electric railway systems of the region and to use these objects to interpret the role of these transportation systems in the growth and development of the region and the impact of this technology on people's everyday lives.  That's the other neat new feature, an actual tour of the collection of cars, from those in working condition to others that need extensive renovation.

Although brand new in 2009, the Visitor Center evokes street car history in some of the design features of the building and the car houses, taking the visitor back into the times when the building, operation, and maintenance of street car systems occupied a substantial portion of the nation's workforce. Some of our oldest communities, such as my home, Takoma Park, were actually the first suburbs - cool oases far away from the center of the hot humid city (when transportation was by foot or horseback) - developed by entrepreneurs who not only sold the land for the homes but built the street car lines to get people and goods back and forth.

The Main Hall provides several glimpses back into history, about the street car's influence on various local communities, about the ubiquity of the street car in urban environments as portrayed in early movies, and a working model of street cars, automobiles, and pedestrians in Chevy Chase during the 1930's.

Check the museum website for complete information:

The National Capital Trolley Museum

1313 Bonifant Road

Colesville,, MD 20905

(facility is accessible to the disabled)

Fees for Museum Entry and Street Car Rides are collected by the cashier at the entrance to the Vistor Center.
Phone: 301-384-8066
Price: $5.00 to $7.00
Open Saturdays & Sundays
12 N - 5 pm

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Mountain For Any Season - Sugarloaf

Sugerloaf Mountain is a unique treasure which sits alone among the unspoiled landscape of Western Montgomery Co., roughly between Washington and Frederick Maryland.  It's unique in several ways, the first being geologic. Sugarloaf is a monadnock, a mountain that remains after the erosion of the surrounding land, in this case a 14 million year process. The stony cliffs on the summit are composed primarily of quartzite, the predominant type of rock on the mountain.

This natural treasure offers something for the avid hiking enthusiast who can start at the base and make the nearly thousand foot ascent to the top via a series of trail options or by those who either through inability or lets face it, laziness, can drive up to several parking areas near the summit which afford some of the best views anyway.  I've been up in all seasons and depending on the time of year there can be a fair amount of traffic but never at levels that dimish the enchanting qualities of the place. 

It's at it's best in late spring when there's a hint of warm air and the wild flowers are in bloom but my best hike took place years ago with my buddy Greg.  For some crazed reason we decided on a winter hike and made it to the summit just in time for a snow squall, moderate but giving us a rare sense of intermingling fully with the environment.  We had enough room for a beer in each pocket (I discovered while researching this that alcohol is not permitted - ooops) when we reached the top and toasted our efforts the beer tasted like ambrosia (Warsteiner endorsement).  We must have been just loopy enough (reason for no alcohol) to manage to get lost for awhile on the descent, the sun was rapidly setting and we were way off course.  We were lost and while not at the point of panic, we did have some concern of becoming two Darwin Award winners.  Needless to say we found our way out just as an inky gloaming extinguised the final rays of light. 

I still keep finding my way back to this nearby treasure.  The whole surrounding area is filled with enough points of interest to make up several of my next postings on their own merit.  This is the part of Montgomery County that is the rally cry of all who want to preserve this area in it's bucolic state.


Sugarloaf came by its name because its shape reminded early hunters and pioneers of the sugar loaves common in those days. A Swiss explorer, in 1707, sketched the earliest known map of the mountain. A written account, penned five years later, described a plain atop the mountain and the delicious chestnuts grown by the trees on its flanks. General Braddock, commander of Brittish troops during the French and Indian War, marched his men past the mountain in 1755. Northern and Southern forces alternated in posting lookouts at its summit during the Civil War. Brave wounded and dying soldiers were hospitalized in a log cabin that still stands at the mountain's foot.

Another unique aspect is the fact that it's a privatly run entitiy and not part of the State or National Park System. This was made possible by the vision and persistance of a remarkable couple, Gordon and Louise Strong. For years prior to their deaths, they purposefully gained ownership of the many tracts making up the present property. They created a private organization, Stronghold, Incorporated, in 1946, to ensure that the mountain would continue to serve their purpose of making natural beauty available to all.

Gordon Strong believed that "... those who appreciate natural beauty will be better people, people who treat each other better." I certainly get that feeling standing at the summit and savor the view of the Monocacy Valley and the mountains to the West.

Directions from Washington -

Go North on Route I-270 to the Hyattstown exit, circle under I-270 and continue on Route 109 to Comus, then right on Comus Road to the Sugarloaf Mountain entrance.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The National Road / Route 40 - from the French and Indian War to Frank Lloyd Wright - Over 250 Years of Must See History

The Old National Road - From Cumberland Maryland to Brownsville Pennsylvania.

For any enthusiast of US Colonial History, Westward Exanpansion, once thriving industrial towns and blue highways, route 40 (the Old National Road / National Pike), is a must do adventure. While the ground I'm discussing here is accessible from DC for a day trip, you'd have to do what I did in the day chronicheled here at a pretty fast pace.  I recommend a few lodging locations in this entry, as you'll find plenty to do spending at least one night in Western Maryland/South West Pennsylvania. I've picked this portion for it's mountain beauty, historical signifigance and it's many remenants from it's bygone days as the nations first transportation artery.

As I have my roots in Ohio - my parents live in Toledo, friends in Columbus, Cincinatti etc., I've always sought out the scenic back ways to reach Buckeye State destinations and what better method than the former National Pike/Road now present day US 40, which stretches from Delaward to California but which has some of the most beautiful and historic portions within hours of Washington. I used to be a purist about taking this road, i.e. I would pick it up in Frederick Maryland (the closest the road comes to DC) and follow it continually West. The drawback for this is the time involved. Passing through periodic small towns with 25 mph speed limits means adding a few hours onto any trip. I've always been intrigued by this stretch of the    road.  My father took the family on this portion of rte 40 on our first family road trip to Washington when I was about 14 years old.

What's we'll see in this overview is an area rich in history - from famous battle sites in the French and Indian Wars, where a young Leuteniant George Washington earned the respect of those he served under, to what many consider the most beautiful bridge in Ameria (don't forget I have a bridge obsession), also the oldest cast iron bridge in America, famous roadside landmarks, The Summit Inn, just east of Uniontown, PA, and my real favorite aspect -abandoned and/or refurbished period roadside architechture (gas stations, old motels, diners).

Flatiron Building Brownsville and 40 bridge behind
I was meeting a friend from Columbus Ohio and we had to figure out a good half way point to rendez-vous. I had recently passed through Brownsville Pa., on the way back from Ohio.  The town once played a pivotal in role in American westward expansion - once early settlers reached the town they could get on a flat boat in the Monogahela River and travel all the way to the Ohio Country via the Ohio river.  It now sits in mute testament to the nations past industrial prowess, a combination ghost town and symbol of new found historical pride and preservation.  Visit this town before it's filled with pourpourri shops and year round Christmas item stores, which at present economic growth rates might not be achieved for awhile, but it will. I wanted to share it with my friend and see again the sites in town I wanted to savor again, minus my 8 year old who at the time was anxious to return to DC.  We'll get back soon, but first the trip must begin....

Cumberland Maryland from the alt. 40 / 68 overpass
 The drive from the metro DC area to Brownsville should take about 4 hours but I had to drop in on some of my favorite touchstones along the way. I took 270 to route 68 west (Hancock, MD) and arrived in Cumberland just over two hours out of DC.  For those who have never paid a visit to Maryland's western capital, you can make a day or two leisurly exploring this charming city.

I was passing over the bridge pictured to the right and could see steam billowing near the train station. The Western Maryland Steam Engine excursion was ready to leave the station.  I had my video camera in tow, and I was presented with a great chance to capture a noteworthy rail fan video. Problem was I needed to get a view of the engine coming at me down the rails (this would be so much more interesting that what the excursion riders themselves will see I smugly thought to myself).  I flew through the old back streets of town until I came across the tracks (think Steve McQueen in Bullitt) - I had arrived in time, or so I thought....I was poised with camera at side of the rails ready to shoot but I could hear the train whistle getting further away (not a good sign).  I approched a local sitting idly in his truck and queried after the train - "uh, sorry but you got the wrong set of tracks here son"....As I headed out of town, any sense of self worth shattered, I gave a nod to George Washington's Headquarters, when Ft. Cumberland was a real frontier town.

Washington plays a big role in this article and this town is really where Washington began his meteoric climb onto the global stage. The one room cabin, used by George Washington as a young aide to General Braddock, was built in 1754-55 and is the only remaining structure of Ft. Cumberland. Cumberland was the furthest western outpost in Colonial America and as Britain and the Colonists looked Westward there was a clash waiting to happen.  Someone else was in these wooded mountains besides the Native American tribes....

Grantsville Maryland - Casselman River Bridge
I jumped back onto 68, and made more some time up, (picking up 40 in Cumberland is rewarding but slow going), I continued on to Grantsville Maryland and joined 40 again. I can never pass up what I consider the most pleasing bridge in the entire country, the Casselman River Bridge. It's blending of materials (native limestone), soaring arch and mountain mountain setting make this site the perfect spot for a picnic.  It was one of the first major bridges on the National Road and at 354 feet, was the longest single-span stone arch in the United States when built. Skeptics were sure it would collapse when the supports were removed, but the 80-foot-long arch proved equal to the tidal wave of stagecoaches and cargo wagons that poured over it, carrying goods and people from Cumberland to the western frontier. Today the National Historic Landmark bridge is a pedestrian crossing in a state park. From the bridge one can see the march of progress: a 1930s metal truss on US 40, which supplanted the 1813 stone arch, and a modern steel-beam bridge, which carries IS 68 and the bulk of traffic in far western Maryland.

Atop Casselman River Bridge - 40 and 68 stand in the fore and distance

Grantsville, 1/2 mile west of the Casselman River, began as a small Amish and Mennonite settlement, called Tomlinson's or Little Crossing, along Braddock rd., which wound westward from Cumberland over Negro Mountain. Later a new village flourished as a stop along the nearby National Road. From 1818, the national road carried hundreds of thousands of pioneers and settlers in stagecoaches and covered wagons.  The Casselman BridgeSigns mark the location of the post office and the blacksmith shop that stayed open all night to fix broken horseshoes. An 1879 article in Harper's Monthly described the wagons as "so numerous that the leaders of one team had their noses in the trough at the end of the next wagon ahead."

Near the Casselman Bridge, is the Penn Alps Restaurant and The Spruce Forest Artisan Village. Penn Alps Restaurant is housed in the last log hospitality house on the National Pike. It is situated between a 1797 gristmill and the Casselman Bridge.

Spruce Forest Artisan Village, a part of the extended Penn Alps campus, has grown from a few cabins to some 12 log and frame structures of early vintage, two of which date to the Revolutionary War Period. Most of these provide studio space for artisans. Artisans work in various media, including: bird carving, stained glass, basket making, hand-loom weaving, and hand-thrown pottery.

General Braddocks Grave Site

Live in the DC region long enough and one notices how often this name comes up, Braddock Rd. in Alexandria for example, but many probably don't know General Braddock was an English General sent with some 2,000 redcoats and native militia to confront the French at Fort Fort Duquesne, present day Pittsburgh. The route I was on started out as a road built by the Army on it's march west, from Alexandria Virginia to an area just outside Pittsburgh where the army was routed by a combined French and Indian force. General Braddock was mortally wounded during the fighting and George Washington accompanied him from the battlefied. As Braddock was carried from the field severely wounded, the surviving British fled. British losses were staggering: more than 900 killed or wounded out of 1,400 men engaged. They were completely beaten by a force they could not see in a wilderness where they did not want to be.  Washington reported "The shocking Scenes which presented themselves in this Nights March are not to be described. The dead, the dying, the groans, lamentations, and crys ... of the wounded for help were enough to pierce a heart"

On July 13 The British camped about one mile west of the Great Meadows, site of Fort Necessity , and in the evening Braddock died. Washington officiated at the ceremony the next day. The general was buried in the road his men had built. The army then marched over the grave to obliterate any traces of it and continued to eastern Pennsylvania. It wasn't until much later, while the national road was being built that his grave was discovered. When you pull off 40 into the small park you follow a trace of Braddocks road that remains here and see where his body was hidden. A large memorial marker now stands where the general was re-intered.  I've always been facinated by this marker and can't resist it's allure (the fact that it's literally on Rte. 40 makes pulling off that much easier).

Passing through Uniontown Pa.

A glance at my watch and a semi anxious call from my buddy Chris (he was approaching Brownsville now) and I was still about 40 minutes away by my calculations.  I was now coming down the mountain and headed towards Uniontown Pa.  This town was another early beneficiary of the Old National Road and took a renewed pride in it's place in history.  Drive old 40 through downtown and you'll be treated to a treasure trove of roadside Americana - from solid stone inns from the 19th Century to grand neon from the golden age of road travel.  In the interest of time, I decided I'd better take the bypass around town.  This turned to folly on my part - the road was under construction and I missed my turn off to get back on 40.  While making an exit to get back on course I was greeted by a legendary figure in roadside Americana lore - I had stumbled upon one of the legendary "Muffler Men".   Muffler Man (or Muffler Men) is a term used to describe large molded fiberglass sculptures that are placed as advertising icons, roadside attractions or for decorative purposes. Standing approximately 20 feet tall, the first figure was a Paul Bunyan character designed to hold his axe.  Derivatives of that figure were widely used to hold full-sized car mufflers, tires, or other items promoting various roadside businesses.  I had seen many of these in books but hadn't seen one in person - the sense of pride of discovery once again enveloped me!

Explore this topic further at Roadside

Brownsville PA

I finally arrived in Brownville around 1:30 p.m. and met up with my friend Chris - actually I saw him in the street and I gunned the engine in a mock attempt at running him over as while he pretented to unload a spray of lead in my direction (no, we haven't fully grown up).  We spent some time down at a small park on the Monogohela river and gazed over the bend in the river that made for the best crossing point and natural water access point long before the town was ever settled.  In a real sense, this marked the end of the road for many early pioneers as here they were able to board a steam boat and head into the wilds of Ohio and Kentucky.  We walked up to the end of Market Street where I showed Chris a bridge, small in stature but that ranks with the Eiffel Towner in terms of engineering historical signifigance. Dunlap's Creek Bridge was built in 1839 and carried old U.S. Route 40 over Dunlap Creek which drains into the Monogahela in the midst of downtown.  It is the nation's oldest cast iron bridge in existence and still carries road traffic.

Just up the road stands the Flatiron Building (c. 1830), constructed as a business building in thriving 19th-century Brownsville, it is one of the oldest, most intact iron commercial structures west of the Allegheny Mountains. It is the unofficial "prototype" for the flatiron buildings seen across the United States. The most notable is the Fuller Building in Market Square in New York City. After nearly being demolished, the building was saved by local preservationists and now serves as an historic asset to Brownsville. The Flatiron Building Heritage Center, located within the building at 69 Market Street, holds artifacts from Brownsville's heyday, as well as displays about the community's important coal and coke heritage. Brownsville is the location of other properties on the National Register of Historic Places, such as Bowman's castle (Nemacolin Castle), the Philander Knox House, and the Brashear House.

I was anxious to visit a site that I had passed numerous times in the past, Jumonville Glenn.  This site held all the answers as to how the English (and Colonists) came to war with France and her allied Indians, and at the center of this was a young George Washington who set off this entire conflagaration.   I wondered why I didn't know more about this spot - turns out there's pretty good reason - George Washington's conduct during this clash - between his scouting force and that of the French would have would have had Washington in front of a UN court had it happened today.

Jumonville Glen -

Jumonville Glen - present appearance and painting of the ambush.

The account varies widely as to what exactly took place here, what is known is that the British colonial force had been sent to protect a fort under construction under the auspices of the Ohio Company at the location of present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A larger French force had driven off the small construction crew, and sent Jumonville to warn Washington about encroaching on French-claimed territory. Washington was alerted to Jumonville's presence by Tanacharison/ Half King (an allied Seneca Indian Chief - the various Indian alliances between continental forces is too complex to describe here). Tanacharison informed Washington that a party of French soldiers was camped in a ravine not far from his position at Great Meadows. On the stormy night of May 27th, 1754, Washington and about 40 men began an all night march to confront the French and learn their intentions. They travelled through woods so dark the men sometimes spent nearly half an hour just trying to find the trail.  Washington and his men easily surrounded the unsuspecting French as they hadn't posted sentries.

A shot was fired, no one really knows by whom, and soon the peaceful glen was filled with the crash of musketry and the sulphurous smell of powder. The skirmish lasted about 15 minutes. When it was over, 13 Frenchmen were dead and 21 captured. One escaped and made his way back to Fort Duquesne at the forks of the Ohio. Washington's casualties were one man killed and two or three wounded.

Washington treated Jumonville as a prisoner of war and extended him the customary courtesies due a captured military officer. Washington attempted to interrogate Jumonville but the language barrier made communication difficult. During their conversation however, the Half King walked up to Jumonville and without warning struck him in the head with a tomahawk, killing him.

Why the Half King did this has never been clear. He had been kidnapped by the French and sold into slavery as a child. He claimed that the French had boiled and eaten his father. He was also a representative of the Iroquois Confederacy, which stood to lose its authority over other Indian peoples in the Ohio River Valley if the French were able to assert their control. (For a detailed discussion, see Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America 1754-1766 (2001).)

When word reached Fort Duquesne about the incident, Jumonville's half brother, Captain Coulon de Villiers, vowed revenge. He attacked Washington and the garrison at Fort Necessity and forced them to surrender on July 3, 1754. In the surrender document, written in French, Coulon de Villiers inserted a clause describing Jumonville's death as an "assassination". Washington, who did not speak French, signed the document. The assassination of the French diplomat and revered soldier Jumonville would later be used as propaganda by the French against the war crimes of Washington and the British, during the conflict.

Washington was heavily criticized in Britain for the incident. British statesman Horace Walpole referred to the controversy surrounding Jumonville's death as the "Jumonville Affair" and described it as "a volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America [that] set the world on fire."

The Glenn today really is off the beaten path, just a few miles off route 40, the visitor is served by a modest parking lot and a haunting hike to the rock formations that butressed the French campsite.  After we tramped through the Glenn to our content - Here I have to mention I somehow led us off the main trail, deep into adjacent woodland where we emergered onto a road a few miles from our car.  This walk was great in its own right, large portions of Braddocks original road remained and shadowed our progress.  When we finally got back to the cars, we were pretty famished and daylight was fading - our plan to visit Fort Necessity wouldn't happen this trip.  This is where the French exacted revenge of sorts and George Washington made his first and last surrender July 4, 1754.  

The Summitt Inn Hotel

We were coming out of the now lingering dusk and were at the foot of one my favorite landmarks along this route, the historic Summit Inn.  I had passed it many times but had never stopped to appreciate the architecture and views up close.  It boasts a grand porch and pool which overlooks the twinkling lights of Uniontown at the base of the mountain.  After a hearty meal and a beer it was time to part with Chris and head back to DC.  I will return to these sites and others, such as the nearby Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, Fallingwater....

Photo Gallery - Great site - focus here is Fayette County, PA

on Facebook -

National Park Service -

Other Areas in interest in Fayette County Pa -

Places to stay -

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rock Creek Park, Teddy Roosevelt Side Trail - Pulpit Rock and Boulder Bridge

Rock Creek Park when taken as a whole certainly warrants no consideration under the "off the beaten path" moniker.  In fact areas of it can be subject to swarms of people - think National Zoo on a pleasant Sunday afternoon.  But certain trails - the very best ones in fact are seldom used.   I've covered a lot of them but my favorite has to be the Teddy Roosevelt side trail.  The views along this portion of the park are among Washington’s best-kept secrets, seldom appreciated by tourists.

When I take this trail I'm always reminded of President Roosevelt and his frequent outings to the Park. When he first became president he was a vigorous 42 year old, an advocate of "the strenuous life" fond of chopping down trees on the outskirts of Washington and swimming across the Potomac. The press had a field day covering his athletic outings. Roosevelt was particularly fond of what he called "scrambles," exhausting cross-country hikes. His favorite place in Washington for these expeditions was Rock Creek Park, where he led members of his "Tennis Cabinet" and various hapless foreign diplomats on grueling hikes. His motto was "Over, Under or Through – But Never Around."

My favorite story involved the French Ambassador Msr. Jusserand, who like Roosevelt was an avid birdwatcher. The natty Jusserand gamely followed T.R. on many excursions, writing of one occasion when they forded a creek, "I, too, for the honor of France removed my apparel, everything except my lavender kid gloves. The President cast an inquiring look at this as if they, too, must come off, but I quickly forestalled any remark by saying, ‘With your permission, Mr. President, I will keep these on; otherwise it would be embarrassing if we should meet ladies.’"

To get the trail head, head north on Beach Drive until it merges with Broad Branch Road, take an immediate left and park in the lot which accommodates about 20 cars (about 100 yards due north of Pierce Mill).  Exit the lot, take a right, cross over the bridge on Beach Drive and bear left - you'll see the sign for the Teddy Roosevelt trail here.  The trail ascends slowly but steadily and has some precarious footing but it gets interesting as you rise above Beach Drive - mercifully closed to traffic on weekends.  At about a quarter mile you'll reach the top of Pulpit Rock.  Take a moment here to appreciate the view and solitude.  If you scramble down to the flat boulders adjacent the jutting pulpit, you'll find a perfectly secluded perch.  It was obviously a favorite spot of the Blagden family - the boys of which carved their names in the stone around 150 years ago when the mill was active and the family lived on site.   The Blagden Mill was directly across the creek from Pulpit Rock in the 19th Century.  When you decide to move on, you can explore the ridge a bit which is covered in mountain laurel or descend back down towards the creek heading north. The descent is quick and soon you'll be on the east bank of the creek scrambling over rather rough rocky terrain.  Continue around the bend and you'll see Boulder Bridge.  This historic bridge is one of the most important in Washington for a number of reasons.  Boulder Bridge was constructed in 1902 and carries Beach Drive across Rock Creek.  The reinforced concrete arch bridge was designed by architect W. J. Douglas and was built at a cost of $17,636.  The real story here was the man who made this sort of architectural folly possible - Josef Melan an Austrian engineer. He is regarded as one of the most important pioneers of reinforced concrete bridge-building at the end of the 19th century and is credited as the inventor of the Melan System, a method for the construction of reinforced bridges.  This system was unique  because Melan did not build iron bars into the reinforced concrete bridge structure, but used rigid truss arches made of iron.  At this point you can continue north on the Valley Trail or swing left and head back to the parking via the Western Ridge trail.
Other areas of note in Rock Creek -

•Bridge Architecture: Even a casual observer is awed by the massive concrete bridges crossing Rock Creek. The Connectict Avenue bridge is the largest and the Dunbarton the most elegant, with it's elegant curves and terra cotta indian heads adorning the sides.

•19th Century History: Pierce Mill is the featured attraction

Getting to Rock Creek - The following take the visitor to the Nature Center which is great starting point for a wider variety of trails - all of which offer seculsion in the bustling metropolis.

Take Route 66 across the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge. Get in the right lane on the bridge, and take the ramp for Independence Avenue. Turn right at the bottom of the ramp (heading towards the Kennedy Center along the river; this is Ohio Drive, but it's not marked as such). After passing the Kennedy Center (under its terrace) and Watergate, continue straight onto Rock Creek Parkway. When the parkway ends (near Connecticut and Calvert), continue north on Beach Drive. You will pass the zoo and Pierce Mill. Continue on Beach Drive until you see a sign for the Nature Center; bear left here (onto Glover Road), as the sign instructs. (*On weekends there will be a gate across Beach Drive, so you will be unable to go to the right!) Follow the signs to the Nature Center. Via the Beltway or Maryland: Take the Beltway north into Maryland; exit at Connecticut Ave. and proceed southbound toward Chevy Chase. About 7-8 blocks south of Chevy Chase Circle, turn left onto Military Road. Go a little over a mile, and you will see a big brown sign that says "ROCK CREEK PARK-NATURE CENTER..."etc. Take the next right (at the traffic light), as the sign instructs, and follow subsequent signs to the Nature Center.

Via the Chain Bridge (VA):

At the end of the bridge, turn right onto Canal Road. Make the first left (at the light) onto Arizona Avenue. Proceed on Arizona until you come to a "T" intersection; make a right turn there onto Nebraska Ave. (The signs there may say "Loughboro Rd.," but it runs into Nebraska.) Proceed on Nebraska past American University, around Ward Circle, and across Wisconsin and Connecticut Avenues. Get into the right lane and turn right onto Military Road; less than 1/2 mile after you cross Connecticut. After a little less than a mile, you will see a big brown sign that says "ROCK CREEK PARK-NATURE CENTER..."etc. Take the next right (at the traffic light), as the sign instructs, and follow subsequent signs to the Nature Center.

From Dupont Circle:

Proceed Northeast on New Hampshire Avenue for approximately half a mile when it will intersect 16th Street. Head north on 16th Street, towards the Maryland border. About 3 1/4 miles up the road, it will intersect Military Road, after Madison and Nicholson Streets. Take the right hand exit onto Military Road west (cloverleaf ramp). Cross Military Bridge and then it will turn into a small parkway. Get in the left-hand lane. Make a left at the first light that you come to, at Glover and Oregon Roads. You are now on Glover Road and can follow the signs to the Nature Center.

Public Transportation:

The Friendship Heights or Fort Totton Metro are the closest to the Nature Center. Take the E-2, E-3 bus (from either Metro stop) to the intersection of Glover & Military Rd. Get off, look to your left and follow the trail up to the Nature Center. The Van Ness Station is the closest metro stop to Peirce Mill, but it is still about a mile away. From Van Ness, walk south on Connecticut Avenue to Tilden Street and make a left. Follow Tilden to the bottom of the hill and the mill is on your left. Foggy Bottom is the closest metro stop to the Old Stone House, from there walk north to Washington Circle and take Pennsylvania Ave. west M street and continue west along M Street to the Old Stone House, about a 1/2 mile.

Pulpit Rock is located at latitude - longitude coordinates (also called lat - long coordinates or GPS coordinates) of N 38.945111 and W -77.046644.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Roosevelt Island - A Green Gem In Middle of DC

Whether your a resident of Washington DC or an intrepid visitor, Roosevelt Island is small in scale but full of pleasant surprises.  Not only will you find solace from the harried pace of life in Washington, you'll see a surprisingly mixture of topography, flora and fauna and get to see an interesting monument which celebrates the nation's first environmentally conscious president.  While the statue itself looks a bit like Vladimir Lenin giving a rousing speech, the architectural elements are pleasing.  There are two fountains and four 21-foot granite tablets inscribed with quotes that capture Roosevelt’s conservation ideals.

I work in Rosslyn Va., and this island is just the place when I want to go for a walk and gather my thoughts. Most people don't venture onto the island because getting there is not easy (see specific directions below).  The only access point is a footbridge that's accessible from the Virginia side, right off the GW Parkway.  As you cross the bridge, you'll note the great view of Georgetown University and the Key Bridge off to the left.  Head straight on the trail into the center of the island to visit the monument itself then veer to the right and get on the swamp trail.  This trail can be covered easily in about 30 minutes and will take you a tidal swamp where you're bound to see Great Blue Heron, Red Wing Blackbirds and Carolina Wrens.  The trail will take you on a loop that is mostly made up of easy on the feet boardwalk.

Theodore Roosevelt Island is accessible only from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The entrance to the parking lot is located just north of the Roosevelt Bridge. Parking spaces are limited and fill quickly on weekends. By metro, go to the Rosslyn station, walk 2 blocks to Rosslyn Circle and cross the pedestrian bridge to the island. See a Map

Also, the island is located right along the Mount Vernon Trail and is easily accessible by bike. Bicycles are not permitted on the island but there are racks in the parking lot to lock them up.
A fun alternative way to reach the island is to rent a canoe or kayak from Bill's Boat Rentals which is found almost literally under the Key Bridge in Georgetown.  Fees are nominal and you can imagine yourself as an early colonial era explorer - OK, that takes a lot of imagining, especially with the jets that roar overhead on their landing approach to Reagan National Airport but you'll enjoy this method, rest assured.

Theodore Roosevelt Island is accessible only from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The entrance to the parking lot is located just north of the Roosevelt Bridge.

Southbound traffic: take Theodore Roosevelt Bridge to Constitution Ave. Take a right on 23rd St. and cross Memorial Bridge. Once on the bridge, bear right to return to the G.W. Parkway.

The closest Metro Station is Rosslyn on the Blue and Orange Line.

Theodore Roosevelt Island
Visitor Information
(703) 289-2500

Friday, September 17, 2010

Strausburg Pa - Steam Engines in Amish Country

My four year old has the Thomas Train bug and while he's done a lot of rail fan activities with dad, he'd never seen a working steam locomotive. It was time to change that. Labour Day weekend rolled up on me, and being a notorious last minute planner, I had acted too late. No Deep Creek Lake, No Cumberland Md. train ride, No Mountain Cabins - seemed the world was booked.

I have been to York Pa., and Lancaster, the largest city in Amish Country, and one of the first cities founded inland from the Atlantic seaboard, on numerous occasions but never made it into the actual heartland of Dutch Country Pa. which is located in Lancaster County.  This really is the, center of Amish life and a home to a world famous working steam railroad found in Strasburg (about 5 miles outside of Lancaster itself).  Lets not forget all the must see hamlets in the sourrounding country with the interesting, if not oft made fun of names such as Bird in Hand and of course Intercourse - tee hee.

I realized that Strasbourg Pennsylvania would be a great destination and rooms would be available in and around Lancaster. The convenient thing about this rail town is the fact they have trains running every hour from about 11am until 7pm.  The train yard was such a cheerful site - I was as excited as my little man. The town includes the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, a museum of toy trains, a working train layout (the Choo Choo Barn) - it surpassed all expectations.

I knew the region was easily accessible via 95 N. to Baltimore, 83 up to York Pa, then 30 East to Lancaster - Strasburg lies just few miles beyond.  Opting for a different route, I decided on Rte. 95 to Baltimore until I crossed the Susquehana River and took the road through Port Deposit Maryland. The payoff was huge.  Port Deposit is similar to old Ellicott City, only instead of being nestled in an valley, this town was built on the narrow strech of flat land between the river shore and steep rocky cliffs.  The town boast a variety of fine dining (think seafood) and enough great early 19th Century Architecture to make this town stop a must.  Seems the bikers like this destination too - I noticed a lot roll through town, their periodic rumblings made more tolerable by the beauty of the day and surroundings.

We pulled into Strasburg just in time for the train - the stress of that near miss quickly evaporated as the train pulled out, the whistle blew and the steam bellowed - we were off and rolling through the tidest assortment of farms I've ever seen, it really was reminecient of the pages from a 1950s children's book.  The Amish waited patiently in their buggys as train snaked through rolling terrain.   The only criticism I had was the duration - I could have ridden for hours but twilight was coming and we didn't have lodging, so it worked out.  Our first choice was the Red Caboose Motel. There were about 50 vintages train cabooses painted out in the regalia of many long gone train lines, but of course it was booked up.  It wasn't long until we came across a vintage motel, picture perfect 1950's with a resplendent neon sign out front - the Dutch Treat Motel.

The following day, we drove around the countryside, paid a visit to the Intercourse Cannery for some fresh applebutter then hit the Choo Choo Barn.  This massive train layout has a reasonable admission rate and the anatromic diarama was first rate, my son was going bananas.  After the obligatory trip to the gift shop, we headed for the Dutch Haven.  This was a personal highlight of the day for me -seeing the first roadside attraction that went up in Amish Country in the 1940s. It was and remains the best site to purchase the Amish favorite - the famous Shoo-Fly Pie.  I love goofy architecture too and this building fit the bill - a large windmill mounted on an octangular shaped building.

We drove back into Lancaster and paid a visit to Franklin & Marshall College which was established in 1787 with a gift of 200 British pounds from Benjamin Franklin. This private college boasts my favorite piece of architecture.  Built in 1853 F&Ms main building is called "Recitation Hall." The distinctive, tall-towered structure, designed in the Gothic Revival style, was constructed on "Gallows Hill," the former site of Lancaster's public executions and the highest point of ground in the city. At the laying of the building's cornerstone in 1853, Henry Harbaugh, a Marshall College graduate and pastor of the Reformed Church of Lancaster noted that the city's lowest point was the location of the Lancaster County Prison. Harbaugh stated: "Thank God! The College stands higher than the jail. Education should be lifted up and let crime sink to the lowest depths!" Recitation Hall came to be known as Old Main and the ground as College Hill.  The distinctive towers of Old Main is now undergoing renovations, much of it dismanteled and sheathed in scaffolding (ugh).  We drove onto York, then South to Baltimore.  We arrived home all in about two hours.  I can't wait to go back - we'll be repeat visitors...