Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Great Falls (on the East Coast)

We're back in the TriCities, but I realized that our last adventure did not get posted. In the midst of one of the hottest Junes on record, we visited Great Falls National Park. This is an amazing park just outside of DC that runs along the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal. After visiting the falls, the reasoning behind needing a canal was obvious.

On the Maryland side, there is a daily adventure from the park service where you get to ride a canal boat and watch the poor volunteers get heat stroke as they work the canal locks. We watched the last boat of the day, after this it was too hot for the mules to work (not the same rule for the park service employees, just the animals.)

Looking back at the height of the locks in front of the Visitor Center.

Impressive system of locks and gates. You can see the canal boat in the distance.

Walking along the canal, we could see parts of the Potomac River. George Washington was one of the first to act on the ened for a canal. He started the Patowmack Canal Company at Great Falls. Part of it is still preserved by the park service. His canal took seventeen years to build, and was one of the first canals built in the US.

Walking across a bridge, we could start to see the falls. The Potomac River drops 77 feet in less than a mile within the Great Falls Park.

Lots of water! Parts of the park were still closed from the destruction of the melting snow from Snowmaggedon. (Weren't we lucky to have been through one year of DC with the most snow and hottest summer...)

This was a unique terrain. Bedrock terrace forest.

The falls were impressive.
After visiting the park, we continued up the Maryland side to the last private ferry on the Potomac River and then drove back down the Virginia side. We were second in line for the ferry on our side, but were surprised at the lines on both sides of the river. The ferry just goes back and forth across the river and at $4 per car had a brisk business. I couldn't really get a good picture, but this website has one: http://canal.mcmullans.org/whites_ferry.htm.

Friday, June 25, 2010


On the short list of things we want to see near DC before heading back home was Fort McHenry in Baltimore. We had already seen the house where the Star Spangled Banner was made and the actual flag so it made sense to follow up with the location where the Star Spangled Banner was flying during the famous battle. So after a delicious lunch at Mama's on the Half Shell, we decided to let lunch digest before tromping around the fort in the extreme heat and humidity. There is a yarn shop (Lovelyarns) on the outskirts of Baltimore that is part of a fun street with lots of quirky shops and was not too far from where we were. Started that way and the traffic was terrible! Not at all what we expected. Finally, we saw lots of signs for Hon Fest and looked it up. Turns out the street where we were headed was closed for an annual street festival.
From the website http://www.honfest.net/whatis.html:
The term Hon is actually a friendly Baltimore greeting and comes from the word honey. Around here, however, the women who vie to become Baltimore’s Best Hon are a vision of the sixties-era. They are women with beehive hairdos, bright-blue eye shadow, spandex pants and anything with leopard print!
At HonFest you too can get your own beehive in our Glamour Lounge, listen to talented local musicians, and check out the work of local artists, while you stroll downy Avenue?

So, Ryan dropped me off near the yarn shop, and it happened to be right by the stage for the Miss Hon Fest beauty pageant. I couldn't resist taking pictures, because it was amazing! It was a huge event, and the crowds turned out even with the extreme heat. All the lemonade vendors were doing a brisk business. The owner of the yarn shop and the other local shops were dressed up in their 60s garb.

The crazy striped dress was the person doing the interviewing.

The contestants waiting to go on stage. Lots of pink flamingos!

This girl is a school administrator, she had a few students to cheer her on.

Just part of the crowd that was melting in the heat. I did manage to see the glamour tent where you could get your very own beehive hairdo and a few of the vendors before heading back to the car.

After all that excitement, Fort McHenry doesn't look quite as exciting. But it was still interesting and the ocean breeze was a welcome change.

After watching the brief movie, which ended with playing the Star Spangled Banner with the curtains opened so we could see the reproduction flag over the fort, we wandered through it. Everyone in the room was trying not to laugh when the curtains dramatically opened and the first thing we see was a guy jogging right in front of the window who you couldn't ignore. He was oblivious and after he passed, we could see the flag.

Standing on the path on the top of the earthworks, you had a great view of the ocean.

They had a large number of historical cannons.

Ryan in the holding cell.

The enlisted mens sleeping quarters.

From a little closer, you can see how huge the flag is.

A reenactment group did a demonstration of the daily drills. The group on the left were representing the soldiers and the group on the right the sailors.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

LIbrary of Congress and Capitol Building

Last week we had tickets to The Capitol Steps (http://www.capsteps.com/), so we decided to make a day of the trip downtown and visit the Library of Congress and the Capitol building first.

Apparently our apartment is surrounded by some of the worst road construction in recent DC history (which is saying a lot)....for three weeks, it is not just the roads but the metro as well that is affected. So, we trekked to a different, closer metro station along with swarms of people, but finally made it to the Library of Congress. Hot and sticky day, so we didn't linger too long outside, but there are many interesting features on the building.

The main building is named after Thomas Jefferson and contains most of his original library.

A funky fountain out front....the water was really green!

Entrance to Library of Congress.

Every where you look was covered with amazing murals and decorations.

Ryan found one air conditioning vent and I found another! At the time, it was a very exciting find. We then collected a "passport" to use in the computers that were set up in each room. There were activities to explore the different parts of the library.

The part where visitors can go has multiple levels.

Looking across at the entrance to the viewing platform into the actual library. Once we finished up, we realized we could take the underground (air conditioned) tunnel to the Capitol visitor's center. After making our way to the entrance to the Capitol, we had to go through the additional security screening. However, knitting needles were banned, and I'd packed mine because we had some down time before the evening entertainment. So, we went back to the Library of Congress bag check and then back to the security screening.

The newish Visitor Center is underground as well and was very nice. Lots of space for people to wait for their ticket time. Ticket's for the tour were free, but you had to have one for crowd control. We started in an auditorium for a brief movie about the history of the building, then joined a tour guide for a short tour.

Moved on to the Rotunda with lots of other people. I managed to get a few pics without people's heads in them...

The Rotunda was built over time, so there are many different elements to it.

Then we moved to what is called the crypt. One of the older rooms in the Capitol and the geographic center of the city.

The Lincoln statue was very popular with visitors posing.

Finally had to leave the AC comfort and move on with our day. We returned to get my knitting, and then walked along the outside of the Capitol to get to the Botanical Gardens.

Never seen Lantana in this form before.

A pretty foxglove.

A cocoa tree. I think this is the first time I've seen one with pods growing.

One last flower picture. Overall a very fun day, glad we got to see these two amazing buildings.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


On Saturday, we visited Hillwood Estate in NW DC (near the zoo and National Cathedral). Definitely a lesser known attraction, but worth the visit. The house is a museum and the grounds were beautifully maintained. Better yet, there was the option for self-guided tours, so we could take our time.

All quotes are from: http://www.hillwoodmuseum.org.
"Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973), heir to the Post cereal fortune, was the founder of Hillwood Museum and Gardens - her former twenty-five acre estate in Washington, DC. In 1955 she bought the Hillwood estate to serve both as her residence and as a future museum. On her death in 1973, Mrs. Post’s final and most important philanthropic gesture became reality when Hillwood, her last estate in Washington, DC, was bequeathed to the public as a museum. Her magnificent French and Russian collections remain on view at Hillwood Museum and Gardens, where her legacy of opulent beauty and gracious elegance continues to thrive. "

"The Georgian-style mansion, designed by John Deibert in 1926, was originally built for Mrs. Henry Parsons Erwin. In decorating Hillwood, Marjorie Merriweather Post hired the New York architect Alexander McIlvaine to redesign and expand the old mansion completely so that visitors could view her by-now extensive collection with greater ease. In renovating the mansion and gardens in the 1950s, Mrs. Post was reviving a forty-year-old practice of estate building now known as the American country house tradition. Architectural historian Richard Guy Wilson has described this tradition as one created by wealthy Americans between 1880 and 1930, who, during that period, commissioned large houses for escape and relaxation on relatively limited tracts of land near major urban centers. Such homes were in the country, but remained close enough to cities to afford an easy commute. Indeed, in the 1920s, the property would have been a rural suburb of Washington. "

No pictures were allowed in the house, but the website does have lots of photos of the interiors. So, all my pictures are of the exterior and the gardens. These fun lights lined the paths.

"Marjorie Merriweather Post acquired Hillwood in 1955 and began to create a series of pleasure gardens for her leisure and the entertainment of her guests. The mansion was renovated to provide easy access to the outdoors, with terraces and porches on all sides. The resulting gardens flow from the house, with walks laid out in straight axes to separate the spaces, providing respite and recreation in a tranquil setting. Assisted by prominent landscape architects and garden designers of the time, Mrs. Post conceived of outdoor "rooms" bounded by hedges or large plantings and containing statuary, fountains, and pools as focal points.
Each garden is decidedly private yet connected to adjacent gardens through subtle transitional features. The layout reflects not only the design vocabulary of notable landscape architects, but it also includes the distinctive taste of Marjorie Merriweather Post. The twelve acres of formal gardens and grounds are surrounded by thirteen acres of woodland that are strategically nestled against Rock Creek Park, creating a rural ambiance."

Every where you turn, there was something fun to see.

Amazing 1960s era patio furniture!

The French Parterre:
"Marjorie Merriweather Post commissioned two prominent landscape architects, Umberto Innocenti and Richard Webel, to design and build a garden that would complement her collection of eighteenth-century French furnishings and decorative arts displayed in the French drawing room of the mansion. Innocenti and Webel of Long Island, New York, designed a garden that featured all of the typical elements of an eighteenth-century parterre garden, scaled down to fit into a space already occupied by an enclosed garden with a fish pond."

The formal rose garden.

The putting green.

Back to the French Parterre and a view of the house. Mrs. Post's bedroom is the large bay window overlooking this garden. Most of the rooms on the first floor had large french doors that would have allowed parties to easily flow from the garden to the house. My favorite room in the house was the dressing room. Gorgeous pale blue and silver. Ryan's was the home theater.

More sculptures marking the paths and divisions between the garden rooms.

Some things were on the odd side...

Part of the Lunar Lawn.
"The front of the mansion, facing south toward a view of the Washington Monument, seemed the perfect place for Marjorie Merriweather Post to create a special space for entertaining her many guests. Upon acquiring Hillwood, she promptly removed an Italianate allée of American boxwood and established a large, crescent-shaped lawn. American elms majestically line the front of the mansion and a flagstone walk circles to a terrace beyond.
Large beds filled with spring-flowering trees, such as dogwood, magnolia, cherry, plum, and crabapple, and underplanted with masses of azaleas, rhododendron, camellias, spirea, and lilacs were built along the walk. Numerous varieties of neatly sheared conifers and hollies complement the riot of color. This backdrop of arching elms underplanted with masses of trees and shrubs serves to frame the view, yet it encloses the lunar lawn to create a sense of privacy for intimate entertainment on a grand scale."

A fountain visible from the breakfast room.

Pet Cemetery
"Commemorating the years of pleasure garnered from her pets, Marjorie Merriweather Post built this cemetery where the closely wooded site offers a private place for remembrance. The garden features markers bearing the names of each pet. Each marker is set in beds of plants that emulate the mood of the garden, such as weeping dogwood, lily-of-the-valley, bleeding heart, dogtooth violet, and forget-me-nots. Four statues of dogs offering a gift of flower baskets are located in each corner of the cemetery entrance."

Wandering back to the Lunar Lawn, this time on the Vista overlook. Fun musical statues with cherubs and mythical creatures.

Japanese garden:
"The Japanese-style Garden at Hillwood is one of the last remaining examples of the type of oriental gardens influenced by the reintroduction of the Japanese culture to America during the 1950s. Shogo J. Myaida, a garden designer who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in the 1920s when Japanese culture was first popular among the American elite, was hired to complete the design. Myaida readily adopted the American culture and developed a style of garden construction that blended the traditions of Japanese architecture and garden design with the practicality of American tastes."

Part of the fountain in the Japanese garden.

In an area focused on woodland flowers.

Cutting Garden with the greenhouse in the background:
"The cutting garden, located across from the greenhouses, was installed for the very utilitarian purpose of providing a succession of seasonal blooms for floral arrangements to decorate the rooms of the mansion. In keeping with Marjorie Merriweather Post’s desire to beautify the mansion with fresh flowers in perpetuity, the cutting garden continues to yield bountiful quantities of blooms that are combined in arrangements of the style popular in the 1950s and 1960s."

A selection of the photos of orchids.
"Mrs. Post hired an orchid curator to tend these temperamental beauties and breed new varieties for her pleasure. The curator delivered orchids in bloom to the mansion throughout the year, always displaying them in Mrs. Posts’ bedroom, the breakfast room, the library, and the French drawing room. Mrs. Post was so fond of her orchids that she often had a large selection shipped from Hillwood to grace her rooms when she was in residence at her other properties. Today 2,500 orchids remain in cultivation in the greenhouses, while new varieties are added to carry on the tradition of filling the mansion with these exotic blooms."

Some of the plants waiting to be planted. I can't image how much work goes into maintaining this beautiful estate.

Parking was free, but the security guards/parking attendants had a busy time. There were various lots scattered around the grounds, but each was small. As we wandered back to our assigned spot in front of the former chauffer's home and garage, I noticed a green door covering what looked like an entrance to a cellar. We stopped to read the sign and realized it was a fallout shelter.