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Save Foamhenge!

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Just up Route 11 from one of the great tourist traps of Virginia(Natural Bridge) tucked away off a dirt road is another one of the great tourist traps of Virginia: Foamhenge.

Time is running out on this re-creation of a relic that has withstood the test of time. It has to move by August to make room for the new Natural Bridge State Park. 

Foamhenge is a replica of the World Heritage Site Stonehenge…except it’s not a world heritage site, and it’s not made of stone, and it’s surrounded by mountains. Really, it’s not at all like Stonehenge. Lauren and I are suckers for the roadside attraction, and this is one called out to us like a bunch of rocks arranged for ritualistic human sacrifice calls out to Neolithic priests looking to impress some red witches.

So if you want Foamhenge in your backyard, guess what…it’s yours. The owner is willing give away the foam blocks, provided you pay for shipping and repairs. That, my friends, is a deal. I’d take it, but something tells me we don’t have room in our tiny Capitol Hill backyard. Also, I’m not entirely convinced that the foam blocks match the historically protected architecture of our neighborhood. If you’re a big fan of the Summer solstice, this is your chance. You can bring Foamhenge home, line everything up, install it, and then wait for the solstice to tap a keg at dawn and dance around a pile of burning coaches in the nude.

Foamhenge has only been around since 2004 as an April Fools’ Day prank, which begs the question: maybe the original Stonehenge was also an April Fools’ prank. The whole thing was probably concocted by some Neolithic drunks who had just crawled out of cave with a plan to mess with archeologists five millennia down the road. Just think, in the year 7500 AD some future civilization could be dissecting your front yard trying to determine what the hell these pieces of foam are supposed to mean. It’s the gift that just keeps on giving.

So, please. Save Foamhenge. And if you do, call me. I’ll fill you in on the secret summer solstice rituals that you’ll have to perform.

It is actually a bit peaceful.
It is actually a bit peaceful.
This, ladies and gentlemen, could be in YOUR backyard!! (or front, if that's how you roll)
This, ladies and gentlemen, could be in YOUR backyard!! (or front, if that’s how you roll)
Weathered for effect.
Weathered for effect.
It looks just like the real thing.
It looks just like the real thing.
There are mountains here.
There are mountains here.
Unlike Stonehenge, Foamhenge requires walking uphill.
Unlike Stonehenge, Foamhenge requires walking uphill.
This is also likely the description a certain presidential candidate probably envisions being engraved onto a certain piece of theoretical infrastructure along our southern border.
This is also likely the description a certain presidential candidate probably envisions being engraved onto a certain piece of theoretical infrastructure along our southern border.
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Jefferson’s Monticello

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How would Thomas Jefferson feel about the government shutdown here in the United States? (Bear with me here for a little thought experiment…)

I’m sure the republican (small “r”) part of him would appreciate the legislature taking a stand to the executive. His support of the French Revolution probably shows he wouldn’t bat an eye at this political brinksmanship.

But then there’s the executive part of him…the part that signed the Louisiana Purchase. That shows he understood the need for a strong president to make moves for the betterment of the nation with an eye towards the future, peering further than the people could see. The intellectual side of him would no doubt scoff at the sophomoric arguments made by the Tea Party.

And that is the conundrum of Thomas Jefferson. He wrote that all men are created equal…but he owned slaves. He ideologically resisted a centralized society, but practically he extended the reach of the presidency.

So here’s my point: it’s easy to think of someone like TJ as a paper cutout, a two-dimensional character from a history book. Learning about someone who’s been deified in American history can make it hard to realize that he was a man, deeply flawed like the rest of us. And perhaps the best way to bring that paper cutout back to life is to exist, at least momentarily, in his three-dimensional world.

As Lauren and I stood in the foyer of Monticello my hair stood on end. In this great mansion on a hill we were surrounded by artifacts brought from all corners of the globe. There were fossils dug up by William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) and maps of the world (long before Google maps existed). There was one map drawn of the American colonies by Jefferson’s father. On it were the great cities of Philadelphia and New York…but where Washington, DC should have been it was simply blank space.

The clock in the main hall was of Jefferson’s own design…and it had been telling time accurately since the turn of the 19th century. Walking through his personal quarters was like walking around in the mind of a genius. Books galore and an office space loaded with contraptions and scientific devices. His bed was just feet from his desk…he was always surrounded by his work.

Just an FYI, they don’t let you take photos in the mansion. That just gives you more time to contemplate the genius of Thomas Jefferson. After the tour, which lasts all of 40 minutes, we roamed around the grounds. Perched on a mountaintop outside of Charlottesville it can seem like a paradise. The mansion is operated by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, and they’re pretty upfront about the contradiction that is slavery at Monticello. They offer a good tour covering that aspect of life at the mansion, I definitely recommend it. That part of the Jefferson legacy is easily enough glossed over, but it shouldn’t be.

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Just wandering the grounds is entertaining enough. You have to look at the mansion as a book written by Jefferson. Every aspect of the design was carried out with great intent. He wanted this building and this parcel of land to be his legacy, he wanted it to reflect who he was as a living, breathing man. And for the conspiracy theorists out there…I’m sure you can find some subcutaneous meaning.

One more recommendation: take the shuttle up from the visitor center, but walk back down. The walk isn’t difficult at all, just over a half mile. And it’s all downhill. It’ll take you by the Jefferson family cemetery and, of course, Jefferson’s grave. But before you even embark down that path take a walk through the garden. It’s still growing food, and in the autumn it’s a welcome burst of color.

I think we spend all our lives searching for genius…well this is a pretty good place to find it.

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How to Spend a Day in Sedona, AZ

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In the midst of Arizona’s red rock country lies one of our happiest places; Sedona. Named after the wife of the city’s first postmaster, Sedona shines like a beautiful gem between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon. And I mean it, it really is outstanding. Take it from a girl who hated the desert for the first 22 years of my life. Ready to spend a day there? Here are some suggestions of things you should do:

Hike Bell Rock: Sedona is known for its new age/hippie/native american/spiritual heritage and attitude. There are multiple vortexes found throughout the town that are chock full of positive energy and fresh air. Bell Rock happens to be both a vortex and also one of the best places for a little hiking within the town. Park on the backside and take a moderately difficult hike up. You won’t be able to get to the very top, but if you’re willing, you’ll get high enough to take in some of the most incredible views this country has to offer.

Take a Jeep Ride: There are multiple jeep companies throughout Sedona but I am partial to Red Rock Jeeps because a) they’re awesome, skilled, and incredibly knowledgeable about the local lore and b) they dress up like cowboys. The 1.5 hour tour will take you off-roading deep into the red rocks where you’ll learn about the Indian tribes local to the area and get information about the flora, fauna, and legends of Sedona–all while cruising around in an open-air Jeep.

See Snoopy Rock: It’s a red rock formation that looks like a lying down version of Charlie Brown’s lovable companion, Snoopy.

Eat: Always my favorite thing to do. While you’re in thewild, wild west, you should probably eat like you’re there too. Try the Cowboy Club where you can sample rattlesnake, buffalo, and cactus fries with prickly pear dipping sauce.

Sedona is also a great place for local shopping. You’ll find loads of Native American pieces, jewelry and otherwise as well as your typical tourist souvenirs. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for Kokopelli, as he appears in many different forms throughout this great southwestern destination.

 

 

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They Invented Harper’s Ferry for Tubing (true story)

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Tubing is just one of those summertime rites of passage that you have to partake in at least once before the Autumnal equinox, lest you temp the fates into offering up an especially long winter. And given the piedmont-mountainyness(a very real geological term) of our region we are in prime floatation territory. For those of you unfamiliar with tubing…first, welcome to America…second, it involves an inflatable tube that floats on water. You follow the current. See how that works??

As amazingly uncomplicated as it sounds I was nevertheless witness to my fair share of tubers (people, not potatoes) stranding themselves on a stray rock or tipping over in calm waters during a trip up to Harper’s Ferry this week. If you’ve never tubed out of a fear of…well…tubing, I’d like to offer some tips/advice to change your mind:

Tubers look so tiny from Maryland Heights
Tubers look so tiny from Maryland Heights

1. Don’t drink (alcohol, not the river…well, don’t drink the river either). I know, I know…it sounds downright communist for me to say as much. And I already apologize for espousing the ways of the teetotaler. There seems to be something about moving water that makes people want to pound Busch Lite by the case…I get it, I’ve been there. But the fact is, after a case of Busch Lite under the hot sun you kinda turn into an uber-destructive moron. You start letting cans float away. You stop paying attention to where you’re going. You forget how to swim. You start crying hysterically…and then you start screaming “Freebird!” at the top of your lungs until you scare all the birds and fish thus irrepairably damaging the ecosystem for generations to come.

2. Carpool…carpool…carpool.  If you’re going tubing I hope you’re going with friends, I mean if you’re not that’s alright too. But since you’re already going with friends you might as well all load up into the same car. Harper’s Ferry gets crazy-busy on the weekends, and if you had the clever idea to go tubing for the day it’s probably a safe bet that half the DC/Baltimore metro population also came up with your “clever” idea. With that said, parking is an enormous pain. You’ll see a bunch of cars haphazardly parked on the side of US 340…don’t fall into that trap. The three major outfitters have parking lots, but their spaces are limited. Your best bet is to get there early. Also if you carpool it’s easier to break rule #1. If you want to be really enterprising you can always bicycle up on the C&O Canal Trail

3. Make sure your floatation device actually floats. Yeah, I get that you just picked up that sweet new tube at Walmart for your backyard pool, but it’s probably not gonna cut it. And that inflatable Shamu is no match for the mighty Shenandoah. If you should happen to have your own tube, make sure you have a life jacket too. I get that you know how to swim, and you’re a big strong dude. But you’re gonna break rule #1, and when you fall into the river in a haze of Busch Lite confusion the jacket will save your life.

4. Wear some form of footwear beyond flip-flops. I’m not promoting the recent war on flip-flops. I love flip-flops. But they suck in water, mainly because they like to float away. And don’t go barefoot. You have no idea what’s on the river’s bottom from broken glass (I’m looking at you rule #1 breakers!) to jagged rocks to the

A man and his raft
A man and his raft

discarded bayonet of Johnny Reb. Slicing your foot open halfway through a tubing trip is not something you want to deal with. So get some water shoes or wear some old sneaks or use this as an excuse to get those new Tevas that you secretly desire.

5. Be waterproof with your tech. You’ll get dry-bags…but still if you want to take videos and pictures have a waterproof camera or Go Pro with you. iPhones don’t typically fare so well at the bottom of the Potomac. You will get wet, even if you think you won’t.

6. Be early. Yes, I know. Standard operating advice…but in this case it’s vital if you want to find parking on the weekends. Are you the anal-retentive type that needs a benchmark? Here: be at the tubing spot an hour early!

7. Pre-book. It’ll save you time and probably cash. Check out the coupon sites like LivingSocial and Groupon as they often have special deals. And if you plan a bit you can take advantage of some of the deals offered by the tubing and rafting companies. For example, River Riders offers a Wednesday “Hump Day” special for $20 but you have to call ahead. And you could find some neat “off-the-beaten-river” type offers…like floating on the Antietam Creek. 

8. Do the waterproof bug spray/suncreen mix. Again more common-sense advice…but I bet you didn’t think about the bugs! They can be pretty annoying/frustrating even in the middle of a river. There are some pretty good waterproof mixes that’ll keep you bug-free and skin cancer-free all day long for a minimal investment!

Check out their specials!
Check out their specials!

 

 

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Hiking Old Rag (and 6 tips to make it more fun)

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“Did you see those bears back there??”

I had just started out for the summit of Old Rag when I came upon this father/son hiking tandem looking back down the trail.

“No…where…really?”

“Yes, really. Just down there trail over there,” the father points about 200 yards downtrail exactly where I had been walking all of two minutes before. “It was two little bears and a mama bear. I can’t believe you didn’t see them, they literally just crossed the trail.”

I just shook my head…truth is I was in full-on hustle-hike mode. I’ve been to Old Rag several times, but today was on assignment for work and I didn’t have a lot of Old Rag_26time to make it to the summit and back down. So I was huffing it to the top where I’d hopefully run into a bunch of satisfied customers. As such, I wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention to my surroundings, and apparently almost got eaten by a bear or three.

I ended up hiking much of the trail with these two, stopping to interview fellow hikers along the way. I didn’t make it to the summit, I ran out of time. But I had my interviews and I’d been there before. Still though it’s gut-wrenching to turn back on a hike before getting to the destination…especially a destination as pretty as Old Rag.

After moving to DC, Old Rag very quickly became one of my favorite places to escape. It’s relatively close to home, about a two hour drive (without traffic) from Dupont Circle, and the views are simply stunning. Don’t let the name fool you…I mean it sounds like something disgusting that you might find stuffed in a pipe under your kitchen sink. The name is short for Old Raggedy…basically because the summit looks like a ragged edge from afar, especially compared with the smooth ridges of the Shenandoah. The top of the trail is home to some of the best rock scrambling in the East. Huge granite boulders seem to defy gravity perched atop large rock exposures. Massive cracks invite climbers to try their hand at some bouldering and rock climbing.

The rock itself feels very similar to what you’d find in the Sierra Nevada in a place like Yosemite, they share similar geological histories. Both mountain ranges were formed deep beneath the earth before continental drift pushed them skyward. These igneous rocks cooled under deep pressure, which gives them their density…and ultimately that’s why Old Rag is still around some 200 million years later. The cracks are seams formed during the cooling process that have been infiltrated by water and wind, widening microscopically with every season.Old Rag

What does all this mean?? It means that when you get up to the top…you’re gonna get a great view with a little adventure tossed in for good measure. The hike is strenuous, but don’t let that term deter you. I’ve met plenty of first-time/beginner hikers at the top. It does mean that you should prepare a little bit:

1. Wear comfortable shoes, and it helps if they have some grip on the soles. You don’t want to be slipping on the rocks at the top. And don’t wear your brand new hiking shoes, make sure they’re worn in unless you want some gnarley blisters.

2. Snacks, snacks and more snacks. I love packing a lunch and eating at the top, it’s a bit of a celebration for making it to the summit. Also stay hydrated, 3 liters of water in the summer is a pretty good standard. The best way to carry that is with a Camelbak, or something similar. And have some salty snacks to eat on the way up…all that water is useless without some electrolytes.

3. Familiarize yourself with the hike before you get there. Get a guidebook or check out a site with trail notes. Cell service is spotty around the mountain, so don’t depend on having access to directions if you get lost. The trail’s pretty easy to figure out…just follow the blue blazes. But in the rock scramble section it’s pretty easy to veer off the path. If you get a good rundown beforehand you’ll know when to expect the tricky sections and you’ll know what landmarks to watch out for.

4. Get there early on the weekends. Get to the trailhead parking before 8 in the summer. The parking is actually about a mile from the trailhead, so you’ll have to hike that part roadside before the actual trail starts. The parking lot isn’t huge  and it does fill up…the last thing you want to do is just park on the road. Nothing sucks more than finishing off a 9 mile hike and discovering that your car has been towed…in the middle of nowhere. If you can, do the hike on a weekday. Parking’s not a worry and the trail is way less crowded.

5. Keep an eye to the sky. The exposed granite at the top can be a magnet for lightning. So check the forecast before you head up…even with the all clear this part of the country is prone to pop-up thunderstorms in the summertime. If you hear thunder, pay heed. And that may even mean turning around, but that’s better than getting struck by lightning. Also note that there are a few shelters on the trail past the summit, one is called Byrd’s Nest. If you find yourself near the summit as a surprise storm blows in that’s a good place to wait it out.

6. Pack in, pack out...this is less a tip and more of a demand. If you take something onto the trail make sure it comes back with you. Mainly this applies to trash. For whatever reason there are people out there who think it’s acceptable to just toss aside wrappers and bottles. Do us all a favor and resist that urge to be a lazy human being. Thanks 🙂

Most importantly…have fun! And take your time, the summit will be there when you get there.

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To the caves! Beating the heat at Luray Caverns.

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It’s been stupid-hot here in the District…like surface-of-the-sun-hellish-sauna hot. And it occurred to me that caves aren’t just for asteroid impacts, thermonuclear war or zombie apocalypses…they’re also pretty good places to escape the heat.

Luray Caverns is about two hours from downtown DC on a nice drive out west on I-66 and then south through the Shenandoah Valley on US 340. The place is busy in the summertime, so your best bet is to buy tickets ahead of time online.

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I spent some time growing up in a part of America that was subterranean swiss cheese. It seemed that every few hundred feet there was a cave opening, and so naturally I spent a lot of time doing some amateur spelunking. Most of those under-earth hikes were a little more risky than I care to admit. Nonetheless, that, and a near-obsession with Mark Twain, has imbued upon me a natural love of caves. Now for you hardcore spelunkers, Luray isn’t going to do much for you. It’s gorgeous and amazing…but it’s also very ordered and organized with safe paved and railed walkways and abundant lighting.

And that’s good news for everyone else.

If you’ve never been in a cave, this is a fantastic place to start. The tour lasts about an hour and you’ll pick up some neat factoids to wow your next date (actually, bringing up spelunking on a first date is never a good idea). For you photogeeks (like me!) you can bring a tripod on the tour, but you have to keep up. That was a bit of an issue for me. I took a bunch of photos, but a combination of tripod troubles and focus problems led to some lackluster results. If you are interested in taking your time, and some great photos, give Luray a call in advance. They offer photo-specific tours, but it’s only upon request beforehand. That might be something I do on another trip out there.Luray_9

Also, take a hoodie. Yeah, even if it’s 95 degrees outside (as it was on my visit) down in the cave it’s a mere 54 degrees of beautiful coolness. In fact that’s how the place was discovered in the first place. A rush of cold air in the hot August sun of 1878 led to some enterprising locals digging out the cave’s entrance. Today, there’s no digging…just $24 and a bit of a wait in line will get you into the cool cave.

And while you’re down there you can listen to the largest instrument in the world. There’s no easy way to explain the Great Stalacpipe Organ. Somehow an organ has been rigged to “play” stalactites of various sizes and shapes, thus delivering a crystalline symphony. It’s a pretty fantastic thing to hear for yourself. Aside from the organ you’ll come upon a bunch of alien formations that will give you a whole new appreciation for what lies beneath the surface. This particular spot is the 6th most visited in the Commonwealth, and for good reason. Be sure and watch out for water droplets falling from the ceiling, they are little droplets of geologic history forming new stalactites at the rate of one inch every 120 years…or the offensive efficiency of the Chicago Bears.

Eventually the tour winds back to the surface…the hot, hot surface.

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It’s a Small Wonder

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It’s pretty much obligatory for any travel blogger (oh how that term makes me cringe) to post live from some exotic beach in a far flung land. And so we join in that tradition…posting live from a beach to make our readers seethe in jealousy.
On what beach do we sunbathe lazily while the rest of you work? Thailand…Puerto Rico…Brazil…the French Riviera…nope, Delaware. Dewey Beach to be exact.
And I’m happy with that, I grew up hitting the Eastern Shore beaches and few places say summer more clearly. The First State gets a bad rap…mainly because of Wayne’s World (I’d insert the gif here but I’m too busy drinking cocktails under the sun(who am I kidding this is the Eastern Shore I’m drinking Budweiser)).
But when I think of Delaware I pretty much just think of beaches, which isn’t a bad way to think of a state. Sure these spots aren’t as glamorous as Miami Beach or as picturesque as Malibu. But I always feel at home and relaxed, which I surmise to be the point of a beach. And at the end of the day Dewey’s rad, and just three hours from my front door.

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Fightin’ Like It’s 1863! 5 Tips as Gettysburg turns 150

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I grew up with Gettysburg in my backyard…and it took me moving across the country to realize what a gem that place is. There’s a gravity there, that once you allow yourself to feel, it’s powerful. And this week that gravity is at its strongest. Starting today, 150 years ago troops from the Union collided with troops from the Confederacy in a battle that was heard from as far away as Pittsburgh.

To underscore the devastation the New York Times puts it brilliantly when just describing the Confederate losses: “This meant that the Army of Northern Virginia suffered something comparable to 2 sinkings of the Titanic, the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, 10 repetitions of the Great Blizzard of 1888 and 2 Pearl Harbors, combined.”

I was in Gettysburg a couple of days ago on assignment and it recaptured my imagination, curiousity and passion for American history. Especially as we come up to the Fourth of July, there is no better time to remember the pivotal moments upon which the fabric of America hinged. At Gettysburg, we were but hours from becoming two nations…but instead the high tide of the Confederacy was rolled back. So you should go…this week! And if you don’t go this week, most of these tips are still useful:

1. Ride a Bike: No really, ride a bike. I took my bike up to the battlefield and it was a completely eye-opening experience. I’ve been to the battlefield a dozen times, but it’s never been as enriching as taking it in by bicycle. It allowed me to take everything in at my own pace. I felt connected to the field like never before, and it helps to put the enormity of the battle into context. There are a few hills, the most difficult being Little Round Top…but even that is manageable. Besides it gives you an idea of what Johnny Reb was up against as he tried to storm that hill. And then of course you get to cruise right back down, letting gravity do the work. One caveat on riding a bike: If you’ve never been to the battlefield before, get a guide. There’s just too much to take in on your own and the guides are all excellent at Gettysburg. One company to look for Gettys Bike Tours, their shop is set up opposite the visitor center parking lot.  Gettysburg_3

2. Come early…stay late: If you’re a photo geek like me you’ll appreciate the value of light. At Gettysburg that light does amazing things…even if you’re not a photo geek you’ll appreciate how the field changes. I’ve heard Gettysburg described as the most monumental place on the planet. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I’ve never been to a place with more monuments and memorials (and I live in DC!). All of these statues and stones take on different composures when the light works in your favor. Also if you’re early, you don’t have to fret about parking…and if you leave late you don’t sweat the traffic. Use the hot part of the day to relax in town, maybe grab a drink at the Garryowen Irish Pub or a coffee at Ragged Edge Coffee House. Also because I’m a sucker for all-you-can-eat buffets head to General Pickett’s Buffet…it’s bountiful and delicious.Gettysburg_13

3. Talk to a re-enactor: Or as some prefer to be called “living historians”. Some of these guys take on the complete identity of a soldier fighting at Gettysburg. They are passionate about the history…and they are super-passionate about the history of their particular character. I talked with dozens when I was up there this weekend, and almost every conversation left me with some new appreciation of the individual effort on the scope of the vast battlefield. These men and women serve as reminders that the soldiers who died here were not simply apparitions in a history book, but living, breathing people with a lot to fight for. Also through the week these guys are set up in authentic period encampments…you WANT to go check those out.Gettysburg_6

4. Bugs, rain and sun: This is pretty basic advice, but it all too often goes unheeded. So…wear insect repellant. Ticks are a big problem in this part of the country and the fields are like heaven for these microscopic arachnids. You don’t want Lyme Disease…it sucks. So wear insect repellants and, if you can stand the heat, long pants. As for the rain, this time of year sees a lot of pop-up thunderstorms (especially this year!) so have some rain gear handy, and keep an eye to the sky. You don’t want to be in the open when a thunderstorm breaks out. And in between the storms the sun is vicious. Wear sunscreen and it never hurts to have a wide-brimmed hat.Gettysburg

5. Pickett’s Charge: If you happen to be at Gettysburg on Wednesday, July 3rd there is going to be a commemorative march of Pickett’s Charge. This is a MUST DO. You will walk in the footsteps of perhaps the most famous military maneuver in American history as Confederate soldiers stormed the Union position on the last day of battle in a desperate final assault. 12,000 soldiers rumbled across the field in 1863…and this is a rare opportunity to take part in. Gettysburg_11

 

Of course there is so much more advice to give but I don’t want to keep you all day. But because #5 is useless after this week, here’s another tip #5 if you’re visiting this site later on: Make sure you check out the Cyclorama and the film at the Visitor Center. Both will really give you an appreciation for the importance of Gettysburg.  Whenever you go, the visitor center is really a good place to start.

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High-Fiving Jumbo Jets

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We take airplanes for granted…tons of metal carrying tons of passengers trapped inside a thin pressurized aluminum skin while traveling hundreds of miles an hour. A point so cleverly put but Louis C.K. (if you’re at work…you might want to have headphones for that link)

Pretty flowers and that "M"
Pretty flowers and that “M”

But to truly appreciate the marvel of modern air travel you gotta get up close to these things in action. There are more than a few airports around the country where you can get pretty close…for instance everytime I was in Vegas my primary running route would take me down Tropicana next to one of the main runways at McCarren International Airport. Every once in a while I’d be so in the running zone that I’d forget where I was until the thunder of a jet just a few dozen feet above my head would scare the bejeezus out of me. Of course there is this most famous example.

In DC we have National Airport, or DCA or…if you really want to see some skin crawl: Reagan National. It’s a small airport, originally serving as a quick escape for those on the Hill, but as the District’s population has surged so too has the airport’s popularity. And with that original purpose in mind the airport is super-close to downtown DC, and at the northwestern end of the main runway is a park called Gravelly Point. You can drive there, but don’t…just don’t. Go get a bike and ride the Mount Vernon Trail, it runs along the Virginia side of the Potomac from Teddy Roosevelt Island to the aforementioned home of our first president. And about a quarter of the way into the ride you’ll find yourself at Gravelly Point.

Skywalking
Skywalking

Lauren and I biked down there from our house this past Saturday…it was Lauren’s first visit. I love the place, so I was excited to spend a gorgeous afternoon down there. The ride’s easy enough, through Rock Creek Park across Memorial Bridge onto the MVT. All said and done about six miles from Dupont Circle.

We laid out the blanket and waited for the planes to start landing. It didn’t take too long before a jet banked right down the Potomac and rumbled less than a hundred feet overhead. Being that close to a plane landing invites little surges of adrenaline…it also accentuates the absurdity of the routine. How can flight ever be routine!

The scene is made all the more ridiculous on a gorgeous weekend as hundreds of people gather at the park (another reason not to drive). There’s a rugby pitch all of 400 yards from the runway and kids are out playing football and flying kites as these planes are flying in. I just want to shout:

“Kid!…don’t fly that kite!”

“Kid!…don’t punt that football!”

But there were no footballs clanking off the plane’s fuselage, no kites getting sucked into an engine. Instead it’s just universal awe as these planes land…and then a heavy whoosh of wind a few seconds later…and then a mysterious wisp sound ten seconds later as air rushes into the vacuum created by the plane. It sounds as if a phantom is dancing just above our heads.

Look in the sky it's a...
Look in the sky it’s a…

We spent much of the afternoon there watching plane after plane land and takeoff…it really doesn’t get old.

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Day Trippin’: Ellicott City

Ellicott City Roadshot_ME

Because I live in the center of a concrete jungle and don’t have a car, the words day trip, make my little ears perk up like a puppy wanting to play fetch. Well, OK, we have one but the we in this equation is just Kris. Kris drives the car. I ride in the car. And I can’t parallel park. So what? Day trips mean so much more than leaving the city behind and crossing over that horrible Beltway that defines who lives in and out of Washington. Day trips mean fresh air, homes that have front yards and strip malls. Everything that is so fantastic and terrible about suburbia all rolled into a few hours of pure chain-restaurant bliss.

Ellicott City Roadshot_ME
Ellicott City Railroad Tracks

Living on the east coast, however, allots for an immense variety of towns and villages that are rich in history and ripe with amusements and shops that attract a range of people. Historic Ellicott City, located a mere thirty or so miles outside of Washington offers a perfect afternoon if you want to do a bit of antique shopping and hand crafted ale sipping. Two of my favorite things! Or perhaps you’d like to take in tea and petit fours in an old Victorian mansion. They have that too.

An old railroad town in Howard County, Maryland, Ellicott City has hosted a plethora of visitors from Edgar Allen Poe to Davey Crockett and boasts itself as the oldest standing B & O railroad station, established in 1772. Today, it’s the perfect setting for a lovely afternoon, with one main street curving slowly over a hill and centuries old buildings dotting the sides.  Stop in unique stores like Shoemaker Country, Vintage Bliss Boutique and Sweet Elizabeth Jane offer an eclectic roundup of boho-chic clothing, handmade housewares, and knick-knacks that are just fun to look at (or buy, naturally). Additionally, there are a handful of nice antique stores where you can really jump into material history. I ended up with a $12 antique coffee grinder that is cute and will do nothing but collect dust on my kitchen windowsill. But it matters! it’s HISTORICAL!

the owner of shoemaker country; painting a sign
the owner of shoemaker country; painting a sign

When you tire of shopping (if you’re like me that’s never), you can rest your tired tootsies at a number of fine drinking establishments. If you are feeling really Downton Abbey, I strongly encourage you to try and get a table at Tea on the Tiber.  The second you walk in the door, you feel the formality of the 19th century beckoning you for a cup of tea. With a gorgeous sun porch and a library on the second floor, Tea on the Tiber is the perfect place to relax and feel dainty. Too bad Kris isn’t dainty. We, instead,  visited the Judge’s Bench, named appropriately as the cool spot the town’s judge’s used to come for a respite. A comfortable, divey atmosphere, the Judge’s Bench has a great draft list and an exceptional amount of scotch on hand. Next, we headed to the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company where we sampled their pale ale and chomped on crab and artichoke dip and alligator.

Tea on the Tiber
Tea on the Tiber

And finally, with shopping bags in hand and bellies full, we cruised back down the hill to our car and drove toward the sunset and the city lights. Day trip success.

Shopping. Naturally.
Shopping. Naturally.
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