Shenandoah National Park via Our Nation's Capital!
Are we more excited about going to Washington DC or to Shenandoah National Park? In February of 2018 my Facebook post reads, “Friends, we need your suggestions for what to do and see in DC – can’t believe I have never been! We go in May on our way to Shenandoah National Park (#43 for us out of 59). Thanks!” Four days won’t be enough time for all the fantastic suggestions we received.
After a five-hour bumpy flight, not my favorite, we approach DC. From my window seat, I can see that it’s blanketed in lush greenery, is relatively flat and the buildings are low (because of the height restrictions). The wing dips as we turn toward Reagan National Airport and I get a superb view, my first, of the Washington Monument!
Washington DC – Day Two, Three and Four
We check into The Madison, a nice centrally located hotel, but not cheap – nothing is in DC. Excited, we walk in the heat and humidity, first to a fine southern meal at iconic Georgia Brown’s Restaurant and then to gawk at the White House – surreal!
Luckily, I got Holocaust Museum tickets a couple months ago. As we walk in that direction, on our first full day in DC, we stop at the historic and fabulous Beaux Arts Willard Hotel and then the White House Visitor Center, a wonderful substitute since I couldn’t get tickets to the White House itself.
I am not sure anything can prepare one for a visit to the Holocaust Museum. While many of us know about the atrocities, the events that brought Hitler to power in the first place are presented clearly and make all visitors, I feel, more aware for the future. It’s difficult to comprehend that most of the world, including the US, was apathetic while 6 million humans were extinguished! After our three-hour visit, I wish everyone in the US and the world could visit this exhibit so that we never forget.
We end the day on a happier note with my college friend and his family at their home in historic Alexandria. Thanks to Kevin, Lynne, Cecily and Brennan for a wonderful evening!
Our second day in DC is our tour of the Capitol, courtesy of Senator Maria Cantwell’s office. Just seeing the exterior is a thrill! Our tour, alongside hundreds of others, takes us back in time to the historic House, Senate and Supreme Court. The recently renovated rotunda is stunning. But, maybe, the Capitol has a few too many statues. I love riding the funny little underground “subway” from the Senators’ offices to the Capitol. Afterwards we take the tunnel over to the beautiful Library of Congress.
So far, Uber and walking have worked well despite the crowds, heat and humidity. Now we give the Capital Rideshare Bicycles a try and cycle around the Mall - fun.
Cycling to the scenic Jefferson Memorial on the tidal flat is lovely and, despite the crowds and heat, we are overwhelmed (in a good way) by the sight of the Lincoln Memorial and Lincoln’s statue overlooking the Reflection Pool and the Washington Monument. It’s even more fun knowing that the marble in this monument, came from Marble, CO, a quirky place where we have spent much time. After a visit to the moving Vietnam Memorial my feet are “done”.
Back at the hotel, we learn that there is a severe thunderstorm warning. So, we enjoy a good meal “in” watching the storm.
To avoid the crowds and noise, we get up early on our 3rd day and head back to the Capitol to view the Senate floor in action. We stand, the Chaplain says a prayer then we all say the Pledge of Allegiance. Finally, the Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer appear individually to give their updates…... to whom we aren’t sure. No one else is on the floor. Unfortunately, it is typical rhetoric, our party is doing great, your party is terrible.
As we leave the Capitol, we get herded by an officer with an assault weapon, on our way to visit the Native American Museum. (It’s Police Week and they are preparing for the President’s speech.) While the Trail of Tears and Inka exhibits are interesting, we reflect on how high the bar was set at the Holocaust Museum and the opportunity we feel is missed to tell the entire Native American story.
A fabulous portrait of four female Supreme Court Justices greets us as at the Portrait Gallery. We are enamored as we view a portrait of each President from Washington through Obama along with a list of their accomplishments and failures – an artistic wonder and history lesson all at once. I would hate to be the President whose description says, “least effective”!
For dinner, it will take us nearly an hour to get to Georgetown, just two miles away, so we opt for local flare at Old Ebbitt Grill, just a few blocks away.
Prior to our departure we get to see the enormous Star-Spangled Banner and First Lady Exhibit (gowns, clothes and dishes) at the American History Museum. Who knew they get 220 place settings in a new pattern from Lennox for each administration? Then we split up. Tom’s gets a quick glance at the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights at the National Archives while I have a 15-minute tour of the gorgeous National Gallery and the Cezanne exhibit. One of the suggestions I received on Facebook was to pace ourselves – couldn’t be truer.
Bucket list is now updated.
Shenandoah National Park – Days Five, Six and Seven
Yesterday we woke to a message from Big Meadows Lodge at Shenandoah National Park, that said “due to recent storms our lodging is without power” – not a good way to start our 43rd Park visit. Luckily, they move us to Skyland, a former roaring 1920’s resort and Civilian Conservation Corps Camp that has wonderful views (doubtful this trip) of the Shenandoah Valley and is in the middle of the Park.
We Uber to Reagan - glad it’s so close - get our car, and then drive just two hours to a Park, worlds apart from the hustle and bustle of DC. We can see why promoters, like President Hoover, were so intent on establishing an eastern Park back in 1936. Shenandoah is in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the eastern rift of the Appalachians. During the depression, before the Park was dedicated, Civilian Conservation Corps “Boys” helped to construct Skyline Drive, the famous 105-mile-long ridge road. Unfortunately, today it’s so foggy that we can barely see the road let alone the spectacular vistas! So, we check into Skyland, which is nice by National Park standards and head to dinner and hear some music – both good.
“Get up!” is what I hear from Tom after sleeping in. He says we have a two-hour window of no rain, thunder or heavy wind. So, we hit the Lost Hollow Falls trail and immediately see the appeal of hiking among the lush green oak, ash, birch, basswood, maple and mountain laurel along a gushing stream to several falls. It seems that everything is either an overlook or a hollow here. Since Skyline Drive winds along the ridge, most hikes are downhill then uphill – yuck! We turn back early due to thunder.
After lunch we get another window for a short but steep hike to Dark Hollow Falls.
Afterwards, at the Big Meadows Visitor Center, we learn the good news and the bad news about establishing this area as a Park. Good news – many acres have been re-forested. Bad news – 450 mountain families were evicted from their own land when the Park was established! It sounds so sad and troublesome.
Even though we know the weather will be even worse, we go out on our second day, and come back completely drenched. We can’t help but pity the thru hikers. The Appalachian Trail mirrors Skyline Drive for 105 breathtaking miles. So, we spend the day completely immersed in reading and writing! Isn’t that another way to get away from it all in the Parks?
Prior to our departure on day three in the Park, we get a bit of clearing for couple of short hikes, Lewis Falls, and near the north entrance, Fox Hollow. We can even see the road today and get a glimmer of what makes this place so special.
If you go:
1. Contact your Senator well ahead of your trip and request a tour of the Capitol and the White House. We didn’t get into the White House.
2. Most all museums are free. However, the Holocaust Museum and the new African American Museum require tickets and you must get them months ahead of time.
3. Next trip, I’d like to see the Newseum, Postal Museum, and Renwick Gallery and spend more time at the National Gallery. (The Corcoran is now closed.) In addition, we’d like to visit Georgetown and do some biking and walking on the outskirts of DC.
4. We walked 5+ miles every day. Bring good walking shoes – I didn’t!
5. Everyone told us that Fall is the best time to visit both the Park and DC – better weather and less crowds. But, don’t go on Skyline Drive when the leaves are at their peak with 1 million other folks.
Check out other National Park visits on our way to reach our goal (now 61) below:
We like to give back to the National Parks through the National Park Foundation.