2.9.09 Final DC Day

Shenandoah National Park Travel Blog

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2.9.09 Final DC Day


Washington DC is just a great city to visit!  We enjoyed the Air and Space Museum (Smithsonian), a tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and a tour of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  We’re happy, but exhausted.


Air & Space Museum:  The exhibit about Wilbur and Orville Wright was fascinating and included the *actual* airplane used in the Kitty Hawk fourth and final test run.  I guess they put it back together after a gust of wind picked it up and smashed it into the sand, ending its flying days.  Reading about their personalities, enthusiasm, their slant in studying the problems, and how they engineered the solutions – fascinating!


Also highlights were seeing the planes of Amelia Earhart’s and Charles Lindbergh’s, the actual Apollo 11 first manned moon-landing capsule, and the balloon capsule that flew around the world in 21 days. 


We enjoyed the Air and Space Museum so much that we had to make a run for the last tour of the day (2pm) at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.  Of course, that was the time we were scheduled to learn a Metro lesson about paying attention to signs and directions and which lines are running where.  Had we not been practically running down the street afterward, we’d not have made it.  But the kind lady at the security entrance to the Bureau succumbed to our pleas to let us run to meet the group and we were off!


The kids in particular really enjoyed this tour and the 45 minutes flew by as we saw the printing process from the ink overlays to the banding and shrink-wrapping.  From there it goes to the 12 Federal banks where the serial numbers are scanned in from the banding tape bar code and then it is considered into circulation.  The new money is transferred via armored carrier to community banks who exchange collected money that was timed out of circulation (the smaller the bill, the shorter the lifespan, like a dollar is about 2.5 years). 


It is most entertaining to read signs by the workers that say things like, “How do you think I feel?  I just printed my entire lifetime salary in a few minutes!”  Did you know that there is a 2nd printing operation in Fort Worth, Texas?  Yes indeed and the money will have an “FW” stamped on it if it’s from that facility.  Anyway, the amount of money printed, mostly to replace the lifespan of money currently in circulation, is mind-boggling.  At the gift shop at tour’s end, we considered buying Ned a tie with a bunch of 50’s and 100’s printed on it, but thought he’d enjoy the gift of us not buying it even more.


Then to arrive early, we went straight for the Kennedy Center.  We enjoyed walking through the George Washington University area with pretty townhouses, past the Watergate complex, to Kennedy Center, which is also a real Memorial to the former President, who was a great supporter of the arts.


Fortunately, they started the tour early for us by about 35 minutes.  We enjoyed the 1.25 hour tour with about 10 others.  Did you know that 60 countries donated items to the community arts building in honor of President Kennedy?  Italy supplies all the marble of highest quality for the building, Sweden provided many of the chandeliers, a room is decorated with African gourds and mourning cloths, artwork from Mexico graces the stairwells, etc.  There is a Hall of Nations and a Hall of States with flags from all.  They lead to the Grand Foyer which is one of the largest rooms in the world.  You could lay the Washington Monument in there with 3 inches to spare!  An enormous outdoor terrace encircles the second floor and offers a stunning view of the Potomac River and Georgetown.


Additionally, the Center provides a free concert every night at 6pm!  There is a free shuttle that runs between the Metro and the Center (which we took back to the metro).  The Center does outreach to bring the arts to people throughout the country.  There are 5 performance halls, including an Opera Hall, the Eisenhower Hall, a Family Hall, an improvisation group performance that has been running for 22 years, and a Concert Hall.  We got to admire the President’s Box Seat for each of the big 3 Halls.  I learned last night that while we were watching the Senate slog it out on Friday night, the Obamas were enjoying an evening at the Kennedy Center!


Finally we visited the gift shop (to support the Arts, of course) and got a coffee table book of Washington.  We marveled at all the pictures in it of place we’ve seen and yet there is so much more to explore.  But our energy and time were spent and it was time to go.


At the Franconia-Springfield Metro station, we made dinner and ate in Ciao Baby as we waited for Washington rush hour traffic to clear- a great benefit of an RV.  Then at 7pm, we headed out with the GPS leading us down a few dark, curvy roads, but we fortunately avoided the I-95 south parking lot as we crossed over it.  It appeared that we successfully avoided the crowds as the ride was surprisingly easy.


We arrived at the Shenandoah National Park at 9pm.  I’d checked at the campground about distance, saying that Shenandoah was “really close” and the manager said, “Well, I guess it’s perspective- probably coming all the way from Texas, it is close.”  I tried not to laugh, given we think TX to DC is a short hop on this trip!  Certainly 100 miles was a breeze.


We’re now out in mountain country and did not see another car in our final 30 minutes.  The full moon shines gloriously on the blue, darkened mountains.  We completed a “back country pass” form and stuffed it in the “iron ranger” at the National Park entrance (which was deserted- it said to pay when we leave, but we have an annual pass), tying the permit copy to our rear view mirror.  There is not another sole around this Monday night in February.


We’re parked at over 3000 feet elevation at the Pinnacle Overlook on Skyline Drive.  Don’t you just love that road name?  Skyline Drive reminds me of the other fun ones like Sea-to-Sky, Road-to-the-Sun, and Top of the World Highway!  All facilities including the campgrounds and visitor’s centers are closed for the winter season, but the park is still open and we hope a ranger does not come knocking in the night because we have not parked in a “dispersed campsite” a ways off the road.  Given we’ve seen no-one, I cannot imagine they would. 


The wind is howling up the mountain to our pinnacle, but the view by full moon of the rolling mountain layers and the twinkling lights in the valley is breathtaking.  We filled our propane this morning at Pohick Campground, so our RV is toasty warm and we’ll not need to use the generator for the electric blankets.  I’ve taken a hot shower and the exhausted kids are long asleep.  Cities are very tough exploring when you factor in all the transportation and walking required. 


Still, we’d do it again in a heartbeat!  Washington was amazing, the people very friendly and kind, and the offerings plentiful to the point of overwhelming.  We really love that city!


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Shenandoah National Park
photo by: mrgishi