National Park Access Free

2014 National Park "Free Entry" Dates!! January 20th Martin Luther King Jr. Day; February 15-17th Presidents Day weekend; April 19-20th opening weekend of National Park Week; August 25th National Park Service Birthday; September 27th National Public Lands Day; November 11th Veterans Day

Monday, February 17, 2014

#9 - Washington, D.C.

When the snow, ice, mud and cold have got you down, one option is to head into the city for an urban hike! That's what we did today, as Bonnie and I logged 9.73 miles on a visit to our Nation's Capital. Step inside this Gatehouse to the Capitol Grounds (relocated to the National Mall in 1880) and check out the monuments and parks we explored today.

West Capitol Grounds Gatehouse

What's best about a hike in a city like Washington? There are so many attractions and the landscape here was made for covering some serious miles. We took to the Hill to start, Capitol Hill that is, to check out the Capitol Building, Library of Congress, and the United States Supreme Court!

US Capitol
With your back to the Washington Monument, the Senate is in the chamber to the left, the House to the right!
Library of Congress
United States Supreme Court
Seeing these three stalwarts of our national heritage certainly gets the blood flowing, and the statues and fountains make for a beautiful area, however, we're just getting started! We have ground to cover and the next stop was at the United States Navy Memorial.

The United States Navy Memorial is just plain cool! Not only is there a number of outdoor exhibits to view, there is also the Naval Heritage Center with indoor displays, history, and other interesting information.

Me with The Lone Sailor: a tribute to all personnel of the sea services

The National Archives - as seen from the US Navy Memorial -
The Emancipation Proclamation was on display this Presidents Day weekend
We continued up Pennsylvania Avenue, beyond the Old Post Office building, beyond Freedom Plaza, past the Willard Hotel and Old Ebbitt Grill. We found when we arrived at the White House that this would be a good place to take a small break, as it is now a pedestrian only zone, and everyone there seemed to enjoy the tranquility of being away from the crowded city streets. With Lafayette Park directly across from the White House, there was ample space to pause for a drink and refuel.

The White House
George Washington was the only President to not live in the White House -
though he did oversee it's construction!

As far as the hike itself, everything was going fine! Yes, it's hard to not become a tourist yourself around all the monuments and history, but we stayed true to plan and headed toward the reflecting pool, the Lincoln Memorial, and the somberness of the WWII, Korean, and Vietnam War Memorials.

Like the Navy Memorial, the Army Memorial, the Revolutionary War and Civil War Memorials we had already passed on today's hike, we paused to read inscriptions, letters left, and to see the Valentine's day flowers left behind.

Korean War Memorial

Vietnam Women's Memorial

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Franklin Delano Roosevelt summed up war pretty good. His thoughts are next, as we headed to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Tidal Basin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and Jefferson Memorial to finish our hike.

On to the Tidal Basin - and on to dropping temperatures!

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial -  along the Tidal Basin - Opened August 22, 2011
Frozen Tidal Basin - looking toward the Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial
Thomas Jefferson

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Stricken with polio at age 39
Only 4 term President 1933–1945

FDR and his dog Fala

We continued on, completing our hike as the night came upon us. All in all it was a great day, to be in our Nations Capital on Presidents Day weekend.

Back to the wilderness after the thaw!


Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Confederate Soldiers

Ulysses S. Grant

Union Soldiers

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Vietnam Veterans Memorial
DC anti-war / anti-nuclear protester

General Rochambeau, French nobleman who played a major role during the American Revolution

Civil War Veterans of the Union Army and US Navy

Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski - American Revolution

Saturday, February 8, 2014

#8 Rock Creek Park

With the weather cold and gray, and wanting to avoid muddy slopes with steep climbs, Bonnie and I set out to Rock Creek Park, nestled in the NW quarter of our Nations Capital, for today's hike. While I have passed the park on many occasions, ran through bits and pieces of it a time or two, this was my first opportunity to truly cover the trails that make up this green zone within the city.

We started out at the Nature Center which is run by the National Park Service. This is a good place to grab a map, plan you trip, and look at the wonderful exhibits identifying the flora and fauna to be found within the parks borders. It was very nicely done.

 We settled on a 9 mile hike that would see us start on the Western Ridge Trail - heading to the southern end of the park to the National Zoo. It was a nice wide path that eventually worked its way to Rock Creek following along the water.

Western Ridge Trail as it meets Rock Creek

As we continued along the water, we came across Peirce Mill (yes, "e" before "i"), built in the 1820's and in operation until 1897. The mill still runs from time to time for demonstrative purposes. It is a nice picnic area, and a nice area to park if you wish to walk from here to the National Zoo. Peirce Mill is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Peirce Mill
After the Mill, we continued along the creek until reaching the National Zoo. It was not our intent to visit each attraction in the zoo, but more to loop the compound, grab some nourishment we had packed, and head back up northward through the park.

Rock Creek entrance to the National Zoo

As we made our loop through the park, we heard a tiger making a racket, so we detoured over to see Damai, a female Sumatran tiger and her two cubs, Sukacita and Bandar, playing and goofing off. Sumatran tigers are on the critically endangered list, with only 400-500 in existence.

Damai (Mother)

Damai, Sukacita, and Bandar

One of the cubs - born August 5th, 2013

As we continued our loop, we stopped in to see the new baby Panda, Bao Bao, but little baby was sleeping. We have been fortunate to see the Panda's on many previous occasions.

Since we brought Western Ridge down to the zoo, we planned to take Valley Trail back. Western Ridge was a horse trail, so it was wider with less switchbacks, etc.. Valley trail was a foot trail, longer, and a bit more remote; though we enjoyed the change.

Valley Trail

Boulder Bridge
All in all, it was a spectacular day! We both enjoyed the hike, the beauty of the creek and the park, the exhibits we saw. I will say with this park being in the city itself, it is not a hike to "get away" for a day. Many runners, walkers, bikers and hikers use this park, though it was inspiring to see. People were putting in some serious miles and the weather was not keeping them from their goals. We were just off the beaten path enough to give us the solitude we needed for our day.

Until next time...

See you on the trails!



Sunday, February 2, 2014

#7 - Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Harpers Ferry from Maryland Heights
Saturday, February 1st, and the temps were near 50 in Harpers Ferry, at the point where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers join to continue as one toward Brunswick, Washington, and the Chesapeake Bay.

What a beautiful area, particularly, on a cool, clear, sunny day. Hills, rivers, trains, history, the Appalachian Trail - all join here in this quaint village to make for a perfect day of exploring.

Harpers Ferry Train Station
Where to start? How about the Harpers Ferry Train Station, a rustic, restored, fully operational train station dating to 1889. Parking here allows you to be right smack in the middle of so many things to do. The only questions becomes, what do you do first!

One of many trains we saw today
At any time, a train is sure to come along, as there are two bridges crossing the rivers there. From DC, one set of tracks sends trains onto Martinsburg, WV; the other toward Winchester, VA. With steel trusses crossing the river and a tunnel cut into the hillside, it is a postcard in the making.

All Aboard!
As Bonnie and I made our way to the days hike, you cannot help but stop at the confluence of the two rivers. Both are scenic and beautiful, and with the remaining ice, the sound of the rapids, and even a couple of kayakers out today, you find yourself turning your gaze back to the two rivers.

Potomac river and Maryland to my right - Shenandoah river and Virgina to my left - Standing in West Virginia
But to get to today's hike, we needed to cross the Potomac into Maryland, and the path that gets you there is part of the 2160 mile Appalachian Trail. In fact, at this point, you are very near the mid-point of the trail. The Appalachian Trail joins with the C&O canal on the Maryland side of the Potomac for a short while, before breaking off again and northward onto Maine.

Appalachian Trail
Our hike today began with the Maryland Heights trail, a moderate hike up to a scenic overlook of Harpers Ferry. The snow and ice added a higher level of difficulty, but was still manageable. Along the way, we passed a number of  Civil War encampments and batteries, until we had made it to the overlook.

Maryland Heights Trail
Only one word can describe the overlook, and that is incredible! With remnants of snow on the ground, the village below - with the rivers and the trains - almost appeared as a model village. One you hoped existed so you could visit one day.

Overlook from Maryland Heights
With it being Winter, the crowds were small and gave Bonnie and I the opportunity to sit, have a small lunch, and enjoy the beauty of the area.

Peaceful, beautiful day. Fabulous view.
Back at the bottom, we hiked along the C&O canal, back into Harpers Ferry, and up along the West Virgina side of the Potomac, part of the National Park area. The snow and forming ice from the rocks made for a beautiful, quiet walk, as our hiking boots crunched, crunched, crunched, in the remaining snow.

C&O Canal

Crossing back to Harpers Ferry

Potomac river path - West Virginia

Train heading East
All together, we spent about 6 hours exploring this wonderful area, covering about 8 miles. We have already plotted our next hike for the next time we go - as there is no question - we'll be back again.

Keep hiking my friends.