DC Summary, and the Storm 

Originally posted on May 08, 2005

Let’s see, since last I wrote, we visited a lot of museums, monuments, and historical documents., although not everything on the DC mall. Some of these were discussed in a previous posting, but they all kinda run together, so here’s the complete list, with commentary:
The Nation’s Front Yard: The grass that runs the length of the mall has worn sections, lush sections, and is full of weeds. A good metaphor, I suppose.

The Capital: Thought about dropping in on Congressman Feingold, but didn’t.
The White House: Not nearly as impressive a building as the Executive Offices next door, which was a gothic, forbidding structure. Not that we went into either.

The Washington Monument: Under construction – or rather, the grounds were being re-landscaped. Several people mentioned that additional security stuff was added while the structure was completely closed. These supposed underground bunkers are now covered with dirt and the monument tours are available again. We went up & looked through the tiny windows – only four, the others are now blocked off, with what I think were security cameras behind the plywood. Did you know that the structure is 555 feet high and dry-stacked? There’s no mortar there, the blocks are held together by the weight.
National Museum of American History: Illogical exhibit layout, way too crowded, but had some highpoints, like the house that they re-constructed 7 glimpses of the families who lived there over the last 200 years.
Smithsonian Castle: The red brick building contrasted the rest of the mall, but didn’t seem to have much inside it.
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden: Particularly liked the thumb sculpture, but these artists didn’t have the sense of humor that some of the other collections had.
National Air and Space Museum: Swarms of teens with bad manners and no desire for education detracted from the exhibits, but we were able to see the parts that interested us most – the Wright Flyer (flown just a few miles from where we currently wait out this storm), the Lunar Module, the Space Race exhibit, and warbirds. We even eventually went to the IMAX theatre to see the International Space Station 3D show (Scott, who sees only out of one eye, didn’t appreciate the orange heading straight for the audience, but the subject matter was good).
National Museum of Natural History: The Chicago Field Museum is a better museum, but this one had a good exhibit on meteorites, which we’d seen a documentary on at Uncle David’s. We also saw the orchid display, which was cool, and the ever-popular dinosaur bones. The Hope Diamond was on display as part of the gemology exhibit, but the museum closed around our ears as we approached it, so we never saw it. We caught this on a Sunday, and while the place was crowded, it wasn’t the hordes of unsupervised teens from school trips we encountered during the week.
National Postal Museum: One story and more fun then you’d think. A good old-fashioned walk through of a pony express route, explanation of stamp printing techniques, and some high tech interactive displays.
National Museum of the American Indian: This one is new, and many of my readers may not be aware of this gem yet – I’ve got a complete description here, but the building was extremely well suited for it’s topic, very organic. The displays were technologically cool and the most educational we saw on the entire mall. We loved it and recommend it as a first stop for anyone.

National Geographic Explorer Hall: Bust. This was made out to be a museum, but actually had only a small Peruvian art collection on display. Oh, and the window-walk, a handful of displays of artifact recreations thru the windows on the exterior of the building. Skip this.
National Botanical Garden: We had a rainy afternoon, so we stopped in, and ended up taking a ton of photos. It included a formal atrium and several rooms like “Jungle” and “Medicinal”, and even had a room to show rare plants that were illegally gathered, and then seized by the cops.

World War II Memorial: A new water display, we toured it during the daytime with the throngs of visitors – I particularly liked the bronze reliefs of scenes of soldier’s lives – and then we came back to wait for dusk and see it light up.

Lincoln Memorial: Impressive, but the teens spoiled the show. I wonder when it’s empty? When we were shooting the light display at WWII in the dark, we could still see hordes of people on the steps.
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden: Whimsical. One piece did a 3D reverse on you, another was a giant architect’s eraser (the old fashioned wheel kind).
Naval Memorial: Not dissimilar to the WWII memorial, but smaller, away from the mall, and devoted to naval scenes.
Canadian Embassy: We at first thought it was another monument – it’s an interestingly shaped building. Thought of Brian, Canadian foreign national back in Madison.
Udvar-Hazy Center: An annex of the Air & Space Museum but stored way out at Dulles. We thought about taking the shuttle out there, but it was $12/head and an hour each way, so we waited until we were on our way out of town and stopped in. Parking was still $12, but per car, not per person. Saw one of the Wright Flyer’s contenders, which looked like the aeronaut was reading too much Jules Verne. Lockheed’s SR71 Blackbird took up a lot of the floor space, but the planes were hanging everywhere, and the guide looked like some weird fossil record. The Enterprise was there – the space shuttle without engines that performed the glide tests but never left atmosphere – as was the Enola Gay, a Concorde, and models of the Mars Rover. Scott poked around at absolutely everything, until I was certainly over-museumed.

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We left DC in rush hour traffic (at 3pm?) and crept down thru Virginia, aiming for a little campsite that our guidebook says was free, but turned out to be non-existent. After sleeping in a BBCS parking lot, we drove into town to find a more pleasant park to cook breakfast in, and discovered we were in Colonial Williamsberg. Whist the omelets were frying, a local architect stopped by and talked us in to taking a stroll – we ended up spending half a day touring the 1700’s re-creation.

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We enjoyed ourselves (and the Virginia ham muffins!) but wanted to head on down the road to Norfolk for our next full-scale exhibit.
The U.S.S. Wisconsin was originally launched in 1943, and has been retired three or four times since then. Most recently, she’s been tied up at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, with no fuel and no ammo and no visitors allowed below decks. We wandered the various teak and steel decks and peeked in porthole windows of the Iowa class battleship and played “guess that missile launcher” before going into the museum and getting an in depth look at Norfolk’s roles in the civil war and other naval skirmishes.

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