We Walk the Line

Friday, April 06, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

On the History Highway, Day 23

WASHINGTON, DC— When we boarded the Metro this morning to ride into DC, we were surrounded by little chicklets and their parents heading into the capitol.  They were uniformly well-behaved and seemed genuinely happy to be riding the train and visiting the sights of Washington.

Exiting at Capitol South, we trekked over to Garfield Park along I-395 to search for a letterbox.  Finding the treasure, we walked back toward the Capitol but veered south to take in the U.S. Botanical Garden.  Our quest there was another letterbox hidden within the gardens but on this chilly morning, the warmth and humidity of the orchid exhibit in the conservatory garden court was a welcome environment.

Orchids on Exhibit
From this Eden, we walked east to visit General Grant at his memorial at the base of Capitol Hill.  The 17-ft. statue of Grant, one of the world's largest equestrian statues, fittingly faces his Civil War commander-in-chief in the Lincoln Memorial at the opposite end of the National Mall.  Flanking Grant are remarkably intense sculptures of Federal artillery and cavalry groups of soldiers in the midst of combat, rendering the memorial a tribute to the forces that fought to preserve the Union as well as to their commander. 

Ulysses S. Grant Memorial
Heading up the hill, we skirted around the Capitol and joined the queue to enter the Capitol Visitor Center.  Center employees supervising us commoners instructed us to discard any food, drink, aerosol containers, pointed objects, stun guns or martial arts weapons, guns or replicas thereof, knives, mace and pepper spray, razors and box cutters.  Well, that certainly lightened our backpacks.

After about 15 minutes in the outdoor line, we entered the center and walked right into the procession awaiting a security screening. This being America, people began pulling off their belts and tossing them into the plastic screening tubs with their electronic devices, coins, and keys.  That got us all through the metal detector and bag screening, where I was forced to ditch my fingernail file, and eligible to step into the ranks of folks waiting for either a tour of the Capitol or a visit to the House or Senate gallery.

Exposition Hall, Capitol Visitor Center
Thanks to our connected cousin Pam, we had tickets for the House gallery, so we dashed over to that queue.  When we reached the front of the line, we were asked to hand over our cell phones, cameras, other electronic devices, batteries, creams, strollers, and the like.  Oh, yes, and any backpack larger than a handbag.  Unlike the previous forbidden objects, which we had been forced to trash, an opportunity was provided for us to leave our electronics at a bag check desk.

Phoneless and without any means to document our visit, we exited the area with instructions that we must return immediately after our gallery visit to reclaim our checked items, just in case we had left an explosive behind.  And we walked into the hall where we were funneled into yet another line.  Winding around a couple of corners, we finally reached the head of the line where we boarded an elevator to the Capitol building itself (having been in the visitor center to this point).

If you guessed that we proceeded to another queue when we left the elevator, you have obviously visited the Capitol recently yourself— or some other hyper-secure location.  And just in case any of the visitors had decided to get lax, we were subject to yet another security screening here— remove your belts and watches, open your bags for inspection, and walk through the metal detector.  Just before we were about to offer to strip down to our birthday suits, we were finally approved to walk into the balcony overlooking the chamber of the House of Representatives.

House Chamber (photo from MSNBC because our camera was confiscated)
Oh, wait!  I forgot to mention that the Congress is off enjoying some extended Easter holiday recess and the only people in the chamber were other peons like us who were participating in a Capitol tour.  If the House were actually in session,  might we really have been asked to give up our clothing?

Sadly, we actually understand that the misguided actions of a few individuals have triggered sparked generated these kinds of precautions.  You find your self being extra cautious even about what you say here lest someone overhear and misinterpret.

Regardless of all the inspections and dissections we endured to enter this familiar hall, we did experience just a touch of awe.  We were quite surprised to find the room felt much smaller than it appears in photos and on television.


After queuing up one last time and promptly retrieving all our worldly goods from the detection station, we made tracks to Union Station for a quick ride to Dupont Circle, where we knew we'd have lots of great choices for a delectable lunch.  Following Yelp's advice, we found seats at a table in Afterwords Cafe, a part of the independent Kramerbooks store.  Good service and flavorful dishes left us sated and energized for a foray to the National Zoo.

Like almost all the sites we have visited in Washington, the Smithsonian National Zoological Park admits anyone and everyone with no admission charge.  Though lodging and food in the DC area don't come cheap, the range of attractions available to families without opening their wallets (except at tax time, of course) explains why so many spring breakers have invaded  the capitol this week.

Happily, our trek to the zoo coincided with the annual visit of the black-crowned night herons.  More than 400 of these migrating birds spend their summers at the zoo, choosing ironically to nest in trees around the aviary.  The birds had clearly been busy nest-building in preparation for chick raising.  One tree had a dozen or more nests.  As we watched, a pair of herons retrieved sticks and worked on their "under construction" home.  A species with a vast geographic range, this group of night herons is believed to winter in Central America.

A black-crowned night heron tree
Tons of other tourists decided to visit the zoo today also.  In addition to the herons, we saw some pandas (black & white as well as red) and found two letterboxes before heading back to the Metro and calling it a day.  Tomorrow we have lined up plans with cousin Pam for a little exploring together.

DAILY STATS:

Miles walked:  3.87
Letterboxes found:  4
Lines at the Capitol:  too many to count
Tourists at the zoo:   238,910
Night herons:  376

More Photos from Today

Tropical plants at U.S. Botanic Garden
U.S. Botanic Garden entrance
Only a select few are allowed on the Capitol porch.
Library of Congress
Supreme Court
U.S. Capitol
One of many signs on DC streets encouraging voting for offices that exist only in the minds of DC voters.