Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

When I lived in the DC area many years ago, my wife and I would make the trip from Arlington, VA to New York many times and accepted tolls as a way of life.

I have become less tolerant of this legalized form of highway robbery with each trip to the region, but my worst disdain is reserved for the states of Maryland and Delaware.

Our Founding Fathers would have classified the two as rackets rather than states when they ratified the Constitution if they had only known what was in store for motorists in another 180 years or so later.

You pay $8 in tolls from the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel to the Delaware Memorial Bridge (I am not counting the tolls for the tunnel or bridge, because you can avoid them with viable alternate routes). The distance is about 70 miles one-way.

No road in the US is worth over a buck every 10 miles. The Delaware Memorial Turnpike and the JFK Memorial Highway are nothing special either. For that matter, the speed limits must have been set by a nanny. 60 MPH is about the legal average and there is never a shortage of ticket-happy state troopers raising revenue for their respective states. Do not expect to make any decent time on these cow paths.

George Washington crossed the Delaware River for free, but I swear, had he traversed it between New Jersey and Delaware rather than Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the state of Delaware would have nicked him $4 for every boat plus extra for the canon.

The New Jersey Turnpike is the worst at $13.85 for 113 miles, but you can easily avoid it by taking I-295. There are no good options in Maryland and Delaware and the governments of both states know it. It’s like crossing the Panama Canal – you pay the toll, or go by way of Cape Horn.

It’s not even scenic driving. I gladly pay the National Park fee of $15 for the privilege of driving the Blue Ridge Parkway through Shenandoah National Park in the high season. The JFK Highway and Delaware Turnpike are as dull as asphalt. The centralized service areas serve over-priced food and snacks. God forbid if you need to use a restroom on a holiday weekend.

Citizens from Florida to Maine should lobby their Senators and Congressmen to introduce legislation that would declare the tolls as restraint of trade.

Better yet, the residents of Maryland and Delaware should kick the good old boys that run their states out of office and replace them with folks who don’t soak motorists like local hicks in a small town filling station.

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We joined DWP’s CEO Ron Nichols and community representatives for a walk around the Lake Hollywood Reservoir this morning.

Lake Hollywood with the Hollywood sign in the background.

Lake Hollywood with the Hollywood sign in the background.

The setting is a hidden gem. It is hard to believe it is nearly surrounded by urban sprawl.

We learned a little history along the way. The dam was built in the 1920s under the supervision of William Mulholland. The ill-fated St. Francis Dam was a sister facility. The water depth is around 150 feet, but none of the supply comes from the Owens Valley – it is all local. Owens Valley water is stored in adjacent underground tanks.

The reservoir is for emergency use only. It would have to undergo chlorination treatment before distribution. The water is readily available for fighting fires.

The walk is about 3 miles over a level service road, but there is no access to the shoreline due to the presence of a chain link security fence topped with barbed wire. However, the fence does not obstruct the fine views. There are plenty of mature trees offering shade.

The gates open at 6:30 AM. The best access is from Barham. You can also approach the lake off Cahuenga near the Ford Amphitheater, but be prepared to drive up very narrow and winding residential streets.

Access near Barham Blvd.

Access near Barham Blvd.

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Snowpack looking good

Sand Harbor, Nevada State Park

Sand Harbor, Nevada State Park

The snow pack is excellent for this time of year, ranging from 150% to 200% of normal.

As always, February and March are the critical months, but if they are anywhere close to normal, we will be in pretty good shape.

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Total eclipse

Sometimes I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time, as I was in Virginia last August when the earthquake struck just ten miles from my client’s office.

Sometimes I am in the right place at the right time.  That was the case today.

Lake Tahoe was in the direct path of the total eclipse that traversed the southwestern states.

This was my second total eclipse, the last one was back in 1970. I was visiting Virginia Beach at the time.  That one was more pronounced because the moon was closer to the earth, blotting out more of the sun.  It grew dark enough for the crickets to chirp at noon.

This picture was taken with my camera phone using a piece of undeveloped 35mm film over the lens, which accounts for the orange tint.

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11-11-11: Veterans’ Day

It was a blustery, chilly day in DC. Not much happening here on this Veteran Day’s holiday, at least not outside. The National Mall was largely empty.  Tourists did not linger outside for long.  They went straight from their tour buses into the warmth of the Smithsonian’s museums.

The National Mall looked bleak on this cold day, but the weather did not stop these kids from enjoying the open space across from the National Gallery of Art.

It seems that Veterans’ Day is downplayed.  Is it because it falls in the shadow of the Christmas rush?

Pentagon City Mall appeared all too ready for Christmas.  You would think the shopping center could have devoted some space to an exhibit to honor our veterans.

Veterans’ Day looks more like Christmas at Pentagon City Mall.

When we think of veterans, the name of Benedict Arnold does not come to mind.

However, before he betrayed his country, General Arnold was one of the Americans’ most competent field officers.  His actions in 1776 saved the Continental Army’s northern command from disaster; his bravery and leadership won the Battle of Saratoga in October of 1777, although credit was given to the senior officer present Horatio Gates.

The victory led to France’s recognition of the American cause.  It was a key turning point without which the Revolution would probably have failed.

We can thank Arnold for that much.

General Benedict Arnold portrayed in Colonial Williamsburg while in command of British troops in Virginia.

Fall is winding down in the region, although colors are still hanging on in Richmond.

Bright red foliage frames an arch at the University of Richmond.

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Fall Postcards

October is arguably the best month on the East Coast.

In Virginia, the fall colors reach their peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Shenandoah National Park is the most popular destination, but there are other equally stunning segments of the chain. 

Shenandoah National Park: Looking down on the cloud shaded farm lands to the east.

Walking around Old Towne Alexandria is one of my favorite pastimes when I make the two-hour drive up I95 from Richmond to the DC suburbs.  Being joined by my daughter makes it even more special.

We had lunch at Daniel O’Connell’s Irish Pub on King Street.  The entire staff speak with an authentic lilt. The outdoor terrace off the second floor was the perfect place to enjoy the sunny, humidity-free autumn day. I enjoyed the crab cakes and a cold glass of Harp Lager.

Two weeks ago I decided to travel Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park rather than take I-95.  The $15 entry fee to the park was a fair price to pay for one of the most scenic drives on the Eastern Seaboard.

The fall foliage was about a week or so past its peak above 2,000 feet (much of the drive is between 2,000 – 3,000 feet in elevation), but the views were nevertheless impressive.  The road was recently repaved, making my normal LA commuting route of Beverly Glen a cowpath by comparison.

Skyline Drive: 100 miles of serenity

The main tourist center in the park is at Big Meadows, which is about equidistant from the north and south entrances. The Big Meadows Lodge does not match the grand style of the Ahwahnee in Yosemite, but offers a subdued coziness of its own.  The main lounge and the dining room look out over the Shenandoah Valley to the west and offer views of spectacular sunsets.

Big Meadows Lodge dining room

My time was short, but I managed to work in a 1.5 mile hike along the Discovery Trail, the entrance to which is directly across the Loft Mountain Wayside facility. It briefly overlaps the Appalachian Trail and leads to a rocky outcropping from where you can look down on Skyline Drive, a few hundred feet below.

View from the Discovery Trail. The black line in the middle of the picture is Skyline Drive.

The following weekend I visited Leesburg and some of the surrounding farmland.  Leesburg is less than an hour from DC.

I recommend taking the scenic route – the George Washington Parkway to Georgetown Pike, which runs into Route 7. From there, it is about fifteen miles to the historic town. 

My last trip to the region was two years ago. I wrote about it in this blog.

The visitor center has maps showing the location of many wineries within a short drive.  Coupons for free tastings are also available.

Snow had fallen the day before – the same storm that created so much havoc in the Northeast. Fields with a northern exposure still had a couple of inches on the ground.

Farmland adjacent to the Loudoun Valley Winery

I had time to visit two wineries.  In general, I found the reds preferable, unusual for me since I normally lean towards dry white varieties.  The chardonnays were a bit too dry for me.

Waterford is a small town on the outskirts of Leesburg.  It was founded by Quakers in 1733.  The town is designated as a National Historic Landscape.  It is easy to understand why.  Many of the buildings date back to at least the Civil War and the main street is no wider than it was in those days.

Waterford, VA

Just over 150 years ago, the Battle of Balls Bluff was fought. The capture of Leesburg was the objective of the Union Army, hoping to threaten the Confederate position at Manassas, the site of the first major battle of the Civil War just three months before.

If Leesburg fell, it would almost force the Confederates to abandon Manassas.

Typical of the battles in the early months of the war, largely untrained forces fought it out.

The battle was a disaster for the Union, but a small-scale one.  Only about 1,700 men on each side were involved.  The casualty rate was high for the federal troops. Almost one-half were killed wounded or captured.  Many drowned in the Potomac while retreating.

US Senator Edward Baker of Oregon commanded a regiment for the North and was killed in the fighting.  He was a close friend of President Lincoln. Mount Baker in Oregon was named in his honor.

I’m off to Virginia Beach this weekend to visit with friends and watch the Richmond Spiders play Old Dominion University. 

On the way back, I plan on stopping off at Williamsburg and Jamestown, if time permits.

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While on a late afternoon walk around the Virginia Highlands Park in Arlington, VA, I came across this simple memorial dedicated to the firefighters of Arlington County who were among the first responders to the Pentagon on the morning of 9-11-01 (the link takes you to an excellent chronicle of the events at the Pentagon).

Arlington County Fire 9-11 Memorial

Units were already in the vicinity when the plane struck. They were responding to an alarm in nearby Rosslyn.  One cannot be certain if the precious minutes gained by the close proximity of the units saved lives.  I would like to think they did.

The girder from the World Trade Center was presented in a ceremony at Fire Station #5 held back in August 2010 (number 5 is the closest county station to the Pentagon).

The story of the bravery and professionalism of the county firefighters is sometimes overshadowed by the heroic reaction of the FDNY at the World Trade Towers.  Let’s not forget what they did.  Certainly, the FDNY remembered.

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