Washington DC, Where We've Been

Washington D.C.

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Washington D.C.

Visiting our nation’s capitol was high on the list of things to see on this trip around the U.S. Not only is it great for learning about the U.S. Government, but the Smithsonian Museums hold a trove of some of our most prized historical treasures and the memorials are a beautiful reminder of our nation’s triumphs and struggles. 

Day 1 in Washington D.C.

We wanted to see D.C. during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival that usually happens at the end of March to the beginning of April. Every year the date that the blossoms reach peak bloom varies. This year they bloomed early, reaching their peak on March 23rd and our reservations at the campground didn’t start until just over a week later, on April 1st. We ended up just hitting the tail end of the peak bloom season. 

What does that look like? Around the Tidal Basin, there were still blossoms on the trees, but they were turning from their cherry pink color to white. Several of the trees had lost about a quarter to half of their blossoms. Around other portions of D.C., we were still able to find cherry blossom trees that had just peaked and were amazingly beautiful.  

The day after we arrived at the campground, we woke up and were out the door by 5:00 a.m. in order to have any chance of seeing the blooming cherry blossoms. The trip did not disappoint.

The remaining blossoms were still colorful and radiant on the trees. However, the Jefferson Memorial (and many of the other memorials in D.C. as we later found out) had renovation work going on.

Give it a year or two if you are planning a trip and don’t want to see a lot of scaffolding.  

The kids were still sleepy when we finished the morning walk to the Tidal Basin, but they eventually perked up and started to enjoy the blossoms and each other.

This is a better close-up view of the blossoms at the Tidal Basin. 

We walked through the WW2 memorial, down the Reflecting Pool and over to the Lincoln Memorial, where we stopped and read Lincoln’s famous words carved into the walls of stone.

During Jaden’s 6th grade year, one of the memorization tasks I gave the kids was to memorize the first few sentences of the Gettysburg Address. Reading it on the wall was a good reminder of him accomplishing that task, but also a lesson of the struggle faced by the soldiers that fought at the “consecrated” grounds of Gettysburg since we will be visiting it in a few weeks. 

I wasn’t able to get tickets to tour the White House despite four or five requests, so we settled for seeing the exterior. We walked to the north side on Pennsylvania Avenue and saw where the cars drive into the property, then we circled back around to the south side to see the front lawn. 

It used to be where you could walk up to the fence on the south side but there are several barricades, ropes, and fences that prevent you from getting close to the south property fence.

Once we finished with a few of the main attractions, we got back in the car and headed over to Arlington National Cemetery. The number of graves at Arlington is extensive and the grounds are well maintained.

There is a tram that circles the cemetery that people can ride. There is a fee to ride the tram, but it’s also very walkable with signs to the most traveled sites at the cemetery.

We went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watched in silence as the guard took 21 steps, wait, and return to the other side in 21 steps. Twenty one being the highest military honor (think of the 21 gun salute). 

On a summer schedule, the guard changes every 30 minutes in order to give the soldiers time out the sun and to hydrate. We hit the timing just right and were able to see the silent and solemn changing of the guard ceremony. 

We were all very tired after a day of sightseeing and the early morning wake up, so we decided to call it a day.

Day 2 in Washington D.C.

The second day in D.C. was made even more special because we were able to meet up with Ben’s brother and his kids. The kids had a great time with their cousins.

Instead of driving, this time we took the metro from the Branch Avenue Station to the Archives Station on the National Mall in Washington D.C.. The kids wanted to go see the Smithsonian Natural History Museum and considering it is one of the few you don’t need a reservation, that is where we spent our morning. 

The museum has a number of displays on dinosaurs, fossils, climate, and gems and minerals. In fact one of their most prized sought after sightings in the museum is the Hope Diamond. It even has is own room with a rotating display to show off its dazzling jewels.

Jaden was disappointed in its “little” size. He thought it would be bigger. Ha!

What I didn’t realize is that the diamonds encompassing the central hope diamond are not uniform. The different gems that surround it are all kinds of unique shapes.


After the museum (and lunch at the cafe downstairs), we went over to the National Archives building. Photography of any kind is not allowed inside and security is high in this building because this is where they keep our nation’s founding documents. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other famous documents are housed here. The room in which these documents are kept is dark to help preserve the remaining ink that has been fading on them since they were authored in the 18th century. 

While the Constitution is still fairly legible, the Declaration has become faded with time with some signatures being irretrievably bleached by the harsh light in which it was kept after it was first written.

We walked to the front of the Capitol building and there enjoyed seeing the ducks in the Capitol’s Reflecting Pool before calling it a day and returning to the Branch Avenue Metro Station.


Day 3 in Washington D.C.

I had reserved tickets to tour the capitol at the same time as the White House, but while I couldn’t get tickets to the White House, I was able to save us a spot to tour the capitol. 

After going through security and getting our tickets, we lined up at our assigned time to begin the tour. We were all corralled into the theater to watch a short movie on the capitol. After which we were divided up into several groups and given wireless headsets that connected the audio with that of our tour guide.

Our tour guide led us through a hallway and up the back stairs, around a set of columns at the base of the dome, and up another set of stairs to the rotunda… or at least that is what was supposed to happen. We were listening to our tour guide direct the group, but somehow the group became separated from the main group and when he was saying to go around the other side of the columns and meet him there, our half of the group ended up circling the lower columns a few times, looking for the invisible man. Round and round we went looking for the others and looking at each other in confused and hilarious despair as he was no where to be seen. 

They had to send in an escort to meet up with us and led us to another stairway which then took us up another set of stairs to meet up with the rest of the group on the floor above. I will say this, those headset have really good reception.  

Just under the dome, we were given the history of the paintings on the wall, the 3d painting circling below the dome, and the dome itself. 

We were then led into another room (not losing the tour guide this time), and saw the office of the Speaker of the House and a statue room. We weren’t able to see any of the Senate or Representative galleries on this particular tour. 

I got a nice photo of a random guy though, definitely not McCarthy.

Downstairs below the Capitol building’s main Visitor’s Center is an area with more information for kids and adults to explore. Ellie found an area where kids can learn about the process of writing a bill and what makes a bill a law. 

For all my surveying and engineering friends out there, this next part may interest you. Below is an original land survey boundary cornerstone. These stones marked the boundaries of properties in D.C. when the city was originally laid out. The sign below reads that there are still some stones in place, but I never found one on our walks. I did find several modern boundary corner pins, however, throughout the city. 

This building sits directly behind the Capitol (to the right). Any guesses as to what it might be?

This is the Library of Congress. 

Reservations are also required here to tour the building.

Also behind the Capitol (to the left) is the Supreme Court. No reservations required.

Leaving the Capitol grounds, we headed over to another Smithsonian Museum. This was the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. 

This museum holds some of the popular pop culture memorabilia, like the original ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz movie,  

Mr. Roger’s sweater from his 1980’s kids television show,

and the original Superman costume worn by George Reeves in the television version holding famous character’s namesake.

There was a section in the museum just dedicated to the First Ladies. This section contains many of the First Ladies dresses and jewelry. It was interesting to see the fashions change so quickly in dress styles from one First Lady to the next. 

Around the area of the Capitol, we were pleased to get a late cherry blossom peak and wow, were they beautiful! The trees up to Union Station were in full peak bloom.

I’m so glad we were able to hit that area at the right time to take in the beauty of those amazing trees. That kind of beauty comes only from the hand of God and those blossoms were sure showing it off.

Day 4 in Washington D.C.

Day 4 was our final day in Washington D.C., but it was a big one. After parking at Union Station, which was the only parking garage large enough to fit our large truck, we walked across town to make the first tour of the day at Ford’s Theater. If you remember, Ford’s Theater was the location where President Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth.

The Booth name was a recognized name in the theater acting industry as several of the family members were actors. John Wilkes Booth was also an actor so to see him quietly enter the theater and be able to access behind-the-scenes areas was not unusual. 

President Lincoln had seen the performance of Our American Cousin several times, but his wife was to accompany him this particular night as she had not yet seen it. The play was a comedy and as such Booth was familiar with the points at which the audience would be noisily laughing enough to obscure the sound of the bullet.

Booth entered through the doors of the theater, watching this clock and waiting for the right time to make his move against Lincoln.

He went up the rounded stairway, across the back of the seats, and through this door which opened up to the President’s box. 

Without hesitation, he fired at President Lincoln striking him in the back of the head. He immediately dropped the gun before slashing at another man in the box with a knife before jumping onto the stage below and shouting “sic semper tyrannis,” meaning thus always to tyrants!

The 12′ jump down onto the stage had broken Booth’s leg.

The timing had been right to conceal the shot. Booth had chosen a moment of uproarious laughter to take his shot. The audience was unsure as to what had happened initially, thinking that it was part of the play. Once it was revealed that Lincoln had been mortally wounded, Booth had already stolen away out the back doors of the theater. 

Lincoln was rushed to a house across the street from the theater rather than make the trip back to the White House in order for the doctor to quickly tend to the President’s wounds.

His wounds would prove fatal, however, as he passed the next morning in this bed at the Petersen house.

The gun was recovered from the President’s box. Booth thought he was doing a service to his country by killing a tyrant in the same way that Julius Ceasar had been removed from office, but he found no support upon his return to Virginia. He was cornered in a barn and met his death by the hand of Union soldiers. 

After leaving Ford’s Theater, we headed over to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Reservations are needed to enter and they fill up quickly, so be sure to get them at least a couple weeks in advance. 

Unfortunately half of the museum was closed due to renovations, but we were able to see a number of exhibits still open. On display was the original Wright Flyer. It was in pretty good condition considering the flights (and crashes) it had taken over 120 years ago.

Evel Knievel’s original motorcycle is also on display here.

As well as several original artifacts from the Apollo and Gemini missions. 

Over at the National Portrait Gallery, we were able to see a number of portraits of famous Americans. Unfortunately, half the museum was also closed, so we were only able to see a portion of the paintings held here.

Before leaving D.C., we made one last stop to the Postal Museum. 

There is a stamp room here where visitor’s can view a number of stamps made throughout the Post Office’s history. This particular machine is called a spider machine. It is also the type that is responsible for the mistaken printing of the famous upside down Jenny stamp. 

The kids were able to interact with many of museum’s displays and learned about sorting packages, the pony express, and a world-traveling dog named Owney.




Joint Base Andrews, MD

There are a few military campgrounds around the D.C. area, but this one was the closest and at the right price. It’s actually the same base where Air Force One planes are located.

The FamCamp is situated in the between several holes on a golf course. There are plenty of trees around and out away from the golf course so unless someone hit a really bad shot, there’s not much of a chance of getting hit by a ball. 

The office used to be located at the FamCamp, but has since been moved to the recreation office. The building that used to be the office has a few pamphlets and an old foosball table (without a ball). There isn’t much else here for the kids to do, but there is a large picnic area behind our site where we were able to play some soccer. 

Starlink was a bit obstructed by the trees, but still gave us decent yet intermittent service. Verizon, however, gave us a poor signal (1 bar) and was slow.  AT&T came in at 3 bars and was decent with the cell antenna.