Icy DC

The President's House

The President’s House

I accompanied Rebecca in February when she went to Washington, D.C., to attend the National Association of Counties’ Legislative Conference.  Rebecca has been attending this conference for years, but this will be her last.

For several years she’s organized a breakfast where numerous county commissioners from North Carolina joined their Congressional representatives and senators for a round of glad-handing, food, and short speeches.

Senator Richard Burr

Senator Burr

I’ve gone the last three years, and up until this year the breakfast was snowed out.  This year, the snow was already there so the breakfast went on as scheduled.

The NACo breakfast was the final item on the multi-day agenda.  While Rebecca was attending meetings, I did some walking.

We were staying at the Marriott Hotel next to the National Zoo, so I ventured over to the zoo for a short visit.  I was surprised to discover there was no admission charge; the zoo is just a big park with animals.tiger

On my longest walk, I set out first for the National Cathedral, then continued up Massachusetts Avenue to American University, my littlest sister’s alma mater.  The American campus was snow-covered, like the rest of the city, but the library had a sign saying “Welcome … Visitors” so I went inside to warm up.


American U. quad, Cupcake Chapel across the way.

My next destination was the Capital Crescent Trail, which runs along the Potomac River, between the river and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.  I wanted to get a good look at the river, which was covered in ice.  I walked along Nebraska Avenue to Arizona Avenue.  The sidewalks, unlike the other parts of the city I’d visited, had not been shoveled, and they were treacherous.  But I only slipped down once.

I got really close to the river, but I couldn’t yet see it.  The sidewalks ended; there was a staircase leading to a bridge that crossed the road, so up I went.  There was no indication where I was, although there was a trail.  I thought about taking it in the direction of Georgetown.  Fortunately, a man walking his dog came up the stairs and walked toward me.  It turned out, as he explained, I wasn’t on the Capital Crescent Trail.  He directed me back to the road, thence up a side road where he instructed me to look for an unmarked trail that would lead to a bridge across the canal.

Good thing I encountered him; otherwise I never would have been able to access the trail.

As it was, I had a nice two- or three-mile walk that paralleled the canal and the river, eventually affording me good views of the frozen river.  I came out at Georgetown, then hiked back to the hotel.  I took the picture below from one of the bridges across the river; it was brutally cold and the wind was howling.  I was glad I didn’t lose my hat.

The frozen Potomac River, with the unmasked Washington Monument in the background.

The frozen Potomac River, with the unmasked Washington Monument in the background.


Grayson Highlands, Virginia

Grayson Highlands on a perfect day.

We frequently visit Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia around Memorial Day weekend.  It offers some of the best hiking trails in the area around the northwest corner of North Carolina, where the state meets Tennessee and Virginia.

This year, as in many past visits, we were joined by our friends Alan and Maureen, and their dogs Moogie and Django.  You can almost see the four of them in this picture.  Our friends have a mountain house near nearby Troutdale.Grayson 2014Rebecca named the house Alemo after Alan had named our mountain house Bunky’s Hill.  (Actually I think Alan called it Bunky Hill.)  You may detect a martial element here, which is pretty ironic given our shared political inclinations.

All agreed this was one of the most nearly perfect holiday days we’d experienced.  The weather was perfect, as clear a day as we’ve seen there, and the temperature was ideal for hiking.  The trails at Grayson Highlands are exposed.  Although the lack of trees makes for great views – Mount Rogers easily reachable just to the north, the familiar



profiles of Grandfather Mountain, Mount Jefferson, and the ugly condo atop Sugar Mountain to the South and West – it also provides no shade.  At 4000 feet, give or take 500 feet in elevation change, you can be hot or cold, or both, on a given day.  We’ve hiked to the top of some of those rock outcroppings on a warm day in early spring when snow was still packed two-feet deep on the north side.

There were other bonuses.  The area is home to a large herd of wild ponies that help keep the vegetation down.



The ponies are not afraid of people, and you’ll see at least a few of them on every visit.  This year we saw more ponies than ever.  Alan counted something on the order of 50 adults and eleven colts.  (Are baby ponies called colts?)  These were not just your run-of-the-mill adolescent colts, either.  Some were practically brand new.  At least one wasn’t even born yet, but we didn’t count that one.  You should definitely watch the video I plan to insert at the end of this entry.

We had a nice lunch of Rebecca’s chicken salad at the park’s picnic area.  We got another reward when we discovered several ladyslippers by our picnic table.  This led to a claim by Alan that there was a place near Alemo where you could see 80 ladyslippers.  Absurd, you say?  Perhaps a bit of hyperbole, anyway.



So after lunch we drove back over to Alemo, which is actually hikeable from Grayson Highlands, but a half-hour’s drive by car.  A few years ago we got a lift from their neighbor Don to the park and hiked back.  The trail went through a massive blueberry patch, and it was blueberry season.  We ate our fill.  Part of the path back to the house had been discovered by horsepeople (people who ride horses, not centaurs), so the hiking on that stretch was somewhat less than pleasant.

The hike to the alleged ladyslipper patch was not as long, nor as strenuous, as had been the hiking at Grayson Highlands, but adding a three-mile round-trip to a five-mile round-trip, in neither case flat, was a nice day’s workout.  Moogie might disagree; she was pretty bushed by the end of the day.

Turns out Alan’s was not an exercise in hyperbole.  In a very small triangle between the fire road and two converging creeks live a thriving colony of ladyslippers.  I counted at least 60, and didn’t get them all.

So all in all, as all agreed, it was a pretty amazing day.  Still, even with ladyslippers, views, and trillia, the gamboling of baby ponies took the cake.  (To get a bigger view click on “Watch on YouTube” and go to full-screen mode.)