one trip EVERY month: mason neck in northern virginia

Saturday, February 22:  Today, with my MapMyWalk app in hand, I take three short hikes through the Mason Neck area of northern Virginia.  Even though this natural area is only a 40 minute drive from my house, I’ve never been here before.  It’s fun to explore, prodded by Marianne’s monthly challenge: one trip EVERY month.

pond along Bay View Trail
pond along Bay View Trail

The Mason Neck peninsula is less than an hour’s drive south our nation’s capital.  As a haven for bald eagles, it’s a draw for birdwatchers. We’ve had one of the worst winters on record here on the East Coast, so with the sun shining and temps hitting 60 degrees, it’s a perfect day for a walk.

Belmont Bay
Belmont Bay
Duck blind on Belmont Bay
Duck blind on Belmont Bay

Our first walk is a 1.6 mile loop starting and ending at the Visitor’s Center at Mason Neck State Park on the Bay View Trail.  We walk along Belmont Bay, off the Potomac River, and then over a boardwalk through wetlands.  A stroll through the woods leads us to another lookout point where we see fuzzy cattails and a beaver lodge in a marshy pond.  Surprisingly, this area, southeast of where I live, must have gotten a lot less snow than we got, because here there’s hardly any snow left on the ground.  Near my house, we still have dirty mountains of snow everywhere.

Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.

I’m fascinated by the parchment-like leaves dangling like wind chimes from the American beeches. I find it strange that these deciduous trees retain their leaves through a harsh winter, while most deciduous trees shed theirs.  Apparently these trees benefit from two leaf falls; first they benefit from recycled nutrients from the leaves shed by other trees in autumn.  Then they benefit again when they shed their own leaves in spring.  According to Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, marcescence is the term used to describe leaf retention. It is most common with many of the oak species, American beech, witch hazel, hornbeam (musclewood), and hophornbeam (ironwood). (Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences: Winter Leaves that Hang On)

American beech leaves
American beech leaves
American beech
American beech

The second walk we take is a short half mile round-trip walk on the Marsh View Trail.  At the end of this trail, we find a view of a peaceful pond.

the pond at the end of Marsh View Trail
the pond at the end of Marsh View Trail
Marsh View
Marsh View

Finally, our last walk brings us to a lovely surprise.  We go to the Elizabeth Hartwell National Wildlife Refuge, and wander 2 miles out and back along the Woodmarsh Trail.  We walk through some muddy spots and over a couple of boardwalks through the wood marsh.

Before we reach the marshland, we hear a noise that sounds like a bunch of native Americans doing a war dance, whooping and hollering in preparation for battle.  What we find when we arrive at the end of the peninsula is a sprawling wetland filled with hundreds of Tundra Swans.

Tundra Swans at Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge
Tundra Swans at Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge

According to Explore Virginia Outdoors: Come See the Swans at Mason Neck State Park!: “Tundra Swans are large snow-white birds with black bills and black legs. In contrast to the well-known Mute swan, the neck is not gracefully bent forward like a question mark, but it is as straight as a goose’s neck, only longer. Another difference is that these swans are not mute, they have high-pitched and yet gentle soprano voices.”  To read more about the Tundra Swans, click on the link above.

Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans

It’s impossible to get close to the swans and sadly I don’t have a great telephoto lens.  I suppose we could have waded out into the marsh or taken a canoe, but I think we would have frightened the swans away.  It’s a lovely surprise to watch them and listen to their lively songs and squawks. Every once in a while, there are periods of silence as they tuck their heads under their wings for a nap.  It is so peaceful here, I think I could take a nap myself. 🙂  Especially as MapMyWalk clocks me in at 4.28 miles.  A perfect day for fresh air and exercise. 🙂

one trip EVERY month
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a sunday walk around lake audubon

Sunday, February 16:  Today, we take a 3 1/2 mile walk around Lake Audubon in Reston, Virginia.  Reston is a planned community that was founded in 1964 and is one of the nicer suburbs of Washington, D.C.  Lake Audubon is one of four artificial lakes in Reston.

Lake Audubon in Reston
Lake Audubon in Reston
No Skating
No Skating

Since the lake is small, only houseboats and canoes are allowed.  All around the shoreline, we see little party boats covered in snow and hemmed in by ice.

Canoes aren't much use now
Canoes aren’t much use now
houseboats
houseboats

I’m not sure of the prices of homes here, but I can imagine they’re expensive.

colorful canoes
colorful canoes
houseboat on Lake Audubon
houseboat on Lake Audubon

I enjoy walking in Reston as the community has 55 miles of paved pathways and natural surface trails through woods and around neighborhoods and lakes.

bridge across to the dam
bridge across to the dam
only a small part of Lake Audubon is not frozen
only a small part of Lake Audubon is not frozen
summer deck
summer deck
across Lake Audubon
across Lake Audubon
summer beckons
summer beckons

I’ve been walking a lot since I returned home from California, at least five days a week, despite it being one of the worst winters we’ve had since 2010.  In February 2010, right before I left for Korea, we had two huge blizzards which shut Dulles International Airport, causing my flight to be postponed.  Apparently the winters since I left have been very mild.  I get the feeling the bad weather is following me. 🙂

promises of blue sky at Lake Audubon
promises of blue sky at Lake Audubon
footbridge over part of Lake Audubon
footbridge over part of Lake Audubon

seeking inspiration from national geographic: women of vision & 2013 travelers of the year

Thursday, February 6:  This afternoon, I head to the National Geographic Society to listen to a presentation by the 2013 Travelers of the Year.  At the National Geographic Museum, there is also an exhibition called Women of Vision, which has been running since October 10, 2013 and closes on March 9, 2014.  Since it’s always a big trip for me to go into D.C., I take the metro to see the exhibition and then attend the program in the evening.

National Geographic Museum
National Geographic Museum

According to National Geographic‘s website: “Women of Vision features the work of eleven photographers. From the elegant landscapes of the Mongolian steppes and American West to war-torn battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan; from the last great wildernesses of Africa to the lives of people from the Arctic to the Jersey Shore, their stories explore modern realities and what it means to be human in the 21st Century.”

Going into the exhibition
Going into the exhibition
Inside the exhbition
Inside the exhibition

I love the exhibition, in which women photographers have taken storytelling photography to the highest level.  I was allowed to take pictures of the exhibition, but of course pictures of pictures don’t turn out very well.  No matter.  I’ll show you some of them just so you can get an idea of the talent level of these amazing photographers.

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.  I don’t know which artist goes with which photograph, but you can read more about the project here: Women of Vision: About the Project.

I was once inspired to do weekly artist’s dates by Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  I don’t get to do these too often now, but when I do I’m always inspired.  I love how creative some people are, and I feel awed in the presence of their work.

After seeing the exhibit, I walk through a long hallway covered in years of National Geographic magazine covers; this hallway leads into the regular museum.

Walls of National Geographic
Walls of National Geographic
National Geographic covers from its early days
National Geographic covers from its early days
inside the musuem
inside the museum
National Geographic Museum
National Geographic Museum

After seeing the exhibit, I have quite a bit of time to kill, so I go outdoors, turn on my handy MapMyWalk, and walk around the streets of D.C. as the sun goes down.  I pass by St. John’s Church, Lafayette Park and the north side of the White House, along with other interesting buildings, even one with JOBS banners hanging from the walls.

across from National Geographic
across from National Geographic
Pretty colors in the National Geographic gardens
Pretty colors in the National Geographic gardens
old house on D.C. street
old house on D.C. street

I see the historical St. John’s Episcopal Church across from the White House.

St. John's Church in Lafayette Square, across from the White House
St. John’s Church in Lafayette Square, across from the White House

In Lafayette Park, I can see the north side of the White House, with the Washington Monument in the background and an equestrian statue of President Andrew Jackson, erected in 1853.

Washington Monument, White House and Stonewall Jackson
Washington Monument, White House and President Andrew Jackson
Stonewall Jackson
President Andrew Jackson
The White House
The White House
JOBS - maybe I should stop in...
JOBS – maybe I should stop in…
reflections
reflections

After having dinner at Panache, I head to the program.   Below are some of these amazing travelers’ inspiring tales.

Photojournalist Allison Wright was in a deadly bus accident on a remote road to Laos and survived, thanks to villagers who never left her side, doctors on two continents, and 30 surgeries. She was inspired by the helpful villagers to return three years later with five doctors and $10,000 in medical supplies, creating the Faces of Hope Fund.

Twenty-nine year old traveler Shannon O’Donnell studied ethical ways for travelers to help and published her tips in The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook.

Molly Burke and Muyambi Muyambi founded an organization, Bicycles Against Poverty, using a microfinance model to distribute bikes in rural Uganda, turning what would be a three-hour walk into a swift spin to health clinics, markets, and schools.

Tracey Friley launched Passport Party Project, a grassroots initiative to provide underserved girls the tools they need to obtain their first passports. Little more than a third of Americans have passports—compare that with 67 percent of Canadians who hold one—and it’s not just the price ($135 for adults, $105 for minors) that holds would-be travelers back but also the uncertainty of how to travel. This challenge is even more pronounced in poor urban areas.

In 1989,  John and HIlda Denham bought 2,000 acres of coastal forest with a goal of protecting nearly four miles of turtle-nesting beach in Costa Rica. When John established The Pacuare Nature Reserve nearly every turtle nest was pilfered by poachers and green turtles were being slaughtered. Today, 24-hour patrolling has reduced poaching to 2 percent and the forest is rich in wildlife, with over 30 mammal species and a bird list of 230.

Some of the Travelers of the Year were not available to speak at the event.  You can read all the inspirational stories here: National Geographic Travelers of the Year.

After the event, I was surprised to find that United Airlines, who partnered with National Geographic to create the Sustainable Travel Leadership Award, put on quite a do with excellent food and a free open bar.  I wish I had known about the free food and drink because I had already filled up on tapas and wine at Panache.  Of course, that didn’t stop me from partaking.

I’m really excited because on Sunday, March 2, I’m attending a day-long workshop entitled “Storytelling Photography.”  More on that after the workshop. 🙂

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a sunday stroll around annapolis harbor and downtown

Sunday, February 2: Today, I break out of the house to explore the waterfront town of Annapolis, Maryland, about an hour from my house.  I’m not going for any reason except to take a walk in an area I haven’t much explored and to get out of the house after several weeks of miserable weather.  It’s still not the sunniest of days, but at least it’s above freezing.

mural in downtown Annapolis
mural in downtown Annapolis

For some reason, I had the crazy idea I might take a boat ride in Annapolis Harbor, because I know you can do such a thing in the summer months.  I can see as soon as I reach the harbor that no boats will be going out today.  The harbor is frozen solid and the boats are hemmed in by ice.  It’s funny to see the seagulls standing around fluffing their feathers on top of the solid harbor.

boats encased by ice at Annapolis City Dock
boats encased by ice at Annapolis City Dock
boats in ice
boats in ice
bicycles on boats
bicycles on boats
seagulls walking on water
seagulls walking on water
Annapolis City Dock
Annapolis City Dock
Annapolis City Dock
Annapolis City Dock

I stroll up and down the streets of downtown and take pictures on Pinkney Street and Main Street; I also circle around the State Capitol.

house on Pinkney Street
house on Pinkney Street
colorful house on Pinkney Street
colorful house on Pinkney Street
Houses near Pinkney Street
Houses near Pinkney Street
Mural on the side of a brick house
Mural on the side of a brick house
Houses on Fleet Street
Houses on Fleet Street
Looking up Fleet Street
Looking up Fleet Street
Fudge shop on Main Street
Fudge shop on Main Street
view of the State Capitol
view of the State Capitol
the State Capitol
the State Capitol

I stop for lunch at Nano Asian Dining on Main Street.  It’s quite a cozy place with orange walls, colorful artwork and a friendly staff.  Here, I enjoy a Shrimp Tempura roll and some Shumai Dumplings, accompanied by a Kirin.  I chat a bit with the Chinese waitress, showing her how to use Instagram, and she promptly adds me as a friend on Facebook!

Nano Asian Dining
Nano Asian Dining
the sushi bar at Nano Asian Dining
the sushi bar at Nano Asian Dining
Indian in front of a tobacco store
Indian in front of The Annapolis Cigar Company

After lunch, I take a walk across the bridge for more pictures of the harbor.  It’s quite comfortable outside today, although the skies are a bit dreary.

Annapolis Harbor
Annapolis Harbor
Annapolis Harbor
Annapolis Harbor
more marinas in Spa Creek
more marinas in Spa Creek
Spa Creek
Spa Creek
view of St. Mary's Church
view of St. Mary’s Church

It sure feels good to get out of the house in the middle of winter here on the East Coast. 🙂  I think I’ll go back in the spring when I can take a boat ride and explore some of the historical sites.

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