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Posts Tagged ‘Washington’

While traveling the Pacific Coast last summer we went inland to Portland, Oregon and then up I-5 towards Seattle.  On our journey we stopped in the Mount St. Helens area.
Mount St. Helens, 8364 feet high, is in the Cascade Mountain Range in southern Washington.  There are several volcanoes in this range with four alone in Washington State.
Up by the Canadian border, north of Seattle, is Mount Baker,  Next comes Mt. Rainier, a majestic mountain over 14,400 feet high.    Mt. Rainier is full of glaciers and if it blows, the catastrophe, because of the ice particles and amount of people living in the area, will be much worse than the Mt. St. Helens’ eruption.   Behind Rainier is Mt Adams.
When you fly into Seattle you can see all these volcanoes from the air.  And even if there is cloud cover the cones are always sticking out which is a rather surreal sight.
It is hard to believe that it has been over thirty-five years since the eruption.  It was May, 1980 when the mountain blew its top 1,313 feet off and much of the bulging north face.  In March, 2 months earlier, the mountain showed signs of waking up after a 123 year old sleep.  However many people did not believe something that catastrophic would develop.
But when it did, the mountain shot a plume of smoke and ash 80,000 feet into the air and caused a mile wide avalanche that raised Spirit Lake over 200 feet.  Although there was devastating destruction, scientists learned a lot, and that event even caused them to rethink how the Grand Canyon might have been formed.
In 1982 President Ronald Reagan named the region a National Monument.  The area is managed by the U.S. Forest Service with the roads only opened from the end of May until the end of September.
Five miles after you exit the interstate, you will come upon the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake.  It opened in 1987, and is maintained by the Washington State Park System unlike the rest of the area.
The exhibits there include the area’s culture and history, as well as the natural history and geology of the volcano, and its eruption.  The Center had a gift shop, naturally.  But there is also a theater with an excellent overview film of the eruption and the way the region looked afterwards.
In the three years after the centered opened over one and a half million people stopped there on their way up the mountain.  Obviously it is a very popular place.
After stopping at the Visitor Center you begin the over fifty mile drive to The Johnston Ridge Observatory which is at the end of the road up the mountain. The exhibits there focus on the geologic history of the volcano, eyewitness accounts of the explosion, and the science of monitoring volcanic activity.
As you continue up the mountain you can stop at the Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center, the Forest Learning Center, and various pull-offs where you get different views of the volcano.  There is another road that goes south and east around the volcano that you can take from Portland but there is no way to get to the Johnson Ridge Observatory since Spirit Lake is in the way.
But it is definitely worth the drive to Johnson Ridge.  There are ranger-led programs available every hour, as well as, a half-mile trail with views of the lava dome, crater, pumice plain, and landslide deposit.
There is also a totally awesome movie.  It tells the story of the eruption on a big screen with curtains on each side.  When the movie is over the screen is raised up and the curtains opened to big picture windows.  And right in your line of sight is the volcano.  You won’t soon forget the surprised reaction you feel, nor the gasps you can hear around the room as the volcano is revealed in front of everyone.
So if you find yourself in the Pacific Northwest in the summertime a trip to this volcano should definitely be on your bucket list.
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I recently did a “food tour” of Virginia Beach, Virginia. But before we arrived we made a couple of other stops. If you visit you will find a lot of history in this area. We had so little time, we were not able to see much of the historic places. However if you visit plan to stop at the Jamestown Settlement and Williamsburg while you are there.
On Day Two we did a 3 hour whirlwind tour of DC. Since it was late Sunday afternoon the roads seemed to magically open for us. We walked by the White House, Capitol, and into the WWII monument. We then drove the tidal basin & even had time to walk into the Lincoln & Korean Memorials. On the way out of town we zipped by Arlington National Cemetery & the Iwo Jima Memorial. If you ever do the Iwo Jima Monument make sure you drive the whole circle. It’s an optical illusion but it looks like the flag is raising and lowering as you drive around.
The next morning we had 3 hours to kill so I contacted the Convention Visitor Bureau in Hampton, Virginia. The man who helped me there awesome! They have the most wonderful History Museum in that town. It covers 400 years of history in several galleries. He organized guides for us and split the group in threes for our tour. We also saw St. John’s Church before “Bruce” jumped on our coach and did a little city tour on our way to lunch and shopping. For those of you interested there is a big Bass Pro Shop on a little lake with restaurants and a Coldstone Creamery behind the store. I haven’t even touched on all the neat things to do in this town, including some great shopping areas and restaurants.
Then we headed to Virginia Beach. The population is approximately440,000 and it is the most populous city in the state. However the area is very spread out so it is not a city with big skyscraper type buildings. As we drove in we saw many hotels several stories tall facing the ocean, with the required tourist souvenir shops nearby. The way they were built most rooms had ocean views. Our hotel had every room with balconies facing the boardwalk and ocean.
The city is located on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.
Naturally due to the location it is a resort city with miles of beaches and hundreds of hotels, motels, condos and restaurants along the oceanfront. The boardwalk is also neat. There is a separate paved bike path so you don’t run into pedestrians and the famed King Neptune Statue is a must stop.
The city is home to many state parks, several long-protected beach areas, three military bases, a number of large corporations, two universities, International headquarters and site of the television broadcast studios for Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), and Edgar Cayce’s Hospital for Research and Enlightenment which was established in 1928 with 60 beds.
Cayce was a very famous psychic in his time who claimed healing abilities and made prophesies. He is known as the father of the “New Age” movement of the 1960s. He lived in Virginia Beach until he died on January 3, 1945. His followers are still very active in the area and many people all over the world still study his prophesies.
An interesting historic fact is near the point where the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean meet, Cape Henry was the site of the first landing of the English colonists, who eventually settled in Jamestown in1607.
One of our dinners was at the Chesapeake Grill, the only restaurant on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. We had wonderful Barbeque there as we gazed at the beautiful water views. I just wished we had time to stay long enough to see the sunset. I am sure it would have been spectacular. But even if you don’t stop you need to drive over the bridge. It is four lanes and has two tunnels. The entire bridge and tunnels span twenty miles!
 Naturally seafood was the highlight of our tour. We had She Crab soup, fish sandwiches, crab cake, BBQ shrimp, grilled shrimp, oysters Rockafellar, clams provencal, and fish tacos. And homemade desserts–little chocolate cookies, key lime pie, piled high strawberry shortcake and famous Bundt cakes from Rowena’s in Norfolk. Did I mention cheese and sausage at our wine tasting?

And I have to tell you as I tell my travelers–when you are on vacation there is no calories in the food you eat!

The third day of our stay was a lot about peanuts and ham. We went to Smithville and had Brunswick stew, a ham sandwich on a sweet potato roll, and a Virginian reuben, which is actually made of turkey. After all this food we visited a famous Ham Country Store where we learned about curing and how hams are stored and preserved. The only problem we had was when everyone got off the bus at the end of the day they smelled like they had been in a fire!

There was a little time late that afternoon and evening to enjoy the beach and our hotel. The next day sadly we left for our overnight stay in Pittsburgh before heading back to Chicago.

There are so many great towns in the area like Norfolk, Newport News, Portsmouth and Hampton that when you think about your next vacation, put the Eastern shore of Virginia high on your list. I know you won’t be sorry. However if you want to escape the hoards of beachgoers I would suggest a visit in the spring or fall.

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It’s almost Cherry Blossom time, although with all this warm weather, it is sure to be early this year.  I thought a look at Washington, DC might be in order.

Some people go on vacation to relax and others want to see as much as possible that an area has to offer.  No vacation destination would be complete without discussing Washington DC, the seat of our government and historic heritage.
Depending on how long you visit, prepare not to sleep much.  There is so much to see and do in the city and almost everything is free.  If you are not on a tour bus then take the hop on & off trolley.  It is too far to walk to the different sites and parking and driving in the city can be a nightmare.  You can hop on & off the trolley all day or evening or get a 2 or 3 day pass.  The trolley even takes you over to Arlington National Cemetary.  And, you can drive to Mount Vernon to see “George and Martha’s” place or take a boat that you can catch right downtown on the Potomoc.
First up the Monuments…Air Force & Iwo Jima are in Arlington, VA, as well as the Arlington National Cemetery.  Arlington is just a ride across the bridge from DC.  I wouldn’t bother with a car in DC.  Parking is hard to find and streets are a little complicated since all the roads go around the Capitol like spokes in a wheel.  There is a great subway system, very easy to use, that can take you everywhere you need to go.
On the DC side you want to visit WWII, FDR, Lincoln, Korean, Viet Nam, Jefferson & the new Martin Luther King.  Each one is awesome in its own right and you have to walk in to see them for the most part–you can not see them from the streets.  If you start at WWII, you can proceed to MLK and FDR (one of my favorites with four different sections for each term of his presidency).  Jefferson is right after you come over the bridge from Arlington.
Then it’s on to Lincoln where 3 are grouped together.  First check out the Korean ( & definitely put this on your evening list because it’s awesome and different looking both night and day), then Lincoln and finally Viet Nam.  If you are on the trolley, you can drop off at Lincoln and then pick it up over on the Viet Nam side when you finish that monument or viceaversa.
What is the National Mall?  It has nothing to do with shopping.  It is a 2 mile grassy piece of land.  If you start at the US Capitol ( & don’t forget the new VC –visitor center-which includes a tour of the Capitol)) and continue to the Washington Monument (Note: the Monument has been closed temporarily due to the 2011 earthquake) there is a big grassy park with buildings on both sides of the grass.
These buildings are part of the Smithsonian.  You definitely want to go in the Native American building and next door is Air & Space Museum.  On the other side of the grassy park is the National Art Gallery (the National Portrait Gallery is a few blocks away but definitely worth the trip), Natural History (including the gem collection) and finally American History.  There is so much to see in the American History building but two highlights are the Betsy Ross flag and the First Ladies’ gowns.  On the opposite side of the Natural History (on Constitution Street) is the National Archives.  There you will find the Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta–this building figured prominently in the movie “National Treasure” with Nicholas Cage.
Continuing on the Mall, after the American History building, you will cross the street and be at the Washington Monument.   The Monument sits on a hill and behind it is the reflecting pool which continues to the Lincoln Memorial.  So the 2 mile National Mall begins and ends between the US Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial with the Washington Monument in the middle.
If you are not totally worn out and still have time left, there are still sites to see.  The Kennedy Art Center is beautiful and Ford’s Theater, where Lincoln was shot has recently been renovated.  A drive through Embassy Row over to Georgetown is also nice.  Close to Embassy Row is the National Cathedral (which also was recently renovated) and the Catholic Basilica dedicated to the Blessed Virgin is excellent, no matter what your religion.  The Basilica is a work of art with separate chapels dedicated to the Blessed Virgin in many different forms from around the world and each one is done in mosaic tile that is incredible.  There is an upper and lower church and Bob Hope sponsored one of the chapels in the lower part of the church.
Whew…did you get all that?  After your trip to DC you will need a vacation from your vacation!

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