Washington, DC – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 2

Our morning in Cumberland started out a crisp 34oF. The day would find us eventually in Washington, DC, but with a few stops on the way, starting with a drive along the Potomac River south from Cumberland, until we reached the Paw Paw Tunnel. This  3,118-foot long canal tunnel is located on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal located near Paw Paw, West Virginia.

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The tunnel was built to bypass the Paw Paw Bends, a 6-mile stretch of the Potomac River containing five horseshoe-shaped bends. The town, the bends, and the tunnel take their name from the pawpaw trees that grow abundantly along nearby ridges.

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Building the tunnel was underestimated as to the difficulty of the job by the construction company.  The tunnel project created financial problems and nearly bankrupted the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. The lengthy construction and high cost forced the company to end canal construction at Cumberland, Maryland, in 1850, rather than continue to Pittsburgh as originally planned.

The tunnel was used by canal boats until the C&O closed in 1924.  The tunnel was badly deteriorated until the National Park Service made major repairs to the tunnel, including replacing fallen bricks, filling cavities along the towpath, stabilizing rock slides, and repairing the facade.  Today the Paw Paw Tunnel is part of the C & O Towpath which is part of a major bike trail connecting Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.

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We hiked the half-mile path from the parking lot through the woods to reach the tunnel sheathed in fog.  The colorful autumn leaves brightened the surroundings as we entered into the tunnel feeling a cool breeze within it.   As we walked on the bumpy dirt towpath where mules once pulled canal boats on this trail, the tunnel turned darker the farther we hiked.  Our flashlights and the railing helped to guide our way to the other end of the tunnel.

After reaching the end, we turned around to walk back through the tunnel again.  We did not climb the steep and strenuous looking two-mile long Tunnel Hill Trail over top the mountain to see where the tunnel builders lived during construction but I enjoyed our short trek into the tunnel to see a bit of history and engineering marvel.

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The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM)’s annex at Washington Dulles International Airport.  The 760,000-square-foot facility was made possible by a $65 million gift to the Smithsonian Institution by Steven F. Udvar-Házy, an immigrant from Hungary and co-founder of an aircraft leasing corporation.  The main building, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C, had always contained more artifacts than could be displayed, and most of the collection had been stored, unavailable to visitors.

The exhibition areas at the Udvar-Hazy facility have two large hangars, the Boeing Aviation Hangar and the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar.  The museum is connected by a taxiway to the Washington Dulles International Airport.  The observation tower at the museum provided a view of landing operations at the airport for us to see some large jets land while we were there.

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Entering the lobby of the museum offers a visitor a direct view of the space shuttle at center stage.  It was like walking through a timeline with so many historic aircrafts in one building.

In addition to the space shuttle, other crafts on display were: The Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima; the Gemini VII space capsule; the SR-71 Blackbird Reconnaissance aircraft; the Air France Concorde; the Gossamer Albatross, which was the first man-powered aircraft to fly across the English Channel; the special-effects miniature of the “Mothership” used in the filming of Close Encounters of the Third Kind; the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer piloted by Steve Fossett for the first solo nonstop and nonrefueled circumnavigation of Earth; and a piece of fabric from the Hindenburg disaster.

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We also saw gliders, satellites, military and commercial planes, flying platforms, missiles, boat planes, and farm duster crop planes.  A mobile NASA quarantine facility for the astronauts return was there.

The catwalk elevated us to a perch overlooking the planes and crafts on the floor and a view at eye-level of the aircrafts hovering from the ceiling.  We were able to peer inside the small suspended crafts to see the controls and sometimes personal items of the pilots in the congested airspace of the hangar.  There was a plethora of aircraft and spacecrafts to see but clearly the surprise of the initial look into the hangar to see the space shuttle and the close up of its tiles and many components is most impressive.

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Gravelly Point Park near National Airport was our next stop.  The park at the edge of the airport runway was filled with people enjoying the nice weather.  A maintenance crew was replacing bulbs in the landing lights as we looked on.  We stood at the edge beyond the landing lights while jets flew a hundred feet directly above us roaring noisily. The park also provided a good spot for us to photograph the D.C. buildings from across the river.

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We made our way to the Embassy Suites downtown, receiving an upgrade to the top floor.  It was a nice walk from the hotel to the National Building Museum.  The museum is all about building and construction obviously and so showcased different aspects of this theme.

The museum had paper models of famous castles and other famous buildings and homes.  There was a display of dollhouses.  Another room presented a technique of building tall structures and high rises from wood instead of steel.  The technique is a new trend of incorporating renewable resources in modern construction.  Stumps of wood and panels of engineered wood filled the room for us to learn how wood could be as strong as steel, lessens the impact on the environment, and reduces waste.   Miniature wooden models of multi-leveled structures were displayed for us to see examples of the early projects.

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The National Building Museum itself was very interesting with colossal 75-foot Corinthian columns reaching to the vaulted arches above in the great hall.  Outside a frieze depicting a parade of Civil War military units 3 feet high wrapped the building.  President Grover Cleveland hosted his inaugural ball in this building in 1885; since then this building has been the grand space for Washington’s social and political functions.

The design of the building was inspired by two Roman palaces, the Palazzo Farnese, and the church of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs in Rome built by Michelangelo in the mid-sixteenth century.  Arched windows and arched niches reached fifteen stories high from floor to ceiling with a row of 234 white busts of men representing the building trades held in niches in the center court.

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Our view from the second story looking down into the great hall offered a geometric pattern similar to the Spirograph art that I made when I was a kid.  The table arrangement below was for an event and resembled colorful gears with cogs from high above.  The tables dressed in bright blue tablecloths and blue chairs against a terra cotta floor with stemware, silverware, and napkins had such an interesting look that I sent the photo out as the picture of the day asking his followers to guess what the photo was other than the blue shaped pattern.  The view from our elevated position did not easily reveal its true image.

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From the National Building Museum, we walked to the National Mall to see the Washington Monument, the midpoint between the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol.  I was so stunned to see the unsightly overabundance of food trucks catering to the tourist that lined the street perimeter of the National Mall.  We opted to go to SEI Restaurant with a modern Asian cuisine and sushi bar.  The menu featured small plates for us to try California rolls, kimchi fried egg rice bowl, Kobe beef roll and short ribs.

We resumed our walk to the Smithsonian American Art Museum for a quick tour before the hockey game we planned to attend.  The art was inspiring to see objects made of bottle caps, buttons, mixed media and other uncommon materials.

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The Verizon Center is the home of the Washington Capitals, a rival of the Pittsburgh Penguins, although on this day they were playing the Florida Panthers . We sat in the upper level among loud drunks to watch the hockey game, obnoxious enough you would’ve thought we were in Philadelphia. We left after the end of the second period and ambled in to a sports bar on 8th street for a bite to eat, and watch the Ohio State football game. Ohio State destroyed Nebraska 62-3, completing a really good day.

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