Before today’s post, a couple of updates are warranted …
First, I need to ask for a continuance on the comic strip article I offered in response to this survey from a few weeks ago. I thought for sure that I could have it done by the end of the month, but a couple other topics muscled their way into my plans, and all of a sudden I’m looking at the final days of March. I will get to it soon, I promise … but maybe I’d better not give myself another deadline to potentially break.
Second, I mentioned that I’ve been shopping for a new camera, and last week I finally bought one. Just in time, too – because the freebie camera made by a toy company that I described in this post suddenly stopped working after the third or fourth time I used it. At least I got one post out of it – so I guess I got a little more than what I paid for.
Anyway, I got a Nikon Coolpix L11 – a solid 6 megapixel camera with all your basic features, that is compact enough to fit into the side pocket of my camel pack. It was released just a year ago, and it’s already two generations removed from the current 8MP model – which means that bargain shoppers like me can find one for under 100 bucks.
And with that, we’ll start the post …
When my new camera arrived, I thought it would be cool to bring it to Toro Park and take some photos to compare to the ones I took with the cheapie camera last month.
There was only one problem: Toro Park was 3,000 miles away. Instead, I took the camera here:
Rock Creek Park, District of Columbia. I spent most of the week here on business, and logged a lot of mileage in my off hours – so many, in fact, that I’ll probably make two posts out of the trip.
For today, I’ll give you a photo tour of Rock Creek Park, which I’ve come to think of as my home away from home over the past few years. So let me show you around …
I approach the park by running north on Rock Creek Parkway, a thin greenbelt that parallels the roadway all the way up from Pennsylvania Avenue. You don’t see as many cherry blossoms as you do around the mall, but the few that dot the creek banks really stand out.
Speaking of remarkable trees, take a look at this …
On windy days, there are quite a few of these trash trees lining the creek in various places. You know, everybody talks about the D.C. cherry blossoms, but these trash trees are just as distinctive. Yet for some reason, you never see them on postcards, or mentioned in tourist brochures. This city hosts a Cherry Blossom 10-Miler every year; I see no reason why it can’t have a Trash Tree 10K.
About 4 miles into the run, I reach Pierce Mill. Apparently it’s kind of historic. More importantly to me are two other details: 1) I know my way back to the hotel from here, and 2) it’s a landmark that most locals know about. This way, if I come across somebody when I’m lost in the forest, I can ask him to point me in the direction of Pierce Mill, and get oriented in the right direction. Yes, it’s happened a few times.
A small waterfall at the base of the mill. The fence in the background is Beach Street, which is the last patch of pavement to cross before entering the main portion of the park.
After crossing the street, it’s like entering a completely different world, where the sights and sounds of the city vanish into the trees. Once you’ve run a few minutes into the woods, it feels just like any other wilderness area. In fact …
Every now and then, you’ll encounter a few of these guys. These east coast deer always look odd to me with their long, fluffy white tails – by comparison, their California cousins have very short brown tails. Of course, when I tried to get a picture of this doe’s tail, she was more intent on smiling for the camera. I hate it when wildlife doesn’t cooperate.
Next it was my turn to smile for the camera. You’d laugh if I told you how proud of myself I was for figuring out how to use the self-timer on my new Nikon. I also surprised myself in capturing a picture where I didn't cut off my head or look like a complete goofball in fewer than 10 attempts. Not many fewer, but trust me – it’s an accomplishment.
For the most part, the trails run parallel to Rock Creek, which meanders to and from the road as you make your way on the east side of the park towards Maryland. There are several rustic bridge crossings in places where the water intersects with the roadway, with the trails ducking underneath the arches.
This doesn’t really make sense to me: there’s no apparent reason for this boardwalk to be situated in the middle of a flat, clear, dry area of the forest. I always wonder if a local Boy Scout troop built this as a project to earn a merit badge or something. At least they got the boards flat, so I guess that’s a good thing.
Further north, another wildlife encounter awaits:
The sign says it’s an amphibian breeding area - but don’t let those Beltway semantics fool you. This is nothing more than a frog brothel. It’s where the high-income New York frogs secretly come when they want a wild weekend away from the missus frog.
(By the way, will there be a statute of limitations on Eliot Spitzer jokes? I can see myself going to that well quite a few times in the future. It’s almost too easy.)
You may notice that I’m running out of daylight in these photos – and I didn’t plan ahead enough to bring any lights with me. So …
Once the trail gets too dark, the technical sections like this become pretty dangerous. Luckily, I’ve run through here enough times to know where many of the exit trails are, so I’ll cling to the dirt as long as possible until the lights go out, then make my way out to the road to finish the run.
On this night, I had a 5-hour run on the schedule, and I was able to enjoy about 3 and a half of them on the trails. The last 90 minutes were spent winding my way back towards Georgetown through the northeast part of the District. I was pretty exhausted, and everything was dark, so I didn’t pause to snap many pictures along the way. But here’s one place I was glad to see:
The lobby of the hotel that I had to walk through in my sweaty clothes and muddy shoes, more than 5 hours after I started the run. I hope I didn’t freak out the piano player too much on my way to the elevator.
With that, I was glad to call it a night. I did a couple more evening runs in D.C. that I’ll talk about next time – but since the Rock Creek route holds a singular place in my heart, it seemed only fitting to give it a singular post.