Days 60-62 – Travelin’ South

Sunday October 5 (Muriel)

We left our New Jersey hotel fairly early, having been warned the highways would jam mid morning with vehicles heading for a NY Giants game at the nearby stadium.  We beat the jam and headed for Washington, DC.  We drove south by southeast through New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, the cool, rainy weather becoming warm and sunny.

The Lady of the Dashboard had us get off boring old I-95 well before we reached Washington.   On the Washington Parkway, Allan spotted a sign for the National Wildlife Visitor Center.  We decided to check it out, and found ourselves heading through the woods for the Patuxent Research Refuge.  I had visited the refuge on a guided field trip during a National Audubon convention over ten years earlier.  It’s the place that coordinates bird banding programs.

The visitor center building was closed for remodeling, but we wandered some of the nature paths.  It was wonderful to be walking through a natural area after spending our time in cities.  Near the entrance to the Goose Study Path, we found a young man taking pictures of something near the ground.  He had seen a snake spring on a frog.  We had interrupted the snake’s attack.  We waited a bit, and the large tan frog, bleeding from his back end and leg, turned around and faced its attacker.  The gray snake with lengthwise pale lines sprang and grabbed the frog by the forehead.  The snake was less than an inch in diameter, while the frog was at least 5 inches wide.  We watched the slow motion dance, fascinated.  Very gradually the snake’s mouth reached around more of the frog’s head, as the frog’s eyes gradually closed and then disappeared into the snake’s mouth.  The frog did its best to claw the snake with its rear legs.  A young couple joined the audience.  Eventually Allan and I decided to tear ourselves away from the slow-motion drama and look for birds.  We saw a number of waders, including an immature Little Blue Heron, an Eastern Bluebird and Field Sparrows.  We saw our first Northern Mockingbirds in over a month and realized that on our way from New Jersey we had again begun to see Turkey Vultures above the highway.  Except for a few flocks of robins, the only birds we had seen since South Dakota had been crows, European Starlings, House Sparrows and gulls.  We found a snake enthusiast who identified the snake of the drama as a Garter Snake.  He explained that Garter Snakes are neither venomous nor constrictors, which is why the drama was so slow moving.

We drove to our hotel in central Washington without incident.  Having skipped lunch, we enjoyed happy hour in the hotel and walked to a pleasant dinner in a nearby Thai restaurant.

Today marked the end of our second full month on the road.

Monday, October 06, 2008

We walked to the Foggy Bottom (shades of old spy novels) Metro station.  We figured out how to buy tickets and took the metro to the Capital Mall and Smithsonian Museums.

We spent much of the day visiting the new National Museum of the American Indian, a museum devoted to telling the story of the Native Americans of all of the New World, more accurately the native peoples of the entire Western Hemisphere, since native Hawaiians were included in at least one display.  This is a tremendous task.

The NMNA, which is housed in a lovely modern building, tries to tell the story of the native peoples from the perspective of the Native Americans themselves.  Some displays emphasize commonalities among all Native American cultures, while other displays tell the stories of specific cultures.  Every statement is attributed to an individual who is quoted.  There is no mention of the Los Angeles region’s Chumash or Tongva whatsoever, apparently because the museum focuses on larger tribal groups.  We enjoyed a multi-media film presentation and some of the displays, although we found the lighting made viewing difficult to impossible.  Reflections were often more visible than the displays.  There was no information about the relationships or migrations of the various groups or of the language families.

We had lunch in the Native American Foods Café, where the cafeteria was divided into food from various regions.  It was a great idea, the food descriptions appealing, and the food was not bad.  Unfortunately the café didn’t have its act together, with poor service, items that were supposed to be ready in 5 – 7 minutes indefinitely, and water dispensers that didn’t work.

IMAGES OF AND IN THE NEW NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN

After fairly thorough explorations of the NMAI, we walked to another part of the Smithsonian, the Freer Gallery.  We viewed some of its Asian artifacts and its James McNeill Whistler paintings.  Then we headed back to our hotel via the Metro.  En route to the Freer we passed the Smithsonian “Castle”, the first permanent museum to be built with Smithson’s gift.

We quickly cleaned up and took a taxi to the offices of the International Economic Development Council.  Allan was active in its predecessor organization in earlier years.  After a tour of the offices, we had dinner with the director, an old friend of Allan’s, at a nearby restaurant.  En route to the restaurant with Allan’s friend Jeff we did some unplanned and rather unusual birdwatching as shown below:

Tuesday October 7 (Muriel)

We headed south through Virginia and into North Carolina where we stopped for lunch at a buffet style restaurant that specializes in vinegar pulled pork, a specialty of eastern North Carolina.  They also had red-sauce (sweet tomato) pulled pork and other southern specialties.  Delicious.

Our next stop was a South Carolina visitor center where we got information from a helpful staff.  We stopped at Santee National Wildlife Reserve shortly before sunset but enjoyed strolling along its lawn with large trees festooned with Spanish moss, reading plaques about Revolutionary War battles there, and views of the setting sun.  It was too dark to positively identify the birds we glimpsed, but we enjoyed the setting and the chance to stretch our legs.

After 520 miles of driving for the day, we got to our hotel in the historic section of Charleston, SC.  The driving had been fast and pleasant, except for some stretches in Virginia where we encountered an intimidating number of homicidal truck drivers. Less exhausted than we were after some drives on the trip covering fewer miles, we had an excellent dinner at a seafood restaurant less than a block from our hotel.

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