Finding beauty in the suburban outdoors and beyond

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Apr 12, 2009 Finding beauty in the suburban outdoors and beyond

Somewhere between the excitement and grit of the city and the natural beauty of the wilderness lie the suburbs and exurbs. Two months after moving two years ago to our current home fifteen miles from downtown Washington, D.C. I was minding my own business removing the groceries from my car after dinnertime on a Sunday evening not long before Halloween, and my otherwise very likable and interesting neighbor asked me if I had gotten my pumpkins yet. I said no, because I figured my then-seven-month-old boy was probably too young to enjoy them. I made the mistake of asking if he had bought any, and he excitedly proclaimed that he had gotten two. I then asked myself if I should put myself out of my misery of living in a suburb’s suburb, or if I should go to the restroom first. I got more relief by doing the latter.

More to my liking for a neighbor would be Frank Zappa, but he passed away fifteen years ago. In addition to being an artistic genius who insisted on musical excellence over whatever sells the most, he apparently was a very caring parent. Zappa said: "The more boring a child is, the more the parents, when showing off the child, receive adulation for being good parents – because they have a tame child-creature in their house." His son Ahmet talks more here about Frank and Gail Zappa as parents. Like Zappa, I let my son call me by my first name, just as I call him by his.

My son, wife and I spend at least one full day together each weekend. I depart here from my usual legal writings to solicit your favorite outdoor activities in the Washington, D.C., area that might otherwise take a long time to meet the eye. Here are some of mine, in rough order of less well known to better known:

– Potomac Overlook in Arlington, Virginia.

Peace Park – In Potomac, Maryland.

Wakefield Park, Accotink Trail – In Annandale, Virginia

Billy Goat Trail– Off the C&O Canal, Montgomery County, Maryland. This is a beautiful hike that requires some arm work rather than just legwork along the way. It is particularly challenging when wet.

– Cabin John Park, Potomac, Maryland – This is the best combination I have found of many very tall trees and good playground equipment. A mini-train rides on real tracks.

– Piscataway Creek – In Fort Washington, Maryland. One of the great places to go kayaking and canoeing in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia in the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. When going to courts on Fridays near such waterways, it is great to have roof racks for taking a kayak and paddle.

Capital Crescent Trail – Connects Silver Spring, Maryland to Bethesda, Maryland, to the C&O Canal in the directional choice of Washington, D.C., or Great Falls. The tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda borders on surreal.

– Roosevelt Island – In Arlington, Virginia. Beyond the developed area around the huge statue of Theodore Roosevelt, trails go around the entire island, including views of Georgetown.  

– Great Falls Park – Both sides have great views. The best view on the Maryland side is found by taking the human-made walking path that keeps people away from walking on the dirt. 

– Rock Creek Park, in Washington, D.C. and Montgomery County, Maryland – Some stretches of this park are well removed from car traffic and stay along the creek.

– Pohick Bay Regional Park – In or near Lorton, Virginia.

– Reluctant to say anything positive about shopping centers, the least worst of them is the Washingtonian Center in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The spacious center includes a parklike duck-filled pond area to circle, a playground, and sometimes Friday evening outdoor entertainment as good as the Mystic Warriors.

Beyond the suburbs

Within a few hours of downtown Washington, D.C., and its suburbs are such beautiful areas as the following:

– Thanks to Bob Cantor for listing places to hike in Virginia, both near and far from Washington, and for suggesting hiking guides to read.

Ohiopyle State Park, Pennsylvania – For whitewater rafting in the Youghiogheny River Gorge.

Fort Hill, Pennsylvania – Clean air and beautiful views, apparently in Pennsylvania’s highest point.

– Berkeley Springs and Cacopon Mountain Resort, West Virginia.

– Point Lookout State Park – In St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Surrounded by water on a narrow strip of land. Used to imprison soldiers and civilians from the Confederacy, often with too little to eat and protect them from the heat and cold, and with several thousand dying there.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia – The bridge over the rivers and the ride alongside the rivers is the best part of the visit.

– Blue Ridge Parkway – In southwestern Virginia. Apparently buildings are getting in the way of the beauty. I drove there sixteen years ago.

Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina – I either saw multiple dolphins or whales, and it was beautiful. Return to Washington, D.C., on the roadways and ferries on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Kiawah Island, South Carolina – This is a great place to see crocodiles. The resort island is fancier than need be. Perhaps the same beauty can be found in simpler nearby areas.

Assateague Island National Seashore – On the Chincoteague, Virginia, side, one finds miles of pristine beach, untouched by retail outlets and any other buildings. 

– Caving/spelunking in Maryland and Virginia – That is on my calendar.

Further out:

Algonquin Provincial Park – In Ontario, Canada. This has been recommended to me for overnight canoeing adventures. Canada is blessed with beautiful wilderness with too low a population to commercially develop it all.

Adirondack Mountains – In far upstate New York.

– West of the Mississippi River, my favorite places for hiking and camping include the Grand Canyon, including hiking to and camping at the bottom along the Colorado River; the Tetons and Yellowstone in Wyoming; and Mesa Verde in Colorado. Great drives and stopovers are found in New Mexico, including northwest New Mexico; Colorado, including Pike’s Peak; Utah, particularly in the southwest of the state; Arizona, including just west of northern New Mexico; Idaho near the Wyoming border; and Montana. California has great drives all along the coast.

What are your favorite outdoor places to visit?

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