Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Getting Around Washington DC, the Smithsonian and the Air & Space Museum

At the suggestion of folks on the Full-Time RVers Facebook group, we booked our Washington DC stay at Cherry Hill Park in College Park, MD.  We heard that it was the closest to Washington DC.

Lance at the Smithsonian Castle

The park hosts an orientation every day at 4:00, and you can buy a SmarTrip transit pass at the front desk and it works just about everywhere; the bus departs all day from the park to the subway station, the subway pops up just off the National Mall in the middle of everything, the DC's local bus line "the Circulator" goes around the lawn as well and offers hop on/off service to most of the attractions around the lawn. So depending on your timing and the amount of hopping on and off you do, a day's transit will cost around $5-$8 per person.  We also discovered we could skip the bus on the park end and drive directly to the subway station and park for $2 on a Saturday and free on a Sunday, more on a weekday. The SmarTrip card covers parking fees, too.

The back of the Smithsonian Castle

The Smithsonian Castle

We had a list of things we wanted to see in DC, at the top of the list was the Smithsonian Castle and the Air & Space Museum. I thought they were the same but we discovered that the Smithsonian is actually several buildings with several different museums, the castle being only one of them.

Lunar Lander
Saturn 5 First Stage Rocket, 1 of 5
The entrance at the Air & Space Museum

Apollo Command Module, used to return from Skylab 4,
up close you can see the honeycomb structure of the heat shield

We also discovered that April and May are school field trip heavy for very young students, and the chaperone-to-student ratio was insufficient to manage them properly. It was nearly impossible to get anywhere in DC with the kids pushing and shoving on a Thursday in late April, Saturday's crowd was families and older students who were calmer and had better manners, the students we encountered on Saturday were likely out on their Senior Class trips and were polite near-adults.

The Original Wright Brothers Plane - so very fragile-looking in person

The Original Wright Brothers Glider which they crashed again and again until they got a grip on the wing-warping that allowed them to control the plane's direction

One of my favorite discoveries in the Air & Space Museum was a whole section devoted to navigation, a minor obsession since childhood days of backpacking in the wilderness with my Dad, later fed by scuba diving in low visibility and sailing in areas with flash fog. I guess it shouldn't be surprising that they devoted a whole wing to the subject, typically great leaps in humanity go hand-in-hand with technology to aid them, in this case great leaps forward in mapping the new world and accurate navigation all hinged on the invention of a reliably accurate clock that could be kept aboard ship. With this new technology, a sextant to measure the angle of stars and a chart with which to decipher the information a navigator could get a reliable fix on a location.  Ships were safer, lives were saved, new discoveries were made.

As we got faster (planes) and faster (jets, rockets and space machines), deeper and sneakier (submarines and warships), and more independently mobile (billions of individuals with cars) navigation technology has improved right alongside us (LORAN, GPS). Still, I believe I will buy a sextant for a backup navigation tool on the next boat's ditch bag, when it comes to boats sometimes basic is better, and at 300 years old the technology is well proven.

A Compass Rose at the entrance to the Navigation section of the Air & Space Museum

Truer words were never spoken

Along the subject of boats, our RV park is just 25 miles or so from Annapolis. We will definitely be checking into that.

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