A Walk Along A River Bank

View of Northern Virginia from across the Potomac River near Ohio Dr. NW.
View of Northern Virginia from across the Potomac River near Ohio Dr. NW.
Thousands of geese make their home along the shores of the Potomac River during the winter months.
Thousands of geese make their home along the shores of the Potomac River during the winter months.
It is a little known fact that the shores of the Potomac River are the perfect place to experience great sunsets.
It is a little known fact that the shores of the Potomac River are the perfect place to experience great sunsets on a regular basis.
The quiet river shores at the end of the day will make anyone forget the hectic world that exists about a mile away in the District.
The quiet river shores at the end of the day will make anyone forget the hectic world that exists about a mile away in the District.
Leafless trees in winter make it a lot easier to experience the majestic buildings at the National Mall.
Leafless trees in winter make it a lot easier to experience the majestic buildings at the National Mall.

Anyone suffering from the winter blues? No doubt by now the cold, rain, ice, and snow are wearing out most mortals out there, to include your’s truly. Not that my camera has been sitting idle since the holidays, but rather that frankly, I’m having a bit of a challenge in finding those unique city scenes that make those long hours worth every shivering, tedious moment out there. During these cold January days locals appear to be perfecting the practice of hybernation. Tens of thousands of people are out-and-about in cities like San Francisco, Barcelona, and New York, but in the commuter heaven that is Washington, DC it is empty sidewalks and parks that rule the days.

Hoping to capture a little of that wintry solitude, I decided to take a walk by the shores of the Potomac River with my camera. As expected, the wind-swept shores were devoid of people, and with the exception of your occasional jogger vent on getting rid of some winter spread, I mostly enjoyed the company of geese, lots of geese. This panoramic section of the Potomac by Ohio Dr. SW sits relatively close to the famous Tidal Basin area, but somehow gets very little attention from visitors to DC. This may have to do with the fact that there are no monuments in the area, or many benches to sit at. But what this section of the National Mall lacks in amenities, it more than makes up with the beauty of the lanscape, specially during the winter season. Both Memorial Bridge and Arlington Cemetery are clearly visible from the river shores. Small boats and rowing teams from local universities slowly fight their way upstream on their way to Georgetown, while departing flights from National Airport with smoky, white trails splashed against the dark, blue skies of a winter day. It is all quite impressive, even if in a quiet, unasumming way. And for a city that prides itself on how fast it moves, it is quite refreshing that there are still areas that reward those who slow down to enjoy the sound of waves crashing on a river shore.

 

Off The Beaten Path: The Jones Point Lighthouse

The historical Jones Point Lighthouse in Alexandria, VA sits regally along the shores of the Potomac River.
The historical Jones Point Lighthouse in Alexandria, VA sits regally along the shores of the Potomac River.

 

Hardly ever visited by tourists, the old lighthouse also marks one of the 1792 survey points for the boundaries of the nation's capital.
Hardly ever visited by tourists, the old lighthouse also marks one of the 1792 survey points for the boundaries of the nation’s capital.
One of the few riverine lighthouses along the Potomac River, the lighthouse was in operation for 70 years from 1856 to 1926.
One of the few riverine lighthouses along the Potomac River, the lighthouse was in operation for 70 years from 1856 to 1926.
Once used for target practice by the Army during WWII, the lighthouse and adjacent grounds were fully restored during the early 1960s.
Once used for target practice by the Army during WWII, the lighthouse and adjacent grounds were fully restored during the early 1960s.

Here’s one place that most likely very few of you (if any) has ever visited: the Jones Point Lighthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.  Don’t blame you, though, because admittedly, I recently discovered the place myself.  Well, discovered in the sense that someone else led me there during this year’s Scott Kelby’s Worldwide Photowalk (read rainy, cold day).  Not having had much time that day to photograph the place, I decided that I would come back to this somewhat isolated spot along the Potomac River when I didn’t have to fight a multitude of photographers for position, or the weather for that matter.  But once I set out to find the place, I began to realize why the lighthouse is somewhat of a desolate, albeit beautiful, place.  The lighthouse is just not easy to find, let alone bump into, even when millions of people drive by it everyday as they cross the Woodrow Wilson Bridge linking Virginia to Maryland.  Getting there, though, is half the fun, specially during the fall season when the park seems to be celebrating a festival of colors, with reds, orange, and yellow leaves shinning bright against the deep blue sky of autumn.  Considering that downtown Washington, DC lies only a few miles away, you would think that the Jones Point park and lighthouse would be on people’s radars when visiting the area, but the opposite seems to be true.  Quiet, isolated, and only reachable by foot, it sits majestically and alone by the water’s edge, with its occasional visitors enjoying the zen-like experience the place seems to induce.

 

Winter Calm

A serene atmosphere sets in by the river banks during cold, winter days when the crowds disappear won't dare to venture outside.
A serene atmosphere sets in by the river banks during cold, winter days when crowds disappear and life seems to slow down to a crawl.

Something good always happens in our national capital region when a snow storms forces most of the government to shut down for a few days.  For starters, the entire region’s stress level comes down a notch or two.  Bureaucrats get to enjoy a paid day off courtesy of the taxpayers and the environment gets a bit cleaner thanks to tens of thousands of commuters staying home for the day.  What’s more, a sort of calm sets into the area with the falling snow, giving people a chance to reconnect with themselves and the place where they live.  It may not be quite enough for advocates of the Slow Movement to label Washington, DC as a Slow City, but it’s nice to experience for a day or two what all that slow stuff is all about.  I’m digging it.

Getting To The Other Side: A Potomac River Crossing

One of the most fun and less discovered adventures in Northern Virginia is crossing the Potomac River on a harbor boat.
One of the most fun and less discovered adventures in Northern Virginia is crossing the Potomac River via water taxi.
The water taxi connecting Old Town Alexandria with the new National Harbor development arrives at the Alexandria dock.
The water taxi connecting Old Town Alexandria with the new National Harbor development arrives at the Alexandria dock.
While not the cheapest way to cross the Potomac River, the experience makes the sixteen dollar roundtrip a real bargain.
While not the cheapest way to cross the Potomac River, the experience makes the sixteen dollar roundtrip ticket a real bargain.
Coastal and maritime traditions are maintained by the city of Alexandria in spite of pressures by local developers to alter the sleepy nature of the place.
Coastal and maritime traditions are maintained by the city of Alexandria in spite of pressures excerpted by local developers.
During the winter off-season months you could pretty much have the entire water taxi to yourself, even if you are not interested in the views.
During the winter off-season months you could pretty much have the entire water taxi to yourself, even if you are not interested in the views.
As in larger vessels, the boat Captain sits majestically over water taxi with the best views in the house.
As in larger vessels, the boat Captain sits majestically over water taxi with the best views in the house.

Funny how sometimes we convince ourselves that traveling always involve getting into a jet and flying to some exotic, faraway place.  Sure, that’s a lot of fun, but the more I think of it, the more I’m beginning to realize that distance may not have as much to do with the “travel experience” as I once thought it did.  Sometimes the experience can be a lot closer to home.  You know, the places we usually see from a few thousand feet above ground when taking off from the local airport to our great, once-a-year adventure.  Those places do look quite fascinating from the air, but like so many of them we see in aerial photographs, they tend to remain abstractions in our lives.  They are things we momentarily glance at on our way to destinations.

Well, yesterday I decided to change all that.  On what turned out to be a rare, beautiful mid-December day in northern Virginia, I ventured out to cross the Potomac River by water taxi.  Doesn’t sound too exciting, does it?  But I can guarantee you that it was, and the reason may have had as much to do with the absence of crowds as with the incredible views that are only possible from a river boat.  Bald eagles, bridges, historic shorelines, and the soothing sound of a river boat gently slicing the river waters.  It was a surreal experience magnified by the fact that it was so out of character (in a good way) with the crazy, busy world that exist in the area a mere mile inside the river shores.  The ride, which connects Old Town Alexandria on the Virginia side with the National Harbor complex on the Maryland side, lasts less than half an hour each way and will set you back $16 for a roundtrip ticket.  Would it be cheaper and faster to just zoom down by the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in your private automobile?  Sure, provided the destination is all that matters to you on any given day.  But if it’s the journey you are after, then that slow, undulating ride across the river will definitely do the trick.  And the view of the cluttered, busy highway above the bridge is quite nice too.