Bull Run Campground
Some of our friends we met on the road highly recommended Bull Run Regional Park and campground, located just south of Centreville, about 45 minutes outside of DC. We decided to stay for a 4-day weekend and visit the National Mall as neither of us had been before. This 1500-acre park is HUGE! They have several hiking and biking trails, picnic areas, a water park, disc golf, and 150 spacious sites for camping. We chose one of their pull through sites, which worked fine for our brief stay. It was great to have such a large, spacious place to stay so close to DC.
However, you should know that there is a public shooting range next door, so you will hear shooting every day of the week except Monday and Tuesday. Furthermore, most of the trails are very muddy. There is a lot of boggy swampland here, so the trails get really messy. That being said, we saw snails, mating millipedes, and even a coiled up rat snake on our hike along the Bull Run riverfront. The park was clean from what we could see, but I did not investigate their bathroom facilities. Definitely check out other reviews on Google or Campendium and decide for yourself whether this is the place for you.
Day 1 in DC
The rain threatened to ruin our plans, but aside from a spate of misty weather, we didn’t have any issues and were in fact appreciative that it wasn’t too hot since we were outside for most of the day. We started at the Lincoln Memorial and walked alongside the reflecting pool toward the Washington Monument. We learned that construction of the Washington Monument halted for over two decades in part due to lack of funding. When it resumed, they had to source marble from another quarry, so there is a visible difference about 150 feet from the base where the new stone continued upward.
We passed several museums that we decided to visit the next day, which had a higher chance of rain…a better time to spend indoors. Soon, we approached the US Capitol building, which was setting up for an event, and was also getting a facelift on the west side. Whether that was the result of annual maintenance, the events of January 6th or a combination thereof, I’m not sure. We headed around to the east side and were surprised at just how close we could approach the Capitol given recent circumstances.
By this time we were pretty famished, so Matt found a place called the Junction Bistro and Bar. Our timing was impeccable! Not a moment after we snagged a table and the whole place was filled to the brim with hungry people during the lunch rush. I ordered a chicken sandwich with a side salad and Matt got a pork, rice and beans bowl. Both were really flavorful. 😋 When I finished mine, I couldn’t resist savoring a few bites of Matt’s dish as well.
Afterward, we headed toward the US Supreme Court Building, which is currently barricaded off…likely due to planned marches on the Capitol and Supreme Court tomorrow regarding the controversial Roe vs. Wade draft opinion. The march organizers were already setting up near the Lincoln Center. We plan to be back tomorrow, so it will be interesting to be present during such a momentous occasion.
We decided to go to the National Gallery of Art (NGA) on the way back. Matt had his pocket knife on him, which is NOT allowed in the building, and we had to stash it in a planter nearby so we could enter. Once inside, we spent a few hours walking through rooms featuring paintings that included styles such as landscapes, still life, French and American impressionism, Avant-garde, and neoclassical, from the likes of Monet, Renoir, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Goya, Rousseau, Singer Sargent and many many more.
The NGA was also exhibiting Afro-Atlantic works of art from the 17th century onward. It was a bit ironic seeing art displaying the slave trade and cultural impacts across South, Central, and North America and the Caribbean juxtaposed with portraits of aristocrats or otherwise showing the more relaxed European lifestyles from the 1800’s. Regardless, this museum holds more than we could see in one day, so we can come back again to explore other exhibits.
As we were finally getting back to the Lincoln Memorial we heard people shouting and clapping and soon realized we were witness to a marriage proposal in action! 😍 She said yes! Our feet were pretty tired at this point, having walked nearly 10 miles, so this lightened our moods and was a great way to cap off our day. Though we were very tired, it was a fulfilling day and was worth the effort to see these grandiose and historic buildings and the buzz of excitement among the many groups of people around us also visiting the capitol for the first time.
Day 2 in DC
If you plan to visit DC, expect the unexpected. There are so many events planned in our state’s capitol, especially on the weekends, so there may be street closures, venue closures, etc. Do your due diligence in advance and have an easy escape route. We found easy street parking here near the Lincoln Memorial, that we could re-up later in the day through an app after the three hour time limit. On the second day we chose to return to this parking spot with many streets already cordoned off for the upcoming march and large graduation ceremony for George Washington University the following day.
This time we chose to swing by the White House and then visit a few of the museums before heading back. On our way, we walked through the Constitution Gardens, one of many walking or biking routes you can take at the National Mall. Most of the streets surrounding the White House are closed, so the best way to view it is on the north side from H St NW near the Lafayette Square. You’ll know you’re in the right place if you see a crowd of people hanging out at the barricades. The security presence here is significant. In fact, we saw heavy security all over the place in our two days walking around near the National Mall.
Afterward, we headed toward the National Museum of American History. Like the other museums, this one is also gigantic. And did I mention that all of these museums in DC are free? This museum covers a lot of ground, including the history of our democracy, voting rights, free speech, the presidency, immigration, American inventions, and so much more. We walked around for about an hour before we started to get hungry and needed to find some lunch. Although they do have a cafeteria, a large group of people had descended upon it right before us, so we left to find food elsewhere.
Next up we went to the National Museum of Natural History. There is also so much to see here, covering everything from geology, gems, minerals and fossils, to marine life, a hall of mammals, insects, human origins, and so much more. We spent most of our time in the sections showing marine life, fossils, human origins and briefly walked through the hall of mammals. By this time, our backs were screaming at us, having walked around on concrete for a few days now, so we had to call uncle and start heading back.
As we were heading back, the Ban Off Our Bodies march was in full swing, coming up Constitution Avenue. I have never witnessed a march in person before…I am claustrophobic in large crowds and get tremendous anxiety, especially in the day and age of covid. 😬 Yet, it was such an emotional sight to see so many people of all ages, races and genders coming together to exercise their right to free speech. No matter which side of this contentious issue you are on, to be able to band together with others to express how you feel is still an important and powerful practice within our culture. And we did later verify that no notable foul play occurred during or after this march, according to the local news.
I really did not think visiting DC would be as impactful as it was. The sheer vastness of the National Mall and surrounding historic sites, the amount of information you can learn about so many aspects of our culture and history, and the meaning behind the sculptures, art and architecture I saw moved me in ways I didn’t know it could until I saw them in person. Now knowing this, if you like to take your time wandering the museums, learning and seeing new wonders, I recommend taking at least a week to do so. Two days was simply not enough time, but I’m still thankful we saw what we did when we did. Now onto another place with a lot of history: Pennsylvania! I will share more on our visits to Gettysburg, Philadelphia and the surrounding areas soon.