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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

Visiting the Smithsonian

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 5/27/2024
Occurred: 7/20/2009
Page Views: 1826
Topics: #Zachary #Cailey #SmithsonianInstitute #Washington #DistrictofColumbia
A visit to the Smithsonian with our daughters and grandkids. What could possibly go wrong?

Today is the day Michael and I took my two daughters and two grandchildren to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. The daughters and one grandchild live in Northern Virginia, so we took the Metro into town. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, for starters, I've been running through my vacation cash faster than I had planned. And when we got to the Metro park-and-ride I discovered it costs money to park there. (Here in Phoenix, parking for the Metro is free. And the last time I used the Metro in Virginia, it was free there, too.) Then, when it came time to buy the train tickets—which were running around 75¢ when I used to live here—I discovered that tickets for all of us cost over $40.

Fortunately the walkway over I-66 was enclosed, because I was tempted to throw myself off it.

Cailey and Zachary

Then, we had to explain to the kids that they should not lean over the rails when the train is approaching.

Michael, Karen, Zach, Dottie, Cailey

The ride into town took a good half-hour. There was no one else in our car, so Zach and Cailey were able to hang from the poles and essentially act like monkeys the whole time without upsetting anyone.

Michael and Zach recognize the Washington Monument.

When we finally emerged, it was at the Smithsonian station. This station has two exits; if you are visiting the Smithsonian, you want to walk towards the Mall exit. There's a fairly tall escalator leading out of it; when you come out you are directly facing the Capitol building and behind you is the Washington Monument with the Lincoln Memorial standing beyond it. Zach immediately named all these things, tickled to be seeing them in person after all those hours of watching the History Channel.

We had only just arrived and the kids were already hungry. We bought them some popcorn, which they shared with some handy pigeons. Actually, the pigeons got most of it.

Zach feeding the pigeons.

Cailey, who has been to the museums of the Smithsonian Institute many times, had been told that Zach would be choosing which museums to visit on this, his first visit. And he chose to start with the Museum of Natural History.

Michael, Karen and Zach check out an exhibit.
Tyranasaurus Rex A leaping tiger!
Karen and Zach: A hug break between exhibits.

Zach really seemed to enjoy the exhibits. He recognized, from its bones, the Indian Crocodile we had seen, live, a few days earlier at St. Augustine's Alligator Farm.

Zach and Indian Crocodile skeleton. The Hope diamond A big ol' hunka quartz

In addition to the Dinosaur and Mammal exhibits, we also saw the Hope diamond. I gave a brief description of the jewel's reputation as carrying a curse, which made it seem more interesting to the kids. But, personally, I was more impressed with a huge quartz crystal, about the size of Zachary (and weighing much more) that I can't seem to find on the Smithsonian's web site.

We were all getting hungry by this point and Zach had had enough natural history, so we stepped outside the museum and bought hot dogs, fries and drinks from a concession on the mall. Cost: $47 for 6 people. French fries fed yet more pigeons. In my next lifetime, I want to be a pigeon.

Zach and Cailey relaxing after lunch.

Our next visit was to the Smithsonian castle.

The Smithsonian Castle

The castle houses temporary exhibits. The last time I was here, it was the 1900 Centennial Exhibit, a replica of the exhibit on display a hundred years previous, which was very cool. Now they were plugging Night At The Museum 2.

Pile of Artifacts

A plaque hastened to explain that these were not real artifacts, but replicas built for the movie. I doubt that all these were replicas. There were old radios, wagons and toasters that could have come from any Goodwill store in the country.

We didn't stay long. Outside, on the mall, Cailey decided she wanted to ride the carousel.

Zach and Dottie at the carousel. Cailey on the carousel

Then, time for a quick hug, and then off to the Air and Space Museum!

Cailey and Zach Cailey and Zach touch a moon rock.

Immediately upon entering the Air and Space Museum, we were presented with the opportunity to touch a moon rock. I'm not sure the kids really appreciated the significance of this, or that today is the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. But they did touch the well-protected rock, as did the rest of us.

We then went up an escalator and waiting in a fast-moving line to visit the duplicate Skylab. When Skylab was made, two were made so that there would be a duplicate on Earth engineers could examine if anything went wrong with the one in orbit. That duplicate is now in the Air and Space museum where people can see it and imagine for themselves actually living in space.

Cailey and Zach in line to see Skylab. Michael and Dottie in line for Skylab.
A mockup astronaut has breakfast in Skylab. Wilbur and Orville Wright with Zach, Karen and Cailey.

Zach then chose to visit the Wright Brothers' exhibit. It was very interesting, with a recreation of their famous plane, hands-on displays showing how it was controlled, video of an early flight demonstration, and even a recreation of the front of their home.

Zach, hands-on Zach was concerned that lying on the wing wouldn't be very comfortable.

We also spent time in a kids-oriented exhibit where one could find out what one weighed on the moon or Jupiter and could explore how to make the best possible paper airplanes. Zach spent ten minutes playing with a demonstration of how compressed air could suspend a ball.

Once we were done with the Air and Space Museum, Michael was anxious to show Zachary the National Archives. Zachary was agreeable since the building is featured in the movie National Treasure. However, the line to get in literally wrapped around the block so the closest we got was a photo of the exterior.

National Archives

Before we returned to the subway, we walked along a sidewalk garden where we took pictures of the gorgeous flowers blooming along the way.

Hibiscus Crepe Myrtle Shasta Daisy
Sneeze Weed

It was then time to return to Virginia, but the adventure wasn't yet over. We got off the train at Roslyn specifically to ride up in the very tall escalator, one of the longest in the world. We then rode back and took the next train—at no additional charge.

Dottie, Cailey, Karen and Michael ride the escalator. Zach and Cailey reach for air on the crowded subway.

It was now rush hour, and to say the subway was crowded would be an understatement. I was reminded of a visit to Washington on July 4th when my kids were young, and little John (about 4 years old at the time) was nearly crushed by thoughtless riders. But Zach was tall enough to hold his own.

Dorothy welcomed us to her home where she and her husband Frank prepared a delicious spaghetti dinner. We then took Cailey with us back to the motel for a "sleepover" with Zach and Aunt K-K (Karen). Or, as Karen referred to it, "Smooshed between two angels."

Cailey and Zach, plus assorted stuffed animals.

Tomorrow we would have to get up early to be on our way to the Shenandoahs and Greenville, South Carolina. What could possibly go wrong?