Inside The Pointy Obelisk

Long time readers of my blog know that I absolutely love tall things. Whenever I get into a new city, I generally like to find the tallest thing around and climb it. I get a little bit King Kongy, albeit from the inside. If it’s got an observation deck, you’ll observe me wanting to go to there.

When I arrived in Arlington in August, however, the Washington Monument was closed to inside visitors. It had only just reopened in September of 2019 after a three-year renovation to the elevator controls and security screening area and then had to close down again six months later because of Covid 19.

As you might imagine, I was incredibly stoked when they announced that it would reopen on October 1st, even with a limited capacity. In order to visit now, you have to get a timed entrance ticket from the recreation.gov site. A very limited number of tickets would be available each day, and each group would only get 10 minutes at the Observation level. They opened the Monument on schedule, and I tried a few times a week to snag one of the precious few visitor slots for each day that I might be able to visit.

On October 28th, I was finally able to snag a slot for the following day, soon after I finished my work for the day. I was incredibly excited to finally get to go up inside the Monument.

I wasn’t paying attention to the weather, though. Hurricane Zeta had just made landfall, and all the leftover rain was coming our way– it was slated to rain all day long, including well past the end of my time slot to visit the monument. I briefly considered not going at all since I would be trudging through rain and the views would be hampered, but after a series of should-I-go-or-not coin flips, I finally grabbed a rideshare to the National Mall. (Normally I would go via the Metro, but my workday and the visit timing were too close together, and I needed a slightly more direct route. I took the Metro home afterward.)

I don’t need to talk about the two shades of marble again, do I? I just talked about that the other day.

By the time I arrived, my feet were wet, and I was well and truly damp despite my coat and umbrella. You can’t quite tell in the photo above, but it was raining. It was raining a lot.

One unexpected benefit of going to the Washington Monument in the middle of what’s left of a hurricane, however, is that there was nobody else there. No tourists, I mean- the staff of Park Rangers was all there, waiting at the entrance of the security area for visitors. I was the only person visiting, though. I went through security in moments, and they let me into the lobby, past some VERY large metal security doors, to the elevator.

I was alone in the elevator, and after a moment I reached the observation deck at the top. There was nobody with me except for another Park Ranger, so I had all of the windows to myself. In hindsight, I really should have taken pictures of the observation deck’s interior to show how I had the place to myself- that’s never going to happen again. It was kind of magical.

Anyway, here’s what I could see out of the little slot windows at the top of the monument. Visibility was hampered by all the rain, but I could still see quite far. Looking East, I could see the National Gallery of Art on the left, the National Air & Space Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian on the right, and all the way in the distance, the United States Capitol. The Library of Congress and the Supreme Court are back there too, but the rain made those nearly invisible.

Facing South, I could see the Tidal basin and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. The Tidal Basin is where they have the Cherry Blossom Festival when it’s not a pandemic year. I still need to visit the Jefferson Memorial; I haven’t been there.

Continuing my clockwise walk around the top level, this is the view toward the West. The World War II Memorial is in the foreground, then the Reflecting Pool, then the Lincoln Memorial in the distance. On a clear day, you could see the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial from here, along with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. I could not.

Lastly, I looked to the north. That big round path around grass is the Ellipse, and sitting behind that is the White House.

Here’s an obligatory selfie of me pointing toward the White House. I promise, that’s what I was pointing at.

After a few minutes looking out the various rain portals and up toward the capstone, I was ready to go back down to the ground. There’s an exhibit level just below the observation level, but it was closed during the pandemic. Stupid pandemic.

I really need to go back on a clear day.

After a brief but lively chat with a friendly Park Ranger, it was time to go back down to the ground. One more very heavy security door and another vestibule, and I was back outside. There was another group of about three people about to go in as I was leaving. Even though it was still raining, I decided to try getting some more National Mall photos- I’d never seen it that empty before. This is looking toward the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial.

…and of course I had to take the “It’s right behind me, isn’t it?” photo. My camera lens was fogged up from all the rain, but there you go.

After that, it was time to walk along the National Mall, in the direction of the Capitol toward the Metro, and on toward home.

Have you ever been inside the Washington Monument?

34/52 (and 13 of 30!)

Black Lives Matter Plaza, November 8th, 2020

On Saturday, when the news outlets called the Presidential race for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, thousands of people flooded into downtown DC. They came in by car and by metro, gathering in celebration at Black Lives Matters Plaza.

I wasn’t there. I saw pictures of the crowds later, and I saw the traffic going into the city as I drove past it in the other direction on my way to Maryland. Why did I go to Maryland? You’ll have to wait until Wednesday’s post for the answer to that question.

Nevertheless, I was really curious to see what it was like in person though, so I went the very next day, on Sunday the 8th of November. I took the Metro to McPherson Square, which put me back on the street only about a block or so away from all the hubbub. It was not as shoulder-to-shoulder crowded as the news showed it on Saturday, but it was a warm and sunny day and people were still coming by to see. Also there were a lot of reporters doing reporter things. I walked past a guy with a Reuters camera a bunch of times, so if any of you see me in news footage of the day, please let me know.

Some people held up protest signs, some were just there like me to see it in person. A lot of people were there with their children, showing them history in progress.

Here’s something I never realized about Black Lives Matter Plaza before- it’s gigantic. The painted letters are two full blocks long. In the pictures below, I was standing at the intersection of BLM Plaza with I Street NW. In the first picture, I’m looking north. That’s where the street says BLACK LIVES. The second picture is looking south, toward the White House, and that’s where it says MATTER. I didn’t truly realize just how enormous those painted letters really were until I was standing on top of one.

At one point, I put my phone camera right up to the opening in the chain-link fence that runs along H Street. This is as close as you can get to the People’s House right now, and this is two full blocks away as seen through a zoom lens. Pennsylvania Avenue has been closed off since the protests last summer, and Lafayette Square remains fenced off so nobody can come in.

Speaking of that chain link fence, it was just absolutely covered in protest signs, posters, and artwork for most of the distance between 15th Street and 17th Street, anywhere it touched Lafayette Square.

I’m going to skip my usual thing where I intersperse all the photos with commentary and interesting factoids because I don’t think any commentary is really needed here. No context is missing, and no subtle background details need to be filled in.

These are the protest signs of an angry, stressed out, massively divided country finally allowing itself the chance to have a small sigh of relief. I didn’t see a single pro-Trump thing all day until I got back home and looked at Twitter again.

Enjoy the photos, friends.

Did you see any interesting celebrations this weekend where you live?

30/52 (and 9 of 30!)