Sunday, November 27, 2005

Billy Goat Trail in Great Falls, Maryland

The Potomac River as seen from the Billy Goat Trail
Appropriately named for its rocky incline -- which would be much easier if you had four hooves -- Billy Goat Trail is one among the most rigorous circuit hikes near DC.

Bouldering/climbing up a rock face on the Billy Goat Trail
This short hike lasts only two to four hours, but it's a serious workout. Nearly half of the hike is spent bouldering along the Potomac waterfront, huffing and puffing to fantastic views.

Victory! At the top of the mountain.
Billy Goat Trail is fairly popular in spite of it's difficulty, so you may have to time your hike to avoid church youth groups or other slow-going and noisy folks. If you dare (although I don't officially endorse it), take a break from the trail and explore the surrounding area for even more precarious adventures.

Monday, November 14, 2005

San Francisco versus DC: 7 Observations

San Francisco: Financial District
To depart from my usual subject matter (and explain why I haven't added any new posts recently), here's a few observations of how San Francisco is unlike DC.

San Francisco: Unwanted marijuana smoke wafting in your face.
Washington, DC: marijuana-smoking LaRouche supporters (and other undesirables) waving propaganda in your face.

San Francisco: Chinatown
San Francisco: In Chinatown, you can find everything from traditional Chinese medicinal to Buddhist temples to $5 dim sum specials.
Washington, DC: In Chinatown, you can't throw a fortune cookie without hitting somebody's Starbucks latte or Hooters buffalo wing.

San Francisco: Golden Gate Park, where you can talk to stoned hippy chicks about their scary government conspiracy theories.
Washington, DC: Rock Creek Park, final resting place of congressional intern chick killed in scary political cover-up.

San Francisco: It's tough to hail a taxi.
Washington, DC: You can't afford a taxi.

UC Berkeley: Free Speech Movement Cafe
San Francisco: At UC Berkeley, the Free Speech Movement Cafe honors activists who struggled for free speech at university campuses.
Washington, DC: At George Washington University, Cafe Romeo honors Visa, MasterCard, AMEX, and Discover, and delivers pizza on campus until 2:30AM.

San Francisco: "We can't believe Arnold Schwarzenegger is our governor."
Washington, DC: "We can't believe Arnold Schwarzenegger is your governor."

San Francisco: California state government always getting in the way of progress.
Washington, DC: US House, Senate, Executive office always getting in the way of progress.

Hemlock Overlook in Clifton, Virginia

the Bull Run at Hemlock Overlook in Northern Virginia
Hemlock Overlook Regional Park is best known for the kind of corporate team-building events that help white collar cubicle-dwellers learn how little they can trust their managers. Complete with a ropes course and a zip wire, it's actually an outdoor education center run jointly by the regional park service and George Mason University.

Hemlock Overlook in Northern Virginia
More importantly for hikers like me, Hemlock Overlook's section of the expansive Bull Run - Occoquan Trail has some of the most challenging hiking trails near DC. It's wild and mostly unspoiled natural setting traces the Bull Run for more than ten miles along blue-blaze (difficult) trails. As the name of the park suggests, there are cliffs as well as tall hemlock trees, which are unusual in the metro area, and plenty of diverse flora and wildlife.

Wildlife which -- just to warn you -- isn't scared off by the Bull Run Regional Park's shooting range, safely cordoned off to the north. So don't let distant gunshots ruin your fun. Virginia is for firearms ... right?

Hemlock Overlook in Northern Virginia
And while Hemlock Overlook is beautiful at any time of year, the fall colors have already passed their prime, so you'll mostly find crunchy leaves and bare trees there in the coming months. But if you're looking for some rugged hiking in Virginia without a long drive out to the mountains, Hemlock Overlook is a perfect fit.

Hemlock Overlook photos by: Susan MacAuley
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