Hidden in Plain Sight: U.S. Capitol Stoneyard

I have some big travel plans in the works, but until then, I want to spend more time in the city where I live (Washington, D.C.).  You can always be a tourist in your own backyard, and DC makes it easy! One of my first off-the-beaten-track stops was the U.S. Capitol stoneyard.

Rubble in the US Capitol Stoneyard, featuring some of the most decorative pieces
Decorative remains of the original Capitol building

History of the Capitol Stones

A few weekends ago, I learned that in Rock Creek Park, there is a stoneyard of old bricks of the U.S. Capitol building.  Most DC residents know the original Capitol columns are on display at the National Arboretum, but few know what happened to the rest of the East Portico.  The original Capitol building had a copper dome, but when additional offices for the ever-growing Congress were added to either side, it seemed too small.  In the 1850s, the Capitol went in the opposite direction – a multi-level iron dome, topped with the State of Freedom* – the dome we all know and love today.

Early photo of the US Capitol building with its original dome, taken in 1846.
Capitol Building with original dome, 1846
Historic photo of the US Capitol with its new iron dome, taken in the 1950s. Love those vintage cars!
Capitol Building with new iron dome, 1950s

Of course, now that a massive dome topped the original building, the columns on the East Portico were no longer proportional! In the 1950s, work finally begun on replacing the columns and portico.  The original materials were kept, but no one knew quite what to do with them.  In the 1980s, a benefactor pushed for the display of the original columns, and we’re so lucky he did.  The rest of the stones? Dumped in a stoneyard in Rock Creek Park, unmarked, off the beaten track.  Most residents don’t even know they are there.

Walking into the entrance of the US Capitol stoneyard. Note the lack of fences or signs.
Entrance to the Capitol stoneyard

Finding the Capitol Stoneyard

Piecing together clues from other blogs, Andy and I set out and found the Capitol stoneyard ourselves.  A tip: wear closed-toe shoes, because you have to go past the horse barn, and where there’s horses… There was no fence or no trespassing sign.  It reminded me of the temples of Angkor, with its piles of magnificent stones, some overtaken by the forest, and nothing barring you from climbing them if you so desire.  (Not that I recommend that – they are still federal property, and they are not 100% stable.  Be careful if you venture out here!)

Follow the red star to the US Capitol Stoneyard on this map. Wear closed shoes to avoid horse poo!
Follow the red star! Courtesy of RockCreekRunner

*Like many of the historic buildings and monuments of DC, the Statue of Freedom was cast by an enslaved person.  For that matter, so were the US Capitol columns and stones.  One of my next “tourist” stops will hopefully be the brand-new Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture, which officially opens to the public September 23, 2016.  I hope they address this fact, so when tourists from all over the country and world visit DC, they have a more complete perspective to balance the grandeur with reality.  If you want to learn more, the DC government has an excellent report on this topic.

This "altar" in the Capitol stoneyard totally fits - the original nickname of the Capitol was Temple of Liberty.
Reminds me of an altar, adding to the temple vibe
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A Perfect Day in Minca, Colombia

Colombia’s Magdalena department has more to offer than Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park‘s beautiful beaches; it is also home to Minca, a small village located high in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Some people choose to spend a few days in Minca, enjoying the slow pace of life, but it is also a great option for a day trip from Santa Marta or Taganga.  Hire a taxi to take you to the cool mountains, and you’ll be there in no time.  I’ve outlined a full day of Minca activities, after the jump.

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The Beaches of Tayrona National Park

La Piscina Parque Tayrona

After the boat ride from hell (seriously – take the horses or hike!!), we finally arrived at Cabo San Juan.  I wish I had a photo of our first glimpse of the cape, because it was stunning.  Turquoise water, white sand, lush palm trees, mountain backdrops, and flocks of pelicans flying overhead.  It felt like we had stepped back through time.

The surf at Cabo San Juan is strong – I merely went for a quick dip and felt like I could have easily been pulled out to sea.  Our merry little band walked through the jungle to get to La Piscina, the nearby swimming beach.

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Up the Colombian Coast: Santa Marta & Taganga

Early morning in Taganga, Colombia

I definitely shouldn’t have tried to start blogging again during the holidays.  Now that they’re over, stories of Colombia await.  Up first: Santa Marta.

Santa Marta is an improbable city nestled between the bright blue Caribbean Sea and the Sierra Nevadas, the highest coastal mountain range in the world.  Palm trees and cacti dot the landscape.  The winter winds blow ferociously.

This port city is the site of the first Spanish settlement in Colombia.  It’s also one of the best jumping off points for nearby Tayrona National Park and the 6-day trek to La Ciudad Perdida, Colombia’s lost city that predates Machu Picchu by 650 years.

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5 Top Travel Tips for Any Destination

passport map copies

For the month of November, I’ll be participating in BootsnAll‘s Indie Travel Challenge.  Click here to go to the beginning.

Some of the best and worst experiences of your life can be made while traveling. I’ve definitely made a lot of mistakes over the years, but being prepared for any situation and planning ahead can significantly improve any trip. Here are my five top travel tips for any trip, no matter the destination.

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Best Cafe in Istanbul

Beyoglu Istanbul skyline

For the month of November, I’ll be participating in BootsnAll‘s Indie Travel Challenge.  Click here to go to the beginning.  Today’s question: tell us about an experience you had from information you got from a local.

A Local’s Perspective

Back in April, Andy and I visited Turkey.  After a great time in Cappadocia (to be outlined in a future post), we flew to Istanbul for a few days.  Istanbul was such an amazing city and I really think it should be added to any traveler’s short list.  The people were so welcoming, the food was excellent, and there is so much to do and see.  That goes for the rest of Turkey, as well!

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Why I Travel


BootsnAll, a favorite travel website of mine, is hosting an Indie Travel Challenge – starting today! I thought it’d be a great way to reflect on what travel means to me, and why it’s such an important part of my life.  On some days, I’ll be answering questions, and on others, I’ll have action items to complete.  It’s basically travel truth-or-dare.

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Travel Updates

hanging out at I'm Ddeokbokki

It has been a long time since I last wrote! In lieu of a real post, take this bulleted summary of my life:

– This week, we changed schedules at our school.  Formerly, we worked 1:30-7:40, but now we work 3:00-9:50.  I teach middle schoolers as well as elementary, although they are much better behaved so I don’t really mind.  Our school is also starting its mini summer semester (July, August, part of September), and so we are focusing on conjugating different verbs in different tenses.  The goal is to get the students on board with using the right tense in a sentence – they mostly cannot do this yet, so hopefully by spending all summer on it they will be able to.  They are also on public school holiday, but still have to come to academy – poor kids! (And poor academy teachers!)

An example of what I mean: “Everyday, I go to school” versus “Everyday, I going to school” and things of that nature.

– This coming weekend, what seems like all of the foreigners in Korea will be descending on the Boryeong Mud Festival.  Boryeong, a beach city on the west coast of Korea, annually hosts a massive mud festival.  It was created to promote the cosmetic properties of mud from nearby mudflats, but now the festival is associated with revelry of the messiest kind.  We are leaving from Daegu with an organized trip and staying one night in Korean style lodging… a room with a floor.  Should make for an interesting experience.

– In two weeks, Andy and I will be spending our summer vacation in Thailand! Bangkok and the beaches on the west coast (Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta perhaps).

– We also just booked our Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) trip for late September/early October… Japan! Probably mainly the Kyoto area because transportation to Tokyo is crazy expensive.  Japan is notoriously the most expensive country in Asia and definitely one of the most expensive in the entire world… hopefully we’ll be able to save some money but I predict it will be the most costly trip of my life – still worth it though!
hanging out at I'm Ddeokbokki

– Also, I got a haircut.

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