Photograph by Judy Lewis
U. S. National Arboretum

3501 New York Avenue, NE
Washington, DC
(202) 245-2726
My goal for a two-night "Mom's weekend off" in our nation's capital was to take advantage of the chance to preview the Holocaust Museum that has intrigued me for so long. Having heard repeatedly that this important museum was graphic enough to cause nightmares, I certainly wanted a chance to see it for myself before escorting my 13, 12, and 11 year old children. I learned that navigating through a four-story historical explanation of one of our darkest periods in history is not easy when crowds are heavy. In truth, it ruined the experience for me. On a beautiful August Saturday, one should not have a popular museum (that lines up two hours early for the free admission tickets) as the destination. One should go to the National Arboretum, which we did. What a treasure I found!

My college friend who had offered me a place to stay is a native of Northern Virginia. She had never been to this incredible creation. Thank goodness for the 1927 Act of Congress establishing that 446 acres of green space along the Anacostia River was a good idea. Add to that the foresight in establishing an aboristry research center within the same space. All kinds of good things are happening in this easy-to-get-around arboretum. Activities are concerned primarily with educating the public and conducting research on trees and shrubs. The National Arboretum maintains 67,000 plant accessions.

Photograph by Judy Lewis

In the middle of August, my treat was the blooming and huge water lilies. I was reminded of some of my favorite storybooks we had read when the kids were younger that had riders on floating leaves. This incredible sight was right near the parking lot, circling the administration building.

A camera is a must at the Bonsai Museum; once again I had to respect and appreciate the arborists, gardeners, and scientists for doing their jobs so well. Simply amazing. Additionally, the Youth, Herb (largest in world), and Native Plant/Wildflower gardens are worth a close up view - as all are currently in full bloom.

We took the tram ride that spent 45 minutes orienting us to the Arboretum, telling the fun history and explaining the sections. Absolutely worth the $3/adult, $1/child admission, this tour was clean, educational, and pleasant. And, there was no crowd. The tram runs weekends only mid-April through mid-October.

Taking along the free map allows you to mark everything you don't want to miss. Then you can go back to the parking lot, get your car or bikes and drive around the entire place. Since there are no food vendors, take a grand picnic and plan to spend the day exploring. You can skip the tram and go with the free map if you prefer. There is no charge to just explore on your own. Not even a parking fee.

And as for the Holocaust Museum, I went back with my 3:00 PM ticket and learned it is indeed a graphic portrayal of the horrors of the time. My kids can wait on this one. Yes, I will take them...perhaps when they are 15, 16, and 17. There is no hurry. Note, I refer to the "permanent" exhibit. That's the one you have to wait in line for free tickets. At ground level, they have "Daniel's Story" which is more appropriate for the ages of my kids. It is free, has no lines, and is a journey through one child's situation that tells enough of the sad nightmare to meet our current needs. I'd take any kid capable of reading cursive that isn't highly sensitive. Any child who already suffers from nightmares should wait. The visitor needs to read one-sentence cursive diary entries throughout the exhibit.

The last location I want to mention is the Korean War Memorial. Located near the Lincoln Memorial, it is more powerful than the Vietnam Memorial. Parking is tough and you have to go after dark to experience it at its best, but I think it is worth it. The area is well lit, guards are on duty until midnight and I felt completely safe.

Directions to the National Arboretum: Located in the northeast section of Washington, D.C. Take Maryland Ave. from the Capitol to Bladensburg Road, then to New York Avenue. Visitor entrance is located on New York Avenue NE.

The grounds are open daily, 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
The Bonsai Museum hours are 10:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. daily.

Mary Wilson...

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