Posts Tagged ‘National Geographic’

EOY2017 (130)

The Castle (front)

One of the most iconic and recognizable buildings in D.C. is the Smithsonian Institution Building.  Colloquially known as “The Castle,” it is located just off the National Mall at 1000 Jefferson Drive (MAP).  I’ve passed by it during bike rides literally thousands of times over the years.  And I’ve visited some of the many gardens surrounding it, such as The Enid A. Haupt Garden, The Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden, and my personal favorite, The Mary Livingston Ripley Garden.  But I’ve never researched it or featured it in this blog.  But with it appearing to be so picturesque on this ride, I decided it was about time I did.

The Castle was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr., whose other works include St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, also in D.C.  It was the first Smithsonian building.  There are now 20 Smithsonian Institution museums and galleries, 11 of which are at the National Mall.  The Castle was designed and built in the Norman Revival style, a 12th-century combination of late Romanesque and early Gothic motifs, which causes it to stand out among D.C.’s other architectural styles.  And it is constructed of Seneca red sandstone from the Seneca quarry in nearby Seneca, Maryland, which causes it to further stand out in contrast to the granite, marble and yellow sandstone from the other major buildings in D.C.  Construction began in 1847 and was completed in 1855.  It was designated added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1965.

The Castle initially served as a home and office for the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Joseph Henry.  And until 1881, it also housed all aspects of Smithsonian operations, including research and administrative offices; lecture halls; exhibit halls; a library and reading room; chemical laboratories; storage areas for specimens; and living quarters for the Secretary, his family, and visiting scientists.

Currently, The Castle houses the administrative offices of the Smithsonian. The main Smithsonian visitor center is also located in The Castle.  In the visitor center you can get a grasp of the scope and scale of the Smithsonian with an exhibit entitled “America’s Treasure Chest”, that displays items from collections across the Smithsonian.  There are also interactive displays and maps, and computers that can electronically answer most common questions.  There are volunteers and in-house experts as well, who can answer other questions and provide information about what to see and do based on what’s currently going on at all the Smithsonian museums.  Additionally, docent tours highlighting The Castle’s 19th-century architecture and history are available.

The visitor center is also home to a museum store featuring a myriad of souvenirs, and the Castle Café, where visitors can enjoy specialty sandwiches, soups, pastries, organic salads, antipasti, a coffee, espresso/cappuccino bar, teas, bottled beverages, beer, wine and, when in season, ice cream.

Finally, just inside the north entrance of The Castle is a crypt that houses the tomb of James Smithson.  Smithson was an English chemist and mineralogist who never married and had no children.  Therefore, when he wrote his will, he left his estate to his nephew, or his nephew’s family if his nephew died before him.  If his nephew were to die without heirs, however, Smithson’s will stipulated that his estate be used “to found in Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men”.  Smithson died in Genoa, Italy in June of 1829, at the age of 64.  Six years later, in 1835, his nephew died without heir, setting in motion the bequest to the United States.  In this way Smithson became the founding patron of the Smithsonian Institution despite having never visited the United States.

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The Castle (back)

Tips for Taking Photos of D.C.’s Cherry Blossoms

There are lots of tips and tricks out there for taking great photographs of the cherry blossoms here in D.C.  Some say the lighting is the most important element, and that nothing can replace being there during the times of day when the light is best – sunrise and sunset.  Photographers have a name for this kind of light – the golden hour.  Other photographers insist that the composition of the photo is most important.  They say that it’s necessary to envision the shot in advance so that you can line things up and get the shot that you want “in camera.”  Still other photographers will advise you to switch it up.  Take some photos in more traditional ways, and then break the rules and do the opposite.  An example of this would be to use front lighting to illuminate the main subject of the photograph, and then also use backlighting with the sun in front of you so that the light streams through the pedals of the flowers.

These and other bits of advice can be helpful.  So don’t ignore them.  But my personal advice is, “don’t overthink things.”  Be mindful of what is around you, and then take photos of what interests you most.  Try to simply capture what you see if you think it’s interesting or worthwhile enough for you to want others to see it.  Unless you’re a professional photographer trying to complete an assignment for National Geographic, just show up and enjoy yourself.  And take lots of photos.  If you do this, your enjoyment will show in your photos, and others will enjoy them too.

The photos in this post were ones I took during the past week.  Some are better than others.  The worst ones you won’t see because I deleted them.  I hope you enjoy these photos.  I know I enjoyed taking them.  But even the best photos can’t capture the actual cherry blossom experience.  So more than enjoying the photos, I hope they inspire you to want to come to D.C. next spring and see the cherry blossoms in person.  That’s the only way to truly experience and appreciate just how incredibly beautiful they are.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Note:  Here are some links to past years’ posts about D.C.’s cherry blossoms:
•  Cherry Blossom Buds (2019)
•  Photo Gallery of this Year’s Cherry Blossoms (2018)
•  Cherry Blossom Stages of Development (2018)
•  The Indicator Tree (2018)
•  This Year’s Cherry Blossoms Watch (2017)
•  The Amur Cork Tree (2017)
•  The Japanese Pagoda at the Tidal Basin (2017)
•  Sunrise with the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Peaking of the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Annual Cherry Blossoms (2015)
•  The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin (2014)
•  The Cherry Trees Collection at the National Arboretum (2014)

Petroglyph01

Giraffes Petroglyph

A petroglyph is defined as “a carving or inscription on a rock that is created by removing part of a rock surface by incising, picking, carving, or abrading, as a form of rock art.”  They are found world-wide, and are often associated with prehistoric peoples.  So aside from possibly the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, you might not expect to find a petroglyph in D.C.  But on this lunchtime bike ride, that’s exactly what I did.

As I was riding on a driveway through the courtyard of a building located at 1145 17th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood, I saw a petroglyph depicting a couple of giraffes.   Hiding in some bushes and ivy and partially obscured by a tree, the giraffes seemed to be peeking out at me from behind the foliage.  So naturally I had to stop to get a better look and find out more about it. 

It turns out that the building with the petroglyph in the courtyard is the National Geographic Society’s headquarters.  One of the most well-known and largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world, the Society’s interests include geography, archaeology and natural science, the promotion of environmental and historical conservation, and the study of world culture and history.

The Society’s headquarters building also contains a museum that features a wide range of changing exhibitions, from interactive experiences to photography exhibitions featuring the work of National Geographic explorers, photographers, and scientists.  The museum is centrally located in downtown D.C., just a few blocks from The White House.  And admission tickets can be purchased in person at the museum ticket booth or online.

I’ll have to go back to the museum on another day when I have more time to spend so that I can more thoroughly enjoy it.  But for today, happening upon the giraffes petroglyph and finding out about the museum was enough.

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[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]