Summer Getaways - It's All Close to Home

By Judy Colbert

Whether you call it a staycation, playcation, daycation or just an outing, Montgomery County residents and visitors have a nearly endless list of things to do. This particularly applies to doing something different or finding a way to please the hard-to-satisfy guest.

Fuss over Fossils
A little more than an hour away, you can find remnants from millions of years ago in Calvert County, known for its fossil hunting. At a loss for how to start? Fear not. The Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Md., conducts a fossil field program for those who want to learn more.

An expert will meet you at the Cove Point Lighthouse, the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in the state, and teach you about Miocene fossils as you comb the beach. You’ll learn where to find fossils, how to identify them and what they tell you about the past. After you break for lunch (bring your own and eat on the museum’s grounds or visit one of the local restaurants), you’ll convene at the museum to discuss what you found and use the Paleo Hall to learn more about the Miocene Sea and the formation of Calvert Cliffs.

You can spend the rest of the day exploring the museum that includes exhibits on rays and skates, boats, paintings, woodcarvings and more. Or you can head back outside to see the boat basin, the river otter habitat and a recreated salt marsh.

Take time to explore the 1883 screwpile Drum Point Lighthouse that marked the entrance to the Patuxent River. Once there were 45 such lighthouses serving the Chesapeake Bay. Now there are only three. This one was decommissioned in 1962 and has been beautifully restored, complete with furnishings from the early twentieth century.

Being so close to the water begs for a boat ride, and you can have one on the Wm. B. Tennison, the only Coast Guard–licensed and log-hulled vessel in the country. It was built in 1899, ran under sails and then power, and served as an oyster buyboat (the boat that would buy the day’s catch from the various oystermen in the area) until 1978. Short cruises around Solomons Harbor and the Patuxent River are offered May through September. How often can you boast of cruising in a moving National Historic Landmark?

The fossil field program is for adults and for children eight and older when accompanied by an adult. It costs $20 a person, and reservations are required. Fossil field programs are scheduled for July 20, Aug. 17, Sept. 14 and Oct. 26.

Loll along Lovers’ Lane
Barely 30 minutes from home is Lovers’ Lane and a stroll that should take you as far away from daily life as you desire. This one starts at R and 31st streets in Northwest Washington, D.C. It’s east of the Dumbarton Oaks mansion.

Part of this 3.5-mile loop is paved and part is pure nature. It passes through or alongside Montrose Park, Dumbarton Oaks Park and Rock Creek Park. You’ll pass historic homes, embassies, diplomatic residences, a cemetery (Oak Hill), the Omni Shoreham Hotel and then some quiet and less quiet residential streets. The walk changes almost weekly, as trees and flowers do their seasonal thing. While downtown Washington can become crowded with throngs of locals and visitors, this area seems just a little more refined. Sections of the trail can be fairly isolated, so walk with at least one other person.

Different jurisdictions own and administer different sections the trail. Part of it, including the western boundary along the trail, is owned by Harvard University. Robert Woods Bliss (1875–1962), a Harvard-educated diplomat, and his wife, Mildred Barnes Bliss (1879–1969), owned Dumbarton Oaks, their country house set on the highest point of Georgetown. He was also an art collector and philanthropist who cofounded the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. As the Blisses had no children, they donated the house and 16 acres of formal gardens to Harvard in 1940. They also gave some of the property to the National Capital Parks division of the National Park Service, the organization that maintains the area known as Dumbarton Oaks Park and the eastern boundary of the trail. The middle part belongs to Washington, D.C.

You can leave the trail at various places, including Massachusetts Avenue, Calvert Street, P Street and other neighborhood streets if you don’t want to make the full loop.

Once you finish your walk, you should visit Dumbarton Oaks itself. The gardens and museum are open at 2 p.m. daily except on Monday and holidays. Although the blooming schedule is obviously up to Mother Nature, you can feel fairly confident that come July and August you’ll see lilies, hollyhocks, daisies, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, cosmos, zinnias, crepe myrtle, and many other plants, shrubs and trees showing off their finest apparel. A fee is charged for Dumbarton Oaks Museum and Gardens from mid-March through October. or

Make an Artscape
If you want to pack more than a year’s worth of events into a single weekend, then you should aim for Baltimore’s 32nd annual Artscape. It’s only an hour from home. The country’s largest free arts festival is on Friday, July 19, Saturday, July 20 (both 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.), and Sunday, July 21 (11 a.m. to 8 p.m.) this year. The festival has been known to attract more than 350,000 people.

Within a 13-block area (centered on Mount Royal Avenue and Cathedral Street, Charles Street, Bolton Hill and Station North Arts & Entertainment District), you can see works by artists who excel in opera, dance, theater, classical and experimental music. Don’t miss the Artcar decoration, hands-on children’s activities and cultural exhibits. Events are held outdoors in tents and inside the city’s outstanding exhibition spaces and performing arts venues. Everything is wheelchair accessible.

Dozens of juried artists from as far away as California will exhibit and sell their work along Mt. Royal Avenue. Two- and three-dimensional art is stunning in its variety—drawing, painting, print and graphics to clay, glass, metal, wood and wearable art.

Delightfully, the perennial favorite Artcars are here again. Fascination abounds at the various ways people choose to decorate our four-wheeled friends (and enemies). Check the Saturday parade or the exhibition.

Everything Artscape is pretty much within walking distance of everything else Baltimore, including Fell’s Point, Harbor East, Inner Harbor, Mount Vernon, Federal Hill and Little Italy.

Hundreds of volunteers spend thousands of hours creating this artistic treasure trove. If you like what you see enough, let them know you’ll volunteer for next year.

What’s SUP?
No, it’s not today’s “kids” asking what’s happening. It’s Stand Up Paddle Boarding, and it’s done on an object that looks like a surfboard, only a little wider and maybe a little longer with the middle made of mesh. You stand up (or kneel) on the board and paddle away to explore the quiet waters along the Delaware and Maryland shoreline. It takes and builds core strength. Experienced SUP participants do yoga, take a dog along to enjoy the experience, and even do a little fishing.

Some say it’s almost like walking on water.

Until you decide you love this sport, you can rent a board for an hour, day or week. You can take lessons and tours. As a beginner, you’ll take your first stab at it in the morning or early evening quiet. The introduction includes a lesson, required safety gear and a guide.

Check in with DelMarVa Board Sport Adventures in Fenwick Island, Del., or OC SUP & Fitness in Fager’s Island and Yoga Vibez, both in the Ocean City, Md., area.

From Fenwick Island at Harpoon Hanna’s, you can paddle for an hour or two to visit the back bays or go through the Bethany Canal. Look through the marshes for great blue herons and bald eagles. With water depths ranging from two to four feet, it’s shallow enough for those who aren’t confident swimmers.

From Cape Henlopen State Park fishing pier, you can take a sunset trip that captures all the charm of nearby Lewes and maybe even a pod of dolphins.

Take your board a little farther south and explore Assateague Island as you watch bald eagles, cranes, the famed ponies, and other flora and fauna. or

Savor Southern Charm
Staunton (pronounced Stanton) is a final getaway, and it is the farthest away. You can drive there in under three hours, visit, have lunch, and return in one day, but this town deserves more time than that. Hollywood agrees. You just might recognize scenes from Gods and Generals and Evan Almighty, both filmed in Staunton.

Staunton is nestled in Virginia’s historic Shenandoah Valley, a gateway for thousands of early settlers traveling south and west from Pennsylvania. They brought their building styles and culinary treasures.

If all you know about building log cabins came from the John Lloyd Wright-created Lincoln Logs and you’re in a car, then make your first stop the Frontier Culture Museum to see the history of the life they created in the Valley. You can see replicas of an Igbo West African farm, an English farm, an Irish farm and forge, and a German farm.

Now you’re faced with decisions, which is why it helps if you’re spending a couple of days here. Among the should-see things are a performance at the Blackfriar’s Playhouse, the only true replica of Shakespeare’s original indoor theater.

A block away is the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum. You’re welcome to see and review the home, gardens and papers of our 28th president. You can also see his presidential car, a Pierce Arrow limousine.

You can take Amtrak to Staunton, but even if you don’t travel this way, you should stop by the station that was built in 1902. It was designed by a local firm with a triple arcade stone trim and beige brick. After falling into shambles, it was restored and now has an old drug store and soda fountain.

Before you race home, stop by the Depot Grille restaurant for a tasty lunch, or if you’ve been convinced to stay a little longer, spend the night at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel & Conference Center, a member of the Historic Hotels of America. The 1924 hotel has been restored to show the best of what was then and what is now.

For a super nostalgic taste, stop at the Wright’s Dairy-Rite, an original drive-in restaurant that’s been around since 1952. Reportedly, this is where the local boys known as the Statler Brothers penned “Flowers on the Wall.”

Whatever you do and wherever you go, make 2013 a summer to remember!

This story was published in the July/August 2013 issue of Montgomery Magazine.