This post is one in a series of Ten 3-Mile Walks Around Washington, DC. The pins in the map below show where I stopped to take pictures but also serve to outline the route!
As you can see from the map, this walk is really the “lower half” of the National Mall. It covers many of the best sites, a few hidden gems and lesser known monuments.
The walk begins at about the corner of 14th and Independence. This is roughly the mid-point of the National Mall. Behind you is a great view of the “museum” half of the Mall. (From left to right, the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Ave, The Museum of American History, and the domed Museum of Natural History.)
The first monument encountered is a biggie, the Washington Monument. “The Monument” as it is known locally is in view during this entire walk and on this very windy winter day, the flags surrounding it were rippling so hard it sounded like a rushing river.
The monument shows white edges on the corners. This is mortar where it underwent repairs from the 2011 earthquake that struck the DC area. The monument was closed and encased in scaffolding for 2 1/2 years while the repairs were done.
The next monument encountered is the National World War II Memorial. At the time of this walk it was still winter and the fountain was drained. This is a beautiful monument and in my opinion really captures the age and character of that generation. I will return and add photos when the fountain is operating. The monument has a section for each state, a half dedicated to the Atlantic theater, and one to the Pacific. It is solemn and impressive.
The World War II Memorial is at one end of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, with the Lincoln Memorial at the other end. The pool is currently drained for restoration. It looked like a giant roller-rink and offered little in the way of reflection!
As you walk toward the Lincoln Memorial, to your left you will see a domed gazebo. This is the DC War Memorial. It is a permanent record honoring the residents of the District of Columbia who gave their lives in military service to the country.
Just before you get to the Lincoln Memorial, off to the left is the Korean War Veterans Memorial. This is a very impressive memorial. A Platoon of soldiers, laden with gear, wearing rain ponchos, spread out in a scouting formation marching through the brush. At almost every angle at least one of them is looking at you, concerned, nervous. The detail is inspiring and the backdrop is a black marble wall with faces, names, and a reflection of the Washington Monument. This memorial deserves a post of its own one day.
The next stop is one of the most popular monuments in all of Washington, DC. The Lincoln Memorial, the backdrop for Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous ‘I have a Dream” speech, and memorial to one of our most beloved presidents. I have lived in this area for over 30 years and it never gets old. My children go here for Prom pictures, I ride my bike here on weekends, and always, it is packed with visitors.
The view that Lincoln has from his chair is usually awe-inspiring and literally reflective. On this day, however, with the water drained from the Reflecting Pool, it was lacking something. At the top of this post I have included what I consider to be one of the finest photographs I have ever taken. This past fall I was here with a friend at sunset as I watched two Buddhist monks playing tourist. The colors in the picture, the sunlight on the Washington Monument, and the moment just all came together. That is what Lincoln sees from his chair.
The Lincoln Memorial is the farthest point from the beginning of the walk. From there head up the other side of the Reflecting Pool. Right before you get to the Vietnam Memorial is a sculpture called The Three Soldiers. Officially part of the Vietnam Memorial, this is a striking piece of art and tribute to American Soldiers. The uniforms they wear are reflective of all branches of the service. The work is bronze but still shows color within the uniforms. The soldiers look, with despair, at the solemn wall that is the Vietnam Memorial.
The Vietnam Memorial, like the World War II Memorial is reflective of its generation. Dark and filled with conflict, the black marble wall is built into the ground and tapers at each end to grade. On it are the names of the fallen, over 50,000 of them. As you walk through, veterans act as docents, people leave flowers, and etch the names of loved ones by tracing over the name with pencil on paper. The reflection of the Washington Monument and the US Capitol can be seen in the memorial. I have walked through here many times and always found it to be a moving experience.
As you exit the Vietnam Memorial, walking toward the Washington Monument, there is a small lake and in it is a tiny island with a footbridge connecting it to the shore. That island is a memorial to the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.
It’s a peaceful, almost hidden spot away from all the big monuments. The names (56 of them) are in order of the colony they represented. One of my favorite pieces of trivia is here. One of the signers from my home state of New Hampshire, was named Josiah Bartlett. If you were a fan of the NBC TV Series The West Wing, you know that the President of the United States in that show was from a storied New Hampshire political family. Though he went by Jed, his full name was Josiah Bartlett.
Continuing the walk, now on Constitution Avenue, you arrive at a small stone house on a corner. It looks out of place among the marble and granite monuments. The Lockkeeper’s House was used back when a good part of Constitution Ave was a canal for shipping. There was a lock here to adjust to changes in elevation. This Washington City Canal connected the C&O Canal to the Anacostia River and barges were towed right past the US Capitol. I find it amusing that once donkeys pulled barges right by the front door since now you can’t park a car within miles of the place!
As you continue up Constitution Ave you pass the most famous residential address in DC, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. This view of the Whitehouse is across the Ellipse and during Christmas time the National Christmas tree which the president ceremoniously lights would be right in the center of this frame. Despite all the police cars, there was no incident going on, this is just the standard security around the perimeter.
The last site on the walk is the newest museum, still under construction. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American Heritage and Culture is scheduled to open in 2016, it occupies the last available space on the National Mall for a museum, right between the Museum of American History and the Washington Monument.
The last leg of the walk is across the National Mall at 14th St. As you cross, look left. On this day, the setting sun was was shining on a great view of the US Capitol, Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Castle.