Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Turkey Hill Experience

The Turkey Hill Experience
Lancaster County / Columbia, PA

Front Entrance to the Tour
One of my favorite hangouts as a kid was the local Turkey Hill Minit Market along Route 501 outside my hometown of Lititz.  It was a treat to head down the hill with the gang to get an ice cold Coke or cherry flavored slushy and a pack of your favorite Tastykakes.  I still wish I had the $50,000 dollars worth of quarters I dumped into the Asteroids arcade game inside the store during the summer of 1978!  It was all the rage when the plastic slushy baseball batting helmets came out.  I wanted to get them all and even tried to get "one up" on my friends by visiting Turkey Hill stores in nearby towns to try and get the teams they didn’t.  The dairy part of the store never entered my mind but it did provide another opportunity for a slushy every-time we ran out of milk!  My father’s choice of beverage was an ice-cold tall glass of milk and every-time he went for his fix and the jug was empty, an interrogation was sure to follow.  However, one benefit of having a little brother is the ability to pass the blame.  Sorry Scott!  

Pictures of the Dairy's History
(Photo Credits / Turkey Hill Archives)
Unknown to us kids, the real heart of the Turkey Hill convenience store empire was milk.  The company’s whole operation started out on a small farm owned by a man named Armor Frey in southern Lancaster County.  Mr. Frey began selling his surplus milk in glass bottles to his neighbors during the Great Depression to earn a little extra money.  As time went by, he slowly expanded his route and figured out a way to make it a full time occupation.  The name Turkey Hill comes from the area where the Frey farm was located in Lancaster County.  The area was given its name by the local Susquehannock Indians, who hunted turkeys on the nearby ridge.  The name also appears in the original deed of the Frey family’s land, granted by the son of William Penn.  As he grew older, Armor Frey sold his growing little business to his three sons, who planned to continue what their father started.      

History of the Dairy Exhibit
Glenn, Emerson, and Charles Frey took over their fathers dairy business in 1947 and were able to sustain and grow their customer base across Lancaster County.  In 1980 the brothers decided to enter into ice-cream production, which became a good seller across the county.  The Frey brothers decided to target a larger market base and took their dairy products to the big city of Philadelphia.  A few store chains agreed to give the Turkey Hill name brand a try on a trial basis.  The high quality ice-cream with a reasonable price became an unbeatable combination in the Philadelphia area.   The ice-cream production of the company expanded as it became more and more popular in distant markets.  Today the Turkey Hill brand is sold across the country and is in the top five brands of ice-cream sold in America.  Turkey Hill also became well known for their popular ice tea products with a variety of flavors.  Today they are the top selling bottled tea brand in the country.  In addition, the company expanded their number of minit markets in operation, now totaling 230 convenience stores across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.
  Ashley + Bailey Silk Mill
(Photo Credit / Lancaster Newspapers)
The latest addition to the growing Turkey Hill dairy empire is the new Turkey Hill Experience along Route 30 in Columbia, Pennsylvania.  The property was previously an old silk mill from the industrial days of Columbia’s strong economic history.  The Ashley and Bailey Silk Mill fell on hard times like the majority of textile industries in the northeast, following the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to foreign nations, who could offer cheaper sources of labor.  The site closed in 1895 and sat empty for the next quarter century, continuing to deteriorate and fall prey to the elements.   The former factory became an ivy-covered eyesore over the years, reducing it to little more than a four-story brick shell of its former self.  It was the first thing people saw along busy Route 30 as they passed by the Columbia exit, a negative three dimensional billboard for the financially struggling community.  Several business deals to revitalize the site were often discussed but never evolved into the developmental phase.  

Katelyn Making her Deliveries
Finally, Turkey Hill stepped up to the plate and chose the industrial brown site for their planned educational facility.  One of the best outcomes of the construction project was the company’s decision to incorporate the remaining shell of the original silk mill into the new facility’s design.  The end result was a 26,000 square foot center contained within the former worn brick walls of the old textile mill called The Turkey Hill Experience.  A mix of the old and the new was now the perfect image for the recovery of Columbia’s economic footprint within the state’s economy.  Once upon a time, Columbia was a thriving economic center of the nation and was even considered as a potential location for the nation’s capital.  Since then, the American economy slowly evolved into a service-based financial system, leaving manufacturing based communities like Columbia and the local hard working people behind.  Many hope the new center will help recovery take root, leading to continued development and much-needed accompanying job growth. 

A Couple of Cows
During the attraction’s construction, I was contacted by a production member of the site’s design team, asking for permission to use several of the photographs I had taken of Chickies Rock just north of Columbia.  I had posted many photos of Chickies Rock on my Flickr account online and it must have caught the attention of someone working on the new facility.  They were planning on devoting a section of the museum to Lancaster County and nearby sites of local interest.  I granted my permission but never heard anything back from the designer and was curious to see if they ever decided to use my images.  I grabbed my daughter Katelyn on a hot July afternoon to go see what The Turkey Hill Experience was all about.  I had read that Ice-cream production was the star attraction of the tour and thought it was a perfect summer day to investigate!  Katelyn was game and we were suddenly off on another full-filled adventure!
It's Milking Time
One nice thing about visiting The Turkey Hill Experience tourist attraction is it is very easy to find, right along the highway.  Upon arrival, the transformation of the former industrial factory was amazing.  The 12 million dollar project brought the site back to life once again.  It was a Sunday afternoon and the parking lot was crowded with visiting tourists, a good sign for the community.  Over the years, many people have requested Turkey Hill to make factory tours available to the public but the company was unable to deliver, stating it was not possible for various reasons.  The company had been looking for a way to offer consumers a way to view and learn about the production process of their line of popular products.  The plan was to create a Chocolate World like attraction off-site to safely provide a view to the ice-cream and iced tea production process open to the public.  The Turkey Hill Experience includes an interactive tour of factory themed exhibits, a creamery where you can buy delicious ice-cream creations, and of course... a gift shop.
The Tea Room
The company intended the admission fee for the tour to fall within the $5.00 to $10.00 range but ended up costing $13.00 for an adult admission.  This fact caused multiple complaints and criticism from early customers, leading to an announcement from the company that prices would be lowered by a dollar.   I agreed that the $12.00 admission was a steep price to pay to take in the tour and exhibits, especially since Chocolate World right up the road is free.  The “experience” begins with a section on the local history of the area from the first settlers of the local Native Americans who suffered from the arrival of their new European neighbors.  Next, are some side notes of local points of interest.  I was disappointed to discover they decided not to use my pictures of Chickies Rock, as all the photographs in the exhibit were provided by the local historical society.  Oh well, maybe next time.  Now on to the good stuff… ice-cream!  Turkey Hill is the official ice cream for the Philadelphia Phillies with Graham Slam and Batter Up, the Pittsburgh Steelers with Blitzburgh Crunch, the Philadelphia Eagles with Touchdown Sundae, and three additional flavors associated with the New York Yankees.  Hey, how did they get in there?  What about Pennsylvania's hockey teams?  After all, it's placed on ice!

Sports Themed Treats
--> A brief history of the dairy’s humble beginnings springs you onto the tasting ice-cream station.  It was a nice touch that you didn’t have to wait until the very end of the tour to get a taste of the action.  There were several accelerated films of ice-cream production from the factory that reminded Katelyn and I of Modern Marvels on the History Channel.  Close by was the World of Tea exhibit, which included a mini tea bar, where you could sample any flavor of tea you wanted.  We tried the blueberry flavored ice tea, which we both agreed was delicious.  I loved the throwback images of the company on display, including the old red and white signage with the black Indian silhouette from when I was a kid.  There was a fully restored company milk truck from the 1950’s era and a station where you could crate your own fantasy ice-cream flavor.  Many of the exhibits were geared to smaller kids, who seemed to be having a ball!  Overall, the museum was an interesting tour, accented with pleasant smells and delicious tastes.  However, the high cost of admission hurt my overall impression of the Turkey Hill Experience  
Former Ashley + Bailey Silk Mill
--> Hopefully the Turkey Hill Experience will exceed the company’s 250,000-350,000 visitors per year target to help spawn continued economic growth within Columbia.  The Creamery, located within the building, can be visited without admission to the museum through a separate entrance and is worth a visit by itself.  Katelyn had the chocolate-chip cookie dough and I went with chocolate marshmallow.  They were our standard usual flavors but guaranteed to please!  After our indulgence, we decided to work off our ice cream indulgence by hiking up to Chickies Rock just north of Columbia.  A nice combination for an ice-creamed themed adventure!   A double dip adventure in fact!
Check Out their Informative Website

Sunday, March 18, 2012

PA Capitol Building Tour

PA State Capitol Building Tour
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Capitol Building Rotunda
I am preparing to go overseas this summer for a few weeks and needed to get my very first passport for the journey.  Thankfully, I am a saver of personal documents, including almost every pay-stub from every job I have ever had during my lifetime.  I know that borders on hoarding but I learned this habit from my father who has a similar archive only much larger.  When I learned that I would need my birth certificate to apply for my passport, I knew exactly where to look and found it in minutes... However, upon closer inspection I realized it was a birth announcement from the hospital filled out by some nurse with really nice handwriting.  Despite the fact that it was adorned with the official seal of the state of Pennsylvania front and center, it was considered an invalid document because it didn't have a raised seal in the lower right hand corner.  Now what?  After a search to the four corners of our house and my parent's house, my quest for the official certificate ended in failure, I needed to look into getting a replacement and fast!  The passport process can take months and the clock was ticking...

Rotunda Grand Staircase
I found it hard to believe that I had the pay-stubs from my part time job as a stock-boy at Weis Markets from when I was in high school but didn't have the document that proved I was born?  Are you kidding me?  Why is it that you always have every possible piece of paper safely filed away... except the one you really need?  I instantly went online and visited the State of Pennsylvania's helpful website, navigated my way to Vital Records, and hit the Birth Certificate Replacement tab.  What did we ever do before the internet?  I followed the steps, downloaded the forms, filled them out, made a color copy of my driver's license, wrote out a check for ten dollars, and mailed it away ASAP!  Over the next two weeks I watched for my check to clear but it didn't and the mailbox continued to fill with bills daily but no birth certificate.  I went back online to investigate and found a sentence tucked at the bottom of the webpage stating it can take up to ninety days for a replacement certificate to arrive by mail.  Three months?  Really?  I quickly switched to Plan "B" and called a local notary to see about express messenger service... Six to eight weeks!  How about we jump right to Plan "Z" and hit the internet one more time!

Murals of Pennsylvania History
My trip to Germany was on the line and my misplaced/lost birth certificate was becoming a major problem.  I came to the obvious conclusion that my parents never gave it to me thirty years ago and they must have lost it!  Upon further research, I found out that I could go to Harrisburg to the Vital Records Office on Walnut Street and request a replacement certificate in person.  They could process my request on site right away and I could pick it up a few hours later.  So off to the state capital I went, taking a personal day off from work to prove to the government that I was in fact, born!  I found the small office that was half the size of my living room, filled out the same form I had mailed in a few weeks earlier, paid another ten dollars, and was told to come back three hours later.  So... what takes three months by mail, can be accomplished in just three hours in person!  I love the government!  Now what could I possibly do to kill a few hours in the state capital of Pennsylvania?  Hey, how about checking out the Capitol Building just a few steps away from the Vital Records Office.   

Pennsylvania Senate Chamber Floor
I went back to the car, stowed away some unofficial miscellaneous documents I brought from home to help prove I had been born, and grabbed my camera.  With my tourist status now on full view for all to see, I hit the streets!  As I made my way toward the Capitol Building, I was reminded of the sheer size of the imposing structure that sits on five and a half acres.  It is quite a hike to get to the front door as you pass column after column of white granite from the state of Vermont.  You know you have arrived at the front entrance when the Barnard Statues come into view.  The two group sculptures that flank the front entrance were created by renowned Pennsylvania artist George Grey Bernard and contain a total of 27 full size figures depicting mankind in various stages of life.  Just inside the door, you have to go through the normal security screens of metal detectors and cameras that show the contents of your belongings.  If you don't get tackled by the Capitol Complex Police, you are now free to proceed into the impressive rotunda, the heart and soul of the State Capitol Building. 

Pennsylvania Senate Chamber Ceiling
I had visited the State Capitol Building before a few years ago with my kids but never had the official tour.  The building seemed deserted on this particular Friday morning as the lawmakers were not in session and mostly out of town.  I signed up for the free tour that take place weekdays from 8:30 - 4:30 on the half hour.  I was joined by a nice elderly couple who were sightseeing in the city from Rochester, New York.  The tour began within the Capitol Rotunda and is truly spectacular to see in person, an architectural marvel that you really need to see in person to fully appreciate.  The design of the rotunda space was inspired by many aspects of the famous Paris Opera House in France including the Grand Staircase and three-tiered marble gallery that rises to support the beautiful illuminated dome high above.  The dome itself is 272 feet high, weighs 52 million pounds, and is lit by 48 porthole windows and over 4,000 lights.  The tour guide said the rotunda is the safest place to be during an earthquake since the heavy building is made of solid rock and is a free standing structure.  Sounds good, but I can just picture all that broken glass raining down on me at light speed...  I think I'll take my chances outside under a park bench!  The tour guide agreed, admitting she wasn't game to test the claim either.  Thankfully, the ground remained steady and we were able to continue the tour.

  Supreme Court Chamber / Harrisburg
The floor of the rotunda is laid with red tiles made by local craftsman Henry Chapman Mercer that also extend down the Senate and House Corridors.  Starting in the Senate Corridor there are mosaic tiles laid within the floor that depict symbols of Pennsylvania's history and development.  The first mosaic tile at the far end of the Senate Corridor shows the Native Americans, a Conestoga wagon marks the approximate midpoint located below the rotunda dome, and the last mosaic tile at the far end of the House Corridor shows a Model-T automobile.  There are a total of 377 mosaic tiles within the floor that walk you through Pennsylvania history.  Next, we headed up the marble Grand Staircase to view the Senate Chamber from the public gallery viewing area.  The large mahogany doors opened to reveal a large beautiful room that resembled a palace.  The room was filled with symbolic art of Pennsylvania's history displayed in paintings, sculpture and stained glass.  The whole room told a story with each piece of artwork seamlessly connected to the others to form a complete timeline of Pennsylvania's growth and development as a state.  The chandeliers each weigh two tons and are large enough for a six foot tall person to climb inside to change the light-bulbs, which is periodically needed.   

  State Supreme Court Chamber Dome
The fifty senators still sit at the original mahogany desks that were purchased when the Capitol Building was built in 1906 but are most well known for being the subject of a scandal.  Back in the day, furniture was purchased based on weight and the price increased with the reading on the scale.  The foreign furniture company from Belize tried to cheat the State of Pennsylvania by inserting lead bars within the four legs of each chair to increase the weight and final price.  However, the discrepancy was discovered and the parties involved found guilty.  Remember kids... Crime doesn't pay!  The Senate Chamber, which was designed by architect Joseph Huston and artist Violet Oakley, went through a major restoration project in 1994 bringing the artifacts within the room back to their original brilliance and luster.  The chamber is framed in rare green Connamara marble imported from Ireland and the entire room is accented with 24 carat gold leaf.   Next we were off to view the Supreme Court Chamber that is not open to the public unless you are on the guided tour.  The Supreme Court is only in session in Harrisburg a few months a year as the court also rotates to serve in the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.   

 Supreme Court Chamber Chandelier
The Harrisburg Chamber is located on the fourth floor of the Capitol Building between the Senate and House Chambers.   The chamber walls are adorned with sixteen works of art by Violet Oakley, who also painted herself discretely in the upper left hand corner of one of the large works of art.  Her most famous piece is the work entitled Divine Law, where several legal words and phrases are creatively hidden within the painting, which is pictured at the top of this blog.  Above our heads was a beautiful glass dome also designed by Alfred Godwin accented in multiple shades of emerald green.  The other amazing art on display came in the form of four large bronze chandeliers with a small sculpture of a philosopher nested inside a columned temple.  At the rear of the chamber was a simple wooden keystone shaped clock, one of about 150 found throughout the Capitol Building.   Our final stop on the tour was the large House Chamber where 203 lawmakers representing their constituents from the far corners of the state come to vote on pending bills attempting to become new laws. 

 Pennsylvania House Chamber Floor
Once again we viewed the House Chamber floor from the public gallery balcony located above the rear of the chamber.  The large space is flanked by 14 stained glass windows, each weighing in at over 200 pounds each.  The walls are framed with beautiful white marble from the Pyrenees Mountains in France, the only building in the Western Hemisphere that contains the rare marble.   There are five large mural paintings by famed artist Edwin Austin Abbey, including the enormous 35 square foot canvas positioned above the Speaker of the House's podium entitled The Apotheosis.  The painting is a tribute to 28 famous Pennsylvanians who had an impact on the state's history with founder William Penn honored at the forefront.   The room was dim with the main chandeliers on the ceilings darkened to save energy.    The six crystal chandeliers weigh between two and four tons depending on their position within the room and contain approximately 1,000 light bulbs.  Turning off those lights really can make a difference in your monthly electric bill!  Conservationists?  I guess a large wind turbine to generate electricity on top of the rotunda dome would just clash with the rest of the Capitol Building's exquisite decor.  And the golden statue known as Commonwealth isn't willing to share top billing!    

 Senate Private Office Wing
Well, the short half-hour tour had come to an end and we were now free to explore the Capital Building Complex on our own.  The tour was excellent, short but full of interesting facts and not overwhelming. There are a total of 475 rooms within the Capitol Building and most are off limits to the public unless you know someone on the inside... which I don't.  If I did, I never would have had to come all the way to Harrisburg to get my replacement birth certificate in the first place.  However, I turned a chore into another opportunity to learn more about our state capitol.  Now that the tour was complete, I had plenty of time to seek something else to check out while I waited for my new birth certificate... like all the unique restaurants along nearby Second Street for lunch.  Sounds like a plan!  Who's hungry?  I walked up and down Second Street and finally settled on a restaurant called Stocks on 2nd and ordered the unimaginative burger and fries.  However, it was really good, hit the spot, and refilled the tank!   Well, my three hour tour of Pennsylvania's capital city was just about up and it was time to go see if there really was going to be a birth certificate waiting for me at the Office of Vital Records or INS agents to arrest and deport me... Fingers crossed! 

One Last Shot of the Rotunda
I made my way to the Vital Records Office, which was now jammed packed with people and resembled a crowded phone booth... if you are old enough to still remember what a phone booth actually looked like.   However the hard working public servants cycled the line though quickly and efficiently.  And low and behold, they actually had my replacement birth certificate waiting for me to pick up!  Hooray!  I really was born and now had the document to prove it!  I quickly exited the office before anyone could change their minds and with certificate tightly in hand, I walked directly back to the parking garage for my getaway.  I looked over my shoulder several times and could swear some big guys in dark suits and matching sunglasses were discretely following me and quickened my pace.  I boarded the parking garage elevator without incident and made it to Level Five and sped off through the concrete maze until I found the exit slide, paid my tab, and headed for daylight.  Soon I was making my way out of the city limits and set my sights on home.  All in all it turned out to be a fun day and now that I had my birth certificate, I could start the "simple" process to get my passport.  Germany... Here I come!  Fingers still crossed!

My Proof I was Born!

Please See All My Photos of my Tour of the Capitol Building at...

Please Read my Related Blog on the History of the State's Capitol at...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Georgetown / D.C. Cupcakes

D.C. Cupcakes
Georgetown, Washington D.C.

Georgetown Cupcakes
(Image Credit / D.C. Cupcakes)
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We had just finished scaling up and down the climbing complex pathways of the National Zoo for several hours and were ready to head for the exit.  We had one additional stop on our planned itinerary for the day and were ready to tackle our final objective of this trip to the nation’s capital, while we still had the energy.  One of my daughter’s birthday wishes was to visit the famous bakery Georgetown Cupcake from the popular reality television series D.C. Cupcakes on the TLC television network.  I would have voted for another historical stop at the newly dedicated Martin Luther King Memorial on the Washington Mall but since it wasn’t my birthday… I didn’t have a say in the schedule of events on this trip! 

 Police Keep the Peace at the Side Door
My family is addicted to reality television and the male and female residents of our home have different lists of must see shows that frequent the primetime viewing hours of our household television sets.  My wife Susan and daughter Katelyn often team up in the living room to watch shows such as The Little Couple, What Not to Wear, Dancing with the Stars, The Kardashians, Cake Boss, Tori and Dean, and Teen Mom… Just to name a few!  I can honestly say I have never watched a single episode of any of the shows mentioned above… with the exception of Teen Mom... However, I lost interest after the first season!  I can’t watch any reality shows with kids screaming, crying, fighting, etc. because… Well, been there, done that!  It was stressful enough when it was my reality!

 Lined up Around the Block
Tyler and I often take up residence in the kitchen gathered around the smaller television set and have our own list of nightly entertainment that we like to call… Manvision!  Topping our list is Pawn Stars, American Pickers, Axe Men, Ice Road Truckers, Storage Wars, River Monsters, World’s Deadliest Catch, Swamp People, Dual Survival and Gold Rush… Just to name a few!  Marathons of a single show on the weekends where they run through the whole series are especially addicting!  I guess the lawn could wait until tomorrow… the grass has been longer before… I think!  I have even been known to watch episodes of Extreme Hoarding and Buried Alive… but only because it makes me feel better about the disarray of my own garage and basement storage areas… Hey, it’s all good… as long as you don’t have to climb over a five foot high pile of junk to get into the room!

 Happy Birthday Katelyn!
So we pulled out of the Zoo parking lot, set the GPS for Georgetown and made our way along the picturesque Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway.  The drive was beautiful as we passed through Rock Creek Park Trail where Washington residents took advantage of the beautiful weather by riding bikes, jogging, or pushing baby strollers.  We had never seen such a busy recreation area pathway, which closely resembled the busy roadways that paralleled the park trail.  We continued to drive through the narrow valley and passed beneath several impressive archways that supported raised bridges that carried busy roadways high above the calm atmosphere of the parks.  With the help of the GPS and my wife yelling at me, we suddenly arrived in the jam-packed streets of historic Georgetown.   

 Take Your Pick!
We headed down the main drag of M Street and came to a dead stop into a bumper-to bumper crawl toward our destination.  People were everywhere, crossing the streets every which-way causing my wife to continuously yell at me to “help” me carefully navigate my way toward Georgetown Cupcake located somewhere off beyond the horizon of chaos!  One thing was certain, there was no place to park and so we planned to drop the girls off at the store and then try to find someplace to park until we were called to swoop in for the pick-up!  We eventually found the famous bakery on the corner of M and 33rd Streets with a crowd of people surrounding the building.  There was a police officer posted by the bakery door watching over the crowd to make sure no one tried to butt in line!  These must be the best cupcakes ever!  We turned off onto 33rd Street and dropped the girls off so they could get in the line that wrapped around the block!
 Ordering a Dozen Cupcakes
Tyler and I continued onward, pulled around the corner and suddenly saw an open parking space right by the stop sign.  A “free” parking space in Georgetown a few yards away from D.C. Cupcakes?  How lucky could you get?  I think this was a parking spot, or was it too good to be true?  We got out of the car to stretch our legs and I was looking forward to going off to explore the historic district that was once well known for the Georgetown Canal.  By the looks of the line to get into the bakery, we would have at least an hour to kill around town, maybe more.  However, upon closer inspection… there was a No Parking sign just above us, hidden from view by the branches of a nearby tree.  Now what?  Looking at all the traffic, I doubted we would find anything else available that didn’t involve a parking garage that would most likely involve a payment plan. 

 Cupcakes, Cupcakes, Cupcakes
Speaking of reality television... I didn't want to wind up on an episode of my of my new shows called Parking Wars... We decided to stay put and hope Officer Friendly didn’t show up… I could play dumb… I’m good at that… No parking sign… what sign officer?… I didn’t see a sign?  However, to avoid having the car towed away, we were stuck with our vehicle and exploring historic Georgetown would have to wait until another visit.  Tyler and I sat and relaxed in the car and watched wealth pass us by… I have never seen so many expensive high-end vehicles in such a short period of time!  Our Toyota RAV 4 just didn’t seem to fit into the vehicular crowd.  We had “tourist” written all over us!  Occasional texts came in from my wife to relay their slow progress forward toward the bakery entrance.  This was going to take forever… but in the meantime, Tyler and I planned to amuse ourselves with “people” and “exotic car” watching.   

 Happy Birthday Kojo and Kwame!
D.C. Cupcakes is a television reality series about two sisters who run a cupcake bakery together in the District of Columbia.  Their opening episode hit the airwaves on TLC during the summer of 2010, attracting over a million viewers in their first season.  Sisters Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis make gourmet cupcakes and create creative cupcake sculptures for high-end clients on the show.  In one episode they constructed a giant gorilla sculpture made from several hundred chocolate cupcakes for the National Zoo when they celebrated the birthdays of two lowland gorillas.  Kojo turned nine years old and Kwame turned eleven prompting a birthday party celebration to raise money for their care and habitat at the zoo.  The young gorillas devoured their own version of the treat with diet appropriate cupcakes created by zookeepers, which had bananas as the primary ingredient.  Yum!  We had just seen the lowland gorillas and aside from the giant panda bears, they were the star of the zoo!

 A Dozen Cupcakes / Minus Two
A police cruiser was slowly coming up the opposite side of the street and I was starting to practice my standard… I’m not from around here speech, when my phone rang and the girls had successfully exited the bakery with a dozen purchased cupcakes.  We had our conquest and it was time to make a quick getaway before the cops chased us out of our somewhat illegal parking space.  Georgetown Cupcake cupcakes cost $30 a dozen and they are the standard sized version.  They are safely packaged in a sturdy pink box that helped them make it home intact and right side up.  They were delicious but for thirty bucks… I’ll take a shopping cart full of Tastykakes instead!  Katelyn ordered several flavors including vanilla birthday, chocolate birthday, red velvet, peanut butter fudge, and chocolate ganache… whatever that means?   They were good with a glass of cold milk and none went to waste… Was it worth it?  You bet!  After all, it was my little girl’s birthday wish… Happy Birthday Katelyn!

 TLC Television Treats
I later found out that you don’t have to travel all the way to Georgetown in person because you can order them from their website and have them shipped directly to your home.  A dozen D.C. Cupcakes delivered to your door only costs $56… a real bargain with today’s high gas prices!  And just think… no waiting in line for an hour or risking fines for parking your car illegally!  It’s the best deal in town!

 Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis
Georgetown Cupcake
3301 M Street (corner of 33rd and M)
Washington DC 20007
p: 202-333-8448
f: 202-333-8558

Sunday, March 4, 2012

National Zoo in D.C.

Smithsonian's National Zoo
Washington D.C.

Lemur Island Falls
It was the middle of summer and my wife and I decided to take the family south, back to the Washington D.C. area to try and see a few things we missed on our last trip to the nation's capital.  My daughter Katelyn is a true zoo junkie and unfortunately for her, our last attempt to see the Smithsonian's National Zoo ended in failure.  During an overnight weekend stay, Katelyn had listed the zoo as her number one priority.  The Lincoln Monument?  Never heard of it!  We were all in the metro subway station with purchased subway tickets in hand, waiting for the metro to arrive to take us to the zoo.  However, the famed mass transit system suddenly announced over the loudspeaker they had experienced a massive mainline electrical failure.  After waiting for at least a half hour without any signs of change, we decided to cut our losses and try for the zoo during our next trip to the District of Columbia.  Katelyn was more than a little disappointed, really looking forward to seeing the famous giant panda bears in person.  However, it was not to be until two summers later when we decided to take a day trip to hit the zoo we missed and see the prized pandas.

Golden Lion Tamarins
We decided to take the wild card of mass transit out of the equation and drive directly from home to the zoo.  The kids had their electrical entertainment long-distance driving devices fully charged, my wife had her novel to read, and I had the GPS dialed in on the chosen target with a full tank of gas on board... We're off!  A few hours later we were approaching the zoo through impressive Connecticut Avenue, which was lined with elaborate apartment buildings that looked far beyond the level of a teacher's salary.  Traffic was congested and the final five miles to our destination was the longest part of the trip.  However, all the stop and go progress allowed me to safely look around behind the wheel without fear of getting punched by my ever watchful wife, who often uses corporal punishment as a means of keeping me focused on the road ahead.  Signs for the National Zoo finally came into view and we began to drive around the perimeter of the grounds looking for available parking.  We pulled into a space within Lot "E" and made our way toward the zoo entrance.  Admission to the zoo is free but it costs $20 to park your car, which still isn't a bad deal for a family of four to be entertained for an afternoon. 

Star of the National Zoo
It was strange to enter the zoo by walking right through the gate without inspection or paying an entrance fee.  The zoo seemed like any other town park but with really cool exotic wildlife from around the world on display from behind protective fences.  We started up the main path called Olmstead Walk that slightly went up hill and curved out of site.  It was becoming a hot day as we approached the late morning hours and although it was great to stretch our legs after such a long drive in the car, the path continued to go uphill.  Where were the panda bears anyway?  We took a short break by Lemur Island by a large beautiful cascading waterfall, which became very inviting in the growing humidity.  We got a visitors map and soon discovered that the Giant Panda Habitat area was at the far end of the other side of the park.  My wife's adrenaline was starting to kick in as she was determined to see the Panda Habitat before any other exhibit.  She was out front, scaling Olmstead Walk, which was becoming more like Olmstead Climb as the grade of the hill continued to increase with every step.  The kids and I were struggling to keep up, helplessly along for the ride in her wake. 

Bamboo / It's What's for Dinner
We finally reached the summit where the Panda House lay before us just a few yards from the main gate's visitor's center.  If I would have had a flag along, I would have jammed it into the ground for effect.  Note to self... Next time, arrive really early and find a parking space near the front entrance so you can go right into the Panda House and then walk slowly downhill to see the other exhibits, without risk of heart failure.  We took time to hydrate ourselves with liquids and quickly took refuge inside the air conditioned Panda House to recover.  My wife's determination paid off as we arrived in time to see the giant panda bears have their morning feeding.  A large group of people with cameras popping were crowding around a glass enclosed space where one of the pandas was licking some type of gold liquid that resembled honey from a large round plastic cone.  He was curled up in a corner of the exhibit with his back up against the glass much to the disappointment of the frustrated paparazzi just a few inches away on the other side of his glass backrest.  The panda continued to leisurely consume his breakfast and appeared completely oblivious to the plight of all the photographers (self included) all hoping for that one great shot worthy of National Geographic Magazine.

Elephant Trek Trails
I was able to get some of the best shots of a panda bear's backside in the history of photography but was hoping for at least one frontal shot of a panda's face.  I'm sure the panda was fully aware of the fact he was denying the public of what they wanted and enjoyed purposefully having his back turned to his audience.  It's probably an ongoing inside joke between the pandas after the zoo closes for the night.  However, patience is a virtue... When the second course of brunch was served in the form of bamboo, the giant panda got up on a perch, front and center before the suddenly excited crowd, who instantly began jockeying for position for their prized shots that were sure to be worthy of becoming screen savers and wallpaper for their home computers.  The giant panda seemed to be absorbed in people watching as he steadily chewed his bamboo shoots, gazing at the spectacle on the other side of the glass.  We stayed watching the panda for about an hour afraid to leave and miss their next act.  There was also an outdoor panda exhibit of natural habitat but it seemed to be empty in the growing heat of the day.  All in all, our giant panda experience was giant success, with many prized shots captured to preserve the memory.  It was well worth the climb to the top of Mount Olmstead!  Good call Mom! 

Great Apes / Gorilla Grove
We started our descent down the main path at a much more relaxed pace this time, to explore the other exhibits that were located on smaller pathways that shot off in different directions.  We saw a few elephants from a distance, checked out some exotic birds, and then headed off to find some lunch at nearby Panda Plaza.  The food court was packed and seating was at a premium.  The lines were long and the prices were tourist attraction sky-high.  I got in the endless line to order while the rest of the family hunted the area for four open seats together like a pack of lions hunting for a newborn wildebeest calf on the grasslands of the Savannah.  After about a half hour wait, both parties were successful with food and seats procured.  The food was your standard institutional burgers and fries that provided calories but not much else.  A portion of the food sale revenues went to help care for the animals so it was kind of like a forced donation to a worthy cause, which somewhat helped us digest our overpriced lunch. Oh well, we didn't come here for the food... Where's the monkeys?

Mother and Newborn Bonding
We went through the Small Primate House and watched the playful golden lion tamarins that were bright orange in color and easy to see within the green canopy.  The tufted-eared marmosets reminded me of the practical-joking monkey that was often present in the old black and white episodes of the Little Rascals I watched when I was a kid.  Next we headed off to see the large primates and found a large crowd gathered around the edge of a large circular cement wall that was an outdoor habitat called Gorilla Cove.  It was the other key highlight of our visit.  There were multiple gorillas of various ages wandering freely within the large submerged natural space.  I soon noticed a mother and her newborn  perched within the center of the space eating bamboo.  Unlike the congested Panda House, Gorilla Cove was so large and well designed, everyone was able to get a good spot to view the action below.  It was great to see them in action roaming about the outdoor space that resembled the jungle of their natural habitat.  I was able to zoom in and get some great pictures of the pair with my camera.  At one point a group of kids made a noise that spooked some of the younger males who suddenly charged toward the students at amazing speed, pounding their chests with their fists.  It made an unforgettable sound and really startled much of the crowd (except me) who quickly backed away!

Right Turn Clyde
The primate show continued indoors with several playful orangutans who climbed with amazing ease to the heights of the exhibit.  They were able to freely pass from their indoor space to an outdoor habitat, where they could soak up the sun.  We stopped off several times to do the mandatory shopping and make additional contributions to the funding of the zoo.  There were three areas of the zoo going through major construction and renovation work during our visit, including a large expansion of the Elephant Trails area.  Your donation dollars at work!  The National Zoo was first created in 1889 by Congress and became part of the Smithsonian Institute the following year.  Over time, the mission of the zoo transformed from an institution that displayed exotic and endangered animals to one that became dedicated to study, animal science, and conservation.  In 1972 the zoo acquired their first two giant pandas from China on loan named Mei Xiang and Tian Tian.  The pandas have been the stars of the zoo for the past forty years.  The zoo continues to expand their facilities and develop outreach educational programs for people across the globe.   The zoo has a second location at Fort Royal, Virginia that serves as a research and conservation center.  Together the two facilities have a collection of over 2,000 animals containing members from 400 different species. 

Rain Forest Aquarium
Well we were almost at the bottom of the hill where we first entered the zoo and it was time to start making our way to the end of the exhibits.  Our final stop took us through the Kid's Farm of farm animals to a large building known as Amazonia where the tropical rain forests of South America were on display.  The interior of the building was full of tropical plants and trees with waterways full of fish at their base.  The highlight of the exhibits was the huge walk-through aquarium that contained enormous fish including several giant arapaimas that slowly made their way from one end of the Amazon River Basin aquarium to the other.  It was really cool.  The building was on multiple levels so you could view the habitat from the heights of the tree canopy to the water filled swamps down below.  It was really cool and a fun way to end our visit.  We headed back to the car and made an exit toward our next destination of Georgetown where we hoped to visit D.C. Cupcakes, which was the other item at the top of Katelyn's agenda.  Who's up for a ridiculously expensive cupcake?  ME!

Please See all my Additional Photos of the National Zoo at...

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