RoadVenture With Dad – A Day in Northern Virginia

Since I am home for more than the requisite amount of time to hang out in my bed or with my family, my dad and I decided to take a day trip to see some local sights neither of us had seen, much like our national park road trips all through my high school years. Believe it or not, there are several (okay, plenty) of National Park Service places within driving distance that I have not yet seen, so today we set out to explore some sites in northern Virginia. Originally, Dad wanted to do a 2 or 3 day driving trip, across the Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, then down the peninsula to cross the Bay Bridge Tunnel and wind up in Norfolk, then hit up Richmond before heading home. I’m actually glad we didn’t, because apparently a tractor-trailer crashed off the Bay Bridge and into the water.

So that happened.

Great Falls Park, via the Fairfax County Board of Tourism. We saw the falls, but not the greenery.

Anyway, at about 11:00 AM, after about 1 hour and 20 minutes of driving, we ended up at Great Falls Park in McLean, Virginia. There was a little visitor center, but ultimately, not a lot to see there. Fortunately, it was not too cold to be outside, but it wasn’t warm enough to take a stroll into the park either, especially if we were going to see some other parks. It is probably a much better sight to see in the summer, with all the trees and whatnot.

Wolf Trap Farm Park is America’s only national park devoted solely to the performing arts. This is pretty much all I saw of it. Photo from

From there, we drove through what is probably one of the ritziest neighborhoods I’ve ever seen (I’m talking giant mansions with golden gates), we ended up at Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna. Again, since it was the middle of the week in the winter, not a lot going on. There were a few other people hanging around at Great Falls, but we were literally the only people at Wolf Trap; it was so deserted that I actually had to go up to whatever buildings I could find so I could get someone to give me the stamp for my National Parks Passport. Eventually, I found someone who worked in admin to unlock the ranger station for me, and I didn’t want to impinge on his time so we left quickly.

After lunch at a totally shi-shi mall in Tyson’s Corner (I’m talking Neiman Marcus, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, BCBG Max Azria) and a few geocaches in Falls Church, we decided to head to Arlington to see the Arlington National Cemetery. It was only 3 PM and the cemetery was open until 5, but we were planning on meeting the rest of the family for dinner in Rockville on our way home, so we went anyway. Here’s a tip: get directions before you go. We ended up driving into a restricted military area near the Pentagon, and almost did it again a few miles down the road. Eventually, a helpful man in uniform gave us better directions than Google Maps (thanks a mill, Siri), and we made it to the cemetery. And even more remarkably, despite having served in the military and lived within driving distance of the cemetery for 98% of his life, my dad had never been before.

Fortunately, it had gotten a little warmer, but unfortunately, since we arrived at 3:45, things were actually beginning to shut down a little. At the cemetery visitor’s center, the ranger told us that the Robert E. Lee Memorial (Arlington House) was actually closing at 4:30, so it would be tough to make it there and have time to see anything. So instead, we just moseyed around the cemetery. I felt bad about having to rush, especially when we had to stand on the curb and wait for a funeral cortege to pass by, but it was needed. At least we got to look at some of the cemetery, which is incredible to see; acres and acres of identical white gravestones with red and green wreaths propped up against each one, in perfect straight lines. We also got to see the graves of John F. Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, and their two children who died in infancy. They are buried around an Eternal Flame; I didn’t feel right taking pictures, but it was a very emotional monument and I am sure that anyone who was alive during the Kennedy presidency would definitely feel something (I wasn’t, and I sure did). I would have liked to have seen more, including Arlington House, Theodore Roosevelt Island, the LBJ Memorial Grove, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but I’ll definitely come back someday to take a second visit. A bit of trivia: only two presidents are buried at the cemetery (JFK and William Howard Taft).

If you’re in the DC area, definitely check out Arlington Cemetery, it’s hallowed, spiritual, and worth paying to park.

Arlington National Cemetery: a neat freak’s delight. Photo from Vietnam Veterans of America.

Four graves.jpg

Graves of the Four Kennedys and the Eternal Flame, from wikimedia commons


2 thoughts on “RoadVenture With Dad – A Day in Northern Virginia

  1. thatssojacob,

    Wow, you got to see some moving and beautiful places. It’s often true that as “locals” we see less of the touristic spots in our own back yards than visiting tourists do, after all they are not busy will study and work, they are on holiday and both the time and the money to go from one sightseeing thing to the next.
    I *still* have so much to see in my own province let alone entire country, small as it is by US standards. You don’t have to be a kid to learn something new… new and excellent discoveries are available both close to home and far away for the rest of your life.
    Excellent too to spend some time with your Dad…I’m sure it will have been very moving for him to visit Arlington Cemetery too. I’ve visited war grave in Europe, and know too well that strange very sobering feeling you get a you stare at rows and rows of graves stretching far into the distance and feel the weight of the sacrifice that’s been made on our behalf.
    I thought that our kids would be too young to really appreciate it, but was wrong, they felt it too, in their own way and there was none of their usual messing and playing around, they took a very respectful interest as sight of all those graves before them sank in.
    The memories of such days stay with you, cherish them both for yourself and for those who never got to cherish days out with their own Dads or sons.

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