Awesome! You found our starting point! That bridge in front of you with the arches is the Francis Scott Key Bridge and that’s where we are headed. Please take the Key Bridge exit and stay in the far right lane when you get on the bridge because we will be turning right on 29 North near the end of the bridge. Washington DC has seven bridges that cross over the Potomac River and we are going to check out four of them, starting with the oldest bridge first.
Coming up is the Francis Scott Key Bridge. He was the guy who wrote the Star Spangled Banner. Hey did you know that the melody for that song was actually borrowed from an old British drinking song? It’s true.Anyway, the Key bridge was built in 1923 and is about a third of a mile long. It was designed by a guy named Nathan Wyeth, who also happened to design the very first “oval office” for the President Taftback in 1909. This bridge is made of concrete and steel and has 5 really cool arches of varying widths that you can see from underneath. The views as you drive over the Potomac here are amazing. I especially love that big grey creepy looking building with the spires ahead on the left. That’s Georgetown University Campus. Did you know that the horror movie “The Exorcist” was filmed there? Yup. And UCPlaces actually offers a few tours through the Georgetown area. You really should check them out.Maybe we should talk about the Potomac River for a little bit since we will be driving over it four times in this tour. It is known as “The Nation’s River” and it runs through West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington DC. It is about 383 miles long and you are NOT allowed to swim in it. But people don’t listen and there are around 10 drownings in that water every year.
Turn right here on 29 North. We are gonna drive alongside a beautiful stretch of the Potomac River. When you get a chance later, you need to come back and park and take a stroll along Georgetown Waterfront Park. It’s located directly across the river from Roosevelt Island, where we will end up later. So the western section of the park has beautiful walkways with benches and overlooks and large grassy areas.The eastern section has a large fountain, an overlook and some cool stadium-steps leading to the water’s edge. And there’s more! When you come back, look for the pergola, the rain gardens, the bio-edge, the labyrinth and the steam gauge. These are all real things that help make the Georgetown Waterfront a beautiful place to hang out.Hey, did you know that several hundred Bottle-nosed Dolphins live six months out of the year in the Potomac? How unbelievably cool is that? Just as cool, but also way scarier is the fact that bull sharks can also be found there.
On your right is Washington Harbour. This place has year round excitement between the live entertainment, amazing restaurants and just fun stuff. In the winter it also has the largest outdoor ice skating rink in all of DC. Ok, make sure you stay to the right and follow 66 West. We’ve got a little bit of a boring drive for a minute but then we will get to something exciting. Ever heard of The Watergate Scandal?
Keep an eye out for 66 west and stay on it! To your right is the Watergate Complex where the biggest scandal in political history happened. Here’s the scandal in a nutshell - On June 17, 1972, 5 men broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters right there in those buildings. They got caught. The FBI investigated. And President Richard Nixon’s administration tried to cover up its involvement. The scandal led to an impeachment against the president and him resigning from the office. Also 48 people, many of whom were buddies with Nixon, were found guilty of conspiracy. There are soooooo many more details to this case that are very interesting so you might wanna look into it later. Remember to stay to the right on 66 West.
On your right is the United States National Cultural Center - but better known as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. If you haven’t caught a show there yet, you really need to. Inside you will find three main venues. There’s the Concert Hall, which is the home of the National Symphony Orchestra.Then you’ve got the Opera House, which hosts… operas. And ballets. And the Eisenhower Theater. Here you can see plays and musicals and dance performances.
So who’s ready for another bridge? We are! The Theodore Roosevelt Bridge is coming up. Not only does it cross the Potomac River, but it also crosses over Theodore Roosevelt Island. I hope that excites you because we are gonna end our tour on that island.So this bridge opened in 1964 and is a little over a half mile long. It is relatively boring on top, but there were plans to make it cool as you drive under it on Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway. There are granite blocks on either side of the arch that were intended to have designs chiseled into them. The first designs were of semi-naked warriors holding weapons. They were approved, but then put in storage. Rumor has it they were ugly. Twenty years later someone tried again and came up with designs of endangered species. Again a flop. 50 years later and there STILL hasn’t been any designs etched into those granite blocks. Sorry Teddy.By the way, that huge bridge to your left is the Arlington Memorial Bridge. We will be there in a few minutes.
If you peek through the trees to your left you can catch a glimpse of the Marine Corps War Memorial. It is better known as the Iwo Jima Memorial since it is sculpted after a picture that was taken during the battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. Take the Rosslyn Key Bridge exit to your right and then turn left at the stop sign while I tell you more about Iwo Jima. It was inspired by a 1945 photograph of six marines raising an American flag during WWII and is dedicated to all US Marine Corps personnel who have died in war since 1775.
Turn left on Arlington Blvd and stay to the right, following the signs to Arlington Cemetery. Here is another view of the Iwo Jima Memorial. It is 78 feet tall so those rifles in the sculpture are actually about 15 feet tall. Three of the six soldiers depicted here died fighting in this battle. The other three posed for the man who created the sculpture. They also provided photographs of the deceased flag bearers for the sculptor to model their faces. That flag at the top of the pole flies 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.Please follow the signs to Arlington National Cemetery. We are headed that direction to get to our next bridge. If you’ve never visited Arlington National Cemetery, you should. It is the final resting place for over 400,000 active duty military, retired reservists, recipients of the military’s highest honors, and former POW’s. There are around 25 burials performed daily. There are quite a few Kennedy’s buried there along with the son and grandson of Abraham Lincoln.
After this tunnel, please exit right and then turn right when you get to the stop sign. By the way, one more thing about Arlington National Cemetery that I think is interesting. There are about 4,000 former slaves buried there in Section 27, which is located where Freedman’s Village used to be. Freedman’s Village was Arlington’s first settlement for freed slaves.
Check out the two big bronze horse statues! The one on the left is called Sacrifice and on the right is Valor. Together they are called the Arts of War. Follow Lincoln Memorial Circle to the right to exit the bridge and stay in the middle lane. The Lincoln Memorial will be on your left. It is the #2 attraction in all of Washington DC. You really should come back someday and check it out on the inside. If you do, you’ll find a statue of the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln sitting on a chair. If he were to stand up he would be 28 feet tall! By the way, it was at this memorial where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech. We will actually be driving past the MLK Jr memorial in just a minute. Please turn left when you get to the stop light. That will be Independence Avenue.
Ahead on your right, just past the next intersection, is The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. There is a line from his “I Have a Dream” speech that states “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope”. This was the inspiration for this memorial. It’s a 30 ft tall sculpture of Dr. King named the Stone of Hope, and two other huge pieces of granite that symbolize the “mountain of despair”. So this memorial was supposed to have opened in August of 2011 but it had to be postponed until October because of the havoc wreaked all over DC by hurricane Irene. Irene was a nasty one.
We are about to cross the Tidal Basin via the Kutz Memorial Bridge and then follow the road to the right after the stoplight. The tidal basin is a man-made reservoir that releases 250 million gallons of water collected at high tide, twice a day. I also have a fantastic story about the tidal basin, a politician, and an Argentine stripper but I’m gonna have to save that for later. That beautiful domed building to the right across the tidal basin is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. He was the third president of the United States and the main writer of the Declaration of Independence. Inside the building you will find a 19 foot tall, 10,000 pound statue of Thomas Jefferson. There are also excerpts from the Declaration of Independence inscribed on the interior walls.
Stay in the right hand lane and follow the sign to 395 south and then get in the left lane. Did you know that the area where the Thomas Jefferson memorial sits was actually made from dredging the Potomac River and piling up the sludge to form a mound. The site also used to be a “whites-only” beach with a diving platform and a cabana. The statue of Thomas Jefferson is staring toward the statue of his rival Alexander Hamilton. The George Washington monument is placed strategically between the two, signifying Washington’s attempts to bridge their differences.
Time to merge left onto 395 south. We are about to get to our next bridge… or should I say “bridges”. The 14th street bridges are a group of 5 bridges that cross the Potomac, connecting Washington DC and Arlington, Virginia. The one we are gonna drive on today is called the George Mason Memorial Bridge. Going in order to your left is the Rochambeau Bridge, then the Arland D. Williams Jr. Memorial Bridge, followed by the Charles R. Fenwick Bridge and finally Long Bridge. Those last two bridges are for Metro and Express trains. The Arland D. Williams Jr Bridge was named after a hero in the tragic story of Air Florida Flight 90 back in 1982. He was a passenger on this flight when the airplane crashed into the bridge and then plunged into the icy Potomac River below. Arland Williams helped rescue the 5 survivors from the plane but then drowned before he could be rescued. He was a hero.The Long Bridge used to be a wooden toll bridge back in 1809. British forces set fire to the north end of Long Bridge back in 1812 and American troops burned the south end in 1814 so the whole thing got rebuilt in 1816.The bridge you are driving on right now replaced the old Highway Bridge, which was removed in 1967 and taken to the Naval Surface Warfare Center to be used for bombing practice. Awesome.If you look to your right you can see the cool arches on the side of the Arlington Memorial Bridge.
To your left you can see the huge brown Pentagon building. Behind that is three metal spires shooting up toward the sky like contrail burst from the air Force Thunderbirds. This is the Air Force Memorial.\rJust past this bridge on your right is the Navy - Merchant Marine Memorial. It is nicknamed “Waves and Gulls”. We are currently on Columbia island and all this greenery you see is Lady Bird Johnson Memorial Park. She was the First Lady of the United States. Her husband Lyndon B. Johnson was the 36th president of the United States and his memorial grove is on your left.
Please stay to your right on George Washington Memorial Parkway. This stretch of road has a beautiful view of the Potomac River, so enjoy it while I rattle off a few more facts. The river gets its name from the Native American Algonquian village, the Patowmeck. The natives had different names for different parts of the river. Above Great Falls was called “Honking Geese” and below was called “River of Swans”.In 2004 it was discovered that the snakehead fish had been found in the Potomac. This is a non-native invasive species and back in 2004 everyone was freaked out because it was thought that the snakehead fish was going to destroy the ecosystem in the Potomac. 15 years later, it turns out that they were wrong. The populations of native fish have stayed the same or increased and fisherman have come to discover that the snakehead fish is quite tasty! So there ya go.