Sunday, September 18, 2022

The D.C. Hot Air Balloon Festival is Today


The DC Hot Air Balloon Festival is this weekend (More information at that link). They have balloons, balloon rides, crafts, food trucks and music.  I went yesterday, but it continues today.

Gates open at 3pm, but they don't inflate the balloons until the winds are calm enough, yesterday they started just before 7pm. I decided to get there around 6pm but traffic to get onto the grounds was a mess, it took me more than half an hour of waiting in traffic to get to the gate.  I'm sure going early would have made it better.  Also, you can buy your tickets online or at the gate, but the lines at the gate where huge, definitely buy online before you go, it makes it much faster.  I wanted to get a balloon ride, but by the time I got there over 1,200 people were ahead of me in line (you hold your place via your phone so you don't need to stand in line the whole time).  By the time I left after 9pm, there were still more than 1,000 people in front of me, but I don't know how many of them had given up and gone home.  In summary, go early but be prepared to wait for the balloons.

They had a lot of food trucks there, well over a dozen, but the lines for all of them were long and slow.  I waited about 45 minutes for food.  I'd suggest bringing a picnic dinner with you, it would had made my trip more interesting.


Once the sun set they had a laser light show (I didn't get pictures because I was in a food truck line then was eating). All the while people are going up on balloon rides which continued for as long as I was there.  Watching the jets of fire and balloons going up and down is pretty relaxing.

Every once in a while they would give the balloon a short burst of flame and the whole thing would glow brightly.

So should you go?  I bet if you went with a group, you could have fun hanging out and watching the balloons.  I'd definitely plan on staying late to watch the balloons in the dark.  Also, bring food, get their early to avoid the traffic to park, and buy you tickets online to save time at the gate.  If you want a balloon ride, get there as soon as the gates open.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Woodward High School construction


The old Woodward High School (and Tilden Middle School) was demolished in the Spring of 2021 (see my posts here and here and here). Since then there hasn't been much to see. It has just been flat, bare ground with a construction fence around it.  They hadn't forgotten about it, but the work that was done wasn't very visible.  Now that has changed.  The are three stories of steel girders up outlining part of the new school.

Most of the site is still vacant, but there are piles of construction material in some places.

This project is officially called the "Charles W. Woodward High School Reopening Project" and you can get the full details of MCPS's plans at that link.  Construction will be in two phases.  Phase 1 will end at the start of the 2023 school year when it will be a holding school for Northwood HS while that school gets extensive remodeling.  For the 2025 school year it will be reopened as Woodward High School (unless the name gets changed). The boundaries for the new school haven't been determined but it is expected to relieve the crowding at local high schools such as Walter Johnson HS.

There will be a Phase 2 which will have at least a second gymnasium, auditorium, and athletic site amenities the timing for this phase is to start in the summer of 2023 and be finished in time for the 2025 school year.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Thoughts on having a PHEV for a year


I have had a Plug-in Hybrid RAV 4 for over a year now. I wrote about my experience here. I have charged in the Montgomery County public garages in Bethesda and Silver Spring on a regular basis. The cost is quite reasonable at 13 cents a kilowatt hour, but some of the chargers are broken. 

 Charging at publicly available chargers in other places is less convenient, there aren’t too many of them and keeping track of which network they are on is a hassle. The Volta chargers are free, but there are only a few of them I don’t go out of my way, but if they are there I’ll use them. The downtown Bethesda Safeway has them as does Montgomery Mall. I’m glad the public chargers exist, but I wish there were more of them and they were kept in better repair.

Here are the highlights of the longer article (but read it for more context):

  1. If you can charge at home or at work, PHEV’s are a great option, they save money on fuel and are better for the environment

  2. I drive about 80% of my miles on electric. All my local driving including work commutes is electric, long distance trips are in hybrid mode.

  3. Overnight charging using a simple 120 volt outlet is convenient and I don’t miss trips to the gas stations.

  4. Charging during the day rarely adds a useful amount of miles. (but if I could charge at work it would be great)

  5. My home electric rate is 14 cents per KWH, this works out to the equivalent of $1.50 a gallon gas.

  6. I wish all PHEV’s supported at least 6.6KW AC charging and DC Fast Charging. This would make them even better.

  7. All hotels should have at least a Level 2 charger. This would make overnight trips much easier. Even having 120 volt electrical outlets would also be useful for me, not many hotels have those either.



Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Reflections of Windows

In the morning, the sunlight reflects of windows onto the blank wall of Garage 35, the Woodmont-Rugby Garage.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Flowers and a straw

 Someone left a curly straw next to flowers outside of Hanaro Sushi on the corner of Norfolk Ave and St. Elmo Ave.

Monday, July 4, 2022

The Bethesda crab is changing color

Right in the center of Bethesda, at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and East-West Highway is the Crescent Building.  When you are driving down Old Georgetown Road it is probably the most recognizable thing you see, mostly because of the odd neon sculpture at the top.  I actually first posted about it over  a decade ago, after I found out it is an abstract crab.  It has been a bright red companion for as long as I can remember.  Not too long ago, however, it turned blue for a short period of time (Maryland blue crab perhaps?) before going back to the traditional red.  Now it is at it again! Except, instead of just being blue, it is cycling through a whole palette of collors.  I stood by the road in the middle of the night just to bring you all the colors it can be.  At the bottom there is a video where you can watch the whole cycle.

Friday, July 1, 2022

The Rae apartments, construction continues

The Rae is a new 343-unit, five-story apartment building being constructed on Motor City Drive across from the Home Depot and Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, Maryland.  This is the site of the former Ourisman Ford car dealership.  I most recently posted about the construction of the Rae back in April and a lot of progress has been made since then.
 The final shape of the building is clear now.  The full height of the building is up and the outer walls are sheathed in Tyvek.  No windows are in yet and the roof isn't on.  This is the view from the corner of Motor City Drive and Westlake Terrace, right near Montgomery Mall.
The Rae apartments parking garage entrance.

 The central core of the building is a multi-story parking garage.   The concrete walls of the garage were ugly when they were exposed, but now the wood built apartment floors hid them and it looks much better.

The far side of the Rae apartments, nearest to Home Depot and the Post Office.  Construction isn't quite as far along here, the walls of the final floor of apartments are still going up.


Thursday, June 30, 2022

Tow Hitch Platform review

 Usually when I go camping my car is filled to the top, leaving my passengers with bags between their feet.  I decided to make their lives a bit easier by buying a platform that slides in to the tow hitch receiver on my car.


There is a wide variety of platforms you can buy of varying quality, on the low end you get a simple steel platform that has a low lip, and on the high end you can get a $500+ system which has a locking box, can swing away to grant access to the back of the car, and can even be stacked two high.

Folded-up configuration. It doesn't stick out nearly as far and has a locking pin to keep it from falling down.

Since I don't plan to use this very often I didn't buy anything super expensive.  For about $200 (shipping was extra and isn't cheap) I got a platform that can fold up when not in use.  It also came with a anti-rattle hitch tightener and a cargo bag with tie-downs.  It sticks out about 3 feet from my car so I have to keep that in mind when backing up or changing lanes


The flat plate on top with two screws is the anti-rattle hitch tightener, it really works.

I chose a platform instead of a roof-mounted box or bag because roof mounts negatively impact the vehicle's aerodynamics which can have a significant negative impact on your gas mileage. The hitch mounted boxes and platforms are in the wind-shadow of the vehicle and don't impact fuel economy as much.  When driving I didn't notice any impact so I'm sure it is well under 10%, probably 3-5%.

Before you get one of these, thing about how you will use it.  Different vehicles have different amounts of weight you can attach to the trailer hitch, the number you are looking for is the "tongue weight" and for cars and small SUV's it is usually between 100 and 250 pounds.   

The bolt and cotter pin keeps it from folding unexpectedly (this is in the down position). When folded up, the bolt goes through the hole on the bottom left.

I got to use it for the first time when I went camping in Shenandoah  and it went well.  I put the cooler, the camp chairs, some tarps and a sleeping bag in it and that didn't completely fill it up. This freed up a lot of space inside the car.  Driving wasn't affected (except for the changing lanes and backing up, which I already mentioned).


There is not a body in there, I promise

You can't  just dump your gear on it and go, the stuff needs to be strapped down so it doesn't go flying into the road when you hit a bump.  If you have hard boxes you are putting on (like a cooler or Rubbermaid totes you can get tie-downs and strap them directly.  I use a soft cargo bag, this has integrated tie-downs and is weather resistant. There is a several inch overlap where it closes and has both a zipper and velcro.  It also lets you put odd-shapped or soft items in it (I used it for sleeping bags too since they are somewhat bulky).  


The platform sticks out several feet behind my car, which makes backing up or changing lanes a bit harder.

As a bonus, the bag it makes it less obvious what is in there so there is less of a chance of someone walking by and stealing your stuff.  It isn't real security though, there isn't a lock, and even if you did lock or zip-tie the zippers closed, someone could cut through the bag with a utility knife.  You can also buy hard boxes that have a bit more security if you are worried.  I would hesitate to leave things in it overnight at a hotel, but for quick bathroom breaks or lunch I think it is a reasonable security compromise.

I'm really pleased with this purchase, although I won't use it very often, it makes my life significantly better when I do.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Go Visit: Lake Frank

 I haven't paid a lot of attention to Lake Bernard Frank, it is kind of like the forgotten sibling of Lake Needwood.  Lake Needwood is the big star with many activities, the nearby Lake Frank is smaller and there is less to do there.  However, that doesn't mean it is a bad place, it is actually pretty nice and worth a trip or two.

There is a parking lot at 15211 Avery Rd, Rockville, MD and trails leading off from that. This park is run by the Montgomery County Department of Parks.

The main trail is the Lakeside Trail, it goes around the lake (but often not right at the lakeside).  A portion of this trail is dirt as seen here, but a portion is paved.  You can also access the Rock Creek trail from this park.

What would a lakeside trail be without a lake?  Here is Lake Frank, looking towards the dam at one end. The overflow drain is visible in the distance.

A large portion of the trail is actually an old abandoned road for vehicles with access to a parking lot at the lake shore.  Vehicles are no longer allowed on it.

Since the trail was once a road, it is no surprise that there were once parking lots.  The remnants of them are still visible, with lots of grass and weeds growing through the cracks in the pavement.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

More houses at the Amalyn development

Little green houses, for everyone

 There has been a lot going on at the Amalyn housing development at the site of the old WMAL radio towers in Bethesda, MD.  At least six houses are far enough along in the construction process to have the green walls up.  Here are two that are right next to each other.

Right next to the grey model home is another house under construction.  Green walls, no roof.

Quite a number of lots have been laid out, some have a sign saying they are available, others, like this one, are sold. Construction hasn't started here, but some of the sold lots have the foundations in progress.

The townhouses are still in progress, with the white building wrap and windows in.  I'm a bit surprised that they haven't made more progress, my April update showed the walls were up even then.

The clubhouse, which was just a concrete pad in April now looks like a real building, the roof and wrapped walls are up but no windows yet.

 This looks like another water retention area to slow the runoff during a rain storm.

 Earlier this month I posted about them putting silt fencing up in another part of the field.  Well, they have started working in that area of the housing development, it looks like they are removing the topsoil now and adding it to the big pile of dirt in the center of the field. This is in the area between Derbyshire Ln and Renita Ln

Friday, May 20, 2022

The view from Hip Flask in Downtown Bethesda


The new Marriott hotel at 7707 Woodmont Avenue in Downtown Bethesda, MD is open and on the roof they have a bar called Hip Flask.  It was fairly crowded when i got there and they soon started limiting the number of people so by the time I left there was a line of people waiting to come up.

The have a bunch of nice looking cocktails and interesting appetizers but I found their beer selection to be fairly weak. There is an inside portion and and outside portion, I focused on the outside part.

What I was really interested in was the view, and it did not disappoint.  Because of where the sun was, I couldn't get a good picture looking west so all these pictures are looking east.  There wasn't good visibility to the north or south because building blocked the view.

From the roof-top bar you can see the LDS Temple just to the right of the Marriott HQ building (Surrender Dorothy).

I brought a camera that let me zoom in on downtown Silver Spring, do you recognize any of these buildings?  I really like the balloon mural towards the right of the picture.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Mormon Temple open house is going on now


The D.C. Mormon Temple is open for visitors from now through June 11th.  This is a rare opportunity to see the inside of a temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  After June 11th the temple will be rededicated and only LDS members will be allowed in.  You can find out more about how to visit at their DC Temple open house site.

This is not the first time the temple has allowed visitors.  When it was first built and prior to it's use there was an open house, but that was in 1974, so this is a a very uncommon event, it is only happening now because they just finished extensive renovations of it.

I went yesterday and it was a lot different than I expected.  I had thought it would be more like a cathedral with a huge, high-ceilinged common room, but it isn't. There are multiple floors in the temple, each largely dedicated to a different use.  The tour is self-guided but you are following a path, with plenty of knowledgable people around if you have questions (like since there is a sealing, can their be an un-sealing? [answer: yes])  You can see the tour information here and on the tour you can get a paper copy of that information.

You can't actually see every floor.  The top floor for instance is closed, but I was told that is a large gathering room with chairs and a pulpit.

You also are not allowed to take pictures inside the temple, which is why I only have exterior shots.  However, at the tour information link above there are interior pictures.

Even though I call it the "Mormon Temple" because that is what I grew up with it being known as, officially that is not it's name.  In 2018, the LDS church decided that the word "Mormon" didn't convey what they wanted.  Here is a quote from the FAQ: 

This sacred building was often called the “Mormon Temple.”  However, in 2018, the Prophet and President of the Church, Russell M. Nelson, offered correction to any inaccurate name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including improper reference to the “Mormon Church.”  Mormon was a great prophet, whom we honor, but the Church was named after our Savior Jesus Christ. The correct name of the Church is: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thus, the proper name of the Temple is the “Washington D.C. Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” 

The reference to “saints” in the name of the Church references the Apostle Paul’s use for people who try to follow Jesus Christ’s teachings.

Monday, May 2, 2022

A new area gets silt fencing at Amalyn Bethesda

I walked around the Amalyn housing development today and notice that they are putting up more silt fences to control erosion.  These fences usually go up shortly before they start work in an area, so there is likely going to be construction in this part of the former WMAL transmitter site. An area of underbrush has been cleared at the end of Derbyshire Lane, and a silt fence has been installed the entire frontage with Derbyshire.  Fortunately, the fence is only two feet tall and you can step over it.

The fence continues to the dip in the field. There is still some fencing and equipment beyond it so it is possible they will continue the fence on the other side of the muddy area.

If you every walk around the field, you will probably recognize this part, it stays wet for longer than anywhere else and is a proto-stream.  The silt fence stops just before it.

Friday, April 22, 2022

McCrillis house and gardens


One of the lesser known parks in Montgomery County is McCrillis house and gardens.  This is a five acre park donated to the county in 1978.

There are numerous paths winding their way throughout the property with a large variety of trees and shrubs, many of which have signs with their names on them.

There is also a house which you can rent for special events but isn't normally open to the public.

The park is located at 6910 Greentree Road, Bethesda, Maryland 20817 and is  open daily from 10am until sunset.