(October 4, 2019)
Unbelievably, there is more to do in DC than visit museums and wander downtown. As we are often drawn to adventures off the beaten path, today would be spent outdoors, and on a quest…of sorts. Having been fully enthralled with the International Spy Museum, and in particular the notorious US spy and FBI agent, Robert Hanssen, we discovered that Hanssen’s last “dead drop”, in Foxstone Park, was not far from our niece’s home, and on the way to the day’s planned adventure at Rock Creek National Park.Foxstone Park: Because the FBI’s recorded video of their takedown of Hanssen stated that he was arrested in a residential area near Foxstone Park, we plugged the park into our GPS. We knew that his last drop (USB Thumb drives) was placed under red footbridge in Foxstone park, in Vienna Virginia. Our mission, was to find that bridge and “re-inact” the drop. There are several paved paths within the neighborhood that weave through the park. We chose Foxstone Ave and parked in front of a house that looked like the one he had been arrested in front of. While it’s been nearly two decades since Hanssen’s arrest, I’m sure the neighborhood rolls their eyes (and curses the Spy Museum) when “tourists” pile out of their cars in search of Hanssen’s last drop. We brought our niece’s family dog with us as “cover”…and because he LOVES car rides, and walks.
We found a foot path in-between two homes. We couldn’t help but notice that it smelled like something had died nearby. Hmm, maybe we were on the right path, and this stench was supposed to be a permanent deterrent. The path led slightly downhill and into a wooded area. The path branched off immediately, in three directions with a low (grey) footbridge to our right.
This bridge was obviously too low, and not the right color. Straight or “uphill”? We headed straight for a bit into a green “tunnel” of healthy trees and low vines intertangled with poison ivy. Somehow, this direction did not feel right, so we headed back toward the “fork” in the road, to take the final path option. Turns out, that this one was the correct path. This reminded us that we should have employed our tried and truth method of route choosing, “when in doubt, Go Uphill”.
Soon we were at the Foxstone park sign.
Across a busy street from the sign was a closed off driveway to a parking area, and in the near distance, what appeared to be the infamous red bridge!
A QR sticker on the bridge confirmed we had successfully located the bridge.
As we looked under the bridge and “re-created” the drop, we couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous we looked and what a horrible place this was to have a dead drop so close to homes (that could see you) and a busy roadway (well, maybe not so busy then). There were so many areas along the way, that could have been used for dead drops than squatting under a foot bridge to drop a small package with thumb drives. But then one remembers, that this guy did this at several other places in the DC area, and for nearly two decades, so there is something to be said for hiding within “plain sight”. With that “mission” completed, we triumphantly headed back to the car for our next “quest”, The Capital Stones, but not without somehow driving off without the dog. Yes, we forgot to secure the dog (Chug) in the back of the car. We put him in the back, but we must have gotten distracted and therefore failed to fully close the rear hatch. We surmised that Chug must have leapt out just before we pulled from the curb. We didn’t notice that he was no longer in the car until the dinging sound, that we initially thought was the seatbelt reminder continued to “ding” as we pulled from the curb. A thoughtful look in the rearview mirror (after a short distance) to see ask who didn’t have their seatbelt fastened revealed Chug frantically galloping behind the car, in an effort to “catch” us. Horrified, we stopped immediately, glad we were driving in a neighborhood with absolutely NO traffic. With Chug securely loaded in the car, a new habit was instated, the “Chug check”, wherein all occupants are accounted for and all doors are secured…fully, before any vehicular departure.
Capitol Stones: We came to Rock Creek National Park, just outside of DC, in search of the Capitol Stones. The Capitol Stones are the “discarded” Aquia Creek sandstone blocks, steps, columns, etc, that were removed in 1958 from the East façade of of the U.S. Capitol building (where Congress “lives”), and replaced with exact replica, Georgia White marble. Being the nerds that we are, we thought it remarkable that something with such historical significance would just be plopped out in the open to weather the elements. These discarded sandstone pieces have witnessed, and been a part of, our country’s history for going on 200 years. Imagine the stories they could (and actually can) tell. Hence, our quest.For a historical perspective, take a look at the US Capitol building’s timeline below, to get an idea of how significant these stones, stacked up behind a Park’s maintenance yard are.https://youtu.be/jmo-A_8HoOMThe thought to repurpose these hundreds of stones for a new museum, was brought up and then quickly “buried” by the Congressional architect William Steward (a one term Congressman, and NOT an architect by trade), who was already getting crap about the cost of the mammoth remodel. He had sold Congress on the “need” for a remodel due to the cracking of the old sandstone façade. It is said that he also told the workers that he didn’t “care” where the Stones went as long as they were out of the city AND out of sight. So, they “dumped” (actually neatly stacked) them at Rock Creek National Park…behind what is now their maintenance yard. The original Capitol Columns, eventually ended up at the US Arboretum (another coming adventure). We parked next to Rock Creek Park’s Nature Center and made the short walk to the maintenance yard where we had to bushwhack around to the back to access the Stones. What a remarkable site.
Rows of often 10ft tall “walls”, of once magestic Stones stacked one upon another, in varied conditions, cover an area roughly the size of an Olympic size pool.
Some of these Stones are in pristine condition, while others are covered in faint green moss and/or blotches of lichen. As evidenced by the encroaching vegetation, it will not be long before the bulk of these Stones are swallowed up and “buried” by the surrounding vegetation’s natural tendencies.
We wish we had done a bit more research so that we could better “place” the Stones (in relation to the dismantled façade) we were viewing.
As I write this, we are continuing to research the “life” of these Stones. In fact, some of this cache of Stones have been used for restoration projects at the US Capitol and the Whitehouse. After wandering through and examining the Stones, we exited the cache and followed a well worn path to the Park’s “pink” blaze trail that would take us through some of the original and remaining “old growth” forest, which has been protected since 1890, when the land was set aside and the Park was created.
Rock Creek Park is an island of nature within the DC urban sprall, and holds a treasure trove of natural, cultural and archaeological history within its 1754 acres. Two interesting factoids, to wet your appetite. (1) Theodore Roosevelt was know to take many a walk through this Park over 100 years ago. And (2), lest we not forget, the mysterious murder and discovery of Congressional Intern, Chandra Levy’s decomposed body, was found in this Park in 2002. Nevertheless, our intension on this 4 mile or so hike was to see the Miller Cabin, one of the historic structures within the Park, but somehow (and not surprising) we missed a turn and ended up on the opposite site of the wide and cold creek, where the restored cabin stands. Somewhat famished, we bailed on figuring out another way to see this site in favor of heading to Old Alexandria for some much needed nourishment.
And while we would have loved to wandered this historic town, we had school age kids to get back to.