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Traveling to capture an event tied to Mother Nature is not easy, but it is not impossible. Here’s the story of traveling to capture the peak bloom of the Washington DC cherry blossoms using miles, points, change fees, patience, perseverance, and luck…
This is a guest post from my dad, Grandpa Points. He and my mom are in their late-60’s, are (mostly) retired, and are ticking off “bucket list” destinations quicker than they ever thought possible thanks to miles, points, and travel deals. They have an intense love of this country, of its National Parks and treasures, and have no problem with a clean budget hotel room and an economy airline seat on a low-cost airline as long as it gets them where they want to be. A photographer by trade he often tells his story not just with his words, but with his images. Today he brings us a story from planning another one of their adventures…
Some trips are awesome no matter when they are taken. Some trips turn out spectacular due to serendipitous events that randomly occur while traveling. Other trips fail because of poor luck or unfortunate timing while others succeed because of good planning and fairy dust. Our recent journey to Washington DC to see the famous cherry blossoms worked out perfectly due to perseverance, flexibility, desire, and because dreams can come true.
Judging the perfect time to see the cherry blossoms in peak bloom proved to be quite the guessing game. The expert forecasts changed dramatically on three occasions as the extended wintry weather kept the buds in check.
Since we anticipated that this was likely a once in a lifetime viewing, we needed to do all in our power to see the trees in their optimum state. With each predicted bloom date change, came a corresponding change in our travel plans. In this fluid process we endured change fees, lost and unused miles, hotel re-bookings and flights not boarded. We would have naturally preferred a more economically efficient outcome, but since our purpose was so specific and so singular, we just have to chalk these excessive expenses as being a luxury tax to achieve what we wanted to achieve. And we did!
Origin of the DC Cherry Blossoms
The Washington DC cherry trees were not always a part of the landscape in our nation’s capital. A movement to incorporate the trees was already afoot when the Japanese government offered to donate 2,000 such trees as a gesture of friendship. The offer was accepted, but the trees arrived in poor health with bug infestations and had to be destroyed. The Japanese sent a second offering that included an additional 1,000 trees. These are the trees that ultimately changed the physical complexion of the area around DC’s Tidal Basin. In a testament to the circle of life and friendship, through the years cuttings have been taken from these trees and returned to Japan to protect their ancestral lineage and to serve as replacement trees for some that were damaged or lost there.
The cherry trees are a big deal in DC They are one of the rites of spring that is anticipated and enjoyed. There are festivals, parades and 10K runs. There are kites flying and fireworks soaring. There are public events, souvenirs for sale, music playing, Ranger talks and lantern walks. And while all these trappings attract a crowd and promote social interaction, I believe the essence of the cherry blossoms themselves evokes a remarkably different sensory and personal experience.
They are certainly a cause for celebration, but more of the ethereal and spiritual type.They won’t raise your heart rate, but will likely lower your blood pressure. They don’t shout at you, but rather whisper in soft tones. They are more of a museum than a carnival, more of a painting than a digital billboard, more linen than denim, more wine than whiskey, more violin and harp than guitar and drums, and more recital than rock concert. As you walk under the thick canopy, you feel insulated and comforted. The noises and sounds of the world get dampened and your spirits get lifted.
Enjoying the DC Cherry Blossoms
The cherry blossoms essentially come in shades of pink and white.
While they may appear delicate, they have well stood the tests of time, wind, snow, and rain. On the first day of our visit, a significant wind storm blew in that severely tested the blooms staying power, tensile strength and natural tether. We are happy to report that, despite the water in the Tidal Basin being turned into an angry bubbling cauldron, the blossoms survived to see another day and put on their show for another set of admirers.
The trees literally surround the Tidal Basin and a wide concrete walkway allows you to easily take them all in while making the two-mile loop. The walk will take you by the Jefferson, the Martin Luther King, and the FDR memorials. We visited the trees at dawn, mid-morning, late afternoon and sunset. No matter when you went, there were an abundance of blossom admirers to share the area with. But they were quiet. Everyone seemed to enjoy the spectacle in a private and individual way. Everyone was either taking a photo, having a photo made or in a transition from one to the other. Brides were there, couples were there, professionals photographers were there and amateur photographers were there. Everyone was trying to get the perfect shot, the iconic image.
Capturing the DC Cherry Blossoms
One of the sought after photos is a capture of the Jefferson Memorial in the background with the blossoms in the foreground. At dawn’s early light, a flash on the flowers is best to provide some light balance between the two. Pictures made in the late afternoon and evening seem to require less technical expertise to achieve an acceptable memory.
The blooms were fascinating if they were isolated as close-ups or as part of a broader landscape.
At times, their density and configuration of multiple blooms side by side on a single branch looked like nature’s version of a floral shish kabob. Or, perhaps a shish kablossom.
While the cherry trees are forever connected to and associated with The Tidal Basin, they are certainly not exclusive to that singular locale. They can be seen throughout the D.C. area. They flank the White House, frame the Washington monument and forever stand their post in salute to the honored dead.
When a trip to see the famous cherry blossoms is on your agenda, it will be well worth your time to also visit the gardens behind the Smithsonian Castle or the George Mason Memorial Park located near the Jefferson Memorial. Here you will be able to absorb some other springtime visual delights in the form of the flowering magnolias. Their vibrant and prolific blooms can carpet the ground and color the sky with intense color and rich saturation. These stunning gifts of nature take a back seat to no one and are so worthy of your viewing.
The cherry blossoms are famous for a reason, a good reason. They are beautiful and inspiring. For a few weeks each year, they don their finest Spring attire and invite you in with blossom-laden open arms. We went, we saw, we photographed, we enjoyed and we recommend. We end this blog with a pleasant period and with a cherry on the top.
Know before you go.
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