Hiking Mountains from the Metro

The Woodley Park metro station has 234 moving steps to the exit.  I didn’t count them as I rode the steep incline toward the daylight.  I looked up the trivial fact later, on a trip advisor website, curious to see how deep a descent I had taken as I burrowed under the city in an effort to reach the National Zoo.  The zoological park resides between two metro stops, but its name only occurs on one: the Woodley Park/Zoo/Adams Morgan stop. Obviously, several other attractions reside here as well, but it’s the zoo that draws the crowds and their strollers on a weekend morning.  Ironically, because of the long escalator ride out of this metro stop, visitors would be better served to take the next stop at Cleveland Park, resulting in a downhill jaunt to this family-friendly, free destination, rather than the half-mile uphill walk from Woodley Park.

The pedestrian entrance to the National Zoo unfolds onto Connecticut Ave. with two large lion statues guarding the double gates.  Similar statutes appear throughout this area, often flanking bridges, and guarantee a close up, non-moving view of the animals visitors come here to see.  The zoo itself tries to be lush and exotic from the entrance, with large trees overlooking benches and thick stands of bamboo lining the Asian exhibit.  From that point to the end of the main trail, everything goes downhill, literally and figuratively.

At the opening hour, most of the animals still are still asleep or slow to come out to play. Some of the birds perched on the trees in their individual enclosures, studying their first visitors of the day, and their colorful plumage makes them easy to spot.  Thanks to their large size and larger habitat, the elephants are visible from the upper part of the Asian trail as well. The elephant house is closed for renovations, and another nearby trail is under construction to build a new home for the seals and sea lions.

Fortunately, one of the animals, the orangutan, came to me, directly crossing above my path through a series of crisscrossing cables. Additional ape species can be seen in what the zoo calls the Think Tank, urging visitors to think about our evolution and what this distant cousins are capable of.

The big cats are next are the main path, and the park provides an indoor reptile discovery center complete with outdoor alligator viewing.  Lemur island is tucked away so well that I missed the sign, but the outdoor prairie dog exhibit stands directly on the path, and the raised bed of dirt cannot be missed.  However, the only heads I saw popping over the edge were the small children trying to catch a glimpse of something they had only seen on TV before.

The end of the trail turns further downhill and turns into a hands on petting zoo, gift shop and restaurant area, and the best way out for pedestrians is the same way you come in. According to the map, Olmstead Walk is a .8 mile walk, but it feels longer going back uphill.  Luckily, the return trip to the Woodley Park metro station is downhill, even on the lengthy escalators, which had stopped working as they are prone to do.  By then,  I had felt like I had climbed mountains to see a small piece of other countries and enjoyed it most when the animals walked to me.

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