It's no secret. I'm totally enamored with the Washington Monument. I will go ahead and ignore the obvious jibes which can be taken at my infatuation with a decidedly phallic monument built to honor one of our nation's most important founding fathers, and instead focus on the things I find truly impressive about the 555 foot tall stone structure held together by a mixture of gravity and masonry ingenuity.

The monument is one of those iconic DC landmarks that truly defines the region's skyline. Whether you're seeing it against the backdrop of a sunrise, sunset, bright blue sky, or fierce thunderstorm, its ever present outline represents one of the identities of the Federal City.

Unfortunately, nearly three years ago, a major earthquake (by east coast standards), followed almost immediately by a hurricane, significantly damaged the 130 year old structure closing its interior to public tours. Over the past three years I've watched and documented the process to first inspect (note the ant-like people repelling down the face of the monument)...

...then repair of the structure.

The monument was out of commission for so long that the Park Service even put up markers with a description of the damage and efforts to correct the issues. 

Now that the scaffolding has come down, and over "five miles of adhesive" has been applied to the exterior to make it water tight (do your best, then caulk the rest), the Washington Monument opened to public tours once again last week.

As soon as I heard the news that the monument would be opening to tours, I jumped on the ticketing website to score a few first week spots. I decided to surprise Wendy and a few friends by planning this outing but not telling them where we were going. I was able to keep it a secret up until we were parking the car almost next to the monument.

If you've never been up to the top of the Washington Monument, it's one of the things you need to try to take advantage of at some point. Whether you're a local or a tourist, the perch above the center point of the National Mall offers some rather breathtaking views of the city.

When entering the monument you are greeted by several large casts of George Washington within the entrance waiting lobby, along with some badass winged cobras.

The walls and marble mosaics in the floor are covered in iconic Washington quotes (either by or about him) and insignias.

Anyone know where this quote was delivered? Hint: It's close to our home. 

And at the rear just before entering the elevator is a large cast statue of the monument's namesake and the entrance to the rather imposing elevator interior.

The elevator, a more modern addition and alternative to the 900 step climb, ascends the obelisk in just about one minute. When you emerge on the viewing platform the floor gives you an indication of your height, emblazoned with an inlaid brass "550," and you are looking east towards two small viewing windows within nooks framed by massive stone pillars.

The viewing platform contains eight of these viewing nooks, two in each direction. Above each window is a large photo that indicates the direction you are looking, and gives you an idea of what you will see out of the window if it happens to be dark, foggy, or some other type of poor visibility.

Below each viewing station are historic photos taken at various points from this perch above the city, marked with their date. This wonderful addition shows you just how much the city has changed over the years.

Though there is so much to look at throughout the city, there are four primary points of focus, one from each side. To the east, the Capitol Dome with the Library of Congress and Supreme Court just beyond.

To the North, The White House and Ellipse is the primary view.

To the South, the Jefferson Memorial sits above the tidal basin.

And to the west, the Wold War II Memorial, Reflecting Pool, and the Lincoln Memorial.

You can faintly see Abe looking over his guests.

I scheduled our tour to coincide roughly with the Sunset, which can give a spectacular view when looking out to the west as long as the weather cooperates.

If you want to catch the sunset, check the time for the sunset on the day of your tour, then try to book the tour that leaves in the half hour prior to the sunset. Once you're on the observation deck, you can spend as much time as you like up there, so as long as you get up a few minutes before the sun sets, and you've lucked out with the weather, you're golden to get a great view. If you can't book that tour spot, book the one earlier and try to get close to the back of the line so you're least up.

Beyond the primary landmarks everyone comes to see, I love looking for all of my other favorite structures in the city. One of the best is the Smithsonian Castle, nestled among the museums that line the southern side of the Mall.

Looking off in the distance I could see the fans in the stands for a Nationals game that had just begun.

And looking to the South we could see airplanes taking off from nearby National Airport with Alexandria and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge off in the distance.

The entire observation deck is actually a two floor platform somehow wedged into an impossibly small area in the very top of the monument. There's a scale model of the observation area on the lower of the two top floors that shows the amount of engineering ingenuity necessary to achieve this feat only with stone.

This is precisely why they chose to close the monument for so long while it underwent repairs after the earthquake. No matter how may people will swear the monument is somehow swaying while they are at the top of the structure, any movement for a stone structure this tall is terrible, and it's important that everything stays put right where it is.

I mentioned the DC skyline being defined by the Washington Monument. This is even true in complete blackness as the monument has eight blinking red aircraft warning lights 20 feet from the top of the structure. Though conspiracy theories abound as to their purpose, and the citizens of DC notice if they stop blinking for a time, these two red lights on each face of the pyramid can be seen from miles away. Inside, they're just two bowling ball sized lights per side among the stone.

The lower observation deck has no windows, but is the area where you wait before entering the elevator to depart. There are various items on exhibit around the floor showing such items as the spent lightning rods from the structures many strikes it's experienced over the years.

It's also on this floor where you can see one of the plaques that recognizes the structure as a national civil engineering landmark, lest you forget where you're standing.

When leaving the monument, there are two ways down. The first, and most common, is via the elevator. The second, which is more of an effort, is by way of a special guided "walk down tour" lead on a select basis by Park Service tour guides. The tours are not being given right now, but will resume this June.

You can get a glimpse of the subject of the walk down tour while descending in the elevator when the lights of the elevator are dimmed, the car slows, and the windows filled with an opaque gas transition to transparent to reveal the interior of the monument's walls. It's best to stand near either door for the best vantage point.

Lining the walls, from the top to the bottom, are carved stones representing the 50 states, major cities, and other donors (foreign and domestic) that helped make the construction of the monument possible.

The stones vary is shape, size, material, and complexity, but each represents the gift giver in some way.

It's a cool thing to see on the way out of the tour.

When you leave the monument you are treated to one final view of the National Mall.

I'm very glad we were able to get back up to the top of the monument so soon after it reopened. This was actually the first trip up for our friends, and only the second up for Wendy. The last time she was up there was in January 2004, and it was so foggy you could hardly even see the ground. But if you ask Wendy, given her feeling about heights and closed in spaces, once per decade is likely enough for her.

Have you ever taken a trip up to the top of the monument? If not, now that the repairs have been made, are you planning on making the trek? Or are you concerned another trembler may occur while you're at the top?

Comments 7


5/20/2014 at 5:16 PM

So excited to see these pics. I'm from the UK but we're coming to the States for a big holiday this summer, celebrating lots of things including a big birthday I may or may not have recently celebrated & we are ending our trip in DC. Have wanted to come for years & was so excited when I read that the monument was re-opening, we booked our tour a few weeks ago & got actual tickets in the mail last week (I thought the email confirmation was all we'd get) something about proper tickets makes it seem more real! Can't wait to come so am now stalking your blog not just for your DIY tales but also your local tips!

Fun fact - all the talk of the Washington Monument reminded me that my family had never been up The Monument in London, built to remember the Great Fire of London, 1666, so we had a great day out in London a couple of weeks ago putting that right!

Love your posts. Thanks!

5/20/2014 at 6:46 PM

Beautiful photographs!

5/21/2014 at 9:38 AM

Your pictures are spectacular. The Washington Monument is indeed awesome in its simplicity. I was only up to the top once, but now I really want to return! On Monday, I posted about going to the top of the Pearl Tower in Shanghai. One observation deck is 1,148 feet high and has a glass floor. I would not recommend that one to Wendy!!

5/21/2014 at 10:58 AM

I'm a total coward about heights and elevators, so have never been up the monument. But I recently climbed 200 steps to the top of the Cape May lighthouse (very cool). So maybe there's hope! In the meantime, I'll enjoy your photos from the safety of ground level Alt grinning

5/21/2014 at 12:13 PM

Especially love the western sunset view. Late spring evenings are the best--the colors are so soft.

5/23/2014 at 12:03 PM

I've never been to DC, but if my experiences in Chicago are any indication, I'll have to be pried out of the museums with a crowbar LOL.

Thank you for the pictures, I love all the different stones commemerating the donors. California as the youngest state made me smile.

8/25/2014 at 11:36 PM

I remember walking up as a kid ... I'm not sure the elevator option existed then. Must get back sometime.

Fantastic photos.

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