Duke Farms

New Jersey is known as the garden state, but it’s not always easy to see why. Duke Farms, which just opened to the public last year is one of the largest nature preserves in the state. At some 3000 acres it is three times the size of Central Park. It was the former estate of J.B. Duke, a famous industrialist and namesake of Duke University. The estate passed on to his daughter Doris at the time of his death, whose wish it was that it should be used to promote conservation.

The farms have a number of lakes, waterfalls, meadows, gardens and trails – something for everyone. There is a tram service that will take you around to the main sections, but after that you’re on your own. Though there are some signs around in case you get lost, it’s best to pick up a map at the visitor centre as a lot of places look exactly the same.

This is the otter lake, unfortunately we didn’t spot any while we were there.

The conservatory where Doris Duke grew her orchids. This was restored before the opening and is now full of a number of native species.

This is the old foundation. J.B. Duke had plans to build a large mansion on the property, but for still unknown reasons abandoned them within a couple of years. The foundations remain as they were when the work stopped. Doris Duke did move back on to the property after the death of her father, but it wasn’t clear when we visited where exactly she lived.

The steps leading down from the old foundation. The manicured lawns that were created for the family are currently in the process of being restored to their natural state as a wildflower meadow. They are doing everything they can to create a habitat for birds and other animals.

Though conservation is the main goal of the farms, it’s the amazing open space that I think brings people in. Great for bike rides, jogging and long walks and just perfect for a summer picnic.

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An afternoon at Dumbarton Oaks

Visits to DC are a fairly common occurrence for me. I generally go to visit my sister and brother-in-law and eat great food – hard to come by reservations are on the menu if I’m lucky. But I also do my best to visit a new neighbourhood or museum.

This time I went to Dumbarton Oaks, a hidden treasure in Georgetown. Now, Georgetown is beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not my favourite place. Oftentimes crowded with obnoxious people, it’s not exactly what I’m looking for when escaping NYC. But the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks are a welcome respite from the noise.

It was the home of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, an American diplomat and his wife. They spent a significant amount of time improving the house and grounds before conveying the property to Harvard University with the intent that it exist as an institute for scholarship and the arts.

Today the building of the main house is a museum, library, and archive.

Pass through the old orangery to get to the back of the house and the grounds.

The property is divided in to a series of terraces and enclosed gardens. The place isn’t overwhelming in size, but there are quite a few steps and slopes along the way.

This is the pebble garden, one of the prettiest parts of Dumbarton Oaks in my opinion. Made up of thousands of pebbles in varying colours and sizes laid in a mosaic resembling a sheaf of wheat.

Winding pathways lead to wonderful flower gardens, pools and shady nooks. There are lots of benches along the way, perfect spots to while away an afternoon reading a book.

This small patch of lawn just outside the orangery, overlooking the pool and the pebble garden was my favourite spot. Just warm enough, a little dappled sunlight coming through the trees. I think I spent a couple of hours here reading peacefully and admiring the beautiful house.

Like a lot of places in DC, Dumbarton Oaks has an interesting story and rich history. They do charge admission for access to the gardens (not for the museum or library) and though there are many wonderful free places to visit in DC I highly recommend going to Dumbarton Oaks if you can.

Bandelier National Monument

Last post about New Mexico, I promise.

We took a day trip from Santa Fe to Bandelier National Monument where a number of Ancestral Pueblo dwellings have been preserved.

Most of the area is made up of volcanic tuff, a soft material that the Pueblo Indians were able to carve in to.

There are miles and miles of trails throughout the monument, some with steps and footbridges, but for the most part it’s flat.

All of those large holes above are caves and some of them connect to each other. They’re rather small inside, and most not high enough to properly stand up in, so I assume the majority of them were used for sleeping.

They have ladders set up at the mouths of some of the caves so you can climb in to have a look. They’re really easy to get up, but not much fun on the way down…

We didn’t spend much time here, as it was way too hot and there wasn’t much in the way of shade, but I’m sure it would make for a great hike in the cooler months. There were hardly any visitors around the time we went, which added to the beauty of the place, it was unbelievably calm and peaceful.

Not surprisingly, the drive to and from was my favourite part, I will never tire of turning a corner and seeing this:

Travel: DC Cherry Blossoms

Spring has come early to the East Coast this year and I couldn’t be happier about it. My mother’s birthday just passed recently and my sister had planned a weekend in DC to celebrate. Most of her plans went out the window when the cherry blossoms bloomed early. Mum loves flowers and there was no way she was going to skip a look at these gorgeous blooms.

This year is the centennial of the planting of the cherry blossom trees. The trees were a gift from the mayor of Tokyo to the city of Washington DC in 1912. Today some 3000 trees surround the Tidal Basin and envelop it in fluffy pink clouds each Spring.

The blooms hang over the path around the Tidal Basin, slightly obscuring your view. Cherry blossom-tinted glasses if you will. Above is the Jefferson Memorial seen through the trees, quite a contrast to the winter.

Saturday was the most beautiful day, almost 80° and perfectly clear skies. Lots of pedal boats out on the water, people bicycling around the city, and of course plenty of ice cream.