Get Thrown for a Loop

Barbara J. Saffir
Sunday, November 26, 2006; Page M08

WHERE: The Capital Beltway.

WHY: A lighthouse by land, ice capades and a holey cow.

HOW FAR: 64 miles, or just over an hour (if you're lucky).

Happy Birthday, America's highways! Fifty years ago, when gas was a piddly 30 cents a gallon, President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. The law spawned nearly 47,000 miles of traffic-light-free interstate highways, including Washington's 64-mile Capital Beltway. Since its completion in 1964, the District-encircling loop has become an endless carousel of cruisers and commuters. To celebrate the interstate system's big Five-0, follow our exit strategy for the Beltway.

As most rush-hour drivers know, construction is ongoing. The $2.4 billion Wilson Bridge project is rebuilding more than a tenth of the Beltway. When the bridge's second span debuts in 2008, folks will be able to stroll across a walkway from Virginia to Maryland. Until then, there's plenty to see beneath the bridge. The Mount Vernon Trail meanders through Jones Point Park, where a plaque honors Margaret Brent (1601-1676), America's first litigator, whose land became Alexandria. One of the country's oldest inland lighthouses also resides here.

Across the river in Prince George's County, Tucker Road Ice Rink runs pickup hockey games, power skating and even bumper cars. After whooshing around, skaters can head north to Jerry's Seafood for a crab bomb, the upscale cousin of the crab cake. The plain-Jane restaurant isn't cheap, but foodies say the lump-crab concoction ($25.95-$33.95) is worth the trek.

Northwest of Jerry's, the Beltway veers toward the Agriculture Department's sprawling Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, home to a fistulated cow. The live research bovine has a portal in its side, allowing scientists to poke around its innards (thankfully, the cow has multiple stomachs). To examine black holes light-years away, visit the University of Maryland's observatory, which hosts open houses twice a month. The iconic white spires of the Mormons' Washington D.C. Temple also shoot for the sky, but at 288 feet don't quite reach the stars.

Beneath the American Legion Bridge lies Lock 13 of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. Rod Sauter, a National Park Service ranger, calls the canal, completed in 1850, "the superhighway of its day." Near the canal trail's mile marker 10, the stone ruins of a 1941 bridge are the only visible remains of two Civilian Conservation Corps projects that in 1939 restored a portion of the 184.5-mile canal.

Back on the American Legion Bridge, the Beltway swings over the Potomac River toward Tysons Galleria mall. Inside Neiman Marcus, the NM Cafe's trademark monkey bread with strawberry butter is free with any food order or $2 without. Stick a birthday candle in it and wish our highways many more.

  1. Mount Vernon Trail under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to Jones Point Park, I-495 and the Potomac River, Alexandria, 703-838-4343, http://oha.ci.alexandria.va.us/archaeology/jonespoint.
    Open daily, dawn to dark.
  2. Tucker Road Ice Rink, 1770 Tucker Rd., Fort Washington, 301-265-1525, http://www.pgparks.com/places/sportsfac/icerinks.html.
    Adult pickup hockey, Sundays, 8-9:30 p.m. Cost: residents, $9; nonresidents, $11. Call for details on power, figure, synchronized, bumper-car and other skating sessions.
  3. Karibu Books, Centre at Forestville, 3283 Donnell Dr., Forestville, 301-736-8853, http://www.karibubooks.com.
    Open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon-6 p.m.
  4. Redskins Hall of Fame Store, FedEx Field, 1600 FedEx Way, Landover, 301-276-6680, http://www.redskins.com/fedexfield/stadiumguide.jsp
    Open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. (in season).
  5. Jerry's Seafood, 9364 Lanham-Severn Rd., Seabrook, 301-577-0333, http://www.jerrysseafood.com.
    Open for lunch, Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: Tuesday-Thursday, 5-8 p.m.; Friday, 5-9:30 p.m.; Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Sunday, 1-5 p.m.
  6. The Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Visitor Center, Building 302, Powder Mill Road, Beltsville, 301-504-8483, http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/nvc/index.html.
    Public tours by appointment.
  7. University of Maryland Observatory, across from the administration building at 3300 Metzerott Rd., Adelphi, 301-405-6555, http://www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse.
    Free lecture and telescope viewing on the 5th and 20th of each month.
  8. Washington D.C. Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 9900 Stoneybrook Dr., Kensington, 301-587-0144, http://www.ldschurchtemples.com/cgi-bin/pages.cgi?washington.
    Visitors Center open daily, 10 a.m.- 9 p.m. "Joseph Smith, The Prophet of the Restoration" movie runs 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 7:30 pm. Free.
  9. Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda; the Mansion at Strathmore, 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda, 301-581-5200, http://www.strathmore.org.
  10. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park under the American Legion Bridge (mile marker 9.4 at Lock 13) to Carderock Recreation Area (entrance at mile marker 10.4), 301-739-4200, http://www.nps.gov/choh
    Open daily, dawn-dark.
  11. Neiman Marcus's NM Cafe, Tysons Galleria, 2001 International Dr., McLean, 703-761-1600, Ext. 3265.
    Open Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m.
  12. Talbots outlet, 6825 Bland St., Springfield, 703-644-5115, http://www.talbots.com.
    Open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m.
  13. Nick's Nightclub, 642 S. Pickett St., Alexandria, 703-751-8900, http://www.nicksnightclub.com.
    Line-dance lessons: Tuesday and Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.; $5. Live country band, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 9 p.m.; $5-$7 for men, free for women.
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