Sunday, August 21, 2016

Spotlight: Sierra Nevada Mountains - Sequoia National Park

Spotlight: Sequoia National Park is named for the Giant Sequoia tree which is only native to the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Sequoia trees are the world's largest living organism by volume. On average, they grow to between 164 and 279 feet high, with a record of 311 feet. The widest known sequoia (at chest height) measures 27 feet in diameter. The oldest known giant sequoia (based on ring count) was 3,500 years old. To protect these giants, Sequoia National Park was established on Sept. 25, 1890, and spans 404,064 acres, including Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States.
     The Monachee Native Americans inhabited the area prior to the arrival of European settlers. They left many pictographs at several sites within the park, most notably at Hospital Rock. Unfortunately, the native population was decimated by small pox. The first European homesteader within the park's boundaries was Hale Tharp, who famously carved his home out of a fallen Sequoia tree. Tharp's Log can still be visited today in the same location in the Giant Forest. The Kaweah Colony attempted to derive economic success by harvesting lumber from the Giant Sequoias. Thousands of trees were chopped down before they realized that Sequoia wood wasn't suited for building since it splintered easily. Logging operations ceased completely after the national park was established.
     There is a wide variety of wildlife within the park's boundaries including: coyote, badger, black bearsheepdeerfoxcougar, woodpecker, turtles, owlsopossum, various species of snakewolverineroadrunnerbeaverfrogs, and muskrat.

Location: Sequoia National Park is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains about six miles east of the town of Three Rivers.

Cost: $30/vehicle, $20/motorscycle or $15/individual for a week-long pass which is also good for Kings Canyon; free entry with the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass.
     Tickets to Crystal Cave are $16/adult, $8/youth (6-12), and $5/child (0-5).

Time: Sequoia and Kings Canyon are open 24 hours/day, 365 days/year weather permitting. Plan on spending between 2-7 days exploring the parks.

Description: The Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park is arguably the best sequoia grove on Earth. It is home to 5 of the 10 largest trees on Earth, including the General Sherman - the largest living tree on the planet. The Big Trees Trail is designed to be an easy hike for families and is wheelchair accessible.
     The Moro Rock to Crescent Meadow Road leads to several key attractions including Moro Rock, Tunnel Log, and the High Sierra Trail.
    Cedar Grove lies in one of the deepest canyons in the country. This grove is generally warmer, and thus doesn't have any giant sequoias; but it is the starting point for many backcountry trails. A rustic Visitor Center issues wilderness permits to visit these remote areas.
Hiking in the back country

     Mineral King Valley is the highest place accessible to park visitors and is reached via a steep, windy road that leads to high elevation wilderness areas. Be prepared because there is no gasoline or electricity in the valley. It is only open from late May to October.
     Crystal Cave is run by the Sequoia Parks Conservancy. It offers several tours including: The Family Tour, Early Bird Tour, Discovery Tour, Wild Cave Tour, Junior Caver Tour, and Halloween at Crystal Cave.
     The Generals Highway connects Sequoia NP with Kings Canyon NP. The Grant Tree Trail in Grant Grove in Kings Canyon NP leads to the General Grant, the second largest tree in the world, as well as many other beautiful giants. It also offers gorgeous vistas deep into the park's wilderness area.
Hamilton Lake
     Here are some photos of Sequoia's beautiful back country including Hamilton Lake and Precipice Lake:
Nothing like a cold, refreshing swim after hiking all day

Precipice Lake

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Things You Should Know: - There is a difference between Sequoia National Forest and Sequoia National Park. Although both are beautiful, most visitors are looking for Sequoia NP, so plan accordingly.
- Over 80% of the parks is designated as wilderness area. You must obtain a wilderness permit if you stay overnight in these areas, which are only accessible on foot or horseback.
- Shuttles are a great way to explore the park while cutting down the pollution that is affecting these gentle giants. The Sequoia Shuttle can be accessed from Visalia or Three Rivers, and runs from May - September for $15/person (which includes park admission). There is also a free in park shuttle from Giant Forest Museum to Dorst Campground, and within the Lodgepole and Giant Forest areas.
- There are several Visitor Centers throughout the park that can help you make the most of your visit.
- There are plenty of camping, lodging, and restaurants in or around both national parks. However, campsites are difficult to get on summer and holiday weekends.
- Snow and ice are common on national park roads from early fall until late spring, so be prepared with tire chains if you are visiting during this period.
- Crystal Cave opens annually in May. Tickets must be purchased online and are not available at the cave entrance.
- Bears are active year-round in the park. You will need to store food and scented items in bear boxes so that they can't break in and get them.
Bear Country
- Several advisories are in effect for vehicles over 22 feet in length since they pose a danger on narrow, windy roads.

Nearby: Mount Whitney, Kings Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Park

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Spotlight: Sierra Nevada Mountains - Devil's Postpile National Monument

Spotlight: Devil's Postpile National Monument was originally part of Yosemite National Park. However, the discovery of gold in the Mammoth Lakes area prompted a boundary change, leaving the formation on public land. When a proposal for a dam would have resulted in the postpile being blasted, John Muir and other influential Californians petitioned the federal government to stop the blasting, which resulted in the establishment of the National Monument in 1911. It protects the Devil's Postpile formation, the 101-foot tall Rainbow Falls, and 798 acres of pristine alpine forest.

     The formation is a rare example of columnar basalt which raises 60 feet high and portrays a unique symmetry. It was created after a volcano spewed lava into the Reds Meadow Valley creating a lava lake less than 100,000 years ago. As the lake cooled, it began to contract and crack into columns. The columns were originally much taller than they are today, but erosion over tens of thousands of years, particularly glacial activity, has diminished their size - as evidenced by the huge pile of broken rocks at the base of the formation. It was the glaciers, however, which uncovered the formation in the first place.
Broken fragments
     The monument is also a popular portal to the John Muir Trail. Many backpackers either start or end their excursion here where the tram offers easy access to and from civilization.

Location: Devil's Postpile NM is in the Sierra National Forest several miles east of Mammoth.

Cost: Shuttle bus fees are: $7/adult, $4/child (3-15); 3-day passes are available for double the price. Day passes cost $10/vehicle. Campsites cost $20/night.

Time: Devil's Postpile is only open to tourists from mid-June to late October, depending on weather conditions which may close the road in or out of the valley. During the summer season, the monument and campground are open 24/7. The Ranger station is open from 9am-5pm. You will probably want 4-6 hours to explore the monument.

Description: The Postpile is one of the most unique rock formations I've ever seen. The slow, even cooling of the lava lake allowed the jointing (rock splits) to occur in a relatively even pattern. If you take the trail up to the top, you can see that many of the basalt columns all have the same hexagonal shape, averaging 2 feet in diameter and 60 feet high. A survey showed that 44.5% are six-sided, 37.5 are 37.5% are five-sided, with the remainder 4-sided, 7-sided, or 3-sided. This is a higher percentage of hexagonal columns of any other known formation. Another unique feature is the lack of horizontal jointing. Furthermore, they have a polished shine to them due to glacial activity.

View of the tops of the pillars
     The other popular feature of the monument is Rainbow Falls. The Falls are 101 feet tall - the tallest waterfall along the San Joaquin River. The waterfall got its name from the rainbows that appear in its mist on sunny summer days. (Unfortunately, I don't have a digital photo of them.)

Rating:  4 stars (out of 5)

Things You Should Know: - The Shuttle Bus operates from 7am-7pm and is mandatory for travel through the monument during hours of operation. To view more information on fees and exceptions, click here.
- Popular activities at the monument include: hiking, fishing, camping, backpacking, horseback riding, photography and picnics. Some activities require permits.
- Keep an eye out for wildlife. We saw this coyote while waiting for the tram.

- Camping is first come, first serve - you cannot make reservations. Sites include flush toilets, picnic tables, a fire pit and bear-proof lockers. Pets are allowed in the campground, but must remain on a leash.
- During the winter months, the only access to the monument is via skis or snowshoes.
- Hikers may park in the overnight hiker parking lot located just outside the monument boundary. Shuttle bus users should leave their cars in the shuttle bus parking area located Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge.

Nearby: Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort, Whitmore Hot Springs, Mono Lake, Yosemite National Park

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Spotlight: Sierra Nevada Mountains - The John Muir Trail

Spotlight: The John Muir Trail is named after naturalist John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club and was instrumental in influencing the government to protect large tracts of land including Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park. His efforts to lobby for a National Parks system earned him the nickname "Father of the National Parks."
     The John Muir Trail is a 210-mile trail that connects two of his favorite places - Yosemite National Park and the peak of Mount Whitney (14,505 feet / 4421 meters). Construction of the trail began in 1915, a year after John Muir's death. About 160 miles of the trail follows the longer Pacific Crest Trail. Almost the entire trail traverses through the High Sierra backcountry, isolated from the huge crowds that jam the cities and freeways down in the valleys below. The vast majority of the trail lies at an elevation of 8,000+ feet (2,400 meters), including the final third of the trail which rises over 10,000 feet (3,000+ meters). Although it is arguably the most famous trail in the United States, it averages only about 1,500 through hikers each year - significantly less than the comparable Appalachian Trail in the East.

Location: The John Muir Trail starts at the Happy Isles Bridge in Yosemite National Park and traverses 210.4 miles of wilderness including Sequoia National Park and King's Canyon N.P. before ending on the  summit of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States.

Cost: Depends on how much you need to spend to get outfitted for the trip with lightweight gear.

Time: 4 days to a month, depending on how much of the trail you decide to do in one shot. The primary hiking season is from July - September when most of the trail is free of snow.

Description: The trailhead for the John Muir Trail is Happy Isles Bridge in Yosemite National Park. However, if you don't intend to walk the entire 210-mile trail, you can access it from various starting points along the route. Since it takes about 30 days of steady hiking to traverse the entire route, most hikers take it in segments. We accessed the Trail from the Silver Lake campground (north of Mammoth Lakes) and hiked until Devil's Postpile National Monument. Although we intended to hike further, my hiking companion aggravated a knee injury necessitating our early exit. Still, we saw some amazing sites along the way.
     On the first morning, we started from the Silver Lake Campground and hiked southwest toward Gem Lake. Along the way we saw a beautiful waterfall along Rush Creek, some insanely steep railroad tracks, and the magnificent cascades of Rush Creek as the waters plummeted from Gem Lake Dam down toward Agnew Lake. From Gem Lake, we joined up with the John Muir Trail, and then pressed on to Thousand Island Lake where we camped for the night. It is one of the most gorgeous spots I've ever seen - and frankly, that's saying something. From the lake we had a great view of Banner Peak and Ritter Peak. We slept in an ultra lightweight (albeit expensive) tent and cooked our dinner on lightweight homemade stoves that burn using denatured alcohol rather than gas. It was cold that night, despite being early August, and I slept like a baby - you know, waking up about every hour or so.

     On the second day, we hiked from Thousand Island Lake to Ediza Lake (on an offshoot trail) at the base of the Minaret Mountains. On the way, we passed several other beautiful lakes: Emerald Lake, Ruby Lake, Garnet Lake, and Nydiver Lakes. We also saw a beautiful waterfall that was practically hidden from view among the trees. Along the way, we had to cross a large patch of snow to reach our campsite. That night was extremely cold, and I was glad I'd packed some long underwear (even though it added precious weight to my pack).

     On day three, I ate my standard oatmeal breakfast (easy and filling) and packed up camp. Originally, we had planned on going to Minaret Lake, but the trail was too snowy and you needed crampons and ice picks in order to cross is safely. Instead, we hooked back up with the John Muir Trail near Shadow Lake. We hiked past Rosalie Lake to a small lake called Gladys Lake. We considered going on to Trinity Lakes, but heard from hikers coming up the trail that the mosquitoes were out in full force there. They were bad enough at Gladys Lake, and I doused myself in bug spray in order to retain my sanity. I hiked around the lake and found that if I kept moving, they were less intense. Along a rocky ridge, I found a little nook in the rocks with no mosquitoes and settled down with the small, lightweight book I'd brought for just such an occasion. After watching the sunset, I retired at around 8 pm.

     On day four, we got up early and hiked from Gladys Lake to Devil's Postpile National Monument. We passed Trinity Lakes, a beautiful cascade, and several small lakes without names before arriving at the national monument. As we hiked, my hiking companion kept going slower and slower as his knee got progressively worse. Once we reached Devil's Postpile, we realized that he couldn't keep going. We took the tram back to civilization.

Rating: 4 1/2 stars (out of 5); beautiful enough for a "5," but the difficulty factor kept it from the highest rating.

Things You Should Know: -My hiking companion, Chris Herbert, is a free lance photographer. If you think these photos are beautiful, you should see his:
- If you aren't in shape, or don't enjoy "roughing it" in practically every sense of the phrase, this hike isn't for you.
- There are no facilities along the trail except where the trail intersects national parkland. In fact, in order to protect the ecology and pristine beauty of the backcountry, hikers are instructed to do one of two things to dispose of their waste. 1) Dig a hole 6-8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails in which to bury your waste; or 2) Pack out any human waste in wag bags (including TP and feminine products).
- This is one of those trips where you bring only the bare necessities. My hiking companion spent a lot of money on ultra lightweight equipment (tent, sleeping bag, cooking gear, etc.) to cut precious pounds off his back. He even cut most of the handle off of his toothbrush to save a few ounces. As I lugged my heavier pack along the trail, I wished I had economized my pounds a bit more.
our ultra lightweight tent
- The weather during the hiking season (July-September) is typically dry and sunny; however, afternoon thundershowers are common enough that it is worthwhile to bring a couple of empty trash bags to keep your things dry. You will probably want a lightweight poncho or trash bag to wear as well.
- A permit is required to hike the JMT. One can be obtained from the national park or forest where you begin the hike. Try to reserve a permit ahead of time, but a portion of the permits are reserved for walk-ins, so get to the permit office early to ensure that you get one. The Whitney portal is so popular that a lottery system is used to distribute permits.
- Hikers entering the backcountry on multi-day permits are required to carry their food in approved hard-sided storage containers known as bear canisters. Black bears are fairly common in the area and will break into tents and packs to get at food that isn't stored properly.
- Most thru-hikers start in Yosemite and head south to Mt. Whitney. One of the advantages of this is that it gives their bodies time to acclimate to the high altitudes before tackling the 6,000 foot (1,800 meter) climb to the top of Whitney (14,505 feet / 4421 meters).
- If you are going to hike for more than four or five days, you will want to set up some resupply sites along the trail to leave food bundles you can pick up as you exhaust your current supplies. We had a drop site set up at Reds Meadow, but ended up just bringing it home since we had to quit our adventure once we reached it. Other popular resupply sites include: Tuolumne Meadows, Vermillion Valley Resort, and Muir Trail Ranch.
- There are several smaller trails that branch off the main John Muir Trail. These lead to isolated treasures (lakes and waterfalls) that can be explored before continuing along the main route. Obviously, exploring these side routes add time to the journey, but life isn't about going from point A to point B as quickly as possible; it's about enjoying the journey. Do your homework ahead of time to determine exactly what you want to see before you go, and bring an accurate topographical map to make sure you don't get lost.
- For additional information regarding the John Muir Trail, including preparation tips and photos, go to

Nearby: The only things that are close are the places along the trail: Sequoia National Park, King's Canyon National Park, Devil's Postpile National Monument

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Spotlight: Washington DC - The Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Spotlight: The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) is a government agency within the National Department of the Treasury. Its main purpose is to print Federal Reserve Notes - more commonly known as the almighty dollar. However, it also produces Treasury securities, military commissions and award certificates, official invitations and admission cards, various forms of official government ID, and special security documents for a variety of government agencies. For many years, the BEP produced U.S. passports and until 2005 was the sole manufacturer of U.S. stamps. The BEP has two production facilities (the other is in Fort Worth, TX), neither of which produce any coins.
Who's on $1, What's on $2, etc.
     The BEP was created in 1862 to help fund the Civil War by printing paper money instead of coins so that the metal could be used in the military effort. The paper notes were essentially IOUs called Demand Notes. These notes were originally printed by a private firm which sent the printed sheets to the Treasury Department where clerks signed the notes, and cut them by hand. These currency notes experienced a major overhaul in 1929 when the BEP standardized note design and size, making the notes smaller and harder to counterfeit.
We went in 2012, for the 150th anniversary of the BEP
Location: The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is located at 301 14th Street right next to the Tidal Basin.

Cost: free (ironically)

Time: The free tour is 40 minutes, and runs every 15 minutes from 9:00 am - 2:00 pm. from Sept. - March. Evening tours (until 6:00 pm) begin in late March and run through late August. Plan on spending another 30 minutes exploring the Visitor Center (open from 8:30-7:00 daily).

Description: The tour teaches you everything you wanted to know about how they print money, precautions they take to avoid counterfeiting, etc. The highlight of course is walking by the production room as millions of dollars are being printed on the other side of the glass. It also includes an interesting introductory film.
     One of the more fascinating things at the BEP Visitor Center is a giant ruler that measures your height in money. For example, using $100 bills, I am approximately $1,700,900 tall. There are also other fun exhibits, like $1,000,000 in $10 bills, a giant $100 bill (about 6 feet long), and examples of all the different federal bills printed over the past 150+ years. They also have plenty of currency products for sale.
1 million dollars in $10 bills
Rachel's height in $100 bills
Several Federal Reserve notes issued over the past 150 years
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Things You Should Know: - Although admission is free, you need to reserve a spot on the tour ahead of time between March and August. The Ticket Booth, located at Raoul Wallenburg place (formerly 15th St., SW) opens at 8:00 am daily and stays open until all the tickets for the day are gone. The tour entrance is on 14th St. SW.
- The Bureau is closed for all federal holidays and the week between Christmas and New Years.
- Older worn out bills can be redeemed at the Bureau for newer currency at face value only.

Nearby: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Tidal Basin Paddle Boats, National Mall, Washington Monument

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Spotlight: Salt Lake City - This Is The Place Heritage Park

Spotlight: When the Mormons pioneers traveled to Utah, their leader was Brigham Young. At the time of their exodus, their destination was the Rocky Mountains, but they hadn't decided on the exact location where they would build their Zion. Brigham Young informed the other church leaders that he had seen a vision in which he saw the Mormon people make the desert bloom as a rose. The advance pioneer party arrived in present day Salt Lake county in July, 1847. On the 24th of that month, Brigham Young, who was ill with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, was driven up Emigration Canyon in the back of a wagon. As they crested a hill and looked over the valley, Brigham asked to see the view for himself. After gazing out over the valley, President Young declared, "It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on." With those few words, Salt Lake City became the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, resulting in the arrival of thousands of immigrant believers from around the globe into the Salt Lake Valley. This Is The Place Heritage Park was established to commemorate that event, as well as the other people and events that helped shape the cultural landscape that exists in Utah today.

Location: This Is The Place Heritage Park is located at the mouth of Emigration Canyon in East Salt Lake City. The address is 2601 E. Sunnyside Ave.

Time: Open from 10am-5pm daily. Plan on spending 4-6 hours.

Cost: $11 (adults), $8 (seniors & children 3-11), free (children 2 & under); Sundays - $5 (adults), $3 (children & seniors)

Description: This Is The Place Heritage Park helps visitors learn what life was like in Utah Territory during the mid-1800s. A "train" tour starts at Eagle Gate and takes visitors around the village to give them an overview of the village and the various activities that are available. Most workers/volunteers are dressed in period appropriate attire - even on the hottest of summer days. The different buildings highlight typical homes, businesses, and community centers that would be found in the average Utah town. Volunteers and workers perform typical duties that the residents of Utah would have performed in their homes - such as baking bread in a cast iron stove (heated by a wood burning fire) without air conditioning. One of the most popular activities is to tour the Brigham Young Farmhouse and Barn, which displays many authentic items from the Young family home as well as some replicas. On the other end of the spectrum are the row of pioneer cabins, which show the rustic side of life.
Ashby dugout
     The businesses either have displays or workers that teach visitors how different trades were accomplished using nineteenth century materials and tools. Some even have crafts that children and adults can do and take home. Some of the businesses include the: shaving parlor, bank, saddlery, livery stable, blacksmith shop, print shop, furniture store, wheelwright shop, drugstore, cabinet & chair shop, tinsmith shop, boot shop, and telegraph office.

     There are plenty of activities for kids. Some of these include: panning for gold, playing on a replica boat, the mini train ride, pony rides, the petting corral, the Native American Village & dance show, the Children's playground, attending school in the old school house, and playing in the splash pad at the Irrigation Station.
panning for gold
Native American dance show
mini train ride
splash pad at the Irrigation Station
pony rides    
Rating: 4 1/2 stars (out of 5)

Things You Should Know: -The park stays open until 6 p.m. from June-August. It is closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Years Day.
- The Visitor's Center opens at 9 am.
- Price of admission includes any combination of 3 additional activities such as: take-home crafts, mini train ride, and pony ride.
- Sundays have reduced admission because most activities and programs aren't available that day.
- Entrance fees are for admission to the village. The Statuary Walkway outside the village is free. It leads from the giant This Is The Place monument, past several other pioneer era monuments, including the Mormon Battalion Monument, and ends at the National Pony Express Monument.
- The current monument was dedicated in 1947. A small, stone obelisk to the east of the current monument marks the place where Brigham Young made his original pronouncement.
- Special events throughout the year include: Huntsman Day (free admission), Mountain Man Camp, Liberty Day (July 4), Pioneer Day (July 24), Witches' Ball, Haunted Village & Little Haunts, Christkindlmarkt, and Candlelight Christmas.
- During the summer and seasonal events, you can buy lunch at the Huntsman Grill. There are also yummy snacks at Brigham's Donuts, the ZCMI store and the Ice Cream Parlor. You can also bring your own snacks into the park.
Ice cream break
- You can schedule special activities such as birthday parties, weddings, receptions, and corporate parties. For more information, call 801-924-7507.
- Occasionally, you can buy some crafts at the various shops - for example, pottery at the pottery shop.

Nearby: Hogle Zoo, Temple Square, Red Butte Garden & Arboretum, Park City

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Spotlight: Washington DC - The White House and Visitor Center

Spotlight: The White House is the official residence and workplace of the President of the United States. The building was designed in the Neoclassical style by James Hoban, and took 8 years to construct. Every president since John Adams (1800) has lived there. Although part of it was torched by the British during the War of 1812, it was reconstructed in time for James Monroe to move back in in 1817. By the end of the century, the Executive Residence was growing crowded. In 1901, all offices were moved to the newly constructed West Wing. Eight years later, President Taft expanded the West Wing, creating the first Oval Office. An East Wing was later added to serve as a reception area for social events. During the mid-1900s, the interior rooms were completely dismantled in order for an internal load-bearing steel frame to be constructed within the walls. The White House currently contains six stories (two are basements). The complex includes the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (which houses offices for the President's staff and Vice-President) and the Blair House (a formal guest house). The White House is a National Heritage Site and the focal point of the President's Park. In 2007, it ranked second on the American Institute of Architects' list of "America's Favorite Architecture."

Location: The White House is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington DC; the most famous address in the nation. The White House Visitor Center is nearby at 1450 Pennsylvania Ave.

Cost: Self-guided public tours are free. The White House Visitor Center is also free.

Time: Public Self-guided tours take place Tues.-Thurs. from 7:30-11:30 am.; Friday & Sat. from 7:30-1:30 pm. (excluding public holidays). The Visitor Center is open daily from 7:30 am - 4:00 pm except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.

Description: The White House was originally open to the public. In fact, Inauguration Day parties were held in the White House throughout most of the 1800's, in which thousands of revelers partied on the grounds and in the house with the new President. By the early 1900's, however, safety concerns have continually curtailed access to the House and its grounds. Public tours are still given, as they have been since its construction, but tour passes are hard to obtain. Public tour requests must be submitted through your state's Congressmen or Senators. They are available up to three months before your tour date, and must be obtained at least 21 days in advance. Since the demand for tour requests is much higher than the available slots, the White House has created a digital virtual tour of the White House available to anyone with access to the internet.
     Another option is to visit the official White House Visitor Center. Since we couldn't get passes to a public tour, this is what we did. Visitors can explore an interactive touchscreen tour of the White House and view over 90 artifacts from the White House collection. The Visitor Center also shows a 14-minute film entitled "White House: Reflections from Within." At the information desk, visitors can attend a Ranger program or find out information about other special events occurring with President's Park. Also part of President's Park is the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion Complex.
White House china

The Secret Service is on duty
Replica desk at White House Visitor Center
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Things You Should Know: -Since public tour requests are distributed on a first-come, first serve basis, you will want to submit your request as soon as they become available (three months before your tour date). Be aware that all public tours are subject to last minute cancellation. Visitors should call 202-456-7041 to learn if any last minute changes have been made to their tour schedule.
- Foreign visitors should submit public tour requests through their nation's embassy.
- All guests 18 years or older to the White House complex will be required to present a valid, government-issued photo ID. Foreign visitors will be required to present their passports for inspection.
- Since public parking is not available near the White House, visitors are encouraged to use the Metrorail. The closest stations are Federal Triangle (blue and orange lines), Metro Center (blue, orange, and red), and McPherson Square (blue and orange).
- The following items are prohibited on White House grounds: video recorders, handbags, book bags, backpacks or purses, food or beverages, tobacco products, personal grooming items (i.e. makeup, lotion, etc.), strollers, any pointed objects, aerosol containers, guns, ammunition, fireworks, electric stun guns, mace, martial arts weapons/devices, or knives of any size. The Secret Service reserves the right to prohibit any other personal items.

Nearby: Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The National Theatre, Archives-Navy Memorial, Washington Memorial