Rock Creek Valley has been a national park since 1890, and if the area now is mainly a hub for running, biking, birding, and commuting, the woodland along the thirty-three miles the Creek runs from Laytonsville golf course to Foggy Bottom has been vital to local populations since the hunter-gatherers of the Archaic period went after huckleberries and chestnuts. As she did in her profile of Sugarloaf, Melanie Choukas-Bradley, also the author of the perennial favorite, City of Trees, intertwines the Park’s nature, culture, and history, pointing out herons and foxes, telling the stories of the families behind the Peirce and Veirs Mills, reviewing the Park’s role in the underground railroad, and quoting various presidents on what Rock Creek has meant to them. The past is as alive as the present in A Year in Rock Creek Park (George F. Thompson, $49.50, cloth; $29.95, paper), a written and visual record of the park in all seasons at all times of day. Choukas-Bradley explored every mile of it, variously walking, biking, skiing, and canoeing, accompanied by naturalists and historians, whose insights join her keen observations in these evocative, conversational essays. But don’t just take words for the magic of the place. The stunning full-color photos by award-winning nature photographer and garden-book writer Susan Austin Roth make Rock Creek’s beauty unforgettable.
Whether you are new to the nation’s capital or have lived here all your life, there’s much to learn from Howard Youth’s Field Guide to the Natural World of Washington, D.C. (Johns Hopkins Univ., $24.95). An ideal hostess or housewarming gift, this book deserves to be consulted year-round and city-wide; it’s everything the title promises. Starting with a natural history of the region, this information-packed volume proceeds to a comprehensive listing of park networks and forests, with maps and logistical details. Delightful, detailed watercolors by Mark Klingler (themselves complemented by the photographs of Robert Mumford) survey area birds, mammals, invertebrates, trees, flowers, mushrooms, and geological formations. The book particularly emphasizes the contribution of each species to the area’s ecosystem, guiding new and seasoned observers through the breadth of nature resplendent in our city.
Every Washingtonian ought to have this guide in his glove compartment! Even if you aren’t able to take a full-blown vacation this summer, this TRIPS guide provides dozens of weekends’ worth of new experiences, cultural exchanges and greasy summer food from across the region. Featuring points north and south, the LONELY PLANET TRIPS guides provide itineraries that range from a day to a week, each denoted by clear but clever icons and coupled with extras like quotes from locals and playlists for the car: You’ll find a Warhol-themed trip to Pittsburgh, an East Coast food tour that goes from Prince Frederick County to New York City, an upscale take on the Appalachian Trail, a cinematic tour of Baltimore and a heritage music drive through Virginia. Attend to that road trip itch, and you’ll be glad to reap the benefits of living on the culturally bustling East Coast.