Teotihuacan: Mexico City’s 2,000-Year-Old City

Mexico City is HUGE. It’s home to almost 9 million people, encompasses more than 550 square miles and has some of the worst traffic in the world. Knowing that I knew I had to go prepared and so, after making lists and reading travel blogs and getting a ton of recommendations, I picked three things that I absolutely had to see while I was there. Visiting the ruins of Teotihuacan (teh-oh-tee-wah-kahn), located just about an hour from the city center, was on the top that list.

I didn’t know anything about Teotihuacan before I starting investigating what to see and do in and around Mexico City. Even when I got on a plane and flew to Mexico I still didn’t know a lot about the site. I’d heard good things, read blogs about how to get there and looked at a few photos, but mostly I wanted to be surprised by it and I wanted to do the learning in Mexico, not in my living room flipping through guidebooks and travel blogs.

Teotihuacan || TERRAGOES.COM

As I discovered once I got to Mexico, Teotihuacan includes the third largest pyramid in the world, the Pyramid of the Sun, pictured above, and encompasses around two kilometers of ruins that run along what is known as the Avenue of the Dead.

Established around 100 B.C. and under construction until around 250 A.D., the city likely contained a population of around 150,000, making it the sixth largest city in the world during its peak. It was, according to National Geographic, “one of the first great cities of the Western Hemisphere.”

Fast forward a few hundred years, to the 7th or 8th century A.D., and the city collapsed. Maybe it was invaders or an internal uprising or maybe it was a catastrophic agricultural type of failure. No one really knows for sure, although there are lots of theories.

One of the fascinating things about Teotihuacan is that nobody knows who built it. The Aztecs showed up about 1,000 years after it was built and were very, very impressed. They gave it the name Teotihuacan, meaning “birthplace of the gods,” and claimed a common ancestor with whoever the hell it was who built the incredible site.

Teotihuacan || TERRAGOES.COM

Getting to the site was pretty easy. We took an uber to the central bus depot, Autobuses del Norte, and then followed, these directions to navigate through the bus depot and onto our bus. Everything was exactly as described – go inside, turn left, find the right counter and head outside to wait for your bus and it would have been pretty straightforward getting to Teotihuacan too if our bus hadn’t backed into another bus on the way out of the bus station. We ended up having to wait for another bus and the delay cost us around thirty minutes, but really, it was all sort of hilarious and ridiculous and I didn’t care at all once we finally made it to Teotihuacan.

Entry to the site cost $70 MXN, or about $3.70 USD. There are vendors lining your way in selling all manner of Mexican giftables, along with roving vendors scattered throughout the site. I bought a hat on the way in for about $90 MXN and it proved to be invaluable over the next several hours spent wandering around the sun.

Teotihuacan || TERRAGOES.COM

Unlike lots of other really old pyramids in the world, you can climb the biggest one at Teotihuacan, the Pyramid of the Sun, which claims the title of the third largest pyramid in the world. It is steep and exhausting, but we all agreed we got to the top quicker than we expected and while it was definitely an effort, the view was pretty fucking great.

Teotihuacan || TERRAGOES.COM

Then there’s the Pyramid of the Moon, which you can climb half of and which sits at the top of the site. I’d say if you’re only going to climb one pyramid, climb this one. The stairs felt steeper and there were fewer natural resting points but the view is incredible and allows you to look down the entire Avenue of the Dead and gives you an impressive view of Pyramid of the Sun.

After wandering around for a few hours, we were hungry. There is very little shade at Teotihuacan and we’d expended a fair amount of physical effort climbing all the pyramids.

Everything I’d read about the site told me the best place to get lunch was at La Grunta, a restaurant inside of a cave just a short walk from the ruins. We decided to try it, each of us craving a good meal and a cold beer (or three). We followed the trail behind the Pyramid of the Sun to the parking lot and then followed the black La Grunta signs to the restaurant. It led us down a gorgeous road and while we weren’t expecting much from a tourist-touted establishment next to one of Mexico’s biggest attractions, we were impressed from the start.

Teotihuacan || TERRAGOES.COM

The place was busy when we arrived in the middle of the afternoon so service was a little slow, but once we ordered, our beers came quick and our food followed shortly after. I even managed to cool down enough that I had to put my jacket back on because, you know, it was in a fucking cave and caves are delightfully cool.

Teotihuacan || TERRAGOES.COM

After we ate, we headed back to Teotihuacan for a bit more wandering. It was almost 5 p.m., closing time, and there were only a handful of people still wandering around.

When we first came in, there were a bunch of wild dogs hanging out on the outskirts of the site, but it seems to be their’s by night. I talked to some of them as we headed to the exit. They were curious, polite and funny.

Teotihuacan || TERRAGOES.COM Teotihuacan || TERRAGOES.COM

We stayed until about 5:30 p.m. or so and then made our way out of the park, via Gate/Puerta 2. There’s an insection just outside the gate along with a bus sign and within a few minutes, our bus was there to take us back to Mexico City.

Teotihuacan || TERRAGOES.COM

We saw a lot during our time in Mexico City, but this was definitely one of my favorite sites. To climb a 2,000-year-old pyramid, the third largest in the world, to walk paths walked by hundreds of generations before me and to be in a place so well-preserved and magical was incredible.

12 Podcasts for Lovers of True Crime, Mystery, Feels & Weird Knowledge

I listen to podcasts all the damn time. I listen in the car, when I’m in the shower, while I’m cooking dinner, when I do chores around the house and when I shovel snow. I listen when I run and when I walk the dogs and when I’m working on things that don’t require much concentration.

Pretty much all of the time I’m not watching TV, reading or writing or, you know, interacting with other human beings, chances are good I’m listening to a podcast. I am obsessed, y’all, so here’s a rundown of my favorites, the ones that I couldn’t stop listening to, that made me laugh and also cry, the ones that taught me something and the ones with stories I couldn’t stop talking about.


Someone Knows Something is investigative journalism at its best. Now in its third season, the first season focused on the 1972 disappearance of Adrien McNaughton who was just five-years-old when he disappeared during a family fishing trip in Eastern Ontario. It is the true story of a cold case, with input from Adrien’s family, members of his community, cadaver dog teams and search and rescue divers. It is brilliantly and compassionately told and, at around a dozen episodes, is easy to binge.

One of a handful of missing persons podcasts, Thin Air tells the story of one missing person every episode. They include interviews with family members and friends who help tell the story of the missing’s last known whereabouts, detailing where they were and who they might have been with, while also trying to determine their state of mind at the time of their disappearance. || GATEWAY EPISODE: Episode 22 & 23: David Sneddon


My Favorite Podcasts || TERRAGOES.COMIN THE DARK
In 1989, Jacob Wetterling was 11-years old. Following an evening bike ride with friends in Minnesota, he was taken by a man with a gun and never seen again and the case went cold for 27 years. In the Dark unintentionally dropped around the same time a man named Danny Heinrich admitted to abducting and murdering Jacob Wetterling and assaulting another boy, Jared Scheierl. It’s a podcast about Jacob, but it’s also about the investigation into his disappearance. Reporter Madeleine Baran, who tells the story, does a deep dive into how the investigation was conducted, what the environment was like in the 1980s when Jacob was taken, and the rippling effects of his case, including the 1994 Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act.

Dirty John tells the true story of John Meehan, a con man, and his relationship with Debra Newell and her family, who all help to tell the story along with host Christopher Goffard. It details his entry into their lives, their realizations about his true character and their attempts to get rid of him. The story is riveting because you know terrible things are happening and are going to happen, but you don’t know how it will all unfold. This is definitely one of the most binge-able podcasts on this list, as it’s only six episodes, each running about 45 minutes.

Hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, My Favorite Murder is a comedy podcast about murder. In each episode, both hosts tell the true story of a murder, with banter and sass sprinkled throughout. They’ve talked big deal murders and little known historic murders and all sorts of murders in between. Over their more than 100 episodes, they’ve coined catchphrases including, “Here’s the thing – Fuck Everyone,” “Stay sexy and don’t get murdered,” and “Fuck Politeness.” || GATEWAY EPISODE: 18 – Investigateighteen Discovery


In a six week span, Nora McInerny lost her husband, her father and her second pregnancy. In her podcast,  she honestly, candidly and gracefully talks the sad and uncomfortable bits of life. Instead of saying “I’m fine,” to the oft-asked question of “how are you?” she digs right the fuck into the hard stuff, talking about death, sexual assault, loneliness and all the tough stuff in between. Terrible, Thanks for Asking is brilliant in its honesty and Nora is witty, sometimes cheeky and always compassionate. It is not a collection of sad stories, it is a collection of stories about real life that is sometimes very, very sad. || GATEWAY EPISODE: Episode #11: The Ending Matters or Episode #12: Horrible and Wonderful and Figuring It Out

Cheryl Strayed, who wrote Wild, and Steve Almond both used to write as Sugar for the advice column Dear Sugar. Now, they’ve teamed up to deliver Dear Sugars where they empathetically field questions from listeners, sometimes bringing in guests like Oprah and Esther Perel, to help find the best answer. Over the course of their multi-year run, the two have talked about family problems, love problems and life problems, often examining topics from various angles. || GATEWAY EPISODE: The Infidelity Episodes, Part 1-4


Produced by NPR and hosted by Guy Raz, How I Built This is about “innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists, and the movements they built.” Guy talks to the founders of brands like Airbnb, Spanx, Five Guys, Samuel Adams, Whole Foods Market, Drybar, Rent the Runway and Zumba to find out how it all began. || GATEWAY EPISODE: Five Guys: Jerry Murrell, Lonely Planet: Maureen & Tony Wheeler or Patagonia: Yvon Chouinard


This podcast is about every little thing, just like the title says. It covers all sorts of topics you’ve probably (maybe) wondered about, like why we don’t see living armadillos very often, why that one plastic lawn chair is so ubiquitous or what the numbers on packs of pasta actually mean. The episodes are short, usually only about 30 minutes or so, and include interviews with subject matter experts on all sorts of weird and wonderful topics. || GATEWAY EPISODE: Don’t Underestimate the Flamingo

Yes, this podcast is about true crime, but it’s a podcast about really fascinating true crime. Yes, some of the stories they tell are a little gruesome, but there’s usually an element of intrigue in there too. They’ve talked about the Alcatraz escape I mentioned in this post, surprising court sentences (like castration!), book thieves and the rise and fall of putting missing kids on milk cartons. || GATEWAY EPISODE: #77 The Escape or #67 Milk Carton Kids


My Favorite Podcasts || TERRAGOES.COMCULTS
In college, I took a class on cults. I was a sociology major, so it made sense, but I’ve always been fascinated. Cults typically does 2-3 episodes per cult, and so far they’ve covered The Manson Family, Heaven’s Gate, The Family, The Children of God and a handful of other cults. Usually, they first profile the founder, then they dig deeper into the followers and explore a little bit of the physchology behind joining a cult. || GATEWAY EPISODE: E13-14 “FLDS” – Warren Jeffs Pt. 1 & 2

Hosted by Glynn Washington, who grew up in a cult himself, this podcast focuses on Heaven’s Gate, an American UFO cult that was based in California. The group is most infamous for the 1997 mass suicide that claimed 39 lives. Heaven’s Gate does a deep dive into the cult’s history and brings in former members, experts and family members to discuss the cult, along with recordings from cult leader Marshall Applewhite and recordings from cult members before the suicide.

Exploring Alcatraz Island

Visiting Alcatraz Island is maybe my most favorite thing to do in San Francisco. To me – a true crime lover, a National Park nerd and a history buff – the place is fascinating. I love the access visitors get to the notorious former prison, the views of San Francisco from the island, the self-guided audio tour and the intensely spooky vibe of the place.

Alcatraz Island is just one piece of Golden Gate National Recreational Area. In total, the GGNRA includes around 25 National Park Service-administered sites spread across San Francisco and Marin and San Mateo Counties.

Alcatraz Island || TERRAGOES.COM

To get to Alcatraz Island, you have to take a ferry. It’s a short ride, with indoor and outdoor seating. It offers incredible views of both Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco skyline and occasionally, on clear days, the Golden Gate Bridge. The ferry has snacks, including wine, beer and soft pretzels, but anything you purchase, other than water, must be consumed on board the boat as no food or drink is allowed on the island.

Once you get to Alcatraz Island, a park ranger gives a brief rundown of the rules, mostly that no food is allowed, not to wander off the marked paths and when the last boat of the day leaves, along with an overview of what there is to see and do on the island, where the bathrooms are and where to get water. After that, they send you off on your adventure, to wander the prison island known as “The Rock.”

Alcatraz Island || TERRAGOES.COM

Once you make your way up the hill, past the old officer’s quarters and gun positions, you’ll come to the prison. There, staff will ask your language and hand you an audio device with headphones and then you’re free to tour the prison at your own pace.

The tour is narrated by former prisoners and guards. They recount what it was like to live and work there, what some of the more infamous inmates, like Al Capone, were like, what solitary confinement was like and how lonely it was on New Year’s Eve, when prisoners could hear the sounds of revelers welcoming in the new year on boats outside their island prison. As the story is told, the narrator directs you through different parts of the prison, down different prison blocks, through the mess hall, into the offices where prison staff worked.

Alcatraz Island || TERRAGOES.COM

You get a lot of stories on the tour, a lot of details about significant events at the prison, but my favorite is the 1962 escape attempt.

Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was designed to house the worst of the worst, the prisoners with no hope for rehabilitation and who had caused problems or trouble at other prisons. It was notoriously rough and, allegedly, impossible to escape from, mostly because it’s a rocky island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay.

Still, 14 escape attempts were staged by 36 inmates during the 29 years Alcatraz served as a federal prison. Most were recaptured and six were shot and killed. Two drowned and a few others were never found, but were listed as missing and presumed to have drowned.

In June of 1962, three men – Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin staged an incredible escape. They’d been digging for six months, slowly widening the ventilation duct in their cells with tools that included spoons they’d stolen from the dining facility. They concealed the holes with well-painted cardboard and shook the excess dirt from their pant cuffs during their time outside.

When the time came to escape, each inmate put a papier-mâché-type head on his pillow, well-painted and complete with full heads of hair and eyebrows, made from hair clippings they’d stolen from the floors of the barber shop. They piled towels and clothing on their beds to mimic the shapes of their bodies, snuck out of their self-dug tunnels into a forgotten corridor they’d used as a workshop and gathered their supplies. They’d managed to accumulate around 50 raincoats, which they’d sewn together to make rafts.

From there, the men climbed the ventilation shaft to the roof, slid 50 feet down a kitchen vent, climbed two 12-foot perimeter fences and inflated their rafts when they reached the water. According to tests conducted later, the rafts were so well-made that they would float indefinitely.

Alcatraz Island || TERRAGOES.COM

Allegedly, the three were heading for Angel Island, some two miles away.

Their escape wasn’t detected until the morning, when a 10-day search was launched. Authorities found a paddle, a wallet that belonged to the Anglin brothers and some shreds of a raincoat, presumably the remnants of a raft. But that’s it. No human remains were ever found and after a 17-year investigation, the FBI closed their case, ruling that the prisoners probably drowned in the cold waters of the San Francisco Bay. The U.S. Marshals didn’t give up so easily, and their case is still open and will remain so until the men are either found or until their 99th birthdays.

Chances are they drowned, but maybe they didn’t. The Anglin brothers were excellent swimmers. In their teens, they spent summers in Michigan, picking cherries with their family and swimming in the lake while ice still floated on the surface.

Over the years there’s been speculation on whether or not the men could have survived, with shows like MythBusters testing the feasibility of their escape.

A few months ago I listened to an episode of the podcast Criminal that talked about the Anglin brothers and their sister, now 82-years-old. She and the rest of the family still believe the brothers are alive, that they survived the escape and made it to Brazil.

Personally, I’m a sucker for a good mystery. There’s a certain amount of magic in the idea that these men escaped the most fearsome prison in America, made their ways to some far away land and are living out their old age in a tropical paradise somewhere.

Alcatraz Island || TERRAGOES.COM

Outside the prison there’s more to explore. There’s a whole garden club that keeps the vegetation looking lovely and the island is a happy home for a variety of bird friends. There’s a gift shop, too, and a video that goes into the full history of Alcatraz, beyond its use as a federal prison.

Alcatraz Island || TERRAGOES.COM

Once you’re done exploring, you’re free to leave on any available ferry. Even though the ride is short, I’ve made it a tradition to get a wine on the ride back, to quickly sip as I ponder the possibility of prison escapes.

Alcatraz Island is accessible by commercial ferry at Pier 33 on San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Tickets go on sale 90 days in advance and have been known to sell out, especially in the summer and during holiday weekends. Tickets range from $37.25 for a day tour to $44.25 for an evening tour, with other tour options and programs available seasonally. Alcatraz is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. 

Things I Would like to Do in 2018

I’m not much for resolutions. I figure if you want to make a change, do it, don’t wait for the momentum to pass just because the calendar isn’t where you’d like it to be. When it comes to self-improvement it’s always seemed silly to wait for Monday when you can just as easily start a new fitness routine or savings plan on a Thursday.

Still, I like the feeling of the first, be it the first of the year or the first of the month. I like the blank, open possibility of it, the unspoiled newness. And I like setting goals, too. I like to start a year with a list of rough possibilities and potential adventures in mind, so that’s what this is, a rough list of the shit I’d like to do and do better in 2018.


One of my life goals is to see all 417 units within the National Park Service. Last year I made it to 22 parks, and I’m hoping to step it up a bit this year, with trips to Oregon, North Carolina and maybe Boston or Arizona or maybe New York, plus a continued effort to visit and explore the parks in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.


Last year I ran my fastest half in 1:50:52. This year I want to get under that 1:50 mark, even if it’s a 1:49:59, I’ll take it. I want to run more half marathons than I did last year and I just want to run more, in general. I’d love to hit the 1,000 mile mark, but that’s been an elusive goal of mine for a while.


I wanted to read 50 books last year but then I spent most of the year not really feeling like reading any books, so I slashed my goal a few months ago. Then, in November, I got my groove back and ended up reading 32 books in 2017, including six in December, so I’m going to hope my reading groove continues and go ahead and aim for 50 books this year.


I want to cook more things in 2018, especially bread and definitely soup since it’s winter as fuck outside.


I’m so inconsistent about walking my fake wolves, mostly because it’s very easy to just open the back door and let them scamper about for a bit. But they love walks and I love taking them for walks, and I’m pretty good about it in the summer, but now it’s winter and cold and dark and I just want to hide under blankets, but that’s not fair to the doggos.


I’ve been meaning to get rid of my treadmill for two years and then there’s this mirror that used to be in the upstairs bathroom that’s still sitting around and then there are the closets and really, I just need to pick a shelf or a drawer or a room in my house and go through all the stuff I’ve accumulated and just fucking get rid of it. It feels overwhelming, but I know if I break it into pieces and parts it will all seem so much more manageable.


I’ve been wanted to write about the hard stuff, but the thing about writing about the hard stuff is that it’s hard. But I need to, and I’m ready.

2017’s National Park Adventures

When 2017 started, I was in Kuwait. It was the end of my deployment though and by the middle of January I was back in America. I’d spent most of the National Park Service’s centennial year (2016) in foreign lands and I came home determined to make up for my absence.

Two days after being released from the clawed paws of the U.S. Army, I visited my first National Park unit of the year, in New York City, and then spent the rest of the year dreaming of future park visits, driving across Virginia to visit close-to-home parks and generally annoying nearly everyone with my incessant National Park chatter.

It was a good year, at least for National Park adventuring.

2017's National Park Adventures || TERRAGOES.COM


Jan. 16, 2017, in New York, New York

I always knew Teddy Roosevelt was a badass, but this park added a bit of depth to his legend.

Feb. 9, 2017, in New Orleans, Louisiana

This visit almost doesn’t count, as we just had enough time to visit the park’s visitor center in the French Quarter.

Feb. 10, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tennessse

While driving from Houston, Texas, back to Richmond, my travel companion and I pit-stopped here for some military history and, later, some top-notch BBQ.

Feb. 18, 2017, in San Francisco, California

Golden Gate National Recreation Area is one of the largest urban national parks in the world and includes around 25 different locations, spread throughout the city of San Francisco and into Marin and San Mateo counties. One of my favorites is Alcatraz Island, which was the only part of the park I visited on this trip.

Feb. 22, 2017, in San Diego, California

This was my first trip to San Diego and other than meeting some seals in La Jolla and eating tacos for almost every single meal, tide pooling at Cabrillo National Monument was my favorite part.

Jul. 23, 2017, in Hampton, Virginia

Nicknamed “Freedom’s Fortress,” Fort Monroe was a bastion of freedom for enslaved blacks during the American Civil War.

Jul. 31, 2017, in Middletown, Virginia

I pit-stopped at Cedar Creek on my way to West Virginia for work and managed to arrive just in time for a ranger-led tour. It was just me, the ranger and a retired couple and was probably the height of this year’s national park nerdery.

Aug. 2, 2017, in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

On the way back from West Virginia I stopped here to explore the place where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers come together and to learn a little more about the history of the place.

Aug. 19, 2017, in Richmond, Virginia

I took friends from Washington, D.C., here, to the park closest to my home.

Sept. 3, 2017, in Manassas, Virginia

One of the first major battles of the American Civil War was fought at Manassas, with tragic and occasionally ridiculous results.

Sept. 16, 2017, in Colonial Beach, Virginia

George Washington was born in what is today Virginia’s Northern Neck. It’s a beautiful spot, but the sheep are exceptionally unfriendly.

Sept. 17, 2017, in Appomattox, Virginia 

I learned the basics of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender back in high school, but there was a lot to the story I didn’t know.

Sept. 28, 2017, in Albuquerque, New Mexico

I’d only been off the plane for a few hours by the time I went to Petroglyph National Monument, the first park I visited on a solo trip to New Mexico.

Sept. 30, 2017, in Pecos, New Mexico

My second park in New Mexico, where I started to learn about the history of both New Mexico and it’s native inhabitants.

2017's National Park Adventures || TERRAGOES.COM15. FORT UNION NATIONAL MONUMENT
Sept. 30, 2017, in Pecos, New Mexico

Due to its ghost town-like feeling, Fort Union wins for eeriest park I visited in 2017.

Oct. 1, 2017, in Jemez Springs, New Mexico

This was the most alone I felt on my trip to New Mexico, in the best way. I think I might have met divinity out on the winding, bumping roads of Valles Caldera.

Oct. 1, 2017, in Los Alamos, New Mexico

I hesitated to include this visit, as the Los Alamos part of this park is mostly closed to the public. Still, I did wander around Los Alamos, recognized as the birthplace of the atomic bomb.

2017's National Park Adventures || TERRAGOES.COM

Oct. 1-2, 2017, in Los Alamos, New Mexico

After visiting Bandelier late in the afternoon, I woke up before the sun to visit again and to hike along ancient trails. I was the only one on the trail that morning and spent five minutes standing still watching two chipmunks welcome in the morning.

Oct. 21, 2017, near Waynesboro, Virginia

Shenandoah is only about an hour from me, so the boy & I loaded up on the best biscuits in town and headed out for a day hike and to admire the fall foliage.

2017's National Park Adventures || TERRAGOES.COM

Nov. 25, 2017, in Petersburg, Virginia

I’d driven by this park more than 100 times and finally took the time for a proper visit this year. It’s got three parts, so chances are good I’ll head back soon to see more.

Dec. 16, 2017, in Vienna, Virginia

I went to high school near Wolf Trap and never knew it was a national park. Having done the backstage tour I’m not anxious to go and see a show.

Dec. 20, 2017, in Jamestown, Virginia

When my Portlan-dwelling bestie me back for the holidays, she demanded a national park visit, so we went to Jamestown, a place neither one of us had been since we were tiny pups.

2017's National Park Adventures || TERRAGOES.COM


In 2017, I visited 7 National Historical Parks, 6 National Monuments, 2 National Historic Sites, 1 National Battlefield, 1 National Military Park, 1 National Recreation Area, 1 National Battlefield Park, 1 National Preserve, 1 National Park & 1 National Park for the Performing Arts for a total of 22 visits to National Park Service units in seven states.

Did 2017 take you to any National Park Service units? 

Backstage at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in America’s one and only national park dedicated to the performing arts. It’s located in Vienna, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., and is super close to where my grandmother used to live. I grew up knowing about Wolf Trap, but for some reason I never realized it was a national park.

Wolf Trap, as it’s full name suggests, is a venue for the performing arts. It’s an outdoor venue, with its main season running April – October, and it hosts a variety of performers, from musicians to dancers, symphonies to comedians. Wolf Trap’s main stage, the Filene Center, is an amphitheater, with room for 3,800 in-house, including 88 pit seats, plus additional space on the lawn. In total, the Filene Center can accommodate 7,000.

A few times a year, during Wolf Trap’s off-season, the park offers guided tours of the Filene Center. Along the way, you get a glimpse into the dressing rooms and the musician’s lounge, the backstage area and finally, the curtain comes up and you get to stand on a stage that’s hosted performers including Ringo Starr, Ke$ha, Elvis Costello, ZZ Top, Billy Idol and a whole host of Grammy-award-winning performers.

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts || TERRAGOES.COM


In 1930, a woman named Catherine Filene Shouse, of the same Filene family who founded Filene’s Basement, started buying up land in an attempt to create for herself a refuge from Washington, D.C. She first purchased 53 acres at $100 an acre and by 1956, she’d acquired 168 acres. She used the property as a working farm where she bred horses and dogs, raised crops and other critters.

Years later, as Northern Virginia grew, development started to make her farm less of a refuge. Mrs. Shouse wanted to preserve her land, to turn it into a cultural landmark. She wanted something uniquely American, but also to create something new.

Mrs. Shouse first approached the National Symphony Orchestra to see if they might be interested in developing her land as a venue. They passed, so she went to the National Park Service, straight to the Secretary of the Interior, and in 1966, she donated 100 acres of her land to the federal government.

Wolf Trap was, essentially, an experiment by the National Park Service. They figured if the whole National Park for the Performing Arts thing worked, they’d build more. But that idea never materialized, despite the success of Wolf Trap over the past 50 years.

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts || TERRAGOES.COM

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts || TERRAGOES.COMAt the same time the park was created, a nonprofit, the Wolf Trap Foundation, was founded to assist in running the park. Together, the park and the foundation make Wolf Trap work, with federal dollars paying for grounds maintenance and park staff, and foundation money and support managing the performances.

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts || TERRAGOES.COM

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts || TERRAGOES.COMA few years later, in 1971, the Filene Center hosted it’s inaugural performance, featuring Van Cliburn, Julius Rudel with the New York City Opera, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Choral Arts Society of Washington, the United States Marine Band and the Madison Madrigal Singers.

Then, on April 4, 1982, the Filene Center burned to the ground. It happened in the middle of the night, was likely started by an overheated piece of equipment, and wind gusts helped fuel the fire. Nearby residents reported that dinner plate-sized pieces of ash floated down into their backyards.

After the fire, millions of dollars came in from more than 16,000 donors from 47 states and five foreign countries, and included support from President Ronald Reagan and former Presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.

Despite the fire, the Wolf Trap Foundation said the season would go on, and it did, in a big-ass tent in a nearby meadow, called the Meadow Center.

The new Filene Center opened in 1984 and Mrs. Shouse herself was in attendance to witness the dedication of the new building.

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts || TERRAGOES.COM


Our tour lasted about an hour and a half and started at the Stage Door, where staff are responsible for getting an autograph from each and every performer who passes by. We learned about the history of the park, about Mrs. Shouse and the first and second Filene Centers. We explored a dressing room, complete with a private outdoor area, and the musician’s lounge, then headed backstage to learn about how the venue works. We learned about the fly system, about the way different parts of the stage are used and moved to accommodate different types of performances, then the park ranger raised the curtain and we headed out onto the stage.

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts || TERRAGOES.COMWolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts || TERRAGOES.COMWolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts || TERRAGOES.COM

From the stage, the seats feel impossibly close and the view is great. The Filene Center is beautiful, built from Douglas Fir and Southern Yellow Pine and there’s not a bad seat in the house.

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts is open every day from 7 a.m. to dusk, except on New Years, Thanksgiving and Christmas. In addition to the venues, the park includes several walking trails. For a schedule of upcoming events at Wolf Trap, visit wolftrap.org.

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