Jefferson Memorial at dawn with cherry blossoms

Jefferson Memorial at dawn this morning during the
D.C. Cherry Blossom Festival

The bloom of the Japanese cherry trees in Washington, D.C. is at its peak, so Renee and I went over to the Tidal Basin at dawn this morning to watch the sun come up behind the Jefferson Memorial. We got some nice photos.

I was surprised at how popular the Tidal Basin was at 6 a.m. During the Cherry Blossom Festival, D.C. has turned Ohio Drive SW into a one-way street going north, with parking available on the west side along the Potomac. By sunrise at 6:47 a.m., there almost wasn’t a parking spot left. There was a plethora of photographers lined up along the Tidal Basin walking path, all prepared with their tripods and telephotos. Renee set up her tripod near one tree, while I roamed around shooting hand-held, which made for a lot of blurry photos in the pre-dawn twilight. I shot at ISO 800 initially, then switched to ISO 200 in the hopes that it would let me blow-up the photos extra-large without as much graininess. Still, I was shooting at 1/30 of a second and slower for a lot of the early photos. That’s what I like about shooting digital: I deleted about 60% of my photos with no thought to all the “film” I wasted.

Visiting the Tidal Basin before dawn to enjoy the cherry blossoms was a good idea. The area around the basin was packed a couple of hours later, with the usual gridlock traffic on Independence Avenue SW and the Memorial Bridge entering the district from Virginia. If you’re in D.C. and plan to visit the cherry blossoms on Sunday, definitely arrive early. I saw a lot of cars idling along the Memorial Bridge, slowly crawling toward D.C. — and probably not finding a close space to park.

Jefferson Memorial at dawn with cherry blossoms

Framing Thomas Jefferson through the cherry blossoms

I uploaded several of my photos from today and from last weekend to Picasa Web Albums.

Some cherry tree facts: There are 1,678 cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, with more surrounding neighboring roads and parks. Trees originally were planted around the Tidal Basin in 1912 as a gift of friendship from the people of Japan. About 400 of the present trees were propagated from the original 1912 trees. The health of the trees often suffers as a result of their beauty. The crowds who visit the area often tromp around the base of the trees, compacting the soil. The drainage in the area could use some improvement, too, as you’ll notice when you have to walk around some of the flooded areas along the Tidal Basin path — forcing you to compact the soil even more around those trees. New trees need to be planted regularly to replace the suffering ones, which is probably one reason none of the trees you see there are ancient.

If you are interested in planting a Yoshino cherry tree at your home like the ones along the Tidal Basin, the non-profit American Forests sells them online. My “green” plug for the planet.