U.S. Geological Survey Department


Editorial Review

Editor's Note: The U.S. Geological Survey Department is open by appointment only

This federal agency devoted to earth science is open to visitors only on weekdays; a shame, because it's a full of stuff that will fascinate kids (and adults). For instance, two seismographs right next to each other monitor, respectively, the ground directly in front of the machine and a chunk of remote terrain in New Mexico. Kids love to jump and dance to make the needle that picks up "local" vibrations shimmy across the scrolling paper. Of course, the right needle trembles only to the rhythms of the distant southwestern desert. Kids can stand on a mold of a dinosaur footprint that was discovered right nearby, in Culpeper. In a hands-on room, kids can play with all sorts of earth-science tools, from microscopes to water flumes. The agency has some astonishing videos of floods, volcanoes, tornadoes and other examples of nature's extreme behaviors. And the Geological Survey shop is full of bargains and a stunning array of maps. You can pick up an official agency map of, say, the "quadrant" that includes your neighborhood, school or favorite vacation area for a mere $4. The store also peddles some beautiful and fascinating posters and related publications, most under $10 (our kids' favorite: a to-scale presentation of our solar system's planets and their various moons). Some educational pamphlets, like those on rock collecting and dinosaur fossils, are free. The interiors are modern and handsome, the campus is lovely, and a modest network of asphalt trails, featuring huge rock specimens, leads to a well and through a grove of identified trees.
– by John Kelly and Craig Stoltz
Words to the wise: Call ahead to arrange a guided tour. Families may be grouped with others for the tour, which usually involves an introductory video, some supervised time in the hands-on room, opportunity to view the exhibits and observe computer mapping in action and a visit to the agency's loud map-printing plant.
Food: This is an excellent place for a picnic, but if you prefer there's a cafeteria on the first floor. Or, if you're feeling flush, you're close to Reston Town Center, where you'll find plenty of restaurants, an ice cream place, a book store and so on. Parking there is free.