Next time you're chowing down on your neighbors' exhaust, stalled in a monumental jam with the Potomac River merely a rumor beneath the concrete and steel spans of the bridge-cum-parking lot, think about White's Ferry.

That 170-year-old Beltway alternative makes crossing the river an up-close-and-personal vacation from the modern world. You can drive, or walk, onto the ferry for the trip from Poolesville in Maryland to Leesburg in Virginia or vice versa seven days a week from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. (including holidays!). For some locals this ferry ride is just part of their daily commute to work and back (commuter rates are available). But there is at least as much tourist traffic, people who picnic on the pleasant, pastoral hills by the dock and enjoy the ride across the river, which takes 12-14 minutes. The pedestrian fare is less than most tolls (50 cents) or ride your bike on for a buck, your motorcycle for $1.50. Cars are $3 one way or $5 for a round-trip ticket. Adjacent to the ferry is a small store that sells hot and cold foods, sodas, ice cream and some grocery items (mostly for hikers). Picnic tables are available as well as canoe and boat rentals.

Malcolm Brown, whose family has owned the ferry since the end of World War II, is more than willing to share his knowledge of its history with you. Just try to stop him.

Getting there: From Maryland take 495 to 270 north to 28 west at Rockville. Follow 28 through Darnestown to 107 (White's Ferry Road). Take White's Ferry Road through Poolesville and follow the signs. From Leesburg take Route 15 north, then go right onto 655 (White's Ferry Road).

--Ruth Haynes, Potomac

Beyond the Discovery Channel

Anybody whose channel-flipping trajectory has ever touched down on the Discovery Channel, sucked in by some special on sunspots or the mating rituals of musk ox, needs to be aware of a science series start-up, this one live and in person.

The Carnegie Institution's Capital Science Lectures have two key selling points: They are free, and they feature renowned scientists explaining themselves to the rest of us. Once a month, beginning Oct. 19, the beautiful auditorium in the newly renovated neoclassical Carnegie building (1530 P St. NW) will open to the public for the 6:30 lecture. Seating is limited, and the auditorium is small, so arrive early.

The first lecture is a discourse on the frontiers of brain research, followed Nov. 16 by images from the Hubble space telescope. For a complete schedule of lectures call 202-328-6988 or e-mail Sherrill Berger at sberger@pst.ciw.edu.

--M. Lilly Welsh, Oakton

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