Ups and Downs

Last Saturday I had a trip planned to the Shenandoah National Park (SNP), a repeat of the combined hikes at Dark Hollow Falls and Hawksbill we did last June. Since this was to be the first trip to SNP in 2014, those two trails make for an easy and pleasant start, before going on to some of the more challenging trails later in the summer.

When planning a trip to SNP, the long pole in the tent is always the drive: it’s a 2-hour drive each way from the closest Metro Station at Vienna, VA. I don’t know about the other folks, but it also takes me an hour to get from home to Vienna. So it’s 6 hours of driving just to get to SNP and back, which cuts into the time available for hiking. As it turned out, not enough people volunteered to drive, and in the absence of any stretch limos, I had to cancel the hike.  That left me feeling down and disappointed, but it was understandable.

I didn’t want to spend Saturday down in the dumps moping around, so I immediately slapped a Sunday visit to Scotts Run Nature Preserve on the calendar. It has the closest waterfall to Washington DC, a nice overlook of the Potomac River and, best of all, it’s not even a mile outside the I-495 Capital Beltway! Almost twenty hikers signed up, and just about every one showed, which demonstrated how anxious everyone was to get out of the house and onto the trail! A beautiful day, with just a hint of green to the trees as the first tiny leaves are beginning to unfold. Things were looking up again!

While at Scotts Run I happened to spot a patch of bluebells, which reminded me that it’s time to get a bluebell hike on the calendar! Last year we visited Bull Run to get our bluebell fix in, so I thought a visit to the Seneca Park/Fraser Preserve area would be a good choice for this year. The two parks are adjacent on the Virginia bank of the Potomac River, about 8 miles upstream from Great Falls, and well known for having lots of bluebells in the spring. A friend sent me a couple of photos from a Seneca Park visit, but there’s a dearth of good trail maps available online, so the only thing for it was a drive up to Seneca Park to see and hike it myself in advance. Just the park map at the trailhead was enough to make the trip worthwhile!

Seneca Park Map

It was raining during the entire hike, but pleasant nevertheless. About a half mile north and east from the trailhead is a rocky outcrop overlooking Rowser’s Ford, where General J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry forded the Potomac on June 27-28, 1863. There’s a marker at the trailhead describing how the cavalrymen had to carry the artillery’s powder bags at shoulder height as they crossed, in order to keep the powder dry. Looking at the river from the overlook, it looks pretty crazy to drag cannons into the Potomac to begin with, never mind about the powder…

Looking down on Rowser's Ford

Continuing east and downstream, a rich carpet of bluebells and wildflowers covers the forest bed along the Potomac Heritage Trail for several miles, past the east boundary of Seneca Park and into Fraser Preserve. Perfect!

Coming back, I opted to try the Seneca Bridle Trail* rather than the Potomac Heritage Trail, but I didn’t find it quite as gratifying as the Potomac Heritage Trail. The constant ups and downs over the ridgelines back towards the trailhead weren’t so bad, but there weren’t many bluebells for some reason. Perhaps they do better in the soil fertilized by the seasonal overflows of the Potomac. In any case, a simple out-and-back hike will be a more rewarding choice when we come back for a hike this coming Saturday, so I changed the 5-mile route accordingly.

* It is misspelled “Bridal Trail” on the map at the trailhead. Accepting those automatic spell-checks will trip you up every time. Some years ago I recall a colonel named Plimpton who was frustrated because he was constantly presented correspondence prepared for his signature with the signature block reading “Robert Pumpkin.”

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2 Responses to Ups and Downs

  1. elisa ruland says:

    Nice to enjoy the beginning of spring on a great hike!

  2. John M says:

    Absolutely right! If you don’t get outdoors, it might as well still be winter!

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