Looking back on 2018

Good grief, another year gone by?! Our hiking group has grown to over 11,000 members this year, and it’s hard to keep track!

Our group went on 103 hikes in 2018 for a total of 439 miles; about 4.25 miles per hike.

We visited lots of new places, including Compton Peak, South Mountain, and Historic Frederick.

Looks like another great year ahead!

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Almost there

Three weeks ago we had a snowstorm just after the first day of Spring. The dip in temperatures delayed the peak bloom of the cherry blossoms on the Tidal Basin by a few weeks, and it’s just now coming to an end. (Not so the Kansai trees in Kenwood, MD — we’re visiting them this weekend.)

Nevertheless, I visited Lake Accotink that weekend to see if any Virginia bluebells were making their appearance. There aren’t a lot of bluebells at Lake Accotink, but it’s a short drive, so I use it as an indicator to decide when it’s time to go further afield to the larger patches. Of course, there was no joy to be had — the cold snap slowed down the bluebells, too.

Yesterday I visited Lake Accotink again to see how things are coming along. There a few here and there, but it’s clear they’re not quite there yet.

I’ll visit one last time this weekend, but it looks like they’ll be ready around 21-22 April; about 1-2 weeks later in the season than last year.

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The Young Victoria Collection – Best in Category for 2017

The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) recently announced its Collector’s Society 2017 NGC Registry Award Winners, and my collection of Young Head Victoria Sovereigns, “The Young Victoria Collection,”1 was awarded Best in Category in the 2017 World Coin Competitive Sets competition for the Sovereign (Victoria) 1838-1901, Circulation Issue2 category. The collection won the Best in Category award twice previously in 2012 and 2016.

The only improvement made to the collection since last year’s competition was the addition of a Choice Uncirculated 1854 sovereign, replacing an Almost Uncirculated example.

This increased the number of mint state (MS-61 or better) examples from nineteen to twenty, and twelve of those twenty are in Choice to Gem condition (MS 64 to MS 66).

Despite this improvement, the overall point score NGC awarded the collection actually decreased by 13,293 from last year! This initially had me scratching my head until I noticed that NGC has now designated four key dates/variants as “Non-competitive; for display only,” and examples of these key dates/variants no longer contribute points to a collection’s overall score. NGC gave no explanation for this change.3

The Young Victoria Collection in its entirety can be seen here.


  1. The Young Victoria Collection at NGC Collectors Society: https://tinyurl.com/y6vwax8g
  2. Category Sovereign (Victoria) 1838-1901, Circulation Issue: https://tinyurl.com/y7nezme5
  3. The key dates/variants affected were: 1841 (124,050 minted), 1843 Narrow Shield (mintage unknown), 1859 Ansell (167,539 minted), and 1874 (520,713 minted). Examples of each of these key dates/variants known to exist today number only in the dozens. I can’t speculate why NGC excluded these four key dates/variants, but I note that my collection includes three of the four, while competing collections have none.
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Looking back on 2017

The past year has been a great one for hiking, so I haven’t done much blogging. Our hiking group gained another 1,474 members this year, and we finally went over 10,000 members! It’s hard for me to believe we were only 1,995 strong in 2012. I started organizing events for the group that October, bumped the number of hikes to 1-2 hikes per week, and it’s been nonstop growth ever since. I just hope they never all show up at once…

We did 103 hiking events in 2017; exactly the same number we did in 2016. Unsurprisingly, the total distance was also about the same: around 450 miles, at locations throughout Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. There were a lot of visits to familiar places, but we went to a lot of new places, too.

Some highlights:

  • A memorable hike in January was from the site of the Civil War Fort Ethan Allen in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River on Chain Bridge to the Little Falls of the Potomac; and then back via the Gulf Branch of the Potomac. By the time we finished, the snowflakes falling were the size of quarters!
  • A couple of new events in February were a visit to Fredericksburg and Government Island, where we retraced the advance of the right flank of the Union Army from the Rappahannock to Marye’s Heights and visited the quarry that provided stone for the White House and the Capitol Building; and an urban hike in Alexandria to check out the Revolutionary War Day reenactment at Fort Ward.

The photo of the stone wall at Marye’s Heights (left) is almost the identical viewpoint as Matthew Brady’s photo taken in 1863, after the Second Battle of Fredericksburg.

  • In May we visited Kennedy Peak and Little Devil Stairs. The first is beautiful; you are treated to spectacular views of the Shenandoah Valley even at the trailhead. The second is well named: it started with a mile of difficult rocky climbing, crossing and recrossing a mountain stream. Fortunately, as the saying goes, it was all downhill from there.
  • Something new in July was a hike at Catoctin Mountain Park in northern Maryland — quite a drive for many in our group. Although the trail is very rocky in places, it’s not a difficult hike, and the view from the top is wonderful.
  • In October we made a trip to Harpers Ferry and Maryland Heights. It was hard to choose between one or the other, so we tried to do a little of both. Pro trip: they may not carry viruses, but gnats can eat you alive. Don’t spare the insect repellent.
  • A few last photos from hikes in November and December

On to 2018!

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The Young Victoria Collection – Best in Category for 2016

The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) recently announced its Collector’s Society 2016 NGC Registry Award Winners, and my collection of Young Head Victoria Sovereigns, “The Young Victoria Collection,”1 was awarded Best in Category in the 2016 World Coin Competitive Sets competition for the Sovereign (Victoria) 1838-1901, Circulation Issue2 category. The collection won the Best in Category award previously in 2012.

Since 2012, the collection was improved considerably by acquiring better examples of many years. In 2012, only two examples were mint state (MS 61 or better); now, nineteen are Mint State, and eleven of those are Choice (MS 64 or better).

But as far as competing in NGC’s competition, the collection is still hampered by the same limitations that existed in 2012:

  • When I began the collection, I intentionally limited its scope to gold sovereigns minted in London from 1838 to 1874, featuring the first portrait of Victoria on the obverse and a shield design on the reverse. (These are known as “Young” head sovereigns; hence the collection’s name.) However, NGC’s competitive category is much larger, and includes all Victoria sovereigns from 1838 to 1901, regardless of the design or mint locations. The impact of this difference in scope is that a collection including sovereigns outside the scope of my collection could quite easily garner more points, and win NGC’s competition. (And in fact that is what has happened during 2013-2015.)
  • The Competitive Sets are limited to NGC graded coins only. I appreciate NGC’s sponsorship of the competition and understand the limitation – they’re in the business of promoting their service. But I am focused on the coins, as any numismatist should be, and the presence and/or identity of a grading service is incidental. (To use an analogy, I’m interested only in the cereal, not the brand name on the box.) The impact of this limitation is that ten of the finest coins in the collection could not be included in the competition.

For example, this wonderful Choice Uncirculated 1838 sovereign was added to the collection in 2015, but since it was graded by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), it could not be included in NGC’s competition:

1838Despite the limitations, the improvements made since 2012, plus whatever changes that have taken place in competitors’ collections, were sufficient to garner the 2016 top slot.

The Young Victoria Collection in its entirety can be seen here.


  1. The Young Victoria Collection at NGC Collectors Society: http://tinyurl.com/hwgkhhx
  2. Category Sovereign (Victoria) 1838-1901, Circulation Issue: http://tinyurl.com/zke5mzm

Images adapted from NGC and Heritage Auctions

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Looking back on 2016

Looking back, it has certainly been a busy year for hiking! Our hiking group grew by 1,779 members, from 6,796 to 8,575, and we met for 103 events during 2016, hiking a total of 450 miles at locations throughout Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia.

At the trailheadJanuary and February were bitter cold, of course, but that was a good time to get out for some more strenuous hikes along the Billy Goat Trail and trudge through deep snow at Sky Meadows. A visit to Mount Vernon on Washington’s birthday was almost obligatory (it’s free!), and the cold weather was a good time to visit the National Zoo, which is normally overflowing with visitors.

Spring creimg_2148pt in during March through May, and with it came the cherry blossoms. This year we visited the National Mall to enjoy the blossoms at sunset and see the monuments in the light of the full moon. With Spring came the azaleas and Virginia bluebells, and we also went to the Shenandoah Mountains a few times and visited Patapsco State Park to see Bloede Dam, which was demolished this Fall.

img_5042During June through August we visited many of our usual Summer favorites like Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Potomac Overlook, and White Oak Canyon, plus several new places like Jug Bay, Lake Frank, and the McKee-Besher Wildlife Management Area. Summertime is always great for Independence Day fireworks and Daylight Savings Time yields more daylight in the evening, making after-work walks around town practical.

img_6537The Fall foliage forecast for 2016 was the same as the year before, but this year the trees were on a different schedule! Our urban hikes in places like Georgetown and DuPont-Kalorama were unaffected, but hikes in September and October like Buzzard Rock, Rock Creek Park, and Sugarloaf, were not as colorful as in previous years. In November the leaves finally turned, and our hikes at Carderock and Great Falls were great!

It’s December now, and while we haven’t had our first snow yet, we’re back in Winter’s clutches! This weekend we’re closing out 2016 with a hike along Four Mile Run, and ringing in the New Year at Mason Neck State Park. I’m looking forward to another year of fun on the trail!

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Walk to National Harbor

Last weekend we walked across Wilson Bridge to visit National Harbor in Maryland, starting from Jones Point Park in Alexandria, Virginia. It’s about a 6-mile (10-kilometer) paved walk both ways, and it is so gently inclined that it may as well be flat. Some folks are always clamoring to do this walk, but there are a couple downsides:

  • Noise. It looks like a nice walk, but you may want some ear protection for this one:

img_6892 img_3354

  • Pace. I did mention it is pretty flat, right?

gazelleThere’s  something about a long, flat stretch of paved surface that just brings out the gazelles who walk at 4+ mph. I’m sure they were just keeping up with each other and struggling to carry a conversation over the noise, but I wanted to take photos and enjoy myself, so I gave up trying to stay in front of them. Fortunately, both National Harbor and Jones Point Park are in sight the entire time, so there’s little worry about anyone getting lost.

Once you get out of traffic, some of the sights around National Harbor are pretty nice.

Of course, the MGM Casino at National Harbor opens today, December 8, 2016, so who knows what impact that will have on the area. Between casinos, racing, slots, and the lotto, Maryland has become one of the most heavily saturated gluts of legal gambling on the East Coast, with the government raking in a significant portion of the earnings. Maryland’s cigarette tax is also among the top 20 states in the country at $2 per pack, far above the 30 cents per pack charged by her southern neighbor, Virginia. (Oddly, Maryland’s alcohol tax is only 25% of Virginia’s, so while smoking is verboten, boozing it up is apparently OK.)

What comes next? Well, the government is ever anxious for more revenue, so I’m sure they’ll find something new to tax:

I’ll bet we’ll see legalized marijuana and/or prostitution in Maryland within 10 years.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

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