Streamlined

Here’s a few interesting shots from a walking tour of historic Del Ray, Virginia, which was for the most part a tour of the town of Potomac, Virginia, which existed from 1908-1929.

The genesis of the tour was a complaint I received during one of our usual easy summer evening walks around Del Ray: “[It was] not the most picturesque side of Del Ray, I would rather see more of it’s [sic] unique housing and layout than back streets.”

Actually, almost any evening walk in Del Ray cannot help but take you past homes dating from 1895-1920, but given the casual nature of our walks, I never point them out.

In any case, it seemed like a good idea, so I spent around six weeks researching the records, and we did exactly that: a formal tour of the unique housing and back streets of Del Ray. It included many of the old homes dating from 1895, but also a lot of the interesting Art Deco and Streamline Moderne warehouses and shops from the 1940s and 50s.

Unfortunately, the person who asked for the tour chose not to attend. But I guess sometimes what you ask for is not really what you want.

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Lake Frank and Meadowside Nature Center

Last Saturday I took a day off from group hiking to explore Lake Frank, in Montgomery County, Maryland, for a hike our group is doing this coming Saturday. Lake Frank is only about 10 miles from the I-495 Capital Beltway, but since it is nestled in the 1800-acre Rock Creek Regional Park, it’s a great place for a country hike.

Lake FrankI’ve been planning to do a hike at Lake Frank for some time, but when I first visited the trails were torn up due to a sewage line construction project. I checked on it again this Spring, but the ford over North Branch Rock Creek was always too high to cross without getting your feet wet. Finally I decided to circle the lake counter-clockwise. The stream crossing is at the end of the hike, so getting your feet wet doesn’t matter much.

The resulting 5-mile route is pretty straightforward, heading west and north past the Study Pond and some of the Lathrop Smith Center outbuildings before turning south to hike past the Pioneer Homestead, over the Valient Covered Bridge, and along the west shoreline of Lake Frank to the Lake Frank Dam. To add a little more meat to the hike, the route continues downstream from the dam to the junction of North Branch Rock Creek and Rock Creek, and follows Rock Creek downstream a bit before returning north along the east bank of Lake Frank. Directly east of the Nature Center, stepping stones across North Branch Rock Creek lead back to the starting point. The whole hike takes around 2 hours; maybe a little more if you stop for a break.


As it turned out, the counter-clockwise route was probably better than the clockwise route I had originally planned: the hillsides along the west bank of Lake Frank are quite steep, and the trail (aptly named “Old Nasty”) is narrow, so going downhill is a pretty good option. You still have to go back uphill on the east bank, of course, but the Lakeside Trail is paved and graded, making the long climb a little more conducive to good conversation.

All told, a pleasant hike, easily accessed from anywhere in the Washington DC area. Meadowside Nature Center has plenty of parking, a friendly staff, and nice facilities, and once you get away from its immediate vicinity there aren’t a lot of folks on the trail. The Pioneer Homestead and Valient Covered Bridge are picturesque, and most of the hike is in the shade, so on a hot summer day, you’re still fairly cool and comfy.

Notes

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Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary

Sanctuary entranceOn Wednesday I drove out to Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary to take a look around for a hike we’re doing this coming Saturday. Jug Bay is due east of Washington DC and very close, only 12 miles from the I-495 Capital Beltway, but you would think you were far out in the country. The bumpy gravel road (Blue Shirt Road) leading into the sanctuary is barely one lane wide.

The planned route takes the Brown Loop (Otter Trail, Railroad Bed Trail, Two Run Trail and the Utility Road), interrupted by a walk around the Red Loop Trail (Farm Trail, Pindell Bluff Trail, and the Upper Railroad Bed Trail, excluding the Beech Trail), before finishing the rest of the Brown Loop Trail to return to the Wetlands Center.


The first stop on the hike is an overlook and a boardwalk located just next to the outdoor classroom and its obligatory propaganda placards. Both the overlook and the boardwalk give you a nice view of the first of several osprey nests you can see during the hike, all occupied.

After that it’s off through the woods along the Otter Trail to the Railroad Bed Trail, where a walk out to the River Pier and back rewards you with a nice view of the Patuxent River and Mount Calvert, a tobacco plantation just across the river that was in operation from around 1780 until 1860. Along the way there are two other osprey nests and a side boardwalk leading off into the marsh that doesn’t offer any views, but does afford a look at some of the many plants.

Continuing along Otter and Two Run Trails takes you south to Otter Point and back north towards the Railroad Bed Trail, passing the Beaver Pond overlook along the way. For a short hike you could continue north along Two Run Trail and the Utility Road back to the Wetlands Center, but for a full 5-mile hike, it’s time to do the Red Loop, east and south onto the Farm and Pindell Bluff Trails. The River Farm is one of the few open fields along the hike route, and the field is surrounded by a very high electric fence that suggests a lot of deer live in the area. No deer to be seen, but there were more than a few tree swallows!

After the River Farm, the Pindell Bluff Trail meanders south through the woods along the shoreline, affording me occasional glimpses of Jug Bay and an encounter with a disinterested black rat snake, before turning northeast up Pindell Branch to the intersection of the River Farm Road and the Railroad Bed trail. The Railroad Bed Trail leads northwest past Mark’s Pond back to the Two Run Trail, which leads north to the Utility Road and back to the starting point at the Wetlands Center.

All told, the hike is a little over 5 miles, and it took me about 3 hours, mostly because I was dawdling around taking photos and enjoying the day. This would probably be an extremely sultry hike a little later in the year, but for the late spring/early summer, it’s perfect!

Notes

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Two Falls

This past Friday I drove out to Shenandoah National Park with a friend to reconnoiter an upcoming hike near the Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center, in the Big Meadows area of the park.

The planned hike is a counter-clockwise loop, about 5 miles of smiles, although the elevations changes and inevitable twists and turns along the trail run the distance a bit higher. (Your mileage may vary, as the disclaimer reads.) The surface is dirt woodland paths, often rough, rocky and rooty, descends about 1200 feet to Rose River and the same amount back up, plus a bit, before returning to the starting point elevation.

The hike starts at Dark Hollow Trailhead and leads 0.8 of a mile down the Dark Hollow Trail to the bottom of Dark Hollow Falls and the junction with the Rose River Fire Road. About halfway down the trail it intersects and parallels Hogback Branch, the not-so-romantically named stream that feeds Dark Hollow Falls.

Below Dark Hollow Falls the trail intersects the Rose River Fire Road, and after turning right and following the road across a footbridge over Hogback Branch, a left turn puts you onto the Rose River Loop Trail. The trail follows Hogback Branch downstream about 0.8 of a mile before recrossing Hogback Branch on another footbridge. After crossing the bridge, keep an eye out for the trail blazes: next to a crumbling old concrete base for an air compressor that was once used by the Rose River Copper Mine, the trail turns right — the seeming “trail” of pale blue-gray rock chips that goes uphill simply leads to the old mine shaft, which is now filled in.1 Shortly after the turn the trail turns left and parallels Rose River upstream to Rose River Falls, which makes a good place for a break.

A black bear just happened to be hanging out near the Rose River Copper Mine, the first I have seen up close since running into a pair of black bear cubs near North Marshall Mountain late in 2013. Black bears are not an endangered species, and they are the most numerous of all bears, but you don’t get this close to one just any day of the week!

After the Rose River Falls, it’s an uphill slog for much of the rest of the hike, mostly over rooty, rocky trails. The remaining mile and a half of the Rose River Loop Trail features a couple of switchbacks before intersecting the Skyland/Big Meadows Horse Trail, and a left turn takes you almost all the rest of the way up to Skyline Drive, where the horse trail crosses Rose River Fire Road.

The Rose River Fire Road was once part of the Gordonsville New Market Turnpike, which was in use from 1853 until about 1867. The Blue Ridge Turnpike Company2 operated a stagecoach line to convey travelers along the turnpike between Winchester and Richmond, but the turnpike’s most notable use was by Confederate General Stonewall Jackson’s II Corps. After the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, Jackson’s Corps retired up the Shenandoah Valley to recuperate while the rest of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia took up positions east of the mountains. In mid-November, Union General Ambrose Burnside advanced the Union Army of the Potomac to the banks of the Rappahannock River, and Lee moved to block him. Lee called on Jackson to rejoin the main army, and on November 21 Jackson’s Corps took the turnpike through the mountains and rejoined Lee’s army in time to participate in the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13.3

The stretch along the horse trail is about 2 miles of rough uphill hiking, so for some relief, a short detour along the fire road across Skyline Drive allows a break to enjoy the view from Fishers Gap Overlook.

From Fishers Gap Overlook, a 200-foot walk southwest along Skyline Drive reconnects to the horse trail. Turn right and follow the horse trail the final 1.25 miles southwest to the Song of the Forest Trail. From there a left turn onto the Song of the Forest Trail and a short 0.2 of a mile walk, recrossing Skyline Drive, ends the hike back at the starting point at Dark Hollow Falls Trailhead.

All told, an enjoyable hike! The second half is a little challenging since it’s almost all uphill, but the total distance is short enough that the hike is not too difficult.

Notes

  1. Rose River Copper Mine, from Hike HC-31, “Guide to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive”
  2. Blue Ridge Turnpike Company, from the Library of Virginia Board of Public Records at “A History of the Earliest Milams in Virginia”
  3. The Gordonsville New Market Turnpike, from “Shenandoah’s Civil War Connection II,” U.S. National Park Service
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A hike in Patapsco Valley State Park

Last weekend we took a nice hike up in Maryland, at Patapsco Valley State Park, just south of Baltimore. For the first part, we crossed the river on a suspension bridge and hiked a 1.25 miles upstream on the Gristmill Trail (gray), recrossed the river again on another suspension bridge near Ilchester Road, and returned to our stating point on the right bank of the river, a total of 2.5 miles. For the second part, we hiked up Cascade Trail, crossing the stream several times before turning off to follow the Morning Choice (yellow), Old Track Loop (red), and Ridge (orange) Trails back to our stating point, for a total hike of around 5.5 miles.

The hike offered quite a variety of scenery. The Gristmill Trail is relatively flat and paved on the left bank and runs adjacent to the B&O Railroad track, while on the right bank it is mostly dirt and a bit more rugged. Historical markers provide information about construction of the railroad and the history of Patapsco Valley. Here and there a few princess trees were still blooming. The river is strewn with rocks and rapids below Bloede Dam, while in the calmer waters above the dam a pair of Canadian Geese were shepherding their goslings. The second part of the hike features rugged and wandering dirt paths through the forest, and the Cascade Trail passes Cascade Falls and several smaller rapids upstream, and one of the several stream crossings left me with wet sneakers.

Bloede Dam is an interesting piece of history. It was built in 1906, went into operation in 1907, and was the first submerged hydroelectric power plant: the machinery was underwater, inside the spillway. It also included a 200-foot wooden fish ladder, which tends to dispel the popular notion that wildlife conservation started only with the advent of Captain Planet and Earth Day celebrations. The power plant was finally taken offline in 1924, overcome by more efficient plants elsewhere and the ongoing problem of clogging due to river debris. The dam was severely damaged by Hurricane Agnes in 1972, and in 1992 the Maryland Department of Resources spent $1.58 million to build an improved fish ladder. The dam is scheduled to be removed in the fall of 2016, leaving only rocky river rapids in its place, so there’s only a little time left to get a look at this piece of the past.

Patapsco Valley State Park is only about 30 minutes’ drive from the Washington DC Capital Beltway, or about an hour from Northern Virginia. It’s probably a good idea to check with the park ranger before planning your hike, since the Gristmill Trail will undoubtedly be closed during the demolition of Bloede Dam.

Notes

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Unsettling thought

I enjoy wildlife, and I can’t imagine what life would be like without it.

But I value human life as being infinitely more precious. Without human life, there would be no one appreciating wildlife and taking steps to protect it. A circular argument, perhaps, but do you think there is a fox that wonders whether the rabbit it is about to pounce upon is the last of its species? Of course not. A polar bear would devour the last life in existence without a thought.

“The dawn wind in the High Sierra is not just a passage of cool air through forest conifers, but within the labyrinth of human consciousness becomes a stirring of some world-magic of most delicate persuasion.”

– Ansel Adams (The Meaning of the National Parks, 1950)

It is human consciousness that endows all life with the “stirring of some world-magic of most delicate persuasion.” Without our God-given consciousness, this world-magic would be meaningless. In the absence of human life, who cares? No one.

So I have difficulty relating to those who bemoan “an era when human population and cities are burgeoning” and wish there were fewer people. Which people do they mean?

If you ask which humans they would see done away with, it’s probably not them, their immediate company, or any specific person that they find objectionable, it’s just a hand-waved “them.” Those countless, meaningless others that reproduce — just too many for the earth to bear. It’s fine for them to welcome their new child into the world, or celebrate a grandchild; it’s just all those other people that are the problem.

This is relativist at best and nihilist at worst. The next step is eugenics, to get rid of those unneeded or unwanted humans who clutter up the world. Their unspoken thought is that the world would be better off without all “those people,” as long as they and their loved ones aren’t included.

NaziExecutions

So should you ever wind up in this sort of line, with that sort of person, and wonder who is next, it’s an unsettling thought to think that you would probably hear:

“Oh, him? Well, I really don’t know him that well…”

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Potomac Overlook

Last weekend we took an urban hike in Arlington County, Virginia, starting from Potomac Overlook Regional Park. The hike was basically a 5.1-mile counter-clockwise loop, boxed in by Donaldson Run, the Potomac River, Gulf Branch, and North Glebe Road. It took a little longer than I expected; about 2.75 hours, but would take less time with a smaller group. We’ve done several variations on the theme both from this park and nearby Ethan Allen Park, and sometimes using Windy Run, another tributary of the Potomac River, rather than Gulf Branch. Last weekend’s combination seemed to be about the best version we’ve done yet!

This stretch of the Potomac Heritage Trail is quite rugged, and the mouths of Donaldson Run and Gulf Branch feature steep inclines with pleasant little waterfalls and large boulders, making it a rough go descending into and climbing out of the Potomac River basin. (This stretch is maybe a bit more difficult than Billy Goat Trail B, across the Potomac in Maryland, but not nearly as tough as Billy Goat Trail A.)

Gulf Branch Nature Center, about halfway through the hike, provided a welcome and scenic break after all the boulder scrambles. We had a pretty big group of hikers, 60+, and the Nature Center naturalist came out to greet us!

The rest of the hike featured a long uphill ascent along back streets to the ridgeline along North Glebe Road, a shortcut through Marymount University campus, and a descent from there along Donaldson Run Trail back to our starting point. As a teaser, there was just one last water crossing over stepping stones. Throughout our hike I was pleased to see early signs of spring: the snowdrops and daffodils have popped up, and Virginia Bluebells won’t be far behind!

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