Thursday, April 16, 2015

Bridges and Tunnels and some Oddities

On Sunday Janice and I met at Bill's house for a day out exploring and driving around remote roads in Maryland and West Virginia that only a park authority employee, as Bill had once been, could possibly be aware of. We started out and within a few miles had turned off onto small lanes along which I excitedly noticed were plenty of abandoned houses which would warrant another drive out at a later date.
We stopped to take photos of this one because it had such a beautiful white sycamore towering above, making it appear like a doll's house.
Bill took us to Oldtown to show us the grave of Thomas Cresap, Maryland's great pathfinder, pioneer and patriot, who came to America around 1717 from Skipton, a beautiful town I know well in north Yorkshire, England. An interesting article on how his gravestone was found in a nearby church and placed in its rightful place is here. I was pretty impressed seeing the original carving on the stone and hearing from Bill about how his remains had been detected with various machinery; it's all in the link.
Loved this gate and fence shadows.
One of the few privately owned bridges in America, and the only one in Maryland, this one crosses the Potomac into West Virginia. We saw a few cars using it as we stood there. It even boasts a little notice board where one local wants to buy a female goose.
Across the road is  lock 70 where quite a few people were fishing for trout. The trout were tiny, only about 9" long, barely enough for 2 bites. The lock had been stocked with them just a few days ago so the kids could fish them, but if they're not caught and scoffed before May, they will die as the water temperatures rise. What a sad life...
This is the old Western Maryland Railway bridge over Town Creek, the water of which was a lovely aquamarine color. The bridge is still very sturdy but I couldn't get all the way across because of the trees growing up through it that blocked the way.
We saw plenty of turtles sunning themselves on logs and then plopping into the water as soon as we came close. A black rat snake crossed the road in front of us, prompting us to get out and investigate. We found another one at the base of the tree it slithered to and had to assume that they were nesting. We didn't bother them too much although I wished I'd got a head shot.
Across river from Paw Paw is a drive through culvert that runs under the old Western Maryland Railway and C and O Canal. It was built for the landowners so they could haul their agricultural equipment and wagons back and forth.
We stopped again by the C and O Canal so we could walk along to the Paw Paw Tunnel and spotted this tree badly damaged by a woodpecker. I've never seen such intense holes as these before, there must have been some very delicious bugs in that trunk. We also saw another tree infected by the Emerald Ash Borer. I spotted one of the culprits on the towpath but it flew away before I could catch it.
The Paw Paw Tunnel is a major feature of the C and O Canal, and it was 14 years before the tunnel opened to traffic once construction began, some of this due to ethnic violence between the Irish, Dutch and English workers! It's 31118ft long and only wide enough for one boat to pass through, so sometimes boats would meet in the middle and one would have to back up. There was once an argument between two stubborn captains, neither wanting to back up. It went on for days until finally the superintendent of that part of the canal lit a fire of cornstalks upwind of the tunnel, rapidly driving them both out! Bill passed a cool info site on the tunnel to me, click here.
We had a couple of odd moments during the day. Earlier on by the culvert, I'd found a really cool iron rod which I picked up, exclaiming how I was going to turn it into an art piece with old keys hanging from it. No sooner had I declared this when I looked down and found a really old skeleton key in the mud at my feet. Coincidence! And then after the Paw Paw Tunnel we met this guy above in the parking lot. He ranted on, slamming the government and corporate America but not really making much sense. I asked if I could take a photo of his 9/11 t-shirt.
And then our very next stop was at a convenience store which had these booklets out the front. Freaky!
Once drinks and snacks had been purchased we drove into the Green Ridge State Forest, a huge park, where we climbed up and up in the car on dusty, bumpy, narrow roads until we reached the top where there wasn't another soul around.
An amazing view, Banner's Overlook, looking over Magnolia Bend,WV, across the Potomac to Sideling Hill at about 1650ft.
To the left of the photo are 2 brown trail marks, the left is the old Western Maryland Railroad and the one on the right is the old B and O Railroad.
Our next stop was Kessler Tunnel, once used by Western Maryland Railway and built in 1960, and named after the landowner. There was a very heavy creosote smell which came from the treated timbers inside the tunnel.
The tunnel is 1840ft long, and houses some bats. There was a concern about them having White Nose Syndrome which is very contagious. The tunnel was part of a bat study, details are here. 
Bill showed us a shale rock face with the curved strata crumbling due to a process called Slickenslide which is a when a smooth polished surface is caused by friction between rocks along two sides of a fault. We oohed and aahed over the lovely shiny and sleek surfaces, stroking the smooth pieces and angling our cameras so we could capture the effect.
And then back into the car again for another bumpy ride to another vista.
Point Lookout. It was easier to get a better panorama here as the ground dropped away immediately below our feet. Overlooking Doe Gully, WV.
And then we descended into the town of  Little Orleans to look at another old railway bridge before heading to a bar that Bill knew.
We had a quick stop at the river and spotted this guy who had been sitting in the river. He'd been cycling for 3 days from Harpers Ferry then decided to cool his feet and wash the dust off!
We met him and his family in a quaint little bar, appropriately called Bill's Place where we all sucked back a couple of cold ones. and then it was time for dinner. Bill called a couple of old friends and we met them at the Potomac Grill in Hancock for some much needed food. Janice and I ordered the turkey and stuffing with mashed potatoes and green beans. It sounded sumptuous but boy, did we have to wait a long time for it. I kept staring at the swing doors of the kitchen, wishing for my plate to appear and finally it did after half an hour. I'd been expecting carved turkey but instead I had a huge square pile of thin rectangular turkey slices that had been slid straight from its plastic wrapper. There was also some ham and a mound of mashed potatoes covered in hot gravy. But no stuffing, they had run out, and no beans. I looked at my plate of brown hues and fervently wished for a splash of green to balance the palette but it wasn't to be. They didn't come for another 20 minutes. But the beer was great and the company even better.
Bill, Lynne and Dean. Lynne and Dean live on a 80 acre farm and are pretty much self sufficient, growing their own food, some livestock included, and even making their own maple syrup and wines. Dean is a wizard at carpentry and has helped in restoring Abraham Lincoln's childhood home, Kentucky, and Roosevelt's home in Hyde Park, New York. We spent a couple of hours laughing and chatting then made a last stop in Berkeley Springs to watch the sun go down. Parking outside the Panorama at the Peak restaurant, we met another strange guy called Kevin, who was peering through a pair of $600 binoculars at his house in the distance. Apparently he built the website for the Vatican and maintains it from his home. He took great delight in pointing out the general area in which his house was situated and passed along the binoculars so we could get a better look, and then stated he would set up some tiki torches so he could then come back to this spot and see them. I guess he doesn't have cable like regular folks...
And then we drove home, with me telling jokes posted by an old English friend on Facebook. We howled all the way along the dark roads until we arrived back at Bill's house. What an action packed day! Thanks Bill!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Strolling round a Seminary

Thanks to Kota Kat, his accomplice Rosie Lee and their combined incessant wailing, stomping on my pillow and poking in my face during the early hours of Saturday morning, I finally dragged myself from bed feeling exhausted and downright annoyed. I was meeting DCUE in Silver Springs and really wanted to do nothing more than kick the cats out of the house and go back to bed to claim back my hours of stolen sleep. Why they had to be such pains this morning was beyond me but being a well trained Mom, I left the house after having placed a handful of treats in front of each of them, as though they'd been the best behaved fluffy little dears that ever walked the earth.
I grabbed camera gear and a jacket and headed to the Seminary. Driving up Rte 495, there are a couple of abandoned buildings visible from the road, part of where we were having a tour this morning.
The National Park Seminary started out as an inn in 1887 and since then has been a private school for women, a military recuperation facility and is now residential homes, mostly owned with some rentals. Most of the historic buildings were erected while it was a school with each building representing a part of the world to help the education of the girls from prominent families across the nation. There were gardens, grottoes, with pretty walkways and bridges which connected the buildings.
We all met next to the gymnasium and were led round by a guide, but unfortunately I had a hard time taking in her words because I was so tired. 
Many of the old buildings have been thoughtfully restored and are now private dwellings withing the park. The gymnasium above is currently being restored into condos.
The top right image shows the old swimming pool in the gymnasium. Esther Williams once swum here and now, the builders are in the process of raising the floor of the pool so that the new condo will have a living area that one steps down into, with the tiling preserved.
There are a few of the older buildings in the park that haven't been restored yet and so look lovely in their abandonment. We all focused mainly on these.
A restored 'Dutch windmill' sorority house.
The original building, Ye Forest Inne, restored and now is mainly rented apartments, with the original lounge downstairs used as a community room.
I loved this statue. the heartbroken Cyparissus mourning a deer's death.
We were given access to the restored majestic ballroom inside the inn. A raised floor was built during restoration surrounded by scaffolding so every part of the carvings and lights could be cleaned. Above shows how it was during the school years and I laughed at the one I took of our crowd getting involved in capturing their images.
Another of the sorority houses, a Japanese pagoda.
I loved this Native American statue on the outskirts of the park.
 The Statue of Minerva.
In the garden area stands an abandoned sorority house, formed after an English castle. In dire need of some TLC now, it looks almost beyond saving.
The Army acquired the seminary as WWII raged in 1942 and became a haven for wounded soldiers returning from Vietnam. But by the late 70's the place was empty and vandals moved in, damaging the grounds so much that demolition was becoming an option. The Save Our Seminary group was created by some staunch admirers who rallied to raise funds for restoration and the grounds became condos, single family homes and apartments.
There have even been some new townhouses added, built in the same style as their older neighboring buildings.
The Porch of the Maidens on the front of Aloha House.
We finished our tour after a couple of hours. It had felt a little odd to me to be walking around a complex which was now peoples' dwellings. We saw many of them leaving and entering the larger buildings but the old sorority houses which are now single family homes seemed to all be silent. There are all open to scrutiny from visitors on nearly all sides and I noticed many of the windows had shutters, shades pulled down or curtains closed. I felt like we were encroaching on their privacy but I guess they were aware of their 'goldfish bowl' habitats when they purchased the properties.
A few of the crew decided to go for lunch but I declined. I was exhausted and was looking forward to a nice catnap when I got home, sans cats!