Thursday, March 30, 2017

Shoots and Chutes of Water at Rose River

Wanting to make this a fitness and outdoor weekend, on Sunday I drove out to Shenandoah State Park to hike the Rose River Trail. And I made sure that there was a memory card in my camera this time! I stopped a couple of miles past my house to watch a huge flock of turkeys in a field. most of whom were grazing but a couple of turkey toms were obviously heavily involved in a competitive mating ritual, tail feathers fanned out wide and strutting back and forth. I wasn't sure if they were competing against each other or whether they each had their eye on different prospective mates, so I pulled over to watch. I didn't want to disturb them by getting out of the car so was glad of the zoom on the G15 to catch a couple of photos without them realizing.  They put on an impressive display, the first time I'd been privileged to witness this and I sat for a while enjoying their egotistical antics.
As I neared the mountains a heavy fog was still draped over the peaks and I had to turn on all lights as I climbed up to the park entrance. There wasn't a line to go in and there weren't too many vehicles as I drove south to my hiking destination. It was chilly when I climbed out of the car, and zipped up my jacket while hefting my back pack on to my shoulders. The ice cubes tinkled in my water bottle and I realized that ice really wasn't necessary today. The trail was empty as I started walking briskly along the rocky trail, keeping my eyes down as I tripped over tree roots and stones. Everything was grey and brown, barely a hint of color apart from a few lichens on jutting rocks, but after a mile or so down the mountain I heard the welcoming sound of water tinkling below me, and before long I was looking down at a creek tumbling and chortling over rocks and fallen trees.
A lot of the surrounding forest looked like a war zone, there were so many trees on the ground or caught in the boughs of those still standing. Fungi covered the rotting trunks with piles of brown leaves collecting underneath.
The path became huge rocks that had to be clambered over or they had been moved to form a stairwell, the water had turned from a musical tinkling to a loud crashing, indicating that a bigger waterfall was close by, then as I rounded the bend, the falls fell down in front of me. It was spectacular. I stood looking down and watching for a while then climbed down carefully to the bottom so I could see the falls up close and feel the spray of the water.
I reveled in the time I spent down there, having this wonder of nature all to myself. As soon as the weather warms up, people will be swarming this hike with crowds on the banks or in the actual water itself. There were scraps of orange peel and pistachio shells on the ground, indicating the ignorance of some human visitors who had been here recently, but for now I had this splendor all for just me, so i sat on a large rock for a while to enjoy it. It was wonderous.
Once I was started to feel chilly, I climbed back up the rocky slope to the path and continued my hike. Soon the only sound of water that I could hear was the chinking of the ice cubes in my water bottle that were showing no signs of melting. The trail veered off from the river, turning into the brown forest, dead leaves and fallen trees covered the ground, making me scour the woodland floor carefully for any splashes of color. I spotted Hepaticas, the first flower of spring, and a tiny Downy Rattlesnake Plantain peeking out from under a rock. And then I almost walked into a huge slab of concrete, bang smack in the center of the path. Large rusted iron rods stuck out from the corners and there was a very heavy, (yes, I had to pick it up), chunk of curved iron placed on top. This was once the site of a copper mine but I couldn't see the relevance of this monstrous concrete chunk so walked on.
And then I was back at the water again, this time walking over a small bridge to the other bank, and then following it up the gorge, passing many small falls, slides and pools on the way.
I took my time walking up the trail, clambering over rocks, sliding down slopes to photograph the river and sitting a few times just to enjoy the scenery. The path had a few large trees fallen across it but these were easy to negotiate. There were rocks steps, some of them a little tall, but the climb was enjoyable, simply because I had the water accompanying me, splishing and sploshing, eddying, seeping or tumbling in a torrent down the mountain. There were so many spots of beauty that I will definitely be back here at a later date with a tripod to do some long exposures. The climb ended suddenly, and with a little disappointment, on to the fire road. I took a last look down at the falls and started the mile long plod back up to the car. For some reason somebody had scrawled MOM in the gravel and I wondered whether it was a British person since Mothers Day was today over there.
 My next stop was a short hike at a trail with a name that just begged to be hiked, Limberlost. The name came from the wife of the man who bought the land to save the large hemlock trees from being logged. She named it after a book, A Girl of the Limberlost. The trees were all annihilated by the hemlock woolly adelgid bug, the woodland floor now littered with the rotting trunks of these lost giants. The area is regrowing but it wasn't the land of enchantment that I was hoping to find, although it certainly seems to be a squirrel sanctuary. Along the sides of the path were thousands of acorns, I'd never seen so many. Shiny plump nuts filled with yum and I did actually see 5 squirrels who indeed looked contentedly chunky and plump. I didn't get the usual angry chatter I receive when invading their space, these chaps were living the good life, no worries in their world. I guessed they wouldn't miss a few acorns so I proceeded to stuff my pockets for Sebastian and his mate Suzie back home. I left a little mountain outside the back door in their usual place when I got home. They had all disappeared in less than 2 days, I did find some hidden in my wood pile.
Apart from the abundance of nuts and the squirrels I didn't see anything else that caught my eye apart from an odd outcrop of rocks that looked to be made from blocks at first glance. Other folks have reported about this short trail being a great place to spot wildlife, including deers and bears, but even though I had the place to myself, there were no other critters to be seen. Unless of course, they passed me by while I was bent over scooping up acorns...
I got back to Stanley and decided to head home. The fog was rolling in thicker so I wasn't keen on hiking an elevated outcrops, which I had been planning on doing. There were few cars at the outlooks also and I passed barely anyone as I drove out of the park. Of course halfway down the mountain I emerged from the cloudy blanket into bright sunshine, it's a very odd to experience two such different weather systems so close to each other but I loved it.
I stopped briefly at one of my favorite farms, Waterpenny, to grab some greens for a soup. I'd heard from a local that their kale was the best so I wasn't going to miss out on that tasty treat. They operate on an honor system so there was no one about when I pulled up. The large fridge was loaded with containers holding different varieties of kale, spinach, and pea leaves so I filled up 2lbs of mixed dark green leaves plus a spaghetti squash, paid my dues and continued homeward. I made that soup as soon as I got home, throwing in an onion and a potato plus a handful of shredded turkey. To dunk in it, I had locally made organic sour dough bread. Now that was a splendid way to wrap up the weekend.

Biking from Hancock

On Saturday I had two options, to go on a tour of a waste treatment plant or make another attempt at a bike ride. Of course the ride won. My third attempt, this was a success, the previous two attempts were thwarted by rain and freezing temperatures. I packed my mountain bike into the back of Stanley, (a novelty that hasn't come close to wearing off yet), and a couple of minutes later I headed off to Hancock, MD.
I was cycling west on the Western Maryland Rail Trail and then at the end would drop down on to the C and O Canal Trail for the return journey. But I had a few things against me. I left my jacket in the car, regretting this intensely after a mile, but thankfully my pace and the weather raised my temperature so I was then glad not to have it. As long as I kept moving. Then my water bottle rack broke as I shoved in my new stainless steel, 'sooper dooper at keeping water chilled' bottle. Luckily it held up for the trip with careful treatment and will be replaced before the next ride on this bike. Then at the end of the WMRT, when I got off my bike to rest for a minute or two while photographing the lock house, I realized that once again I had no memory card in my camera, so none of my photos so far had been saved.
But back to the beginning. As I set off, I immediately liked this trail. There were few cycling extremists here, very little lycra and even fewer cycling helmets. The traffic on the trail was almost non-existent compared to the suburb's WandOD Trail, and those I saw today were folks in capris, jeans, with baseball hats or no head gear at all. A few like me, were carrying backpacks. I felt very comfortable in my t-shirt and leggings, hair pinned up with a clip and sunglasses. Everyone I passed smiled or yelped a 'Morning!' and I was content to be pedaling with such nice folks in the crisp clean air. I picked up a good pace and kept it, smiling at the few abandoned houses I passed, but not stopping, and noticing the many signs warning, 'Regulated Shooting Only' or 'No Hunting or Trespassing'. We were definitely in a rural area. I could see the canal down to my left but to my right were woodlands, fields and The Poly Ponds, small natural ponds that were once used as storage for the canal boats. The trail was a steady very gradual incline so I had to pedal continuously but I was soon warm and quite surprised at how quickly I got to the end of the trail. This was marked by a yellow gate and an unsightly stand of battered caravans on my right. I quickly passed those and dropped down on to the canal path to rest by the house at Lock 56, where I realized my memory card was missing. Since the few photos I'd taken had been while I was in motion I wasn't too upset, and I would discover that there was much more to be seen from the lower C and O Trail anyway.
Spring was very evidently pushing its way into the world here. All along the trail were tiny clumps of green shoots, small flowers and green algae forming on the still canal water. Peepers were bellowing from their hidden stages and annoyingly, mosquitoes were rampant also.
I stopped at Locks 54 and 55, enjoying the solitude, there was nobody else sharing the trail path, which was hard to believe on such a beautiful day. I found a list of all the locks here,and discovered that the canal had finished here until 1850 when the final stretch to Georgetown was completed. Coal was transported on boats down from Cumberland until the railroad was built but was really obsolete on its completion due to rail costs being cheaper and faster. It was still used for bulk commodities but finally closed after being irreparable damage from the 1924 storm.
The ride back along this trail was much prettier and with a lot more greenery than the brown starkness of the paved trail above me. I had to chuckle at the speed limit here, 15mph for us cyclists, hardly achievable with the rough terrain! So I poodled along at a sedate pace looking out for new plants peeping out from the soft wet earth and was amazed to see many clumps of bluebells and a few wood anemones. The trail will be beautiful in a couple of weeks time, like the image on the C and O website. The turtles were enjoying the warm sun, dozens of them with their shiny shells all clean from hibernation were already lined up on fallen tree trunks floating in the still canal water.
Lock 53. There's some excellent photos and information on the locks and their folk here.
This was heartwarming to come across. There are a few picnic areas along the trail with BBQs for anyone to use. Someone had gone a step further, chopping and stacking firewood for the lucky picnickers.
The ruins of the Round Top Cement Mill, which was built in the 1830s and was Hancock's largest employer during the Civil War. Up to 1882, The eight kilns could produce 48 tons of burnt lime daily for making cement, that was used in the Washington DC Monument and the US Capitol building. A fire in 1903 forced production to stop.
This limestone feature next to the cement works is called The Devil's Eyebrow. Made up of sandstone, siltstone shale and limestone layers, it was once covered by a shallow sea. Climate change and tectonic plate movement then caused the rock to buckle and be exposed.
As I rode back into Hancock I thought I'd ridden 20 miles but according to Day 2 on this link, the route had actually been 25 miles, so I was pleased with my first ride of the year. And I was starving. I'd spotted a 'beef pit' on the way into town so made straight for that fine establishment as soon as I'd got the bike in the car. Which took about 2 minutes. Really loving having a hatchback vehicle. No more bungee cords and bike racks for me.
Tony's Butcher Block was packed when I arrived after 2pm. As well as a variety of sandwiches they sell fresh meat and seafood, the oysters seemed popular, and homemade salads and relishes in jars. I opted for the beef sandwich with BBQ horseradish and was very impressed. Everything about it was superb, from the bread to the exceedingly tender beef and the perfectly balanced flavors of BBQ and horseradish. I will definitely return for another.