Today we headed for the Dargan Bend area of the C&O Canal for a quick hike. For those who aren’t familiar with this section, the parking lot is just downstream from mile marker 65. It’s also the site of a boat ramp in a flat, wide section of the Potomac River. Heading upstream, there’s more than enough history and scenery to make for an interesting trek.
For starters, the culvert near mile marker 65 is in a state of disrepair, but the erosion offers up proof that keeping a 184.5 mile long park operational is a never-ending fight. The Potomac’s drainage basin stretches from Highland County, Virginia to Garrett County, Maryland and all points in between.
It’s a big river, and when the water is high, it overflows the towpath and many of the canal structures and does a considerable amount of damage. With this in mind, we weren’t all that surprised to see the familiar orange fencing around a large depression near the culvert.
In fact, being a canal buff can be pretty nerve-wracking during the rainy season. The C&O Canal Association sends numerous emails to its members every year in regard to flooding, and about all we can do is bite our fingernails and hope for the best.
At about the 65.5 mile section of the towpath, an old lime kiln sits on the canal side. The C&O ceased operations because of massive flooding in 1924, so we were surprised to learn that the kilns were used until at least 1950. We’ve all heard the phrase “they don’t build ’em like that anymore,” and maybe there’s something to it. The entire structure is in immaculate condition, and taking a walk around it is like stepping back in time.
The limestone was quarried locally, and the rocky cliffs along the old canal bed show signs of man-made caves and stone removal. In fact, just beyond the kilns there is a large opening in the rock that goes back approximately fifty feet.
There are numerous drill marks in the wall, and in spite of the fact that it’s an abandoned cave, I can still think of a good use for it: if I’m ever biking in that area during a hard rain, I know where to ditch the bikes and hide for a while!
We wound up hiking up to mile marker 67 before turning around, but upon our return to the kiln, we found out that humans aren’t the only creatures interested in the history of the C&O and its environs. We were surprised to see a turkey vulture perched on the top of the wall posing for a picture. We’re always enthused to photograph any type of nature, but seeing a vulture can give one reason to pause. My first thought was do I really smell that bad, but after that I wondered if it weren’t just plain bad luck to see one of these things. In the end, however, the vulture turned out to be an amicable fellow, and with our history of nature photography, we’ll take what we can get.
We couldn’t resist having a little fun along the way….okay, Candee couldn’t resist!
In all, Dargan Bend is a great place to take a hike and a good stopping off point on the way to Harpers Ferry. We might not make it back there for a while, but I’m hoping that the culvert will be in a better state of repair next time.
Even so, it’s a long canal that borders on an often angry river. A lot can go wrong, but it’s all part of the never ending battle between man and nature. Maybe that’s what keeps us coming back to the C&O Canal NHP.