Archive for the ‘Miles 101-150’ Category

St. Patrick’s Catholic Church (Little Orleans, Md.)

Saint Patrick's catholic Church

Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church

As one crosses over the low-water bridge spanning Fifteen Mile Creek in Little Orleans and starts down the Oldtown-Orleans Road, the little brick church on the top of the knoll serves an an exclamation point on a postcard-worthy scene.  I’ve driven past the church many times and never stopped to have a closer look, but I’ve always been enamored by the shamrock window and the simple elegance of the building.

The shamrock at Saint Patrick's

The shamrock at Saint Patrick’s

I’ve often wondered if the church has any connection to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, so I (as usual!) turned to Thomas Hahn’s Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal and found the following: “On a knoll across the creek from Little Orleans is quaint little St. Patrick’s Church, surrounded by a cemetery which predates present church building.  Earliest burial date noted was 1802.  Cemetery contains the graves, many of them unmarked, of Irish canal construction workers and their descendants” (187).

Headstone

Headstone

The church itself dates to circa 1860, and the monuments are a mixture of the old and the new.  Many have unique weathering and have been polished by the hands of time.  The person honored with this stone was a “Native of County Monahan,  Ireland” and passed in 1863.  The first name and additional information weren’t legible.

Looking off toward West Virginia

Looking off toward West Virginia

In all, the view from the churchyard was as pleasant as looking up at the church from below.  We obviously have an interest in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and paying homage to the Irish canal workers was a great experience–even though we couldn’t readily identify any of their graves.  Nevertheless, this was a great side trip from the towpath into local history, and I’m glad that I finally took a closer look.

Sign at Saint Patrick's Church

Sign at Saint Patrick’s Church

“Indigo Swamp”

Swampy section of the canal below Indigo Neck

Swampy section of the canal below Indigo Neck

I’d like to think that everybody is a little bit biased on some subject.  With that in mind, I can’t imagine anybody frequenting the C&O Canal NHP and not having a certain spot that’s a bit more appealing than the rest.  My favorite four.something miles are between Sideling Hill Creek and Fifteen Mile Creek, and one place in particular comes to mind–the wide, swampy section just downstream from Lock 57 and the Indigo Neck Hiker/Biker Campground.  The area is a haven for ducks and other birds, turtles, frogs, and–apparently–an occasional beaver. I’m interested in the ecological history of the area, so (as usual) I defer to Thomas Hahn’s Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal: 138.63 Fine swamp with dark brown water has developed in canal bed.  Many wood ducks and ducklings sighted May 1972.  Beaver sighted several years ago.  Floodplain lush with spring flowers; spotted turtles slide into the swamp as one approaches; pileated woodpeckers drum in the surrounding forest; and and the towering mountain side across the river finishes a suitable backdrop.  This is typical of many wild sections in the next 40 mi.  Opportunities for nature study or for absorbing the refreshment of virtual solitude are many (186).

Beaver activity from 2010

Beaver activity from 2010

Shortly after Candee and I took up level walking for the C&O Canal Association, we noticed beaver activity on the towpath side of the swamp.  These trees were chomped on at the time, but the busy critter suddenly abandoned the project.  Today, the trees are leafless and dead and will probably fall into the swamp in the years to come.  Surprisingly, beaver activity has been limited in the area over the past three or four years, but the rest of this wetland has thrived for the most part.

In spring, I’ve seen the water as high as towpath level, but once or twice in the driest part of the summer, the swamp has dried up completely.  Generally, the ducks and ducklings are long gone by then, and I assume that the turtles make their way to the river in these desperate times.  The one good thing about the dry seasons has been the opportunity to guestimate how big the swamp is.  Back in the day, the canal was generally 60-80′ wide and 6′ deep, but at high water, this section appears to be 8-10′ deep and–perhaps–150′ wide.

Another tree bites the dust!

Another tree bites the dust!

As Hahn stated, the water is generally the color of weak tea,  probably due to the many trees and leaves that have tumbled into the swamp over the years.  As a kid I was led to believe that all really big trees are hundreds of years old, but there are some massive specimens along the towpath and in the prism–here and elsewhere.  The thing is that none of them can be more than ninety years old. Otherwise, the towropes would have been rendered useless in the latter days of the C&O, and boats couldn’t have plied the waters of the canal.  In general, this section of the C&O doesn’t offer a very good depiction of what was, but it is a great example of  what it has become–a sanctuary for a wide variety of flora and fauna.  This is just a great place to take a hike, but PLEASE remember the mosquito repellant!

The day-lillies flower every year near the Lockhouse 57 ruins

The day-lillies flower every year near the Lockhouse 57 ruins

 

Towson Tigers to the Rescue

Trouble on the towpath

Trouble on the towpath

The picture doesn’t really do this monstrosity justice.  This large, hanging snag was blocking the towpath near the Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct earlier today, and I must have looked pretty silly cutting off the smaller branches with my hacksaw.  One thing is certain: I wasn’t getting anywhere.  Fortunately, four students on Spring break from Towson University  (near Baltimore) asked me if I needed any help, and I quickly accepted!

The good news was that we had a team working on the project, but the bad news was that the precariously balanced limb was in the neighborhood of thirty feet long and weighed literally hundreds (maybe thousands!) of pounds.  Fortunately, the students produced a roll of paracord, and the rest of the story involves a little bit of leverage and a whole lot of muscle.  In the end, the towpath was cleared of a dangerous obstruction, and I would like to give a shout out to Joshua, Pete, Jack, and Daniel.

I’ve been reading a few Appalachian Trail narratives lately, and all of them mention a type of divine intervention known as trail magic.  Nature has a way of putting obstacles in our paths, but when we least expect it, good news is usually on the way.  I’ve found that one generally meets a classy, generous type of people in our parks and on our trails, and such was the case today.  After a brief struggle with nature, we left the C&O Canal a little bit safer than it was when we started, and I couldn’t have done any of it on my own.

Thanks again guys!

Thanks again guys!

 

Into the Fog (Re-hashing 2013 and Looking Forward to 2014)

Fog on the Potomac and towpath

Fog on the Potomac and towpath

Today, we headed out to our volunteer area for our last level walk of 2013,  It was a strangely beautiful day, with an odd combination of light rain and fog that was offset by an unseasonable temperature in the mid-sixties.  We encountered one passerby in a car at Fifteen Mile Creek, but, other than that, we were completely alone for the better part of 3.5 hours, or nine miles.  That’s rare, even in one of the more remote sections of the C&O.

Scene at Indigo Neck

Scene at Indigo Neck

It seems like the warm weather wasn’t enough to awaken any prospective hikers from the spell of the recently melted snow.  Nevertheless, a good samaritan did come along at some point and pick up the fallen trash bag box at the Indigo Neck hiker/biker campsite.  There were a couple of fallen limbs and about a half bag of trash, so we did accomplish something.  Even so, there was plenty to think about and lots of time for doing it.  As the park is concerned, my New Year’s resolutions are to stay in one of the lockhouses and do at least a couple of hikes in Georgetown.  I’ve biked below Mile Marker 12 several times, but I can’t say that I’ve ever hiked it.  Winter might be the perfect time to beat the crowds.  We’ll see. One way to kill both birds with one stone would be to spend the night in Lockhouse 6.  That would be the perfect spot for a long round-trip trek all the way to the end of the line.

Beaver at work

Beaver at work

Yes, I suppose this is the right time of the year for daydreaming and resolutions, but there’s always today, and today turned out to be a great day for a hike.  Off in the distance, we counted four deer.  They were more spooked than usual but that’s probably a result of Maryland’s recent deer season.  Beavers are also very active around Indigo Neck, although we haven’t been lucky enough to see one, and that spans approximately thirty hikes in this area in a four or five year period.

Eastern garter snake on the towpath

Eastern garter snake on the towpath

Honestly, every time Candee and I hike between Pearre Station and Little Orleans, I think running into a beaver is a distinct possibility.  But a snake on the 22nd of December?  The garter snake pictured above is one of the largest I have ever seen, and it had a personality to match.  It struck at us on three different occasions–completely unprovoked, unless you consider the fact that I was in its mug trying to get a picture.  I suppose you could say that seeing this unpleasant chap was a pleasant surprise–just not for the snake.  After snapping a couple of pictures, we walked away, and this cold-blooded rascal was nowhere to be found when we headed back down the trail.

Looking back, 2013 appears to have been a mixed bag along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.  There was a closure downstream from the Paw Paw Tunnel because of falling rocks, and the park itself was closed for sixteen days because of government cutbacks.  However, I do feel fortunate to have a national park twenty minutes from where I live, and I’m going to continue to try to convince everybody that it’s just as cool as Yosemite or the Grand Canyon.  That’s a tall order!  In the meantime, we’re going to try to see and write about places that we’ve missed up to this point, and there’s also a great blog or two that we regularly follow.  When all is said and done, 2014 should be a great year on the canal.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to one and all!

 

 

The Indigo Witch Project?

How on earth did this get here?

How on earth did this get here?

Candee and I volunteer on the C&O, and we have been pretty anxious to get back out on the towpath. Nevertheless, the recent government shutdown has kept all visitors out of the park–or has it? Today, when we reached the remains of Lockhouse 57, near the Indigo Neck hiker/biker campsite, we weren’t too surprised to see a large log straddling the foundation of the old cellar. Trees and limbs fall. Enough said. However, there was an odd shrine or decoration directly below the log, made up of woven branches and placed atop two stone cairns.

Remembering the closure, my thoughts turned to ghosts, ghouls, and things that go bump in the night. Could it be that the wee people of the forest held sway over the C&O Canal while we foolish mortals were blocked from entering their domain? After seeing this odd site, I could almost imagine a tribe of leprechauns dancing hand-in-hand around this structure, away from the usual prying eyes of hikers, bikers, campers , and park rangers. I’m not sure what kind of chicanery we encountered, but as All Hallows Eve approaches, keep a sharp lookout while walking down the towpath. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Looks kind of Blair Witch-y to me !

Looks kind of Blair Witch-y to me !