Archive for the ‘Canal Boats’ Category

Exploring Great Falls

Great Falls of the Potomac

I can’t imagine the awe that early explorers felt when they first viewed the Great Falls of the Potomac.  However, I know what I expected to see the first time I left Martinsburg, WV and traveled down I-70 and I-270 in heavy traffic to within 10 miles of the DC line.  Not much!  Honestly, the idea of something this beautiful on such a large river–all within a few minutes of the nation’s capital–still blows me away.

On the Maryland side of the river

There’s a saying–You can take a boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.  I can relate.  I prefer the western end of the C&O Canal, but the area around mile marker 14 contains some of the most remarkable scenery in the park.  Nevertheless, this combination of beauty and a metropolitan area translates into large crowds.  Serious hikers and bikers should expect delays in the Great Falls area.  I’ve seen groups of people walking side-by-side across the entirety of the towpath, but who can blame them?  This part of the C&O is a great place to spend the day.

The Charles F. Mercer

Generally, boat rides on the Charles F. Mercer are available from Wednesday-through-Sunday, but we were surprised to see the pride of the canal up on blocks.  On a positive note, though, this was the perfect opportunity for a top-to-bottom view of the boat.  With The Georgetown out of commission, the Mercer is a popular tourist attraction.  Hopefully, it’s either being painted or made ship-shape for future canal enthusiasts.

Downstream view of Great Falls Tavern

The Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center is another of the many highlights of this section of the canal.  It was originally built as a hotel in 1831–just three years after ground was broken on the C&O.  Today, this wonderful structure contains canal exhibits and lots of interesting souvenirs.  I couldn’t leave without getting a pack of note cards and a refrigerator magnet.  In all, seeing Great Falls again made for a really nice trip, but I’m guessing that my next C&O Canal excursion will be somewhere in the wilds west of Hancock.  Until then, here’s a parting shot of the tavern from a different angle.

Great Falls Tavern

Random Canal Pictures (or More Winter Musings)

This isn’t the first time that we’ve done a website or blog pertaining to the C&O Canal, and somewhere along the way we’ve left several pictures scattered around the internet in near oblivion.  Many of these go back to our earliest days on the canal, and some even help to fill our current void of photos and text pertaining to miles 0-50.  These shots bring back a lot of memories.  In fact, I can remember the day that Candee suggested that we should take up biking as a hobby.  It sounded like a good idea, but our first ride between Williamsport and Fort Frederick in 98 degree heat left me wondering about my sanity.  Imagine what I would have missed!

Lockhouse #8

Over the years we have seen a number of interesting sights and creatures.  I can’t say that either of us have fancy camera equipment, so many of the critters we have seen have escaped posterity in a blur.  However, I do have to brag a little: we’re both experts in turtle photography, and on more than one occasion we have managed to capture an image of a Great Blue Heron posing on a wall.  However, one missed opportunity stands out more than the rest.  We were riding on the Western Maryland Rail Trail just above the Devil’s Eyebrow when a rider sped up to us and stammered, “B…b…b…bear over th…th…th…th…there!”  Candee armed herself with her camera, but the bear was long gone.  So…I’ll leave you with a picture that we did manage to get.

Great Blue Heron

Sometimes it’s great being out on the trail.  You never know what you’re going to see.  Other times the river is the star attraction.  For example, in March of 2010 a heavy rain fell on the Potomac Valley, and it melted what was literally feet of snow in the mountains of western Maryland.  Needless to say, the river became very angry and threatened the towns along its banks and the C&O Canal NHP itself.  We headed out to assess the damage, which fortunately was minimal, but one picture stands out…

Generally, it’s about a 15′ drop from the top of the arch at the Sideling Hill Creek Aqueduct to the creek itself, but that day water filled the entirety of the structure.  It was an impressive sight, as was our first ride into Great Falls.  It’s hard to imagine such a large river near a metropolitan area containing a massive and dangerous set of rapids.  I understand that the view is even more impressive from the Virginia side of the river, but the Maryland side isn’t half-bad either!

Great Falls, near the towpath

I guess you could say that the river offers up something new around every bend, and sometimes the floods deposit a thing or two that catches the eye.  When we first started riding, we spent a lot of time parking the bikes and hiking down to the Potomac to check things out.  I particularly like a picture we took of some driftwood right below the mouth of Sideling Hill Creek.

Driftwood along the river

In 2009 and 2011, we completed through-rides from Cumberland to Georgetown, but back in 2006 one of our more anticipated short trips was from Great Falls to the 0 mile marker.  As it turns out, we didn’t find the marker until several years later, but we were fortunate enough to see the canal boat Georgetown plowing through the water.

The Georgetown

Of course, we had no idea how many rangers and volunteers it took to entertain the people or to keep the park in good shape.  We were both surprised and impressed to see volunteers in period attire leading tourists and locals on a boat excursion on the canal.  Oh…and let’s not forget the hard work of the mules.  Back in the day, the success of the canal depended upon them!

Mule power!

The last couple of times that we rolled into Georgetown, it marked the end of a really long three-day bike ride, but back in ’06 it was only the beginning.  We love the canal from Cumberland to DC, and one picture in particular reminds me of the way many of us feel about the canal, towpath, river, and mules that powered the old canal boats…

Canallers best friend!

I can hardly wait for the warm weather to come back!  It will be great going on more rides, taking pictures, and seeing all of the things we’ve missed before.  When your favorite park is 184.5 miles long, it seems like there is something new around every corner!

Ringing in the New Year

Meeting Place...

Each January 1st, the C&O Canal Association brings in the New Year with a hike in Cumberland, Maryland.  The temperature was a surprisingly warm fifty-three degrees, and nineteen people turned out for the walk.  After meeting at the mule statue in front of the railroad station, Mary Huebner led the crew downstream on the canal for approximately 1.5 miles.

All Show and No Go!



As the canal goes, Cumberland is a relatively urban setting.  However, in spite of the interstate and railroad traffic, the Queen City drew us back for the third year in a row.  In the sparsely populated areas of the C&O, one can walk for miles without seeing anything touristy, but Cumberland is…well…different.




After the mule statue and shops, the Cumberland (a replica canal boat) comes into view, and upon rounding the first bend, the trail offers and interesting look back at the Cumberland skyline.  The towpath plays host to numerous hikers, bikers, dogs (and of course their owners), runners, and history buffs through out the year, so being there on the first day of the year always starts us off on the right foot!


The Queen City


Walking in the New Year!


Cumberland has always been a transportation hub.  In the past, it was a major railroad town and marked the western terminus of the C&O Canal (Think canal boats and mules). Today, I-68 runs above the city, and The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and C&O towpath are hotbeds for hikers and bikers of all ages.  Oh, how the times have changed!




North Branch of the Potomac River--looking towards Cumberland

Near mile marker 183, a new wooden bridge crosses over the North Branch of the Potomac River.  The West Virginia side is the home of the Carpendale Tunnel.  At 1,500 feet in length, the tunnel is just long and dark enough to make things interesting.  Unlike many of the other tunnels on the towpath, this one is equipped with light posts approximately every 200 feet. (so it really isn’t scary at all!)  We have also read that there are cameras posted in there as well.  The path continues on the other side of the tunnel, but we aren’t sure how much further it goes.  I suppose that will be an adventure for another day.

This new bridge is part of the Carpendale Rail Trail connection to the C&O Canal towpath near mile marker 183

Tom is excited to see the tunnel! You can't really tell, but he's giving it two thumbs up.

View of the Carpendale Tunnel from the 'Other' Side





All-in-all, the bridge and tunnel is definitely a worthwhile diversion for towpath enthusiasts.





We have really enjoyed our New Year’s Day Hike tradition over the last few years, and barring all of the Mayan doomsday scenarios, we will be back again for 2013 hike.  All kidding aside, see ya at the mule statue next January 1st!

Heading Back!