Archive for the ‘Trees’ Category

“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

 

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!

 

 

Kissing Trees?

The games trees play!

The games trees play!

As we were heading upstream from the Killiansburg Cave hiker/biker campsite, we chanced upon these two overly-affectionate lovebirds on the canal side of the towpath.  I’ve always been of the opinion that plant life is incapable of feeling love, as well as any of the other complicated  emotions that plague humanity.  However, now there is photographic proof that some trees smooch when they think others aren’t watching.  Unfortunately, they didn’t stop after I politely asked them to, and the situation got a little bit uncomfortable.

As I look at the tree on the right, I can see a closed eye with an eyebrow, cheekbones, and–perhaps–a nose.  Catching this crypto-botanical image of the kissing tree, in my opinion, is to flora what the Patterson-Gimlin film is to fauna.  With that being said, I hope that I never have to see another public display of affection between two trees.  Yuck!

Twisted Trees

Twisted Trees

Twisted Trees

We’re always looking for something different, and today Candee looked back and noticed that the only bend wasn’t the one in the river.  On the left side of the picture, a small tree grows straight up from the ground before taking a sharp right.  Just as suddenly (after maybe a 3′ change in direction), it shoots skyward again.  Toward the middle–beside the towpath–another tree starts out heading left before slowly turning to the right.  As it goes upward, it starts to bend toward the left again.  I wouldn’t be too surprised if it looked something like a question mark in a few years.

Trees in the sky!

Tree on abandoned railroad trestle pier

Tree on abandoned railroad trestle pier

Maybe you’ve already seen this, but there is an old, abandoned railroad trestle right below the Shepherdstown bridge.  Looking downstream, there are three piers, all of which have a fairly significant tree growing at the top.  I’m not exactly sure how their roots get any nourishment out of the scant soil in the mortar, or how they managed to get established in heavy winds, etc.  But there they are!  I would estimate that the tree on the West Virginia side is twenty feet tall as it sits atop a stone monolith rising–perhaps–sixty feet into the air.  It has to be a hard life, but if trees could talk, I imagine these lofty specimens are having the last laugh when the Potomac floods and threatens their brethren on the river bank.

 

Side view--showing the tree on the second pier

Side view–showing the tree on the second pier