Posts Tagged ‘C&O Canal’

Exploring Big Slackwater

'High Road'

While complaining about the dreaded detour, people often forget about the section of the C&O Canal NHP that lies between Feeder Dam 4 (Mile 84.6) and McMahon’s Mill (Mile 88.1).  Hikers and bikers doing long stretches of the canal are forced to bypass this area because of the washed out section between miles 86.7 and 88.1.  Here, the Potomac runs up against a cliff wall, which makes further travel impossible.  Fortunately, this area is being repaired, and the towpath will once again be intact sometime during the Summer of 2012.

Great view of the Potomac River!



Until, then, the area between the dam and the cliff makes for a wonderful four-mile round trip hike.  Like many other canal buffs, we’ve never really given much thought to this area, but it does have a lot to offer in regard to historical structures and its close proximity to the Potomac River.



'Low Road'



The hiker has the choice of literally taking the high road or the low road (towpath) up to the guard lock for feeder dam 4. Surprisingly, the towpath is mowed and well-maintained, and the guard lock and inlet mark the spot where boats once left the canal and entered the river for approximately two miles.



Dam 4 Guard Lock



Rope Guides???




A gate near the guard lock that has been sealed much like the guard lock itself. This closure serves to keep flood waters out of the canal
















River Access

View of the Big Slackwater Project



Naturally, we had an ulterior motive and wanted to get a look at the work area for the Big Slackwater Project.  We did manage to walk to walk within approximately .5 miles of the construction site, and we’re pleased to say that a lot of progress has been made.  We’re looking forward to riding the entire length of the canal once again next summer, and this time–hopefully, no detour!


Winch House at Dam 4

Lander Lock House (Lock 29)

First Snow of the Year!

Another View...



On October 30th, we took a trip to the Brunswick/Point of Rocks area of the C&O Canal as the remnants of a recent freak snowstorm slowly melted away.  The same snowstorm fell as a wet, heavy deluge two days prior and left branches and trees lying all over the Potomac River valley.



Culvert Near Lander Lock House




In fact, the C&O Canal Association’s Heritage Hike in Hancock was canceled on the 29th per request of the NPS rangers.  Snow can be a real nuisance, but it also made for a wonderful backdrop for our visit to the Lander Lock House.



Lock 29 is near mile marker 51 on the canal and can be accessed from Lander Road as one heads east from Brunswick to Point of Rocks (or vice-verse).  The lock house is a small, quaint structure that is in very good condition, and the parking lot serves as the point of debarkation for those who want to see the newly rebuilt Catoctin Creek Aqueduct.  Likewise, if one continues down the road, there is river access for boaters and fishermen.

Not Ready for Snow Yet!

In all, Lander is the perfect place to begin a twenty mile round trip bike trip in either direction.  Heading downstream, one can see the railroad station at Point of Rocks (mile 48) and the Monocacy Aqueduct (mile 42).  Heading upstream, one passes through Brunswick (mile 54) and joins the Appalachian Trail heading into historic Harpers Ferry (mile 60). A weekend spent doing both certainly takes in many of the more notable highlights to be seen on the C&O Canal.

River View Cemetery on Doubleday Hill in Williamsport, Md

To the top of the hill!

Peaceful View


One of the Many Unique Tombstones...




Those heading “downstream” on the C&O Canal towpath will notice a a small, but abrupt hill just after crossing the Conocheague Creek Aqueduct.  At first glance, it’s just one of many high spots along the trail, but this one actually has a very interesting story behind it.





Another Example...





It is the location of Williamsport’s oldest cemetery: in fact, town founder General Otho Williams of Revolutionary War fame is buried there.  Also, if the name Doubleday rings a bell, there is another interesting story regarding the hill that dates to the early stages of the Civil War.





An Old Stone from 1808

Abner Doubleday: Battles and Baseball



Major General Abner Doubleday, who invented baseball in 1835, mounted three siege guns (facing the Potomac River) on the western corner of the hill in 1861 when he was a Captain in the Union Army.  Some people believe that there are no such things as coincidences,  but I beg to differ.




Today, many young people from around the world who carry on the love and tradition of baseball gather for the Little League World Series in Williamsport.  The difference is that the series is played in Williamsport, Pennsylvania!  I guess it really is a small world.


Two Out of Three Ain't Bad!

In all, Doubleday Hill covers a few acres of territory, but it’s ridge line is a stone’s throw from the C&O Canal.  In fact, the side opposite of the Civil War shrine runs down to Canal Street.  The hill is a perfect place to journey back in time to check out some really ornate headstones, and visitors can also imagine an era when canal boats churned through the water literally in the shadow of the cannons.   This little piece of history doesn’t have any direct relation to the C&O Canal NHP, so it is often overlooked by park enthusiasts.  However, it’s an interesting place, and I would highly recommend a side trip to the top of the hill.

View of the C&O Towpath and the Potomac River

Tunnel Hill Trail (Paw Paw Tunnel)

View of the Paw Paw Tunnel as we start up the Tunnel Hill Trail. Notice that it's boarded up for winter, and interestingly enough, the other end is left open.

Not everybody likes to walk through long, dark tunnels, and those who are claustrophobic actually have another  way of getting around the Paw Paw Bends and continuing to hike on the C&O Canal towpath.  I’m referring to the Tunnel Hill Trail, which is a nice alternative to walking through the Paw Paw Tunnel.

Fall Leaves...Blue Sky


Recently, the NPS added several interpretive signs that add to the experience, and there are now directional markers that make the hike a bit less confusing.  Those who have taken a wrong turn at the criss-crossing paths at the top of the hill know what I mean.




Heading Up the Tunnel Hill Trail


Giant Ribcage!



To get to the the trail, simply walk to the tunnel–as usual–then veer to the right at the Tunnel Hill Trail sign.  It’s two miles in length and begins with a series of relatively steep switchbacks that lead to the top of the hill.  The reward is a gorgeous view of the Potomac River.



Railroad Trestle in the Distance

An Example of One of the Many Interpretive Signs on the Tunnel Hill Trail



Now for a little history–all of which is borrowed from the interpretive signs.  The Paw Paw  Bends made for several miles of travel that covered very little actual distance.  This left three possible options:  continue the canal around the bends; dam the river for slackwater navigation; or build a tunnel. Obviously the engineers chose the latter.



Heading Back Down...

Interesting Tree!




A tunnel of this magnitude required blasting from above and a place to dump the rubble.  Thus, the present trail is basically the former work station for the laborers.  The German and Irish immigrants who were involved removed 200,000 cubic yards of shale spoil over a fourteen year period (1836-1850) that saw them suffer through cholera outbreaks, labor friction, and financial shortages.  The paychecks were often late, and perhaps that’s why a daily ration of whiskey was included with their food and lodging.



Random Glove on the Trail

One Perfect Pine Cone



Speaking of lodging, workers stayed in either tents or small wooden houses in the area of the trail.  Many workers had their families in tow, which led to the construction of the Sulphur Springs (aka Tunnel Hollow) School in 1840.  The school was a single room brick structure, and much to our surprise, several of the bricks can still be found at the old site.



Tom isn't 'liken' the fact that I'm using this picture in this post! The area near the old school house site was dotted with silvery-green patches of Lichen.

Ice Display




In all, I would highly recommend a hike on the Tunnel Hill Trail, particularly in late autumn.  The colors and the vistas are breathtaking, and–yes–the signs make for a nice thumbnail history lesson of the area.




Back on the Towpath at Tunnel Hollow

Point of Rocks

Built in 1876 by the B&O Railroad Company--If you look carefully, you can see a train in the distance.


All Aboard! Point of Rocks!



Point of Rocks is located near mile marker 48 on the C&O Canal.  This area was hotly disputed between the C&O and Baltimore and Ohio Railroad because of its narrow passage, and the completion of the canal to Harper’s Ferry was delayed until 1833 because of these legal issues.

The town is also the site of an ornate railroad station built by the B&O in 1876.  The station is a hot photo op for railroad buffs–in fact, there were two other people taking pictures of the building while we were there.




View of the US Route 15 Bridge from the boat ramp

Another important fixture nearby is the US Route 15 bridge.  It’s the first bridge across the river past the American Legion Bridge near Cabin John, and the only crossing in between is the Jubal Early at White’s Ferry.  It’s no wonder that the traffic is so heavy: that’s a long way between crossings!

Naturally, we went ripping through the area on our two previous through rides.  Last June, I swallowed a large bug while riding and spent my time gagging and drinking large amounts of water while speeding past the Point of Rocks parking lot.  I had no clue that there was a boat ramp and beautiful view of the river nearby.  I love biking.  In fact it’s more of a passion than hiking or sightseeing, but I can’t reiterate enough that I’ve missed plenty of beautiful scenery on my Trek 7200.  Guess what else I missed?

NPS Sign....Point of Rocks



The town also has a convenience store, pizza shop, and deli.  No doubt, a person biking 60+ miles in a day needs plenty of protein, and there are much better ways to get it than swallowing large insects!  Let’s review: pepperoni pizza or a moth…that’s a no brainer!  Plus, anybody needing a snack has a long way to…guess where…White’s Ferry.