Archive for the ‘Trails linking with the C&O’ Category

Tuscarora Trail (Beacon Trail to High Rock)

Beacon Trail, with the familiar blue blaze of the Tuscarora Trail

Beacon Trail, with the familiar blue blaze of the Tuscarora Trail

In the Martinsburg, West Virginia area, we are blessed with some great hiking opportunities.  In regard to popularity, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and Appalachian Trail lead the way, but for a peaceful walk in the woods, it’s hard to beat the Tuscarora Trail.  The Tuscarora is a 250 mile-long spur trail of the AT with trailheads near Luray, Virginia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Locally, the trail is maintained by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC), and it is well-marked and relatively obstruction free.

Much of the 33 miles in West Virginia is located within the Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area, and the light blue blazes in the Tuscarora Trail system are located along a number of footpaths, including the Meadow Branch Trail, Old Still Trail, Beacon Trail, Pee Wee Point Trail, and Brush Creek Trail. It’s all a little bit confusing, but the PATC’s The Tuscarora Trail: A Guide to the Southern Half in West Virginia and Virginia makes things a whole lot easier to follow.  The volunteer organization also has a guide for the northern half, which runs through Maryland and Pennsylvania.  Beside trail maintenance and guidebooks, the PATC has also built shelters along the Tuscarora and even owns some of the land the trail passes through.  That sounds like one really busy group of people!

Fire tower on Beacon Trail

Fire tower on Beacon Trail

The Beacon Trail is located on the Hampshire Grade Road (on the left) about a mile past the sign for Sleepy Creek Lake.  It’s a short walk to the fire tower up a rugged stretch of trail, and from there, the path winds along until it reached the Pee Wee Point Trail, which is partially in the Tuscarora Trail system.  Pee Wee Point is a picturesque setting at the end of the mountain, but following the blue blazes leads away from it.  The Tuscarora, instead, heads downhill toward Brush Creek Trail.

Our friend Jane is in the process of training for a long hike on the Camino de Santiago this summer, and we’ve been taking her all over western Maryland, northern Virginia, and West Virginia in search of hikes with varying degrees of difficulty.  This section of the Tuscarora Trail has its ups-and-downs, and I would describe it as being a moderately difficult hike.  Nevertheless, much of it is along Jeep trails, and a lot of care has obviously went into marking the trail and keeping it passable.

Pee Wee Point Trail/Road

Pee Wee Point Trail/Road

After leaving Beacon Trail, the blue-blazed section of the Pee Wee Point Trail goes on a fairly long downhill course.  It’s a nice stroll to the next road and a left-hand turn that leads to High Rock.  This part of the Tuscarora is, once again, something of a Jeep Trail, and it’s about another two miles to the large rock formation.  On the way, we encountered three people on horseback traveling between WV Route 45 and the Hampshire Grade Road, but, otherwise, everything was pretty quiet.  That has generally been the case with all of our hikes on the Tuscarora Trail.

The walk was an out-and-back affair, but heading straight back on the road to High Rock would have led us to Hampshire Grade Road shortly after passing the Pee Wee Point Trail sign.  From there it would have been a scant .7 miles of easy walking on a paved road to the car, and this would have cut at least thirty minutes off of the total time of the hike.  In all, anybody looking to get away from the crowds on many of the local trails would enjoy this hike, or several other stretches of the Tuscarora Trail in West Virginia.  There is some great scenery and plenty of quiet time in which to enjoy it.

A partial view of High Rock

A partial view of High Rock

Going Pedestrian on Carroll Road

A lonely stretch of Carroll Road in Green Ridge State Forest

A lonely stretch of Carroll Road in Green Ridge State Forest

A friend of ours (we’ll call her Jane) is hiking the Camino de Santiago later this summer, and Candee–having done the Camino–has taken over the role of resident trainer.  So how do you prepare somebody to hike across Spain?  As much as we love the C&O, it’s kind of…well…flat, and it’s not going to get anybody ready to tackle the Pyrenees.

Our starting point--the parking lot near the Point Lookout Overlook on Carroll Road.  We have a picture of this from an earlier time, but it was a hazy day.  Anyway, I like this one much better!

Our starting point–the parking lot near the Point Lookout Overlook on Carroll Road. We have a picture of this from an earlier time, but it was a hazy day. Anyway, I like this one much better!

Lately, we’ve hit the AT and a few of Green Ridge State Forest’s many trails, but today we were looking for a change of pace–something with some ups-and-downs and a bit of scenery.  Jane requested an overlook, and I had to deliver.  I came up with Carroll Road as an unlikely spot, but it made for a very good hike.

The Red Eft salamander is the juvenile stage of the Eastern Red-Spotted Newt

The Red Eft  salamander is the juvenile stage of the Eastern Red-Spotted Newt.  We spotted this little fellow about the halfway point of our detination

Green Ridge State Forest has an interesting history, particularly the area around Carroll Road and Mertens Avenue, but I needed to know more.  Suddenly it hit me–“Champ” Zumbrun’s History of Green Ridge State Forest.  Fortunately, I have the book on my Kindle, and Candee read a couple of chapters during our ride.

Carroll Chimney

Carroll Chimney

Carroll Road is named after Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence.  In the early 1800s, he owned most of today’s Green Ridge State Forest, and Carroll Chimney is the last remnant of the family’s steam-powered sawmill.  This is also the site of a pavilion and the lone port-a-john along the road.

Stream crossing on Carroll Road.  In most places there were large holes on the downstream side of the road culverts, which were home to numerous small fish and frogs.

Stream crossing on Carroll Road. In most places there were large holes on the downstream side of the road culverts, which were home to numerous small fish and frogs.

With all of this in mind, we set out on foot for a six-mile round trip from Point Lookout to Stickpile Tunnel and back.  I’ve driven the road many times, but I’ve never taken the time to listen to the two babbling streams that the road runs alongside–or to notice the many wildflowers that grow along the way.

many of the Mayapples were in bloom.  Later in the year, the plant bears a fruit that is "edible" when it ripens--or turns yellowish and starts to shrivel up.  The leaves, roots, and seeds are deemed as toxic, so I would be somewhat--no VERY--hesitant to sample the fruit or partake of grandma's homemade Mayapple jam or jelly.  Yes, there are recipes for both on the internet.

Many of the May Apples were in bloom. Later in the year, the plant bears a fruit that is “edible” when it ripens–or turns yellowish and starts to shrivel. The leaves, roots, and seeds are deemed as toxic, so I would be somewhat–no VERY–hesitant to sample the fruit or partake of grandma’s homemade May Apple jam or jelly. Yes, there are recipes for both on the internet.

The road is a popular destination for campers (although fishermen and boaters headed to Bonds Landing are advised to use Mertens Avenue), as several rustic campsites and picnic tables are nearby.  One usually doesn’t consider following a road as a means of getting exercise and taking in some wonderful scenery, but this lonely lane in eastern Allegany County makes for a pretty spectacular walk in the woods.

Spiderwort

Spiderwort

Of Black Vultures and White Petals

I hope they're not trying to tell me something!

I hope they’re not trying to tell me something!

During a typical walk in the woods, the wildlife generally sees us before we see them.  Deer, squirrels, and birds flee as we think we’re stealthily heading down the trail, but occasionally an animal seems to be unaffected by our presence.  In fact, some seem to be a little bit too curious–but vultures?

Today, as we hiked the AT near Keys Gap, Candee noticed two Black Vultures hanging out about 20 feet from the trail.  They just kind of gawked at us as we passed, and my first inclination was to lift my arm and sniff my sweatshirt.  satisfied with passing the first test, I decided to check my pulse.  Fortunately, everything checked out, and a couple of minutes later they flew away.  What a relief!

It sounds like it would be good on a sandwich, but...

It sounds like it would be good on a sandwich, but…

Another unwelcome presence along the trail is Garlic Mustard.  Sure, it sounds delicious, but it’s actually an invasive plant that’s possibly even less popular than the vultures.  For example, along the C&O Canal, volunteer groups are trained in the identification and removal of the plant.  As a novice in the field of wildflower identification, I have never participated in removing these troublesome plants from the park (C&O or otherwise), but retaining as much of the native environment as possible is certainly a worthy cause.

Star Chickweed

Star Chickweed

Star Chickweed, on first appearance, doesn’t seem to be a candidate for anybody’s list of undesirables.  However, when I looked it up on Google, Ortho’s website was at the top of the page.  Go figure!  Star Chickweed appears to have ten individual petals, but there are actually five that are deeply cleft.  The plant is found throughout the eastern U.S., including the Great Smokey Mountains.  It’s edible and contains vitamins A and C, but until I channel my inner Ewell Gibbons, I’ll continue to carry the usual salami sandwich in my backpack–hold the garlic mustard!

Checking Out the Great Allegheny Passage (Frostburg to the Eastern Continental Divide)

The GAP, with a wind turbine in the background

The GAP, with a wind turbine in the background

A couple of years ago, Candee and I got away from biking a little bit.  She was training to walk the Camino de Santiago, and for purposes of this website, we opted for a more pedestrian form of recreation: one simply sees more on foot than on a bike.  These are among the reasons why I have never taken the time to check out the Great Allegheny Passage.  I was under the impression that it’s by-and-large a crowded bike path that simply isn’t a good place to take a hike.  Today’s round trip from Frostburg to the Eastern Continental Divide proved me wrong.

Borden Tunnel

Borden Tunnel (957′ in length)

Heading up the trail, the first point of interest is the Borden Tunnel.  Like Indigo, Stickpile, and Kessler, this tunnel was part of the old Western Maryland Railway and was abandoned in 1975.  However, Borden has been revamped due to being part of the GAP and doesn’t have the run-down appearance that we’re used to seeing in our neck of the woods.  The tunnel was completed in 1911 and was probably named after the Borden Mining Company.  Due to its diminutive length and broad opening (dual track width), it doesn’t require lighting.

Mason-Dixon monolith on the GAP

Mason-Dixon monolith on the GAP

A few miles up the trail from the tunnel, the GAP crosses the Mason-Dixon Line, and a tall granite marker sits on the right side of the trail.  Also, there is a row of granite blocks on the left that spell out “Mason & Dixon” in individual letters, and the boundary’s course is very clearly marked as it runs across the path.  The layout is elaborate and very well done, making it an obvious place to take a picture or a break.

"Mason & Dixon"

“Mason & Dixon”

As we continued up the GAP, the next feature was the Twin Ridges Wind Farm (Everpower).  The wind turbines are tall white structures with three long blades and are hardly the sort of thing Don Quixote would mistake for a dragon.  I have seen them from a distance and wondered how big of a turn-off they would be up close, but the wind farm actually blends into the scenery quite well and adds to (rather than detracts from) it in a unique way.

Capturing the wind

Capturing the wind

Over the lifetime of the project, the wind farm will pump an estimated $12 million in payments into the coffers of local townships and school districts.  An additional $5 million will be spent on local goods and services.  Also, Everpower created ten habitual structures for the endangered eastern small-footed bat, the same species being protected by the bat gate on the Indigo Tunnel just above the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal near mm’s 139 and 140.

Big Savage Tunnel, 3294'

Big Savage Tunnel, 3294′

As we pressed onward, we came to the impressive Big Savage Tunnel.  The tunnel’s walls are stuccoed, and the structure is very well lit.  Walking through it was vastly different from stumbling through the dark, damp Paw Paw Tunnel (on the C&O) which at 3118′ is nearly the same length.  Nevertheless, most of the Western Maryland Railway tunnels we’ve come across in the past are impassable for one reason or another, and it was a pleasure to actually walk through one of them.

Inside of the Big Savage Tunnel

Inside of the Big Savage Tunnel

All things “Savage” in this area are named after John Savage, a surveyor in this region in colonial times.  Interestingly enough, his survey team ran out of supplies and was near starvation, and he offered himself up to be eaten by the rest of the crew.  Fortunately, another group arrived with food before this tragic, macabre event occurred.

Eastern Continental Divide

Eastern Continental Divide

Our turning point for the day was a road overpass that marks the Eastern Continental Divide.  From this point east, the local streams make their way to the Chesapeake Bay, and to the west they head to the Gulf of Mexico.  The overpass contains murals celebrating the railroad, those who created the GAP, and the C&O Canal.  Naturally, our favorite was the C&O, which begins in Cumberland approximately twenty-four miles away as one heads east on the GAP.  In all, this was a great hike, and I may have to experience the Great Allegheny Passage on a bike someday.  It looks like a fantastic experience!

The lower right corner of the C&O Canal ural

The lower right corner of the C&O Canal mural

A Random Collection from Our Local Trails

Twin Oaks School--one room schoolhouse near the northern border of Green Ridge State Forest

Twin Oaks School–one room schoolhouse near the northern border of Green Ridge State Forest

Sometimes a picture just doesn’t fit into a particular post, but I came across three that have an interesting story behind them.  The one above didn’t work out with our Pine Lick Trail article because we bypassed the Twin Oaks Trail on our way to the Pennsylvania border at the northern end of Green Ridge State Forest.   This building is now privately owned and appears to have been modified, but it is the last of 20 one room schools that were once located in or near the confines of the forest.  We were surprised that the state didn’t own the building, which is near the small parking area beside Twin Oaks Trail close to the junction of the Old Cumberland and Double Pine Roads.

AT near Keys Gap

AT near Keys Gap

The section of the AT shown above reminds me of a story from Skywalker: Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail, by Bill Walker.  The book is one of my favorite AT thru-hiker narratives, and Walker makes mention of a training hike through this area previous to hiking the entire AT.  He overestimated the remaining daylight during a long hike and pressed on from Keys Gap to Harpers Ferry.  The result was stumbling through snow and over rocks at night on this rugged stretch of the trail.  Our hike from Keys Gap to Loudon Heights didn’t involve snow or darkness, but my feet were sore at the end of the day!

Capsized canoe between Indigo Neck hiker/biker and mm 140 on the C&O Canal

Capsized canoe between Indigo Neck hiker/biker and mm 140 on the C&O Canal

This was a scary sight–at least at first.  During a hike on the C&O we came across this capsized canoe about 80′ from the Maryland shore near Mile Marker 140.  The sensible conclusion is generally that the boat got away from somebody and floated downstream, but the weather has been dry in the area, leaving the river pretty low.  After a short discussion, Candee and her friend Jane convinced me to call the non-emergency number for Central Dispatch.  Within twenty minutes, a Maryland DNR  officer was driving down the towpath to check out the situation.  He scanned the area downstream for swamped boaters and gave us the good news on his way out: false alarm.  He did stress that it’s a good idea to contact an officer in any situation that looks out of place.  For those who don’t have the number handy, it’s (301)-714-2235.