Archive for the ‘Tunnels’ Category

Early Autumn Scenes Along the C&O Canal

Paw Paw Bends

I really love these digital cameras.  I can take literally hundreds of pictures and keep the ones that aren’t blurry or close-ups of my thumb.  Candee actually has a bit of an eye for photography, but I’m not quite as lucky.  However, the C&O Canal NHP has enough great scenery to allow just about anybody to be a photographer–of sorts.

Paw Paw Tunnel

This image has kind of grown on me over time.  Visiting the Paw Paw Tunnel in the winter and seeing the upstream end boarded up is a little bit anticlimactic, but once you’re inside it’s even darker and scarier.  The “Tunnel Hollow” portal is left clear, so it’s still possible to get a look at the tunnel as it’s supposed to look.

Potomac at Little Orleans

This was taken on a frosty October morning.  An hour or two before, the Potomac Valley was covered in a heavy fog.  I’m actually standing at the Fifteenmile Creek boat ramp, and most of the time I would be about knee deep in water.  It has been a very dry year, and I suppose that’s a good thing, considering all of the work being done around Big Slackwater.

A baby fern on the cliffs of Big Slackwater

The Big Slackwater Project will make life a lot easier for hikers and bikers on the C&O Canal, and it offers a great view of the Potomac River.  However, some of the odd things growing on the bank and cliffs are also worth a look.  I suppose some will come for the river, and others for the trail, but a few will stop to check out the bugs and plants that we’ve been missing for years while taking the detour.

Mushroom on the trail

Fall is the perfect season for odd and colorful mushrooms.  Back in college, I must have gotten an F in Mushroom Identification 101, but apparently this little fellow is edible.  Something nibbled on the cap before deciding to move along.  Whether or not the diner left with a stomach ache is something that I’ll never know.

More Mushrooms

Actually, Candee is the main mushroom photographer.  At some point I yelled, “Give me my camera!  And quit taking pictures of those bleeping mushrooms!”  Nevertheless, when I go back and look through the pictures, some of the mushrooms look like a mixture of outer-space creature and modern art.

Satellite Dish?

Mushrooms seem to come in just about every shape and size.  This one kind of reminds me of the radio telescope at Green Bank, West Virginia.  While we were on the Appalachian Trail a couple of weeks ago, we ran into a group of people picking large, white mushrooms–for consumption I assume.  That all sounds well and good, but until I learn a lot more on the subject, I’ll continue to get my mushrooms from a can, courtesy of the Jolly Green Giant.

House near Bonds Landing

This is the house that can be seen from both the towpath and Kasecamp Road near Bonds Landing (mm 150).  The leaves are starting to change color in the background, and the scenery along the river should be spectacular in a matter of weeks.  The C&O Canal NHP and Green Ridge State Forest surround the house, so it’s an odd site for anybody that comes along, but it does add a bit of something to the view.  With that said, I can hardly wait to hit the canal again to see autumn in all of its glory.



Proposed WMRT Route: Walking from Indigo Tunnel to Little Orleans

About a tenth of a mile behind Bill's Place

Late in the spring, I mentioned that the proposed extension of the Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT) had three possible results: going all the way to Paw Paw, ending at the eastern portal of Stickpile Tunnel, or simply leaving the trail as it is with the terminus remaining at Pearre Station.  With that in mind, Candee and I hiked from the eastern portal of Indigo Tunnel to Pearre Station, noting all of the dangerous rock outcroppings and work that needed to be done.

WMRT route?

Since June, I haven’t heard a whole lot about extending the WMRT, but we decided to take a walk along the old railroad bed just to have a look.  From the Fifteen Mile Creek Campground, it’s a short walk back to the gate that marks the end of this section of the trail.  The path sits just above the canal, and people taking the towpath didn’t seem to notice us–probably because there isn’t much reason to check out this section of the old railroad

Are my eyes playing tricks on me, or is there a "face" in the rock?

I was expecting to see a lot of the same obstacles that exist on the other side of the tunnel heading toward Pearre Station.  However, this mile or so of trail is in excellent condition.  There aren’t any large trees growing in the path, and none of the rock formations seem capable of producing slides.  With the exception of ankle-high weeds, this is an easy walk, and there are a couple of manmade structures that are worth seeing.  For starters, there is a small culvert that runs under the old railroad, and back in the day, the wet-weather stream appeared to empty itself directly into the canal.

Old railroad culvert

Also, the trail ends at the picturesque western portal of the Indigo Tunnel.  The opening is fitted with a bat gate that was completed in August of 2011.  In my opinion, the western portal is more scenic than its eastern counterpart, and it can be accessed from the C&O Canal towpath in the vicinity of Mile Marker 140.  Heading downstream, the flat spot on the bank above the canal will run into a cliff.  From there, cut across the canal and up the bank, and the portal will be on the right.

Western Portal of the Indigo Tunnel

In conclusion, I would highly recommend a hike on the old Western Maryland Railroad right-of-way.  It’s just above the towpath, but when the leaves disappear in winter, it offers a different vista and perspective of the Potomac River valley.  If the Western Maryland Rail Trail is extended, a lot of thought and work will be required.  Nevertheless, until that happens, it’s okay to walk the trail and daydream about what may be.  If they build it, people will come.

View from the western portal of the Indigo Tunnel

Nobody Said It Was Easy

Tunnel Repair in '06

At 184.5 miles in length, the C&O Canal NHP is a ribbon of land that follows the Potomac River and its North Branch from Cumberland, Md. to Georgetown, DC.  With eleven aqueducts, seventy-five locks, over one-hundred culverts, and a 3118′ tunnel along the way, there’s plenty that can go wrong.  The Catoctin Creek Aqueduct project and repairs at Big Slackwater (scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2012) mark two major victories, but the fact remains that the National Park Service is under-funded.  According to the Canal Trust (, the C&O receives about 37% of the funding necessary to keep everything in top shape.  We took the above picture a few years ago, and the premise is that the Paw Paw Tunnel is a brick-lined, drippy mess that requires constant attention.  After all, nobody wants to be plunked on the head by a falling brick!

Superintendent's house at Paw Paw campground

The C&O Canal has plenty of friends and allies, such as volunteer groups like the C&O Canal Association and Canal Trust.  Toss in a very good maintenance staff and the rangers, and it appears as if the park can endure forever.  However, it must also be noted that the canal has some very powerful enemies–time, water, and a lack of funding.  The old house at the Paw Paw campsite has structural damage that isn’t likely to be fixed anytime soon, and many of the culverts have outer walls that have fallen in around them.  The end result could be sink holes and erosion that cause severe damage to the towpath.  It would be great to fix all of these problems, but it must be remembered that the national parks were nearly closed last year amidst some pretty severe budget cut proposals.  There really is no easy answer.

Foundation at Indigo Bend Campground

The C&O Canal ceased operations due to a severe flood in 1924 and basically “sat there” for decades.  During this time, many old lock houses fell into a state of disrepair, leaving nothing behind but their foundations.  Fortunately, there are many surviving houses, including #56 at Pearre Station.  During the flood of 2010, we were fortunate enough to meet two brothers who lived there in the 1930s.  We had no idea that the houses were occupied long after the canal boats stopped running.  Candee and I listened intently to their tales about swimming in the lock (now waterless) and “borrowing” coal from the nearby railroad.  I’m sure that every structure, both existing and in ruins, has a history of its own, and hopefully many generations of visitors will enjoy them.

Another job well done

As stated, we are fortunate to have a great maintenance staff taking care of the park.  The picture above is from one of our older posts and shows some of the destruction from a storm in June of 2011.  About .5 miles of the towpath and canal were littered with numerous broken and uprooted trees, and we had a difficult time getting our bikes through the mess.  We went back a couple of weeks later, expecting to see some progress, but much to our surprise, the cleanup crew had taken care of everything and the towpath looked as good as new.  Yes, man won that round, but there’s plenty that can go wrong, and you can bet that it will.

Flooding in Hancock, 2010

The C&O Canal NHP is a wonderful place for hikers, bikers, and history buffs.  It brings in approximately four-million visitors every year, and the money they spend is a bonanza for nearby towns.  However, the park shouldn’t be taken for granted.  We may love it, but the Potomac River (and its tributaries) and Father Time are determined opponents.  Likewise, the NPS doesn’t have the resources to make the park immune to nature’s influences.  As individuals, I suppose the best thing we can do is volunteer our time and lend a helping hand.  In the end, it’s a great investment.

McCoys Ferry, Four Locks, Dam 5…

Heading to McCoys Ferry

A Short Jaunt from McCoys Ferry...




Like many people, we’re guilty of straying far away from home to get our C&O Canal kicks.  McCoys Ferry (mm 110),  Four Locks (mm108), and Dam 5 (mm 107) are all about forty minutes away from our hometown of Martinsburg, but we have only seen them as blurs when riding by on our bikes.  It seemed like a good idea to take a short excursion prior to the Super Bowl, so we took to the road to see what we could see.




I’ll start with the McCoys Ferry campground and its environs.  On the way there, we noticed the Green Spring Covered Bridge about a half-mile from the towpath.  The bridge is actually a modern, decorative structure that spans a small stream as part of a driveway.  Don’t get me wrong: I would love to have my own covered bridge, but I found the nearby railroad trestle and culverts far more interesting.  In the beginning, I was drawn to the C&O primarily for its recreational value, but this history stuff has kind of rubbed off on me over the years.

At one time the railroad and the canal were bitter rivals, but the trestle merely blends into the scenery at McCoys Ferry.  Other amenities include numerous picnic tables and a boat ramp.  The area draws a crowd during the summer, but on Super Bowl Sunday, we had it all to ourselves and found the hike and sightseeing to be very enjoyable.

Railroad trestle at McCoys Ferry

Candee’s son Tyler tagged along on today’s hike, and he was primarily interested in finding a good place to fish this summer.  The Potomac runs slow and deep for a few miles above Dam 5, and I’m thinking that the catfishing is probably pretty good.

Potomac view

One for the history buffs


Like many areas along the canal and river, McCoys Ferry is part of Civil War history.  According to the sign, the Confederates tried to capture the ferry boat at McCoys landing but were rebuffed by the Clear Spring Guard.  Also, J.E.B. Stewart crossed the river here on his second ride around McClellan’s army.




We are generally drawn to the canal for its recreational value, but occasionally the C&O’s structures catch our eyes.  Some are easily spotted from the towpath, but the culverts are generally overlooked by hikers and bikers.


Culvert near McCoys Ferry

There are eleven aqueducts along the C&O Canal, and they mark the points where the canal crosses over larger streams.  Culverts, on the other hand, occur where smaller streams were routed underneath of the canal.  I’m hardly the expert, but there are over one hundred culverts, and many of them are very impressive.

Fellow C&O Canal Association member Steve Dean has photographed all of the culverts and plans on turning his efforts into a book.  People who have an interest in the canal’s structures and history have opened our eyes a bit over the years, and the locks, aqueducts, and culverts are as different from each other as the diverse groups who built them.  I would certainly advise hikers and bikers to get off of the trail and take a look around.  There’s a lot more to the park than what meets the eye!

Another culvert...reminded Candee of a scene from The Hobbit

From McCoys Ferry, it’s a short ride to Four Locks.  The site gets its name from the four locks that raised the canal thirty-three feet in order to cut across Prather’s Neck and bypass a four mile bend in the Potomac River.  Lock House 49 is open to the public for overnight lodging.  It’s a bit on the rustic side, but it would be a great spot to stop while doing a through-ride from Cumberland to Georgetown.

Lock House 49 at Four Locks...Come Spend the Night!

What's this? Any Ideas?



I guess you could say that Four Locks holds a special place in our hearts.  On our 2011 ride, we ran into heavy storm debris above Little Orleans and several more downed trees well below Hancock.







We were forced to lift our bikes over countless snags and even had to walk them through the canal bed in places.  By the time we reached Four Locks, we were worn out and frustrated, but I remember saying, “Enjoy the next mile.  It’s down hill and on the house.”  The easy pedaling and coasting seemed to lift our spirits, and we never lost momentum the rest of the way.


Looking up from the river toward the lock house


From Four Locks, we took another short ride into the Dam Five area.  The dam and river create an image that is worthy of a post card.  The dam was completed in 1857 and survived several of Stonewall Jackson’s attempts at destroying it during the Civil War.  During low water, many fishermen can be seen fishing from the rocks directly below the dam, sometimes as far out as the middle of the river.

Dam 5


In all, the scenery between McCoys Ferry and Dam Five is outstanding.  Likewise, heading upstream leads one to Fort Frederick State Park and Big Pool.  There are many places along the C&O that look relatively similar around every bend, but this section reveals something new and interesting along the way for both newcomers to the park and canal aficionados.  In spite of traveling through every mile of the park several times, Candee and I have missed a lot of interesting things.  With that in mind, today made for three wonderful short hikes, and, like most excursions, we learned a number of new facts and saw things we’ve never seen before.  Until next time…


Another View from Dam 5


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!