Category Archives: Hiking

Places to Go, Things to See

The weekend looms. A good opportunity to review some of the places we’ve visited recently for relief from the continuing gloom of a city not yet recovered from COVID’s shutdown of the economy.

Over a span of a few months we have been on the road quite a bit. A very brief sample of some of the available delights follows, starting with the most distant from Washington:

Savage River Lodge

This place is located at the end of a 1.5 mile gravel road in upper northwest Maryland, best attempted only if you have at least a front-wheel drive vehicle and (in winter) 4-wheel drive. The lodge has a restaurant with outdoor seating and a collection of cabins and yurts for rent. The site is remote and hilly but abounds in natural beauty. It is an easy drive to Grantsville, MD and close to Frostburg.

In one day we saw about a dozen deer, a personal record. The Casselman Bridge in the last photo is in Grantsville whose principal attraction is the Hill Top Fruit Market which is mainly a candy store, lined with bins of all manner of sweet stuff, including many you haven’t seen since childhood. You can also buy fresh fruits and vegetables there. The Fernwood Soap shop and the flowers are in the Spruce Forest Artisan Village, adjacent to the Penn Alps Restaurant & Craft Shop.

Be advised that for a more accessible but still interesting “remote” experience, the cabins in New Germany State Park are very hospitable and inexpensive. They are a fun place to use as a base for exploring the area, maybe doing a little fishing, rafting and such.

Skyline Drive

This, of course, is the 105-mile mountain-top ride in Shenandoah National Park in the magnificent Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Don’t  think about driving the full length of the Drive unless you plan to stay overnight at some of the few on-site lodges. The speed limit is low and the road curves, rises and falls incessantly so fast driving is not in the cards. Besides, you’ll miss the scenery.

Great Falls Park After Hurricane Ida

One of the interesting aspects of Great Falls Park is that it is radically affected by upstream rainfall, which is evident in this small sample of photos showing the impact of Hurricane Ida having dropped massive water upstream. The water is high and brown. Impressive but you wouldn’t want to fall in.

Dyke Marsh

This little gem, about two miles roundtrip, flat as a pancake, can surprise you with unexpected visual delights. In the right season, red-wing blackbirds make the adjoining vegetation their nesting grounds. The Potomac River runs alongside. There are usually a few walkers along the way but even on weekends, we have found Dyke Marsh trail uncrowded and pleasant for a short easy walk. My wife’s uncanny ability to spot creatures in the wild accounts for the grasshoppers and Blue-tailed Skinks that I would have missed entirely.

Sadly, there is always evidence that humans have been here before us, seemingly the unavoidable consequence of so much nature so close to so many people who just don’t understand:

Tregaron

Finally, even closer to [our] home is Tregaron Conservancy, entered most conveniently from either Macomb Street NW or Klingle Road NW. It is situated between the Cleveland Park and Woodley Park neighborhoods just west of Rock Creek Park. The park is small but considering it’s in the middle of a city neighborhood, it has some interesting features, the best of which, for us, was the Lily Pond, small but full of life.

There were, of course, many more frogs and dragon flies, as well as a small armada of goldfish. The frogs are quite bold, as these photos attest.

Frogs have featured in Japanese haiku for centuries and somehow capture the essence:

The old pond

A frog leaps in.

Sound of the water.

What else is there to say?

Conclusion

We continue to be pleasantly surprised at the natural resources available around the Washington area and are often surprised by the wildlife that thrives in our midst. Walking slowly and observing quietly usually pays off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Day, Another Park

Since a certain group of people continue to prevent the country from escaping the pandemic, we remain in partial shutdown and, if you regard your health seriously, limited to where we can eat and otherwise do “normally.” The road ahead seems long and unpleasant.

Thus, desperate for escape, needy of stimulation and just to get some air, we visited yet another “local” park last weekend. Two actually, though one barely counts, as you will see.

Our destination was Neabsco Regional Park in Woodbridge, VA, billed as “300 acres of natural, recreational, and historic amenities including the Rippon Lodge Historic Site, Rippon Landing, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail Neabsco Creek Boardwalk, Julie J. Metz Neabsco Creek Wetlands Preserve, and portions of historic Kings Highway.” https://bit.ly/2VS0oYt We opted for the Boardwalk. You can see an aerial photo of the Boardwalk on the website.

The upside of the Boardwalk is that it’s a … boardwalk. You stay above the muck, mud and other “things” while having a broad view of the natural scene. The downside of the Boardwalk is that it enables bicyclists, strollers and large groups to move easily along and disrupt, in a minor way, your tranquility.

This is part of the Boardwalk that is surprisingly long:

The other outstanding feature of Neabsco is that the bog/swamp area is surprisingly uniform. For an area this large there appears to be relatively little biodiversity.

Nevertheless, the observant observer can see plenty of interesting activity in  and above the bush. In addition to the turtle “hotel”

we saw some beautiful flowers, though, curiously, they mostly were single blossoms poking through the surrounding greenery:

though, as always, there were brilliant exceptions:

But, of course, the real “juice” at a place like this is the wildlife and we had several delightful surprises. At ground level, there was this amazing  heron whose neck contortions in his slow hunt for food were astonishing to see up close:

By the way, the crawfish (we think) in his bill in the last picture escaped at the least moment! The heron took it in stride and resumed his stalking through the bog.

The thing is that in a place like this your attention is naturally drawn downward, but it’s important not to focus too much on what’s right in front of you. My wife’s vision for spotting animals in the wild is remarkable. and she detected these bald eagles quietly hunting and the osprey in a tree  probably a hundred yards away:

Largely sated by these experiences, we departed for Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where we limited ourselves to what is billed as the Wildlife Drive. Mistake. If you want to see what this Refuge has to offer, you’ll have to do it on foot. The Wildlife Drive looks like a narrow gravel road running among bushes and trees for it’s entire distance. Nothing to see. There are foot trails; check the map carefully to find them. The oddest thing was that these signs appeared throughout the drive:

We still haven’t figured out what you would dig for but it must be a real problem because there were a lot of signs. We were pretty disappointed in this experience, but it did not detract from the cool stuff in Neabsco. And, yes, the featured image at the top of this post, butterfly on flower, was taken there.

Mason Neck “State” Park

One of our former regular go-to outdoor places is Mason Neck State Park [https://bit.ly/3m3qFh8] which is technically in Lorton, VA, but for us is just a drive out Route 1 (Richmond Highway) and Gunston Road – total distance from our place is about an hour’s drive (40 minutes, in theory, for high risk drivers using I-395). “State” is in quotes because the Park is also the Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, which means my National Parks Lifetime Senior Pass is accepted for entry.

We returned there a couple of weekends ago. We chose to walk the one-mile Bayview Trail this time and had a remarkable experience, spying a number of forest creatures and some interesting trees as well. We encountered one of the rangers near the end of our walk and had an interesting discussion with her about the natural inhabitants of the park.

Here is a sample from our short walk.

A final word about the tree with carved initials. PLEASE don’t desecrate the forest this  way. You could kill a tree by exposing its inner systems to disease and insect attacks. If you see someone doing this to a tree, anywhere, take their picture if you can and report them to the appropriate authorities. Let’s keep our natural places as natural as possible so that everyone can enjoy them.

 

A Walk in the Park

 

Having barely survived the restraints of the pandemic in New York City before returning to Washington, we crave the outdoors, subject, of course, to the constraints of the insufferable heat and humidity. Fortunately, the area writ large has much to offer. One of our favorites has been Huntley Meadows in Alexandria. We returned there a couple of times in recent weeks, following an earlier visit when the plants were still dormant and it was cold, very cold. If you go in winter, wear warm clothes.

The recent trips were a cornucopia of delights, some of which are revealed by these photos, a small sample. The lead-in from the parking lot is a nice flat stroll on a fine-gravel path winding through tall trees and swamp-like undergrowth, in which you may see an occasional bird, but the goods lie ahead — when you enter the boardwalk.

You must pay attention to the near and the far to catch some of the remarkable sights.

More on the beaver in a moment. The turtles that inhabit Huntley Meadows can grow to surprising size but are hard to spot among the dense vegetation that surrounds the boardwalk. So too are the frogs whose relentless chorus you may hear, especially near evening:

The entire acreage of Huntley Meadows is covered with Swamp Roses that resemble hibiscus:

There are, however, many other beautiful flowers, sometimes hidden among the more prominent species:

The biggest treat for us are the foraging birds, who grow to shocking sizes, and the beaver on the special occasions when they fearlessly go about their business:

We’ve never had a boring visit to Huntley Meadows. Highly recommended. Best to go early or late because the parking lot can get crowded. And please leave a dollar or two in the box provided. Keep the beauty going.

Great Falls Park

A few weeks back we decided to escape the city for a brief outdoor experience at Great Falls Park on the Virginia side, where the Potomac River plunges through Mather Gorge. We’d last visited the park in the Before Times with my grandsons more than three years ago. It’s always awe inspiring. In peak season it was so crowded that cars lined up on the road leading into the park with very long waits to get in if you had the patience.

This day was cool and cloudy, but a surprisingly large number of visitors were there when we arrived. Nevertheless, staying distanced was quite easy and we enjoyed a leisurely walk along the trail north beside the raging river. The following photos reveal what we saw there. Sightings of eagles and ospreys have grown more common and the power of the water is remarkable.We don’t know what the water temperature was but surely it was near freezing. Not cold enough to deter the kayakers though.

If you decide to visit, be careful and stay well back from the water’s edge. Every year people underestimate the power of moving water and pay dearly for the mistake. View it all from above and appreciate the majesty of such remarkable site so close to the Capitol.