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Friday, July 1, 2022

Paddling Pohick Bay

Wednesday, June 29, 2022 

Hi Blog!

The other day we stopped to check out Pohick Bay Regional Park in Lorton, VA. We have reservations to stay in their campground next March and were curious about the location. After a walking around the campground, we went down to the marina. We were impressed with the boat launch and the surrounding estuary. We decided that after our six mile hike yesterday, today would be a good day to paddle.

Just as we were getting ready to shove off, a busload of summer campers joined us. Their camp counselors barked orders as the their young charges began unloading pontoons, rudders and sails from their trailer. We managed to sneak out before they launched.

Just beyond the boat launch was a wooden structure that might have once been a duck blind. Today, it is a nesting platform for an osprey family.

As we paddled up the bay toward the entrance of Pohick Creek, we noticed several small objects bobbing along the surface. We managed to scoop a couple up and discovered they were empty snail shells. Some poor hermit crab is missing his condo.

Pohick is a Native American word that means “the water place”. The land along the south side of the bay was purchased for park purposes in the late 1960s, and by 1972 the park was opened. As we paddled along the shoreline, we noticed there were still a couple houses within the park boundaries. From a quick Zillow search, it appears these properties were not part of the park purchase.

As we made our way further up the bay, we were followed by an osprey who kept checking our wake to see if we stirred up any fish.

On the north side of Pohick Bay is Fort Belvoir, a census-designated place and home to a number of significant United States military organizations. With nearly twice as many workers as The Pentagon, Fort Belvoir is the largest employer in Fairfax County. 

All around the bay, we noticed various duck blinds. Fort Belvoir's waterfowl hunting program manages the blinds.  The waterways are divided into 3 zones and contain a total of 26 blinds, each blind holds 4 hunters.  Zones are rotated throughout the week to provide resting/foraging/loafing for bald eagles and waterfowl.  All blinds are open on Saturdays, and all blinds are closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

We found a few bird boxes along the shoreline. They  appear to have seen better days. Despite the rundown housing conditions, over 198 different birds have been seen in Pohick Bay.

Each blind we encountered has its own personality.

In addition to the bird boxes, a number of osprey platforms were along the creek channel. While osprey generally prefer higher accommodation, this heron thought the platform made a great perch to watch the fish swim by.

As we made our way upstream we startled a bald eagle and he flew from his perch in front of us. We didn't notice, at first, that there were actually two bald eagles. The second one stayed behind.

Pohick Bay Regional Park is located on the Mason Neck. The Mason Neck peninsula was inhabited by the first nations Doeg people prior to the arrival of European settlers. The recorded history of Mason Neck began around 1755 with the construction of Gunston Hall, the plantation house of George Mason, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Today, great white egrets ply the waters of the former plantation.

In addition to bald eagles, Mason Neck is home to a variety of animal species. Birds include great blue herons, Canada geese, ospreys, wood ducks, teal, owls, and woodpeckers. Whitetail deer are common, along with beavers, muskrats, groundhogs, and foxes. A diverse population of frogs and toads can be heard on summer nights. Eastern box turtles, eastern snapping turtles, wood turtles, and spotted turtles can all be found around ponds, streams, and marshes, as well as snakes, such as the northern copperhead and the northern black racer.

Two egrets sitting in a tree....k-i-s-s-i-n-g! First comes love, then comes marriage -- soon they'll be pushing a baby carriage! :)

Native to the Middle East and Asia, the mimosa tree was brought to this country in 1785 by the famous French botanist Andre Michaux, who planted it in his botanic garden in Charleston, South Carolina. Thriving in the southern climate, the plant grew quickly into a vase-shaped, flat-topped tree that reached 30- to 40-feet tall. The flowers, attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds, and colonial gardeners, ranged in color from nearly red to deep pink to flesh-pink to white. 

We found a beachy spot for lunch in the shadow of one of the old bird boxes. We noticed the water level was dropping. We didn't check the tide charts to see if Pohick Bay was affected by tide change. We decided to play it safe and head back into the main part of the bay where tide change wouldn't affect our paddling.

The cormorant is a prehistoric-looking, matte-black fishing bird with yellow-orange facial skin. Though they look like a combination of a goose and a loon, they are relatives of frigate birds and boobies and are a common sight around fresh and salt water across North America—perhaps attracting the most attention when they stand on docks, rocky islands, and channel markers, their wings spread out to dry. These solid, heavy-boned birds are experts at diving to catch small fish.

The Osprey is unique among North American raptors for its diet of live fish and ability to dive into water to catch them,. Ospreys are common sights soaring over shorelines, patrolling waterways, and standing on their huge stick nests, white heads gleaming. These large, rangy hawks do well around humans and have rebounded in significant numbers following the ban on the pesticide DDT. 

We couldn't resist bagging one last duck blind.

As the afternoon warmed up, we made our way back to the boat launch. It was an all-out race between us and the summer camp kids to see who would make it back first. We won!

We really enjoyed our time on Pohick Bay and hope to explore other parts of the bay in the future. The July 4th Holiday is fast approaching and we'll be busy with lots of family and kid activities. It may be a few days before we can blog again. Until then, keep smiling!

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Hiking South Valley Trail in Prince William Forest Park

After hiking the North Valley Trail along Quantico Creek last Wednesday, we haven't gotten out as much as we'd like because we're helping our son, daughter-in-law and grandson prepare to leave for a new job overseas.  We were off duty today, so we decided to try another trail in Prince William Forest Park.  This trail followed the South Fork of Quantico Creek, and led us from one of the parking areas, three miles along the creek, to a man-made lake near two cabin camps (more on that later).

Our trail started out near a shorter trail known as the "Algonquian Trail" because local tribes of the Algonquian Nation had lived and hunted in this region and followed trails along this creek:

Much of the trail runs along the South Fork of Quantico Creek, and it showcases the geology of the area, including these blocky cliffs of ancient volcanic stone:

The terrain is rolling, having been eroded over millennia by floodwaters and runoff.  At one point, we could see the uneroded shoulder of one old formation, which to us looked like the back of a sleeping dinosaur:

While the trail followed the north bank of the creek, we crossed numerous bridges spanning tributaries.  Here, David admires one of the newer bridges:

At this time of early summer, the streamside vegetation was lush, and a number of sections of water were open and free of deadfall:

In one open section of the stream, Kathy spotted this larger fish, which might have been a young bass, well disguised as he held among rafts of vegetation to snare morsels of food as they floated downstream:

We were astounded as how huge the rootball of this fallen old tree was.  The woods harbored a number of very old hardwood trees along with much younger ones.

Most of the Spring blossoms are past their prime, but we did spot this beautiful wildflower, and Kathy picked some early-ripened raspberries, most of which are not yet due for another week or two.  We resolved to come back in a short while to see if we can pluck some perfectly red, ripe ones!

Many sections of the trail boast the original stonework of the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, which constructed the trail, but in places, more recent improvements, such as this wooden railing, have been added:

Speaking of big old trees, David found another one, and gave it a hug to let it know we appreciate the fact that it's still standing:

The Park abuts Quantico Marine Base.  During part of our hike, we heard a series of helicopter-type noises overhead, and finally got a glimpse of one of the craft, which was an Osprey, presumably practicing maneuvers:

The noisy activity above didn't seem to disturb the bucolic calm below, however, and we found placid beauty everywhere we looked along the stream:

Nearing the lake, which was to be our lunch spot and turnaround point, we passed this arching footbridge, which is of quite a unique design.   We learned later that it was built by the Sierra Club as a demonstration project.

Here is another view of the bridge from below along the Creek.  See if you can spot Kathy peeking out from atop it:

Just after the bridge, we reached the spillway of the dam that impounds Lake 2 and 5.  It was hard to get close enough and in an appropriate location to get a good photo, but the one below should give you an idea how high and impressive it was for such a small stream:

Prior to its establishment as Prince William Forest Park, the park's land was known as the Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area.  Recreation Demonstration Areas (or "RDA"s) were conceived in the 1930's to make outdoor resources available to inner-city residents.  The CCC started work on the Chopawamsic RDA in 1935, building five cabin camps in the park for use by urban youth groups and welfare agencies. During World War II, the park and cabin camps used by the Office of Strategic Services as a training grounds for recruits. Today, the cabins can be rented out by different groups and individuals.
Passing the dam and spillway, we reached Lake 2 and 5 itself, so called because it was constructed by the CCC for recreation by users of Cabin Camps 2 and 5.  The photo below shows an old dock presumably used for boating and to contain a swimming area for campers.  It was on the opposite side of the lake, which was a further hike than we were planning, so we didn't have a chance to walk out on the dock and check out the Cabin Camp.

We explored the far end of the lake and returned to a pretty little postage-stamp beach to rest, admire the view, and eat our lunch --

-- before returning the 3 miles back to our trailhead.  The day was relatively cool, in the mid-70's, and with low humidity, so, with a light breeze and the shade of the forest, we had a most enjoyable sojourn.

Stay healthy and happy my friends!

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Hiking Quantico Creek in Prince William Forest Park

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Hi Blog!

We finished our two weeks at Bull Run and have moved over to the Prince William Forest RV Campground in Dumfries, Virginia. We had stayed here before, but never had enough time to explore. We hope between taking care of our Grandpuppy Bubu after his hip surgery and ferrying William to and from golf camp, that we'll find time to explore the 37 miles of hiking trails and 21 miles of biking trails. 

 We made our first stop of the day at the Visitor Center to pick up maps and information.

Prince William Forest Park is an interesting place. The story starts with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. In 1933, Roosevelt created a new kind of park, the Recreational Demonstration Area (RDA) to reuse marginal, overworked land. The park was built by the New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC). Over 2,000 CCC enrollees came to work along the Chopawamsic and Quantico Creeks. The Chopawamsic RDA (now known as Prince William) was a model for the entire nation, one of 46 such land-use park projects. It was to be a new type of camp where low-income, inner-city children and families could get away and experience the great outdoors.

The CCC camping cabins were ready in the summer of 1936. There were camps for boys, girls and mothers and tots. Each camp housed up to 200, who stayed for two to three weeks. Charity-funded groups and social agencies sponsored and ran the camps. While the Chopawamsic RDS was the first to welcome inner-city kids, the camps were segregated by race. Today, the larger cabins are still used by various organizations, but a few of the smaller cabins are available for rent. 
You, too, can stay in an original CCC cabin! (Pretty sure the window air conditioner was not part of the original design.)

For today's adventure, we set our sights on the old Cabin Branch Mine site. We decided we would approach the old mine site by hiking down the Quantico Cascades Trail to Quantico Falls, and then down the North Valley Trail. 
To reach our trailhead, we took the park's Scenic Drive, a ten mile loop around the heart of the park. We made a quick detour to check out Carter's Pond. We later learned that there is a black bear that likes to hang out there. Unfortunately, we didn't spot the bear during our stop.

The first part of our hike was along the Quantico Cascade Trail which leads downhill to Quantico Creek.  It is coincident with the Park's Geology Trail, which informs the hiker about the geology of this area.
"What geology?" you ask. 
Prince William Forest Park is located along the Fall Line between the Piedmont Region and Coastal Plains in Virginia. Piedmont is an Italian word that means "foot of the mountain." The Piedmont Region of Virginia is located to the east of the Blue Ridge Mountains and west of the Fall Line. The Fall Line is the natural border that lies between the Piedmont Region and the Coastal Plain/Tidewater Region.

It just wouldn't be a good hike if we didn't start with a trailhead selfie!

Since our hike followed the Geology Trail, there were still several of old "hysterical" markers still remaining that discuss the geology of this region, but many of the old markers were damaged by weather and falling trees. Today, folks can follow this link to the Geology E-Trail.
David was intrigued with the idea of a Geology Trail, and wondered what we would find:

Well, here is what we found.
The rocks laying in Quantico Creek are the metamorphosed remnants of ocean sediments and volcanic flows. These rocks are part of the Chopawamsic (Chop-uh-wam-zik) formation. Chopawamsic rocks cover almost of the entire northern and western sections of the park. The pinkish lines running through the rock are quartz and formed as an addition to the rock at a much later date.

At the Cascades, we discovered the first wildlife of the day (well, if you don't count the dozens of squirrels, which were everywhere)! Ruby would have loved to visit this park.

It's not often you find trees on the East Coast that are so large you can't wrap your hands around them.

Hidden beneath the layers of soil and leaves at this site is the boundary between the Piedmont and Coastal Plain. The cascading sections of the north branch of Quantico Creek reveal the presence of this boundary. 
The Fall Line is the name given to this boundary between the Piedmont and Coastal regions.  It extends from New Jersey to Georgia. The stream flows downstream through natural cracks or joint systems in the rock. During floods, the seemingly immovable rocks in this stream are rolled along the bed or bottom. This part of Quantico Creek is transporting large amounts of sediment as well as eroding the exposed rocks.

Prince William Forest Park preserves approximately 15,000 acres of Piedmont forest covering a significant portion of the Quantico Creek watershed. The park represents one of the largest parcels of undeveloped land in the area and is the third largest unit of the National Park System in Virginia. That, combined with the fact that it is the largest example of a Piedmont forest in the national park system, makes it a significant natural resource. 
Besides that, it is really cool on a hot summer day!

It is amazing, after all these years, to find the work of the CCC sprinkled around the park. For example, we happened upon this simple bench built in 1933 that will probably still be here in 2033:

After meandering along the North Valley Trail, we found the first evidence of the Cabin Branch Pyrite Mine. The concrete foundations are still visible.

The Cabin Branch Pyrite Mine began operations in 1889 after pyrite (a shiny yellow mineral consisting of iron disulfide and also known as "fools gold") was discovered near the North and South Forks of the Quantico Creek. The Cabin Branch Mining Company operated from 1889 to 1908 on a limited basis and provided opportunities for industrial growth in the area following the Civil War. Pyrite was used to create sulfur, which was a necessary ingredient in products such as glass, soap, bleach, textiles, paper, dye, medicine, sugar, rubber, and fertilizer. When World War I broke out, the Cabin Branch Pyrite Mine contributed to the production of gunpowder.

Our hike would now take us on a loop around the old mine site.

We crossed the creek on a new footbridge.

The new boardwalk is made of a composite material made to last for decades.

The Blue Tailed Skink or Five Lined Skink is a species of lizard that is native to the Eastern United States and parts of South-Eastern Canada. It is always a surprise to see that bright blue flash across your path.

As we continued along the boardwalk, we came to the Cabin Branch Pyrite Mine Overlook. During the mine’s operation, more than 200,000 tons of pyrite was brought to the surface and processed into sulfuric acid. The mining operation had a devastating effect on the surround landscape.

However, since the Park Service took over the restoration of the property in 1994, you can't even see where the mine was located, due to all the tree growth:

After we completed our history loop, we made our way back to the trailhead. While we didn't actually see a beaver, there is no doubt this tree stump was once gnawed on by a beaver. As it turns out, beavers were almost extinct and had completely vanished from Virginia in the 1890s. In 1950, two pairs of beavers were released in Mary Bird Branch and their population has thrived in Prince William Forest Park ever since. In the late 1990s, it was estimated that over 80 beavers lived in the park. One of them chomped this small tree.

Just as we were finishing our hike, two deer crossed our path. The older one, a female, bolted up and over the nearby hill. The younger one, a male, seemed curious and watched us from across the creek. The young buck had two little points atop his head.

We finished our hike with a picnic at the trailhead. We made it back in time to give Ruby a short walk before the afternoon thunderstorms pounded us with rain. We were glad we got an early start today.

It may be a few days before we can get back out to Prince William. Until then, stay thirsty my friends.