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Monday, October 18, 2021

AT Hike from Ashby Gap to Rod Hollow Shelter

 Thursday, October 14, 2021

Hi Blog!

It took a couple days to recover from Birthday Weekend. With all our chores done, it was time to hit the trail again. As many of you know, one of our most favorite places to hike is along the Appalachian Trail. From our campground in Bull Run Region Park, we are only a short 45 minute drive away. For this hike, we decided to head back to the Ashby Gap. We had already hiked south from the gap. This time, we would be hiking north. There's not much of a trailhead - just a small "trail parking" sign and some blue blazes leading down the hill to the Appalachian Trail. So, here is our "trailhead" selfie!


In order to cross Highway 50/17 at Ashby Gap, the AT comes down off the ridge which means we needed to hike up to the ridge. The trail is rocky, so hiking boots are a must. Notice the "fun guys" peaking out from under the rocks.


The white blaze is synonymous with the Appalachian Trail. WhiteBlaze.net is a web site dedicated to AT thru hikers. The book White Blaze is a complete guide to the AT. No one knows for sure how many white blazes line the AT. The National Park Service estimates that there are over 165,000.


As we hiked along, the signs of fall were all around us. We are still several weeks away from peak color, but plenty of leaves were already on the ground. We noticed this little wooly bear caterpillar catching some rays on a sunny rock. Folklore says that the longer the woolly bear's black bands, the longer, colder, snowier, and more severe the winter will be. Similarly, the wider the middle brown band is associated with a milder upcoming winter. 


We were curious about the Myron Glaser Cabin. This section of the AT is maintained by the PATC (Potomac Appalachian Trail Club).  The PACT maintains 42 cabins to provide hiking and outdoor experiences for its members. Only 17 of these cabins are open to the public. These cabins extend from Charlottesville, Virginia through Maryland, West Virginia, and reach as far north as Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. Each cabin tells a unique, vibrant story; they were constructed by forest rangers, PATC members and benefactors, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and even Prohibition-era moonshiners. 


The Myron Glaser Cabin was donated anonymously, so we are not entire sure of its backstory. In 1978, the cabin was dedicated to the memory of Myron Glaser, a long time member of PATC and travel writer for the Washington Daily News.


This area was settled in the early 1800s. From 1861 to 1864, the Ashby Gap area saw several different battles during the Civil War. We couldn't determine is this was an old farm fence or a Civil War barricade, or perhaps both. The trail travels right through the stone wall.


We don't often encounter actual stairs on the AT, but when we do, we give thanks to the hard working trail crew that installed them.


Boardwalks are also fun to find, especially through wet and marshy areas.


We thought the Rod Hollow Shelter would make a nice lunch stop. The blue blazed side trail to the shelter was well marked.


The Rod Hollow Shelter was constructed by volunteers from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club in the summer of 1985. It is located several miles north of Paris, Virginia and is the last stop before the "rollercoaster" section of the AT in Northern Virginia. One unique feature of this shelter is the double decker sleeping platform.


We enjoyed our lunch under the covered picnic shelter. There were no other hikers around since the folks who stayed the night had packed out already, and those using the shelter this night had not yet arrived.


We've seen some unusual things along the trail, but none as strange as the Osage Orange. Maclura pomifera, commonly known as the Osage orange, horse apple, hedge, or hedge apple tree is a small deciduous tree or large shrub. The distinctive fruit is round, bumpy, 3 to 6 inches in diameter, and turns bright yellow-green in the fall. Despite the name Osage Orange, it is not related to the orange. It is a member of the mulberry family. It has also been referred to as monkey ball, monkey brains, yellow-wood and mock orange.


After lunch, we hiked back up to the AT. Dave checked the trail marker to make sure we are headed in the correct direction. The next shelter southbound is the Whiskey Hollow Shelter, which is nine miles away. Luckily for us, our Jeep was parked only four miles away.

On our way back to the trailhead, we ran into several section hikers who stayed the night at Whiskey Hollow and were making their way to Rod Hollow Shelter. They were very excited to know that the shelter was large, clean and had a well maintained privy, complete with toilet paper! 

When thru-hiking, it's the little things that matter.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Bicycling in Bull Run Regional Park - Discovering the Harris Cemetery and Manumitted Slaves

When we were bicycling around Bull Run Regional Park today, we found a plot of ground, bordered by a wooden split rail fence, with a sign identifying it as the "Harris Cemetery."  Not knowing what it was, Kathy whipped out her trusty Google device and searched --

-- finding a web page of the Fairfax County Park Authority titled, "A Little-known African American Community at Bull Run" which reads in full as follows:


“… I have for some time past been convinced that to retain them in Slavery is contrary to the true principles of Religion & justice, & that therefore it was my duty to manumit them…”.

So wrote Robert Carter III in his Deed of Gift on August 1, 1791. Carter, one of Virginia’s wealthiest landowners, arranged to manumit the 452 people enslaved on his twelve farms, including the 809-acre Leo farm that spanned Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties. Some of the 43 women, men and children emancipated from Leo farm would establish a small community in Fairfax County south of Centreville between Bull Run and Cub Run. Over the next 200 years their settlement would thrive, becoming one of the largest African American communities in Fairfax County.

Nathaniel Harris, Uriah Amager and their 18 family members settled north of Bull Run before 1810. By 1820, 12 households including the Harrises, Burkes, Paynes, Amagers and Clarks also established farms in the area and the population had grown to 52. Jesse Harris purchased the 211-acre “Waterside” tract in 1844. By 1859, the Harris family alone owned over 570 acres. As early as 1854, local families founded the Cub Run Primitive Baptist Church, which still stands on Compton Road. Throughout the next decades, all families were engaged in agriculture, producing primarily wheat and corn, and supporting local merchant mills and stores. Many were related to James Robinson, a free African American whose farm site is now preserved at Manassas National Battlefield Park.

The free African American farmers above Bull Run were not spared when the Centreville region became a battleground during 1861-1862. Confederate and Union Armies repeatedly destroyed property and requisitioned crops and animals. After the war, Jesse and Obed Harris filed claims with the Federal government. Each received compensation for property that Union forces had taken in 1862. Families resumed life and slowly regained economic footing. In February 1868, Charles Harris successfully appealed to the Freedmen’s Bureau for $150 to complete a school for local children. The Rock Hill “Schl Ho” sits among the Harris, Naylor, Jordan and other homesteads that comprised the community in 1879, as seen on G. M. Hopkins’ map of Centreville District No. 1, Fairfax County (detail, Library of Congress).

Historical cemeteries and the Cub Run Primitive Baptist Church are among the few known physical remnants of the African American community that once flourished at Bull Run. Nonetheless, many proud descendants of families who established and once resided there enthusiastically research and share information that sheds light on their ancestors.

Author Heather Hembrey is the Assistant Collections Manager for the Archaeology and Collections Branch. Her research is used to inform the archaeological work done throughout the county.

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It was fascinating to learn that free Black persons formed a community in the area, but it was doubly interesting to find, when we examined the map in the photo above, that virtually all of Bull Run Regional Park sits on land formerly owned by members of that community.  All we had previously known about the park's history was that it saw quite a bit of action during the Civil War, most notably at Blackburn’s Ford, where a federal brigade attempted to cross, but Confederate fire forced Union commanders to cross the creek farther upstream. The site of Blackburn's Ford is visible just a short walk down the Occoquan Trail along the creek, near the crossing of modern day Route 28.  In addition, the 19.6 mile Bull Run Occoquan Trail served over the years as part of a system of Native American trails, trade routes, and later as civil war supply routes.

Leaving our bicycles and walking into the cemetery,  we found that an area within the fencing has been mowed from time to time, but is fairly rough ground.  Rough unengraved stones mark some of the graves.  

A closer examination of the sign at the front of the cemetery --


-- reveals that a certain Andrew LaFosse led a crew to clean up the cemetery (and possibly uncover and reset headstones) in 2009 and 2012, as part of a Scout project.  We tried to find information about that project, but were unsuccessful, so poor Andrew's work will have to get only this much credit.

All of this is to show that you never know what interesting history you'll find when you turn the next corner!

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Camp Sharktooth Birthday Celebration 2021

Finally, it's here!  Birthday Weekend and the Awards Ceremony for Camp Sharktooth 2021!

William and his Mom and Dad, and Gugu Katie were all to converge on our RV for a birthday party on Saturday, October 9, before Katie had to jet off for a wedding in Kansas City.  We made all the preparations, including a BIG "Happy Birthday William!" with the Camp Sharktooth logo:


Weina had purchased the birthday decorations themselves, and she, Matt and William set about hanging them as soon as they arrived:



We had pumpkins for carving, and everyone exercised maximum creativity.  Our final works were displayed by the RV.  Weina's and William's got the award for Scariest Design of a Jack O'Lantern.  Kathy got Most Classic Jack O'Lantern.  Matt got the award for Most Bubu-Like Jack O'Lantern (complete with tongue hanging out one side of its mouth).  Katie got Most Emoji-Like Jack O'Lantern.  David got Most Picasso-Like Jack O'Lantern.  This was the most awarded pumpkin carving contest ever.


In addition to being the celebration of Matt's and William's birthdays, it was also the occasion for William's graduation ceremony for Camp Sharktooth - The Second Year.  Kathy pulled out a Camp Sharktooth Lanyard with lots of pins representing William's activities and achievements and presented them to the group for admiring --


-- then presented William with the lanyard and invested him with it:


From there, we didn't hesitate to jump right into a campfire dinner and birthday cake -- William's favorite selection of Red Velvet with butter cream icing.  

And of course there were presents.  William scored some great ones, including these spirit stones from Gugu, which William loved:


Gugu jetted off Sunday morning, and we puppysat for puppies Beth and Ruthie.  We had lots of pawful adventures the whole day.  William volunteered to sleep overnight at Gugu's hotel room to help David keep the puppers company.  Here, the whole crew gets settled for the evening with a movie called (appropriately enough), "Dog Gone Trouble":


Then it was time for bed.  David and William signed off with a sleepytime selfy to send to Weina, Matt, Kathy and Katie:

Good night, everyone, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY MATT AND WILLIAM!

Sunday, October 3, 2021

A Fall Paddle on the Brandywine

Sunday, October 3, 2021 

Hi Blog!

Our current campground, the Philadelphia/West Chester KOA (which is actually located in Embreeville), sits on the banks of the West Branch of Brandywine Creek. When last we camped here in 2014, we did not have kayaks. We could have rented one of the campground's canoes pictured below, but epic rain made the creek difficult to paddle. While, we have had our fair share of rain during our stay this time, the creek seems to have settled down enough for us to launch our kayaks.


The West Branch Brandywine Creek is a 33-mile-long tributary of Brandywine Creek in Chester County. It is not often we get to launch our kayaks from our campground. Since our campsite sits high above the creek, we did ask Dusty to bring the kayaks down to the boat launch.


The West Branch Brandywine Creek is a favorite layover for migrating Canada Geese. The farm fields across the creek from our campground made a great landing spot. The geese then slide right into the water. Or, in this case, quickly leave the water as noisy kayakers approach.


While, the creek had a few feet of water in certain sections, there were other sections where our kayaks just barely skimmed over the gravel bottom. The deep slow areas made for great reflective photos.


This area of the Brandywine Valley was the America's paper milling center and the major supplier to the print shop of Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia. In 1776, the mills supplied the paper to print currency for the colonies and the Continental Congress, including the Declaration of Independence. Those early businesses gave way to the railroad line that runs along the creek. 

The folks that live on the other side of the tracks have placed their own private dock along the banks.


While peak color is not expected in this part of Pennsylvania until October 22nd, we are seeing signs of fall all around us.


As we paddled up stream, each riffle we encountered provided us with plenty of challenges, while the calm areas between the riffles gave us plenty of photo opportunities.


This quiet pool was once a favorite with the kids. We noticed an old rope and chain hanging from a tree. As we looked about, the old tire that was once connected to the rope lay abandoned in the bottom of the pool.


Hurricane Ida was not kind to this part of Pennsylvania. There are still 9 bridges out in Chester County, including the Embreeville Bridge down the street from the campground. Huge trees were uprooted and floated downstream on the flood, where they beached themselves on a gravel bar. Luckily, we were able to paddle around the deadfall without having to portage.


We were surprised to see fly fishermen on the creek. While the creek is stocked with trout in April, the stocking is done several miles north of Coatesville. As the creek levels go down in the summer, so do the number of trout. 

These said they were after bass. We told them of a big pool just downstream from the fallen trees behind them. We don't know if they ever tried that spot, but it certainly had a large number of big fish in it.


As we approached the bridge of Laurel Road, both our kayaks bottomed out. We decided that this would be our turnaround. We managed to kayak upstream for a little over a mile.


The return trip to the campground was more of a float downstream than a paddle. It was a beautiful day to be out on the water.


We drifted by so slowly, the geese didn't even bother to more.


When we first put in, it seemed there were two competing gaggles of geese. The two groups were facing off like the Sharks and Jets of West Side Story. We were happy to paddle away from all the uproar. However, when we returned, they appeared to be one large happy family.


We drifted by as dozen of geese were taking a bath. We caught this guy in mid-splish-splash!


Just past our campground is the Embreeville Dam. To the left of the dam is the old mill race which leads to the Embreeville Mill. The rains from Hurricane Ida raced through the mill race and damaged a portion of the Embreeville Bridge. It may be months before the bridge can be repaired.

We finished our paddle and brought the boats back to camp to dry out. More rain is expected, so we are not sure what adventures await us in the remainder of our stay here.


Friday, October 1, 2021

Hiking the Hausmann Trail in ChesLen Preserve

So far, our stay in Chester County, Pennsylvania, west of Philadelphia, has involved just about everything other than our usual outdoor activities.  Each weekend day has been absorbed in visiting family in the area, and most of the weekdays have been devoted to having our water heater replaced, restocking our refrigerator, and fussing with a minor leak from the new water heater.  Luckily, our campground is lovely, and little Ruby kitten has enjoyed exploring it.  We've enjoyed morning walks in the area, including down by the Brandywine Creek, which flows past the campground.

One reason we like this campground is that the 1,282-acre ChesLen Preserve sits right across the road from us.  It is one of the region's largest private nature preserves.  It was the vision of local philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, whose donation of 568 acres to the Natural Lands Trust inspired Chester County to transfer 500 additional acres.  Subsequent purchases of additional lands rounded out the Preserve as we know it today.

We were here in May 2014, when we used ChesLen Preserve for some soggy hiking after a flood, and for long-distance running to train for the 2014 Broad Street Run in Philly with Katie and Matt.

It's a real luxury to be able to start out a major hike right from our doorstep, but today we were able to do that, so our trailhead selfie got to be taken on our own patio!


If we cheated and wanted to trespass on railroad land, we could have walked the nearby tracks of the East Penn Railroad (formerly the Wilmington & Northern Railroad) directly from our campground into the Preserve.  As it was, workers were busy on the nearby tracks, so we decided to direct our feet up Embreeville Road, past some of the historic buildings that sit between the road and beautiful Brandywine Creek:


The road-walking portion of our hike took us up past the Stargazers' Stone. In 1763, surveyors and astronomers Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon came to the New World to end a bloody, 80-year boundary dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland. Their survey established the official line between the two colonies and stands among the greatest scientific achievements of the time. A reference point, now known as Star Gazers’ Stone, was placed to mark the astronomical meridian line north of their observatory on the nearby Harlan Farm. The Star Gazers’ Stone and a small plot of surrounding land are now part of ChesLen Preserve and are accessible from a parking area at the northern end of the property. Take a look at our May 2014 blog entry on the Stargazers' Stone if you want to learn more about it.

But we digress.  We continued on our hike to the entrance of ChesLen Preserve across a bridge over the Brandywine.  We were surprised to hear a lot of commotion and, looking downstream from atop the bridge, we saw canoe after canoe launching into the Creek.  Spotting several vans with empty canoe trailers at the informal boat ramp in the Preserve, we asked one of the people there what was happening.  He said that several local schools were having a science outing on Brandywine Creek, and his canoe rental company was providing the canoes.  We were mightily impressed:


Brandywine Creek was beautiful today.  It was a Bluebird Day, and the water had settled down into a merry, clear little stream after having raged chocolate brown a week ago:


Our path, the Peter O. Hausmann Trail, led out into the Preserve past some of the canoe tow vehicles:


Before continuing on the trail, however, we reviewed the information kiosk.


ChesLen Preserve was once part of a 17,000-acre tract owned by the legendary Texas-based King Ranch, which expanded to this area so their cattle could graze on the lush fields and fatten up before sale. They gained nearly two pounds a day during their six-to-ten-month stay. ChesLen’s agricultural past also includes sod farming and mushroom production.

The trail we hiked is named after Peter Hausmann, the current Chaiperson of the Natural Lands Trust.  David confirmed that our path lay in the direction behind him:


Shortly down the Hausmann Trail, we came to a small cemetery which is a remnant of the Chester County Poorhouse, once located nearby. Built in 1798, the poorhouse was a place of refuge for orphans and indigent adults. Its construction represented a vast improvement in the treatment of paupers who, less than a century earlier, were forced to wear a scarlet “P” on their sleeves and risked being beaten or driven out of the county. The poorhouse expanded over the years to include an asylum for the mentally ill and eventually became the Embreeville State Mental Hospital, in operation until 1980.


The 1-acre plot contains 204 numbered markers laid out row upon row:


Climbing further from the Potters Field, we came to the first of several viewpoints.  This one let us gaze North toward the Stargazers' Stone:


It is early Fall, and, while the Preserve doesn't have many Fall-blooming wildflower, we did see some beautiful clover --


-- as well cornflower.

Much of the Preserve is open acreage that is leased out to a local farmer who grows corn, soybeans and hay.  Many of the fields have been recently harvested, and Kathy found a fresh-looking cob of corn amid dried leaves and pieces of stalk:


The Lenfest Center, which serves as headquarters for the Preserve, sits near the middle of the Preserve's north-south reach.  A beautiful modern building, it nevertheless has a low profile and does not dominate the landscape it administers:


Nearing the far end of our out-and-back hike, we reached another viewpoint giving us a grand look at the Preserve property:


The trail sweeps up and down gently rolling hills, between swaths of grass and cut fields.  The rich blue sky and small, puffy clouds provided the perfect accent to our view:


Starting back after lunch at another viewpoint, we came across this lone tree.  Kathy said it must be an Ent with a crazy cap:


As we finished the 7.7 mile hike, we decided to follow through on that cheating scheme and hike back out from the near corner of the Preserve along the railroad tracks.  Most of the workers and their trucks had gone, but we were waved through by one lone worker who was loading bags of feed and other materials from railcars, destined, we inferred, for the nearby Embreeville Mill, which we had photographed on a morning's walk the other day:


Our long hike left us pleasantly tired.  We returned to the RV for a warm shower, a walk for Miss Ruby Kitten, and then some blogging.  We have a visit to our nephew Tom, his wife Michelle, and their two children, complete with Happy Hour and a Friday night dinner.

Cheers!