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Friday, March 27, 2020

Appalachian Trail - Strausstown, Pennsylvania

Covid-19 has upended all of our plans for our stay here on the East Coast this year.  There is a distinct possibility that, until a vaccine is developed, we may not be able to spend much, if any, time in person with our family.  Yet our whole itinerary for this season was built around them.  So we've begun to change our plans, and we've been pleased to discover how many hiking, biking and kayaking opportunities abound near our campground in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  It also is a happy coincidence that we are camped at a point that is almost equidistant between our daughter in Philly, our sister- and brother-in-law in Broomall, Pennsylvania, and our son, daughter-in-law and grandson's expected home in the D.C. suburbs.  So, all in all, this might be about the best place we could shelter in place.

One of our new projects is to reconnoiter some of the larger hiking trails near us -- such as the Appalachian Trail, the Horseshoe Trail, the Mason-Dixon Trail, and the Conestoga Trail.  Today, we found four section trailheads on the A.T. within 45-minute drives from our campground.  We decided that, since the next couple days will be full of rain, we would sample the nearest section to see what it was like.

Here we are at the trailhead from our parking area on the ridge of Blue Mountain:

The A.T. follows the ridge of Blue Mountain, which is a massive single hunk of ridge that forms the southern and eastern edge of the Appalachian mountain range spanning over 255 miles from the Delaware Water Gap across the eastern half of the state on a diagonal from New Jersey southeasterly into Maryland.  There are five gaps in the ridge, through which run north-south highways.  As it happens, road access to the ridgeline of Blue Mountain is relatively easy for us.  Here is a map showing Denver, Pennsylvania, where we are, and the numerous trailhead parking sites along the A.T., which is shown as the sinuous red line:

We plan to visit each of these trailheads in the coming weeks and section-hike both directions.  This should help protect us from cabin fever in the coming weeks or months.

But now to our hike.

As we left the parking area, we needed to climb a gravel forest road through State Game Lands to get to our trailhead:

Within about a mile-and-a-half, we ran across this marker honoring Dr. Harry F. Rentschler, who was instrumental in creating this section of the Appalachian Trail:

In June of 1916, he took a group of citizens from the Reading, PA area who liked to walk in the mountains, to an eagle's nest on the Blue Mountains above Shartlesville. They formed the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club on October 12, 1916. In 1926, planners of the Appalachian Trail contacted the Club members and asked them to locate and build 102 miles of trail through the wilderness along the mountaintop from the Lehigh River to the Susquehanna River. In 1937, the Club formed a corporation, Blue Mountain Wilderness Park Association. Its goal was to acquire and own the land to protect the Appalachian Trail.

Since beginning our hiking and backpacking, we have had a special affection for the Appalachian Trail because -- primarily through the medium of the Appalachian Mountain Club, and our friends Lennie and Bill Steinmetz and other leaders of the Delaware Valley Chapter of AMC, we had so many outings on various sections of the A.T.  It was on that trail that we learned most of the skills that keep us safe and provide us so much enjoyment today.

So it's not surprising that David broke into a paroxysm of hugs for this Appalachian Trail sign.  Just seeing those arrows toward Maine and Georgia gave us those warm, fuzzy feelings:

We didn't get on the trail until nearly 1:00 pm, so we found an A.T. campsite to eat our lunch after about a mile and a half:

We've poked about many campfire rings, and we've seen half-burnt logs, trash, ashes and other unmentionables, but we've never seen melted glass.  Apparently someone made a fire here that was so hot that it melted what remains of this green glass bottle:

This might be our most monumental hike so far, because, further up the trail, we spotted this marker memorializing Fort Dietrich Snyder:

Fort Dietrich Snyder, a small outpost (really, essentially a small, one story log cabin), was built in 1755 during the French & Indian War, one of a string of forts along the Blue Mountain ridge.  It was a watch point for Indian movements in the area. The Fort was on land owned by Dietrich Snyder, close to a main path over the mountain and commanded an excellent view of the valley below.  The forts were considered essential to give early warning of Indian attacked because they were positioned to see the smoke from burning farms in valleys below.

We turned from these morbid thoughts to our day's hike.  Having crossed PA Highway 183, we encountered terrain that was rockier and strewn with heavy roots:

Nearing our 2-mile turnaround point, we found this sign informing us that the high point of Berks County, Pennsylvania would be just another 1.7 miles along our route.  Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to hike the extra mile out and then back again.  So we took note of this, considering that we might hike to the Berks County High Point another time.

At our turnaround point, we spotted a cairn built off-trail, possibly by a hunter or snowmobiler to mark some important location.  We couldn't deduce more than this.

As we turned to retrace our route back to the trailhead, we noticed the rich, blue sky, graced with sumptuous white clouds, proclaiming this warm 66F Spring day, and giving us an extra dose of cheer to help weather the coming inclement weather:

These fungi don't have to worry about inclement weather.  They are sheltering in place together:

As we neared the finish of our return hike, we ran into this puppy, Sir Isaac Newton, and his human, Richard Gardner.   Richard spent time (at a safe distance) giving us extensive information on this section of the A.T.  He also pointed out that we had just hiked past a precious young American Chestnut tree.  He was kind enough to let us snap this photo of him (C), Sir Isaac Newton (L), and the American Chestnut tree (R) that he introduced us to:

We all observed proper social distancing protocols, and compared notes about the most effective means of isolating ourselves from Covid-19.  Sir Isaac Newton did not gloat over the fact that he is not vulnerable.

Thank you, Richard, and we hope to see you again on the A.T. in the coming weeks!

To explain to you why seeing an American Chestnut tree is so special, read this excerpt from the Wikipedia article on American Chestnut:

Once an important hardwood timber tree, the American chestnut suffered a substantial population collapse due to the chestnut blight, a disease caused by an Asian bark fungus. This disease was accidentally introduced into North America by 1904 on imported Asiatic chestnut trees. ...The airborne bark fungus spread 50 miles a year and in a few decades girdled and killed up to three billion American chestnut trees.... New shoots often sprout from the roots when the main stem dies, so the species has not yet become extinct. ... Prior to the blight, 25% of the trees in the Appalachian Mountains were American chestnut. [Now,] the number of large surviving trees over 60 cm (24 in) in diameter within its former range is probably fewer than 100. 

So much for today's home-school lesson.  We'll return another day for more experiences on the Appalachian Trail.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Discovering Blue Marsh NRA

Thursday, March 26, 2020
Hi Blog!

A day doesn't go by where we don't think about Covid-19 and how it is affects us, our family, our friends, our country and the rest of the world. We are doing our part to be socially distant and take the necessary precautions when we get groceries and gas. After spending 8 years traveling every week or two weeks, it seems surreal that we could end up staying in this campground for several months. With all this time on our hands, we needed a plan to make the most of it. We hope to balance chore days with activity days. As to the chores, we created a two page list of things to do, repair, clean and organize. As to fun activities, next on the list was exploring the Blue Marsh National Recreation Area.

Blue Marsh Lake is located northwest of Reading in Berks County, Pennsylvania. This is a multi-purpose project built and maintained by the Philadelphia District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The dam was authorized by Congress for flood control, water supply, water quality and recreation. Construction began in 1974 and was completed in 1979. The dam is located on the Tulpehocken Creek and the project's water control practices benefit downstream communities. We started our exploration at the Peacock Road trailhead.

While the main purpose of Blue Marsh was to provide flood control to part of the Schuylkill River Valley, over the years the lake has become a recreational hotspot. With over 36 miles of trails, 6200 acres of land, 1148 acres of water, picnic areas, a small beach and boat launches the lake, can accommodate all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts like us.

We started our hike along an abandoned portion of the old Peacock Road:

We soon left the asphalt behind and headed across a small stream toward the Lake Border Trail:

We stopped to admire this small cascade as it burbled its way toward the lake.

The recent rains have brought out a number of fun guys:

We stopped for lunch at an old boat launch at the end of Lake Road. As we munched our lunch, we watched the bass fisherman troll on by.

Blue Marsh was the name of the village that was located where the lake now is. It was the first settlement in Lower Heidelberg Township. The land was very fertile. It was also a heavily forested area with abundance of wildlife. There were many farms and 18th and 19th century homes. The village also had a church, schoolhouse, post office, and General Store. Residents were put under eminent domain and had no choice but to move out. All that's left are a few foundations.

When we hike a trail for the first time, we never know what we'll see. This stand of old Christmas trees was different. Turns out, Blue Marsh Lake accepts old Christmas trees for use to enhance the underwater habitat for the fish.

We also came across an old fashioned drinking fountain:

However, our greatest discovery was the Triceratops hanging out along the lake shore.

Underneath the watery expanse of Blue Marsh Lake , the land was once fertile and flowering, alive with farm life. We noticed these stairs in the side of the hill. We couldn't resist the urge to climb them. However, there was nothing left of the homestead it once led to:

We left the Lake Border Trail to follow Skinner's Loop out a long peninsula in the lake. The first part of the loop took us near the lakeshore. The return trip took us across the height of land giving us great views of the rolling hills of Pennsylvania.

By the time we returned to the Jeep, we had hiked over five miles. When we come back and explore further, there are 31 more miles of trails to explore. On our drive back, we stopped to explore a picnic area with a kayak boat launch. As the weather warms, we hope to come back with our kayaks.

It may be a couple days before we blog again. Rainy weather is coming and there are chores to be done. Until then, stay safe.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Revisiting Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area

As we slowly settle in here at our campground in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, we're starting to scout out some interesting places to hike, bike or paddle.  After delivering a care package to our daughter in Philly this morning, we took a drive out to Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area to see what it offers.

We had been here back in 2015, and had visited on April 12, 17 and 28 of that year.  Check out this blog entry if you want an overview of the preserve.  While we had hiked Middle Creek Trail on April 17, 2015, we decided it was a good 2.25 mile stretch of the legs after spending 2 hours driving to and from Philadelphia in the Jeep.  As often happens, some of the photos we took back in 2015 are eerily similar to some of those we took today, but -- what the heck -- we'll show you what we liked from this year's hike.

Here's Kathy at the trailhead:

As you can see, we're a few steps ahead of Spring.  The trees are bare of leaves or blossoms, and last year's dead leaves still litter the ground, with little to break their tawny blanket of things such as ferns or wildflowers.

David didn't waste any time snapping pictures of Middle Creek, which was flowing a little turbid after yesterday's heavy rain:

Even with the naked trees and the cloudy water, the stream still had a merry, burbling sound, and the sun danced cheerily off the little riffles.  A sign says the stream may have been stocked with trout this month, but we didn't spot any.

This was the prettiest cascade we saw along this stretch of Middle Creek:

The trail is pretty soggy after the rains, and there are areas that must be wet most of the time, because boardwalks have been constructed through them, and the logs and rocks on either side of the boardwalk carry heavy caps of moss:

The only green we saw, other than thick, rich moss, was the sprouting skunk cabbage wherever a drainage descended toward the creek:

Look carefully, and you'll spot a variety of fungi:

The fungi we spotted are all unusual, both in the photo above and the photo below:

Toward the end of our hike, we encountered another boardwalk, which was heftily constructed from large timbers and hewn planks.  It seemed as straight as much of the trail, which had been a trolly line that was part of the Ephrata & Lebanon Traction Co., which operated a trolley line along Middle Creek from 1912 to 1931.  The line started in Ephrata, running north to Hopeland and then followed Middle Creek across the South Mountains to Kleinfeltersville. From there it followed what is now PA Route 897 through Schaefferstown, Reistville, Iona and into Lebanon.

We turned around after about 1.25 miles, where, just opposite us, a private cabin graced the opposite shore of Middle Creek.  Not too shabby.  To the left in the photo below, a tree bears the purple blaze of the Middle Creek Trail:

Just where we turned around, a cute little wooden bridge crossed a drainage near the creek.  From its construction, it was clear that the designer had fun with this one:

We finished out our hike and took copious notes on the boat ramp for kayaking and fishing, as well as other possible trails.  You'll see further blog posts about Middle Creed Wildlife Management Area in the near future!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Hiking the A.T. at Rockfish Gap

Saturday, March 21, 2020
Hi Blog!

We made it to Greenwood, Virginia, just south of Shenandoah National Park. As we raced our way north ahead of Covid-19 campground closures, we gave ourselves one day at each stop in order to gather information for future visits (and get some exercise). Unfortunately, by the time we got to Virginia, the Shenandoah visitor centers were all closed. However, the park itself was still open which gave us easy access to the Appalachian Trial at Rockfish Gap.

It's hard to believe that just a few short days ago, we were at the start of the Appalachian Trail on Springer Mountain, Georgia. What took us just a few days, takes an A.T. thru hiker weeks and weeks.

This section of the A.T. traverses Afton Mountain. Some 600 million years ago, lava flows deposited a thick layer of volcanic rock that metamorphosed into Catoctin greenstone, the primary component of Afton Mountain. The green color comes from the minerals chlorite and epidote. We couldn't help but stop and admire the pretty green rocks.  Curiously, as the rock erodes, it makes red soil due to the iron content of the rock.

On our way up the trail, we only passed a single hiker and a group of three. We expected that, with everything closed, there would be more folks out on the trail. We kept our distance and only stopped to chat with theses fun guys.

We are racing north so fast, Spring is having a hard time catching up with us. We did notice these little beauties along the trail.

These buds are just budding.

The Appalachian Trail is nothing if not rocky!

Pictured below are the remains of what was once a majestic mountain range, with altitudes comparable to the Rocky Mountains. Virginia had an amazingly violent geologic history that included several continental collisions, the most recent of which was with North Africa some 300 million years ago. The Blue Ridge, Virginia’s geologic backbone, was the product of an event that moved rocks from Richmond to Afton. Could these be some of those rocks?

After about two miles, we began looking for a lunch spot. We were hoping to find a height of land with some views. We noticed these yellow blazes and checked our GPS. It showed a forest service road not too far off trail. We decided to bushwack and see if we could find it.

As we climbed higher, we noticed a mowed field.

We checked the GPS. It showed we were still in the George Washington National Forest. However, it was obvious that this field was being tended.

We noticed a tree stand and David couldn't resist the urge to climb up and see what he could see.

The overcast sky made it difficult to get any good photos of the surrounding area.

[Ed.: It wasn't until after we returned home that we discovered we were trespassing! The road we thought was a forest service road was actually a private road leading to Royal Orchard Castle pictured below. Lucky for us, we escaped detection.]

We decided the open field with views in the distance would make a nice lunch spot. We pulled up a couple cut log pieces and began our picnic.

After lunch, we decided to climb up to the height of land.

If you would like to see what we saw, click the link to this 360 degree video from the height of land at our lunch spot.

Climbing down from the height of land, we wove our way through a maze of unusually shaped rocks:

We retraced our bushwhack back to the Appalachian Trail, and retraced our steps south, back along the trail.  All in all, it made a great little outing -- we stretched our legs, breathed good oxygen, and communed with nature.  There's no doubt our spirits benefited in these times of stress and anxiety.

As we drove back to our campground, we stopped at one of the scenic overlooks along I-64 to take in this view of Rockfish Valley.

Tomorrow, we hope to arrive at our campground in Pennsylvania. We plan to stay put for at least a month (maybe more). Not sure how much blogging we'll do. If we come up with some new recipes or fun socially distant outings, we'll be sure to share them with you.

In the meantime, stay healthy my friends!