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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Finding Lostland

Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Hi Blog!

We've been full-time RVers for over 8 years. When we move to a new area, we try to drive less than an hour to a trailhead for a hike. Today, we broke that rule. We usually check the weather to make sure we get the best weather for our hike. Today, we broke that rule. With temperatures over 100 degrees, we've been starting our hikes early. Today we broke that rule. When hiking in a new area, we usually print out directions and maps to the trailhead. Today we broke that rule. They say adventure happens when your plans go awry! More on that later.

Yesterday, we spent the day with Weina and William. Their travels from Myanmar were long, but mercifully uneventful. We brought them emergency supplies to hold them over while they recover from jet lag. We promised to leave them alone today so they could get settled in.

This morning we slept in as much as Ruby would let us. We turned on the news just in time for the weatherman to tell us it would be another 100+ degree day. When the weather map popped up showing all the excessive heat warnings, we notice it was only going to be a high of 78F in Oakland, Maryland. We both agreed that 78F would be much nicer than 100F. Turns out, Oakland is only two and a half hours away! By 9:30 am we were winging our way to cooler climes!

A quick check of the AllTrails web page revealed a highly rated 7 mile out and back hike just outside Oakland in the Potomac State Forest. The Lostland Run winds through the forest and leads to the Potomac River. We scribbled down the GPS coordinates, packed our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and started driving.

Our journey took us west on I-66 to I-81 and then across US 48. We crossed the Appalachian Mountains into West Virginia. It wasn't until we got to Mount Storm that we began to wonder whether or not we made a mistake. Mount Storm was named for its inclement weather. At more than 2,000 feet about sea level, it bears the brunt of cool winds sweeping in from over the Ohio Valley. These cool winds were exactly what we were looking for. We just didn't count on the torrential rain that came with them.

Once we were up and over Mount Storm, the weather began to brighten. We were only a few miles from our trailhead when the GPS took us on a local farm road that soon changed to a two track ATV trail. Luckily, we were able to find a turnaround spot and sort out another route. This is what happens when you break rules.

When we arrived at the Ranger Station for the Potomac State Forrest, the weather was clearing. We ate our lunch while reading the bulletin board with information on the area. The Potomac State Forest contains 11,461 acres situated between the towns of Oakland and Westernport and partially bordering the Potomac River. The forest drains into the Potomac River Basin, and features the highest point in any Maryland state forest -- Backbone Mountain, elevation 3,200 feet.

As we started our hike, we could hear a distant rumble of thunder. We had hoped that it was from the storm we drove thru and it would soon be gone.

There are often maps of the hiking trails at the trailhead. However, we've never encountered one as unique as this one. Notice the white squiggly line. Each one of the those curves is the trail crossing Lostland Run.

At the start of the trail, you can still see some of the amazing stone work done by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1920s.

As we entered the forest, the rhododendron greeted us with cheery smiles.

As we walked along this beautiful mountain stream, it was hard to imagine that this crystal clear stream valley was once a toxic wasteland. Lostland Run was polluted by acid mine drainage from abandoned coal mines in its upper watershed. Once coal was extracted, many of the areas were abandoned. Drainage from these abandoned mines is dangerously acidic and contains high levels of iron oxides and sulfates. As a result, many streams in western Maryland were affected by acid mine drainage (AMD), creating inhospitable conditions for aquatic species. To remediate the effects of AMD, devices called lime dosers were installed along waterways such as Lostland Run. The lime doser periodically adds pulverized limestone to the water. As a result, the pH of the water has increased and fly fishermen are once again plying the pools and riffles for brookies.

We found these unusual round plant balls. We thought they might be either in the fern family or cedar family, but we couldn't identify them. If you know what they are, let us know.

After about a mile in, that thunder we were hearing was getting closer. Rain began to fall. We put on an extra layer. The forest canopy protected us from the worst of the rain, so we decided to continue. If we hadn't we would have missed these pretty flowers.

The Lostland Run Natural Area reflects how this rugged mountain country looked and felt 500 years ago. The folded landscape of ravines and coves and sandstone outcrops supports a blend of old-growth eastern hemlock, hardwood forests, dry oak-pine habitats and deciduous forests. The ferns are pretty, too.

The thunder never got close enough to be a real bother. On the bright side, because of it, we had the whole trail to ourselves. There's no problem social distancing when there is no one to distance from. After fording the stream 8 times, and climbing over boulders too numerous to count, it was a pleasant surprise to find a set of stairs leading up a short hill.

We also found the swinging bridge over the South Prong of Lostland Run. As rustic bridges go, this one is a work of art. However, holding onto the metal cables in a thunder storm to keep ourselves from slipping on the ice-slick wet boards did give us pause.

It probably would have been easier to just rock hop across the stream, as the bridge was so slippery from all the rain, it felt like we were ice skating! Slow and steady wins the race.

Because we got a late start, we were not able to hike all the way to the Potomac River. After two miles, we turned back to the trailhead. No sooner did we start back than the rain stopped and the skies lightened up again. The change in lighting made our second waterfall photos much brighter.

After finishing our hike, we decided to drive down Lostland Road to see the Potomac River. This is a favorite spot in spring and fall for fly fishing. 

It was a great way to end our adventures in the Potomac State Forest. On they way back from the River, we did encounter one other vehicle driving down Lostland Road.

On our way back to camp we stopped at Shaffer's BBQ in Middleton, VA. If you are ever near I-81 and I-66, it is worth a little side trip for some really good BBQ. What did we ever do before Yelp?

Monday, July 20, 2020

First Manassas Battlefield Hiking Trail

The First Battle of Bull Run (the name used by Union forces), also known as the First Battle of Manassas (the name used by Confederate forces), was the first major battle of the American Civil War and was a Confederate victory. The battle was fought on July 21, 1861 near Manassas, Virginia, about 25 miles from Washington, D.C. The Union's forces were slow in positioning themselves, allowing Confederate reinforcements time to arrive by rail. Each side had about 18,000 poorly trained and poorly led troops in their first battle. It was a Confederate victory, followed by a disorganized retreat of the Union forces.

Just months after the start of the war at Fort Sumter, the Northern public clamored for a march against the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, which was expected to bring an early end to the Confederacy. Yielding to political pressure, Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell led his unseasoned Union Army across Bull Run against the equally inexperienced Confederate Army of Brig. Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard camped near Manassas Junction. McDowell's ambitious plan for a surprise flank attack on the Confederate left was poorly executed; nevertheless, the Confederates, who had been planning to attack the Union left flank, found themselves at an initial disadvantage.

Confederate reinforcements under Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston arrived from the Shenandoah Valley by railroad, and the course of the battle quickly changed. A brigade of Virginians under the relatively unknown brigadier general from the Virginia Military Institute, Thomas J. Jackson, stood its ground, which resulted in Jackson receiving his famous nickname, "Stonewall". The Confederates launched a strong counterattack, and as the Union troops began withdrawing under fire, many panicked and the retreat turned into a rout. McDowell's men frantically ran without order in the direction of Washington, D.C.

Both armies were sobered by the fierce fighting and the many casualties and realized that the war was going to be much longer and bloodier than either had anticipated. The First Battle of Bull Run highlighted many of the problems and deficiencies that were typical of the first year of the war. Units were committed piecemeal, attacks were frontal, infantry failed to protect exposed artillery, tactical intelligence was minimal, and neither commander was able to employ his whole force effectively.

-- Wikipedia

Our campground at Bull Run Regional Park is just a couple miles from the Manassas National Battlefield Park.  Union and Confederate forces fought two battles at the site of the national park.  The first was just at the start of the war in 1861; the second 13 months later.  Union forces lost both battles.  The national park memorializes and interprets both battles through separate trails that explore the respective fields of battle.

We thought it would make sense to start with the First Manassas Battle Trail, which winds over hills and through farmfields west of Bull Run.  Part of the trail skirts along the bank of Bull Run itself, near Stone Bridge, which was part of the scene of the first battle.

It's wicked hot here -- a projected high today of 98F -- so we were up and out early, hitting the trail at 7:45 am, with the sun barely up in the sky:

We arrived before the visitor center opened, so, as we looked for our trailhead, we encountered this statue of Stonewall Jackson at the top of Henry Hill --

-- and a battery of cannon lining one ridge.  This one is representative:

We found the trail, well marked and beckoning us into woods with their cool shady welcome:

For most of the hike, nature, and not war history, dominated our view.  A surprising variety of wildflowers are at peak bloom, such as these black-eyed susans --

-- and these pretty little blue cornflowers --

-- and these, which we think are pandorea:

Kathy spotted some black raspberries that are almost at the height of ripeness.  They were tasty!

We think we spotted the season's last daylilies in Manassas:

Not to be outdone by the flora, the fauna made their own appearance.  This little squirrel was so busy with his nut or seed that he didn't bother running away as we approached:

And this little tree frog, with several of his friends, made their appearance on a long boardwalk we crossed as we neared Stone Bridge:

The first battle at Manassas involved a Union attempt to convince the Confederates that they were crossing Bull Run at Stone Bridge (below) in order to meet the South in battle, while in fact the majority of Union troops marched further upstream to cross at Farm Ford.  An interesting side note, recounted on one of the historical markers, is that the Union general found the upstream fording opportunity when a Confederate soldier rode his horse down across Bull Run to taunt the Northern troops -- which alerted the latter to the fact that the water was shallow enough to cross at that point.  The Union attempt was in vain, however, because Confederate scouts spotted the flanking maneuver and signalled back to the commanding general that the Stone Bridge crossing was a diversion.

We took an opportunity soon after passing Stone Bridge to find a convenient streamside log to eat our sausage-and-bagel breakfast.  It was the last of our most recent purchase of Oscar's Smokehouse smoked sausage from the Adirondacks in Warrensburg, New York.  Noting this fact, we immediately made plans to return to Oscar's next fall when we visit David's brother Laird, sister-in-law Risa and their family.  We think the perfect time to visit is on the last day that Albany, New York's Kurver Kreme is open to sell ice cream before winter comes.  Kurver Kreme is Laird's and Risa's favorite treat-place!

While Bull Run looked lush and cool with its drapery of green --

-- the truth was, that it was hot and steamy, and with no breeze in the stream valley, it was stifling.  We discovered, to our pleasure, that the open hillsides were cooler because a fresh breeze blew across our faces and cooled us down.

We stopped at the Carter Farm site and paid our respects at the family cemetery.  The stone walls of the cemetery were taken from the ruins of the family home, Pittsylvania, which by the time of the Civil War was already run down, but which was further damaged by the Manassas battles.

The last part of our hike was up and down open farm hillsides under a blue sky with just enough clouds to filter the sun and prevent us from being roasted:

Old split rail fences mark the farm fields and delineate areas where the battles occurred.  From some drawings of the land at the time of the Manassas battles, the farm fields don't look a lot different than they did during the Civil War.

This view is from the height of Matthews Hill, down toward Stone House in the foreground, and across Highway 29 toward Henry Hill.  At the top of Henry Hill stands a brown wooden house on the site of the Henry homestead (ruined in the battles), near which is the Henry family cemetery.  Judith Henry, the wife of the owner of the farm, was a widow at the time of the Manassas battles and was killed by Union's shelling of the Henry home to deny its use to the Confederates; she was the only civilian casualty of the Manassas battles, which were otherwise bloody.  At the center of Henry Hill, beyond the wooden house, stands the Manassas National Battlefield Park Visitor Center.  That was our goal as we hiked to complete our loop.

We hiked down past Stone House and back up Henry Hill to where a big old juniper tree offered us some shade as we read a summary of the outcome of the morning battle of First Manassas:

Hiking further on, we reached the site of the Henry homestead, where a monument erected just after the Civil War in honor of Union dead, still stands.  A plaque notes that this is the oldest monument standing on any of the Civil War battlefields.

We were relieved (and very wet with sweat) to arrive back at the Visitor Center after this 6 miles of hot hiking.  It had opened while we were out on our walking tour, so we stepped up to the porch where we were offered the park brochure and detailed hiking map.  Perhaps we'll use the hiking map if we come back to hike the Second Manassas Battlefield Trail.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Paddling Burke Lake

Sunday, July 19, 2020
Hi Blog!

We eagerly await the arrival of our daughter-in-law and grandson. Our son has been detained for another week for work reasons. Now that settlement on their new condo has been completed, we are free to romp about the country until Tuesday when Weina and William arrive. 

Today's adventure took us to Burke Lake. Here Kathy displays the various items she collected during the paddle.  She's quite an environmental paddlist.

Burke Lake is a 218 acres freshwater reservoir in Fairfax County, Virginia. It is contained within Burke Lake Park, a Fairfax County public park owned by the Fairfax County Park Authority. Burke Lake is formed by a dam on South Run, a tributary stream of the Potomac River. 

As soon as we left the boat launch, we paddled next to the dam.

Burke Lake is all about the fishing. Swimming is actually prohibited. We had to carefully navigate both folks fishing from the banks and folks fishing from their boats. While Dave snapped stunning pictures like the one below, Kathy searched the bank for various flotsam and jetsam.

We found an old beaver lodge. We later learned that the beaver was notorious for stealing the neighbors' small trees. However, when Fish and Game tried to trap and move the beaver, he or she went missing. The hunt for the tree-eating rodent that for years had irked residents of a neighborhood near Burke Lake was called off because the trapper hired by Fairfax County could find no sign of him/her.  We hope the little chisel-toothed one escaped and prospered in some new pond.

Pictured below is a Mystery Snail Shell. Mystery snails are the largest freshwater snails. They have spiral shells with a door used to seal themselves inside. Unlike most freshwater snails, they give birth to live young. The sudden appearance of baby snails surprised aquarists, hence the name mystery snails. Mystery snails are native to Asia where they are a common food item. In 1892 they were imported to Chinese markets in San Francisco and by 1911 had established around San Jose and San Francisco. Over time the snails moved from the Chinese food markets into the aquarium trade and were transported across the country for use in aquarium and ornamental ponds. They are now widespread in ponds, lakes, and reservoirs from California to British Columbia and Florida to Quebec.

Burke Lake offers excellent fishing and features largemouth bass, muskellunge, walleye, channel catfish, bluegill and black crappie. Anglers also catch white perch, yellow perch, sunfish and an occasional blue catfish. We also heard from a couple of anglers that snakehead fish are also present. We suspect the large fish that approached Kathy's kayak, rolled over and left a large wake was either a snakehead fish or catfish.  The fellows fishing in the photo below were just some of very many we found on the lake when we started our paddle:

Freshwater mussels are mollusks and are similar to their marine clam and oyster cousins. They have two shells connected by a hinge-like ligament. Around the world, mussels live in a variety of freshwater habitats but are most prevalent in stream and rivers. They vary in their adult sizes from those as small as a thumbnail to others as big as a pie plate. Native Americans used mussels as a ready food source, implements for tools, and as jewelry.  It appears the mussel who left the shell in the photo below was middle-mussel-sized:

As we cruised along the lake shore, we got to get up close and personal with some of the more interesting plants in the park.

Great blue herons love to fish along the shallow banks. We seemed to be constantly running into them.  Today offered us the extraordinary opportunity of snapping photos of at least six great blue herons!

This guy decided to take refuge in a nearby tree.

We were surprised to find a little island in the middle of the lake. We thought we would have time to paddle all the way around it on the way back, but the heat was beginning to take its toll as we finished our trip. We got on the water at 8:30 a.m. and got off at 12:30 p.m. when it was 96F!

Just about halfway around the lake, we found a small beachy area at the end of an peninsula jutting into the lake. The fallen tree in the photo below had obviously been used before. This shady area gave us a great place to stretch our legs and eat our lunch, even if it was only 10:00 a.m. Extremely hot days make for extremely early adventures.

We shared our lunch spot with a couple of tiger swallow butterflies.

As the morning progressed, the clouds started building. The shade they offered was a welcome relief from the hot sun. It also made for better photos. Notice the small patch of yellow amidst a sea of green.

We were really surprised by the amount of wildlife we encountered. There were dozens of blue herons, king fishers, crows, swallows and fly catchers. The fish seemed to be jumping all around us and turtles poked their heads out to see us glide by. We spotted some huge turtles lurking just under the water surface by our kayaks as we paddled through shallow waters.  

This blue heron is so used to fisherman that he just posed for us.

There was no shortage of green as we continued our way around the lake.

The fallen trees made for great contrast. Kathy found herself in kayak jail.

We noticed several osprey fishing around the lake. At one point, this osprey stand would have made a great place to nest. Now, it looks like it could use a little home improvement.

We knew there were Canadian Geese on the lake. We could hear them honking. Their pinfeathers were constantly floating by. We at the far end of the end of the lake before we actually encountered them. Again, having lived with hundreds of fisherman, they didn't seem to mind us.

Because of the heat, we paddled a very leisurely pace. This afforded us the time to notice the little things. We named this photo "Still Life Leaf on Glassy Lake Surface."

As we made our way back toward the fishing boat launch, we passed the public marina. Boat rentals were closed for Covid-19. The geese didn't seem to mind; they had the whole launch area for themselves.

The fishing pier can be pretty popular in better weather. With hot sun and temperatures close to 100 degrees, only a few hardy souls were still trying to catch the big one.

We suspect this large white goose was either dropped off at the lake or escaped from a nearby farm.

As we returned to the boat launch, we met a Virginia Fish & Game conservation officer. First, he thanked us for collecting trash as we paddled about. He then warned us that the boat launch is used for fishing only. In order to park and launch, we needed to have valid fishing licenses, a launch permit and our fishing rods. We promised him that the next time we came back we would be properly equipped.

It seems weird to finish our adventure at a time when we usually get started, but this excessive heat has caused us to make certain changes. To quote a famous Philadelphian, "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."