Wednesday, July 22, 2020
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.
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?