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Thursday, December 16, 2021

Fossil Beach on the Potomac River

Kathy found another Fossil Beach!  This one is in Virginia's Westmoreland State Park, on the south shore of the Potomac River.  We have visited another DC-area beach with sharks' tooth fossils in this area -- Calvert Cliffs State Park in Maryland, by ourselves in 2012, and with Matt and William in 2020.

The weather today was supreme -- full sun and about 70F during the mid-afternoon!  We thought it would be great for an outing to beachcomb and see if Kathy could find another shark's tooth.

It was about an hour's drive to the state park and the trailhead from our campground near Fredericksburg, but well worth the drive.  Here we are starting our hike to Fossil Beach on the Big Meadow Trail:

This trail worked its way down toward the Potomac River, through riparian forest of oaks, birch, sycamore, pine, sweetgum and the like.  The park posted signs to identify trees along the trail.

It was about 0.6 miles through the forest, over a rolling terrain, to the beach on the Potomac River.  When we arrived, we were greeted by some windblown fir trees and some trail magic -- a plastic sieve that would be perfect for sifting sand to hunt for sharks' teeth!

When we got to the beach, we found a young mother and her two kids playing on the beach, taking an adventure day while her husband worked at a nearby military base.  We focused on trying to get across Big Meadow Run to explore the far reaches of the beach:

We found some fallen tree trunks we could throw across the stream to cross it, but before leaving the near side of the beach, Kathy tried "panning" for sharks' teeth at the mouth of the creek:

Once across the stream, we trained our sights on a sandy cliff at the end of the beach:

Driftwood of all sizes decorated the beach:

The cliff beckoned with its dramatic beauty:

While Kathy hunted fossils, David climbed the cliff to get a birds' eye view of the near shoreline.  The Maryland state border with Virginia follows that waterline:

Below David's cliffside perch, Kathy was busy hunting for souvenirs:

Kathy's view of David's vantage point looked something like this:

We finished our exploration and worked our way back across the informal bridge we built over Big Meadow Run:

Another 0.6 mile hike back to the Visitor Center, and it was time for lunch:

But this was not all of our adventure!  We found a 3-mile hike in the park on Turkey Neck Trail to walk off our lunch:

This trail was in the Upland Forest, with pine, holly, oak, laurel and other dry-loving trees and bushes:

Toward the furthest point of our walk out Turkey Neck Trail, we spotted a bench with a view of the Big Meadow Run valley.  Kathy took a short rest and enjoyed the view:

From here, it was only about 1.5 miles back to the trailhead.  We made our way home, walked the cats and are sitting back, enjoying our memories of this beautiful late Autumn hike.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Hiking the Ni River Trail

Wednesday, December 15, 2020

Hi Blog!

Before we could get out hiking today, we had to do some grocery shopping, walk the cats and eat lunch. Just as we were finishing lunch, we heard our water pump go on. Now, the pump only runs if water is running. Since we were both sitting at the dining room table, it meant that somewhere in our RV water was running all by itself! Now, we know s**t happens. We have a saying, "It's not "if" it's "when." But when "when" happens, it still gets you in the feels.

With a panicked leap from the table, we turned off the water pump and began searching all the likely culprits. To make a long story short, we found a leaky connection under our kitchen sink. With a few turns of the wrench to tighten the loose connection, we were back on schedule. Since our tiny house experiences a minor earthquake every time we move, it's amazing more things don't break. Just remember, it's not if, it's when! Stay Calm and Keep RVing!

With winter coming, our daylight hours are getting shorter. Since we only had a few hours left in our day, we decided to explore the Ni River Trail which was just around the corner from our RV Park.

The Spotsylvania Greenway Initiative preserves and creates greenways in Spotsylvania County to connect natural and culturally significant areas to provide recreation opportunities that inspire respect and responsibility for green space everywhere. 

Below, Kathy points the way to the trail.

The first part of the trail took us through some pine, fir and juniper, all upland species of trees. It is nice to see so much green in this wintery landscape.

Our first stop was an old farm pond.

The trails are well marked and easy to follow. Dave points the way.

When we first scouted this hike, we thought we would have to do an out-and-back hike on the Ni River Trail before taking the Salamander Loop Trail. Since the original trail guide was published, a new connector trail was completed. Today's hike took us along the Ni River Trail to the Rolling Hill Trail and back down the Salamander Loop Trail. 

We start edour trek though the Upland Forest of red oak and grey birch. With all the leaves on the ground, the sky is open, allowing winter's dappled sunlight to dance along the forest floor.

On our many trips to Williamsburg, Virginia perhaps 17 years ago to watch our son play rugby for William and Mary, we would cross the Po and Ni Rivers as we flew south on I-95. We often speculated on the names but never knew for sure until now. With retirement comes the luxury of delving deeply into those mysteries of life.

As it turns out, there are four rivers that make up the story. The Mat River and the Ta River join in Spotsylvania County to form the Matta River. The Po River and the Ni ("Nye") River join in Caroline County to form the Poni River. The Matta River and the Poni River join in Caroline County to form the Mattaponi ("MattapoNYE") River. The river system was named after the Mattaponi people, one of the six Algonquian-speaking tribes led by Powhatan. You might remember Powhatan as the father of Pocahontas. 

At this point, the Ni River isn't much of a river.

We meandered alongside the slow moving river until we reached the end of the trail.

We backtracked a few yards to the intersection with the Rolling Hill Trail and turned up that trail toward the Vernal Pool. Shortly, we noticed a beaver once lived in the neighborhood. We looked around for current signs, but it appears as the beaver family has moved on.

During the spring and summer, this area can bet pretty boggy. The local trail crew improvised a wooden log bridge through the wetlands.

There was no short supply of falling leaves along the trail. Dave turned just in time to see Kathy kicking leaves merrily down the trail.

Our grandson William is very fond of gallant poses. Below, Dave does his best "William the Conqueror" impression. Kathy's shadow had to get into the act.

You never know what you'll find when you venture out into the woods. Nature has a way of making her own art.

The trail crew made the most this this fallen tree. The benches were a nice place to rest after almost two miles of hiking.

There is a subtlety to the light in a late fall hike. The colors are muted and the light has a gentle glow to it. Every season has its own rewards.

As we returned to the trailhead, we took a quick spin around the old farm pond. We watched this female hooded merganser (look closely in the center of the photo) work her way around the pond as well.  However, she always seemed to be making sure she was at the furthest point from us!

Along the Salamander Loop Trail is a vernal pool know for its spotted salamanders, which is how the trail got its name. This time of year, the pool is dry and the salamanders are most likely hibernating. In order to see the salamanders it is best to come back in the spring. 

Tomorrow, we hope to explore more of the shoreline of the Potomac River. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Crows Nest Natural Area and Aquia Landing

 Our morning dawned frigid -- 28F! -- but it started warming up in late morning, and by the time we were able to haul our aged bodies out to the trailhead (more accurately, after David finished giving Ruby her mandatory morning walk), it was in the mid-50's, which was very pleasant for some hiking.

Kathy found mention of the Crows Nest Natural Area Preserve nearby in the estuary of the Potomac River.  Named after a schooner that anchored off the peninsula in the 1800's, Crows Nest is one of the last, great undisturbed areas in the Mid-Atlantic.  The Preserve's website explains in part:

Crow's Nest Natural Area Preserve was established in 2008 with the first acquisition of 1,762 acres. In 2009, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and Stafford County added 1,110 acres. The Northern Virginia Conservation Trust (NVCT) dedicated their Potomac Creek Heronry parcel as an addition to the preserve in 2018 and their Potomac Hills parcel in 2020, bringing the total area to 3,055 acres. Funding for the original two tracts came from a variety of sources including DCR, Stafford County, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Aquatic Resources Trust fund of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, The Nature Conservancy, and the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation.

Crow's Nest is, simply, a beautiful place and considered highly significant from numerous standpoints. Topography is varied, with the high narrow ridgeline rising 160 feet above two tidally influenced creeks: Potomac and Accokeek. The peninsula is deeply dissected on both its northern and southern flanks by a series of deep ravines cutting into ancient coastal plain marine sediments and feeding tidal marshes along the bordering creeks.

Crow's Nest Natural Area Preserve supports:

- 895 acres of tidal and non-tidal wetlands. The wetlands on the Crow's Nest peninsula account for 60 percent of all the marshes in Stafford County, and represent some of the best examples of diverse and intact wetland habitats in the Potomac River drainage;

- 23 miles of stream, riparian and wetland buffer;

- 2,310 acres of mature hardwood forest including two forest types that are recognized as globally rare by DCR's Natural Heritage Program;

- nesting bald eagles, habitat for the federally listed short-nose sturgeon, and habitat for twenty-two plant species that are significant for the Coastal Plain of Virginia;

- habitat for about 60 species of neotropical migratory songbirds, nearly 60 percent of which are experiencing population declines, including ten species that are high global priority species of Partners In Flight;

- spawning, nursery and/or feeding habitat for 49 species of interjurisdictional fish and seven species of mussels and commercially valuable shellfish;

- lands and waters that have played important roles in the Native American, Colonial and Civil War histories of Virginia.

The Preserve boasts two paddling boat launches that facilitate an almost-5 mile paddling trail which, in better weather, we certainly would have ventured.  However, with the cooler weather, we contented ourselves with some hiking.

Here we are at the trailhead near the road-accessible boat launch:

We walked out the boardwalk, across the wetlands, toward the launch.  The landscape was draped in wintery browns and tans:

At the launch, Kathy checked the water depth.  It was close to low tide, and it was uncertain whether it would be too shallow for us to cast off in our kayaks:

Returning from the launch, we found the Accokeek Overlook Trail entrance, where we turned east toward the water:

Accokeek means, "at the edge of the hill" in Algonquin, and our trail, indeed, skirted the edge of the hill as it reached out toward the water:

At the Overlook, we caught sight of the estuary, just a bunch of mud due to low tide, but still impressive in its expanse:

Kathy took the opportunity to perch on a bench and scan the estuary for great blue herons and other bird life:

Meanwhile, David was lost in nature-land, noticing this uniquely bubbly burl:

We finished our hike, returning to the Jeep, and drove over to Aquia Landing, a park perched on a peninsula jutting into the Aquia Creek bay of the Potomac River.  

A Patawomeck Village existed at this site in the 1600's.  The Patawomeck Tribe, a member of the Powhatan Confederacy, greeted Captain John Smith as he sailed up the Potomac in 1608.  Pocahontas, who was visiting the Patawomeck in this area, was kidnapped in 1613.  Over 200 years later, Aquia Landing was the gateway, during the Civil War, for slaves who sought freedom with the Union forces.

The first thing we spotted, when we arrived at Aquia Landing, was a quartet of white swans, en route from who knows where to who knows where:

The shoreline at the park offered an expansive view of the bay and the river:

The park road offered a quarter-mile stretch of beach, which we walked after a picnic lunch.  Kathy searched the margin of the water for polished stones and sea glass --

-- while David combed the beach for photos of such things as unique rocks --

-- and leaves, among the sand and pebbles on the shore:

Kathy found a few collectibles, and we returned to the Jeep, heading home so that we could walk the kitties in the late afternoon sun.  We had thought of another short hike to round out the afternoon, but decided we'll defer that hike until another day.

We finished it all off with some spectacular baby back ribs that Kathy nestled in a crockpot with Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce and some strategically-added Cinnamon Dolce Ale.  Wow, such a caramel flavor for those ribs!  

We'll have another adventure for you soon.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Embrey Dam and Rappahannock Canal Trail

Saturday, December 11, 2021 

Hi Blog!

After our trip to George Washington's boyhood home along the Rappahannock River, we decided to explore the river a little further. Fredericksburg has a trail system that includes several miles of hiking along the Rappahannock.

Here we are at the trailhead for the River Heritage Trail.

The first part of the trail follows an old canal path. This section of the old canal still has plenty of water.

We soon reached the site of the former Embrey Dam and Lock.  Construction of a canal on the Rappahannock River began in 1829. Construction of nearly 50 locks, 20 dams, and 15 miles of slackwater canal from the Fall Line at Fredericksburg upstream to Waterloo in Fauquier County was completed in 1849 almost 20 years later. However, within five years of completion, the Rappahannock Navigation Company was bankrupt, because operations and maintenance costs exceeded revenue from tolls.

The Embrey Dam was the last remaining dam on the Rappahannock. Fredericksburg found a creative way to have the Embrey Dam removed at Federal, rather than local, expense. It recruited the US military, under its Innovative Readiness Training program, to treat the dam removal as a training exercise. The plaque pictured below honors Senator John Warner who helped spearhead the removal project. The rapids once covered by the dam were renamed John Warner Rapids.

The Rappahannock River has a long history of settlement by the Rappahannock people. In 1608, Captain John Smith mapped the Chesapeake Bay and its major tributaries in two separate voyages. His men sailed and rowed upstream to the Fall Line before discovering boat-stopping rapids.

The Rappahannocks first met John Smith in December 1607 at their capital town “Topahanocke” on the banks of the river south and east of Fredericksburg. At the time, Smith was a prisoner of Powhatan’s brother, Opechancanough. He took Smith to the Rappahannocks for the people to determine if Smith was the Englishman who, three years earlier, had murdered their chief and kidnapped some of their people. Smith was found innocent. The perpetrator was a tall man. Smith was too short and too fat. Smith returned to the Rappahannocks' homeland in the summer of 1608. He mapped 14 fourteen Rappahannock villages on the north side of the river. The Rappahannock’s territory on the south side of the river was their primary hunting grounds.

Smith placed a pair of Maltese crosses to mark where he and his fellow explorers reached the Fall Line at modern-day Fredericksburg. While the original crosses where never found, Smith's maps were so detailed that researchers are convinced that this is the exact location and they placed a monument to Smith's exploration.

These falls may not look like much, but the river drops 25 feet over a distance of one mile. For more than two centuries, industries in this fall zone used this natural energy. Early settlers brought their corn and wheat to water-powered grist-mills in Fredericksburg and Falmouth. As the area grew and prospered, larger merchant mills provided even greater capacity. Not much remains of those early mills.

In addition to mills, there were several quarries along the path. Fredericksburg became known for its "Battlefield Granite." The term, “Battlefield Granite” was a tradename for a granitoid rock that was extracted from what today is called the Fredericksburg Complex. Technically, the Fredericksburg Complex is a group of metamorphosed rocks, which include gneisses, schists, and granites. Blue-gray biotite granites with several joint sets (fractures) were extensively quarried for building and monumental stone. The color of the granite comes from the combination of minute flakes of black biotite mica scattered throughout a gray-white feldspar background. It's impressive!

There are several sections of the trail that had to be re-routed due to washouts. Can you see Kathy hiding behind the warning sign?

The rock ledges make it seem like you could walk right across the river. However, those gaps between the rocks are wider than they appear.

One section of the trail passes under I-95. New lanes are being added to ease the traffic pressure around Fredericksburg. Since today was Saturday, there was no activity at the construction site. However, the roar of the traffic overhead was hard to ignore.

Once we passed I-95 we left the Embrey Dam Trail and picked up the Quarry Trail. The Quarry Trail is a system of mountain bike trails, the easiest of which is the Beach Trail, which runs along the bank of the river. Once we left the quarry, we followed the Beach Trail.

The Taylor Dam was one of the 20 dams along the Rappahannock. We took the stairs down to the canal landing to see what we could see.

There are no shortages of rocks in this area of the river.

We meet a few other hikers as well as mountain bikers on the tail. We stopped and compared notes with another couple on what this structure could possible be. First impression was an outhouse, but closer inspection suggested it was a pumphouse. After further research, we could not confirm the use of this structure. Some mysteries just cannot be solved in the amount of time we have.

As we make our way back to the trailhead, it is always interesting to find things we missed on the way out. How did we not see this giant hole in a tree!?

As we crossed the bridge over the canal, we could see the clouds thickening. Time to head back to camp and prepare for the rain.

It may be a couple days before we can get out and about again. Until then, stay thirsty my friends.