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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Biking the W&OD

Wednesday, June 16, 2020

Hi Blog!

After spending all day on Tuesday working to replace (a second time in two weeks) a leaky shutoff valve under the kitchen sink, we were eager to get out and about today. We recently had our bikes serviced, so we wanted to take them out for a spin and see how they perform. We discovered the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park.

Often called the skinniest park in Virginia, Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Railroad Regional Park is a paved trail between Shirlington and Purcellville, Virginia. The 45-mile route along the former railbed of the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad, runs through urbia, suburbia and into the Virginia countryside.

We started our exploration in Ashburn, Virginia. We joined the trail at mile 27.5. We were so excited to get started, we forgot to take our trailhead selfie. Here were are a mile down the trail. After the recent thunderstorms, it was a little chilly this morning. Kathy is wearing her bike jacket.

The first rest stop we came to was an overview of the stone quarry of Luck Stone Corporation. Luck Companies began in 1923 as Sunnyside Granite Company, and grew into one of the largest family owned stone companies.

We crossed a number of railroad bridges. With all the recent thunderstorms, the creeks were swollen and brown.

The Washington and Old Dominion Railroad was an intrastate short-line railroad. The railroad was a successor to the bankrupt Washington and Old Dominion Railway and to several earlier railroads, the first of which began operating in 1859. The railroad closed in 1968. Many of the businesses that sprung up next to the railroad have gone, but if you look closely, you can still find random items like this fire hydrant in the middle of what is now a field.

We stopped to check out the Leesburg Lime Company. Started in 1868, the lime company supplied farmers with fertilizer, and builders with plaster for walls and stone for roads. 

The W&OD is a Northern Virginia (NOVA) Regional Park. The ribbon on the first section of the W&OD Trail was cut on Sept. 7, 1974 by then Falls Church mayor Harold Miller – the first of what would be many events as the park expanded in both directions. On November 5, 1988, NOVA Parks celebrated the opening of the Trail’s final nine miles into Purcellville. Today, the Trail is an artery for visitors and commuters year-round. Work continues all along the trail. Here, a new mural is being painted in Leesburg.

Drainage work along the trail provided a great fishing opportunity for this great white egret.

This turkey vulture prefers to graze the trail for flatten cicadas and other tasty morsels.  Looking closely, we were sad to see that he had an injured wing and could not fly.  We hoped he would figure out how to survive without flying.

Many of the historic farms in the area have given way to new housing developments. However, you can still find evidence of the agrarian past.

After leaving Leesburg, we left suburbia behind. We rode past a number of beautiful farms and the Louden County 4H Fairgrounds.

In researching our ride, we found the Interactive Map to be really helpful. We were able to find parking, restaurants and brewpubs along the trail. Here Kathy is taking advantage of one of the numerous benches along the way to rest after a wearying bicycle climb.

Since leaving Leesburg, we had been steadily going up. After a few miles, we reached Clarke's Gap, a pass through Catoctin Mountain west of Leesburg. A beautiful stone arch bridge over the rail line is being preserved.  The wooden structure in the arch of the bridge appears to be a means of protecting users of the trail from decaying and falling stone.

After two hours of riding, we were getting hungry. We decided to make the halfway point at 12.5 miles. We found a pretty spot along the trail for lunch.

After lunch, it was a speedy trip back to Leesburg. You've heard the expression "it's all downhill from here." Well, it was. We only stopped once to visit with the Jolly Green Giant.

Did I mention that the interactive map includes all the breweries along the trail? We planned a stop at Black Walnut Brewery in Leesburg. Dave is enjoying their Peanut Butter Porter, while Kathy quaffs a Vienna Lager.

After quenching our thirst, we were back on the trail. The final few miles passed quickly. After 25 miles, we were back in Ashburn. 

As we loaded our bikes on the back of the Jeep, we could smell the wonderful aromas coming from the Carolina Brothers Pit Barbeque next door. Needless to say, we got a rack of ribs to go! 


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Camp Sharktooth Redux!

On June 14, 2021, we hosted our grandson William at Bull Run Regional Park.  It was a return to Camp Sharktooth!  After William finished his online classwork, he and Kathy chalked out our camp logo on the campground road by our RV:

This was, however, only the beginning of the hijinx.  At 11am, we walked over to Atlantis Waterpark, which is in Bull Run Regional Park where our campground is located, and started a 3 hour marathon of splashing fun in the sun.

One of the highlights of the waterpark is the two big waterslides - the yellow enclosed slide, and the open red slide.  We all agreed that we liked the red slide the best.

Here's how it looks to slide down the red waterslide!

We caught William as he shot out of the yellow slide into the pool below:

The second highlight of the waterpark is the Big Bucket that fills with water and, when it is full, tips over and dumps a torrent of water on the people below.

Click this link to see how Kathy and William took the Big Bucket Challenge and survived!

The waterpark also has a huge swimming pool.  William jumped in to cool off from the hot sun --

-- and promptly ducked under water to show off his aquatic skills:

He challenged David to a race across the pool.  It appeared that David won, but both boys missed the finish line by curving off to the left.  They only realized they had gotten off track when they reached the side wall of the pool.

William won the energy competition, however, outlasting both of us in his enjoyment of the water.  Below, William demonstrates the proper method of enjoying one of the many waterslides in the park:

No session of Camp Sharktooth is complete without a session of playing with Ruby Kitten.  From this photo you would think they were the best of friends.  Well, they are, but the relationship is complex.  Sometimes William traps Ruby and makes her find her way out of blanket mazes.  It is unclear whether Ruby likes this or simply endures it.

We ended the day by driving back to William's home, where his mom made us a fabulous Chinese dinner!  As we left to return to our RV, we agreed with William that we would all see each other again in a few days.

Yay, Camp Sharktooth!

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Appalachian Trail - Thornton Gap to Byrd's Nest Shelter Via Mary's Rocks

Time flies!  It seems like it had been weeks since we had last hiked.  Then we got the chance to do two AT-related hikes in three days.  The second of the two hikes was a 7-mile out-and-back hike on Saturday, June 5, 2021.  Thornton Gap, along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, is the nearest point where we could access the Appalachian Trail from Luray, Virginia.  As you hike south on the A.T. from Thornton Gap, you follow the Mary's Rocks Trail to a junction where Mary's Rocks Summit can be accessed on a side trail from the A.T.  This sounded like just what we would like, and so we set out!

We've always enjoyed hiking sections of the Appalachian Trail, in part because it links us to so many other hikers (many friends included), and to the recent history of hiking in the United States.  So it was a particular, personal enjoyment that attended our first glimpse of a Shenandoah National Park stone A.T. marker:

The Appalachian Trail never makes apologies for its elevation gains and losses as it follows the ridge of the Appalachian Mountains training up from Springer Mountain, in Georgia, to Mount Katahdin, in Baxter State Park of Maine.  That joyous up-and-down continues on the International Appalachian Trail into New Brunswick and the Gaspe Peninsula and on into Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador.  If the Atlantic Ocean weren't a consideration, we could hike that Appalachian Ridge all the way into Scotland and down into England.  

Oh, well.  For now, let's enjoy this particular little climb in Virginia:

The Mid-Atlantic woodland is familiar to us, as are the granite and limestone boulders we encounter along the trail:

Pennsylvania may be known for its rocky A.T., but this stretch boasts its own horde of rock gnomes:

Sometimes the boulders form hollows that might well be a homey spot for a hibernating bear in the winter:

It certainly was not winter on our hike.  The temperatures were high and we stopped frequently for hydration:

But we were amply rewarded with views.  This one was East across open forest:

While this area had obviously been clearcut by loggers early in the 20th Century, nevertheless, some big old trees had survived the logging.  We encountered one that had fallen in recent years and had to be cut to maintain a clear path:

Other old trees chose to accommodate the trail rather than collide with it:

Eventually, after about 2 miles of hiking, we reached Mary's Rocks, which gave a grand view to the West.  Here, Kathy take the first look at that panorama --

-- and the panorama gazed back:

After enjoying the view, we continued along the trail, enjoying the relative cool of the forest shade:

To our pleasant surprise, the A.T. south of Mary's Rocks offered several grand views to the west that rivaled that from Mary's Rocks.  We alerted hikers we met that these alternate viewpoints were available, because the crowds were building at Mary's Rocks itself with the afternoon heat.

Here, Kathy enjoyed yet another look West:

Eventually, after a little over 3 miles of hiking, we reached Byrd's Nest Shelter, where we encountered two young men having lunch as they section hiked with the mother of one of the men, who was herself through-hiking the entire A.T.  

In fact, we probably encountered a dozen through-hikers during our day.  These would have been the slower or later ones to have departed Springer Mountain headed north; the halfway point is not until just across the Pennsylvania border -- another 108 miles or 7 days north -- and the day of our hike would have been about halfway through the hiking season.  It is risky to reach Mount Katahdin too late in the season.

This we do not have to worry about.  In fact, we had no worries at all at the Byrd's Nest Shelter, because all of our needs were attended to:

Feeling so relieved and secure, we turned back down the trail and hiked the 3+ miles back to our trailhead with nary a worry in our little heads.

See you on down the trail!

Hazel Falls and Cave Hike

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Hi Blog!

After a family-filled Memorial Day Weekend and a few days of virtual school with William, we found ourselves on our own. With Shenandoah National Park right next door, it was time to take a hike. With a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon, we didn't want a ridge hike, so we found a trail down to Hazel Falls that included a cave.

Spring has definitely sprung in Shenandoah National Park. We followed the yellow blazed Hazel River Trail through a thick green tunnel.

It doesn't take long to leave the traffic of Skyline Drive behind us. The trail junctions are marked with concrete pylons. Little metal bands are stamped with the tiny names of the trails with even tinier arrows pointing in the correct direction. Make sure you bring your reading glasses!!!

Fallen trees allow peeks of sun to reach the trail.

One of the most unique things about Shenandoah National Park is that, unlike many western parks which were established to preserve wilderness and natural features on land already owned by the federal government, Shenandoah National Park was created to enable lands which had been heavily used and were no longer wilderness to regenerate. The lands in the park were heavily populated and had been used over the centuries by farmers, mill owners, logging companies, miners, and trappers. The forests of the Blue Ridge and surrounding areas were logged since the 1700's. The park was created entirely from land owned privately, rather than just setting aside land already owned by the federal government for preservation.

The mountain laurel (also known as calico-bush or spoonwood) is a species of flowering plant in the heath family that is native to the eastern United States. Its range stretches from southern Maine south to northern Florida, and west to Indiana and Louisiana. Mountain laurel is the state flower of Connecticut and Pennsylvania. It is the namesake of Laurel County in Kentucky, the city of Laurel, Mississippi, and the Laurel Highlands in southwestern Pennsylvania.

It is always fun to run into a few fun guys on the trail! This gang was particularly entertaining.

When established in the 1930's much of the land in the park was unforested open space. Second and third growth forest have reclaimed a full 95% of the park. Shenandoah National Park is often referred to as a "recycled wilderness." It certainly looks wild. Hey, where's Dave?

Along with 16 species of non-venomous snakes, there are two species of venomous snakes found in Shenandoah National Park: timber rattlesnakes and copperheads. When we met this snake sunning itself along the trail, we knew it wasn't either a rattler or a copperhead, but we could not be certain whether it was a garter snake or an eastern ribbon snake. It did not want to pose for a proper photo.

However, the really cool moss covered log was happy to pose for us.

We knew from a brief trail description that there would be about 350 yards of downhill. We did not expect such steep rock steps. We felt like we were back in the White Mountains of New Hampshire!

We descended into a deep, narrow gorge. The Blue Ridge on which Shenandoah National Park lies is part of the Appalachian Range. The entire Appalachian mountain range from Alabama to Newfoundland was created by the collision of tectonic plates resulting in a folding of the surface. The result was long, parallel ridges which formed the Appalachian Mountains. This trail takes you deep into one of those folds.

We could hear Hazel Creek tumbling its way down toward Hazel River. We worked our way upstream in search of Hazel Falls. We found the shallow cave which was more a void left by a jumble of large boulders.

The falls are just opposite the shallow cave. Part of the falls are hiding behind some of those large boulders.

We decided to have lunch before climbing our way out of the gorge. We picked a scenic spot where we could watch the falls tumble and the water burble.

We lingered over lunch before making the climb out of the gorge. We were both pleased when we reached the top. It was a good workout and great training for later in the summer when we climb Mount Washington and Mount Katahdin!

The return hike was easy compared to the climb in and out of the gorge. The only thing we had to worry about was being attacked by floating caterpillars!

A visit to a National Park would not be complete without a picture of the entrance sign!

We are hoping to get in another hike before we leave the area. Stay tuned.