Yosemite Valley, May 25, 2010

Saki

Hiking Adventures 2010


Last updated January 2, 2011


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Old Rag
On New Years Eve, December 31, 2010, Norma, Verena, Lana, and I went hiking at Old Rag. Verena is Norma's former intern and Lana is Norma's co-worker.

Old Rag is a very special place because it is where Norma and I went for our second meeting back on June 4, 2006. Prior to that, I was first there on June 25, 2005.

It is probably my favorite and funnest day hike in the mid-Atlantic area. Though the last third isn't particularly interesting, the first part is scenic and the middle third is extremely interesting with all the rock scrambling. Unfortunately, the area is very popular so it isn't a place to go to get away from it all.

With high temperatures in the mid-50s, there were many cars in the parking lot and many folks out on the trail. We had quite a few cold days prior so I think folks wanted to take advantage of the break in the weather before it turned cold again. Of course, they also wanted to end the year on a positive note by seeing someplace beautiful and doing something active.

The four of us started walking a little after 1000. Just off the main road between the parking lot and the trailhead, we saw a bird nest. See first photo.

Lana and I were out in front for the first 2 miles of the Ridge Trail. After regrouping, I stayed behind with Norma and Verena while Lana went ahead on her own.

Norma learned that a heavy jacket is a no-no as she quickly warmed up and had to shed. Lighter layers are much better. See me sweating like a pig in the second photo. Perhaps it is because I was anticipating jumping to the rock several feet below (third photo).

The three of us took our time, taking in the views and shooting lots of photos. Some of the rock scrambling was a bit challenging and I gave them a little help but they were able to do 98% of it on their own. Given enough time, I think they would have done it all by themselves but like I said, it was crowded and folks were catching up. We didn't want to create a log jam. All the maneuvering made this middle third of the hike like an obstacle course.
  • Fourth photo: This hike isn't made for fat people.
  • Fifth photo: This is where I want to be when golfball sized hail hits.
  • Sixth photo: The trail maintenance people deserve a medal for this.
  • Seventh photo: Norma scrambling.

  • Near the top, we stopped for lunch. There were quite a few others eating too but the ridgeline was long so there was plenty of room for everyone without feeling crowded. From here, we could see in three directions. Unlike summer hikes in this area, which can be hazy, the air was dry and clear so visibility was excellent.
  • Eighth photo: One of many lovely views..
  • Ninth photo: Southwest view from our lunch area.
  • Tenth photo: Northward view. See Norma and Verena eating.
  • Eleventh photo: Westward view in the second half of the hike.

  • There was ice in the shady areas which made walking a bit slippery at times but these places were few. It was more common for us to encounter snow which wasn't so bad.

    A little after lunch, we reached the peak which was 3291 feet above sea level. From the parking lot, we climbed about 2200 feet to reach the summit. See Norma and I not too far from the top in the twelfth photo.

    Having not seen Lana, I was getting worried but Norma assured me Lana was superfit.

    Much of the downhill portion of our hike was muddy. See thirteenth photo.

    Norma, Verena, and I stopped at the Byrds Nest Shelter somewhere around the halfway point. Then, on the Saddle Trail, we passed the Old Rag Shelter which has an outhouse. I don't remember there being an outhouse there a few years ago.

    We saw two horses on the Weakley Hollow Fire Road. See fourteenth photo. Obviously, they didn't do the rock scrambing portion of the hike.

    On the last eighth of a mile, we passed a shed where the entire side facing the road was covered in deer antlers. About 20 meters ahead, Verena stopped at a pickup truck and looked inside. As I approached, she told me to look inside. I expected to find Lana sleeping but instead I found the head (no body) of a buck. Obviously, the owner was quite the skilled hunter.

    Back at the parking lot, Lana waited for us. We finished around 1645 but she had been waiting for a good 2 hours, thinking something bad might have happened to us. She enjoyed the hike but did not find it as challenging as the rest of us. Something tells me she should take up hiking as a competitive sport...maybe adventure racing.

    The hike should have been 8.8 miles long but my global positioning system (GPS) read 9.5 miles. We did make a few short side trips and I did have to walk a ways to find a private place to pee so maybe that reading was correct.

    We posed for some group photos then were on our way. See me surrounded by a good looking blonde, brunette, and redhead in the fifteenth photo.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.


    Little Devils Stairs
    On May 14, 2006, I hiked Little Devils Stairs with the Maryland Outdoor Club. On September 19, 2010, I did hiked it again but this time with Norma and Anna.

    After spending much of the 18th working in the yard, Norma and I figured it would be good to do something fun on Sunday. Hence, we picked up Anna then drove out to Shenandoah National Park to do the 7.8 mile loop hike described by Mike J. at MidAtlanticHikes - Little Devils Stairs.

    Even though I did this hike 4 years ago, I can't say I remember it well. I guess that can be a good thing about old age...I can enjoy certain events like they are the first time all over again. This was Norma's first time hiking this loop, and for Anna, this was many firsts. She had been in the United States for less than a month and wanted to see the Blue Ridge Mountains. Today she would see that and much more.

    By 1100 we started hiking on the blue blazed Little Devils Stairs Trail heading north. Like Mike says, the first 1.8 miles were a bitch (he didn't actually say that but he meant it).

    There was some nice scenery along the way. Lots of big rocks. Tiny streams trickled by. See first, second, third, and fourth photos. I imagine this would be a nice place to hike in the early spring when there is more water.

    I saw some bear poo.

    After things leveled off, we stopped for lunch at Fourway. This is where some trails meet. Here I found some caterpillar-like creature (fifth photo). I also found some bug that wrapped up a leaf with some web (sixth photo). I think it put its babies inside the wrapped up part.

    We continued on the blue blazed Pole Bridge Trail. A little later, Anna found a bright green caterpillar that looked like it was covered with antennas (seventh photo).

    At one of several small creek crossings (eighth photo), numerous butterflies congregated around Anna's backpack (ninth and tenth photos). Not sure why. Maybe they smelled the apples she was carrying.

    Continuing onward, we turned onto the blue blazed Piney Branch Trail then the yellow blazed Hull School Fire Road.

    We stopped at an Bolen Cemetary. See eleventh photo.

    By 1610, we were done.

    Norma drove us to Sperryville where we ate at what was undeniably the best pizzaria in town.

    Driving southwest on route 211, we entered Shenandoah National Park via the Thornton Gap entrance. Here, we showed Anna why the Blue Ridge Mountains are so named.

    Several stops were made at various overlooks such as Thornton Hollow, Rattlesnake Point, Little Devils Stairs Overlook, and Gooney Run. We saw several panoramic sunset views (twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth photos), deer (sixteenth photo), dying ferns (seventeenth photo), a wild persimmon tree, and a hedgeapple tree (eighteenth photo). We were hoping to see a bear but unfortunately, we saw none.

    In the town of Front Royal, we stopped at a tiny little custard stand east of Spelunker's Frozen Custard. Here Anna learned just how big a "small" American serving really is.

    It was a long and enjoyable day...one packed full of adventure. Too bad we didn't see any bears.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.


    Union Mills and Hashawha
    Carroll County isn't the first place I think of when I think about a good place to hike. In fact, it is one of the last...that is until August 1, 2010 when Peter J. of the Mountain Club of Maryland led a 9 mile hike at the Union Mills and Hashawha Trail.
    Hashawha is a Native American [word, which] means "old fields."
    - from Bear Branch Nature Center

    I recognized several people in our group: Jodi, Sharon, Jim, Marty, and Reuben who led the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail hike I did on December 7, 2008. I also met some new faces: Jerry who works at Terrapin Adventures, Captain Dan (USMC), and Jenny.

    About 15 of us started walking at about 1030, starting at the Kowomu Trail. But instead of catching the trail, we began with a short road walk. It was slightly hot but not nearly as hot as it had been in previous days.

    We caught a trail made for both hikers and equestrians. See first photo.

    Numerous black and tiger swallowtail butterflies were seen (second photo). I also spotted a milkweed tussock caterpillar (third photo) which will later grow into a milkweed tiger moth. I think it is much more impressive as a caterpillar than a moth.

    We passed the Martin Log Cabin (fourth photo)
    ...a restored historic structure (circa 1850) that is available for programs featuring human and cultural history.
    - from Hashawha Environmental Center

    A little later, we passed by a residential camp with some kind of rope obstacle course in the trees. See fifth photo. I believe this was the Hashawha Confidence Course.

    Soon we came to the Hashawha Raptor Mews.
    What is a raptor? A raptor is another name for a bird of prey, but not all birds of prey are raptors. Raptors are unlike any other bird of prey because they have a hooked bill, needle sharp talons, and sharp eyesight. Raptors are also carnivores, meaning they only eat other animals. Over millions of years, raptors have grown to be the most efficient winged predators in the world.
    - from trail sign

    The mews held several raptors including a red-tailed hawk, barred owl, black vulture, and bald eagle. I was reminded of my time doing volunteer work at the Sacramento Science Center back around 1985 as a volunteer animal care assistant. I often worked with birds very much like these. See Jenny looking at the eagle in the sixth photo.
    Located on the Vista Trail, the mews provide homes for several birds of prey...which are permanently injured. Programs which feature these birds can be conducted for Hashawha groups on a prearranged basis.
    - from Hashawha Environmental Center

    We stopped near the Hashawha Environmental Center to use their restrooms then had lunch at a nearby pavilion.

    Continuing onward, we walked by Lake Hashawha. See seventh and eighth photos.

    There was one stream crossing worth noting. It was special because not only was there a steel bridge but also some wires we could use to walk across. As far as I know, everyone in our group used the wires. See Sharon inching her way across in the ninth photo.

    I think we finished sometime around 1500. Dan drove Jenny, Marty, Jerry, and I back to the Owings Mills Metro Station where we met. My tired bones slept most of the way back. It has been awhile since I've done any real hiking. It felt good to be back in the saddle again.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.


    Splash Walk in the Middle Patuxent
    With Norma at the farm for the weekend, I looked for a means to kill some time and do something fun. I had lots of chores to get done around the house but I figured one or a half day of recreation wouldn't be so bad. So I started checking the hiking club websites. The Mountain Club of Maryland had a 13 mile out and back hike in Shenandoah National Park. This involved a 2000 foot elevation gain and of course, a long drive to get there. Our expected high temperature was over 100 degrees and it wasn't much cooler at Shenandoah. I decided to look for other options.

    Ken C. of the Howard County Sierra Club posted a last minute event to beat the heat...a splash hike on the Middle Patuxent River. Someone coined the term "splash hike" to basically mean a walk through a stream instead of a trail. It is slow moving but definitely a good way to stay cool and see some interesting wildlife. This walk would be extremely close to home for me. The plan was to meet about a mile from my house at the parking lot for the Wincopin Trail. This was too good to pass up.

    I informed Ken that I would be joining him and he said I was welcome to bring any guests so I told several people about this event. None took up my offer but one of my invitees, Stacy, told Andy M., a Sierra Club regular.

    A few minutes before the event, I showed up on bicycle. In addition to Andy and Ken, Alex and Kim also showed up.

    Ken drove us northwest on Vollmerhausen Road for 1.2 miles (to the end) then southwest on Murray Hill Road. About a tenth of a mile after the Vollmerhausen and Murray Hill Road intersection, we crossed over the Middle Patuxent (Pax) and parked on the side of the road on the southwest (right) side. There was room for about 2 vehicles. Next, we walked down to the river on the southeast side. It was a fairly easy walk though it might be difficult with a kayak. By 1000, we were walking, heading southeast (downstream). See first photo.

    It felt good to get our feet wet and to be in the shade. Unlike the Cheseapeake Bay, this water was cool and fairly clear. We saw numerous fish, some up to 18 inches long, though I think Andy might have seen one larger.

    On the wet sandy/muddy areas, we saw numerous footprints. There were giant heron prints, deer tracks, racoon prints, and lots of snail tracks.

    Tiger swallowtail butterflies were abundant. See second and third photos.

    Walking with Ken and Andy is always good because they are so knowledgable when it comes to the natural world. Plus, they are very observant and see things that I would either miss or take for granted. They found crayfish (1-2.5 inches long) and several small toads. See fourth and fifth photos. In the latter picture, the animal on the left is a toad while the one on the right is a cricket frog. They also spotted a 3.5 inch long spider (sixth photo).

    We posed for a group photo. I set my camera on timer but I had to rush to get into the picture. In doing so, I created quite a splash. See seventh photo. From left to right are Alex, Kim, Andy, Ken, and me.

    Andy pointed out some dodder which I had seen in California and Delaware but didn't know lived so close to home.

    Several of the rocks in the area had algae-looking tubes below the waterline (eighth photo). Ken pointed out they are actually made to trap food by a caddis fly Hydropsyche, also known as the net-building caddis fly.

    Numerous polliwogs (tadpoles) were seen in the muddy areas near the shore about an inch deep. See ninth photo.

    We were hoping to see some reptiles. One dead turtle was found but unfortunately, no snakes were seen...though I think Kim may have found that a blessing.

    Ken pointed out that the small holes in the wet sand (tenth photo) were made by Asian clams (eleventh photo). He reached down into the ground where these holes were and pulled up one inch long clams to show us. Then he put them on the ground and after a few minutes, they buried themselves again.

    It was about a mile to highway 95 then another 0.75 miles to our take out on the east side of the red trail in the Wincopin area. Here's a view where we got out, twelfth photo.

    The river was anywhere from 6 inches to 4 feet deep. I didn't see anyplace that would make a nice swimming hole. The few deep places were very localized. In terms of kayaking obstructions, there was one fallen log about mid-way through that one could probably go over on a plastic boat in higher water. Then just after we got off the river, there was a large fallen tree with several branches on it that would most likely require a portage.

    It seemed at least 10 degrees hotter on land as compared to being on the river.

    It was about a half mile walk back to the parking lot where we originally met. We were done just after 1300.

    It was a great way to keep cool on such a hot day. It did cool off a bit later when the weather changed. There was a strong thunderstorm that poured rain for a few minutes. High winds also blew which took down some power lines. Power went out in all of Savage from about 1530 to 2230. So once again I was out walking, trying to stay cool since it was hotter in the house. Much of my town was also out. It felt good to be outside again...but not as good as it did on our splash hike.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.


    California
    For a trip report of a couple of short California coastal walks on May 27, 2010 see California 2010.


    Villages of Dorchester Cleanup
    I moved out of my townhouse in the Villages of Dorchester of Hanover in December 2009. Now I rent it out. But just because I don't live there anymore doesn't mean I don't care about the area. I've gotten to know many nice people there. When I drive through the area, I see lots of folks out walking, running, or walking their dogs. That always brings a smile to my face. It is a nice neighborhood and while I enjoy living in Savage, at times I miss my old neighborhood.

    That being the case, I decided to help with the Villages of Dorchester annual cleanup. This was my first participation in this event. Not because I wasn't interested in prior years...I just never had this Saturday free. Historically, this cleanup takes place on the Saturday on or following Earth Day, which is appropriate. But there are lots of volunteer events that take place in April, which is National Volunteer Month. Additionally, on the Saturday on or following Earth Day is National Rebuilding Day which is my usual volunteer event.

    This year, however, I wanted to reconnect with my old neighborhood. I missed seeing the people and taking part in a community event. So I contacted Sanjiv and let him know I would be there.

    The cleanup took place on April 24, 2010 at 0830. We met at the Villages of Dorchester Community Center. About 30 of us showed up. Many parents with children participated to stress the importance of community service. There were lots of couples and singletons too. In addition to Sanjiv, I saw Sheetal (Sanjiv's wife), Kativa, Wendy, Doug, Diana, Phil, Carla, Yvette, Lisa, Alan, and Joseline.

    Sanjiv had coffee, muffins, trash bags, and maps for us all. He was well organized. Most participants cleaned up the areas closest to where they reside. But Margaret, JP, and I decided to pick up trash on the Villages of Dorchester Trail.

    The three of collected a good bit of trash at the edges of the woods but deeper in, we found little.

    I found a turtle. I showed it to Margaret and JP then put it back. Its shell was about 8 inches long.

    Margaret and JP were unfamiliar with the trail and how close it went to their house. They were quite pleased to learn this.

    After removing litter on and immediately around the trail, I started working on the drainage areas (ponds). I wore my tall rubber boots just for this occassion. Here, I found the most wildlife. At the pond closest to Sommerton Court, I found tens of thousands of snails, each about a centimeter long. The ground was literally covered with them at the edges of the pond. This pond had a significant amount of vegetation that must have made them so plentiful. At an adjacent pond, I found several frogs. I observed one that was about 2 inches long, beige in color and covered with dark elongated spots. At the pond behind Allerford Drive, I found several hundred polliwogs (tadpoles). It was fascinating how each pond had its own identify.

    There was quite a bit of trash near the ponds. This was to be expected as it is the low area. But overall, there really wasn't that much to clean up. People who participated in previous year's events claimed this cleanup was easier than others.

    I collected 4 large bags of trash in about 3 hours. The most annoying trash was styrofoam packing peanuts. The most unusual find was 5 baby bottles, all near the Somerton pond.

    Sanjiv bought 8 pizzas from the Italian restaurant on Dorchester Boulevard (whose name eludes me) to feed the hungry volunteers. I quickly devoured the slices with the most meat.

    All participants were given good quality metal water bottles in appreciation for their efforts.

    Judy organized a flower pot painting event that the kids (and possibly some of the adults?) enjoyed. Those who took a pot also received a flower to put in it.

    There was a 60% chance of rain, mainly after 1400. We worked in about 60 degree temperature under sunny or slightly cloudy skies. No rain.

    It was a good, productive, and enjoyable event. Maybe I'll participate next year...but if not in this, then probably some other volunteer event.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.


    Wincopin Trail
    Sometime in mid-March 2010, Norma and I went for a walk on the Wincopin Trail near our home in Savage. I failed to bring my camera, expecting to find little of interest. But this was like not bringing an umbrella because you think it isn't going to rain.

    We walked on the green and blue trails, catching a view of the Little Patuxent River to our east. Soon we came to the southernmost section of the trail system where the Little Patuxent River and the Middle Patuxent River merge and continue downstream as the Little Patuxent River. I looked over this confluence atop the remains of the Gabbro Bridge Support. I've heard that just downstream of where I stood were class 4 rapids. For someone like me, negotiating such an obstacle via kayak would mean certain death...we maybe not, but it would be quite foolish.

    Heading northwest on the green trail (first photo), paralleling the Middle Patuxent River, we soon came to a small pond (second photo). Looking in its murky depths, we saw several egg sacks, each about the size of a fist. Most were milky white and some were clear. Inside each sack were several eggs, each about a centimeter in diameter. These were later identified by our friend Sue M. (of the Howard County Recreation and Parks) as spotted salamander eggs!

    I swore I would return to photograph our find.

    Late on March 31, 2010, after a kayak trip with Lisa, I went back to the pond to take pictures of the eggs. I also found a couple of large polliwogs (tadpoles), each about 2 inches long from nose to tail. The sun was low and it was hard for my camera to focus on the eggs instead of the reflections on the pond though I imagine that problem could have been remedied had I better understood the workings of my camera.
  • Photo three: Egg clusters
  • Photo four: Closeup of egg cluster
  • Photo five: Clear egg cluster
  • Photo six: Egg clusters with flash enabled

  • On April 9, 2010, Norma and I returned to the pond to take more photos. This time I brought my global positioning system (GPS) to record its location. All of the following are equivalent:
  • 39 degrees north, 8.418 minutes; 76 degrees west, 50.128 minutes
  • 39 degrees north, 8 minutes, 28.08 seconds; 76 degrees west, 50 minutes, 7.68 seconds
  • 39 degrees, 8 minutes, 28.08 seconds; -76 degrees, 50 minutes, 7.68 seconds

  • Things pretty much looked the same except this time there were things that looked like small polliwogs, each just over an inch long. Many were resting on the outside of the egg sacks. After seeing a photo, Sue M. said they were likely freshly hatched salamanders.
  • Photo seven: Norma with egg cluster
  • Photo eight: Like Jello
  • Photo nine: Juvenile salamanders on egg cluster
  • Photo ten: Closeup of juvenile salamander on egg cluster
  • Photo eleven: Clear egg cluster
  • Click thumbnails to enlarge.


    McKeldin Area - Patapsco State Park
    Norma had to work yesterday so she couldn't join me for my February 27, 2010 hike at Cedarville State Forest. Wanting to get outside, I suggested we go to the McKeldin Area of Patapsco Valley State Park.

    I led a hike at the McKeldin Area on April 16, 2005 for the Young Sierrans. That was the last time I was there but I still remember the place fairly well. It is my favorite part of Patapsco Valley State Park.

    We started by walking southeast on the purple blazed Tall Poplar Trail. In the first 5 minutes, we saw a deer.

    Unlike yesterday, the trail was completely snow covered. See first photo. Walking was slow and difficult. The snow was only about 5 inches deep but that was enough to make me wish I brought my snowshoes or skis. Looking at the tracks, it was obvious that others had this foresight. At least I was smart enough to wear my Rocky Mountain High Gaiters. It seemed like each step gave me little to push off from so I had hardly any forward momentum. I really wasn't expecting McKeldin to be so much different than Cedarville.

    Our trail veered northeast. Then we were on the red blazed Plantation Trail. As we approached the shooting range in Marriottsville, the sound of gunfire got louder. It wasn't exactly a peaceful hike but I knew this would change.

    Our route took us clockwise around the park.

    Heading south, we came to the North Branch of the Patapsco River. See second photo. I had never seen the river so high before (third photo).

    Now we were on the Switchback Trail heading south. The sound of gunfire faded away.

    We got into a bit of a snowball fight. I won.

    Taking the high ground, we got a bird's eye view of the North and South Branches of the Patapsco River merging to form the Patapsco River. This is also where Howard, Baltimore, and Carroll Counties meet. I wish I could have called this a Tri-County hike but unfortunately, we didn't leave Carroll County on the hike and doing so would have required good cold water swimming skills.

    Next, we caught the McKelding Rapids Trail. This took us to the scenic overlook at the rapids. These are big rapids that empty into a wide calm water section bordered by a beach. See fourth photo. We scrambled around on the rocks by the rapids and found a perfect orange and what I think was an Asian pear. Not sure why someone left them there. Perhaps it was a religious thing. We left the fruits alone. At a picnic table on the beach, we ate snacks.

    This vista is one that I found so impressive, local, and easily accessible (less than a tenth of a mile from a parking lot) that when a co-worker asked me to recommend a place where he could propose to his girlfriend, I told him about this place and gave him detailed directions. He scouted it out and told me it was perfect. A few days later, he proposed to his girlfriend and she said yes. Happy ending.

    Norma and I continued our hike on the Switchback Trail. Much of this south-facing side had significantly less snow so we moved more easily.

    We rounded a corner and finished the hike on a snow covered gradual incline. We only walked 3.4 miles but because of all the snow, it was rather tiring.

    Very few people were seen. It usually felt like we had the whole park to ourselves. That, combined with the views and the exercise made for a nice day.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.


    Cedarville State Forest
    On Saturday, February 27, 2010, I joined the Howard County Sierra Club for a hike in Cedarville State Forest.

    I had never been to this place and as always, was eager to explore someplace new. Hence, at 0800, I met the group in Columbia at the Broken Land Parkway and Route 32 Park and Ride.

    Mike J. led this event. Also in attendance was Dave, Laurie (from our January 6, 2007 trail maintenance event), and Ken, who I have backpacked with several times. It was a small, but elite group.

    Ken drove us all in "Big Red" (his van). After about an hour, we were at the park.

    In the last few weeks, we received a significant amount of snow. More recently, we got high winds with gusts up to 50 mph. Exactly what this would mean on the trail, I knew not. I donned my Gore-tex boots, Stabil-Icers crampons, and rain pants, expecting lots of ice and water.

    The five of us walked on some of the outer perimeter trails, heading in a clockwise loop. We started on the oranged blazed Holly Trail.

    The first thing I noticed was that there was very little snow on the trail but a good amount on the sides of the trail. It was as if someone had come through a day prior and spread salt out on our path. Naturally, this made it easy to follow. See first photo at left. When we did step on the snow, it crunched a bit. It had a consistency between a Slurpee and a snow cone.

    The trail was wet and mostly leaf covered. Some parts were very wet so wearing rain pants was definitely good although gaiters would have been better. As far as the crampons go, they were a waste. I've used them before with great success on icy terrain but today, there was no ice on our path. Sinking down in the wet leaves and walking around branches made my crampons come off several times. I've never had this problem with Stabil-Icers before.

    The second thing I noticed was the large number of trees that were bent over. The snow weighted down several branches, forcing the trees to bend to the ground. Then, as things thawed, the branches remained held to the ground in ice. I reckon we must have freed 30 trees from their icy captors. Several other trees snapped in two either due to the snow or the high winds. Many of these blocked the trail so we did what we could move them off to the side so other hikers or mountain bikers could get through.

    The terrain was flat and the hiking was easy. The sun shined brightly and the high temperatures were in the mid-40s. It was a great day for a winter hike. Unfortunately, the dense woods, snow, and bright light made for lots of harsh shadows that made for bad photography.

    We stopped for lunch at a frozen lake. A woman was out walking her corgi. She might have been the first person we saw on the trail.

    There was a good amount of wetlands in the area, most or part of it draining into Zekiah Swamp Run. See second photo.

    A very well constructed bird's nest lay in our path...obviously the victim of high winds from days prior. See third photo.

    As I stepped over one log, I sank down in the mud and caught my foot on something. I landed face first in the snow. No injuries, but my pride was a little hurt. I'm not sure how it all happened but a little later I removed my crampons which might have been the culprit since they stick out beyond the toe of my foot by about 1.5 inches.

    Towards the end of our hike, we passed a pond with a beaver dam and what appeared to be a lodge. There were several signs of recent activity. See fourth photo.

    About three mountain bikers went by as we neared the parking lot.

    We finished our 9.4 mile hike then headed back to the park and ride. I slept for much of the drive back.

    I was home by 1445, with plenty of time to get some chores done.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.



    Fran Uhler Natural Area
    On February 7, 2009, I did a hike at the Governor Bridge area of Patuxent River Park. This was a Mountain Club of Maryland hike led by Marge. I enjoyed it so much I decided to return on January 16, 2010 for a hike at the Fran Uhler Natural Area.

    target="_blank" Marge also led this hike, commencing just after 1000. There were 24 of us present. Of those who participated, I knew Tom (Marge's husband), Dorothy and Marcy of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA), Don and Andy of the Howard County Sierra Club, Sharon, and Reuben who led the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail hike I did on December 7, 2008. I also saw Jody which always means homemade baked snacks.

    The high temperature was around 52 which is considerably warmer than it had been in the last several weeks. The water was still frozen (see first photo) and much of the ground was muddy. This slowed us down a bit and forced us to take some alternate routes. Yet despite this and the size of our group, we managed to stay together quite well and have a good time.

    The Fran Uhler (sometimes spelled "Euler") Natural Area, Park, and Trail are rather obscure. There are no trail blazes. To the best of my knowledge, there are no published maps of this area. It is connected with Patuxent River Park. If it weren't for Marge taking the time to scout this area, I don't think I would have ever seen it.

    We walked on a section of old railroad that was once part of the Washington, Baltimore, and Annapolis (WB&B) Railroad. There were many railroad ties and metal devices alongside this straight, flat trail. See second photo. This railroad began operating in February 1908.
    At the time, it was a state-of-the-art interurban rail line with electric trains traveling as fast as 70 miles per hour...Despite the fact that the railroad was rarely profitable, service was excellent. It was fast and on time. In 1909, a Washington to Baltimore round trip ticket cost $1.25 and travel took only 65 minutes one way. Ridership peaked in 1918 during World War One, when the railroad had 33 scheduled trips a day from Washington to Baltimore, carrying 5.9 million riders a year. The Great Depression took its toll, however, and the WB&A ceased service in August 1935. The tracks were removed shortly after.
    - from WB&A Trail sign

    We saw a grove of several yucca plants. See third photo. I've never seen these in the wild in Maryland. I always associate them with the west coast so seeing them green in a frozen environment seemed out of place.

    Someone obviously put some effort into making the area nice at one time. But perhaps due to a lack of funding, the place had been unmaintained for awhile. Information signs along the trail were now mostly unreadable. Bridges were missing planks (fourth photo). It is a shame to see the place in a state of disrepair but I was still thankful it was there for us to explore.

    The area is full of wetlands...which for us meant icelands. Jody ventured out on the ice. It looked like a frozen pond but Marge said it was just a few inches of frozen water on a road. See fifth photo.

    Stopping for lunch, I shared some dried persimmon made by my parents. Folks really seemed to like them. Jody shared the cookies she baked and someone else shared some turkey jerky. After a group photo (sixth photo), we were once again walking.

    We walked under a modern train track where the Amtrak sped by. A trail paralleled the track for a ways. We only walked on a portion of this trail to get to others but I expect I might return and investigate further in the spring.

    While there wasn't much small trash to be found, there were several large pieces of junk. We found old cars, refrigerators, ovens, tires, etc. See seventh photo.

    I believe we finished our 9 mile (and some change) hike around 1430. As with the last hike I participated in that Marge led, I decided to take some time afterwards to explore things on my own. See January 16, 2010 for the continuation of my day.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.