Me at Overall Run on March 12, 2011

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Hiking Adventures 2012


Last updated December 26, 2012


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Gorman Stream Valley circuit hike
It was Christmas Day. The sun was shining brightly and although the high temperature was in the 40s, it wasn't windy. Norma and I decided to take advantage of the nice winter weather and go on a little hike. Opening presents could wait until it was dark.

We had talked about driving out to Old Rag for the day with some friends but all our friends were busy. It is a little harder to get motivated for a long drive and hike if nobody else is involved so instead we decided to stay local.

Norma and I first drove to Murray Hill Road. On the southwest side of the Middle Patuxent River bridge, just south of Vollmerhausen Road, there is room for a couple of vehicles. We left mine there with the idea that we would simply do a one-way hike. Then I hopped in Norma's car and we went to the western terminus of Gorman Stream Valley.

The previous and only time we were there was March 21, 2012. It looked like an interesting area so we vowed to return when we had more daylight.

There was only one other vehicle there and we think we saw these people within the initial few minutes. After that, we wouldn't see anyone until we reached Murray Hill Road.

This little oasis of a park rests between residential parts of Columbia and North Laurel. It follows the Middle Patuxent River. No matter where you are, you are never more than about a third of a mile from civilization. Yet there are many parts where one can feel secluded and "away from it all." The most surprising thing is how few people get out and enjoy these trails. Perhaps it is because many parts are muddy and the paths are unmarked. If you really make an effort to stay on the trail, you probably can but I found myself preferring to be closer to the water and in doing so, finding myself bushwhacking to get back onto easier terrain.

Walking downstream (southeast), we saw lots of little creeks that flow into the river. See first photo.

There were a couple of 2.5 inch long worms (or catepillars) in the water. Not sure what they were. Other than that and a few birds, we saw no wildlife. But there was lots of familiar plant life, and some not-so-familiar. We saw club moss, shining clubmoss, tulip poplar, and hemlock.

There were a few places in the park where we had a nice view of the river, such as at the powerlines, only about a quarter of a mile from Murray Hill Road. See second photo. This was also the place where I totally lost the trail. I figured it would pick up closer to the river (third photo) but I could not find it. So we bushwhacked our way to my car.

I dropped off my water bottles and them we walked northeast on Murray Hill Road. I remembered seeing a paved trail on the west side of the road just before Vollmerhausen Road. I wanted to check it out. It turned out to be one of the many Columbia Association (CA) trails. If you've ever wondered why anyone would want to pay so much money in homeowner association (HOA) fees to live in Columbia, this might answer your question. This trail, like many others in the area, is almost immaculate. It winds through trees and connects various neighborhoods, making the city much more walkable.

While we didn't originally intend to walk back to Norma's car on the north side of the river, that is exactly what we did. Except for the last mile or so, we stayed on CA trails.

There were some old ruins of a bridge foundation (fourth photo). I am quite certain that Eden Brook Drive in Columbia once connected to Kindler Road in North Laurel by one of these bridges. Near here on the north side of the river, we found a huge tree, that Norma says is a sycamore. The trunk was huge, though I'm not sure how much of it was healthy and how much was from a foreign growth. See fifth photo.

In one of the many small ponds, we saw what I believe to be water-starwort. See sixth photo. Nearby, we saw a corkscrew tree (seventh photo). No, this isn't a type of tree, just a name I call such trees when they take on this shape, often as a result of some parasitic vine wrapping around it.

Walking back on the north side of the river was much easier than walking on the south side, though the south side was certainly more natural. But surprisingly, we didn't see many people on the north side either. We finished our holiday hike, completing 6.4 miles.

Before returning home, I showed Norma where our Christmas turkey came from...Maple Lawn Farms, just 10 minutes from where our hike started. I am jealous that they have so many more solar panels than me. If you want to buy locally grown turkeys that actually have a chance to move about, see the sun, and get some fresh air, I recommend these birds.

There are a lot of good things that can be found close to home. That night, I searched for and found a map of the CA trails. The next day, I found the Howard County Recreation and Parks trail maps. These short winter days are great for this type of exploring. I'm sure we won't get bored over the next few months with so much to see and do.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.


Swallow Falls State Park
A short but scenic walk with lots of good friends was spent in Swallow Falls State Park on the morning of October 7, 2012 prior to a major event. Click on my October 7 link to find out what that might be.


Bayview Trail at Mason Neck State Park
Immediately following our May 27, 2012 kayaking adventure, Norma, Brian, Kristina, and I set out to do a little walk in Mason Neck State Park on the 1.02 mile Bayview Trail. This trail starts near the beach launch area.

We headed southwest on a boardwalk, past a little pond just flowing with life. It held numerous turtles (first photo), fish, dragonflies (second photo), and a few snakes.

To our right was Belmont Bay (third photo). As low tide approched, we had a much different view than when we were on the water, as muddy areas previously covered by water were now visible.

Peculiar unidentified large insects hid amongst the greenery. See fourth photo.

Marshy areas (fifth photo) harbored water that flowed into the bay (sixth photo). From the bridge, numerous small fish (seventh photo) and one large one (eighth photo) were seen.

Boardwalks covering the wetlands made this for a pretty clean, easy, family friendly walk. See ninth and tenth photos.

A beaver lodge was spotted. See eleventh photo.

A few five-lined skinks were seen. See twelfth photo. Notice their blue tails which make them look very much like a blue-tailed skink, which are not found in the Americas.

Some Indian Pipe plants were found. See thirteenth photo. I call these "Marilyn Manson" plants due to their pale, ghost-like pigment.

We passed a hollow tree that looked like it might be a good place to find a gnome, fairy, or other mythical creature. See fourteenth photo. Perhaps it was a hidden entrance to Middle Earth.

At the end of the trail were some paw paws (fifteenth photo) not yet ready for eating.

After completing our little walk, Brian shuttled Norma and me back to my car. We then followed him and Kristina back to their house and joined them for a really awesome cookout on their deck. It was a great way to spend the day.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.


Brandywine Creek State Park
A very nice day of hiking in Brandywine Creek State Park in Delaware was spent on April 14, 2012.


Shenandoah Waterfalls
On Friday night, March 30, 2012, Norma brought home her intern, Gina, whom we previously spent time with on Martin Luther King Weekend 2012, along with another intern by the name of Susann. Unfortunately, Susann finished up her internship and had left the country.

The three of us went out to dinner at the Rams Head Tavern. This is our equivalent to the Regal Beagle because it is so close by and we frequent it so often. They recently redid their menus so most everything was new to me. I had their Friday night salmon special which was good but the sauce was a little too sweet for my taste. We then went to play Settlers of Catan at The Family Game Store in the Savage Mill. This was my first time playing it and I lost miserably...but I still had fun.

The following morning, on March 31, 2012, Norma, Gina, and I drove to Shenandoah National Park. Gina's internship was almost at an end and she wanted to see some beautiful outdoor places in the area. Scenic overlooks would have been nice but it was hazy and the views were not so good. She also wasn't so sure about hikes in the 10-mile range. So instead, Norma pulled out her Hikes to Waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park booklet and we planned some short waterfall hikes. This is a really awesome guide but I don't know where you can buy it. But much of the information can be found at Waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park.

By the time we arrived, I was feeling a little under the weather. I had a mild headache from the previous night. I'm thinking it might have something to do with breathing lots of drywall dust and some fiberglass insulation while installing an electrical box to hold a ceiling fan. So I slept in the car while they went off. But that was fine since I had already seen these falls on January 29, 2012.

They did a 3.4 mile out-and-back hike on Cedar Run Trail to Cedar Run Falls (34 feet in height). Here are Norma's photos:
  • First photo: Gina at Cedar Run Falls.
  • Second photo: Trilium.
  • Third photo: Mystery plant.
  • Fourth photo: Purple flower.
  • Fifth photo: White flower.
  • Sixth photo: Jack in the pulpit.

  • After their little walk, we drove to Big Meadows Lodge to use the restroom and refill our canteens.

    Next, we parked at the Fishers Gap Overlook (3070 feet above sea level) then caught Rose River Loop Trail to Rose River Falls (67 feet in height). See seventh and eighth photos.

    We saw the remnants of an old copper mine (ninth photo) and a green stink bug (tenth photo). I've never seen a green one...the ones we find in our house are brown.

    Continuing on, we crossed a bridge over Hogcamp Branch (eleventh and twelfth photos) then hopped over a few smaller streams.

    There were some new fern plants (thirteenth photo) and a good number of skunk cabbages (fourteenth photo), which I'd been seeing lots of recently on other outings.

    We eventually came to the Rose River Fire Road.

    I walked another 0.4 miles out and back on Dark Hollow Falls trail to Dark Hollow Falls (70 feet in height) while Norma and Gina started heading back on the fire road. These falls are supposed to be the easiest to get to in the park, being just 0.7 mile from the parking lot at mile 50.7 on the east side Skyline Drive. So naturally, it was quite crowded here with folk who didn't seem like typical hikers (i.e. families with small children and smokers).
  • Fifteenth photo: Bottom of Dark Hollow Falls.
  • Sixteenth photo: Side view of bottom of falls.
  • Seventeenth photo: Higher up in the cascade.
  • Eighteenth photo: Further downstream.

  • I caught up with the girls and we finished our loop hike together. This is a modification of the Rose River/Dark Hollow circuit hike. I'm estimating we did about 2.5 miles on this circuit.

    Afterwards, we all ate dinner at
         Frost Diner
         55 Broadview Avenue
         Warrenton, VA 20186
    which is where Norma and I ate on June 4, 2006 after having met each other face-to-face just 4 days prior.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.


    Gorman Stream Valley
    I love finding interesting places close to home. For this particular hike with the Mid-Atlantic Hiking Group, the trailhead was a place I'd passed a dozen times before on my Savage to Rocky Gorge bicycle training route.

    Norma and I met for this event at 1845 at the Gorman Stream Valley trailhead. This is the west end of the Gorman Stream Valley Natural Resource Area.

    There were 10 hikers, led by Mike H.

    There were no introductions. We just set off, paralleling the Middle Patuxent River, heading downstream.

    One overlook gave us a nice view of the river below. See first photo. After a good rain, I am sure I will return to paddle though I expect numerous portages and maybe some cutting. A good take-out would be 6 miles downstream at Savage Park which connects to my back yard.

    There were lots of skunk cabbage (second photo) and tadpole-filled puddles (third photo). Also lots of trees filled with white flowers (fourth photo).

    Most of the trail was suitable for mountain biking.

    Lots of deer ran amok. No other interesting wildlife though our group was really noisy.

    After 2.3 miles, we turned around and headed back. We were now walking in the dark with headlamps.

    I was told that one can continue on and come out the other end, but where, we know not.

    Various parts of the trail backed to nice homes in Columbia where some of the owners didn't appreciate us walking around at night and they let us know exactly how they felt.

    The hike was just o.k. But the real prize was just learning about this place. I will definitely return.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.


    Hilton and Orange Grove Areas - Patapsco Valley State Park
    Hiking at Patapsco Valley State Park is like playing poker with a wildcard in your hand. The wildcard can be used for a lot, it can come in handy when you need it most, and it should not be wasted. Patapsco Valley State Park is very close to home, has lots of nice trails, and is a great place to hike when other places may not be so well suited. Hiking here is an opportunity that should be carefully chosen...and like a wildcard, not wasted. It was exactly what I needed on February 25, 2012.

    Norma had plans for the late afternoon so driving far out of town for a day hike wasn't so practical. It was also too windy for bicycling. So I figured I'd take her hiking in the Hilton and Orange Grove sections of the park. She had never hiked this area...she had only seen parts along the road while biking with me on November 12, 2011. It seemed like a good day for a medium difficulty hike so at the last minute, I grabbed my maps and threw this trip together.

    I've spent a LOT of time at Patapsco State Park...almost as much time as I've spent at Patuxent River Park. One reason I keep returning is because these parks are soooo spread out. It is really more like several different parks than one. My last hike at Patapsco was on February 28, 2010 while my last in the Hilton and Orange Grove areas was on March 12, 2006. Other trips include April 16, 2005 and December 29, 2007. While I've probably seen the most impressive parts, I certainly haven't explored all the trails. So I'll keep coming back.

    I drove us to the parking lot at the west end of River Road, just south of the Patapsco River in Howard County. This is a stone's throw from the Swinging Bridge in the Orange Grove area. Of all the places in the Orange Grove, Hilton, or Glen Artney sections of the park, this is my favorite spot to start because it is near so many trailheads, provides easy access to both sides of the river, holds many vehicles, and has a restroom. Hopefully, this spring I will return with my kayak, launch from here and take out at Southwest Area Park, about 9 miles downstream.

    We started walking at about 0845. After crossing the river via the Swinging Bridge, we hiked upstream (northwest) on the paved Grist Mill Trail in Baltimore County. In about a third of a mile, we crossed through a tunnel under the CSX Railroad Track. Then we warmed up a bit (but not enough) by forcing our way up a steep hill on Buzzards Rock Trail. We took the full blow of wind gusts of up to 42 mph as we walked up the ridge. Hiking is generally pretty safe but fears of big tree limbs crushing us kept entering my mind.

    The high temperature for the day was predicted to be 49 degrees. But it was only about 0915 and much colder. The wind chill was in the high 20s. Generally, for hiking, I dress appropriately and Norma overdresses. She ends up sweating, then taking off layers and having to carry them. I, on the other hand, pack some extra layers and don't wear them. I keep them in my pack for a "just in case" situation. But not long after we started hiking, I put on my extra "just in case" layer. But then my ears were cold. Fortunately, Norma brought an extra pair of ear bags. Today, she dressed just right and I did not.

    On Buzzards Rock Trail, we came to a vista that gave us a nice view of the valley to our west. Down below we had a clear view of the river and Bloedes Dam which was releasing quite a bit of water. See first and second photos.

    Continuing onward, we walked beside South Hilltop Road heading southwest. This led us to the Hilton Area - South Hilltop Road (Ilchester Rocks) entrance. After another third of a mile, we were at Ilchester Rocks, a place my rock climbing co-workers had told me about but I had yet to see until today.

    Walking south on Buzzard Rock Trail took us back to Grist Mill Trail at Bloedes Dam (third photo). My visit to this location from several years ago was all coming back to me now.

    We headed west on Grist Mill Trail until we came to a bridge (fourth photo). This was new. Previously, one would have just had to turn around and head back but now hikers could cross the river to get to Ilchester Road. More importantly, they could now do an easy, flat 6 mile loop hike from the bridge (I'm calling it the Ilchester Bridge) to Gun Road, traveling on the Grist Mill Trail on the Baltimore County (north) side then on the River Road Trail/River Road (Howard County) south side. Sweeeeeet!

    But before picking up the River Road Trail, we decided to do a little more exploring. We saw a couple cross Ilchester Road then head up some concrete steps directly across from the Ilchester Bridge. Following them took us to an area I call the Ilchester Ghost Town. It is an area containing a significant amount of ruins. There are lots of stairs (fifth and sixth photos), a slightly broken-up paved road (seventh photo), foundations (eighth photo), a basement (ninth photo), and lots of bricks. It wasn't too old. I saw electrical wires sticking out of the ground where it looks like street lights might have lay. Google Maps says this location is 39.250793, -76.76604 but that's about all it says. My high resolution ADC Maps don't show this location as being anything special either. It is just a wooded area between park property. It lies to the west of Ilchester Road, north of Bonnie Branch Road, and south of the CSX Railroad Track and Patapsco River.

    The ghost town is pretty impressive, especially since we just happened to stumble across it. I'm wondering if it was a structure that was destroyed in 1972 when Tropical Storm Agnes hit. If you want to explore the ghost town but don't want to do any more hiking than necessary, park at the Hilton Area - Ilchester Road entrance.

    I didn't see any modern "no trespassing" signs or markings indicating that we should keep out of the ghost town. There was one old and hidden sign that said "no trespassing" but that was all. I'm guessing that if anyone didn't want us there, they weren't making much of an effort to keep us out. There were lots of trails, including some unmaintained paved ones that appear to lead back into the park, but away from Catonsville and towards Ellicott City. Having limited time, we decided to leave that exploration for another day.

    Norma and I ventured southwest (downstream) along the Patapsco River on the Howard County side. We were on a dirt trail for a very short distance. This then turned to a paved road. I think it was once suitable for vehicles but most likely Agnes changed all that. It was broken up and lots of big trees lay in its path. No automobiles could get through. But it was perfect for hikers.

    We stopped at a fallen tree and ate lunch. Sitting still made us cold so we didn't waste any time. We wanted to keep moving.

    The trail took us to the south side of Bloedes Dam. We saw a covered fish passage/ladder that allowed the ambitious and smart fish to make it upstream of the dam. See tenth photo. I wonder how many actually make it.

    Near the Swinging Bridge (where we started), we caught the blue blazed Cascade Falls Trail southwest. This took us to one of the few waterfalls in Howard County. It was flowing nicely. See eleventh and twelfth photos.

    The yellow blazed Morning Choice Trail took us east for maybe 2 miles. See thirteenth photo. There were LOTS of mountain bikers out. But they were all polite. There seems to be a standard trail etiquette where
  • they let us know they are coming,
  • the first person lets us know how many are behind him, and
  • the last person lets us know he is last.
  • Those trails are in excellent shape and ideal for mountain biking. If I was a mountain biker, that is where I would ride.

    Some old homes lay in ruins (fourteenth photo).

    Near the Belmont Research Conference Center, I saw an iron fence. Looking on the other side, I found an old graveyard (fifteenth photo).

    We took the purple blazed Rockburn Branch Trail for not more than 0.1 mile north to the orange blazed Ridge Trail that led us west. I hoped to find a vista that my old map indicated was on a spur extension of the yellow/orange blazed Connector Trail but I did not find it. But we did see more ruins (sixteenth photo).

    Taking a shortcut off the Ridge Trail put us on River Road which took us back to my car. We walked a pretty easy 9.7 miles...at least it should have been easy. I was still a little sore from running earlier in the week.

    It was good to get out and see some old sights, hike on some new trails, and do some exploring. It was quite the adventure.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.


    White Oak Canyon
    Usually, I write my blog shortly after an event so things are still fresh in my mind. But for this January 29, 2012 hike, I had a few other projects that got in the way of my blogging so I didn't write this until 3 weeks later. So my memory is a little fuzzy.

    Norma was out that day, doing stuff with her friends. So I decided to do a White Oak Canyon hike with the Howard County Sierra Club. This hike was led by the chairperson, Ken C. I tried to get some friends to join me but was unsuccessful.

    I've never done this hike before but I had heard good things about it. My friend Stacy did this hike several weeks ago but I was busy at the time with something else so I could not attend. But I heard it was a fun and challenging hike.

    We met at the Broken Land Parkway and Route 32 Park and Ride at 0800. I rode out with a really sporty gentleman whose name I forget. So for now, I'll just call him "sport." Ken drove his Prius with two women hiker passengers whose names I also forget.

    This is a somewhat good hike to do in the winter because semi-frozen watefalls are beautiful. But this beauty comes with a mixed blessing. It is also a rocky hike with lots of elevation change and walking on ice can be challenging. Not knowing what to expect, I brought my crampons and hiking poles. Arriving at the 1200 foot elevation trailhead, I quickly realized that I would not be needing them.

    We started walking at what I felt was a perfect pace. Too fast and the hills would drain our energy before we finished. Too slow and we'd be walking in the dark at the end. With such a small group, it was easy for us to stick together but even if we were more numerous and spread out, I think we would have been able to spot Ken with his neon yellow gloves. I could swear those things were glowing.

    We passed lots of big boulders and fresh, flowing streams. I planned to follow our route on my map. I brought the Appalachian Trail and other trails in Shenandoah National Park map for both the northern and southern districts. But it turns out our route was in the central district...just the map I didn't bring.

    Heading west on the White Oak Canyon Trail, we passed numerous spectacular waterfalls. Lower Whiteoak Falls was one of them. Simply beautiful! See first and second photos.

    There were several unnamed falls such as the one in the third photo. What exactly consistutes a waterfall is something I don't know. If water falls one foot, it certainly isn't a waterfall but if it falls 5, 10, or 20 feet, is it a waterfall? According to Wikipedia - Waterfalls, there are several types (block, cascade, cataract, etc.) and classes based on the average volume of water present on the fall. But it never gave me what I felt was a concrete definition, just
    A waterfall is a place where flowing water rapidly drops in elevation as it flows over a steep region or a cliff.

    As one would expect, with so many waterfalls, there were lots of rocks and hills that made the hike a little challenging at times. I felt really good but started getting a little tired closer to the end, around mile 7. It has been awhile since I've done any walks of significant length.

    Even though it was January, it felt more like autumn. There was almost no ice on the ground and no snow. It wasn't very cold either unless we were in the wind.

    It wasn't just the views of the falls that were nice but also the scenery looking back while standing near the base of the falls, which was usually on much higher terrain than some of the surrounding area.

    The giant boulders were quite a sight too. See fourth photo. Some trail workers used some of the medium sized rocks to make a nice, sturdy staircase (fifth photo).

    At one spectacular overlook, we stopped for lunch and a view of White Oak Falls. See sixth photo. It reminded me of the Overall Run Loop hike that Norma and I did on March 12, 2011. White Oak Falls wasn't quite as tall but it was definitely in the same ballpark in terms of height.

    Continuing onward, we walked into some shady areas where some ice remained. It turned ordinary branches into shimmering ice sculptures. See seventh and eighth photos. It is too bad there weren't more but it was also nice to not have to worry about sliding around.

    There was some evidence of recent beaver activity in the streams.

    Sport pointed out an unusual rock formation that jutted out of the ground. It was comprised of several individual columns of rocks, each having 6 sides. He said that the hexagonal shape is a property of this mineral whose name I forget. See the ninth photo for a side view and the tenth photo to a top view. This was near an intersection with Limberlost Trail.

    A few minutes later, we were walking on Skyline Drive. There was a nice vista to our west at Timber Hollow Overlook, elevation 3360 feet. See tenth photo.

    We picked up the Appalachian Trail. There were more natural ice sculptures and a few slick patches on the trail.

    Sport headed a different route so he could get in an extra couple of miles. He's pretty hardcore.

    A little later we were walking east on Cedar Run Trail. After what seemed like forever heading uphill, we were now venturing down (eleventh photo). The dramatic waterfalls were now replaced by numerous, small, gradual drops. See the twelfth photo for one such drop (look between the rocks) and then see the image at the top left corner of this page for a zoomed in view.

    As the sun sank lower in the sky, it got cold. But as long as we kept moving, I was comfortable.

    We finished our 10 mile hike. It was somewhat tough because of all the climbing and rocky terrain...and the fact that I'm just not conditioned for such hikes anymore. But it was all well worth it and I had fun.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.


    Martin Luther King Weekend
    For a trip report that includes short walks in Delaware Seashore State Park and Cape Henlopen State Park, see MLK Weekend in Delaware 2012.


    Hiking in California
    For a trip report that includes short hikes in California on the Valencia Peak Trail near Los Osos and the Balconies Trail at Pinnacles National Monument, see December 25, 2011 to January 2, 2012.