Harpers Ferry Forever

Some of you who may have read my previous blogs could be wondering about the motivation behind this trilogy of blogs on Harpers Ferry.  My first inclination had been to write only this particular blog that I am about to pen, and this was based on a trip that we had made to the town very recently. But then I realized that I have been experiencing Harpers Ferry and writing about it for some time.  Some history in this regard was needed before proceeding.  The earlier blogs on the topic of Harpers Ferry, and the background material needed for them, flowed quite naturally from this realization.

If you are a regular reader of my blog,  you know by now that Harpers Ferry has been a part of my weekend runs for several years on the C&O Canal, although more frequently in the past than in current times.   But one does also occasionally wander into the town itself from across the river, either when one decides to cross over the river to the tip of Harpers Ferry, to the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah, or when one goes into town for tourism purposes when we have visitors from other parts of the world.

Thus is was that we found ourselves recently visiting the place twice this year, in quick succession, accompanying visitors. You would think that such visits into town would tend to become monotonous, but the amazing thing is that I am finding new things about this place called Harpers Ferry.  I am actually beginning to get a better sense for what life must have been for people living here in times past, starting from when Robert Harper moved to the area in the 1760s.  I am now also more fascinated by the history of the town in the simplest sense of the word, i.e., in terms of how people lived there rather than in the sense of its place in history, about how the town grew and even prospered before the inevitable impact of the passage of time, and even about simple things like how the layout of the town changed over the years (there were actually even a few canals that flowed through town at one time or the other).  Perhaps a day can come when I can even get a sense for how people generally felt about their lives in Harpers Ferry.

So what is it that has roused my enthusiasm about the place you ask!  As background for getting a better insight into my frame of mind and my thinking about this subject, I will note that one of the first things worth knowing about current Harpers Ferry is that the National Park Service (NPS) has done a bang-up job bringing the town back to life, both physically and virtually, after its having been destroyed over and over again by floods, something that almost led to abandonment.  Today, people only live in the upper parts of town above the flood lines.  The lower part of the town is dedicated to the tourists.  Besides the mom-and-pop shops and restaurants, there are still many previously abandoned buildings of the old town that remain in this lower part of town.  In spite of having been to Harpers Ferry many times, this was the first time I discovered that many of these abandoned buildings have been converted to museums.   Each building addresses a different aspect of the town’s history and background.  This is a work in progress, but the NPS have already done an excellent job.  There is an attempt to cover all aspects of life in a little town over the entire period of its existence in a systematic way.  Of course, significant turning points in history, like John Brown’s insurrection, and the important battle that took place in and around the town during the civil war, are prominent subjects for presentation, but one also learns about the life of ordinary people, including the experience of blacks at that time in history,  or the commercial story of the town (as noted, it was once a prosperous town), the functioning of the armory that the town came to be identified with, and the impact of the railroad and the floods on the town over the years.  You can feel like you are living the experience.

With more and more trips to the town, I might actually begin to remember what I see and read in the museums and be able to relive those times in my mind rather than just remember the experience of being in the town!   This year was the first time we walked through the ruins of Virginius, a little island on the west side of town that at one time was Harpers Ferry’s center of commerce.  They made good use of the power of the waters of the Shenandoah to fuel the commerce and help the place flourish, by diverting some of the water into tunnels under town in order to use its power. But ultimately the river was not controllable!

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Site of water inlet from the Shenandoah into Virginius
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Waterways below the ruins at Virginius

For the first time, we found the original site of John Brown’s fort, originally a guard and fire house.  The site is on top of an embankment that once used to carry a railroad line into town.  (The remains of the railroad track can still be seen under the sand in places.)  The embankment runs parallel to Potomac street.

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Marker at the original site of John Brown’s Fort

John Brown’s fort has itself been moved around quite a bit over time, even to places outside of Harpers Ferry. It has come to rest in its current location near the confluence of the rivers most recently.

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John Brown’s Fort

And then we discovered the site of the original buildings of The Armory behind the embankment I mentioned earlier.  None of the armory buildings still  remain, having been razed to the ground to support a railroad yard more recently in time.  But you can walk in the area and get a sense for the place.    There are markers that tell you a little more about the place itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Picture of buildings on Potomac Street taken from across the armory site and beside the Potomac river

It turns out that after all these years I am still learning new things about Harpers Ferry.  I even have a better appreciation for how the place must have looked in different times.   I will be back, and hopefully I will continue to have my curiosity piqued, and I will actually remember some of things I read, and I will also continue to learn.  Maybe Harpers Ferry will remain with me forever!

Harpers Ferry (2/13/2005)

This note was written in 2005.  As you can see, I considered what I had accomplished that day very significant at that time, when it fact it could be considered just another minor milestone in the story of my life.  But perhaps it did also affect my psyche in a way that led me to the place I am today. Who is to say!

As a point of reference in time, I got my first digital camera only a month after this outing on the C&O canal towpath.

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I reached my Destination today, February 13, 2005. Alleluia and Glory be!!!

Some of you may know about the historical town of Harpers Ferry, located at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers in West Virginia, at the meeting point of the three states of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. It is a beautiful town located on a hill. It saw a lot of action during the civil war. It was the site of an armory in those days, and John Brown also staged his unsuccessful insurrection there to try to free the slaves. Lewis and Clark went through Harpers Ferry on their way west, picking up weapons and other supplies. They even had a boat made out of iron in Harpers Ferry for their trip. That particular project was not successful…

The B&O railroad crosses the Potomac at Harpers Ferry. The railroad lines emerge from a tunnel on the Maryland side and split in two directions, over two bridges, as they cross the river, with the bridges passing on opposite sides of the town of Harpers Ferry. These bridges over the waters are an impressive sight. There are also remains of older bridges across the rivers to be seen around the town. The rivers are wide and the waters very rough. This is white water territory! Over the centuries, the waters have cut a notch through the mountains, and there are cliffs and hills all around. It is both pretty and powerful at the same time.

We have visited Harpers Ferry a few times in the past. I have noticed the C&O canal towpath during those trips and made note of the fact that the trail runs all the way up from Washington, DC. I remember thinking to myself at that time that it would be extremely cool to come up the towpath from Montgomery County by bike. Well, I have done it, not by bike, but on foot, and not all in one day, but over a period of months. It is my destination!

When we were growing up in Madras, there were a couple of books that I loved to thumb through. Both were travel books and had lots of pictures in them. One of the books was of travels in the USA and the other was of travels in other parts of the world. There is a picture from one of the books that has been stuck in my head – it shows a train crossing a bridge over a river and the railroad track splitting off in two directions on the opposite side of the river. In my imagination, this is the town of Harpers Ferry.  I remember that when we first visited this town, this was the image that came to mind. The thought, most likely a figment of my imagination, was that this was something that I had seen in books as a child, but now was fortunate enough to experience first-hand. Yes, this is my destination!

Harpers Ferry is at mile 61 on the towpath, and quite far away from home. This is probably the limit of where I can get to comfortably without stretching myself too much. In fact, I had to get on the highway at 6:40 am to make sure that I got there at a reasonable time to start the run. This is yet another reason for me to consider this as a destination. I will pause at Harpers Ferry for a while, take a measure of what I have done on the towpath thus far, and consider setting other goals for the future. Meanwhile, there are miles to be covered over and over again, and trips that will surely give me new experiences with the River.

The run between Brunswick (mile 55) and Harpers Ferry took me from a familiar set of surroundings into new and different territory. So far the canal has mainly run through heavily wooded areas, and the river has tended to be a quiet beast for the most part, showing itself occasionally through the branches of the trees. As one gets closer to Harpers Ferry, the towpath is right up against the river. The area is completely open and there are very few trees around. You are running on an embankment completely exposed, about 20 to 30 feet above the river on one side, with the dry canal bed just a few feet below you on the other side. You realize the magic of the system of locks, that allows them to maintain the waters of the river and the canal at different levels. (This area has quite a few locks because of the significant drop in the level of the river.) As an added bonus, you have the B&O railroad on the other side of the canal, and I saw quite a few freight trains rumbling by. This place tends to be noisy – there is also road traffic from route 340. You also pass by the little town of Sandy Beach which is essentially a row of houses parallel to the canal, railroad tracks, and road, with its back up against a hillside.

On the way back from Harpers Ferry, as I pulled out of the parking spot under the shadows of the cliffs of Maryland Heights, I decided to take the road less traveled. I turned off the highway onto a local road, led by a sign that simply said “Brunswick” and “Route 478” on it. I did not have a map in the car, and did not have a clue about route 478, but I decided to be adventurous anyway. I ended up on a fairly empty road running past the railroad tracks. I went though the little town of Knoxville, with its traditional main street and its multicolored row-houses, and eventually ended up in Brunswick, MD, at its sprawling railroad yard. I drove over the tracks and into the parking lot for the towpath by the river. Although I had run past it in the past, this was the first time I had actually driven to the lot. It looked safe. Next time I will know where to park in Brunswick.

So, faithful readers who have stuck with me through my travels and through this long essay, this is the end of a stage in my travels. Who knows where the next voyage (if there is one) is going to take me. I have seen many faces of the River, and hopefully the next time you visit us, I can take to the spot on the river or canal that best fits what you wish to experience – whether it is quiet and solitude, whether it is unimaginable beauty, whether it is awesome power and fury, or whether it is just a simple picture of the timeless flows of a wild and untamed river that has always been, and will continue to be.

Until whenever – Adios Amigos!
kuria
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As you can see from the pictures I took with my analog 35mm camera during my run, I did not actually enter the town of Harpers Ferry that day.  I only saw it across the river as I ran on the trail.Scan-29Scan-30

Regular readers of my blog will also know that I have traveled further along the towpath in the years that have passed since that day, including a trip that covered the entire distance from Pittsburgh to the Washington, DC, area – the Great Allegheny Passage from  Pittsburgh to Cumberland, and the C&O canal towpath from Cumberland to DC.  I do not consider Harpers Ferry that far away from home these days.  Times and perspectives have changed.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lines

I personalized this week’s challenge in its interpretation – to try to find pictures from various recent travels that derive a significant part of their character from the presence of lines in them.  I was moderately successful, I think!

This is a picture from the window of our hotel room in Reno, NV, during a trip early in 2017.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a picture of a hotel in Mammoth Lakes, CA.  The lines on this hotel came to life in the early morning light.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lines on the sand dunes of Mesquite Flat in Death Valley, CA, are the only natural ones that I have in this collection of pictures.   You will notice that these lines are the only ones where there are curves that are obvious.  (There is probably a lesson somewhere in there!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA couple of months later we visited the New England area. This picture shows the lines on one of the trains on the Mt. Washington Cog Railway in New Hampshire. The engine is at a different angle than the carriage because it is stopped at the edge of the slope.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALines and angles dominate the picture of this covered bridge over the Ammonoosuc river in Littleton, NH.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lines on the Icefields Parkway dominated my six day bike ride through the Canadian Rockies in the later half of 2017.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis picture was taken in St. Louis, MO later in 2017. It should not be difficult to guess what the subject matter of this picture is.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis picture was taken at Middle of the Earth, just outside of Quito, in Ecuador on the equatorial line in November 2017.DSC00743This picture is of a corridor in the Design Hotel in Chennai in India at the end of the year.  This is considered a “boutique hotel“.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love the lines on the Boeing 787-9 that we saw at Charles de Gaulle airport on our way back from India.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lines of the roof at this gas station in Effingham, IL, caught my eye during a road trip earlier this year.  Yes, we had some late-season snow in our part of the world, but it is all over now!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

More Impressions of Chennai

Including the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras, where I grew up.

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Letting sleeping dogs lie
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A banyan Tree in IIT
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Chital deer in IIT
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Monkeys at the IIT stadium
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The Besant Nagar beach scene
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At a roadside shrine in the evening
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On St. Thomas Mount
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Passing Central Station
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Front of Kapaleswara Temple
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Vendor of flowers in front of the temple
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Early morning at the entrance to the Phoenix Market Center

A Chennai Landing

I departed the Washington DC area late in the evening on an Air France flight to Paris.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy seat was at the tail end of the plane. At least it was an aisle seat.  Unfortunately, the guy from West Africa in the middle seat insisted on spreading himself out.  His thick leather jacket did not help.   I kept my cool for the whole flight.  Was a little concerned about the time it would take to deplane and get to the terminal for the next flight, especially in light of the layout of Charles De Gaulle airport, but it turned out to be OK.

The only notable adventure in Paris was the insistence by the security folks that the cans of tuna I was carrying could not be taken through.  My argument that the folks at my airport of origin in the US had let me keep the food, and the fact that it was mainly solid material, did not convince the lady.

It was late in the morning in Paris when I departed town on the second leg of the trip. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI experienced the second sunset of the trip from the Jet Airways A330-300 aircraft from the window seat as we passed a mountain range and a couple of snow capped mountain peaks, most likely in Iran.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArrived in Chennai after a long flight at an ungodly hour of the morning, something that is typical for international flight flights from the west arriving at Chennai.  Trip home from the airport through the then quiet roadways in a call taxi was uneventful.  Got home and managed to get into bed without waking up the folks until a more reasonable hour of the morning.

Good to be home once again.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe house looks more exposed to the elements since the cyclone last year took down a lot of the trees in the compound.  It is a pity.  But the birds still come around occasionally.  This one might have been looking to build a nest somewhere close by.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have not gotten a picture of the night heron yet although I did see it on the first day I was here.

Been taking it easy with a couple of trips into town to meet with old friends from school and college days.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUber and Ola seem to be the new ways to get around in town, but I am still working on getting this new technology under control.

Chennai still seems to be a place in a perpetual state of chaos during the day and absolute quiet (except for the stray cats and dogs) during the night.  Traffic is crazy over here. You are at risk of losing life and/or limb if you try to cross a street during the busier times of the day.  There are very few crosswalks, if any.  The place where we live also experiences a dangerous and somewhat puzzling breakdown in the public infrastructure at the street level.  Sidewalks, where they exist, are quite often in shambles.  There are also the open drains that should have been covered a long time ago. Animals wander around and defecate wherever they wish. Pedestrians are forced onto the street to compete with the chaotic traffic of both four-wheelers and two-wheelers. You play chicken with the buses and other vehicles that are careening through the chaos and around the blind corners of the road.  But life for the locals goes on in spite of this and other challenges.  This is their home, and nobody can take this away from them. It does feel good to be back.

The weather is good and the mosquitoes are mostly leaving me alone, which is good.  Waiting for the rest of the family and for further adventures to continue.

A Friend’s Birthday

Today is the birthday of an old friend.  We go back a long way, all the way back to elementary school.  My friend is a remarkable person – full of joy, sweet, smart, kind, curious, adventurous, and always helpful.  He is one terrific guy.   I went on a bike ride with him this summer in the Rockies in Canada.  Here are some pictures from the ride that capture his spirit, including his sometimes playful, dare I say, cheeky nature.

At the start of the ride.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the Goats and Glaciers viewpoint.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lovely couple.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADo not know what happened here!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASupporting a fellow rider up a challenging slope.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe is his own man,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbut I am not sure what he is doing here.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey both have one foot in the Banff National Park and the other in the Jasper National Park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe explorer on Parker RidgeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAprobably looking at Saskatchewan Glacier (not in the picture) in the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe gives a friendly wave as we head out to our stop for the evening at The Crossing Resort.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe was the first to venture into the glacier fed waters of Waterfowl lake.  It was cold!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere he is returning from an exploration in the vicinity of Bow Summit.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe friendly wave.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Happy birthday and happy trails, my friend!