A Morning for the Birds and Planes

We started seeing them soon after we started our walk from Sycamore Landing. They were everywhere. There were so many of them! This was the morning for the birds. And their presence was easily revealed because of the bare branches of the trees and bushes this time of year. There are other Sunday mornings, when we start the walk with my hope of seeing the birds in the woods before they become active and fly away from their nests, and we end up seeing very few of them. This was not that kind of a morning.

The first sets of birds we saw were at the parking lot even before we got on the trail, high up on a tree.In my mind, limited as it is in its capability to understand such things, the birds had nested close to each other on the tree for the night, had just woken up, and were getting ready for the activities of the day. You could see the early morning light hit the upper branches of the trees – to light up the birds, and to perhaps warm them up. I could not identify these birds. They looked like doves from this distance, but I could not confirm this in spite of some research.

We were happy to see that the work on upgrading the trail had already reached Sycamore Landing. They had even filled in the massive potholes that used to exist in the parking lot. We had noticed the previous week that progress on the upgraded trail had reached just north of Rileys Lock, which is the entrance to the towpath just before Sycamore Landing. The work is now complete to a point beyond Sycamore Landing, closer to Edwards Ferry. At this rate they should be able to get the work done by the end of the year. This is great! I can now start my bike rides heading north from Rileys Lock without having to fear the potholes and the puddles of mud. But back to he birds….

The whole area close to Sycamore Landing appeared to have a large concentration of birds. It was noisy. It looked busy. You could hear a lot of movement in some of the bushes beside the trail. They were full of sparrows, but very few of them were clearly visible. The brown branches provided a good camouflage.

A hawk hung around on the upper branches of a tree, most likely keeping an eye out for prey.

We saw this bluejay in the canal bed.

This was a woodpecker that popped up for a short viewing. It might have been a female Downy woodpecker.

This Pileated Woodpecker was high up on a tree. These woodpeckers are much bigger than the others that we usually come across.

I found this female Northern Cardinal in a bush by the trail. There were a few other cardinals that were flying around.

This Eastern Bluebird landed on the pathway in front of us in the later part of the walk towards Edwards Ferry.

I am posting this picture of this sparrow just because I like the way the picture came out!

And then there were the many aircraft that we saw crossing the river. They were flying at a low altitude and heading towards Dulles airport. They were coming in one after another at a very high frequency, to the extent that the noise that they were creating in the background was nearly constant. They seemed to be lining up for landing one after another. This level of air traffic felt unusual, especially for that time of day, and for that day of the week. Most of the aircraft were small to medium size, and seemed to be on domestic flights. I could recognize the United tails. I did recognize a flight from South Korea,and I thought I had seen an Emirates aircraft earlier on when we were driving in. Based on what I noticed that morning, I get the impression that the international carriers have reduced the size of the aircraft that they are deploying for their flights.

The volume of air traffic over our heads had reduced quite significantly by the time we started heading back from Edwards Ferry to Sycamore Landing.

We were thinking to ourselves that any story about a multitude of birds being sighted along the towpath would be incomplete without a picture of our signature bird, the Great Blue Heron. We had seen one in the distance as we were approaching Edwards Ferry. We had tried to keep our eyes on it through the bare branches of the trees as it flew away in front of us – in the distance over the bed of the canal. We had not been able to see it in the location where we thought it had landed. It turned out that it had landed high on a tree top, and we had missed it because we had been looking for it on the canal bed. We had walked past it without noticing it. Fortunately, the birds do not move around too much, and we found it on our way back to Sycamore Landing – high up on a tree!We had seen a Great Blue Heron in the same area during previous walks. This led us to consider the possibility that this was the same heron that we had seen before, and that the bird had somehow claimed this area as its territory. Fact of the matter is that we do not even know if herons are territorial and behave like this.

We saw some other birds during our return to Sycamore Landing. This is a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

I could be wrong, but my searches lead me to believe that the bird in the picture below is a Female Golden-crowned Kinglet. This is a bird I am not very familiar with.

Even though I had considered that possibility earlier in the year that 2020 could be the year of the owls, we did not sight one this Sunday!

I will leave readers with a picture that I took at Edward Ferry that gives you a sense to the wonderful morning we experienced on the trail. The picture is best viewed in its full resolution.

The Old Stones

The thermometer in the car indicated that it was 37° F outside. We had just arrived at the park,at Rileys Lock, and were stepping out of the car for our first Sunday walk along the towpath after returning from Massachusetts. This was the first time we were going to be experiencing these kinds of temperatures along the canal this season. Although we are likely to face colder mornings going forward, I was expecting that this one was going to be a particular mental challenge for me.

This was also the first outing after the return from Massachusetts a week ago. It was an attempt to try to return to some kind of an exercise routine once again after another long break.

I was bundled up more cautiously that usual – with several layers of clothing, two layers of gloves, and extra warm pair of thick fleece socks (donated by Philip). The cold hit me initially when we stepped out of the car, but I got past the “shock” of it very quickly. It did not feel too bad since there was little wind. The only extremity that took extra time to warm up was one of my fingers. Raynaud syndrome made its presence felt selectively!The morning sun was struggling to escape from behind the early morning clouds during the initial part of the walk, creating scenes like this.

One moment it would look like this,and the next moment our surroundings would be lit up brightly.

The brand new surface of the trail was a welcome change from the potholed, and often muddy, dirt track that used to cover this section of the towpath for all of the years that I have been visiting. (I had even complained directly to the NPS a few years ago and received no response!) The towpath is being upgraded in sections. We reached a point during our walk where the new trail came to an end. We saw some work vehicles beside the trail, and saw signs that the trail work was continuing further north in the direction of Edwards Ferry. The trail north of Edwards Ferry has already been repaved.

By the time we finished our walk it was only 39° F, but we felt warm and very, very, comfortable. There were others out in the park who did not seem to have any issue with the cold weather.

I might have even attempted to run in this kind of weather in the kind of attire the person in the picture below was wearing when I was younger!

The title of the blog refers to the stones in the picture below.For some reason, they caught my attention as we were walking by. These stones are part of the canal wall that used to exist just beyond the pond near Seneca Creek. There was more water in this section of the canal than usual that day, probably due to recent rains.

My thoughts drifted towards what these stones represented – the work of human beings from more than a century and a half before. The rocks probably came from the nearby quarry, and were most likely cut at the nearby Seneca Stone Mill. Rocks from this quarry were used in many places, including for locks and lock houses along the canal, and in the construction of buildings in Washington, DC, including the Smithsonian Castle.

The human beings who lived in these parts, the ones who dug up the stones and shaped them, and who built all of these things, including the canal wall we were looking at, had their own lives and stories even if they might not have been famous and well-known. They were probably categorized as “simple” people. They probably had their own daily routines, their struggles, their successes, their good and bad times, and their happy and sad days. They lived and died quietly, and they were hopefully content with their life experiences. They were probably remembered only by their immediate families, and even that, for perhaps only a generation or two. They were people like us.

A Sigh of Relief on Another Beautiful Sunday

We went back to Williamsport last Sunday. It was a beautiful morning – somewhat cold when we started our walk, but above 70° by the time we finished. We walked in the general direction of north and west, towards Dam 5. The river meanders a lot in this section. To be certain of the direction you are facing at any particular moment in time, you have to be paying attention to the direction of the rising sun and/or the shadows being cast across the trail. Beautiful morning!

We finally got to breathe a sigh of relief on Saturday. Four years of complete political chaos, and complete dysfunction in governance, will hopefully come to an end soon. I was going to add that four years of division will also come to an end, but that remains to be seen, given the attitude of the current resident of the White House towards the handling of his loss, and his approach towards the transition that needs to happen. This particular con game of his has finally reached its limit, even as he spews out absurd lies about widespread fraud in the election process. Even while some of us breath a sigh of relief, many are very unhappy. Even as some of us breath this sigh of relief, the cases of coronavirus rise in record numbers. People are also dying in large numbers. There is a lot of work that needs to be done at a national level to save ourselves.

Will end the blog on a happy note with the pictures from our walk.

The first few pictures were taken at the beginning of the walk. A faint mist was visible in the distance over the canal as we crossed the bridge on to the trail.

The skies were clear. The air was still. The reflections on the water were perfect. These are pictures of the Cushwa Basin,and of the Route 11 bridge over the Potomac river,taken as we departed the area of Williamsport.

Further along the trail, we found a place where there were steps that went down to the river.The majesty of the winding river was easy to appreciate from down beside it.

The clear and crisp morning light enhanced our experience of the trail, and our view of all that remains of the Fall foliage in these parts.

We turned to return back to Williamsport at a point where a dirt road led to a parking lot next to canal. Earlier on, I had considered driving to this parking lot, and walking along the towpath from this point onward. Seeing the condition of the road, I am not sure I would use this lot any time soon for that purpose.

I decided to swap lenses on my camera at about this point in the walk, and use the zoom lens for the rest of the trip. As I raised my head from the camera bag which was lying on the ground (over which I was changing the lens), I saw a deer standing on a rocky ledge on the other side of the canal. Why don’t you take my picture to make sure that you have attached the lens to the camera properly?, it seemed to be asking. That is exactly what I did.It is a magical place, this canal of mine!

Towards the end of the walk, we came upon our old reliable friend, the great blue heron. I had to take its picture.

We had to depart Williamsport quickly at the end of the walk because of another appointment that we had closer to home. I did not have time to take the picture of the Conococheague Aqueduct from the level of the creek as I had originally hoped to do. Now I have an excuse for making another visit to Williamsport sooner rather than later!

Getting Outdoors During a Time of High Anxiety

It is a time of reckoning for some of us as Americans. It is safe to say that there has never been a situation like this in the USA in the past. It is also tempting to say that there has never been an election like this in the USA in the past, but I do not know enough about American history to be sure about that. It is definitely true though that we as a country have been sinking into a dark hole the last few years, now accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, and that we might have a chance during the next few days to grab on to something on the side, even as we fall further into the hole, to try to at least stabilize the situation for some period of time. Perhaps we could even attempt to climb out of the hole, but that might be too much to ask for in the short run considering how far we have fallen. There is always hope!

We have seen strategies for winning an election that have never been used to this extent in this country in the past. The electronic media has made it easy for official campaigns to distribute manipulated audio/visual content, content that is designed to deceive, content that supporters of the president lap up. The president himself spews out lies and misinformation. As Steve Bannon once said – “flood the zone with sh*t”. And, sadly, we tend to not see the truth even if it is in front of our faces because we live in our own bubbles. The republican party apparatus has also gone into high gear to try to disenfranchise voters, and to prevent votes from being cast and/or counted. Lawsuits have been filed, and more have been promised. Armed vigilantes try to intimidate voters and people going about their daily business. The US Post office is failing to deliver mail-in votes in a timely fashion. (The person in charge of the post office is a recent political appointee. His actions could lead you to believe that what is happening is deliberate.)

One worries about the possible aftermath of these elections in ways that one never did before.

We had to find relief from our anxieties in other activities. Last week was a bad time for our usual outdoor pursuits. I am still adjusting to the fact that the weather is turning colder slowly but surely. The cloudy and damp conditions killed all of my motivation to try to get out. It was finally the weekend by the time we overcame our reluctance to face the seasonal forces of nature.

We went out to Edwards Ferry on Sunday in spite of the fact that rain was expected later that morning. The weather was still OK at the time we got on the trail. As you can see from this picture of the lock house for Lock 25, there were still patches of clear sky to be seen near Edwards Ferry.

As we started our walk, we could see the rising sun behind us struggling to pierce through the clouds that were coming our way. It was, ultimately, an unsuccessful effort! The skies continued to darken as we walked north towards Whites Ferry. We finished the last couple of miles of the walk in light rain. I had to put away the camera in my backpack at that point. I don’t mind walking in light rain even though it tends to impair my vision somewhat because of the water collecting on my glasses. For that matter, I am not sure that even heavy rain would necessarily stop me on the trail. My friends and I rode our bikes in the pouring rain during our ride last year. It was done deliberately, and it was also fun!

It was somewhat anticlimactic to be on the trail after the autumnal change in foliage. Whatever bright colors there might have been on the trees are almost all gone in these parts. Bare tree trunks are visible everywhere.

The only remaining color in this section of the trail was mostly due to the presence of the pawpaw trees.

There is a certain beauty in foliage that is primarily yellow in color, but I think I might be feeling this beauty more intensely because of its transient nature. After all, I do not talk about the green trees all summer long – or, do I?!

And we got to see some strange looking fruit on the trail for the first time. I would be curious to know if anybody can recognize these.

That’s it for this blog. Tomorrow is election day. I am keeping my fingers crossed!

Beautiful Sunday – Four Locks to Dam 5

Hi, hi, hi, beautiful Sunday
This is my, my, my beautiful day
When you say, say, say, say that you love me
Oh my, my, my, it’s a beautiful day

Beautiful Sunday – Daniel Boone

We went looking for the Autumn colors once again last weekend, only to be disappointed – once again! Smart person that I am, we headed up north, thinking that we would have more luck there. But it was not to be. What we observed was a strange mix of trees that seem to have lost most of their leaves, and trees that were still green, with a few trees with hints of different colored leaves mixed in. Different sections along the sides of the road displayed very different characteristics when it came to the Autumn foliage. I got the impression that while the colors may not have peaked in some sections, there was a chance that there could be a direct fade to brown that was going to take place in others. The conversation in the car turned towards making a trip to the Shenandoah Valley, a place that is known for its Fall colors, and spending a little more time there. The problem is that places like that attract a crowd during this season.

But the attitude changed soon after we arrived at Four Locks. (We had previously come here when the kids visited earlier this year.) The thermometer in the car said 38° as we took to the trail. I was bundled up in my typical attire for a cold winter morning – including a cap, two pairs of gloves, and three layers over my chest. I might have overdressed! It did not feel too cold out there. The skies were clear, the sun was out, and there was no wind.

All negative thoughts regarding the failure of the mission to find the colors of Autumn faded away as soon as we got on the towpath. My mood was instantly uplifted! It is an amazing thing that happens to the spirit, and it is difficult to explain and describe. But it is real enough – even though I cannot find the words to describe the exact nature of the change that happens to you. You are simply happy in the moment! A little later during the walk, a woman passed us by on her bicycle, and she had this look on her face that I totally recognized and understood. She was feeling it the same way I was! This was the place to go to to forget about everything else and free up your soul. We encountered quite a few young women on bicycles during this walk, more than we normally do, many carrying material for overnight outdoor stays. And they all had smiles on their faces as they went by. Beautiful Sunday!

As far as the colors were concerned, we primarily saw yellows. We think that a significant contributor to the yellow color are the pawpaw trees that we now realize are plentiful throughout the length of the canal.

It was about 60° by the time we returned to the car, a little before noon. We had worked up a sweat and our outer layer of clothing had come off during the walk. I had to strip down further before we drove home in order to avoid overheating in the car.

Here a some pictures.

There was the early morning mist over the Potomac. This is what we saw from the parking lot at Four Locks when we arrived.

This was the view upstream of Lock 48 in the Four Locks area. We were headed downstream. The lock house for the four locks, and Locks 49 and 50, are also visible in the background. The four locks in this area are numbered from 47 to 50.

These are views of the trail in the morning sun.

This a view of the Potomac river from the trail as the sun rises.

This is a picture of Lock 46 and its lock house. You can see the remains of the bridge that the mules (that used to pull the canal boats) used – to transition from one side of the canal to the other. From this point onward, until the Lock 45, where the canal temporarily ended at the river, the towpath ran along what is normally the berm side of the canal. The boats were pulled along the side of the river beyond Lock 45.

These are pictures of the river from the section of the trail that runs right beside the river itself. The presence of cliffs like the one that you can see in the picture below made it difficult to build the canal here.

We passed Dam 5 on the Potomac as we headed further downstream. The Inlet lock seen in the picture below allowed boats to transition between the river and the canal once again. You can see the lock house that is present at this location in the second picture, along with the bridge that carries the trail back from beside the river to the original towpath beside the canal.

We explored a little more of the trail beyond Dam 5 before turning back to return to Four Locks.

This is a picture of the Four Locks area taken as were returning. Locks 49 and 50 are visible in the picture.

We did not see too many colors during our walk that morning, but it sure was a beautiful Sunday anyway.

My Continuing Search for Autumn Colors

The weather turned wet on Sunday after an extended period of sunshine, a period of time that had left me wondering whether the solar panel system on our roof would end up generating a record amount of energy for the month. I now do not think this will happen. There is an concept called the law of averages that will probably even things out over the the month. (Note that the law of averages more of a common sense statement rather than a mathematical statement of probability. But that is a discussion of another day!)

Anyway, it was a sunny morning last Thursday when I did a bike ride, heading towards Washington, DC. The experience of this bike ride left me with the feeling that I could be reaching the tail-end of the riding season – or that my strategy of starting a bike ride early in the morning – in order to ensure that I was back home at a reasonable time – was not going to work for the rest of the year. It was much too cold! It was cold enough that I went off-trail to visit the fully-equipped restroom at Great Falls after about eight miles of riding – to turn on the dryer in the facility in order to warm my hands and get sensation back to my fingers. It being early in the morning, I was riding in the shadows of the woods, and I could not even depend on the touch of the sun to warm me up.

I was still feeling the cold when I got to the end point of the ride, a spot beside the trail between the mile 7 and 8 markers of the towpath, just beyond the footbridge across the canal.In order to keep myself warm (while I refreshed myself with a Clif bar and some water), I parked the bike next to a bench that happened to be in the sun.

It had warmed up nicely by the time I started making my way back to Rileys Lock, to the extent that I encountered many more riders headed the other way during this stretch of pedaling.

As you can see from the pictures above, and also from the pictures below that I took at the start of the ride at Rileys Lock, the leaves on the trees were still generally green that day,but there were also signs that they had begun to drop!

I did not feel too tired at the end of this ride. I am sure the outside temperature had something to do with it.

We went for a walk on the towpath last Sunday starting at Pennyfield Lock and heading north towards Rileys Lock. Because of the threat of rain later in the day hanging over us, we decided to get a very early start. We did not even have breakfast before heading out!

You observe more things around you when walking than when biking. There were the early signs of the coming change to the foliage, and there was at least one point at which we also got a glimpse of how extraordinary the Autumn view can become as the season progresses towards its peak.

In any case, a walk along the canal is beautiful and therapeutic in so many different ways.

Unfortunately, we were also reminded of how busy, and sometimes unpleasant, this section of the trail can get during the weekends, with hordes of inexperienced bikers and walkers taking over the towpath. We had to be on our toes and aware of traffic in both directions while walking. We encountered large groups of people who were unfamiliar with the protocols and courtesies of the trail, people who created a danger to themselves and others. What to do? I made the mistake of trying to let people know in one instance even though I am not good in situations like this.

Dam 4 and Big Slackwater

This is so beautiful. This is the best I have seen on the C&O Canal.” These were the words uttered by the person who had just arrived on a bicycle at the recently reconstructed section of the trail upstream of the Big Slackwater boat ramp and parking lot. We had just finished walking the section that he was looking at – the section he was entering – and were walking in the other direction back to the car. I could understand his reaction. “There is more to come“. That was all I could tell him.

We had a later-than-usual start for this Sunday walk, once again investigating territory that had not been visited in a long time, a place that was also far away from home. The last time we came here together was in February 2016. The trail had been covered by snow at that time. I came by with my high school classmates later that year during our bike ride.

We started our walk at Dam 4, just like we had done during the previous visit. The power plant on the West Virginia side of the river was visible through a light mist that rose out of the water, generated from the water falling over the dam.

It was a cool, sunny, and peaceful morning. Three herons could be seen downstream of the dam.Fishermen were already active, one even standing in the flowing water downstream of the dam.We encountered a group of bicyclists at the dam who were heading south. They were bundled up against the morning chill.It turned out that they were the first of many such batches of riders that we were to encounter as we continued with our walk – many more people than we were expecting in this section of the towpath, especially at this time of the morning. Seeing their clothing, and noting how disciplined they were as they rode along the trail, especially when they encountered people going the other way, we speculated that this was an organized ride of experienced bikers.

We were headed upstream, north, towards the boat ramp and parking lot for Big Slackwater. We began to see the flowers soon after we got on to the trail. Asters and Goldenrods dominated.The trees looked like they were just beginning to change color.One could see that the color that would dominate the autumn phenomenon in these parts would primarily be yellow. I have noticed that this is the manner in which autumn makes its appearance in a lot of the sections of the river. There is not much of a variety in the colors. The trees just turn yellow. There is a section of the towpath closer to home that could be different. We need to make a visit to that section during the next few weeks.

A little more than a mile into the walk, we arrived at the parking lot and boat ramp for the Big Slackwater. The canal ended at a guard lock just beyond the parking lot. These days, the guard lock is permanently blocked to prevent water from the river from entering the canal basin.The guard lock is the point at which the canal boats transferred in and out of the river from and to the canal itself. The trail begins to run just next to the river upstream of the lock.

Early signs of autumn could be seen across the river at we continued north. Also visible were boat docks.Big Slackwater appears to be a well-used water recreation area.

It was just beyond the opening into the reconstructed area of the towpaththat the complete expanse of the Big Slackwater was revealed without obstruction for the first time.Running along the right edge of this expanse of water, and disappearing off in the distance at the end of the visible section of the river, was the reconstructed towpath running along the shore.

One of the first things that caught my attention as we entered this section of the trail was the view of the river itself in the morning light. There was something about the light that brought out a unique glow to the space.

And then there were the flowers that you could see everywhere. We had arrived at the right time of the season to witness it all. Teresa called the bunches of flowers natural bouquets.

How many pictures of Asters and Goldenrods can one take? It turns out that you can take as many as you like, even a few dozen!

The concrete boardwalk was lined with so many different kinds of flowers that the pace of the walk slowed down significantly.And then there were the other flowers that I have not bothered to post pictures of here. I still need to identify some of them.

There were plants and flowers emerging from in-between the concrete slabs of the boardwalk itself.

There were flowers coming out of the rock beside the trail.

It was all amazing and breathtaking – the natural bouquets of flowers!

This recently reconstructed section of the trail runs for about a mile and a half, at which point one arrives at McMahons Mill. We turned around at McMahons Mill to head back downstream to Dam 4, the place where we had parked our car.

“What are you looking at,” the child asked us as he approached on his tiny bicycle. We had been looking up at what we thought was a cardinal. The bird had flown away by the time the kid looked up. His father appeared right behind him on his own bicycle. The father was pulling a carrier loaded with gear. It was attached to the rear axle of the bike. At the back of the carrier was a fishing rod, standing up. I also noticed a big jar of peanut butter tied to the top of the package on the carrier. Turns out that father and son had crossed over from Virginia, parked their car at some location along the canal, and then biked their way to a camping spot along the river for an overnight stay. Good father-and-son bonding time, I think! Cool!

This was another long Sunday morning on the trail. But there was no harm done by the later than expected return home!

Just to note, I have provided information (and online links) about Big Slackwater in another blog about our visit to McMahon’s Mill earlier this year. The section we explored this time is downstream of McMahon’s Mill. We had walked upstream from McMahon’s Mill during the previous visit.

At Antietam Aqueduct

It was early Sunday morning. When I asked Teresa which section of the canal she wanted to go to, she left it to me to decide – because it was my birthday. There was no particular time constraint either on how long we could spend on our adventures that morning. I picked a place to go to that took a little longer than usual to get to, a place that she had not ever been to for hiking. We spent the whole morning on the towpath hiking near Shepherdstown, WV, (my biking companions from 2016 will surely remember the place!) and Sharpsburg, MD.

This walk was a little different from usual. We spent more time than usual exploring off-trail, beside the Potomac river itself.

As we drew into the parking lot after the long drive from home, my attention was drawn to the sound of a freight train beginning to make its way across the river from West Virginia, on its way to Hagerstown. Although I had the urgent need to visit the facilities, I changed my mind and quickly grabbed my camera from the back seat after parking the car. This is what we saw. It made me wonder.

Once on the towpath, we decided to head in the direction of Harpers Ferry, towards Washington, DC. It was a nice and cool morning.

The first time we decided to walk down from the towpath to the river was when we heard the sounds of the water rushing over rocks, indicating the presence of some rapids. We do not come across rapids that often during our walks. Usually, the river is very quiet. Additionally, we had noticed many places where people had walked off the marked trail towards the river and created ad-hoc paths through the woods in the process. We took one of the paths that appeared to be more easily navigable. Since the towpath happens to be at an elevated level when compared to the level of the river in this section, we had to be careful coming down the sandy trail to the level of the river.

It was still early in the morning when I took these pictures from beside the river. The rapids, if I could even call them that, were very gentle, with a very small drop in the level of the river at this point.

Back on the towpath, we passed a neighborhood with older houses on the berm side of the canal. This one could have been unoccupied, and perhaps even abandoned.

We arrived at Antietam Aqueduct after passing a huge campground next to the trail.The Antietam Creek Campground is the only one of its kind along the 184.5 mile towpath. It is a very different setup from the regular Hiker and Biker campsites that line the rest of the trail. This campground is much bigger, with many individually marked sites that can be reserved. Unlike the Hiker and Biker campsites, this one is accessible by car. There were many vehicles parked in the vicinity of the campground on the berm side of the canal. The facilities in this campground could be considered slightly less primitive than at the Hiker and Biker sites – but not by much.

When we arrived at the Antietam Aqueduct, my first instinct was to go down creek-side to get a picture of the aqueduct itself. This proved to be a little bit of a project since the closest approach required stepping down a steep slope immediately next to the wall of the aqueduct. The slope was covered with small, loose, gravel. It would have been easy to lose footing while trying to go down, and to end up sliding down to the bottom.

After some exploration, we managed to find a spot further along the towpath that was less intimidating, a spot where other people had attempted to go down to the river in the past. We managed to get down to the river, and then walk back along the riverside, on a rough and uneven path, to the the mouth of the creek, where the creek met the Potomac. The aqueduct was revealed to us in its fullness.

This was a view of the river from the mouth of the creek.

We got back to the towpath taking the shorter route up to the trail, the one next to the aqueduct itself. It helped to hold on to the wall of the aqueduct while climbing. I think going up is easier than coming down, especially if you are dealing with damaged elbows.

The next time we decided to go down to the river was on our way back, when we found a nicely cleared path down to the river in the section of the towpath next to the homes we had seen on out way out to the aqueduct. This foray into the woods resulted in the decision to attempt to keep walking along the riverside, using whatever rough trail we could find, for as long as we could.The risk was of having to walk back along the same rough trail if we found ourselves stuck, with no easy way to get back to the towpath from where we had reached along the river.

We had to pick our way over a narrow and very lightly used, perhaps even disused, pathway, walk over sand and pebbles in some places, and even navigate past fallen trees. If I were a child, I would have enjoyed the experience even more. Eventually, we got to a place where we had to cross a stream that passed under the canal via a culvert. Fortunately the stream was shallow enough for us to walk across.The path along the river seemed to end here. There was a path back up to the towpath on the other side of the culvert. That was the end of this particular escapade. I would be remiss if I did not post a picture of this object that we found in this section of the trail.Some of you might recognize it for what it is. It makes you wonder!

The final time we explored off-trail was when we got to the general area of the parking lot we had left our car at. We walked beyond the parking lot and up to the bridge for vehicles that went over the Potomac river, the bridge over which my friends and I had biked in order to get to our hotel in Shepherdstown one evening in 2016.Walking back to the parking lot along the riverside allowed us to see the remains of all the old bridges that used to connect the two sides of the river at this point.The railroad bridge that we had seen the freight train activity on earlier on could also be seen from the level of the river.

The off-trail activities that took place throughout the morning ended up making this a longer outing than usual. But that was not the end of the story. We also took the longer route home, taking the country roads, and driving past Harpers Ferry on the Maryland side of the river.

We were sad to see that the National Park Service had shut down the parking spots that used to exist next to the road in the section of the road next to Harpers Ferry. It will make any future attempt to climb Maryland Heights a somewhat longer effort, with much more walking involved. It is also the end of free parking if you were planning to visit Harpers Ferry itself. It is probably a good thing that they closed the parking lots. Their locations were dangerous.

That was about it for the long morning on the towpath. I had my customary PB&J sandwich for lunch, after which I attempted to take my usual Sunday nap that was needed to recover from all the activity. But this was not the usual Sunday.

Early Monday morning, we got some very sad news. It was about a death in the family. Joy Aloysius Thomas was a truly remarkable person. You do not find people like him in this world often. He was incredibly brilliant and knowledgeable. He was also an terrific human being by all measures. He was humble. He had already done so much in his life in the service of humanity, and for his fellow human beings. He would have done much more if he had not lost his life. He died young, unexpectedly. I decided to hold off on this blog until funeral services were complete.

All About Mellow Yellow

We are back in Maryland.

It is almost time for the Autumnal Equinox. Perhaps in anticipation, the weather turned much cooler than usual last weekend. It was cold enough that my friend Reynaud made its first appearance of the season. The seasonal numbness and the loss of blood flow to the extremities is something that I do not look forward to. It was cold enough that I had to wear a tracksuit to keep me warm during our Sunday morning walk. It is that time of year when the constantly changing weather forces you to be flexible about your outdoor wear when exercising.

But, if you were to dismiss the temperature as a measure of the change of seasons, you could be convinced that Fall is not here just yet. The trees are still green in the park, and it is not cold enough to slow down the volume of early morning bikers on the trail. Besides, in a day or two, the weather will become warm once again – for a few more days.

But, the yellow flowers – oh my, the fields of yellow flowers!

Something is certainly afoot!

There were different kinds of yellow flowers that dominated the scene during our walk. I suspect that a few of them were from the sunflower family of plants.

The experience was different from when we were in Massachusetts, where the flowers were much more varied in their colors. That kind of a change might visit our neighborhoods during the next few weeks when other wildflowers of the season blossom.

The view will change as the days, and weeks, and the months roll by, and as a cantankerous and dizzying 2020 fades away, in a huff, into the cold and the darkness of winter.