The “LAX from the Westin” Picture Gallery

This gallery is linked to the subject matter of my previous blog.

Some interesting observations came to mind when I was trying to pick pictures for this blog. One is that quite a few of the aircraft that I used to see in those days are no longer flying. This list includes the Boeing 747 (with the exception of the later B747-8), the Airbus 340, and the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and McDonnell/Boeing MD-11. There is even a picture of a freighter DC-8 above! The Airbus 380 and Boeing 747-8 aircraft only arrived later, and soon they too will be no more.

Also of note is that a few of the airlines that were in existence at that time are no more, including Continental, Northwest, and US Airways.

The picture in the collage above of the small rolling suitcase taken in front of the door of my hotel room as I prepare to depart Los Angeles to come home is symbolic of the nature of my work-related travels in those days. The bag carried everything I needed for a short trip. It was small enough to fit into the overhead bins of the aircraft I flew on, so that I did not have to check-in any luggage. I could get through airports quickly without having to wait at luggage carousels or in check-in lines. I was constantly traveling – in and out of hotel rooms, arriving and departing at all possible hours of the day. The passageways, the concession stands, and even the restrooms, of the United and American Airlines terminals at LAX became very familiar to me.

A person can do it, especially at a younger age, but you may not really fully realize what the experience of constant long-distance travel is doing to your body and soul, especially as it is happening. Some of us simply had to do it.

Random Musings On The Flight From Los Angeles (1/29/2009)

I wrote this during one of the many trips that I used to take to Los Angeles when I was working. I have taken the liberty of making a few corrections/improvements, but not that many…..
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The American Airlines Boeing 757 lined up on Runway 25R at LAX airport, with its distinct and ugly snout pointed West towards the Pacific Ocean. Silverbird quickly accelerated down the runway, muscling its streamlined form with rapidly increasing speed hard against the wind. Barely halfway down its runway the aircraft rose up from the ground, nose pointed skyward, as if eager to break its connection with Mother Earth and get away from its clutches as quickly as possible. It quickly ascended at a steep angle and attacked the sky like an eager and angry fighter jet rising to meet the enemy, its engines screaming with a distinct shrill and high-pitched sound that sounded so unworldly, yet so sweet, gaining altitude by the second. Within moments the aircraft was over the Pacific Ocean and was banking sharply to the left, beginning its U-turn to head back east to the Washington, DC, area. The aircraft turned east in the area over the Port of Long Beach and quickly rose to its cruising altitude. The unusually swift prevailing winds that had originally delayed my arrival into LAX on Monday were now speeding me on my way back home for an unexpected early arrival.

The Westin Hotel near LAX is located due east of the airport. Century Boulevard, which runs in front of the hotel, takes you directly from the hotel to the airport terminals. The hotel is shaped somewhat (but not exactly) like a cross, with the base of the cross facing the airport. The aircraft flight paths leading into LAX happen to be on both sides of the hotel (and therefore on both sides of the airport terminals themselves). LAX’s four runways run in an east to west direction (or west to east, depending on your perspective), on either sides of Century Boulevard. The runways on the south side of the airport terminal begin not too far from the hotel itself. The runways on the north side begin further away from the hotel, closer to the airport terminal itself. Most of the time the planes come in to land from the east and takeoff to the west. There are very rare arrivals from the west, usually late in the night or in the early hours of the morning before the regular traffic has begun. Being a frequent traveler, I usually get a room on the highest floors of the hotel. My view from the hotel depends upon which section of the hotel my room is located on. If I am facing east, I can get a beautiful view of the sunrise over the hills, and of the aircraft, with their lights turned on, lining up to land on the runway that runs close to the hotel. If my room faces south, I can see the planes fly right by my window at a very low altitude. To the west, I can view aircraft taking off from the airport, and I can also enjoy the glorious colors of sunset (if I manage to get back from work at a decent time). The planes look very nice in the light of either the rising or setting sun. To the north, I can observe the planes approach the airport at a significant height (since the runways start further away from the hotel), framed by the hills to the north of LA and the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles in the distance. The rays of the rising sun hitting the skyscrapers of downtown LA can create a unique and beautiful sight that lasts for just a few moments. I am usually awake well before dawn because of the difference in time zones, and I spend time looking for things to photograph in the distance. I sometimes wander down the hallways of the hotel to try to get a good spot to take a picture – to find the particular angle that, at the right time, offers a unique perspective. I have to admit that my pictures do not come out well since I am dealing with non-ideal conditions for photography, and a camera with limited capability. But I keep trying. And the hotel staff have not yet stopped me from doing what I am doing.
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American Airlines Boeing 757
American Airlines Boeing 757 through a dirty window

It has been many years since I last visited Los Angeles. I still have a lot of memories of my trips. The Westin Airport LAX is still in operation.

Sample pictures taken from the Westin during that period of time are in the next blog.

Conshohocken, PA

Our travels last weekend took us to Conshohocken (I love the way the word “Conshohocken” rolls off the tongue when you are saying it!) and Villanova on the outskirts of Philadelphia, PA. This was our first long-distance trip since the beginning of the pandemic that was being made for reasons other than visiting family. We went for a wedding. The names Conshohocken and Villanova are actually not that unfamiliar to me, having spent some time in the early 1980s in another suburb of Philadelphia called Landsdowne. I suppose that I must have heard the towns mentioned on the local news or in traffic reports when visiting Philadelphia. But, I really had not spent any significant time before this trip in either Conshohocken or Villanova.

We stayed in a really nice hotel on the southwest shore of the Schuylkill river (here we go again with the unique names!) in a place called West Conshohocken. I remember the river because there is a highway right next to it called the Schuylkill Expressway that used to be notorious in its day. I do not know if the highway still has a bad reputation, but in those days, navigating the twists and turns of this narrow highway through the center of Philadelphia, including its narrow shoulder spaces and short entrance ramps, was considered quite the challenge. The highway even earned the unfortunate moniker – the surekill expressway! The Schuylkill Expressway is actually a part of Interstate 76.

We had not stayed in a hotel room for over a year at this point. So, it was once again all a new experience for us.
The room on the 8th floor overlooking the Schuylkill river felt quite luxurious,

and the corner placement of the room offered us window views in two directions.

Not having had the opportunity to spend the night in such a nice and upscale room for many years, it took me a minute or two to adjust my expectations of what normality could feel like for people who were fortunate enough to find themselves circumstances like ours. Fact of the matter is that I used to stay very often in places like this during the time of my employment. There was a period of time when I stayed in a hotel room practically every other week. It was a part and parcel of my life experience in the business world. I can still recall the whole experience – the travels, the car rentals, the driving through strange places (that would eventually became familiar), the solitary dinners in restaurants with a glass of wine beside me to numb the soul, the endless waits in airport lounges, etc.. I do not miss that life!

The wedding took place on a property in the town of Villanova, about a five minute drive from our hotel. Villanova was obviously a town for the very rich. It smelled of old-money – huge estates surrounded by well kept fences or walls to keep out the riffraff, meticulously manicured and landscaped properties, and massive homes in traditional styles situated as far away from the main road as possible, it seemed. The wedding space itself must have been one of these homes once upon a time. It has since been converted into a sprawling arboretum, with the central building that used to be the home, and the space around it, available for events like weddings. It was a beautiful setting for the outdoor ceremony and the festivities that took place after that. Once again, not having been to weddings in such settings in a very long while, I had to make my own mental adjustments. I have not had to dress up for formal events for a long while. The fact that we were at such a grand event, where no expense was being spared for the celebrations surrounding the happy occasion, was something that got me thinking once again. But being a part of events like this is actually not something new for us. It is just that I might be changing. I have become more used to seeing the other side of things. In any case, it did not stop me from joining in the celebration – enjoying the drinks and the excellent food laid out for us, and boogieing my way into the night. So much for consistency and clarity of conscience!

We went for a walk on the Schuylkill River Trail the morning after the wedding. When complete, this trail will run all the way from headwaters of the river in the eastern ridges of the Allegheny mountains to it termination at the Delaware river in Philadelphia. The section of the trail we tackled runs on an abandoned railroad right-of-way along the north shore of the river. Next to the trail are railroad tracks that are still in use for the suburban SEPTA line to downtown Philly. Of note is the fact that there is also another railroad line on the southern shore of the river that is still in use for Norfolk Southern freight traffic. The existence of lines on both sides of the river is a reflection of the industrial background of the place. Railroad lines used to be the lifeblood of towns like these, and these lines usually used to run along the shores of the rivers because of the relative ease of laying tracks along the relatively flat shorelines. It was not unusual to find competing railroad lines on either shores of a river.

We crossed the bridge over river to get to the trail, and then proceeded east along the trail in the direction of Philadelphia. We quickly left the newer developments and the remains of old industry in the section of the trail that ran through Conshohocken, and soon entered a more rural section.

It was a pleasant walk, with sightings of wildflowers like honeysuckle, buttercups, purple dead nettle, gill-over-the-ground (also called ground ivy), dogwood, etc., and also some new flowers that we were seeing for the first time this season. These included what I think was Paulownia tomentosa (also called Princess Tree),Spiderwort,
and clover.

The birds were out in large numbers. We were greeted by songs emerging from the trees and bushes beside us as soon as we entered the trail.

Here were some of the sights from our walk.

The waters looked quite calm as we walked over the bridge across the river. The thick green foliage of the woods indicated that we are well on our way into summer.

We noticed that the signage on the trail itself was quite good.



As you can see from the picture below, the trail was also wide and well paved.


There were a lot of bikers on the trail. The location in the picture below looked like an ideal stop during a ride!They even had an official bike station beside the trail with tools to make repairs to bikes.The section of the trail outside of town was quite wooded. It might be hard to imagine that an active railroad line and a highway run along the other shore of the river. You cannot even see the SEPTA double-track that runs beside our trail on our side of the river (just below the level of the trail) in this picture.

We even chanced upon one of the SEPTA trains stopped at a station.

We checked out of the hotel soon after returning from our walk and cleaning up. There was not much packing to be done. We had brunch in the town of Conshohocken to celebrate Mother’s Day. And then we headed home.

A blog about travel during this time of the pandemic would not be complete without some mention of how the pandemic impacted the activities of the trip. People are still using masks in general, but fewer people than I expected seemed to be wearing them during the wedding celebration itself. Some were more careful than others, and the use of masks decreased as the night progressed! It is a little difficult to eat and drink, and dance, with a mask on! I hope the confidence in the impact of the vaccines on the situation is justified. The hotel in which we were staying still had a requirement for masks to be worn in all of its open spaces. Also, their restaurant was closed because of the pandemic. I was not really paying close attention to the masking efforts of people on the trail during our walk because of the circumstances – existence of open space and a lot of separation between people. I believe we are in a transition phase in our country.

Trainspotting at Point of Rocks, Maryland (12/12/2004)

I noted last week that I had written an email a long time ago about an encounter with a bird at the Point of Rocks parking lot many years ago. I proceeded to search for the email in my records, discovered it, and posted a blog – only to realize that I had already posted the same email in my blogs in 2015. I did a quick take-down of the duplicate blog! Some might have already noticed a blog that disappeared after having been announced. I messed up!

But, during that search for the forgotten email, I also discovered another email that covered my first ever visit to Point of Rocks. I thought it worthwhile to post this email. My perspectives of distances and the nature of the challenges along the canal and trail have changed with time.
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It was still somewhat dark outside when I left home shortly after 7am in the morning. I have a long way to drive today. I am extending my coverage of the C&O canal by going all the way up to Point of Rocks at Mile 48.2 on the canal. I am leaving the safe confines of Montgomery County and driving up into Frederick County, all the way to the end of Route 28. I am truly venturing into the boondocks and lands unknown. I drive past the fat happy cows (are they Holsteins?) and the horses poking their heads through the picket fences. I drive past the house surrounded by bird feeders at the corner of routes 28 and 85. That is some sight – seemingly broken bird-feeders all over the property! The house looks old and dilapidated.

It is cloudy as I drive. The weather looks gloomy, and not very inviting for a run along the canal. As I approach Point of Rocks after the long drive, I even begin to lose the radio channel that I am listening too. The program today is about civil rights goings-on in the United States in the 50s and 60s. They are playing songs about the company bosses and their union busting activities. The company owners actually resorted to murder in many cases. We are all so greedy in this United States of America. We do not want to pay for the true value of things. Do we really care for the working man? The talk turns to Israel and Palestine, and the recent report of the sufferings of the Palestinians as they try to move around. They are treated as less than human beings at the checkpoints. Even people who are sick, and women who are about to give birth and need to get to a hospital, are not allowed through. People are assaulted. These circumstances cause people to lose their humanity. The DJ came up with a great saying from Martin Luther King about the worst thing that can happen to people – that they become so apathetic and do not do anything to help others. This is what I found when I did a search on quotes by MLK – “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. Anyway…

Point of Rocks is a railroad junction on the old B&O railroad on the way from Washington DC to Pittsburgh and points north. The railroad crosses the Potomac at Harpers Ferry around mile 60 (all distances from now on are distances on the C&O canal!). There is also a railroad line here that branches off from the main line to Frederick City and Baltimore. I drive into “Smalltown USA”, with its old small houses, some of them abandoned and falling apart. Looks like things have not changed there for while. Point of Rocks has a small, very nicely maintained, commuter train station with lot of parking. Most of the railroad traffic here is probably freight trains, but there are also the commuter trains that stop here. I have to drive across the railroad tracks close to the train station, and over a wooden bridge crossing the canal itself, to get to the parking spaces for the towpath. The parking lot is right under the bridge that takes highway 15 over the Potomac river into Virginia. I hesitate to park here because the parking lot is close to the river level and seems to slope towards the swiftly flowing river. The lot is also quite empty. I do not want to come back and find the car in the middle of the river! I drive back to a spot further up the road where I had seen a couple of vehicles parked on the side of the road and pull up next to them hoping for the best. Things worked out OK except for the fact that I had trouble pulling the car out when I tried to leave – the wheels kept spinning in the mud. Next time I will be more careful. The hood of my car is now covered with brown spots of mud.

The run itself was uneventful. I had to wear my track suit because it was quite chilly. Because the trees were bare, I could see the wide river on the one side and the railroad tracks parallel to the canal on the other side. The tracks paralleled the canal until mile 45, but I did not see any trains. (There is an interesting story about the battle between the B&O Railroad and the C&O canal for the rights to the property next to the river in some places, especially where the cliffs came right up to the river near Point of Rocks.) The trail was quite muddy due to the rain the day before, and in spots I had no choice but to charge through the mud. I could not help noticing that the area was so flat that it was actually hard to find a private place to pee if one needed to. At this point in this tale, I will digress into a lesson on peeing in the woods on a cold winter day. (Those sensitive souls who are offended by this kind of stuff can skip the next paragraph.)

There are some important things to remember about peeing in the wild. The first requirement is that of finding a spot where you will not be observed and you are not exposed. In these parts of the trail, it might just be a matter of looking left and right, since there are not too many people around. Find a protected spot where you do not expose too many bodily parts. This is most important for women, because on a cold day such as today, your butt can freeze. (You do remember that I had a potential story about “Turning the other cheek” last spring, don’t you?). The next few points are for the males. It is important to make sure you know which way the wind is blowing. You do not want to be dancing around trying to avoid the fountain. Third point – make sure your can feel your fingers. If not, you do not necessarily know which way you are pointed. Lastly, make sure that you really are done before you begin reinsertion. On a cold day, far away from home, you do not want any disasters of the wet kind. OK! Lesson is over. Back to our story…

I made my way past two camping grounds, Calico Rocks, and Indian Wells, as I followed the towpath south to the Monocacy River at mile 42.2. It was quite chilly and windy as I rested on the aqueduct. All of a sudden, I could also hear the sounds of the open, unimpeded by noise generated by the constant movement of my feet on the trail. There was this bird that was crying out from the trees in some kind of a pattern. Since I am clueless about bird-sounds, I imagined some mighty bird like an eagle or a hawk calling out. I could hear the rumble of traffic carried long distances because of the absence of foliage on the trees – you really cannot get completely away from civilization. There was somebody at the boat jetty banging on some metal part, disturbing the quiet. Off in the distance, the towers of the PEPCO power plant stood out over the waters.

I made my way back to Point of Rocks without incident. It suddenly felt colder and windier as I started my way back. I had to wear my gloves. Encountered only three or four people on the trail. Went past the overturned port-a-john on the trail at Noland Ferry. (Trust me, you really do not want to know any more about that!) Made it back to the car in good spirits. As I was sitting in the car relaxing with my donut and a cup of coffee, I heard the sound of a train headed into Point of Rocks. It was a train consisting for Amtrak Superliners pulled by an GE AMD-103. Soon after, I heard, and spied, a freight train rolling in. I quickly grabbed my camera, and rushed out of the car (leaving the radio on and the key in the ignition). I sprinted across the bridge over the canal with new-found energy in time to sight the train approaching from my left. The engineer blew the horn loudly, partly because the road crossed the tracks at this point, and probably partly because he sighted this madman rushing towards the tracks! Do not fear! I stopped well short of the tracks, to take my picture and to feel the thunder of the freight train drawn by the three powerful locomotives rolling by. Awesome!

As I was leaving Point of Rocks, I stopped by the train station to take a picture and was pleasantly surprised to see another freight train go by headed in the direction of Frederick and Baltimore. Point of Rocks is really a good place for trainspotting.

Got home by about noon. I have to cook the chicken for the next week. Teresa has a meeting with her small-faith group. I have to go for my music practice today evening.

Life goes on. Catch you later.
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I had an analog camera is those days. Here are scans of a few of the pictures I took that day. The water level in the Potomac, under the Route 15 bridge, looks somewhat high in the picture below.This is a picture of one of my old cars, the Ford Contour, parked in the old parking area that used to exist under the bridge in those days.You can see the tail-end of a freight train passing Point of Rocks station on its way towards Baltimore in the picture below.Just another note that the little house at the corner of Routes 15 and 85 where the bird houses were being sold is long gone. The space has been taken over by the forces of nature!

I used to eat donuts for breakfast regularly when going for my Sunday runs. That has stopped – for reasons that do not need to be expounded upon.

The PEPCO power plant mentioned above is now owned by a company called NRG Energy.

More Flowers Of The Season

We saw more flowers of Spring during our outing on the canal last Sunday. Here are the new ones that caught my eye.

Celandine:

Fleabanes:

Phlox:

Miami Mist:

The real Virginia Waterleaf! (I believe I falsely identified the following as possibly Virginia Waterleaf a few weeks back. The real Virginia Waterleaf grows closer to the ground than the plant we had seen earlier!):

Mayapple:

Star of Bethlehem (different from the Nodding Star of Bethlehem!):

Possibly Sweet Cicily:

and Dames Rocket:

We could see the distinctive Rosa Multiflora plants in some sections of the trail. These will be blooming soon, and, along with the honeysuckle, taking over the sides of the trail before too long!

The manner in which I have approached the presentation of the flowers observed along the canal this year has made me better appreciate, perhaps for the first time, the wide variety of the flora that we have been coming across over the years in our own backyard. This is amazing!

Our exploration last weekend started from Point of Rocks. It has been a while since we came here. There has been enough new development around the area of the towpath that I initially even missed the entrance to the park. I would consider Point of Rocks to be at a somewhat intermediate distance from home, creating the situation where one is not really sure whether to consider it close enough to home when planning Sunday walks when there are time constraints, or far enough from home when we wish to spend more time exploring less-visited and newer spaces. This indeterminate state of affairs is probably one of the reasons that has led to the less frequent visits to this place.

Also to be considered in the context of making excuses for not visiting Point of Rocks is the fact that there are a lot more people visiting this place these days than in the past. The place is actually crowded! I still remember the days when there was almost nothing here. I would see very few people in the parking lot or on the trail. At that time, I had discovered the area from some newly found source of information about the C&O Canal, and I was still in the process of exploring these new spaces for the first time. The parking lot at Point of Rocks used to be a small area of cleared gravel/dirt beside an undeveloped road – on the other side of a narrow wooden bridge over the dry canal bed. (I once wrote about a bird that landed on my car while I was in this parking area. I need to rediscover that e-mail!) In those days, the dirt road actually extended on to the then unmaintained towpath, and ran all the way to the bottom of the Route 15 bridge over the Potomac river. There used to be another undeveloped dirt parking lot under the bridge at that time. All of this has changed. The trail has been resurfaced since then and is no longer accessible to visitor vehicles, and the previous parking area under the bridge is now overgrown with vegetation. The NPS parking lot at Point of Rocks these days is huge. The lot has a paved surface, and there is also a nice boat ramp to the river at one end of it.

A noteworthy element of the experience of coming to Point of Rocks is the sight of the Route 15 bridge across the Potomac in the early morning light. It is always striking. I never fail to take pictures. Here is another example.

We walked all the way to the Catoctin Creek Aqueduct and back.(Can you imagine that this was how the place looked in 2006, many years before they began reconstruction of the aqueduct?!)

There were a lot of gnats in the air at the aqueduct. It is a reminder that summer temperatures are slowly but surely making their way to our neighborhood, although, right now, we do have some days that are still cold enough to require a light jacket or a windbreaker.

Last weekend was the first time we went out to a restaurant after a gap of well over a year. We were expecting to see a light crowd. It was a shock to see the large numbers of people gathered in the shopping area. They were out enjoying the great Spring weather that we were experiencing that day. The restaurants in the neighborhood were all also quite busy. If people had not been wearing their masks, and if the spacing between the occupied tables at the restaurants had not been increased for safety, one would have assumed that this was a normal day in the county without anything amiss. But there is indeed a pandemic still going on! It was a little difficult sometimes to maintain spacing with other people while on the walkways, but, thankfully, most people wore masks. We also sat outdoors at the restaurant. All of this was a little risky, I suppose, but new Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for people who have been vaccinated suggests that the risk levels are low in these situations. This is not an exact science. We are still learning. One still has to be very careful, especially with mutations of the virus, like the particularly virulent version that seems to be prevalent in India, that are spreading around the world.

We did enjoy our dinner, although there were elements of the experience that felt a little new and unfamiliar to me once again. The interactions with the waiter felt somewhat unnatural. Truth be told, we have gotten so used to ordering food to eat at home, and enjoying the food in the relaxed and quiet atmosphere at home, that the home dining experience feels more natural and easy. One would go to restaurants primarily to enjoy the company of friends. That was what we did on Saturday.

The United States National Arboretum in Springtime

This was our first ever visit to the National Arboretum in Washington, DC. It is hard to imagine that we have not visited this place in all the years that we have lived in the area.

Here is a gallery of some somewhat random visual impressions from the visit. It is the season of the azaleas.

Beside the Azaleas, we noticed an abundance of other flowers of the season. I hesitate to start mentioning names because I have already forgotten many of them!

The massive green fields that we walked through to get from one section of the park to another (and from one kind of garden to another) were full of wild flowers like buttercups, dandelions, and gill-over-the-ground. The Anacostia river that flows past the hills of the park in its eastern section, visible below you through the trees of the woods as one hikes the pathways of the park, is one of the many features that lends to the character of the place.

The arboretum is a very impressive place, and very popular with the denizens of Washington, DC. We will probably be coming back again!

The Slog to Snyders Landing

I was torn between a few choices in selecting a subject line for this blog, but finally settled on the above. After all, Snyders Landing turned out to be a central element in the walk we did on Sunday. My plan had been to drive to Snyders Landing and park there, and then walk downstream towards the Shepherdstown entrance to the trail. Well, finding Snyders Landing Road, the road leading to the landing itself, was something I had attempted in the distant past without success. I had remembered that I had not been successful in reaching the parking lot at Snyders Landing at that time, but I had forgotten why. I was destined to learn my lesson once again! I missed the turnoff from Route 34 to Snyders Landing this time also, and, before I knew it, we were heading towards the Shepherdstown entrance to the trail.No problem! We could walk from Lock 38 at the Shepherdstown parking area towards Snyders Landing along the trail.

What we did not factor in was the distance between the two places. It was more than I had anticipated. I had not done my research properly. Since Snyders Landing had figured in the planning for the morning, we were still curious about it. Snyders Landing became the destination for the walk in spite of the distance involved. And we made it in good shape.We managed to walk the longest distance that the two of us have done together on the towpath! I call it a “slog”, but it was not too bad. The sun was out, but it felt cool. We were walking in the shade of the greening trees the whole morning. We took it really easy, enjoying our surroundings.

Another possible subject line for this blog could have addressed our experience with the Virginia Bluebells in this section of the trail. Some may be thinking that I have talked about these plants enough already, but Sunday’s visions of the fields of blue was even more expansive and amazing than what we had experienced the previous week – when I had thought that we were at the optimal place to experience the presence of bluebells. The bluebells were everywhere you turned during this walk. You could see these fields of blue and green extending to the limits of the woods. Bluebells dominated our experience of the morning. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the colors, pictures cannot do this sight and experience justice.

Another possible subject line for this blog could have been related to the caves that we passed by in this section of the towpath. There were many more than we usually see. One of the campsites in this section is named after a cave – the Killiansburg Cave Campsite. I am actually not sure which of the many caves we saw that this refers to. People seem to have a explored a few of them. But these caves did not excite me enough to want to explore them myself. It is partially a fear of the unknown. I have not read much about them. And there was nothing particularly enchanting to me about a picture of the mouth of these caves either. It was fairly easy for me to dismiss a title for the blog mentioning anything about this!

We saw a few more new flowers of the season. These included Speedwell,and Checkweed.Both of these flowers are really tiny and can be missed easily.

We did see some Trillium.

The Redbud trees are blossoming everywhere.I could not identify the bush pictured below with these unique flowers, but I suspect it could be a Virginia Waterleaf plant. (I have since confirmed that this is not Virginia Waterleaf!)Mayapple flowers should be out soon.

There were lot of butterflies, including different kinds of swallowtails and the Cabbage White (or Small White) butterflies. We could not get the butterflies to settle down long enough for me to take a picture, although a few of them seemed to be hanging around us for a while as we were walking. I did manage this one picture.

This was an especially long morning because of my initial misstep that caused us to miss our targeted destination, and because of the distance covered on the trail. We are getting much more used to such long mornings these days, especially since we have started to drive to places that are further away, places that we are visiting together for the first time. We do not feel rushed even after we get back home. I even had time for a nap!

A Picture And Its Story

We had just crossed Nolands Ferry during our walk last weekend, and we were about to enter the section lined with Virginia Bluebells. Towards our left, between the branches of the now greening trees, one could see the Potomac river in the distance. Further off in the distance, in the direction of the river, I noticed what looked like an island lit up by the rays of the rising sun. (It might have been the opposite shore of the river that I had sighted, but that was not what I was imagining at that point.) I was thinking about how this could have been the opportunity for the perfect picture.

I had seen this picture before, in reality and my mind, during past walks, and I had thought even then about trying to take advantage of a perfect picture opportunity – if only there was a way to get down to the river from the towpath that we were walking along. There were too many visual obstacles to taking the picture from where we were. I had found no such path to the river in the past, only hints of places where some (a few) people might have forced their way to the river over the vegetation and the mud. This was the case once again last Sunday. I could not find an easy way to the shore of the river. If I had found such a trail, I would have been down there in a jiffy.

As we continued on the towpath in the general direction of my island in the sun, I continued to keep a lookout the photo opportunity I had in mind. Pretty soon this opportunity for The Picture had vanished. Things looked more ordinary on the river from the newer perspectives, and I suspect that we even walked past my real or imaginary island at some point.

Eventually, it was time to return to the Monocacy Aqueduct, the starting point for our walk. We were going to, once again, attempt to find a detour to the river at the point of the picture opportunity. This time we were going to be more adventurous in trying to find a way to our destination. We stepped off the towpath and stepped into the woods. We picked a spot where there were no obvious obstacles in our path. It was somewhat rough going. Certain sections were quite muddy. The caking pattern of drying mud indicated that the river had risen to the levels that we were walking at.

The picture below shows how close we managed to get to the riverside. There was no easy way to get all the way down to the river itself. This was not exactly what I had hoped for. The lighting had changed from earlier in the morning, and this was not the picture I had imagined. The angles seemed to be different, and despite our valiant efforts, we could not avoid the foliage in the way of the view. Nevertheless, I had to take the picture because I come down all this way from the towpath. And that is the story of how this particular picture came to be.

We actually tried to continue walking along the side of the river at the level that we were at for some additional distance – to see if we could get to a place which might offer a better view. We could not get too far, and had to return to the towpath.

That is the way it goes!

The Music of The Birds, The Flowers, and Spring!

There were dark clouds in the sky, and it was threatening to rain, when we left home for our weekly walk in the park. We even considered carrying something extra to protect ourselves – just in case. Fortunately, the weather predictions by the experts turned out to be right, and the skies actually slowly cleared up over the course of the morning walk.

This was the view as we started our walk from the parking lot at the Monocacy Aqueduct.

This was the weekend of dramatic transformation of the woods.All of a sudden, everything has turned green around us! This was not the way it looked, or felt, even last weekend! What a glorious change! Everything in the woods has sprung to life. The combination of the wetness from the overnight rain and the rising sun attempting to penetrate and slowly vanquish the early morning clouds created some different and unique lighting conditions in these woods.

There were flowers everywhere. Different kinds of plants and flowers dominated different patches in the woods. There were the flowers we had seen in the earlier weeks of Spring, including Gill-over the-round, Periwinkle, Cutleaf Toothwort, Spring Beauty, Dutchmen’s Breeches and especially the Virginia Bluebells that were all over the place. And, then, there were other new flowers to be noticed, and even identified, including:

Violets,Squirrel Corn (which look very similar to Dutchmens Breeches),Nodding Star of Bethlehem,Yellow Violets (I think!),Purple Dead-nettle,and the super-invasive Garlic Mustard.

And the birds were everywhere, in many cases singing the sweet songs of the morning. During our walks, we usually find the birds only in certain sections of the trail. This was not the case last Sunday. Instead, we were entertained by birds everywhere, throughout the walk. We would stop and listen occsasionally, and look up into the branches of the trees to try to locate the source of the sounds. Most often, we would not see the birds. Here is a bird that I managed to spot:I think it may have been a Northern Flicker, but there is no way to be certain under the circumstances. We may be getting better at identifying some of these birds from the sounds they make – including the Northern Cardinal, the Carolina Wren, and the woodpeckers. Incidentally, the woodpeckers seem to make the least musical of sounds. They actually sound quite guttural.

Unfortunately, the conditions also caused a surfeit of millipedes to be present on the trail, and the danger of the regular squashing of these creatures underfoot. I grimaced every time I felt a crunch from my shoes. Thankfully, it was my imagination working overtime most of the time. There were also a lot of earthworms that had come out because of the rain.

We did see this tiny snail,and these unique mushrooms by the side of the trail.

The highlight of this particular outing was walking past the fields of bluebells. They have literally taken over the woods in some sections. There was a section where the trail was lined with these flowers. Unfortunately, my pictures may not serve the purpose of adequately informing the reader of the extraordinary impact of the sight of these flowers on the senses, and the sense of wonder that one feels in the midst of these fields of blue, but one must try!



The heartbeat and rhythm of the woods is unending. It is amazing.

The Visit to Big Pool

This was the song going through my head when I woke up this morning. And I felt like writing….

Springtime is here for sure, and this was more than obvious during our Sunday walk along the canal from the parking area at Fort Frederick State Park. There were newer Spring flowers to be seen all over the place:
Spring Beauty,Grape Hyacinth,Periwinkle,Trout Lily,Dandelions,probably Forsythia, and even a patch of Daffodils, most likely introduced by humans.We were even able to identify the plant that we had seen springing out of the side of the trail two weeks ago near Dargan Bend.They were Virginia Bluebell!

We started the walk rather late yesterday, closer to 11am, after going for the Easter service at the church. Having received our vaccinations, we have an additional degree of comfort/confidence about being in such gathering places. After mass, it was off on a long car ride to the area of Big Pool near Hancock. This section of the canal, next to Fort Frederick, opens out into a huge natural lake, an area where the boats plying the C&O canal in the days of old could even turn around if needed.An active railroad line that used to belong to the Western Maryland Railway, now operated by CSX, runs on the other side of the Pool, away from the towpath. At the western end of the pool, the line crosses over the towpath,and a bridge over the Potomac river, into West Virginia, joining the CSX mainline running on that side. Trains do not use this secondary line through Maryland (which runs to Hagerstown) very often, but we did happen to be there when a couple of them passed through.

The Western Maryland Railway originally used to continue westward on the Maryland side of the river towards Hancock and beyond instead of crossing over into West Virginia. The rails in this section are long gone, and the right-of-way has been converted into the Western Maryland Rail Trail. It is extremely popular with cyclists and walkers.

We had an extremely late lunch on our way back to the car, consuming PB&J sandwiches and apples while sitting on the rocks next to the remains of a spillway from Big Pool. There was a very pleasant and cool breeze blowing in our faces, making up for temperatures that has risen into the sixties by then.It was late in the afternoon by the time we were done, but we were in no hurry to get home. We even took another short walk to get down to the river since we had been unable to do that earlier.We checked out a beaver pond in the state park.It was a long drive home after all of that activity. We were tired!

Here is some more music to close out the blog with.

Peace out, and Happy Easter!