Dam 4 and Mather Gorge After The Rain

It rained steadily through the later half of last week. Although the rain was not heavy enough to cause flash flooding in the neighborhood, it rained long enough to cause a record or two to be broken in terms of the volume of rainfall we received.

There had been warnings in the weather reports about possible flooding on the river over the weekend because of the rain. It was an unintended invitation for me to check out the conditions at Dam 4 on the Potomac on Sunday. Although the rain had stopped by that time, its impact on the flow of water on the river was still in its early stages.

The water was nearly up to the level of the road as we approached the parking area for Dam 4. The entire trail was under water downstream of Dam 4. In the picture below, you can see the trail vanish into the water as it descends from the level of the dam.

Instead of gently flowing down the side of the dam as it usually does, the water was pouring out with full force well beyond wall of the dam – into a chaotic churning foam of brown whitewater.

All kinds of flotsam and jetsam, including massive tree trunks, were being carried over the top of the dam, only to be caught in a debris field at the bottom of the dam.At one point I even noticed a huge tree truck caught in a upright configuration above the swirling waters. It held that position for an moment or two, somehow magically kept balanced vertically by the chaotic forces of the swirling waters at its base, before finally disappearing into the downstream flow. There was the steady roar of the angry waters of the river in the background.

The road upstream of the dam, in the direction of the parking lot at Big Slackwater, was closed because of the conditions, but the trail was still open. So we took the opportunity to walk towards Big Slackwater to see what the conditions were like there. On one side of the dry trail was the swiftly flowing river, now just a couple of feet below the level of the trail because of its flooded state,and on the other side, well below us, was the canal – usually dry but now full of water because of the rainfall.

The difference in heights of the river and the canal in this section is because they are fully separated. If not, there would have been water close to where we were walking on both sides of the trail, in which case the trail would probably have been closed. As things stood, I still had a nagging concern about the the river possibly cresting above the trail while we were on it.The trail itself looked like it had been recently repaved.

We found parts of the Big Slackwater parking lot partially under water. The boat dock was floating well above its normal level.

The picnic area beyond the parking lot was fully under water.

The trail was marked as being closed beyond this point, but we walked a couple of hundred feet more along the pathway to the inlet lock from the river. No water enters from the river at this point because the lock is now cemented shut.

Just beyond the inlet lock we could see the trail disappearing into the water as it descended to the level of the river.It was clear that we would not be able to continue our travels further upstream. The trail at Big Slackwater was clearly not passable. We had to return to Dam 4.

The parking lot at Dam 4 had been empty when we first arrived, but there were many more vehicles there by this time. Some people were fishing at the stop lock and others were watching the water flowing over the dam.

Since we were still interested in seeing the impact of the high water on the river, and since we had not walked much at the point, we decided to drive to Great Falls, closer to home, to take another look at the river.

We encountered the usual weekend park traffic when we arrived later in the morning at Great Falls. The parking lot was about half-full. The walkway to Olmsted Island, from which vantage point you can see the actual Great Falls, was closed because of the level of the water. So was the Billy Goat Trail over Mather Gorge.

But one did not have to leave the towpath itself to see the impact of the flooding. Water was pouring over Dam 3 just upstream of The Tavern at Great Falls,and all of the rocks that one would normally see in the path of the river next to the towpath in the area just downstream of the tavern were completely under water.

The were cascades in places that were normally above water.

The section of Mather Gorge next to the towpath was full. This is how the area looked under normal conditions a few months ago.

We did continue our walk along the towpath towards the far end of Widewater, to the place where the Billy Goat Trail ends. Being separated from the river, the water in this section of the canal was at its normal level. Everything was calm.You would have had no suspicion that the river was in its full fury just close by – just a few hundred yards away on the other side of the trail.

We encountered many people on the trail, both on foot and on bikes, during this part of the morning walk. Many people live in this area of Montgomery County. It must have felt good for them to be able to get outside after having been cooped up indoors because of the rain.

I will end with a final note that the river does usually return to its normal levels very soon after an episode 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.

The Chair

Walking along the Potomac river, between Taylor’s Landing and Dam 4 on the C&O Canal towpath, we came across this somewhat strange sight on the West Virginia side of the river.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWas this chair placed there so that somebody could spend the day fishing, or simply watching the flow of the river?

Was this chair placed there by a kind soul for the benefit of other people – so that they too could enjoy their day and time sitting by the riverside?

Considering that the chair was in a location that seemed to be hard to get to, at a place that you had to drive down a steep dirt road to reach,  at a spot beside the river where the surface seems to be unsuitable for a comfortable walk, is it even possible that the chair was simply swept down the river to land upright in this location and position?P3310030.jpg

You can let your imagination wander, see whatever you wish to see, and make up your own stories, as you walk down the towpath on a Sunday morning.