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.

Four Locks

We went up to the Four Locks area of the C&O canal last weekend. This is even further away from where we live than Williamsport, our other recent and distant destination. We were being more adventurous than usual. A visit by the young ones was an added incentive.

Since it was going to get hot and humid later in the day, we were resolved to leave early in the morning for our destination. We ended up departing a little later than planned, but not too late for it to become a matter of major concern.

The parking lot for the Four Locks area is located in the boondocks. You take the exit for Clear Spring from Interstate 70. It is in an area of Maryland called Prather’s Neck. Once you get off the highway, you have to travel over local roads for a little while. You have to go through a couple of long tunnels, one under the tracks of the former Western Maryland Railroad (now operated by CSX) out of Hagerstown, and the other under the canal itself. The location of the parking lot at Four Locks is a surprise for newcomers. It shows up unexpectedly with little advance warning.

This area is in the countryside. There are narrow roads that disappear into the woods around Prather’s Neck. They probably turn to dirt roads at some point. Who knows what exists at the end of the roads! I suspect that people used to live here once upon a time. I expect that there are some abandoned homes in the middle of the woods and at the ends of these roads.

The Potomac river meanders its way around Prather’s Neck, while the canal takes a shortcut through the “neck”. The canal changes levels quite significantly and quickly in this section using the four locks for which the area is named. The locks are close to each other. Once you climb out of the Four Locks area, the river reappears beside the trail at a much lower level than the trail itself.

The early start for the walk was a good thing. The morning sunshine was still diffused, and the air was still cool.

This is a picture of Lock 47, the lowest of the four locks.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis lock house, caught in the weak morning light, is available for rent.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is lock 50.  There is a little shanty on the upstream side where the lock keeper could wait in times of inclement weather to greet boats headed downstream.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe headed out in the direction of Fort Frederick. The young ones ran past us on their way out.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe woods were nice and cool this time in the morning.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The river flowed next to us in this section.  The next landmark along the trail was McCoy’s Ferry.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe huge camping area next to river at McCoy’s Ferry was full, perhaps because it was the July 4th weekend.  The campsite looked much bigger than I remembered it to be. You could look down on all the activity from the elevated trail as you went by.  Just beyond the berm of the canal, on the other side of the trail from the campsite, you could make out the trestle bridge for the the railroad partially hidden behind the trees.

The woods were dark and deep beyond McCoy’s Ferry.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe encountered the kids on their way back to Four Locks soon after.   They had decided the shorten their run because of the conditions.

The river is far away from the canal for the section of the trail beyond McCoy’s Ferry. This is also not a very exciting section of the trail this time of year.  There was nothing particularly notable. There were very few flowers to be seen. There seemed to be a lot of rosa plants beside the trail, easily recognizable by the thorny stems, but no flowers. There were a few dying fleabane.  There was a small stand of plants with the flowers you see in the picture below.  I think they may be Basil Balm (Basil Bee Balm, White Bergamot). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are no historical artifacts that grab your attention here – other than the wide and well defined canal bed itself beside the trail.

We turned back just after we reached the park road to Fort Frederick, stopping at the edge of Big Pool,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAto watch the antics of the little turtle that scooted into the water as soon as I brought up my camera. It tried to disappear under a rock.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The sun was up and making its impact felt over the trail as we returned to Four Locks. It was hot and humid. We were focused on reaching our destination. We picked up the pace as we got going. There was not much dilly-dallying, but I had to take this picture of one of the rabbits that crossed out path that morning.undefined
This one vanished into the bushes at our approach, but stayed close enough to the trail for me to take its picture through the foliage.

Christina and Jesse were waiting for us when we got back. They had spent most of the time in the picnic area next to the parking lot. It seems that this was not the right kind of weather for them to indulge in too much running.

And thus was spent another Sunday morning in the park!