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.