The Escape For The Day

We have made only a few Sunday morning trips to the canal so far this year. I am strongly motivated to get back to the routine of our more regular outings of the past. Last weekend, I also felt strongly motivated to go back to some place along the canal further away from home. I felt like escaping my familiar surroundings and absconding to some quiet and peaceful place far away from the hustle and bustle of humanity – at least for a short while.

We ended up at Dam 5, between Williamsport and Hancock. Although we had been to Dam 5 in the past, this was the first time we were going to park our car there. My plan was to walk upstream from this point towards the Four Locks area.The bridge below is across the stop lock next to the dam that used to carry the boats between the river upstream of the dam and the C&O canal downstream of it. There was no canal in the area immediately above the dam.

We found the weather somewhat more challenging than we had expected at the beginning of the walk. It was particularly windy in the section where the canal boats used to pulled along the side of the river itself – beside cliffs that prevented the construction of a canal bed beside the river. We had to double up on our protection against the cold.The sun was playing hide and seek with the clouds. I had opportunities to take pictures with some unique lighting conditions during the walk. The Sycamore trees caught my attention.

There was also a little town on the West Virginia side of in the river that was occasionally nicely lit up.

As we continued our way upstream, the canal emerged once again from the river at Lock 45 just beyond the cliffs hugging the river.When traveling upstream in this section of the canal, the mules pulling the boats used to travel along what usually was the berm side of the canal. They moved back to the side of the canal that they normally occupied, on the side of the river itself, at Lock 46. The picture below shows the remains of the bridge at Lock 46 that was used to move the mules from one side to the other.The picture below shows where the trail crosses the old canal bed today.This is a picture of the lock area including the lock house.

The river wanders away from the canal in the area of Four Locks, where the canal takes a shortcut to avoid a significant loop in the meandering path of the river. The towpath changes elevation significantly in a short distance in this section. The picture below manages to capture three of these four locks. The canal makes a turn in this section that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to capture all four locks in a single picture. You can barely make out three of them in this picture.You can see the lock house for the four locks in the above picture in the distance.

There was an attempt, ultimately unsuccessful, to try to get a view of all four locks from below the lowest lock in the sequence of locks.

We walked beyond the Four Locks area to the area of McCoy’s Ferry before turning back. There is a big drive-in campsite at McCoy’s Ferry that is accessed by a road that runs under the canal. This picture shows the camping area beyond the end of the road that runs through the area. There were people camping out for the weekend even in the cold conditions.

There were more Spring flowers to be seen than during our previous walk along the canal two weeks ago. If felt a little strange to see this increased growth because of the cold weather we were experiencing. But Spring is inevitable! Most of the flowers were in the area closer to Dam 5. I had a hard time remembering the names of some of the flowers that we came across. It is time once again to put that part of my brain back to work. Perhaps a reader with a better memory than mine still remembers the names of these plants from my blogs of past years.

There were also a lot of little birds in the area closer to Dam 5, but they were not very cooperative when it came to having their pictures taken. But some of the birds did make up for this behavior by providing some unique sounds to listen to, and some background music.

It looked like a lot of trees had been chopped down in this area just recently. It was sad to see, but I am assuming that this was done to prevent overgrowth and in order to keep the woods healthy. The stumps of the trees that had been chopped did for the most part look like they had belonged to trees that had been healthy.

Looking through my old blogs, I was surprised to discover that the last time we came to this area was in October 2020. For some reason I had been thinking that we had made a more recent visit ot this place. In any case, it was good to be back!

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!