Harpers Ferry Over The Years

My regular exposure to Harpers Ferry over the years has primarily been because of my weekend runs along the C&O Canal towpath.  It has been mainly about the connection between the town, the Potomac river, and the railroad line that crosses the river and passes through the town. I run past the town on the other side of the river, under the railroad tracks that cross over the Potomac into Harpers Ferry in West Virginia after emerging from the Harpers Ferry tunnel on the Maryland side of the river.  Often I even experience the rush of the trains while running in this area – trains that are crossing the river with their horns blaring, or those on the tracks on my side of the river south of Harpers Ferry, and those on the tracks on the far shore of the Potomac north of Harpers Ferry.

January 2008
Winter view of Harpers Ferry from the C&O canal (January 2008)
October 2007
Sunrise behind the hills at the bridges of Harpers Ferry (October 2007)
January 2008 2
Early morning freight traffic moves through Harpers Ferry (January 2008)
IMG_7761
Blasting out of the tunnel on to the bridge across the Potomac (January 2009)
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Racing across the river on a winter morning (December 2013)
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Train crossing over the Potomac (July 2015)

There are the pictures taken from the tip of Harpers Ferry where the Potomac and the Shenandoah meet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Maryland Heights in the background as a freight train crosses the Potomac (July 2015)
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Maryland Heights, the railroad bridges, and Route 340 road bridge over the Potomac (May 2012)

Then there are the pictures taken from across the Potomac river, from Maryland Heights.

Panorama - September 2018
The town of Harpers Ferry nestled between the two rivers (September 2008)
April 2010
Harpers Ferry from Maryland Heights (April 2010)
April 2010 2
The Amtrak Capitol Limited stopped at Harpers Ferry (April 2010)

When we have guests visiting, a view of the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac is a must.April 2005OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is picture of the river flowing in the direction of Washington, DC, taken from high up on a hill in the Harpers Ferry cemetery .April 2005 2This picture was taken in 2005.

It has been a while since I ran on the C&O canal across from Harpers Ferry, and this is primarily because the weekend exercise routine has changed in recent times.  But I do miss the experience, and the connection still remains.  I still hold a hope that I will be able to return to the activities of my past years.

Harpers Ferry (2/13/2005)

This note was written in 2005.  As you can see, I considered what I had accomplished that day very significant at that time, when it fact it could be considered just another minor milestone in the story of my life.  But perhaps it did also affect my psyche in a way that led me to the place I am today. Who is to say!

As a point of reference in time, I got my first digital camera only a month after this outing on the C&O canal towpath.

********************************************
I reached my Destination today, February 13, 2005. Alleluia and Glory be!!!

Some of you may know about the historical town of Harpers Ferry, located at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers in West Virginia, at the meeting point of the three states of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. It is a beautiful town located on a hill. It saw a lot of action during the civil war. It was the site of an armory in those days, and John Brown also staged his unsuccessful insurrection there to try to free the slaves. Lewis and Clark went through Harpers Ferry on their way west, picking up weapons and other supplies. They even had a boat made out of iron in Harpers Ferry for their trip. That particular project was not successful…

The B&O railroad crosses the Potomac at Harpers Ferry. The railroad lines emerge from a tunnel on the Maryland side and split in two directions, over two bridges, as they cross the river, with the bridges passing on opposite sides of the town of Harpers Ferry. These bridges over the waters are an impressive sight. There are also remains of older bridges across the rivers to be seen around the town. The rivers are wide and the waters very rough. This is white water territory! Over the centuries, the waters have cut a notch through the mountains, and there are cliffs and hills all around. It is both pretty and powerful at the same time.

We have visited Harpers Ferry a few times in the past. I have noticed the C&O canal towpath during those trips and made note of the fact that the trail runs all the way up from Washington, DC. I remember thinking to myself at that time that it would be extremely cool to come up the towpath from Montgomery County by bike. Well, I have done it, not by bike, but on foot, and not all in one day, but over a period of months. It is my destination!

When we were growing up in Madras, there were a couple of books that I loved to thumb through. Both were travel books and had lots of pictures in them. One of the books was of travels in the USA and the other was of travels in other parts of the world. There is a picture from one of the books that has been stuck in my head – it shows a train crossing a bridge over a river and the railroad track splitting off in two directions on the opposite side of the river. In my imagination, this is the town of Harpers Ferry.  I remember that when we first visited this town, this was the image that came to mind. The thought, most likely a figment of my imagination, was that this was something that I had seen in books as a child, but now was fortunate enough to experience first-hand. Yes, this is my destination!

Harpers Ferry is at mile 61 on the towpath, and quite far away from home. This is probably the limit of where I can get to comfortably without stretching myself too much. In fact, I had to get on the highway at 6:40 am to make sure that I got there at a reasonable time to start the run. This is yet another reason for me to consider this as a destination. I will pause at Harpers Ferry for a while, take a measure of what I have done on the towpath thus far, and consider setting other goals for the future. Meanwhile, there are miles to be covered over and over again, and trips that will surely give me new experiences with the River.

The run between Brunswick (mile 55) and Harpers Ferry took me from a familiar set of surroundings into new and different territory. So far the canal has mainly run through heavily wooded areas, and the river has tended to be a quiet beast for the most part, showing itself occasionally through the branches of the trees. As one gets closer to Harpers Ferry, the towpath is right up against the river. The area is completely open and there are very few trees around. You are running on an embankment completely exposed, about 20 to 30 feet above the river on one side, with the dry canal bed just a few feet below you on the other side. You realize the magic of the system of locks, that allows them to maintain the waters of the river and the canal at different levels. (This area has quite a few locks because of the significant drop in the level of the river.) As an added bonus, you have the B&O railroad on the other side of the canal, and I saw quite a few freight trains rumbling by. This place tends to be noisy – there is also road traffic from route 340. You also pass by the little town of Sandy Beach which is essentially a row of houses parallel to the canal, railroad tracks, and road, with its back up against a hillside.

On the way back from Harpers Ferry, as I pulled out of the parking spot under the shadows of the cliffs of Maryland Heights, I decided to take the road less traveled. I turned off the highway onto a local road, led by a sign that simply said “Brunswick” and “Route 478” on it. I did not have a map in the car, and did not have a clue about route 478, but I decided to be adventurous anyway. I ended up on a fairly empty road running past the railroad tracks. I went though the little town of Knoxville, with its traditional main street and its multicolored row-houses, and eventually ended up in Brunswick, MD, at its sprawling railroad yard. I drove over the tracks and into the parking lot for the towpath by the river. Although I had run past it in the past, this was the first time I had actually driven to the lot. It looked safe. Next time I will know where to park in Brunswick.

So, faithful readers who have stuck with me through my travels and through this long essay, this is the end of a stage in my travels. Who knows where the next voyage (if there is one) is going to take me. I have seen many faces of the River, and hopefully the next time you visit us, I can take to the spot on the river or canal that best fits what you wish to experience – whether it is quiet and solitude, whether it is unimaginable beauty, whether it is awesome power and fury, or whether it is just a simple picture of the timeless flows of a wild and untamed river that has always been, and will continue to be.

Until whenever – Adios Amigos!
kuria
***********************

As you can see from the pictures I took with my analog 35mm camera during my run, I did not actually enter the town of Harpers Ferry that day.  I only saw it across the river as I ran on the trail.Scan-29Scan-30

Regular readers of my blog will also know that I have traveled further along the towpath in the years that have passed since that day, including a trip that covered the entire distance from Pittsburgh to the Washington, DC, area – the Great Allegheny Passage from  Pittsburgh to Cumberland, and the C&O canal towpath from Cumberland to DC.  I do not consider Harpers Ferry that far away from home these days.  Times and perspectives have changed.

The Flooding at the Monocacy Aqueduct

These pictures were taken during one of our Sunday walks towards the end of May.  The aqueduct carries the C&O canal across the Monocacy river.

This kind of flooding happens every once in a while, and most often during the spring season when we get a lot of rain.  The accumulation of the debris is somewhat unusual.  The last time it happened they had to bring in heavy equipment to remove the tree branches that were caught on the structure of the aqueduct and putting pressure on it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Upstream side of the aqueduct
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Downstream of the aqueduct
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Debris stuck at the aqueduct, including significant amounts of trash
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The extent of the flooding

The following picture was taken during the same walk at a different location on the trail.  This is upstream on the Potomac river.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Noland Ferry

2/17/2008 – Cherries in the Snow: The Legend of Mary Pinchot Meyer

I was reminded of this old email that I had sent to family and friends because of some recent news that I blogged about.  I will explain at the end.
***************************************

Ok, I am being overly dramatic! It is not a legend. It is merely a curious story. The particular name in the title has the remote possibility of attracting the attention of suspicious people who like to keep track of activities on the Internet – even though the story is quite old at this point. Anyway, back to the story.

If you were running along the C&O canal near Washington, DC, (just north of mile 1 on the towpath), you might come across a small white cross leaning against a tree trunk beside the trail. On the cross is a card. The card indicates that this is a memorial to Mary Pinchot Meyer.IMG_4171IMG_4172IMG_4173The cross appeared on the trail some time last year and is at the location where she was killed while walking along the towpath in 1964. She was 43 years old when she died, and the cross appeared on the towpath 43 years after her death. Nobody has yet admitted to putting the cross there. Who was Mary Pinchot Meyer? She was John F. Kennedy’s mistress at the time of his death. If you look it up the Internet, you will find a few conspiracy theories surrounding her death. She apparently used to keep a diary that included an account of her affair with JFK. Various people were interested in this diary after her death and went looking for it. Her ex-husband, Cord Meyer, was a higher-up in the CIA and was involved in the search for the murderer. The person who was brought to trial for killing her was acquitted. Just another story on the towpath…

By the way, if you are interested in a really good (but completely humorless) movie about the kind of people who came together to form the CIA during that time, I would recommend The Good Shepherd directed by Robert De Niro.

I finally worked up the courage to do the Potomac tour on foot in the area of Washington DC this morning. Basically I ran on both sides of the river at Washington, DC. Working my way south on the towpath from Fletcher’s Cove,

IMG_4170
Early morning on the Canal near Georgetown

I crossed over into Rosslyn on the Virginia side of the river at the Key Bridge (named after Francis Scott Key),

IMG_4174
Early morning view from the Key Bridge
IMG_4177
A view of Roosevelt Island from the Key Bridge
IMG_4178
Crossing the George Washington Memorial Parkway to the Mt. Vernon Trail in Virginia

and then followed the Mount Vernon trail south, past Roosevelt Island and the various bridges that span the Potomac.IMG_4182IMG_4189IMG_4190I followed the trail as it paralleled the George Washington Parkway all the way to Gravelly Point Park at the end of the longest runway for Washington National Airport.  I spent some time at Gravelly taking pictures and watching the planes landing and taking off.IMG_4195On the way back, I crossed over the river at the 14th Street Bridge into Washington DC.IMG_4210IMG_4212I got off the bridge close to the Jefferson Memorial, and then worked my way back up north along the river, past the Lincoln Memorial, the Kennedy Center and the Watergate buildings, to the beginning of the towpath. I then followed the canal back to Fletcher’s Cove.IMG_4222Next time I come to this area I will try to explore the trails on Roosevelt Island, and also try to find the trail along the edge of the river north of Key bridge on the Virginia side.
********************************************

Today’s Postscript: Coming back to Mary Pinchot Meyer, mentioned in the first section of the above email, the cops tried to pin her murder on a black person, Ray Crump, who happened to be in the general area.  Dovey Johnson Roundtree, the subject of my previous blog, was the one who was able to get Ray Crump acquitted of the crime.  It was quite an achievement for a black woman lawyer in those days!

Since I wrote the original email, I have been to this area, and traveled this path, several times on a bicycle.  I have taken the 18 mile long Mt. Vernon trail all the way to Mt. Vernon.  I have however not been to Roosevelt island yet!  I have also walked the trail on the Virginia side of the Potomac up to the Chain bridge under very trying conditions.  That was the subject of another email blast, an email that I might rediscover some other day.

By the way, I have not seen a memorial to Mary Pinchot Meyer in subsequent years at that location, but this could possibly be because I have not been on that section of the towpath at the right time of the year.

The Spider’s Web (8/19/2007)

Jeff French and I were lifting this ugly piece of furniture over the stairs at the entrance to the apartment building. It was an oddly shaped green table, with a backsplash and long legs, and it was also quite heavy and ungainly to carry. We were going to Apt 13 on the ground floor, but the brilliant designers of the particular apartment building had put in steps to first take you up about half-way to the next floor and then back down again to the level of the apartment. (The thinking process behind such a design is mind-boggling!) So, here we were lugging this monstrosity up the stairs – when the backsplash that I was holding on to (which I should not have been doing in the first place) separated from the table. I lost my grip and the table landed on the steps. Luckily it did not have too far to go. It hit my thigh as I fell back against the steps and sat down. Never mind – not much harm done other than a bruise and some soreness in the thigh.

We then somehow got this thing into the apartment and were greeted by the fellow who lived there. He seemed to be somewhat incoherent. He had bandages on this foot, had some trouble walking, and was apologizing profusely about not being able to help. Jeff thinks that the person was doing this because his pride had been hurt because he could not help, but I think that this dude was still drunk from the previous night (or maybe he also had something that morning). His wife kept telling him to get out of the way, but he kept on getting in the way, until he had to stop because of the pain.

The couple tells us that they want this huge table in their small kitchen. We manage to get it in there, but there is not enough room. When we finally get the table against the wall, we see that there is not enough space to open the door of the fridge completely. (The dude is going to have a hard time getting that beer from the back of the fridge!) There is nothing more to be done about it, and Jeff tells the guy not to call us later to take the table back. We then also deliver a computer table to the folks. We barely manage to get this other rather forgettable piece of furniture into the apartment, this time without it falling apart in our hands. The thing is very heavy because it is made of particle board, but unfortunately it is not very strong. I wonder how long the table will last. Fun times at the furniture program!

I was out in the back yard yesterday afternoon, standing on a ladder trying to take pictures of the beautiful white flowers on the Crape Myrtle tree,IMG_2146when I noticed the robin standing on the lawn.IMG_2136I got down from the ladder and tried to walk across to the other side of the bird to take its picture with the right lighting. But the bird did not cooperate. It kept moving in the same direction that I was moving in, parallel to me. Eventually I had to give up. It was when I looked back towards the deck that I noticed a nest under the deck, on top of one of the beams that held the deck up. I could see the tiny beaks of the babies facing upwards in the nest, as if expecting some food to be delivered.IMG_2140I was convinced that the bird I had encountered had in fact been trying to lead me away from the nest. Anyway, when I came back later the bird was in the nest trying to feed the young.IMG_2154Another robin was sitting on the neighbor’s fence with stuff in its mouth, but it flew away when it saw the humans. The first robin stayed put in the nest looking at me. It was not about the abandon its young that easily. Another cycle of life begins under the deck.

I have been trying to get some inspiration to write during the past few weeks, but all I see in front of me when I sit down in front of the computer has been a blank page. There are too many cobwebs in the mind, and it is difficult to escape the spider’s clutches. My mind is out of whack. Anyway, I did a run on the C&O Canal towpath from Brunswick to Harpers Ferry this morning in an effort to loosen some of the cobwebs. It was a cool cloudy morning, and it was positively cold on the bridge at Harpers Ferry with the wind blowing between the cliffs.IMG_2160The waters are low on the PotomacIMG_2161and there were a few intrepid folks who were making their way towards the middle of the river by trying to climb over the exposed rocks.

Much of the murky green water that is a fixture in this section of the canal is gone but not all of it. It is a good breeding ground for skeeters, but none bothered me during this run. (What in tarnation are skeeters, you ask? You will have to find out yourself.) I had company from the freight trains on the other side of the canal, including a monster train led by 5 or 6 diesel locomotives pulling more than 130 cars (yes, I stood there and tried to count them all!). I still feel a rush when one of these trains roars by blowing its horn, shaking the ground, and causing dry branches and other things to drop out of the trees. This is what you call POWER, baby! I managed to even get myself in position to take a picture of a locomotive rushing out of the tunnel at Harpers Ferry.IMG_2168OK, so I get my kicks out of some very simple and perhaps silly things! What is the harm? I need to get my laughs before the spider gets back….

Autumn Finds Its Way To Our Neck Of The Woods

It has been a somewhat disappointing transition process in our surroundings so far this autumn season.  Other than the occasional exceptions, leaves have been slowly but surely falling off the trees without a hint of how colorful and pretty that process can be on a good year.   It must be the weather.  Nevertheless, we have persisted in looking for the signs of significant change as we walk the C&O canal towpath during the weekends.  Last weekend was a particularly drab one, with the threat of bad weather discouraging others in our group from walking with us.  But the two of us did go out to check out the changing of the seasons.

Regardless of how pretty the process of autumn is in our parts, one cannot escape the feeling of change in the air. The cooler, and soon to be cold, weather forces you to contemplate the winter months that lie ahead.  The changes in the landscape remind you that soon it will be time once again to batten down the hatches and power through a time of year that provides a challenge and a mood of its own.  The cycle goes on.

Morning Sights on the Trail

We were able to go for walks on the C&O canal towpath on both Saturday and Sunday last weekend.  Winter has its own charm when you are in the woods.  The cold is also not a bother unless it is windy. Your body warms up as you exercise.

The woods seem more open in winter because of the bare trees.  You can see things that are not usually visible in summer, including the river beyond the tree trunks, and the birds hidden in the branches of the trees.  The browns and greys of the trees in winter form their own unique patterns along the trail as it disappears into the distance.

We were able to sight this wren hidden away in the branches singing its morning song.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bikers brightened up the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe great blue heron watched the proceedings from its perch high over the towpath.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Park Service police kept an eye on things.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe robin watched me as I tried to focus the camera on it through the tangled branches.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe left the marked trail and explored the woods by the river, ending up with this view of a culvert under the C&O canal and the towpath trail. This is where the Muddy Branch flows past the canal as it makes its way to the Potomac.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA walk in the woods rejuvenates the spirits!