Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Reflections on Trap Pond

Freshwater wetlands once covered a large portion of southwestern Sussex County, DE. Featuring the northernmost natural stand of bald cypress trees in the United States, Trap Pond State Park retains a part of those wetlands' original beauty and mystery. (The bald cypress is a wetland tree adapted to areas of calm, shallow standing water.)

Ironically, the pond was created not to preserve these lovely trees, but to destroy them. In the late 1700s, this manmade pond was created to power a sawmill during the harvest of large bald cypress from the area. The rot-resistant wood of the bald cypress trees was in high demand, and caused the bald cypress trees in the area to be extensively harvested.

The lumbermen extensively altered the morphology of the wetland, damming its outflow to create power for a small sawmill to cut the timbers, creating what is now Trap Pond -- named after the Trap Mills.

Years later, the pond grew as nearby farmers laid down drainage tiles to drain their wetlands for agriculture. After the old-growth cypress timber had been harvested, the pond and adjacent surviving wetlands were re-used as the drainage sump for the surrounding farmers of Sussex County.

The Federal Government later purchased the pond and surrounding farmland during the 1930s and the Civilian Conservation Corps began to develop the area for recreation. Trap Pond became one of Delaware's first state parks in 1951. It is now a popular and highly visited area. Trap Pond is also known for its outstanding beauty, and is a popular destination for photographers. The photos practically take themselves, so I can see why!

Today, Trap Pond State Park offers its visitors -- campers, hikers, kayakers -- an outstanding opportunity to explore the natural beauty of the wetland forest. Hiking trails surround the pond, providing opportunities to glimpse native animal species and many flowering plants.

Our route started at the boat ramp, just before you enter the park (and have to pay the fee). From the boat ramp, we paddled to the left, or east(ish) to Terrapin Branch, entering that. After paddling up it for a bit, we turned around, once again entering Trap Pond and navigating through a few stands of bald cypress. Again, we headed left, circumnavigating its shoreline, eventually reaching the boat rental area; from there we crossed the lake back to the boat ramp.

Birdwatching is a popular activity and you don't have to be too observant to spot a great blue heron, green heron, owl, hummingbird, warbler, or bald eagle. You might even spot the elusive pileated woodpecker -- although we didn't. We only noticed herons, ducks, and swallows while we were there.

Know before you go: Bug spray is a must. At one point, we kayaked through a stand of water lilies and came out COVERED with bugs, presumably mosquitoes. A check a few hours later: only one bug bite each -- and my husband's bug bite was due to the angry spider living in our kayak when it was in the garage!

Getting there: 33587 Baldcypress Lane, Laurel, DE 19956

Hours: 8:30 a.m. to sunset

Dogs: But of course.

Website: http://www.destateparks.com/park/trap-pond/

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Hike to Annapolis Rocks

"Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. ...  Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains." -- John Muir, Naturalist    

For almost any hiker in the East, the Appalachian Trail has a curious draw. Colleagues of mine have spent their weekends hiking portions of the trail, and of course, I've read Bill Bryce's book, "A Walk in the Woods," detailing his AT experiences (followed by the movie in 2015).

The AT has an almost mystical attraction for our East Coaster imaginations, but I think I've figured it out, because I also have fallen prey to it. To paraphrase a favorite author of mine, the forest is my church: Mother Nature has decorated the glade and God has filled the air with peace and wonderment.

We picked up the AT near Boonsboro, off of U.S. 40 (exit 42 off of I-70), but for our planned hike, the AT was simply a means to an end, vice the entire point, as it is for the several "nobo" (north bound) through hikers we encountered. We were headed to Annapolis Rocks. From the parking lot, head toward the old US 40 pavement, then take a sharp left. Very quickly, you can hear I-70 traffic. In a minute or two, the AT I-70 overpass comes into view; turn right, following the AT north.

Although you parallel I-70 for a few minutes, soon you veer away from the highway, and start the uphill portion of the hike.

The hardest part of the hike is about a quarter mile in -- that's when you do the full elevation in roughly half a mile, but you're still fresh and have a lot of energy. The good news: it's doable, even for those less than optimally fit.

The tree cover provides plenty of relief from the warm summer sun as the trail levels off and allowing you to cool off from the exertion. However, there are plenty of patches not fully shaded, so prepare accordingly.

After that ascent, it's about another half mile of short rises and descents. Once you see the neighboring ridgelines to the right, you are on the ridge and it is easy walking to Annapolis Rocks. It's well marked, but you do turn left off of the AT to head to Annapolis Rocks; from that point, you again follow the blue blazes. At this point, you will pass the "caretaker's" campsite as well as, slightly further on, a privy -- convenient for those early morning hikers still processing their two cups of coffee!

Shortly after the privy, you come to Annapolis Rocks. The view is well worth the ascent! You can see west to Greenbrier Lake (in Greenbrier State Park) as well as northwest over the Cumberland Valley.

However, you don't go on this hike for solitude -- you just won't find it. Annapolis Rocks is one of the most popular day-hikes in the region, and for good reason: the view is amazing.

Two day hikers had the right idea: contemplate the view in complete comfort!

I read the reviews of this hike on several forums, and there were a lot of comments about the litter. Since that's a pet peeve of mine, I braced myself for the worst. But the worst never came. The trail was clean and litter free, although we did come upon the Caretaker, and he had a grocery bag filled with bottles and such, so it's through the efforts of Good Samaritans like him that the trail is so enjoyable.

You'll also notice several areas, immediately adjacent to Annapolis Rocks, that are fenced off. We are loving Annapolis Rocks to death -- killing the trees and plants immediately around the area. In 2002, a committee formed to address the problem, resulting in camp sites being located away from immediately adjacent Annapolis Rocks and the two privies being installed. The area is recovering quite nicely -- vegetation is again growing back.

While on the hike, getting there, keep a lookout for the beauty around you. In appears in small ways, from the toad hopping across the trail to mushrooms and wildflowers.

Know before you go: The distance is 4.9 miles round trip, with an elevation gain of 875 ft. You can expect the hike to take you 2.5 to 3 hours.

Getting there: The trailhead is located off of US 40, just East of Greenbrier State Park. From I-70, take exit 42 onto MD Rt 17 North. Follow into Meyersville and as Rt 17 turns right, until you come to US 40 west. The parking area is located on the south side of Route 40 (left side heading west, right side heading east). The only real good identifying sign is a Smokey Bear fire condition sign across from the parking area. From the parking lot, head to the West side of the lot where you will find a trail sign. Follow the blue blazes a short distance until you meet with the Appalachian Trail (AT) near the I-70 overpass. Turn right (heading north) onto the AT and proceed.

Hours: Dawn through dusk.

Dogs: Practically mandatory!

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Smell the Lavender at Deep Creek Lavender Farm

...a magic and lavender space, unpinned from the world around it

Unfortunately, this blog cannot share the scent of lavender on the breeze, the subtle aroma that surrounds the farm as the breezes sweep across the lavender fields.

To experience that, you should go yourself to a lavender farm. I went to the Deep Creek Lavender Farm, located in the rolling countryside of western Maryland, just a few days ago. The farm is as the quote suggests -- a magical place, tucked in the countryside, and feels magically removed from the outside world!

A visit to the farm offers a lovely place to enjoy a picnic -- either one that you packed yourself, or you can order one from a local business (the farm's website offers suggestions). There's pick your own lavender, so you can make your own bundles, and  you can shop at the farm's store, which offers a variety of lavender products -- from essential oil to lavender chocolate bars (yum!), lavender jam, and sachets, among many other items. The farm also offers a variety of lavender-related events throughout the summer.

Lavender is best known for its fragrant, delicate appearance in soaps, sachets, essential oil and other body care products. But have you tried adding it to your cooking? Lavender is particularly compatible with the flavors of honey and lemon, and in fact, at the lavender farm, they offered samples of lavender lemonade. Lavender is a perfect summertime herb to brighten seasonal dishes!

Lavender can be used to add flavor and color to culinary recipes in either fresh or dried form. Some sites recommend that to prepare dry lavender for culinary use, snip the stems off the plant just after the flowers have opened and hang the stems upside down or lay them flat to dry. Wash the buds well, then dry-roast them to remove some of the floral taste or grind them in a coffee grinder to improve the texture. 

The key to cooking with culinary lavender is to experiment; start out with a small amount of flowers, and add more as you go. A little goes a long way! (Too much, and you risk making the dish bitter.) Lavender leaves and stems can be substituted for rosemary in many recipes. Lavender also compliments dishes that incorporate fennel, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, and savory,

Lavender Roasted Potatoes
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a bowl, mix a tablespoon or two of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons dried culinary lavender. 
  3. Prepare 2 lbs of red potatoes as you would for regular roasted potatoes, cutting in half or quartering.
  4. Place potatoes in a plastic bag, drizzling the olive oil mixture over. Shake to coat evenly.
  5. Spread potatoes evenly on a baking sheet; bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes, or until a fork goes into the potatoes easily. 
Be sure that you're using culinary/edible lavender and not lavender prepared for things like potpourri, which sometimes has been treated with chemicals. Although there is no definitive difference between ornamental and culinary lavender, some varieties are better for cooking than others, as some varietals can almost leave a camphor-like aftertaste.

According to SF Gate (http://homeguides.sfgate.com/difference-between-lavender-culinary-lavender-28244.html), lavender plants belong to the mint family. Perhaps the most common species of lavender is Lavandula angustifolia, a species that belongs to the group referred to as English lavenders. Hybrids of the Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula latifolia are called Lavandins, and these species are generally planted for ornamental use in gardens or commercially for use in cosmetics.

What's Cooking America (https://whatscookingamerica.net/Lavender.htm) notes that the sweet-smelling Lavandula angustifolia, “Munstead” cultivar is one of the best adding a subtle flavor in cooking. Though the leaves and stems of lavender plants can be used for culinary purposes, the flowers particularly give dishes a sweet, citrus flavor. It's also worth noting in dishes that call for rosemary, you can try the spikes and leaves of lavender instead!

(For other recipes featuring lavender, check out https://whatscookingamerica.net/Lavender.htm)

Deep Creek Lavender Farm is owned by Anne and Scott Davidson, who run the lavender farm more or less as their hobby, or rather, as Anne recently noted, "although it isn't our full time job it is far bigger than a hobby, but [I] do not know what the word would be between hobby farm and big farm business." What a wonderful extra-curricular activity (for lack of a better phrase), and how nice of them to share this with everyone!

Getting there: 625 Doerr Road, Accident, MD 21520

Hours: Memorial Day through Labor Day, Saturday, Sundays and Mondays, 10-5 each day.

Dogs: Yes, but check the website for details.

Website: http://www.deepcreeklavenderfarm.com/

For other day trip destinations, go to the Blog's Find a Great Place to Day Trip!

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Getting Ready for Kayak Adventures!

Over the years of writing this blog, I've gone on several kayaking adventures -- kayaking a sedate few miles down the Potomac River, checking out Maryland's shipwrecked "ghost fleet" at Mallows Bay, and kayaking across the Assateague Narrows to go see the famous Assateague ponies come to mind. I've loved kayaking every time we go -- there's nothing like being directly on the water, pushed only by currents and your own strength.

With the fun that we've had together in mind, my husband and I decided to purchase our own Pelican tandem kayak this summer. It just arrived. We got the flotation jackets, paddles, added a kayak rack to our Rav4: we are ready for some kayaking adventures (sedate ones, of course)!!

We decided to go to a shallow, local lake -- Lake Centennial in Columbia, MD -- to practice various paddle techniques and maneuvers. But before we could even get into the water, we first had to ensure we both were comfortable loading and unloading the kayak onto the vehicle for transport. To our relief and a little bit of surprise, loading and securing the kayak to our Rav4 went smoothly. We were ready to go!

Centennial Lake is a man-made 54-acre reservoir, in a 325-acre park in Howard County, MD, near Columbia and Clarksville, known, appropriately, as Centennial Park. It was created by damming the Centennial Branch of the Little Patuxent River.

Our plan for the day was to practice paddling, ahem, in tandem with each other. Then we picked a point on the lake, and worked on paddling straight there, which actually took some practice (apparently I paddle harder on the left side). We practiced adjusting our paddling and almost got to the point that we didn't have to constantly talk our way through adjustments.

Then we practiced turns. Then we practiced turning around, and then again, but in a tight space. We practiced moving backward. Several times, we were forced to practice quickly avoiding obstacles, such as other kayakers and a proud family of geese.

Meanwhile, we saw turtles sunning themselves on branches and other kayakers relaxing under the shade. We saw a heron close up. Sometimes, we just floated, enjoying being out on the water. This was why we got the kayak.

All in all, we spent about two hours on the lake. If you don't own your own kayak, then you can rent one there -- a lot of places offer kayak rentals! I can't wait to visit all the places in the mid-Atlantic region that lend themselves to exploration by kayak -- there are so many water trails in the area, so many new adventures to be had!

Getting there: Lake Centennial is located at 10000 Clarksville Pike (Main/South), Ellicott City, MD 21042

Hours: Lake is open 7 am to dusk, or as posted. Boat rentals (paddle boats, canoes, kayaks) are available 3 -7 pm weekdays and all day on weekends.

Website: https://www.howardcountymd.gov/boatrentals and https://www.howardcountymd.gov/CentennialPark

For other kayaking adventures, go to the Blog's Find a Great Place to Day Trip or click on the kayaking label below (if you're looking at the blog from a laptop or desktop computer).

If you enjoy this blog, please tell your friends about it!

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:  facebook.com/midatlanticdaytrips! And follow us @midatlanticdaytrips on Instagram to find up what we're up to between blog posts!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger!