Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Only the Really Cool Trees Have Knees: Secrets of Battle Creek Cypress Swamp

Bald cypress trees are an ancient tree that once covered parts of Delaware, Maryland, DC, and Virginia.

Cypress trees have been dredged from the Baltimore Inner Harbor, and stumps thought to be a hundred thousand years old have been found at the mouth of the Patapsco River. Logs tens of thousands of years old have been found in the Choptank River mudflats. Remnants of ancient bald cypress have been found in building excavations in Washington DC. And that's the young ones.

A gravel pit in Prince Georges County yielded a specimen that could be as old as 7 million years and there are 120-million year old cypress-tree fossils that were found in Bladensburg.

The trees in Battle Creek Cypress Swamp are a bit younger than that though -- the oldest is probably only 200 years old.

Battle Creek Cypress Swamp is a forested wetland near Prince Frederick in Calvert County, MD. It is one of the northernmost sites of naturally occurring bald cypress trees in North America, and the only large stand of the trees on the western shore of Maryland. The nature center's exhibits describe the natural and cultural heritage of the area.

Bald cypress, although a conifer, loose their needles every year. They can grow in very moist soil and even in ponds and lakes in water up to four feet deep.

Cypress trees have knees -- nobby stubs that jut up a foot or two above the water or mudline. Their function is unknown, but they are generally seen on trees that grow in swamps. Some current hypotheses state that they might help to aerate the tree's roots, create a barrier to catch sediment and reduce erosion, help anchor the tree in the soft and muddy soil.

I saw a number of stumps, that looked fairly recent. but apparently these are stumps of bald cypress cut in the 1940s, showing just how rot-resistant this tree really is.

The hike is short -- not even a quarter mile on a boardwalk through the swamp. But I recommend going back and forth several times. In doing so, I got to enjoy a chorus of frogs croaking, and got to see several.

I saw dragon flies, an unknown salimander type critter, numerous birds, and many frogs.

Know before you go: Although a boardwalk takes you through the swamp, this walk unfortunately is not handicapped accessible, as there is no way to get to the board walk except down steps or over a rough trail.

Getting there: 2880 Grays Rd, Prince Frederick, MD 20678

Hours: Check the website for the nature center's hours. The trail is accessible from dawn to dusk.

Website: https://bcnes.wildapricot.org/bccss.html/

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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Point of Honor Mansion

A lovely old house -- mansion, really -- sits overlooking Winchester on one of its seven hills. Dating back to 1806, Point of Honor was built by Dr. George Cabell and he and his family lived there until 1826.

Now a house museum, the house depicts the lifestyle enjoyed by Cabell and his contemporaries in early 19th century Lynchburg, although not much is mentioned or known about those who were enslaved on the then 737-acre plantation. 

As you tour the home, you notice the beautiful carvings on the mantels and woodwork, the incredible wall paper (which I think was discovered beneath layers of paint and then copied).

Cabell's claim to fame is that not only was he the first to earn an official medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, in 1790, he also was a friend and personal physician to the patriot Patrick Henry and a frequent correspondent with his near neighbor, Thomas Jefferson.

By 1798, Cabell was practicing in Lynchburg, and that year married Sarah Winston. The Winston family was well-connected in their own right, and the marriage created the ultimate "power couple" for that time. Sadly, a year later, Cabell was the attending physician at Henry's death.

Finished in 1816, the estate was later named Point of Honor to reflect stories of it being an alleged location for settling arguments with duels. They only got to enjoy their lovely home a few years; Cabell died in 1823, and his widow three years later.

After the death of the Cabells, the plantation and mansion went through at least seven owners, during which the surrounding plantation was significantly reduced to just a few acres. By 1878 it was owned by L.E. Lichford, a grocery wholesaler who also had a warehouse nearby. 

Three generations of Lichford's lived and owned the property as Winchester grew around it. James R. Gilliam Jr. bought the house in 1928 and deeded it to the City of Lynchburg, which used part of the property as a recreation center until the Historical Foundation received the deed in 1968.

Detail from one of the bedroom mantels.

As a public building, Point of Honor continued to be useful and it served a variety of functions during the forty-year period it was owned by the City of Lynchburg. Always a recreation facility, it also served as a soup kitchen during the Depression, a nursery during World War Two, and hosted countless neighborhood social functions through the years. 

Because it was so useful, the city kept the house itself maintained and in relatively good condition: the grounds were kept clear, the roof was repaired as needed, and windows replaced when they were broken. There was always a sentiment that Point of Honor should be preserved. By 1977, the house was restored and open as a house museum, preserving what it would have been like during the period when the Cabells lived there. Although none of the furnishings are believed to have belonged to the Cabells, they are authentic to the period and reflect how a house of its grandeur would have looked.

Although much is known about the property itself, there is little mention of those enslaved by the Cabells, the Daniels, the Paynes, and the Langhornes after them, allowing them to lead the comfortable lifestyles they did. 

The house's kitchen.

Getting there: The parking lot for Point of Honor is located at 109 Norwood Street, Lynchburg, VA, 24504, directly across from the Carriage House Gift Shop where you purchase tickets to begin the tour.

Hours: Open 7 days a week, guided tours of Point of Honor are available on a first come-first serve basis. Tours of the house typically last 45 minutes. Last tour of the day starts at 3 p.m.
Website: http://www.pointofhonor.org/

Bathtub, colonial style. You sit on the seat, and have water poured over you. Seems like it would be chilly. 

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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Add Hearing the Elk Bugle to Your Bucket List

Since I discovered it was a thing, it was on my bucket list: hearing the bull elk bugle during rutting season.

I'd visited Clearfield County a couple times already and had seen a herd of elk cows and calves grazing in a meadow -- and yes, that was an amazing thing, in and of itself. Elk for us suburbanites, are a rarity.

Even black bears are more common than elk on the East Coast, unless, of course, you live near Elk Country.

A return visit to Clearfield County was planned around the elk. During the visit, I went several times up to the Elk Country Visitors Center, to see and hear them bugle.

Have I said it was amazing? I mean, goosebumps on the arms amazing. It's a cool noise.

And how ironic that local residents view the elk, and the visitors who come to see them, as nuisances -- probably the way we view the deer that annually nibble our hosta and petunias down to little sad nubs. But after having visited, I understand: cars pulled off on the sides of roads to view the beasts, or worse, just stopped in the middle of the road to gawk.

Thus, we're reminded that as visitors and tourists: we should bring more good than bad to those who live year round in Benezette, PA: take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footsteps and our dollars at local inns, hotels, boutiques and restaurants.

There are several viewing areas, but stop first at the Elk Country Visitors Center. Check out the exhibits, get the information about the elk and learn why they're so rare -- and learn about efforts to restore the herd. Then consider checking out the Winslow Hill Viewing Area, or continuing along the road to other viewing areas where elk are commonly seen.

Tips for your visit:
  1. Go early and go often. Dawn and dusk are the best viewing and listening times. Of course, it's less crowded in the morning, but still a surprising number of folks were there. 
  2. If you're headed up there at dusk, head up around 4:30 to 5 p.m. to grab a parking spot, but plan to stay a couple hours.
  3. Wear jackets and bring gloves. Even on a warmish day, it gets chilly quickly as the sun goes down. Dress for the weather.
  4. Wear sensible shoes. You'll be standing for a bit, waiting for them to come within sight (you'll hear them before you see them).  
  5. Elk are wild animals and with (or without) a full set of antlers, can be dangerous. Oh yeah, and they're big, so they've got the Law of Tonnage working on their side. Follow the directions of the visitors center staff, give these wild animals space, and don't get too close.

What to do while you're not viewing the elk? For a place "halfway to everywhere" but not really NEAR anywhere else, there's an impressive variety of things to do. For an overview of all there is to see and do there, click here or for more details about planning your stay, including where to eat, click here.
Know before you go: Benezette is a 25-minute drive from Dubois, where there are a number of places to lodge for the night. My recommendation? Definitely stay the night at Depot at Doolittles for an amazing experience in one of the cabooses or the Presidential Suite (which can accommodate up to 6 people). But there's also several bed and breakfast inns as well.

Getting there: Elk Country Visitors Center is located at 134 Homestead Drive, Benezette, PA; Winslow Hill Viewing Area is located at 2313 Winslow Hill Road, Benezette, PA.

Hours: Elk Country Visitors Center is open Thursday thru Monday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Website: http://elkcountryvisitorcenter.com

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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Hiking the Buzzard Rock - Sawmill Trail Loop in Patapsco Valley State Park

Buzzards Rock and Sawmill Trail Loop is a 5 mile loop trail in the Patapsco Valley State Park that has multiple "pay-offs," including a pretty view from Buzzards Rock, from which you can see the Patapsco River below; even from that distance you can hear the falls.

There are some breath-taking inclines and declines, but even so, it's only moderate difficulty.

However, this state park is sandwiched between densely populated suburban areas and is a heavily used park -- we're literally loving this beautiful park to death.

And because of the heavy use and probably because of all the mountain bikers, there are multiple trails that look totally legit but which are not blazed, and this makes it REALLY easy to take the wrong trail and find yourself heading somewhere else completely. It's frustrating.

We had to turn around a couple of times, and finally I turned on my Alltrails app and followed that instead of depending on blazes.

Don't let that deter you from experiencing this hike and the others that this incredible park offers. Just know you won't find solitude and ensure your phone has a full battery for when you need to rely on GPS to help you find the right trail.

From the parking lot at the trail head, head in, bearing straight, following the yellow blazes, which will shortly take you to Buzzard Rocks.

Then you follow the trail through some pretty hollows as the trail follows the contour of the mountain. There are mild ups and downs that get your blood moving nicely.

We saw two deer who were not particularly impressed -- or scared -- by us. Several mountain bikers passed us, but all were courteous and grateful as we stepped off the trail to let them by.

You come near train tracks before heading down to follow the Grist Mill Trail briefly, before taking a sharp left under the viaduct carrying the railroad. This is where we veered from the trail, as there were LOTS of folks on the Grist Mill Trail, and it was still a time of physical distancing, so we avoided the really steep trail drop down to the Grist Mill Trail and walked along the railroad tracks.

That's probably not a recommended course of action, possibly trespassing, so I don't advise doing this. Still, it was lovely being up there alone (just the two of us) and it was kind of magical.

I'm sorry a train didn't come by! As we walked along the tracks, though, we could see down to the Grist Mill Trail and saw where the trail cuts to the left under the viaduct.

Just on the other side of this tunnel is trestle bridge over the Patapsco River and Ilchester Road.

Obviously a lot of other have been taking the same route, as there was a little trail on the opposite side of the tracks, which led to the Saw Mill Trail. We descended the stairs down to the creek to take some pictures.

At that point, we picked up the Saw Mill Trail, following the black or red blazes. Continuing on the yellow-blazed loop is a bit shorter, but I think you'll really enjoy the Saw Mill Trail, because it follows a frolicking creek that is absolutely breathtaking in a few places with lovely little waterfalls.

Remnants of the Old Main Line (B&O) Railroad aren't hard to find. At one point, the trail
uses the old railroad bed, and then again when it joins with the Gristmill Trail for a portion of the loop.

In fact, the sound of the water falls and a cool breeze from the water carrys you back up the hill. None of the inclines are particularly steep, but pretty much from the creek on, you're heading gently up hill.

For the park's trail map, click here.

Getting there: 20 South Hilltop Road, Catonsville, MD

Hours: Dawn to dusk

Website: https://dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/central/PatapscoValley/Avalon/Trail-Maps.aspx

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