Wednesday, July 30, 2014

If Only We Could Dance with Wolves

I have to say, I think this is one of my favorite day trips so far this year!

Since its founding 30 plus years ago, the Wolf Sanctuary of PA has provided wolves and wolf hybrids a way out of institutionalized lives and deaths.

Today, Wolf Sanctuary of PA has renovated infrastructure, beautifully expanded living and sleeping spaces, and veterinary care. The wolves at the Sanctuary tend to live twice a wolf's natural life span.

My love of dogs extends naturally to wolves. And it's sad, in my view, that there are no wolves in the wild on the East Coast. (On the other hand, at the same time I admit I am reasonably glad that the scariest thing I'll encounter on most hikes are ticks -- not sure there's a way to resolve this cognitive dissonance.) As soon as I heard about the Sanctuary just over a week ago, I knew I'd have to visit and blog about it.

Certainly, man has been horrid to this species -- ruthlessly exterminating them throughout our history. Even our fairy tales and myths do them dishonor -- the werewolf is portrayed as a malicious creature intent on damning anyone it bites, embodying all our most primal fears of wolves. And it's mutual: our fear of wolves is as primal as their fear of us. Despite that, we seem to never tire of populating our literature and pop culture with wolves.

For the record, I never liked Dances with Wolves, other than the few scenes Kevin Costner was actually with the wolves. Those were or were meant to be, I believe, grey wolves, which are present as well at the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary also houses wolf-dog hybrids and timber wolves, which are native to the East Coast, a subspecies of the grey wolf, and what I picture in my mind when I think of wolves -- not the "dire wolf" depicted on The Game of Thrones or some of the shaggy but magnificent larger grey wolves at the Sanctuary. I also remember White Fang and Call of the Wild, books I loved in my youth. I celebrated with the dog in Call of the Wild, who returned to his wild heritage and evolved back into one of his ancient grey wolf ancestors, in behavior at least, as the story unfolded. 

Timber wolves used to be plentiful on the East Coast but steady killing campaigns against them, from as long ago as the early Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colony days, has all but wiped them out. Wolves are still being killed out west, despite efforts to protect them. It seems landowners will always be at odds with this top-of-the-food-chain predator.

Wolves in general were added to the endangered species list in 1974 but after 40 years of population recovery and re-introduction into some parts of the west, removed. They wander wild in about 10 states, none of which are on the U.S. East Coast. I dimly recall the controversy surrounding the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park and the outrage and concern of local farm owners fearing for their livestock. 

If you're looking for timber wolves, then you'd best look in Canada. Currently the largest population of timber wolves can only be found in the wild in Canada's Algonquin Provincial Park, which carefully protects the species, including from cross-species breeding with coyotes or grey wolves. The Park also works to improve public opinion of wolves, and holds Public Wolf Howls, where park visitors are led on expeditions into areas where eastern wolves were sighted the night before and listen to them answering the Park staff's imitation howls. The Park considers the attraction the cornerstone of its wolf education program, and credits it with changing public attitudes towards wolves in Ontario. (I am now thinking of planning a summer vacation up there!)

But back to Lititz, PA and the Wolf Sanctuary of PA.

The tour guides at the Sanctuary howl with the wolves too. It was cool to watch the wolves respond. First the two at the pen in front of us, but then we heard echoing howls from some of the other packs. It was wonderful!

"We try to be as respectful of the wolf nation as we can. We allow them to be themselves, and handle their own matters within reason," said Dawn Darlington, owner of the Sanctuary.
Our guide, Chuck, a volunteer (as are all the staff at the Sanctuary), led our group -- of about 30 -- around from pen to pen. The wolves are divided into packs and enclosed in one- to two-acre wooded enclosures fenced as required by the PA Game Commission. Each enclosure offers a water source, shelter (which, being manmade, is seldom actually used by the wolves) and plenty of space to live and exercise. Currently the Sanctuary is adding several new, large pens, with the intent of eventually moving some of the packs so the older enclosures can likewise be enlarged.

The wolves are primarily fed from donated meat from local restaurants, fresh deer roadkill, and hunters who donate excess deer to the Sanctuary -- in fact, the Sanctuary has walk-in freezers to accommodate the food donations (although the Sanctuary can always use more meat donations). Although the wolves on the tour -- only about half the population at the Sanctuary -- crowded around the fences while we were there, I got the sense that they were otherwise rarely near the outer areas of their enclosures.

The Sanctuary is located on the former estate/farm of the Darlingtons. Bill Darlington, father of the current owner, was fascinated by wolves, owned several as pets, and founded the Sanctuary 30 years ago when Pennsylvania made it illegal to own wild animals as pets. Darlington and her partner, Darin Tompkins, care for 46 wolves, many of which originally were pets for misguided (read, stupid) humans who thought they could take care of them. Despite it being illegal, many people still try to have wild animals, wolves among them, as pets -- a move that usually ends in disaster for the animal. The stories of the wolves' experiences make my skin crawl: they were caged in small pens, given up, or turned loose in public parks. Without the Sanctuary, they would have been put down.

The Sanctuary offers public tours on weekends as both fundraising and public relations for the wolves, and can accommodate about 200 visitors/day.

We learned that wolves are social, family-oriented animals with distinctly different personalities. They organize into packs (although at the Sanctuary these are carefully determined by the Sanctuary staff) with roles for each member. They play and raise their young (although the Sanctuary now neuters wolves that come to it) -- the Sanctuary is a rescue-focused organization, not a breeding program.

The wolves, although superficially curious about humans -- mostly for the treats they receive during the tours I'm guessing -- don’t especially like to be touched. Chuck carefully kept his fingers and hands out of range of their teeth for all but one, a perky wolf named Chipper. Chipper seemed to enjoy the affection he received from Chuck, although he seemed just as happy to do without. The guides emphasized that despite the affection we humans may feel for them, wolves could pretty much care less about us, other than trying to avoid us. These wolves are not pets, they are not dogs like my beagles, who crave constant affection and closeness with us. Chuck also noted that none of the staff/volunteers have been bitten by a wolf, in all the years that the Sanctuary has operated. They do nip, however, and the bruises left by those nips can last for weeks or months. Visitors are always separated from the enclosures by two rows of fencing, about 3 feet apart. 

The Sanctuary will interferes with the packs as little as possible. "Keep in mind that in the wild if a wolf in the pack was rejected and ousted (chased away) there is a place to go," Darlington said. However, in captivity there is NO place to go, the fence stops the retreat, which could lead to a dangerous situation for the rejected wolf. "We will step in and remove that animal so that he or she may continue in a more harmonious environment."

I had asked about one of the wolves in
 particular, "Thor," who has cataracts and is blind. "With Thor, we chose to leave him as he is because once you pull a wolf from the pack and keep them out for weeks to recover from surgery they may not get their old spot back when they return, further the surgery itself is dangerous to the wolf," Darlington said. 

She noted that wolves don't do well with sedatives, and just the initial darting can kill them from the fear and angst of the moment. "There is no explaining to them that what we are doing is for their own good. So we try to allow them to live on their own terms."

Darlington emphasized the importance -- and quality -- of the Sanctuary's volunteer staff. "You will find much love and respect here at the sanctuary," she said. "We work together, my volunteers are amazing people that give of their time and themselves for the good of the sanctuary."

My boys had initially complained when I had announced to them several nights before the day trip that we would be going AND, adding insult to injury, would have to get up early to get there by the 10 a.m. tour -- the only tour of the day (during the winter months tours are held at 12 noon). But the mystique of the wolves grew on them -- my youngest son even invited a friend of his to come along. My eldest son was in awe of the wolves, and I think all three boys came away appreciating their magnificence. I tried to emphasize: you'll rarely get to see a real live wolf, certainly not as close as we were, and never so many in just one location.

It was incredible to see the wolves, sitting just a few feet away (behind two layers of fencing), and see them nuzzle each other and a couple times the guide as well. Occasionally, one of the wolves would lope off into the middle of the enclosure, shrouded by dense overgrowth that affords them privacy. Unlike black bears, which I could go to my parents' backyard to see, we cannot see wild wolves anywhere in the East, unfortunately, unless we go to the Sanctuary.

Certainly worth a day trip to visit and support the Sanctuary's work!

Tip #1: Spray with bug spray before you leave your car. I came away with more than half a dozen bug bites, including a fly bite that was extremely painful.

Tip#2: Eat lunch and browse the shops at nearby Lititz.

Tip#3: Consider going on a Full-Moon Tour, when the Santuary holds a bonfire and tours. See the website for more information.

Getting there: 465 Speedwell Forge Rd, Lititz, PA 17543

Hours: During the summer, public tours only on 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday; Winter months tours are 12 noon Saturday and Sunday: plan to arrive around 30 minutes before the tour time and no later than 10 minutes after tour time. Entrance gate opens about 30 minutes before the tour and closes 10 minutes after start of tour. Visitors are not admitted on the grounds after the entrance gate closes. Be sure to check out for the most up-to-date information.

Dogs: No -- the Sanctuary is strictly for wolves! And the owners' cats.


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Thursday, July 24, 2014


Winterthur (pronounced “winter-tour”) is one of the last of the original Wild Gardens. Downtown Abbey is one of our favorite shows, so when we learned that there's a "Costume's of Downton Abbey" exhibit at Winterthur (already on our list for visiting), we knew it was time to plan a day trip there.

The exhibit "Costumes of Downton Abbey" is an original exhibition of exquisite designs from the popular television series. Forty historically inspired costumes from the television show are displayed and supplemented by photographs and vignettes inspired by the fictional program and by real life at Winterthur. Even if you're not a huge fan of the show, getting up close and personal with the costumes helps build appreciation for the intricacies and styles of the period during which Downton Abbey is set.

The exhibit drew connections between the various costumes of the fictional characters who wore them on the show with their real-life counterparts at Winterthur and other similar estates in America. The exhibit explored the roles they played, the lifestyles lived, and how their dress reflected their activities and responsibilities: from the butler to the lady of the house, the costumes clearly reflected their station in life. The costumes themselves set the stage for the contrast and comparison between the fictional but historically accurate British country estate in the period drama and the real-life American version of the same era—Winterthur. Supplementing the costumes are photographs and vignettes inspired by the television show and by life at Winterthur, that illuminate the similarities and differences in the etiquette, traditions, activities, and environments of each.

Founded by Henry Francis du Pont, Winterthur is primarily a museum of American decorative arts, reflecting both early America and the du Pont family’s life. While we toured the house, on the "Introductory Tour," we got to see the exquisite spaces in which Henry Francis du Pont entertained family and friends in grand style -- I was in awe of the antique wall paper, including some from China that never repeated, it was absolutely gorgeous. But the tour only takes you to two of the 6 floors of the house -- there's much still to see on the longer house tour, which isn't included in the price of admission.

Unfortunately, I came away from the day without really appreciating the house itself -- it's built on a hill, and from one angle looks extremely ugly, like a modern day hotel. To be fair, scaffolding was going up to renovate the windows, so it was even harder for me to appreciate the architecture, and that explains the dearth of photos of the mansion exterior. In fact, Du Pont added on to the existing manor house, and now the 175 rooms, many of them with historical architecture, are furnished with his outstanding collection of antiques, including some the museum acquired since his death.

Winterthur's thousand acres encompass rolling hills, streams, meadows, and forests. Du Pont developed an appreciation of nature as a boy that served as the basis for his life's work in developing the garden. He selected the choicest plants from around the world to enhance the natural setting, arranging them in lyrical color combinations and carefully orchestrating a succession of bloom from late January to November -- although frankly in late June/early July -- it was mostly a sea of wonderful green. Varied textures to be sure, but the star of the show were the variety of hue and texture of the foliage. I made a mental note to return in May, in time to enjoy the vast quantity of azaleas, which in bloom must be extraordinary -- or in fall, in time to enjoy the autumn color.

Du Pont was a fan of wild gardens. An idea with tremendous appeal to large landowners, the wild garden concept is built around the idea of gardening on a broad scale, “placing perfectly hardy exotic plants under conditions where they will thrive.” Most early twentieth century wild gardens have not survived due to sprawl and crawl, and natural disasters such as the hurricanes that struck Great Britain in the late 1980s. The ironic thing is that wild gardens aren't really wild: once a wild garden becomes neglected and goes literally wild, it is almost impossible to reclaim. That's because wild gardens depend on plants rather than architecture or hardscape -- the hallmarks of formal, floral gardens.

One of the coolest parts of the garden is a three-acre plot of the Winterthur Garden, the fairy folk created a magical landscape for children of all ages! Canopied by majestic oak trees, Enchanted Woods has been taken over by the woodland fairies who live here and is transformed into a place of enchantment, mystery, and discovery. From the Tulip Tree House to the Faerie Cottage,

Getting there: For in-car GPS and online mapping services, use: 5105 Kennett Pike, Wilmington, DE 19807. At the fork in the road in front of the Visitor Center, turn left and drive up the hill to the Visitor Parking Lot. A walking path leads to the Visitor Center.
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm

Dogs: Droopy tails -- dogs not welcomed at Winterthur!


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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

In Search of .... Kayaking to Assateague Island to See the Ponies

Photo courtesy Assateague Explorer
This day trip would take us on a kayaking trip from Chincoteague across Assateague Narrows to Assateague Island to see the wild ponies. We'd have to get up very early -- Chincoteague is just over 3 hours away from where we live, near Baltimore, and I knew I'd have to get my stepson to agree to stop in to take care of the beagles and Baxter since we'd be leaving before 5 a.m. (for the 8:30 a.m. tour) and that's before their normal breakfast and morning outing times. My stepson agreed (thank you!!), so we went ahead and planned the day trip for last weekend. Because kayaking would take us across the narrows to the island, seeing the ponies close up, and not from a car window, made the long early morning drive worth it.

I'm a big fan of Assateague and visiting with the ponies -- my husband and I had last visited Assateague Island on the Maryland end, last November. I'd first learned about this kayaking tour last fall and the minute I'd heard about it, I wanted to do it - what an interesting way to enjoy the scenery and the island! I even put this on my wish list for 2014

Even beginners can go on this tour -- and one family brought two very small children, one of whom was a little girl not much more than a year old. But you do have to paddle (unless you're a toddler), sometimes against the tide and that can be tiring. Both of our sons did fine -- but they've both been kayaking before, several times on Centennial Lake in Ellicott City and once a 4-hour trip down the Potomac River. The tour guide gauges the group and provided several rests along the way. We spent most of our time just getting over the Narrows to Assateague and then paddling back -- that's part of the point of the tour: To enjoy being out on the water, close to the water. It's a little scary the first time a boat goes ripping past you, but you learn to head into the wake to avoid the worst of the back-and-forth of the resulting waves.

We left Chincoteague Island just across from the Assateague Island light house! The Assateague Lighthouse has warned passing ships and local waterman of the shallow waters off Assateague for many years. Interestingly, when the lighthouse was first built, it was on the southern most end of the island. The land now south of the lighthouse is actually new land, that has grown out about 2 miles since the lighthouse was first built.We saw the lighthouse from several perspectives throughout the day, but our clearest, although not closest, view was during the kayak tour.

The original lighthouse was constructed in 1833. In 1860, construction on a taller, more powerfully illuminated brick lighthouse began, but was delayed by the Civil War. After the war, work resumed and the lighthouse was completed in 1867. An active navigational aid, the lighthouse is in the National Register of Historic places. In 1933 the lighthouse was converted to be electrically operated, and its first light was a candle lantern. You can hike to the lighthouse on a short half-mile round-trip walk; there is a minor entrance fee.

But back to kayaking and the ponies. The thing with eco-tourism is that the wildlife don't always comply with your schedule. Luck wasn't with us on this trip -- the ponies stayed far away from shore, a disappointment. But the weather couldn't have been better for the 5th day of July -- low humidity and a breezy 75 degrees when we arrived at Assateague Explorer. Although we went with this tour company this time, I noticed that there were several other companies advertising kayak and boat tours, as well as kayak rentals. And don't be fooled by companies' claims for "pony sightings guaranteed." One firm with such guarantees supposedly collects an extra $10 for the guarantee, and then willingly refunds the $10 if you don't see a pony. But you're still out the main amount for the trip itself. We "saw" ponies on this trip, but they were far away, more like a smudge against the green marsh grass in the distance. I've been following Assateague Explorer's facebook page -- and sure enough, they showed photos of dolphins, with the caption of "Dolphins on the right, ponies on the left" the week after we were there! Oh well. :)

I took this photo with a zoom lens all the way extended. Yeah, that's how far away they stayed!
Assateague Explorer doesn't guarantee that you'll see anything but water and sky. Our guide told us some of the tours he's led recently have seen eagles, bottle nose dolphins in the Narrows, and of course, ponies galore. We saw none of that, although a green heron hunted nearby. I felt envious of those other groups -- although I have to admit, we've had so much luck on other day trips that we've taken recently that I figured I was due for a small disappointment. We'll just have to do this again next year -- maybe we'll be more lucky.

We beached our canoes on Assateague hoping to walk over a small ridge to catch a glimpse of the ponies. No luck -- they were well away from the area, across a watery mess of a marsh.
After the tour ended, we headed back to Chincoteague for lunch at the aptly named Chincoteague Diner. Then, since we were so close, we braved the crowds to head over to Assateague -- maybe we'll get a better look at the herd from on the island itself. 

We did -- the ponies complied, by coming within easy view on our way back off the island. They are beautiful! It is not known exactly how these horses came to the island. Local folklore describes the Assateague horses as survivors of Spanish galleon shipwrecks off the Virginia coast. While this dramatic and romantic tale of struggle and survival is popular, there are no records that confirm it. The most plausible explanation is that they are the descendants of horses that were brought to barrier islands like Assateague in the late 17th century by mainland owners to avoid fencing laws and taxation of livestock.

The ponies struggle to survive on the island. The summer brings mosquitoes, horse flies, and scorching heat; the winter brings frigid, unrelenting winds and storms. These are tough little ponies!

The famous Pony Penning -- made famous by Marguerite Henry's series of children's books about the wild horses, beginning with her most famous, Misty of Chincoteague -- is held every year on the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of July, this year on July 30 and 31. On Wednesday, the ponies swim the channel between Assateague Island and Chincoteague (veterinarians only allow those ponies deemed fit enough to make the short swim); on Thursday, the foals and yearlings are auctioned off as a fundraiser for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. Those not sold return to Assateague Island on Friday. Our tour guide mentioned that the ponies have been known to swim over on their own to Chincoteague Island, on food raiding sorties, as it were. I can just imagine an old "teaguer" calling out to his wife, "Lock up the goods, Matilda, the ponies are on their way!"

Hint #1: Bring water for the kayaking tour -- in a water backpack, if you have one (you won't regret it, and they will fit either under or over your life jacket). Hats and sun glasses recommended; sun block is a must!

Hint #2: If you're entering Assateague Island to go to the beach after lunch on a summer Saturday, don't drive. Ride a bike instead -- you'll go much faster and won't have to worry about not finding a parking spot. There looked like there were some fun trails on Assateague Island -- we will be back with our bikes to check them out!

Hint #3: If you're a little unsure of yourself in a kayak, try getting a double. If you go with  your spouse you may want marriage counseling or a really good criminal defense lawyer afterward...

Getting there: Assateague Explorer's kayak tours leave from 7512 East Side Rd., Chincoteague Island; the Assateague Lighthouse is open April - November, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. (7 days a week in June - September. Friday -Sunday in other months).

Hours: Kayak and boat tours run at different times throughout the day. Check the website for tour times.

Dogs: Sorry, no. They aren't welcome on Assateague Island, and certainly not on the kayaking tour!


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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Finally, Biking the C&O Tow Path!

I bought my bike in February expressly so I could bike the C&O tow path. Getting back into shape after so many years not riding a bike took me to other paths first, as I became acclimated to biking.

But it was time to ride the tow path!

I've been walking the C&O Canal for years, decades even. The scenery and the history of the canal and the Potomac River have always interested me.

I've always imagined that the way to really enjoy the tow path would be by bike. You can travel up to 40, 50 miles a day (I can't yet, but theoretically...). For now, I plan to enjoy the canal by taking shorter rides -- 20 to 30 miles long. But maybe next year, I'd like to bike the whole 184 miles over several days.

For this first biking trip on the tow path, we -- my friend Barb, my husband, and I -- headed up to Brunswick; I knew there'd be lots of parking there. The original town was located between the tracks of the B&O Railroad and the C&O Canal, both of which came to the town the same year, 1834.

Brunswick, or "Merry Peep O Day," as the area was supposedly known back then (according to the Brunswick City website), was part of an original 3,100 acre land grant from George II King of England to John Hawkins on August 10, 1753. How'd it get that catchy name? Because the sun could be seen in the early morning directly over beautiful Catoctin Mountain.

In fact, the town had many names over the years. Brunswick received its present name from the B&O Railroad, in 1890, when the railroad named it for the original town its workers came from -- Brunswick, Germany. Supposedly, it's been known variously as Buffalo Wallow, Coxson Rest, Eels Pot or Eel Town, Potomac Crossing, Tankersville, Berlin, and Barry. So if the town couldn't keep Merry Peep O-Day as its name, then frankly, it lucked out by sticking with "Brunswick."

Our plan was to ride 10 miles up river, past Harpers Ferry, to Dargan Bend, where there's a parking lot and, conveniently, restrooms. :)

The tow path is pretty along this section, although for most of it, the canal itself is in terrible disrepair. Even in the locks, trees and shrubs and weeds grow with gay abandon. Due to hard rains the previous three days, the river was flooding and way over its banks, which made it dramatic and thrilling to see. As you're riding, you're also likely to hear trains rumbling past you, just on the other side of the canal. Really, this section is all about the trains and the scenic views of the river.

The remains of Lock 30 lie next to downtown Brunswick, although the lock house is long since gone. The river and the canal then pass through a notch in a ridge known as South Mountain -- significant for the battles fought there during the Civil War, just prior to the Battle of Antietam. On the river side of the trail, keep an eye out for the millrace that runs beside the canal near lock 31, a last trace of the industrial but now ghost village of Weverton. You'll soon pass below the Route 340 bridge.

The path itself is pretty rough, sometimes deteriorating down to two wheel tracks. On the day we rode it, there were lots of mud puddles and mud pits, where even mountain bikes slip and slide.

Keep an eye out, whether you're walking or riding, for the unexpected, such as the huge, and angry, snapping turtle sunning itself in the middle of the path. Or the lacy water fall hiding on the opposite side of the canal. During the ride we saw a bald eagle soaring high above, and surprised a great blue heron fishing along the shore. Disturbed, it squawked and flew off.

The path improves dramatically under Maryland Heights, opposite of Harpers Ferry. That section gets a little crowded, with a lot of folks strolling over the pedestrian bridge from Harpers Ferry to the canal tow path. But it roughens up again shortly afterward and becomes much less crowded. It's worth it to continue -- the river widens and becomes more peaceful -- no rapids in this segment. The canal becomes more like a brook, with little pools that reflect the rocks and greenery.

Yes, biking is a great way to see the tow path and enjoy the canal and the river. And I'll be back. I've only got another 174 miles to bike!

Tip#1: In addition to sunblock, spray yourself with bug spray. Stagnant water in the canal breeds mosquitos, very hungry mosquitos!

Tip#2: Even if you don't have your own bike, borrow one! The C&O Bike Loaner Program is a Volunteers-in-Parks group that provides a bicycle loaning service to park visitors and advocates safe riding on the towpath. The loaner bikes are available at Great Falls. The program is located in the old CCC facility across from the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center and offers free loaner bikes to park visitors from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Saturday, Sunday, and on holidays. Ride limit is 2 hours.

Getting there: From Frederick, follow Route 340 South toward Harpers Ferry. After about 10 miles on Route 340, take the Route 17 Exit for Brunswick. Route 17 will bear right at a traffic light. Upon entering the town, follow the traffic circle almost all the way around. Exit at Maple Street Once on Maple Street, bear to the right and cross over both sets of railroad tracks. The towpath access point is directly under the Route 17/287 bridge (you can't miss it!) Parking is available under the bridge, or back in the large commuter lot located between the railroad tracks; to get to the Dargan Bend Recreation Area, continue to the end of Sandy Hook Road. Becomes Harpers Ferry Road at sharp up-hill turn. After about 1.5 miles, make a left onto Shinham/Back Road.

Hours: Dawn to dusk.

Dogs: If you're walking, absolutely!


For other parts of the C&O Canal, check out the below articles:
Canal Pride Days 
Edwards Ferry
Fort Frederick to Hancock
Great Falls
Locks 33 and 34
Lander Lockhouse
Maryland Heights (Harpers Ferry)
Monocacy & Catoctin Aqueducts
Paw Paw Tunnel to Lock 56
Swain's Lock to Seneca Aqueduct
Kayaking at Swain's Lock

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Updated June 2020

The giganto snapping turtle that we encountered along the tow path -- I worried about his safety and that of children along the path as well. He was almost too heavy to lift -- and wisely I'd chosen to approach him from his less threatening back side, so his ill-tempered snapping and hissing were to no avail (having worked several summers in my youth at Lilypons Water Gardens, I was well-acquainted with the ways of his snapping turtle brethren). Although he was mightily displeased about being moved, he eventually waddled away into the brush toward the canal water without harm.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Butterflies and Botanical Gardens

I wasn't prepared for excitement and wonder I felt in the butterfly garden. And if I hadn't suddenly realized that our staying in the garden longer was preventing some folks from entering, I would have stayed a lot longer! So even though butterflies are really just (creepy) bugs with gorgeous fairy wings, it was a huge amount of fun to be in a room with hundreds of them (some even landing on us). I suddenly realized, butterfly gardens aren't just for kids.

I learned this at the Lewis Gintner Botanical Gardens recently.

So okay, I might even be able to overcome my bugaphobia because of them (although spiders are permanently out of consideration, except for daddy-long-legs, but I digress). In the garden, I caught myself envying the kids that were there too. Kids get to see butterflies with their incredible sense of wonder that frankly, adults with a well-honed phobia to all things buggy must struggle to adopt. We watched a butterfly land on one of the children (I was anxious lest it be squashed, but it survived, just fine. I should have shelved my anxiety at the door.) It would do more of us adults good to start seeing the wonder around us, as if we were children.

A butterfly garden is a great way
to start doing just that!

A recent trip to Richmond, VA, brought us to the Lewis Gintner Botanical Gardens and Butterflies LIVE! -- where kids and adults alike may walk around while literally hundreds of tropical butterflies flutter around you. Butterflies LIVE! is an indoor exhibit in the Conservatory geared for all ages. You don't even need a kid along as an excuse!

The fun began as we entered the exhibit, and a gorgeous blue butterfly -- one that I recognized from the years I lived in Panama, with its iridescent blue wings -- landed on my husband. He froze -- afraid to move for fear of crushing or harming it. We laughed and pointed out the various butterflies (and moths -- there were a few of those in there) and tried to get photographs of each and every one. It was fabulous -- so much fun, and not just for kids, of course!

This exhibit will be open until 12 October 2014.

Elsewhere in the botanical gardens, more than a dozen themed gardens, including a Healing Garden, Asian Valley, a rose Garden, a wetland garden, a Victorian garden, and a children’s garden, all offer plenty of other opportunities to see the wonder around us. Not to be missed is the lovely, classical domed Conservatory, which the Gardens claim is the only one of its kind in
the mid-Atlantic, with changing displays, a variety of orchids, and tropical plants.

Linking the Visitors Center with the Conservatory, the Central Garden includes three acres of progressing garden "rooms," featuring classical design and artistry, fascinating plants, intimate spaces and dramatic views.

The Conservatory is the centerpiece of these gardens. The 11,000 square-foot complex houses exotic and unusual plants from around the world in its permanent collection, and features beautiful seasonal displays. Crowned by a 63-foot-tall dome, the Conservatory includes a central Palm House, a semi-tropical wing featuring an orchid collection, and two wings with changing themed displays full of seasonal color and interest. Butterflies Live was in one of the wings.

The rose garden, which was just peaking as we were there, was the star of the gardens -- several acres of a colorful variety of roses were in full bloom.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is on property that was Powhatan Indian hunting ground and was once owned by Patrick Henry. Lewis Ginter purchased the land in 1884. He died childless, and left the property to his niece, Grace Arents.

Bloemendaal House, built in 1884 by Ginter, was first a clubhouse for bicyclists. Grace Arents, also a philanthropist, added a second story to it to use as a children's hospital. Eventually she converted it to become her personal home, where she lived with her companion, Mary Garland Smith, until her death in 1926. The Ginter family was of Dutch ancestry and during her residency, Arents named the property Bloemendaal, meaning "valley of flowers."

Arents willed life-rights to Smith, but stipulated
that after Smith's death the city of Richmond was to develop the property as a botanical garden in honor of her uncle. Smith lived until the age of 100, dying in 1968. Unfortunately, although the city investigated plans for a botanical garden, none of the plans came to fruition and the property languished until 1981, when a group of botanists, horticulturists, and interested citizens banded together to form the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Inc., to uphold Arent's will. A lawsuit ensued, but an amicable settlement allowed the formation of the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.

Getting there: 1800 Lakeside Ave, Henrico, VA 23228; admission fee required.

Hours: The Garden is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Garden is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Dec. 24 and Dec. 25.


Updated May 2018.

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