Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ringing Rocks: One of Pennyslvania's Natural Wonders

The thought of rocks that do more than just lie around on the forest floor doing nothing more than, well, looking like rocks lying on the ground kind of intrigued me. I learned about the ringing rocks through one of those corny Facebook notifications, which promised, if we visited, that we'd encounter a fascinating "field" of 10-foot-high rock piles that make ringing sounds when struck.

We headed north out of New Hope (where we were staying at the Logan Inn), on Route 32 and drove along some quaint country roads, through little towns along the Delaware River to Ringing Rocks County Park. The park entry sign is kind of shabby, and we wondered, "Is this it?" I worried that I dragged us away from seeing something better.

But we were there, so we parked the car. At 8:30 a.m., we were the only ones there. There's a sign, saying simply "Trail." I guess that was it! Just beyond the sign, the trail forks. We arbitrarily chose to veer right.

We noticed rocks with dings in them, as if from a hammer. "Oh, I wonder if this one rings?!"

Luckily we'd remembered to bring a hammer along.

We were disappointed when we heard a dull thud. Nope. Along the trail, we tried rock after rock.

Then we saw, to our left, a vast boulder field. We headed toward it, trying several rocks on the way to it. Still no ringing. Just dull thuds. Now I was really worried -- was this expedition a waste of time?

We didn't go into the boulder field however -- it looked like hard going, and the trail led further into the woods. It looked easier. Perhaps there was something else. Perhaps the ringing rocks would be there.

No ringing rocks (although we tried a couple). Instead, the trail veered left at an outcropping of boulders and headed downhill. We saw lovely woodland wildflowers, which I was looking for, since we'd also just visited the nearby Bowmans Hill Wildflower Preserve.

Then we heard the sound of a waterfall, and the woods were lovely, so on we went.

And the waterfalls were, indeed, lovely, and well worth the slight additional hike (all told, to the falls and then down stream a bit and back to our car, the "hike" was only just over 1.5 miles). I think the waterfalls often get overlooked in the excitement of the ringing rocks, and that's a shame -- the park offers more than "just" the show-offy boulders.

It seems almost by accident that this park exists at all, and that we could visit that Sunday morning to experience the park is due to the efforts of one man: Abel B. Haring.  The seven-acre boulder field was purchased in 1895 by Haring, president of the Union National Bank in Frenchtown, NJ. Apparently Haring wished to protect the ringing rocks from development, and even refused an offer from a manufacturer of Belgian blocks for the right to quarry the stones. On August 22, 1918, the land which contains the Bridgeton boulder field was donated by Haring to the Bucks County Historical Society. The grant included 7 acres of land. A right-of-way was granted by John O. McEntee for access to the park. Later the land was transferred to Bucks County and operated as a county park. Additional land acquisitions have increased the size of the park to 128 acres.

Then we headed back up hill -- not strenuous at all (so no excuses NOT to go see those falls!). We soon arrived back at the boulder field. This time, we ventured into the boulder field, still optimistically hammering boulders, until, just into the boulder field, one rang. And another -- at a different tone. We hit back and forth, trying the different notes, but here, see/hear for yourself:

Most people don't normally go around hitting miscellaneous rocks with hammers. One wonders who decided it was a good idea to hit these rocks -- and why? What made these rocks seem like good rocks to hit with a hammer? Who knows how it was discovered that these rocks ring, but I'm grateful to the curious person who discovered it.

So why do the rocks ring when struck? It was only in the 1960s that scientists figured out that when the rocks were struck they created a series of tones at frequencies lower than the human ear can hear. An audible sound is only produced because these tones interact with each other. In other words, although the rocks we encountered in the earth along the path might also be ringing rocks, because they weren't in contact with the other rocks, they only gave a dull thud. Had they been stacked hither thither on top of each other, then they might of rang. Or maybe not. Because rocks don't just ring because they're in a boulder field.

In fact, there are only a handful of boulder fields that have ringing rocks. There's been some conjecture about the structure of the boulder field itself, that it has to slope a certain way, along the contours of the ground below, etc. The explanation of the geology behind both the formation of the rocks and the boulder field deposit were a little too complicated for me to fully understand.

But even beyond the composition of the rocks and the boulder field, that still doesn't make a boulder sing. In certain fields, there has been a great deal of controversy concerning the ringing ability of the boulders, conversely there has been an almost complete lack of testing to support the conjectures. Conditions such as size and shape of the boulders, and the way that the boulders are supported or stacked certainly influences the sounds that the boulders make, but do not in themselves impart the ringing ability.

The ringing rocks in the boulder field are kind of special, because they are a little tense. So far there has been only one published scientific experiment on the source of the ringing ability. In the 1960s a Rutgers University professor did an informal experiment where specimens of 'live' and 'dead' ringing rock boulders from the Bucks County park site were sawn into thin slices and then measured for changes in shape. His measurements indicated the rocks were under internal elastic stresses. Rocks from the same field and composition which did not ring, i.e., were "dead," did not indicate the same internal elastic stresses. This is a simplified explanation, that leaves out important details of his findings, but that's about it -- the rocks are somehow compressed, probably due to the ancient glaciers which moved over and created the boulder fields in the first place.

Getting there: 1800-1857 Ringing Rocks Rd, Upper Black Eddy, PA 18972

Hours: Dawn to dusk.

Dogs: Yes on the trail, no in the boulder field.


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Updated May 2019

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Go For Apples!

Adams County, PA is apple country -- so go for the apples! During the harvest season, I feel the pull to explore farmers markets and farm stands -- fruits and vegetables freshly picked is just exponentially tastier than what we find in most large grocery stores.

So why not make it your day trip destination as the weather turns cooler? As the foliage begins to change color, there aren't many prettier places than northern Adams County! Plus, there are a number of farm markets to choose from, but last week we stopped at Hollabaugh Orchard, a third-generation family owned and run farm, to check out their market and to tour the 500-acre farm.

Since 1955, the Hollabaugh family has been a proud steward of the gentle, rolling, fertile land on Yellow Hill. The farm is GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certified -- different from organic -- and they use low-risk Advanced IPM (Integrated Pest Management) in their orchards, helping them to grow high quality fruits and vegetables possible with the least impact on the environment possible. In addition, they have planted wildflower habitats friendly to native pollinators, to supplement the bees the farm must rent (so yes, that's a thing, renting bees!) when the trees are blooming.

Emily Hollabaugh Vranich, a third-generation family member and owner/worker at Hollabaugh Orchard, noted that they are always planting new trees, and that her grandfather, one of the farm's founders, had told her, "When you stop planting, you might as well sell out." The trees constantly need to be replenished, so there are trees of all ages. What looked like middle-aged trees to me, she noted, were on their last years, and would be replaced soon.

During the tour, Vranich expressed her appreciation of migrant workers -- without whom the apples would never make it to our tables. She noted that the immigrants (all here legally) work jobs native-born Americans won't. She carefully avoided a political statement, but with today's political climate, I found it an interesting aspect of the debate, especially in a county with more Trump signs than Hillary. In fact, she mentioned that finding laborers to work the farm is one of her primary concerns, and what keeps her awake at night.

Tending an orchard, like most forms of farming, is labor intensive. Because they sell their apples either directly to consumers or to markets that sell directly to consumers, their produce must both look and taste delicious -- in other words, must be absolutely perfect. (The processing market accepts fruit that isn't perfect looking -- if it's being processed into applesauce or other products, it only needs to taste perfect.) There's no one and done -- the trees aren't just picked once, and then, voila, there's no more work for the season. Apples (and other fruit) ripen at different times, even on the same tree. Thus, workers must pick the ripened fruit, then later, return again to those trees and repick, until the fruit has all been harvested. There are no machines that are capable of picking fruit from trees, it must be done by hand.

So what to do with all those apples you purchase (or pick) from Hollabaugh Orchard? Why, make apple dumplings of course!

Apple dumplings look kinda fabulous as you serve them (and my, so very delicious when I shared the dumpling with my husband later that evening), and they're dead easy -- I was kind of astonished at the simplicity of the dish. As part of our tour of Hollabaugh Orchard, we were provided a cooking lesson. The lessons are offered periodically, so check the website below. Coming up on October 20, 2016 (6-7:30 pm), is a class geared toward ages 9 - 13. Please check the website for fees and to reserve your spot.

Here's Hollabaugh Farms' family recipe for apple dumplings:
3 c flour
1 tsp salt
1 c shortening
1/3 c water
8 medium tart apples, peeled and cored
8 tsp butter
9 tsp cinnamon sugar mixture, divided
1 1/2 c packed brown sugar
1 c water
1/2 c butter

  • In a large bowl, combine flour and salt; cut in shortening until crumbly. Gradually add water, mixing with hands until combined and then form a ball. Divide into eight portions. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or until easy to handle.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Roll each portion of the dough into approximately a 7-in circle or square. Place in a greased 9 x 13 baking pan. Place a cored apple in the center of each circle/square. Place 1 tsp cinnamon sugar in the center of each apple. Gently bring up the corners of the pastry to the center of the apple, allowing them to overlap. Pinch edges to seal.
  • In a large saucepan, combine brown sugar, 1 c water, and 1/2 c butter. Bring just to a boil, stirring until blended. Pour over apples. Bake 50-55 minutes or until apples are tender and pastry is a golden brown, basting occasionally with the sauce. Serve warm.
Additional family recipes can be found in one of the two family cookbooks available for purchase at the market.

Know before you go: There are walking "trails" around the orchard as well as wagon rides, so wear appropriate foot-wear.

Getting there: 545 Carlisle Rd, Biglerville, PA

Hours: Monday - Thursday, 8 am to 7 pm, Friday - Saturday, 8 am to 5 pm,  Sunday, 12 pm to 5 pm, hours change seasonally, so be sure to check the website.

Dogs: Unfortunately, not the best place for fido.


Although our tour, because of the season, focused on apples, Hollabaugh Orchard grows a variety of fruits and vegetables.
In addition, they operate a bakery onsite, so be sure to sample the apple cider donuts. The Market also offers a variety of canned goods as well.

For other day trip destinations in and around Adams County, go to the Blog's Find a Great Place to Day Trip or click on the Gettysburg or Destination Gettysburg label below.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

C&O Canal: From Swains Lock to Seneca Aqueduct

It was one of those rare, incredibly gorgeous summer days: 75 degrees, low humidity. As any Marylander will affirm, those kind of days are to be treasured indeed. In fact, any beautiful summer day is likely to find me either biking on the C&O Canal or thinking about biking on the C&O Canal. I wish I lived adjacent to it. As it is, I have to drive at least 45 minutes to get to the closest segments. But that summer day found me re-arranging my work calendar so I could take the day off for a bike ride between Swain's Lock (at mile 16.7) and the Seneca Creek Aqueduct, adjacent Rileys Lock.

All along the stretch between Swain's Lock and Seneca Creek Aqueduct are gorgeous views of the Potomac River.

Or rather, locks 21 and 24. The locks on the Canal are numbered from 1 to 75 with two locks, 63⅓ and 64⅔, having fractional numbers (there is no lock 65).

Swain's Lock is a popular place to kayak.

Today we know the locks by both numbers and informal names -- usually after a prominent lockkeeper (such as Swain's Lock) or a nearby town (such as Lander Lockhouse). Just to make sure it's as confusing as possible, some locks are known by more than one name and some are only known by their number. The names of the lockkeepers changed over the years, and the nicknames also changed. For instance Lock 21 (now known as Swain's Lock) had many lockkeepers: Mr. Fuller (1830), Mrs. Susan Cross (1836), Robert C Fields (1839, although he was fired on 1 May 1846), Samuel Fisher (1846, 1851), and Jesse Swain (1924), hence today the lock is known as "Swain's Lock."

In fact, it's appropriate that a lock is now known by the Swain name: the Swain family had been involved with the canal ever since its construction: John Swain helped build the canal; his sons John, Hen, and Bill Swain were boatmen as well as Jesse Swain (boatman and later locksman). In fact, the Swains retained possession of the lockhouse until at least 2000, and possibly a few years after that. According a to a guide to the C&O Canal that was published in 2000 (The C&O Canal Companion, 2000), the Swain family maintained a concession stand ran out of the lockhouse that included boat and kayak rentals and snacks.

Looking down the Canal from Swain's Lock toward Great Falls.

We headed up the canal toward Pennyfield Lock (Lock 22). Like Swain's Lock, this lock and lockhouse are known for the last lockkeepers, who also lived on in the lockhouse after the canal ceased operations in 1924.

The next lock is also named after its last lockkeepers. Built in 1832, Pennyfield Lock is named after father and son lockkeepers, George and Charlie Pennyfield. George tended the lock from 1890 to 1910 and Charlie joined George on the C&O Canal payroll in 1900, and was the last lockkeeper to tend that lock. According to a sign posted near the lockhouse, Grover Cleveland would sometimes come to that lockhouse for fishing get-aways, trying to escape the stress of being President of the United States. But see for yourself -- you can reserve the lockhouse for an evening (or two) to stay overnight.

Soon after encountering Pennyfield Lockhouse, you'll come upon a sign announcing the Dierssen Waterfowl Sanctuary, a 40-acre marshy tract of land maintained by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. As we passed this area, we wished we had kayaks, so we could explore. The area is a well known habitat for waterfowl, wading birds and songbirds, and from the canal you can see one of the nesting boxes for wood ducks.

Soon, you'll encounter Violettes Lock (Lock 23), although the lockhouse, if there had been one, is gone. Here there's a "guard" lock, essentially a water intake for the canal, that keeps it watered down through Great Falls.

Pennyfield Lock.

The Canal goes dry at Violettes Lock, unfortunately, although as a result, trees growing in the canal itself help keep the towpath shaded, so on a hot day... it's a trade off between the beauty of having the canal watered and enjoying the welcome shade. Even on the 75 degree and low humidity day we were there, I still welcomed the shade.

Soon we arrived at Rileys Lock and the Seneca Creek Aqueduct, made from the same distinctive red sandstone -- quarried just another small stretch further up the Canal -- as the iconic Smithsonian Castle.

Seneca Aqueduct opened in 1833. Sadly, one of the arches is missing -- destroyed by a flood in 1971. There were 11 aqueducts built along the C&O Canal, but the Seneca Aqueduct is a unique structure, not only being the first built, but also the only red sandstone aqueduct on the C&O − and the only aqueduct that is also a lock.

Know before you go: There is limited parking at Swains Lock -- it was pretty full on a weekday. Plan on getting there early on a weekend to ensure access to parking.

Getting there: 10700 Swains Lock Rd. Potomac, MD 20854

Dogs: But of course! We saw quite a few dog walkers during our ride.

Hours: Dawn to dusk.

For other parts of the C&O Canal, check out the below articles:
Brunswick to Dargan Bend
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
Kayaking at Swain's Lock

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Updated June 2020

Harpers Ferry, Town of Ghosts

Not quite living history, the ghost tour of Harpers Ferry brings the history of the town alive again.

Billed as the oldest existing ghost tour in the United States, the Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry began more than 40 years ago by local restauranteur Shirley Dougherty. After opening "the Old Iron Horse" restaurant in an old home along Potomac Street, she and her employees all experienced a variety of apparently paranormal events, from the sound of something tumbling down the house's stairs to a ghostly lantern on the fireplace mantle in one of the two dining rooms. Fittingly, the first stop of the tour is the site of her restaurant, now a private residence.

Spurred by the events she was experiencing in her own restaurant, Dougherty eventually collected a variety of ghost stories throughout Harpers Ferry, published in her 1977 book, A Ghostly Tour of Harpers Ferry. That soon led to leading ghost walks around the town.

Rick Garland took over the business 5 years ago, and is a historian at heart -- as well as a musicologist, vocalist, pianist and historical story teller, all attributes he brings to the ghost tour -- and so he has researched to fill in some of the gaps in Dougherty's stories, helping explain -- as much as possible when the subjects of the stories can't speak back -- the WHY behind the stories. If the story talks about the sound of a body tumbling down the stairs? Well, in that building during the Civil War, Union officers shot a Confederate spy who was trying to flee his pursuers and hide on the second floor. As he ran up the steps he encountered the Union officer, who shot him at point blank range and he tumbled, mortally wounded, down to the bottom of the steps. Although we can't know for sure that's the explanation for the sounds of something tumbling down the stairs, it's definitely plausible.

Garland believes that real historical detail adds to the stories he's sharing, and tries to help folks on his tours visualize what the town looked like during the Civil War. The quaint touristy town we enjoy today is not quite what it seems -- or at least, isn't today what it once was. Where there's now empty space, there used to be gun factories, hotels, and saloons. Clean paved streets now? Mud, garbage, horse manure, and human waste used to run through those same streets, with a herd of town-owned pigs wandering around to clean up the garbage (but adding their own waste to the vile mix). Sometimes the picture he paints isn't pretty...

The tour will bring you past the site on Hog Alley where Dangerfield Newby, one of the John Brown conspirators, was dragged after being shot dead by local residents, to be eaten by the town hogs. There, to this day, he haunts the spot, raising his piercing blue eyes to silently accuse the living.

The tour made its way past the Potomac Grill (where, coincidentally, my husband and I had enjoyed dinner -- a chicken parm sandwich accompanied by a glass of pinot grigio for me, steak sandwich for him), where a Confederate drummer boy is said to haunt the upper apartments -- now a vacation rental. Then we headed over to another building where a mysterious baby eternally cries, and finally to one of the oldest buildings in Harpers Ferry, said to be the most haunted building in the town.

Up until then, I'd been disappointedly NOT catching any orbs or anything much of interest, until I snapped a photo of this building from the street below. (Although to be fair, I've figured out, you need to take flash photos to catch the orbs and most of my photos until that point had been without flash so I could get the spooky effects.)

I shared the photo on Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry's facebook page, noting that there were a few orbs. Rick took a closer look, pointing out that there "are over a dozen orbs in the sky above the building, some small, some larger, some very faint, some much more prominent..." Interestingly, this building was the home of the scariest of the ghost stories, as one of the ghosts apparently tried to harm a National Park Service employee.

Overall, this ghost tour was a wonderful combination of humor, history, startle-scares, singing (!!), and interesting ghost stories about former town residents who, for the most part, didn't make it into the history books. It was fun enough for kids but also a great date night for couples (dinner, wine, ghost tour...).

Garland, when he's not telling ghost stories, conducts historical tours of both Harpers Ferry, WV, as well as a number of historical songs and stories concert shows.

Getting there: The tour meets at St Peters Catholic Church at 100 Church Street. The website offers suggestions for parking.

Hours: Ghost tours are offered year round; check the website for details.

Dogs: Yes!!


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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Greeting the Morning Sun at Bear Rocks

How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains!
-- environmentalist and author, John Muir

We got up at the ungodly hour of 3:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning to take the long and somewhat nerve-wracking drive up Laneville Road from Canaan Valley, where we were staying just off of Route 32 in a rental cabin, to my favorite place on earth: Bear Rocks in Dolly Sods. We took the time to make ourselves coffee to drink on the way up, and we grabbed stuff to eat for breakfast, which we jammed into a backpack -- we were planning an early morning hike after our sunrise adventure and would need the energy. We guestimated that the sun would rise around 5:15 to 5:30 -- we'd been lazy and never bothered to look it up.

I've posted about Dolly Sods before.

I started to panic when the sky started getting lighter and we were still climbing the mountain, but even with an SUV on dirt forest service roads, you can only go so fast. We just had to be patient -- we would get there when we got there.

We got there in plenty of time.

Unlike previous adventures up to Bear Rocks at dawn, this time we had plenty of company, both disappointing and reassuring. One time ours was the only vehicle parked there, and we listened somewhat nervously to the rumble of bears growling and yawning in the distance. But that holiday weekend Saturday morning, with at least 10 cars already in the parking lot, the surrounding wild blueberry heath was silent except for the wind and some birds; the bears had rambled to more secluded locations, I guess.

Bear Rocks, on the eastern edge of the plateau that includes the Dolly Sods Wilderness, is a remarkably scenic, windswept summit atop one of West Virginia's highest mountains. It is perched on a ridge of sandstone cliffs and is a rock outcropping with a 2,000 to 3,000-foot drop below. A distinctive feature of the area are stunted red spruce trees with flag-formed limbs pointing to the east – a result of the almost constant and often high-velocity winds.

Bear Rocks didn't disappoint us that day -- the sunrise was spectacular, multi-hued blues, purples, and oranges painted across the sky -- and as I sat on the edge of a rock with my feet hanging down taking photos, it felt almost spiritual. I was grateful to be sharing these moments with my husband, my son and his friend. Watching the sun rise there reminds me that I'm just a very small part of this world, and that the sun will come up, again and again, whether I'm there to enjoy it, or not.

It's a peaceful place, even with numbers of other avid nature lovers and early morning photographers scampering around the rocks. There's enough space for everyone at Bear Rocks.

Looking west over Dolly Sods, the morning mist still lay in the hollows, creating a mysterious world. We headed back down FR75 to go on a hike out to Rohrbock Overlook.

Getting there: Set your GPS for 2nd Ave in Davis, WV. Then, fill your tank with gas and head south on Rt 32/Appalachian Highway. After Canaan Valley State Park and Resort on your right, you'll head up a hill and then start down it again. On the left is Laneville Road. Take that left, and follow Laneville as it twists and winds through the mountainside. This is not driving for the faint of heart -- Laneville Road is narrow and has some hairpin curves as it curves along the contour of the mountainside and the locals drive fast. As you look over the side, the flimsy guardrail is not reassuring. No worries -- if your vehicle tumbles over, chances are a couple of trees will stop it before it goes all the way down.

Laneville Road will deposit you at the base of Dolly Sods at Forest Service Route 19. Follow FSR 19 up the mountain. About 3/4 of the way up on the right, opposite the Rohrbaugh Plains trail head, there's a picnic area and portapotties. This is the last opportunity to use the facilities with any semblance of dignity, so don't hesitate.

At the top of the mountain you have a choice: turn left onto FSR 75 or head back down the other side of the mountain. Turn left! That'll take you along a relatively flat road (some minor ups and downs) along the ridge. You'll pass some trail heads on either side. To the right fairly early on, there's a lovely overlook (short walk out to the rocks). Definitely worth seeing -- and as the sign indicates, take your camera!

Hours: There's a gate now on the forest service road leading up to Dolly Sods -- I guess too many folks were attempting the climb and getting their vehicles stuck. The Sods is open between April and December.

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