Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Falling in Love with the C&O Canal All Over Again

I've frequently biked portions of the C&O Canal (although this year, not as much as I'd hoped) and of course, any good weather entices me to bring the mutts for a satisfying walk along some of my favorite sections. The towpath is a go-to destination, over and over. I'm constantly impressed by the beauty of the canal and its surroundings.

But I'd never gotten to explore it from water level, although I'd watched two kayakers launch at Swains Lock last year with envy. That's where we got the idea.

Last summer we headed back to Swains Lock one evening to kayak north on the canal ourselves. What we discovered was a different perspective on the canal. Walkers and bikers traveled just a few feet away and several feet higher, but a world apart. We found ourselves ducking under fallen trees and navigating underwater obstacles -- adding to the sense of adventure.

We also got to chat with several folks who were fishing. One man admitted he was fishing for the infamous snakeheads, a fish that invaded the Potomac River in recent years. I decided to keep my fingers away from the water's surface... which was a wise move, since we also saw several snapping turtles.

I love the C&O Canal and its towpath -- a uniquely Maryland treasure and a great day trip destination!

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

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

Hours: Daylight

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
Swain's Lock to Seneca Aqueduct
Kayaking at Swain's Lock

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Updated June 2020

Saturday, January 27, 2018

A Year of Memory Making Mid-Atlantic Daytrips You Shouldn't Miss in 2018

This year, like every year, I gave my family gifts that I thought reflected both me and them. And like every other year, I struggled to find that "perfect gift" -- a thing of myth and legend -- that will make my loved ones happy. Then it hit me -- I actually write a blog about the perfect solution! Experiences. Daytrips, but experiences!

The answer is to look for perfect experiences! Here are my suggestions for a year of memory-making day-tripping experiences in the mid-Atlantic region!

Follow the links for more information about great things to do in 2018!

Take a hike!

Whether you seek a place to forest bathe (and Scott's Run Nature Preserve is the ideal place for that) or hike offering a payoff view (you can't go wrong with either Weverton Cliffs or Annapolis Rocks) or a challenging hike to see multiple waterfalls in Ricketts Glen State Park in northern Pennsylvania, there's bound to be a fun hike waiting for you! Sometimes hikes bring you to mysterious places, such as the hike in Patapsco River State Park to Maryland's very own ghost town, Daniels, or the remains of old mines at Soldier's Delight National Environmental Area.

Save the wolves!

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

I definitely recommend signing up for one of the Howl with the Wolves bonfires, usually on the weekend closest to the full moon. Hearing the wolves spontaneously howl is one of the most amazing experiences I've ever enjoyed.

Go for a paddle!

Even if you don't own a canoe or kayak, there are plenty of places to rent them! Not to miss is the incredibly lovely Trap Pond and its amazing bald cypress trees. Many lakes and parks, such as Columbia, MD's Centennial Lake, and Butler County's Moraine State Park's Lake Arthur, rent kayaks as well.

In additional, several outfitters will either rent kayaks or provide guided kayak tours, such as that along the Potomac River  in Frederick County as well as at Dyke Marsh in Virginia, and the intriguing guided kayak tour at Mallows Bay to see Maryland's ghost fleet. For a slightly more challenging kayaking adventure, go see the wild ponies on Chincoteague Island via kayak!

Explore history!

Explore America's industrial history by touring the blast furnaces of the former Bethlehem Steel Mill along the Hoover - Mason Trestle (and then make sure you leave some time for the adjacent National Museum of Industry History)! There's also tours of coal mines and communities, such as the No. 9 Coal Mine and nearby Eckleys Miners Village.

The mid-Atlantic region is chock-a-block with Revolutionary and Civil War history. From Washington's Crossing State Park to the Revolutionary War Museum (which the Blog has not visited yet but which is definitely on our list!) to Richmond's plethora of Civil War museums, including the Confederate White House, and battlefields (Cold Harbor among them).

The National Battlefield Park in Gettysburg is one of the most well known civil war battlefields, (and probably offers the most different ways to learn about it -- so far the Blog has toured via bicycle, via segway, and with the aid of modern technology) with Manassas and Antietam coming in a close second and third, but don't discount lesser known battle sites such as Monocacy to learn how a lost battle probably saved the Union capital, the Field of Lost Shoes (and its sad, sad stories) in New Market, VA, and Cedar Grove National Battlefield and how that battle helped end the Civil War.

Bike the C&O Canal!

Truly a Maryland treasure, the C&O Canal offers shaded walking (in the summer) with sweeping views of the Potomac River and nearly flat biking along mostly a groomed trail that stretches 184 miles from western Maryland to DC. It's hard to decide which is my favorite stretch, but definitely check out the PawPaw Tunnel in Garrett County, Great Falls and the stretch between Swain's Lock and Seneca Aqueduct in Montgomery County, and the stretch between Monocacy and Catoctin Aqueducts in Frederick County. For a better understanding of life on the canal and a ride on a short stretch, then check out the canal in Williamsport in Washington County, MD. There's another 120 miles to explore, so don't limit yourself!

Visit an art museum!

There are so many art museums throughout the region, and the Blog has only covered a few. One of my favorites is the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, where the man and the artist were demystified. But I also recommend the Annmarie Sculpture Garden in Solomon, MD for its outdoor sculpture displays set amongst the trees and lawns, and the Museum of the Fine Arts in Hagerstown, MD, which offers a surprising range of pieces despite its relatively small size. For sheer joy of art, stop by Randyland (also in Pittsburgh) for Randy Gilson's joyous expressions and the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.

Go smell the roses! (and daisies and petunias and ... )

When the weather turns warmer, I start thinking about visiting botanical gardens and seeing the pretty flowers. Whether the formally designed Longwood Gardens and the Lewis Gintner Botanical Gardens or the more organic beauty of Winterthur, there's sure to be a garden near you. Each has a different personality, it seems.

Don't miss the U.S. National Arboretum in D.C. or the incredible topiaries at Ladew Gardens. Several of the gardens, such as Longwood Gardens and Lewis Gintner, offer fabulous indoor gardens as well, but if you enjoy indoor gardens, Pittsburgh's Phipps Conservatory is a must see!

Explore a fort!

Everyone's probably heard of famous Fort McHenry in Baltimore -- well worth a visit! This is the fort that was being shelled by the British during the War of 1812, immortalized in Francis Scott Key's Star-Spangled Banner.

But there are five other fabulous forts worth exploring: three in Maryland, and one each in Delaware and Pennsylvania, and together span American history, from the French and Indian War all the way up to World War II. Be sure to check out forts Washington and Foote, and further afield to Fort Frederick, along the C&O Canal, amazing Fort Delaware on the Delaware River, and Fort Necessity near Farmingham, PA, and learn about George Washington's only defeat. Each of these forts have very different personalities, making each worthy of being a daytrip destination!

Go ghost-hunting!

Whether you enjoy the stories or are seeking paranormal experiences of your own, there are ghost walks and ghost hunts throughout the year, although the "season" really becomes active in September and October!

One of my favorite ghost walks is in historic Harpers Ferry, but Pittsburgh's will offer you a different perspective on the city! No city offers more ghost tours than Gettysburg! If exploring a haunted cemetery is your thing, then consider Frederick's Mount Olivet Cemetery Ghost Tour, where I had one of my first paranormal experiences! Pick one or more and get ready for history and fun stories!

Many historic places offer tours during the day and ghost hunts at night, such as the really frightening Moundsville Penitentiary in West Virginia. If you prefer a more guided ghost hunt, then check out one of the hunts offered by Ghosts N'at's -- I recommend the Carrie Furnace ghost hunt!

Love those festivals!

Many towns offer fall festivals, including Front Royal at the foot of the Shenandoah Mountains, Zelienople/Harmony's Fall Festival north of Pittsburgh in Butler County, PA, and the Apple Harvest Festival. But throughout the year there're are fun festivals to check out, such as Howard County's Hot Air Balloon Festival and if you're into the arts, Frederick's Arts Festival.

See holiday light displays!

Going to holiday lights displays has become an annual tradition for me and my family. Several holiday lights displays, such as the National Zoo's ZooLights which will delight animal lovers, Brookside Gardens Garden Lights, and Longwood Garden's Christmas, allow you to walk through the displays (although several of the drive through holiday lights displays have 5k runs and dog-walking nights through the displays).

One of my favorite light displays is Winter Lights at Seneca Creek State Park because of its water feature, but Bay Lights at Sandy Point State Park also makes fine use of the Bay for its set up!

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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! 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

National Museum of Industry History

A relatively recent addition to the area, the National Museum of Industrial History, just opened in late 2016 and is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution; it seeks to preserve, educate, and display the industrial history of the nation.

It's not just a cool place to visit -- it's in a cool place, an old building that used to be part of Bethlehem Steel. You can still see parts left over from its Bethlehem Steel days, which was used to carry extremely heavy machinery across the building. 

The museum has four exhibitions, each focusing on a different aspect of industrial history that affected both Pennsylvania and the rest of the country.The museum showcases the nation's industrial past by highlighting the machinery and the lives of workers at that time period.

It also is home to more than 200 unique artifacts that cannot be seen elsewhere– whether it is the first made, the oldest-surviving, longest-operating, or last-produced!

It holds a collection of artifacts from the textile, steel and iron, and propane gas industries. The NMIH holds a significant collection of industrial machinery on loan from the Institute's National Museum of American History. The museum also has a large collection of documents, machinery, photographs, and other archival material from Bethlehem Steel.

I was fascinated by the evolution of the machines in the machinery hall, from foot operated to the more mechanized. I also thought it was cool to see the machines that workers had lovingly decorated -- the pride they took in the machines that were part of their livelihood. 

This is a great museum for kids -- just don't linger too long on any one artifact. The colors will fascinate them, and there are cool stuff for them to tinker with (that is allowed and encouraged) throughout the museum to keep their interest. It's also a great museum for adults. As an adult, I was struck by the sheer playful colors the various items of machinery sported. It kind of goes against all my pre-conceptions of what the heavy machinery would have looked like. As an photographer, this was a dream place to experiment with different compositions. 

Getting there: 602 East 2nd Street, Bethlehem, PA 18015

Hours: The Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm.
The museum will be closed Easter Sunday (April 1, 2018), Christmas Day (December 25, 2018), and New Year’s Day (January 1, 2019). The museum will have shortened hours (10 am to 2 pm) on Christmas Eve (December 24, 2018).

Website: http://nmih.org/

Beginning in late November, I started a series of posts about Lehigh Valley, PA. This is the fourth installment of this series. To see others in this series, click on the label "Lehigh Valley" below this post.

For other day trip destinations in Lehigh Valley, go to the Blog's Find a Great Place to Day Trip or click on the Lehigh Valley label below.

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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! 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Abandoned School Photo Safari

The J.W. Cooper School was originally scheduled to open in 1918, but the Spanish Flu epidemic was tearing across America, and thus the school building was commandeered and used as a temporary hospital and morgue because the local hospital was unable to accommodate the large number of victims. Finally, in May 1919 the building was dedicated as the “new Shenandoah High School," According to Preservation PA’s 2001 newsletter. (Later the school was renamed to honor the memory of the school’s first principal.) The school remained in use until 1986.

Standing empty on a city block, the school is both comfortingly familiar -- it reminded me of the first school, Parkway Elementary, that I went to -- and eerily decaying amid homes with boarded up windows and burnt-out shells that once used to house miners' families. Much of the interior is still left intact within the school. An old piano, long ago destroyed by the elements, sits quietly (and rather picturesquely) in the front of the auditorium...

The area that became Shenandoah was first settled by a farmer named Peter Kehley in 1835 where he cleared a patch of land at the center of the valley and built a log cabin. Peter Kehley maintained his farm for about 20 years in total isolation. He sold his claim to the Philadelphia Land Company, which in anticipation of opening coal mines in the area, laid out the town in 1862.

After the Civil War years, the town and community thrived as anthracite coal mines opened. Folks continued to migrate to the area, and by the 1920s and 1930s, Shenandoah boasted a population of 30,000, giving the town the highest population per square mile of any city in America at the time. The school taught these miners' families' children, and tens of thousands of children were educated at the school.

What remains of one of the girls bathrooms.

But by the end of WWII, Shenandoah was on the decline -- the community was hard hit as the antrhracite coal industry began closing mines. The boom that sustained the rest of the U.S. somehow missed Shenandoah.

These report cards dated to the 1920s.

Now the town has fewer children living in it than used to attend the school, and the town seems to be devoid of life. Locals I chatted with noted that the opioid epidemic has struck the region, further decimating the community's health. I felt quite depressed by the visit to the town.

It was through the efforts of a fellow blogger and day trip adventurer -- Uncovering PA's Jim Cheney, that I discovered the school, and joined him and about 10 other photographers to photograph and document the decaying building. For three hours we got to roam around the school, taking pictures to our hearts' content. It was a lovely afternoon, and we emerged into the late November afternoon to a setting sun, dusty and tired.

On our way home, my husband and I took a wrong turn, and found ourselves headed down a forgotten old country road that took us past a closed mine. So of course, I stopped and took photos!

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Series of Unfortunate Events Brings Us to High Point State Park

Even the Delaware River was almost frozen over!

The day we visited New Jersey's High Point State Park was a day of bitter cold and frustration! I debated about even blogging about it, but in the end, decided that it serves as a lesson about preparing better for an outting. My lack of planning and research before a day trip nearly froze us out of an entire day in a lovely part of Pennsylvania. This post is also about how to make the best of it, even when you're not so prepared.

There is a beauty in winter landscape that I've not fully appreciated before this adventure.

Initially, this post was supposed to be about a winter hike to a waterfall in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. I'd identified two hikes that would be good for really cold weather; the idea of photograhing frozen waterfalls intrigued me. We had a day with nothing planned during a stay in the Pocono Mountains, near the Delaware Water Gap. We arrived at our first location, and found the access road to the trailhead closed. To park and hike in would have added too much mileage given the minus-5 degree windchill, or whatever. (Coming from Maryland, and after a series of warm winters, it felt much colder than that!) We turned around and headed to my plan B location, which access road we discovered to be also closed. Again, hiking in would have added too much to the hike. (Although we had long johns on, we didn't have snowpants or adequate head protection.) I'd read that the park is open -- and indeed it was, sort of.

We defaulted to plan C: High Point State Park in neighboring New Jersey. The drive through the snow-covered countryside was lovely, and we were exploring and taking notes (with plans to return in the summer to do those hikes and even some kayaking!).

Part of the Kittatinny Mountains, the highest point in the state of New Jersey sits in the northern reaches of the park. There's also a monument, which we had to enjoy from a distance.

This was as close as I got to the Veterans Monument and its promised views!

High Point Monument, built at High Point marks the highest point in New Jersey, (hence the name),  and in warmer weather or at least to the properly dressed for the weather, offers views of farmland and forest, hills and valleys in three states, out to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, where the Delaware River separates the ridges of New Jersey from those of Pennsylvania. Although we could have hiked up to the monument the day we visited, we were there on one of the coldest days of the year: 8 degrees, and the wind was a-blowing: wind chill was sub-zero. We were not dressed for any sort of substantial hike in such cold weather. We would have to return to the park during warmer weather!

This cross-country skier was clearly enjoying skiing on the frozen lake.

Notably, High Point offers trails for hiking and cross-country skiing and areas for camping and fishing. Despite the frigid temperatures the day we were there, folks were out and about enjoying the park, mostly on cross-country skis.

Very picturesque view of High Point State Park headquarters.

To the south, the Appalachian Trail follows a rocky ridge which offers many scenic views of the valleys and mountains surrounding the area. To the north, the trail drops off the ridge through hemlock gorges into former agricultural fields with a view of the surrounding countryside and the High Point Monument in the distance.

The Appalachian Trail goes right through High Point State Park. 

Getting there: 1480 NJ-23, Sussex, NJ 07461

Hours: Daylight

Website: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/highpoint.html

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View from the lake at High Point looking up to the hillside adjacent the monument.