Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Michener Art Museum

Bucks County offers a lot to do for the weekend visitor -- more than enough to fill several days, with a variety of museums, historic house museums, outdoor activities and even a gem of an art museum.

Barbara Lekberg, Sea Wind II, 1988, bronz

Located in Doylestown, right across the street from the also not-to-be-missed Mercer Museum, the James A. Michener Art Museum is named for the Pulitzer Prize–winning writer James A. Michener, a Doylestown resident.

George R. Anthonisen, Give Us Grace, 1993-1996. Bronze.

As described to me by another Doylestown resident, Michener didn't found the museum -- instead, the museum was named after him to try to get him to donate to it.

Masami Kodama, Six Triangles, 1966. Bronze

Whether that's a real story, this is a great little art museum, housed in the ruins of the town's old jail -- the massive, high stone walls provide a contrasting backdrop to the art within.

Looking into the Patricia D. Pfundt Sculpture Garden,
the sculpture by Masami Kodama in the foreground: Twin Worlds, 1969-71. Granite

In fact, the stone walls and warden’s house that make up the core of the museum were built in 1884 as the Bucks County prison. After serving as a jail for a 100 years, though, the buildings were no longer adequate and were going to be torn down, until a proposal was made to preserve the remains of the prison as an historic landmark as part of a new museum.

Herbert Simon, Large Burst II, 1978, aluminum

Slightly more than a 100 years after they were first built, the art museum opened, building within and off of the original structures, in September 1988.

The oil on canvas painting by Daniel Garber, A Wooded Watershed,
1926, featured prominently in the back wall of the Commonwealth Gallery.

Before you enter the museum, take some time to walk around the sculpture to get a taste of what you'll find within. On the grounds you'll find works by Isaac Witkin, Greg Wyatt, Raymond Granville Barger, George Anthonisen, and others.

Harry Leith-Ross, Of Days Gone Past, 1959, oil on canvas

Once you enter the museum, be sure to check out the Patricia D. Pfundt Sculpture Garden, where the old stone prison wall provide a startling contrast to the contemporary museum building and sculpture throughout the garden.

Phillip Lloyd Powell, Door and Surround,
1967, stacked carved softwoods, polychromed

The museum offers permanent exhibits featuring modern and contemporary art and American Impressionism, among others, but also rotating exhibits, such as the whimsical yet oh so very practical "Art of Seating: Two Hundred Years of American Design," which featured American chairs from the early 19th century to the present.

Designed by Herbet von Thaden, manufactured by Thaden Jordon
Furniture Company, Adjustable Lounge Chair, 1947, laminated birch, brass 

The exhibit, which we caught on the last day it was available, showed us chairs as functional art. Each of the more than 40 chairs in the exhibition was chosen for its beauty and historical context with important social, economic, political and cultural influences.

Raije Cook, Times Four, 2008, painted metal

Renovating the ruins of an old jail to house an art museum was a wonderful idea, transforming a place of fear and despair into a place of transformative beauty.

Getting there: 138 S Pine St, Doylestown, PA

Hours: Tuesday – Friday 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sunday noon –5 p.m.

Website: https://www.michenerartmuseum.org/

For more great things to see and do in Bucks County, check out the articles below:

24 in 24 Challenge
1740 House Inn
Discover Bucks County
Benjamin Perry Mansion
Bowmans Hill Wildflower Preserve
Covered Bridges
Delaware Canal Towpath and again
Doylestown Bike Tour
Fonthill Castle and again
Logan Inn
Mercer Museum
Moravian Pottery Works
New Hope
Pearl S Buck House
Ringing Rocks County Park
Washington's Crossing State Park

Allen Houser, Raindrops, 1993, bronz

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George R. Anthonisen, I Set Before You This Day, 1979-1987. bronze.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

It's All Downhill: the Blackwater Canyon Trail

The Blackwater Canyon Railtrail is an extension of the 35-mile Allegheny Highlands Railtrail, connecting to it in Hendricks, WV, and running through the gorge to Thomas. The railtrail is about 3 hours from Washington DC, but it's a destination trail and worth the drive or planning a stay in Canaan Valley. You really need to ride this railtrail!! 

The Blackwater Canyon Railtrail travels 12 miles through Blackwater Falls State Park, between Parsons and the little coal-mining town of Thomas -- now filled with cute boutiques and interesting cafes and restaurants, including the famous Purple Fiddle. 

The rail carries riders high above the canyon gorge, although in many places you hear the sound of the river, and there are several noteworthy mountain-side waterfalls that provide great stopping places for photos and to appreciate the surroundings. 

Often the trail is perched on a narrow shelf, with a significant (and scary) drop on one side and towering cliffs or mountainside on the other.

Although this is a popular trail by Canaan Valley standards, it's fairly unusual to encounter other riders, so if you're looking for a nature-immersed bike ride with mostly solitude, this is the ride for you. 

A plug for Blackwater Bikes -- they saved our ride. I have tubeless tires, recommended for me by my local bike shop because I often go out alone and to be honest, I can't reliably change a tire (I've tried and failed). We pumped up my tires -- making sure they were full -- before leaving home. But we arrived to the disaster of a front tire completely off the rim. 

Blackwater Bikes fixed us up in just a couple of hours, for an exceptionally reasonable amount, plus the owner gave us helpful information for the ride. Stop by, say hello, pick up a map, and purchase some gear there to help keep them in business! 

As per Blackwater Bikes' recommendation, plan your ride starting in Thomas and riding downhill toward Parsons -- that's if you have a shuttle back to your vehicle (or can park it at the end of the ride).

There's a significant elevation drop, more than 1 thousand feet, between Thomas and Parsons -- we almost never actually pedaled our bikes, other than the initial push offs -- the 3% grade allows gravity to do all the work. 

If you go one-way, then park in Thomas directly across from Miners and Merchants Bank right in the town itself, where there's an access road to the railtrail. With your back to the town, turn left, heading downstream. You'll first encounter a small wastewater treatment plant, just after which you'll veer right across the foot bridge over the North Fork of the Blackwater River. 

It’s all downhill from there.

Don't be dissuaded by trail washouts -- it's easy portage around them. Further on, you may encounter downed trees on the trail, likewise, easily passed.

Just outside of Thomas, you'll see remnants of this railtrail's coal-mining history: coke ovens line the trail along the mountainside. Soon you'll come to the first of several gates -- this marks the switch from a pure rail trail to a forest road leading to Douglas Falls. I believe at this point, you're in Blackwater Falls State Park. 

This is a good time to note that the beauty of the area is a minor miracle -- the last underground coal mine in the area closed in the 1950s. Those mines left acid mine drainage, abandoned industrial structures, coke ovens and a variety of unsightly debris. 

Three miles into your trip you’ll come to the second gate. Here you'll hear Douglas Falls; you can view it by scrambling down a short rocky descent to better view the 30-foot waterfall. 

After Douglas Falls, the trail becomes a single-track as it enters the Blackwater Canyon, following the North Fork of the Blackwater River. Because we went in the summer, the trees were fully leafed out, and so we couldn't seen down the 100 (or more) feet to the river flowing below. We could hear it though. Fall would be an incredible time to ride the Blackwater Canyon Trail. 

What made this trail challenging for us on our Trek hybrids was the inch-gravel and overall condition of the trail. Luckily, we both have knobby tires, helping navigate the rough trail and the ocassional mud puddles. My insides did feel rattled after the ride and I frequently applied the brakes to keep the rattle down to about a 6 on the Richter scale. This is a good trail for mountain bikes but doable on hybrids.

In 1888, the

railroad that was on what is now the Blackwater Canyon Trail, located in the Monongahela National Forest (and now part of Blackwater Falls State Park), was used to haul coal and lumber through this stunning canyon.

You know you're nearing Hendricks when you come to  you’ll come to the second gate. This marks about 9 miles from the start of your journey. From here, it’s smooth sailing into Parsons. Eventually, the trail turns into a paved rail-trail as it follows alongside the Black Fork River.

We had two vehicles with us, so we were able to drop off our bikes in Thomas and park a vehicle in Parsons to await the end of our ride. We stashed extra water in the waiting vehicle, figuring we'd need a little extra hydration. That saved us from having to bike back to Thomas and up 1300 feet elevation.

If you're a glutton for punishment, then start in Parsons/Hedricks, and take on the up-hill challenge first, and then once you're good and exhausted, coast back down!

Know before you go: Didn't bring your bikes? Blackwater Bikes can rent them -- and can provide shuttle service, so give them a call.

Getting there: You can access the railtrail in Thomas at several locations. I recommend starting in front of the Miners & Merchants Bank on East Ave/WV Route 32 East/South. There's ample parking.

To reach the Hendricks/Parsons side of the trail, head west on WV Route 32 out of Thomas, almost immediately turning left onto Rt 219 South (just after Thomas). Travel on Rt 219 for 11.7 miles. Turn left on WV Route 72 east. After 1.5 miles, turn right on Second Street. The trailhead is on the right. Look for the gazebo and parking at the trailhead.

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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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