Saturday, January 30, 2021

Panther Rocks Exploration

Panther Rocks, located in the Moshannon State Forest adjacent to SB Elliott State Park, is overshadowed by Bilgers Rocks, also in Clearfield County, but are worth a quick visit for a fun afternoon in the woods. 

If you're into geocaching, then you'll be pleased to note that there is at least one geocach on the site, although we couldn't find it. 

You can't even call it a hike to get out to Panther Rocks. The trail is well maintained and obvious, and probably less than a quarter mile long.

The 300-million year old rocks that comprise the Panther Rocks formation are massive and spectacular. The crevices between the rocks form a "rock city," it seems. (Whereas, Bilger Rocks, even though more extensive, are more like a rock mansion, with "rooms.")

The "streets" are vertical fractures, referred to by knowledgeable geologists as joints, which have widened over time by multiple freezes and ice events over the millenia. 

The overhangs, crevices and even a small cave make this a fun rock formation to explore, and because it's not located on a cliff, as many rock outcroppings are, it's relatively safe.

Panther Rocks is a small “rock city” made of several large sandstone blocks. “Streets” in the rocks are vertical fractures called joints that have widened over time by frost or ice wedging. Overhangs, crevices, and a short tunnel have formed from an outcrop of medium- to coarse-grained sandstone. Spaces (i.e., joints) can be a few inches wide, or 20 feet or more wide. 

You can even climb on top. 

Getting there: GPS S.B. Elliott State Park, but instead of turning into the park, head down Four Mile Road (a well kept dirt/gravel road) until you see the signs for Panther Rocks on the right. There's a small parking area.

Hours: Daylight


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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Pohick Bay Kayaking

Pohick Bay Regional Park is a Fairfax County regional park on Pohick Bay of the Potomac River. The park offers camping, hiking, a water park, boat launches for both canoes and kayaks (a place along the shoreline) and a boat ramp for motorized boats.

Once you launch, head due north -- or turn left after launching. The morning we were there it was slightly windy, and the waves were a little rough until we got closer to Pohick Creek and the marshes.

The marsh and Pohick Creek offer a world to get lost in. And it can feel like a wildlife tour.

You also avoid the motorized boats and jets skis there -- it's simply too shallow for them to manuever.

Instead, you'll find numerous egrets and heron, osprey, hawks, red-wing black birds, cormorants, and other bird life. And folks fishing.

We even enountered two men with metal detectors. We joked with them about searching for treasure, but they admitted that all they were finding were lost fishing lures and loose change.

It's helpful to know the tide schedules, since Pohick Bay and the Potomac River is tidal in this area. The Tideking site offers a handy chart so you can plan your kayak adventure a little better than we did.

We arrived just as the tide was turning and got ourselves beached a time or two in our cadillac of a tandem kayak, but as we headed back toward the launch, we noticed the water was already a foot higher than it had been, and we would have had no problems navigating the shallower Pohick Creek.

As you get lost among the cowlilies, which dominate the marshland, you enter a serene landscape. Listen carefully, and you'll hear a woodpecker or the piercing cries of osprey.

Pohick Bay Regional Park, located on Mason Neck Pennisula is an ecologically fragile land that shelters an abundance of wildlife, including the bald eagle.

You can expect to see blue birds, osprey, heron, deer, beavers and with luck, river otters. We also saw an osprey nest with at least one chick in it, its parents were fishing in the marsh.

Getting there: 6501 Pohick Bay Dr, Lorton, VA 22079

Hours: Boat Rentals – Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 8 am to 8 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.


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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Sherando Cliffs and Lake Hike

The Sherando Cliffs and Lakeside Loop Hike is a short hike -- less than 2 miles for the entire loop -- with minimal elevation gain (300 feet or less) that offers some pretty views, a pleasant leg-stretch climbing up the side of a mountain, and some gorgeous vistas of Sherando Lake itself. 

Sherando Lake Recreation Area is definitely a treasure -- some even call it the "jewel" of the Blue Ridge. At the park there are picnic tables and grills, beach on lake, hiking trails, camping spots, and a playground. The amount of parking provided indicates that it's a popular spot.

Families enjoy picnicking in this shaded and woody area, while relaxing on the sandy beach of the 25-acre spring-fed lake. North Fork Back Creek feeds Sherando Lake and provides the soundtrack for several of its trails.

We went during early November. The autumn foliage had long since peaked, but that's okay -- the mostly leafless trees allowed sweeping views of the lake throughout the hike, as well as a beautiful view along the ridge.

You start the hike at the wash house parking lot, as the loop hike starts right behind the wash house, following the trail as it climbs the mountain. The sign indicates a there-and-back hike to the Sherando Overlook.

The first half of the hike is a steady incline 230 feet up to the ridge of the mountain overlooking Sherando Lake. Although you lose sight of the lake to the left below, you're swallowed by the woods until you can start seeing through the treeline to the ridges beyond on the right. 

When we came to the overlook, there was kind of a "meh" moment -- it's really not that great, so don't make this the reason you come on this invigorating little hike -- then we followed the trail as it zig zagged back down the side of the mountain to the lake, during most of which you can hear the sound of rushing falls. 

Although the loop (on alltrails) points back to the beach, instead head to the lakesside picnic area -- both are about the same distance, although by heading toward the picnic area, you'll have some slight elevation gain that again gets the heart pounding. 

But the real reason are the views of the lake, especially in late fall through the trees, these made the hike. It's probably just 100 feet or less elevation gain -- I didn't have a tracker on -- but the woods are lovely, and the occasional glimpses of the views through the trees quite pretty.

Having the park virtually to ourselves made this a magical hike in a really beautiful place. I suspect that during the height of the season, the hordes of other visitors might diminish the pleasure of the hike a bit, but don't let that dissuade you from visiting, if you haven't been yet.

Getting there: 96 Sherando Lake Rd, Lyndhurst, VA 22952

Hours: Dawn through dusk (the park is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.)


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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Hiking on Hallowed Ground: Worthington Farm Trails in Monocacy National Battlefield Park

The Worthington House. The trail head to the Brooks Hill Loop is to the left of the house (as you face it).

In a perhaps apocraphal conversation, three decades after the Battle of Monocacy, which had taken place on July 9, 1864, former Confederate Major General John Gordon was introduced to Union Major General Lew Wallace at a White House reception. Gordon was then a senator from Georgia, and he and Wallace reminisced about the Battle of Monocacy. Gordon noted that Wallace was the only general who had beaten him during the Civil War, but Wallace protested that the Confederate forces had won the day.

But Gordon reminded Wallace that although his side had technically been victorious, that Wallace had "snatched Washington out of our hands -- there was the defeat... the duty of driving you off the road fell to me; and I did it, but not until you had repulsed several attackes and crippled us..."

Fleabane, a type of daisy, is common throughout the farm.

It's worth remembering that the Battle of Monocacy was the only Confederate victory in the North. But even more importantly, Wallace had delayed General Early's drive to Washington DC, while also assessing the size of the Confederate forces and ascertaining that the target was, actually, Washington DC.

One of the best ways to learn about this battle is to walk the three farms where it took place. However, while doing so, remember that the Best, Thomas and Worthington farms are currently leased to local farmers whose crops and livestock help maintain the historic character of the landscape. Please be considerate of these farmers: do not disturb any farming tools or immplements and be alert for agricultural vehicles and activities. Do not destroy any crops under cultivation.

For our hike, we chose a combination of the Ford Brook Loop Trail and the Brooks Hill Loop Trail, on the Worthington Farm, for about a 3 mile hike. The 1.6-mile Ford loop trail encompasses the part of the battlefield where the Confederates forded the Monocacy River; there's a bit of an elevation gain on the Brooks Hill Loop, but it's not difficult (despite what the trail guide says) and it provides you a lovely view as you emerge out of the woods onto the farm field, where you can look down the slope over to the Best Farm barn.

The hike took us through woods and along rolling farm fields. There were some nice views, and of course, I enjoyed seeing the cows. But the real stars of the hike were the many wildflowers we saw.

We've written about wildflowers before, including a visit to a wildflower preserve in Pennsylvania and a McKeldin Rapids and Cascade Falls hikes last year in Patapsco Valley State Park.

A multiflora rose, an invasive plant that seems to be everywhere.

On this hike, we saw a number of native wildflowers, but also several invasive species, including the ubiquitous multiflora rose, which was brought originally from Asia in the late 1800s to be used as rootstock for ornamental roses. Still, it has pretty white flowers with yellow stamens. Bottom line, it is an out of control invasive which invades untended pastures, natural areas, and roadsides. But dang, it is pretty!

Never touch this plant -- it hurts! Also, report it to the state, as they'll want it removed.

We also saw a single giant hogweed, a nasty plant. If you ever see one, steer clear and definitely do NOT touch! Its sap, combined with moisture (sweat??) and sunlight, can cause severe skin and eye irritation, including blistering, permanent scarring, and even blindness. We notified park officials and informed them about the location of the plant. The scary thing is that it looks almost exactly like Queen Anne's Lace, a pretty relative of carrots that is, itself, an invasive non-native plant. But note the differences: Queen Anne's Lace's flowers are flat, whereas, giant hogweed's is mounded. Queen Anne's Lace has hairy stems, whereas giant hogweed's aren't. The leaves are quite different as well.

But there are also more benign wildflowers, such as forget me nots.

We saw lots of a pretty, four-pedal purple flower, which could possibly be moonwort or a dame's rocket. And of course, buttercups were everywhere.

Photo courtesy Karyn Spertzel, a volunteer at Monocacy National Battlefield; photo taken October 2019.

Worth noting is that as the Ford Loop trail brings you close to the Momocacy River -- most of the fighting for this battle took place near the river. However, if the water level isn't too high (it was for our hike, but my guide provided me a photo she'd taken in October 2019), keep an eye out for an interesting V in the water, the remnants of a Native American fishing weir, one of the few remaining indications of Native Americans in the region.

For a map of the trails, click here.

Getting there: 4801 Urbana Pike, Frederick MD

Hours: Dawn through dusk for the hiking trails; the visitors center has specific hours, so please check the website.


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