Saturday, February 27, 2021

Hike to Dark Hollow Falls

IT sounds like an ominous thing, Dark Hollow Falls -- there should be a ghost story or something associated with it, but I couldn't find any mention of ghosts, nor how Dark Hollow Falls got its name, although I could well imagine how shady and dark the falls would be if the leaves still fluttered from the tree branches. The Dark Hollow Falls hike is a popular out-and-back hike in the middle of Shenandoah National Park. Of the many waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park, Dark Hollow Falls is the closest to Skyline Drive and the 1.4 mile hike is family friendly, despite the 440-foot elevation change. This hike is sometimes described as the "must do" waterfalls hike.

Throughout the hike, you will enjoy the sound of a stream, the Hogcamp Branch of the Rose River, tumbling down the mountainside -- it only gets louder as the cascades get larger and it becomes Dark Hollow Falls, which falls 70 feet through a series of cascades down the mountain. 

The hike starts near the information sign, and with a brief paved section that leads hikers over a bridge, but it quickly turns to dirt. Overall, the trail is well maintained and there are steps in some places. Of course, due to the popularity of the trail, the area surrounding the trail is well trampled as well. When we were there, we noticed minimal trash or litter, a bonus. 

Be warned, though, that because of how the falls cascade down the mountainside, you can’t always see the entire falls unless you stand in a center spot -- but there are places where you can carefully rock hop into the center and get to appreciate a portion of the falls.

About half way down you'll encounter the first and probably grandest part of the falls -- but it'll be crowded, as this is where hikers, often families with kids, typically stop to take photos and splash around in a wading pool. 

But you'll want to continue on down to Rose River Fire Road, allllllll the way at the bottom of the trail. Looking up, you'll get the full impact of the 70-foot falls. Then head back up and rest and take photos at the half-way point, regaining your breath for the rest of the way back up the mountain.

Because it's in Shenandoah National Park, because it's so family friendly, and because it's so close to Big Meadows, this is a very popular hike. 

Even on an early November weekday, the parking lot was full. You won't find solitude here -- if solitude at a waterfalls is your wish, head 71 miles south (taking Skyline Drive and then the Blue Ridge Parkway to the White Rock Falls Trail at the Slacks Overlook.

Formed from more than one thousand privately owned tracts of land, Shenandoah National Park started as a patchwork of forests, fields, orchards and homesteads. In 1976, Congress designated more than 40 percent of the park as National Wilderness, the highest level of Federal protection possible.

Shenandoah National Park extends along the Blue Ridge Mountains in the U.S. state of Virginia. The Skyline Drive runs its length, and a vast network of trails includes a section of the long-distance Appalachian Trail. Mostly forested, the park features wetlands, waterfalls and rocky peaks like Hawksbill and Old Rag mountains.

But it almost didn't happen. Legislation to create a national park in the Appalachian mountains was first introduced by freshman Virginia congressman Henry D. Flood in 1901, but despite the support of President Theodore Roosevelt, failed to pass. 

Two decades later, the first National Park Service (NPS) Director Stephen Mather sought proposals for a national park in the southern U.S. in his 1923 year-end report -- up till then, all the national parks were in the west or in Maine. Two years later, Congress and President Calvin Coolidge authorized the NPS to acquire a minimum of 250,000 acres and a maximum of 521,000 acres to form Shenandoah National Park.

The park warns hikers to stay on the designated trail and that there have been several "tragic accidents" recently at some of the waterfalls within the park. So be cautious and stay safe. Do not climb around the rocks in the falls themselves. 

Know before you go: So I hadn't read in -- my go to for information about hikes -- that no dogs were allowed. Not a  problem, we'd decided to leave our treeing walker coonhound home for the day since he doesn't do car-rides well. Other hikes in Shenandoah National Park that don't allow dogs include Fox Hollow Trail, Stony Man Trail, Limberlost Trail, Post Office Junction to Old Rag Shelter, Old Rag Ridge Trail, Old Rag Saddle Trail, Old Rag Access Trail, Ridge Access Trail, Story of the Forest Trail, Bearfence Mountain Trail and Frazier Discovery Trail.

Getting there: The parking / trail head for Dark Hollow Falls is well marked along Skyline Drive. It's less than a mile north of Big Meadows (mile marker 51.2). It's also GPSable on WAZE. The parking lot located at mile 50.7 on Skyline Drive.

Hours: daylight


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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Kayaking Martinak State Park and Watts Creek

Beautiful weather called out for us to go kayaking, so we headed across the Bay Bridge to Martinak State Park, near Denton in Caroline County, MD.

Martinak State Park sits beside the Choptank River and Watts Creek, and in addition to some hiking trails, also offers a boat launch into Watts Creek. If you head straight out of the launch, you'll soon hit the Choptank River. Turn left out of the boat ramp, and you'll head up Watts Creek, which twists and turns through the wetlands a couple miles to where it becomes unnavigable just past the Double Hill Road bridge.

We followed the twisting turns of Watts Creek upriver, fighting both the tide, the creek's current and an opposing wind.

Although there are neighborhoods adjacent to the creek, you only catch an ocassional glimpse of a house through the dense trees.

We explored past the noisy Route 404 bridge, just past which we turned around, not knowing whether our tandem could make it past several downed trees, so we never made it to the Double Hill Road bridge.

Just before the 404 overpass, we stopped feeling the push of the outgoing tide, making paddling that much easier. The water turned glassy smooth.

We're not speed kayakers -- it took us a good hour plus to make it past the Route 404 bridge, and a fast 45 minutes on the way back, with a following wind, the tide pulling us back toward Choptank River, and the current helping us along.

We saw osprey and numerous heron. We had been hoping to see eagles, and were disappointed in not.  But the numerous herons made up for the lack of majestic eagles.

This beautiful place is available to us because George Martinak deeded this land of forests, fields and marsh to the state in the early 1960s for preservation as a recreational facility and a natural area for the "enjoyment of all."

After serving in WWI, including the battles at Verdun, France, Martinak returned to Maryland and took a job in Washington DC in the Government Printing Office. He was also a camping enthusiast, and when he and some of his friends from WWI camped near the town of Choptank, he fell in love with the beauty of the Choptank River.

Martinak bought 10 acres near the junction of Watts Creek and the Choptank River in 1928, to serve as a base camp. In the following years, he bought surrounding acreage until he had almost 100 acres along the river and the creek. He enjoyed his property until 1964, when he donated the land to become a state park. The new state park opened to the public in 1967, two years before Martinak passed away.

Martinak State Park today is a monument to the foresight and generosity of George Martinak. He shared his love of the outdoors and this secluded “camp” by donating the property to the Maryland state parks system. It was opened to the public in 1967, two years before George Martinak died.

To see a trail map for Martinak State Park, click here.

Getting there: 137 Deep Shore Rd, Denton, MD

Hours: dawn to dusk


For other great places to kayak in Maryland, check out the places below:
Blackwater River/Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Kayaking
Centennial Lake / Preparing for Kayaking Adventures
C&O Canal at Swain's Lock
Daniels, MD
Lake Clopper / Seneca Creek State Park
Lake Elkhorn
Little Seneca Lake
Mallows Bay Shipwrecks
Patapsco River
Piney Run Park
Potomac River
Wetipquin Creek (Nanticoke River Water Trail)
Wicomico River

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Saturday, February 20, 2021

Kaaterskill Falls in Catskill Park

Kaaterskill Falls is a two-stage waterfall on Spruce Creek in the eastern Catskill Mountains of New York, in the Kaaterskill Wild Forest. Kaaterskill Falls is one of the country’s oldest tourist attractions and has been depicted in many paintings, poems, and books since the 1800s. 

The popular hike out to see the falls from Laurel House Road is an easy 1.7 miles, and it's also easy to see why it's so popular -- Kaaterskill Falls is a dramatic, two-stage waterfalls that drops 261 feet and is one of the tallest waterfalls in New York. 

It's a quick out and back to the viewing platform (two-thirds of a mile there and back), and then, if you choose -- and you should if you can -- you can hike an additional 3/4 of a mile down to the lower viewing platform to see the lower part of the falls, but beware -- you'll be heading down 181 steps (someone counted so you wouldn't have to), which means you'll be coming back up those same 181 steps. 

But you'll be rewarded with a great view of the falls, which tumble over the escarpment through a narrow break in the forest. We went on a very rainy day at the peak of the fall foliage -- so it was all but deserted, but the fall foliage was still incredibly gorgeous despite the rain. 

The climb back up is pretty steep and can leave you breathless for a bit, but take your time, plant your feet carefully, and you can do it. 

The 7,620-acre Kaaterskill Wild Forest, located in the Catskill Forest Preserve, is a popular destination, due to the variety of excellent hiking trails, including the short hike out to see dramatic Kaaterskill Falls. In fact, a once popular resort, called Laurel House, once sat along the Laurel House Road. 

With the decline of the popularity of the Catskills resorts, Laurel House, like almost all of the other resorts, went belly up. In fact, few of the hotel buildings even remain.

The terrain within Kaaterskill Wild Forest varies significantly, with sprawling mountains, dramatic cliffs, scenic waterfalls, and deep valleys. The drive up to the trailhead was gorgeous in and of itself.

The quite stunning Bastion Falls, visible from Route 23A -- with no traffic
behind us, we slowed down to quickly grab a photo from the car window (it was also raining).

But a word of warning: Go on a weekend, and you may have to wait a long time to park -- some folks have reported waiting as long as 1 hour, just to get a parking space. So go early. Or go very late in the day. And then folks have reported having to wait just to get onto the platform to see the falls. It can be very frustrating!

But that wasn't our experience on that rainy Tuesday morning, although we weren't the only ones braving the pouring rain. We went back on a sunny afternoon, also on a weekday and also during peak viewing for autumn foliage. 

The parking lot was full at 4:30 p.m. but there wasn't a wait to find parking, and there was only a 10-minute wait to get on the viewing platform. (Because of Covid-19, only family groups were allowed on the platform at the same time.)

Worth noting: The trail to the upper viewing platform is a firm gravel trail, with minimal elevation change, and is theoretically wheelchair accessible, although I'd want a sturdy set of brakes since the trail's average grade is 7%. 

Because we visited the falls on a very rainy day, we opted NOT to head down to the lowest point on the trail, so we unfortunately missed out on the lower falls, but we did view the upper falls from its base; the water splashing into the pool created a startling wind! The upper falls drops a breath-taking 175 feet. Simply gorgeous! 

(On our return visit, we'd visited AFTER we'd completed the hike up to Overlook Mountain summit, and were really tired and frankly, not up to climbing up those 181 steps!)

Unfortunately, we didn't have time to further explore the Katterskill Wilderness Area. For more information about the falls and nearby hikes, check out the NY State Dept of Environmental Conservation website here.

Know before you go: Go early in the morning or late afternoon/evening to avoid the worst of the crowds, even on a weekday. If you go during the peak of autumn foliage, just resign yourself to the crowds, be respectful of others, and bring a bag with you to pick up any litter that you might see.

Getting there: 103 Laurel House Road, Palenville, NY


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Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Hiking on the Sweet Air Loop in Gunpowder Falls State Park

The hike we'd picked out was loop in the Sweet Air Area of the Gunpowder Falls State Park, following first the Little Gunpowder Trail, marked in white blazes, and then a yellow-blazed trail, picking up a red-blazed trail, and ending with a portion of the yellow-blazed Barley Pond Loop trail.

The trails within the Sweet Air Area of the park are well marked and easy to navigate. There was no mysterious branch offs (even the horse detours were well labeled) and there was no needing to guess which trail to take or which way to go. At both ends of the loop, there were multiple signs pointing the way back to the parking area. I like a park that doesn't let you get lost!

Gunpowder Falls State Park is formed out of six non-contiguous areas covering more than 18,000 acres in northeastern Baltimore County and western Harford County in Central Maryland. Also like its sister park, Patapsco Valley State Park, it follows a river -- the Gunpowder River and the Big and Little Gunpowder Falls.

The Gunpowder River is a 6.8-mile-long tidal inlet on the western side of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, United States. It is formed by the joining of two freshwater rivers, Big Gunpowder Falls and Little Gunpowder Falls.

Gunpowder Falls State Park’s narrow corridors host a varied topography, ranging from tidal wetlands to steep and rugged slopes. Within the state park, more than 120 miles of multi-use trails bring hikers through protected state wildlands and to historic sites. Also within this park are fishing, kayaking, canoeing, a swimming beach and marina.

We believe the loop was approximately three miles, with just shy of 300 foot elevation gain, more or less. The uphill portions were nothing that would leave you breathless, just get the heart pumping!

As you pick up the trail from the parking lot, you soon find yourself walking through a corn field, but it soon turns left into heavily shaded woods.

It's then you find yourself gradually headed down hill through the mature forest, toward the Little Gunpowder. In time, you come to the river itself, and the trail follows it along as it meanders for a bit, carrying you through the bog swamp lowlands along the river. Numerous board walks and bridges help keep you dry, although wearing water proof hiking boots will ensure your comfort.

Except for some of the (briefly) steeper uphill or downhill portions, for the most part the trail was easy to navigate, not very rocky. This is not an ankle twister trail.

We startled a bald eagle, earning us a lovely view of its back side as it flew away, its brown body and gleaming white tail feathers a give away. We anxiously looked for it along the trail as we progressed, scanning the trees, but without luck.

There seems to be a huge population of cardinals in the Sweet Air area, as we saw numerous cardinals cavorting around the trees along the river as well as the corn fields. In addition to these, indigo buntings, blue birds, hawks, and wood peckers are common to the area.

Sweet Air is popular with horse riders, and even if you don't encounter them along the trail, you'll see plentiful evidence of their having riden along the trail, another reason why having hiking boots made the experience more comfortable than hiking sandals or sneakers.

Despite the horse poop, though, the trail was worth exploring and was overall very pleasant and refreshing, even on a Maryland hot and humid summer day. Brief exposures to the sun as you navigate around the edges of corn fields only emphasize the coolness and protection offered by the shaded forest.

Hours: dawn through dusk

Getting there: the trail head is located at a parking lot (ample spots) off an unpaved road just off of Dalton Bevard Road in Marshall, MD. You can GPS it on WAZE by simply typing in Dalton Bevard Road, and once there, continuing until you see a park entrance on the right, about 2/10ths of a mile after turning onto Dalton Bevard Road.


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Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Discovering Black and African American History in the Shenandoah Valley

The Shenandoah Valley Black History Project developed several driving tours, two of which actually combine quite nicely into one driving tour, doable in a few hours. The combined driving tour takes you through scenic backroads in Rockingham and Shenandoah counties in the Shenandoah Valley.

Ultimately, this is an exploration of history that rarely makes it into the history books -- the lives of people who were systematically oppressed, first by the horrid institution of slavery and then by Jim Crow, a series of laws designed to terrorize the Black and African American community in the American south. And it's a history that is fading -- the structures that once housed and sheltered the people who made that history are fast disappearing.

Start this exploration of African American history in the Shenandoah Valley with the Mt. Jackson to Arkton driving tour, which brings you to four stops: The Mt Jackson Colored Cemetery, the Corhaven Cemetery, the John Kline Homestead and finally to the Arkton Tunker Church memorial ("Tunker" refers to Dunkard, as in the Dunkard Church of the Brethren). 

It is worth noting that the Colored Cemetery in Mt Jackson is located virtually right behind the Our Soldiers Cemetery. It wasn't lost on me that you can easily find the Our Soldiers Cemetery -- a cemetery dedicated to Confederate soldiers killed in the Civil War -- on WAZE, but not the Colored Cemetery. 

Also once known as Sam Moore's Slave Cemetery, the Corhaven Cemetery -- once a forgotten and ignored slave cemetery -- was a poignant stop on an afternoon journey exploring a small part of the Black and African American history of the Shenandoah Valley.

We bowed our heads. These men, women and children lying here had names but are now nameless. The cemetery is now dedicated to giving them the dignity they were denied in life.

There is a touching article, written by the owners of the land where Corhaven Cemetery is located about their discovery of the slave cemetery:

John Kline, a popular preacher for the Church of Brethren in the Linwood Creek area (his home is in Broadway, VA), was opposed to both slavery and the Civil War. Likewise, the Church of the Brethren was opposed to slavery, forbidding its members from owning, selling or renting/hiring enslaved people and many of its members helped, either individuals or by larger acts (such as donating land for a church) the Black and African American community. Because of their stance on both slavery and the war, the Dunkers were substantially harassed leading up to and during the Civil War. Kline was shot by Confederate soldiers in 1864.

The Arkton Tunker Church memorial is near the community of Zenda, so program into your GPS Long's Chapel, where the second driving tour starts you on an exploration of the former Black and African American community of Zenda. Although the memorial marks the location of the Arkton Tunker Church, the importance to this driving tour is that the "colored school," following the Civil War, was nearby, adjacent to the Brethren Church and not far from a slave cemetery.

While Zenda may not be significant in and of itself except to the descendants of its inhabitants, the story of Zenda probably is like many other small but yet important Black and African American communities that were founded after the end of the Civil War freed the men, women and children who were enslaved prior. 

Zenda was founded after the end of the Civil War, on land confiscated from a plantation owner and sold by the government to Black and African Americans for their homes and farms. The community thrived despite Jim Crow laws and increasingly repressive efforts of the surrounding white farming community until the Black and African American mass migration northward and to bigger cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Chicago eventually depleted Zenda. 

Land for the first stop of the tour, Long's Chapel, was deeded by Hannah and William Carpenter, members of the Brethren Church to church trustees stipulating that the site was for “the congregation of colored people” and would be “theirs and their successors forever.” The church, completed in 1871, was named for its builder: Jacob Long. The chapel served, also, as a school, since the government made no effort to educate African Americans. A cemetery beside the chapel contains the remains of some of the original founders of Zenda.

In fact, the community only took on the name Zenda later and was originally called Athens. Zenda derived from a post-office with that name located nearby; even after the post office closed, the African-American community retained the name.

The tour takes you to various important sites to in the community of Zenda -- a former plantation house, farms owned by Zenda community residents, places that provided employment, a former general store that did not discriminate against Black and African American people.

Adults who lived at Zenda worked as laborers on neighboring farms and sometimes as hotel workers, carpenters, or mail carriers. Many children also worked, helping out at home, hiring themselves out to farms, or even leaving home to live with those who would employ them. While African Americans in the community lived strenuous lives, many owned their own land, and such ownership allowed them to prosper beyond their worker’s wages.

I found myself looking for more -- more tangible touchpoints with the forgotten history of Zenda and the Black and African American community there. We drove up Serenity Lane to look for the old hotel that employed Zenda residents, but couldn't even find its ruins. 

The driving tour leaves as many questions as answers. It points out that there's a forgotten cemetery on the Wilson Farm down Hinton Mill Lane. So we decided to drive down the lane to see what we could see -- and I believe we found it. 

Only one headstone is readable, and it looks new -- in sacred memory of Polly Hinton. Why is there a new headstone there? Is this a family cemetery of white enslavers or a cemetery for enslaved individuals? Given the condition of the cemetery, I guessed the latter. Most of the stones are in a jumble at the lower edge of the copse.

It's worth noting there are hundreds of slave cemeteries and burial grounds in the Shenandoah Valley that have not been documented. For the rest of my visit to the Shenandoah Valley, I didn't drive by a beautiful old house without wondering if it was a plantation house with a slave cemetery somewhere nearby.

With so many questions triggered by the driving tour, I wondered what exactly I was hoping to see as we explored these communities and important sites, whether I was actually looking for the ghosts of these communities? I imagined them walking on the road or riding in a wagon, perhaps on their way to church service at Long's Chapel and I imagined them driving their teams plowing the fields and harvesting their farm crops.  

On Serenity lane we noticed an old farmer's stone wall, and its sudden start and just as suddenly end. I wondered if the former inhabitants of Zenda had built this fence. 


Mt Jackson to Arkton driving tour:

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