Monday, March 26, 2012

An Easy Hike in the Rain: Maryland Heights

The forecast for yesterday was pretty grim and my mood matched it when we pulled into the Weverton Cliffs parking lot.  It was just one of those mornings where I wanted to stay in bed and nothing came together quite right in getting ready to go.  In spite of my mood, we decided to go hiking.  As would be the case yesterday, I rarely regret getting outside and getting some exercise, even and especially when I least feel like it.  When we set off, it was drizzling and grey and I was in a funk.

The Appalachian Trail descends for about half a mile from the parking area, under Highway 340, to the C & O Towpath.  Normally, this isn't a terribly interesting section of the hike, but yesterday the hillside near the bridge was covered in white flowers, all shining with raindrops.  Then, at the highway, we passed a guy asleep right on the trail under the bridge.  He looked like thru hiker, based on his gear, and we speculated on why he couldn't make it three more miles to the next shelter.  At the Towpath, we turned right and headed towards Harpers Ferry.  The flowers on the Towpath were spectacular:  Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman's Breeches) and Dicentra canadensis (Squirrel Corn) everywhere.  We ate lunch on a concrete block on the side of the towpath in the rain. 

After lunch, the rain finally ended and I realized that my mood had improved considerably. We made good time to the Maryland Heights trailhead.  We stopped several times on the way up to the overlook to photograph flowers and to read the signs about the Civil War structures that are still visible.  One of my favorite times of year is when the redbuds and dogwoods bloom in the woods.  They are the first splash of color after the long, gray winter.  The Maryland Heights Trail has countless redbuds and they were all blooming yesterday. 

We spent a few minutes at the overlook before returning to the Stone Fort Trail.  This trail climbs up to the top of the ridge, ending up at a Civil War fort that was only partially built before the war ended.  The stone foundations are still visible.  From the fort, the trail does a u-turn and descends the west side of the ridge.  By the time we started down the hill, the sun was actually out.  We enjoyed a sunny walk back to the car along the Towpath.  We hiked 11 miles in all.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 Dogwoods on the Maryland Heights Trail
Mertensia virginica (Virginia Bluebells) on the C&O Towpath.
Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman's Breeches) on the C&O Towpath
Dicentra canadensis (Squirrel Corn)
 Spring on the Towpath
 Looking south down the Shenandoah River and Harpers Ferry from the Naval Bombardment area of Maryland Heights. 
 Thalictrum thalictroides (Rue Anemone) on the Maryland Heights Trail.
A bootshot over Harpers Ferry and the confluence of the Shenandoah (left) and Potomac Rivers.
Micranthes virginiensis (Early Saxifrage)
 Claytonia virginica (Spring Beauty)
Turtles on a log in the C&O Canal.  On our way back to the car, the sun had come out.  Turtles were sunning themselves on nearly every log in the swampy parts of the old canal. 

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