Feb 4-an unexpected trip; a tunnel of ice

Personally, I’m feeling much better, but the sickness persists at Twin Oaks.  Every two weeks, we deliver tofu to a distributor in western Maryland; our regular delivery driver was too sick to make the run, so I was pressed into service at the last moment.  I generally don’t mind the trip, as it’s a pretty drive through farms, forests, and mountains, across western Virginia, through the eastern arm of West Virginia, and into a particularly pretty bit of the western Maryland mountains.   I figured with the whole day to kill, I would get some good opportunities for wandering around and exploring.

On a previous trip, I had identified the spot where my route crossed the Appalachian Trail, which is more difficult than it might seem, as the crossing is totally unmarked from the highway.  There’s no sign or official parking area, just a tiny pullout and a telltale white blaze painted onto a rock.  This morning, I was planning on taking a bit of a hike along the AT, but as I wound up getting a late start (long story), it was more like a twenty minute leg-stretch.  Most of the walk was through overgrown brushy shrub-forest, all dead and brown at this time of year, but about a quarter-mile up, the trail broke out into some proper woods.  I turned back at a swollen ice-lined creek that I couldn’t figure out how to cross without getting my sneakers (not exactly heavy-duty footwear) all soaked.  There were some very cool ice formations along the creek, pictured below (also, note the familiar white blaze on the tree):

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Fast forward to a few hours later.  After making my delivery, I found myself with some free time before I had to drive home, so I made my way to Fort Frederick State Park, the closest place on the map where it looked like I could do some exploring.  The only hiking trail in the park took me past the frozen beaver pond pictured below and to the banks of the Potomac river.  Even through the area is only a hundred miles or so north of central Virginia, I definitely felt like I was in a different, colder climactic zone.  While the river itself was ice-free, most of the still water I saw, ponds or puddles, was totally frozen.

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Walking through the woods, I heard rustling, scurrying animal noises, and discovered this mole shuffling through the leaves.  Check out that nasty pink nose and cool claws.  I have no idea what it was doing not hibernating this time of year, it looked like it maybe had a gash on its back.  It wasn’t exactly a sighting of the majestic elk, but wildlife is wildlife, I suppose.  Image

When I got to the banks of the Potomac, I immediately startled a family of ducks sitting on the riverbank.  I tried to photograph them as they scattered, but this was the best I could do.  Image

On the far side of the river, I spotted this ice-covered cliff.  It’s hard to get perspective with this photo, but some of the icicles on that side must have been over 20 feet high.  It would have been a very cool spot to explore, but it would have been awful cold and wet getting there!Image

Not surprisingly, once I reached the river, I decided to forego the trail and trip around in the woods for a while.  It was a pretty riparian forest, easy to walk through, with some enormous deciduous trees (hard to tell what kind without the leaves), and a lot of downed trees that would probably be covered with mushrooms if it hadn’t been so cold this past week.  I came across lots of depressions that had formed little ice puddles everywhere, very cool looking, and many enormous vines all wrapped around the trees, looking like they would be fun to swing on.

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Eventually, I made my way back to the truck and started driving home.  A few miles up, on a whim, I took a side-road to McCoy’s Ferry camping and picnic area, just to do a bit more exploring before the long drive back to VA.  Just before getting to the river, the road passed through this stone tunnel under the old C&O Canal towpath.  I pulled over to explore the tunnel on foot.  And WOW it was an amazing icy experience!  The walls and ceiling were completely covered with icy stalactites, the floor of the tunnel were a sheet of ice.  Simply amazing; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything exactly like it.  I can’t even really explain it; just look at the pictures.  Good stuff…

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