Archive for the ‘Along the Way…’ Category

In Search of…Stickpile Tunnel

The rain has made everything green, green, green!




Today’s outing had an odd feel to it–kind of like an episode of In Search Of… I’m sure most people remember the old TV show, narrated by Leonard Nimoy, in which various investigators went looking for ghosts, goblins, Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness Monster. One could say that we had a similar journey today, and like most hunters of odd places and things, we came up empty handed. Heck, we didn’t even see Mr. Nimoy hiking on the C&O Canal towpath!





Anyway, if you’ll bear with me, here’s how our story begins. I had the bright idea of taking a hike on the C&O and finding the Stickpile Tunnel–an abandoned structure on the old Western Maryland Railroad. Armed with flashlights and misinformation, the trek began in Little Orleans.

The park service did a great job cleaning up the mess from the tornado this July. This uprooted tree and a few others are the only visible signs left.

Islands in the stream....ummm...river!(A great view of the Potomac River from the towpath.)

A perfect view on a perfect day!

Almost there?



I had read that the tunnel is located a scant 2.5 miles past the Fifteen Mile Creek Campground, so we walked to the railroad trestle just beyond mile marker 143 with the idea of backtracking our way to the tunnel. About two miles out, we passed another hiker and didn’t think much of it, but I’ll get to that later…







Still trying to find Stickpile Tunnel...bum scoop...this certainly isn't it!

We took a few pictures of the trestle and headed back on a gravel road that marks the old railroad bed and the the future path of the Western Maryland Rail Trail. After about ten minutes, Candee looked down the road and said, “Hey, isn’t that Bill’s Place?”


This is a side shot of an old railroad trestle which someday might be part of the Maryland Rail Trail



I looked at her like she was crazy. We started at Bill’s and walked for forty-five minutes only to…what?…find ourselves where we started in precisely twelve minutes. As we were walking to our car, the hiker we passed earlier looked at us like he was in the Twilight Zone! How on earth had we passed somebody while heading in the opposite direction and then beat him back to the starting point?






Okay, as it turns out the C&O Canal towpath follows the many bends of the Potomac River, while the old WMR took a straight shot through the Little Orleans area. That’s an easy explanation, and the hiker also set us straight in regard to the location of the Stickpile Tunnel. He stated that it’s located closer to Bond’s Landing, so we set out on the Oldtown/Orleans road and took a left on Mertens Avenue (about ten miles away) and headed for Kasecamp Road. By now, we had picked up an internet signal on our cell phones and “googled” what we thought was the location of the tunnel. We followed Kasecamp Road in a full circle and struck out completely.

Still can't find it...

Golf anyone? Wait! There's a fungus among us!



As I write this, I feel somewhat justified in spite of my failures. Christopher Columbus died a broken man who never found a sea route to India, and at least we DID bring back some pictures! (Check out this crazy mushroom!)




We consider ourselves to be C&O aficionados who are capable of finding anything in or around the park, but we found out today that this isn’t exactly the truth. The moral of this story is to get good information and keep a copy of the Boy Scout’s C&O Canal pamphlet handy. Otherwise, this is Rod Serling, and I’ll see you in the Twilight Zone!

Until next week….


My Favorite Tree

My Favorite Tree on the C&O Canal Happens to be on Our Level

Maybe I’m crazy, but I actually have a favorite tree! It’s located on Level 52 of the C&O Canal. It’s crooked and probably very old, but it makes me smile whenever I see it.

Leaf Art

I wonder who lives inside of my tree!

Pickin’ Up Trash on Level 52

The View from Sideling Hill Creek Aqueduct

We spend a lot of time volunteering on the C&O Canal between the Sideling Hill and Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueducts, and our little section has turned into a home-away-from-home over the past couple of years. We headed to good ol’ Level 52 with a bit of trepidation today because of the recent passing of Hurricane Irene and a relatively significant earthquake that occurred about a week earlier.

'You can't see me!'

Hero in a Half Shell...He was ready for a fight!



Fortunately, all of the local canal structures stood up the the jolt of the ‘quake, and the thirsty ground soaked up the biggest part of the recent rain. Instead of a soggy mess, we found a relatively dry towpath, and several animals were at play in the park.




'I wonder who was playing here?'

Kickin' Sticks



Most of the time, the hikers and bikers in the park keep things pretty clean, and today wasn’t any different. We filled two kitchen garbage bags with trash and kicked a few fallen limbs out of the way of the bicyclists.




A plastic bowl? This gives the expression, 'Breakfast on the go,' a whole new meaning!

Another View from Level 52



In fact, as I think back on today’s hike, I can only muster one major complaint: the gnats were out in droves, and the Deep Woods Off didn’t serve as much of a deterrent! If anybody knows of a method or product that holds these pests at bay, feel free to leave a comment!



The Bat Cave...I mean, Bat Gate!



Also, the bat gate project at the Indigo Tunnel appears to be completed. Our last post on this topic shows a large empty hole in the middle of the gate, but I’m pleased to announce that the doors have since been added. In all, it was a beautiful and satisfying day to take a hike in the C&O Canal NHP!






A Perfect Day!

Yet Another Blog Post About the Paw Paw Tunnel

Inside Looking Out

Before anybody moans or cries out, “Oh, no! Not another blog post about the Paw Paw Tunnel!” let me explain. I readily admit that this is our obligatory homage to the tunnel, so let’s keep this short and sweet.

Survey Marker Inside the Tunnel


In other words, there are dozens of places on the internet that’ll tell you how long the tunnel is and when it was (yawn) built. Instead, here are a couple of oddball pictures that don’t generally turn up in the usual write-up of the most famous and popular destination on the C&O Canal. BTW–bring a flashlight. It’s dark in there!

Believe it or not, when you get about 1/2 through the tunnel, you can't see your hand in front of your face!

Picking Up Trash on Level 57 aka Twigg Hollow

Lock 63 1/3



Volunteering in a national park can take a person to some out-of-the-way places, and the Twigg Hollow section of the C&O Canal NHP doesn’t tend to get many visitors–in spite of its close proximity to the popular Paw Paw Tunnel.



View of the towpath just south of Lock 63 1/3

Traditionally, Level 57 starts at Lock 61 and ends at Lock 63 1/3, but, as usual, we do most things backward, and this isn’t any different!

No peepers this time!



This isn’t our ‘official’ section to pick up trash, but when did the walk in May the canal was filled with water and a plethora of frogs and ducks. What a difference a few months makes! This time around, the canal bed and the stream at Gross Hollow were bone dry, but beautiful just the same.



Gross Hollow Culvert


The Gross Hollow Culvert generally allows a fast-flowing mountain stream to pass underneath of the canal. It is a brick-lined structure that looks like the Paw Paw Tunnel in miniature from the inside. Hikers and bikers tend to either walk or ride past many interesting structures, and I would recommend a guide book to anyone who wants to get the most out of a trip down the canal.

Check out the 'shroom'!

Do I really have to climb down there to pick up a lousy yogurt container?

'Plain Yogurt? Do people really eat this stuff or do they just like throwing it in the canal?'






After a hike of about 1.5 miles, we reached our destination at Lock 61. We didn’t have much trash to show for our effort, but sometimes that’s a good thing–it shows that most visitors enjoy their outings without making a mess out of the scenery.






Not much trash on Level 57! Fourteen pieces to be exact!

Indigo Tunnel: Extending the WMRT

Check out the new bat gate

No, there isn’t a bright-eyed monster hiding out in the Indigo Tunnel, but these shiny orbs did have us worried for a minute or two.  Fortunately, there is a simple explanation–the lights are from contractors working on the Indigo Tunnel Bat Gate Project.    The Western Maryland Rail Trail is eventually going to be extended to Paw Paw, and the first phase is closing the Indigo Tunnel to human usage.  The tunnel is reported to be Maryland’s largest bat hibernaculum, and it houses an endangered species.  Upon closer inspection, there is a newly-constructed steel grate just inside of the portal, and doors will be positioned in the blank space in order to keep out those pesky human intruders–with the exception of biologists.  Bats are susceptible to a disease known as white-nose syndrome, and contact with people can be lethal.  At one time, the rail trail was going to go through the tunnel, but upon it’s completion, it will have a short detour on the C&O Canal Towpath in order to bypass this man-made bat cave.


Tornado Alley…Between Mile Markers 142 & 141

This was one of the first piles of twisted trees that we had to come through. At this point we had to come through it, because going into the canal bed wasn't an option

On Sunday, June 12th we encountered quite a sight between mile markers 142 and 141. For approximately .5 miles, trees of all shapes and sizes were downed both on the towpath and in the canal itself. It took approximately 45 minutes to pass through the mess, and in places we had to hoist the bikes five feet into the air to cross over the fallen limbs. The debris was close enough to civilization that we feared Bill’s Place would be roof-less or worse. Fortunately, the path of destruction was relatively small–well, unless your part of the NPS’s maintenance crew. There was plenty to clean up.

Looking Back...

I love this picture now, but at the time there was nothing fun about it! We don't know how much our bikes weighed fully loaded, but it was hard work getting them up, over, and around the mess!

In Harpers Ferry, a group of riders informed us that a tornado had touched down on June 10th near Little Orleans, Md. I can’t confirm this 100% authority, but having seen the damage that the usual high winds can cause, this was far worse. We’ve since heard that the trees have been cleared from the towpath, and the remains are stacked along the side of the trail.

This was a tough one to get through!

This happened on Day #1 of our Through-Ride….click here to read more about our trip. Oh yeah, there are lots of pictures to look at as well!
Day 1, Day 2, & Day 3.