Monday, June 13, 2011

Free time 2...

So yesterday started with locally roasted coffee and a nice view:

Then off to Hancock, MD, to bike a piece of the Western Maryland Rail Trail.  The WMRT runs parallel to the C&O Canal Towpath for 22 miles on the old Western Maryland Railroad bed, starting near Ft. Frederick State Park and ending at Sidling Hill, and its paved surface provides welcome relief from the towpath’s rocks and roots while still sending you through beautiful countryside. 

On the way I thought I’d make a stop at an old favorite fossil hunting site.  I always seem to be in too much of a hurry when I’m by here anymore and don’t take the time to check out old haunts.  With nothing to do but enjoy a summer day, I hopped off US 70 at Clear Springs and took US 40 west until just before it merges back into 70.  There’s just enough shoulder to park on and it didn’t take more than a couple minutes before I started seeing some old friends:

Horn corals, brachiopods, and crinoids, oh my!  About 400 million years ago (without digging out my notes, I'm seriously ball-parking) they lived on a shallow sea bottom that looked like this:

The flowery looking things are crinoids - relatives of starfish and sea urchins.  The brachiopod looks like a clam, but it's really a different critter.  And while there are a few types of brachiopods left, one of the convulsions of extinction at the end of the Devonian wiped out most brachiopod species.  To try to add to the picture, the Devonian is when plants started appearing on land, allowing animals to begin to move out of the sea.  Up until then the neighborhood, no matter where you were, was probably pretty bleak looking.  

Fortunately, I had shorts and sandals on and I don’t care for poison ivy or I’d have spent the rest of the day picking over the hillsides and never made it to the trail.  But on to Hancock and west on the WMRT.  Not many people out, but a little bit of traffic:

The folks not out there sure missed a fine day.  Hot and humid days in the woods and along the river fill the air with that green, sweet smell that is so, so alive.  And the birds calling - cuckoos, yellowthroats, wood thrushes, tiny warblers hidden in the leaves.  Rustles and chirps, frogs in the canal croaking, tree stems creaking in the breeze.  Amazing sights, sounds, and smells all around.  Ain't a television or a shop in the world worth giving that up for.

The WMRT mostly follows the towpath, but pulls away in some areas and passes through meadows and old orchards, along old rail structures and farms.  Sometimes it's sad - you see a lot of abandoned houses sitting empty-eyed and overgrown.  The railroad left, the orchard business fell off, the quarries closed, and people moved on looking for livelihoods elsewhere.  But once I came up on a small, neat homestead, garden and grounds immaculate, rooster crowing, pond waiting for a kid with an inner tube and it made me smile because the place was obviously somebody's much loved little piece of heaven.

The WMRT currently ends at Sidling Hill, 12 miles west of Hancock, and because I'm doing the towpath in bits and pieces and I have to be able to say I actually rode every piece, I hopped over to it and started back east, thinking a bit too late that it would probably have been a better idea to ride UP the towpath and BACK on the paved surface. Oh well.  There's a ton of history along the way, like the remains of the cement plant:

And some pretty spectacular geology:

So I had plenty of excuses to rest me butt.  As I was passing through Hancock at the end I came up on a church group with pro-life signs running some sort of foot race and I wanted to take a pic but just then the storm that had been rumbling to the north started to get serious and so I just flashed them a thumbs up and quit shilly-shallying.  Good thing, too, because when it cut loose it cut loose and turned the drive back to a slow crawl.  It's just is all sorts of grins to be in a vehicle when it's hailing.  I always feel like I'm in a tin can full of pebbles that's being shaken real good.

Took out a lot of power, but cleared off into a nice evening.  A good one to hang out at the Canal House in Harpers Ferry.  Here's to Winchester resident and local performer David Elliott.  No power for food, and technically closed, but their patio, a couple bottles of wine and David's voice and acoustic guitar put a fine ending on the day.


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