Ann is kind of banged up these days with a couple different injuries to her feet. This hiking thing is tough on us old folks. To let her feet rest a bit, for our tenth hike of our 52-Hike Challenge we needed a more or less flat hike and so I started thinking mid-last week where we could go that was both interesting and flat. When I think of flat, the C&O Canal always comes to mind. But the canal and solitude don't always go together. I've walked a lot of the canal from Harper's Ferry to Washington DC and in many spots, it is super-crowded on the weekends.
To avoid the crowds, I started by googling "most remote parts" of the canal and quickly found a bunch of references to the area around the Paw Paw Tunnel. The tunnel was built over many years from 1836 to about 1850, nearly bankrupting the canal company, as a bypass for what are known as the Paw Paw bends in the Potomac. It was and remains a spectacular feat of engineering and is a great reminder of the early history of our country.
We made the quick drive from Winchester north up US 522 cutting northwest over through Bloomery to Paw Paw WV. Crossing the Potomac, which at this point runs almost due north, we found ourselves in Allegany County MD where we parked at the Paw Paw Tunnel campground. Although the postal address for this area is Oldtown MD some 12 miles distant, it is a stone's throw from Paw Paw WV.
Boy Scouts were packing up their camping gear as we arrived at 9:30 in the morning on what would prove to be one of the very nicest days imaginable with cool morning temps morphing into a 75-degree day under brilliant cloudless blue skies. There were already a lot of cars in the parking lot, but as I surmised, they were all there to visit the tunnel, turn around, and go on their way, whereas we planned to walk, hopefully in solitude, first over the tunnel on the hill trail and about five miles down the tow path before returning to the car via the tunnel.
|Annie Signs "Hike Number 10"|
|Tiny Squirrel Drinking From the Canal|
|Looking Through the Tunnel|
|Photographing the Southern Entrance|
Moreover, all the tourists stayed below and had a gander at the tunnel, leaving us to negotiate the trail by ourselves. We would see a handful of people when we returned to the tow path on the far side of the tunnel, but those folks were all destined to turn back around and return to their cars, leaving us with another three miles of quiet trail, punctuated every 45 minutes by a passing bicyclist.
|Wild Pink, Silene caroliniana, Above Tunnel Entrance|
|Tunnel Hill Trail Looking South, Upstream|
|Neat Blazes, Most Have Been Disappeared|
|North Upstream, WV on Right Bank|
|Redbuds, Cercis canadensis, Were Phenomenal|
|Ditto the Cherry Blossoms|
|Eastern Shooting Star, Dodecatheon meadia|
|Dutchman's Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria|
|One of the Railroad Trestles in the Bends|
I have heretofore only seen a few Birdfoot Violets here and there as individual specimens, but up on the Tunnel Hill Trail, once we had climbed sufficiently high, we found huge clusters of the strikingly beautiful plants. Here and there among the clusters were other violets such as Cream Violets, but no Canada Violets yet.
|Cut-leaved Toothwort, Cardamine concatenata|
|Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica|
|Descending to the Canal on the Hill Trail|
|Water Spilling into Lock 66|
|Lock 64 2/3|
|One of Several Well Pumps in the Park|
|White-breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis|
|Posing on Lock Ruins|
|Early Saxifrage, Micranthes virginiensis, on Lock Wall|
|Crazy Daffodil (Narcissus spp.) Along a Creek|
|Wild Blue Phlox, Phlox divaricata, Uncommon in This Location|
|Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica/Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus|
|Winter Cress, Barbarea verna|
|Wood Vetch, Vicia sylvatica|
|Contrast of Sycamore and Blue Sky|
|Thousands of Turtles in the Canal|
|Yellow Violet, Viola pubescens|
|Golden Ragwort, Packera aurea|
|Star Chickweed, Stellaria pubera|
|Bird's-eye Speedwell, Veronica persica|
|Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata|
|Northern Waterthrush, Parkesia noveboracensis|
|Common Merganser, Mergus merganser|
I packed us small containers of farro salad, grilled pork tenderloin, and tzatziki. It always amazes me how stellar food tastes after you have been walking for several hours. It seems like whatever you are eating under those circumstances might possibly be the best thing you have ever eaten!
|Our Lunch Spot in the Shade of the Trestle|
|Cedars on the Rocks are Beautiful|
|Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis|
|Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum|
The photo below shows a creek cascading over the side of the cut onto the tow path. The water trickling down the moss was just fanastic. I would have enjoyed it more if I had on some waterproof boots instead of my trail runners. It was impossible to traverse a section of the path here without stepping into some serious mud. Mud. That's something new on a hike. Not!
|Creek Cascading over Rock and Moss|
|Looking Back up the Cut|
|One of Many Waterfalls|
|A Survey Marker Inside the Tunnel|