Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Third Winchester Battlefield

Well, I closed the restaurant Saturday night after 15 years and that brings us one step closer to moving to Oregon. It was and is a very tough thing to do and I'm feeling exhausted from a month of packed dinners. It was a great send-off to be sure but it has sapped me both physically and mentally. As a result, we took off from hiking last weekend and this, or at least, we made no plans for this weekend.

But over coffee on Sunday morning, Ann asked me if I wanted to talk a walk. Given that it was a beautiful day and beautiful days come along rarely in August, I figured a stroll around the neighborhood would be OK. She had other things in mind though and said we were headed up to the high school to follow some trails through the woods on the Third Winchester Battlefield. Well, OK then. I had never been there before and was mildly curious to see what was to be seen.

So just a bit of history before the tour of the battlefield. Winchester, thanks to its location on the major north-south routes through the Shenandoah Valley and the major east-west routes through the gaps in the Blue Ridge Mountains has always been an important place in this part of the world. And in the Civil War, the side that claimed Winchester could control the travel and shipping routes both north-south and east towards DC. And so, it was the scene of many important battles and the city changed hands over and over again during the course of the war.

The battle that raged along Opequon Creek and Redbud Run in 1864 has come to be called the Third Battle of Winchester and historians consider it one of the most, if not the most, important battles in the Shenandoah Valley. Fast forward 150 years: the Civil War is big business in these parts and there are a lot of people dedicated to preserving the battlefields from development. Third Winchester is a relatively large park with about 600 mostly contiguous acres open to the public, free of charge. It spans a good bit of the northeast corner of the intersection of VA Route 7 and I-81, bounded by 7 to the south and 81 to the west.

We ended up walking 5.1 miles at a pretty good clip because we weren't wearing packs and it is almost entirely flat ground, with the exception of the Redbud Run creek valley. We started at Millbrook High School and walked through the woods into the open fields, walked to the westernmost boundary along I-81 and then south through the woods on brand new trail to the trailhead behind Winchester Gateway shopping center, then north across the creek to the trailhead on Redbud Road and back again to the car. I think five miles at a good pace constitutes a hike on our part and so we are counting it against our 52 hikes for this year.

One of Dozens of Interpretive Signs
One of the neat features is this tree-covered alley running west-northwest towards the Hackwood mansion, built in 1777 and the site of a makeshift hospital for this battle in 1864. The alley runs right through the center of a field and this is the only tree cover. Some of the trees are very old indeed and some of the Osage Orange trees are as big as any I have ever seen.

Hackwood Alley

Looking South over Battlefield

Common Germander, Teucrium canadense

Blue Vervain, Verbena hastata

Sweet Pea, Lathyrus latifolius

Goldenrods Finally Starting to Bloom

Wild Basil, Clinopodium vulgare

Indian Hemp, Apocynum cannabinum, Seed Pods

Spotted Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis

Sweet White Clover, Melilotus albus

Narrowleaf Tick-trefoil, Desmodium paniculatum

Huge Osage Orange Clump, Maclura pomifera

Horses at Hackwood Farm

Redbud Run Lined with Marsh Mallows

Marsh Mallow, Hibiscus moscheutos

Flowering Spurge, Euphorbia corollata

Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
Given the open field habitat, we saw a lot of milkweeds, including these brilliant orange Butterfly Weeds, but also thousands of Common Milkweeds (A. syriaca) and in some of the wetter areas gorgeous pink Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata).

Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa
We saw at least three different kinds of yellow asters, including the one below. While I want to say from location that it is Helianthus decapetalus, 10-Petaled Sunflower, the leaves are all wrong. I wish I knew enough about sunflowers to do more than guess about which one this is. It is a stunning plant, towering above my head.

2-Metre Tall Sunflower, Perhaps Helianthus divaricatus

Picket Fence on the Battlefield
So here I was just a very few weeks before we leave this area for good, learning that there is an awesome place to walk just a couple minutes from my house. I wish we had discovered it long before now. Third Winchester Battlefield is worth a couple hours of your time to explore.

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