It was a six-mile hike, mostly uphill, but the view was definitely worth it…

10 minute read

May 12, 2014, 12:19 PM

On May 4, I got together with Melissa, Pete, and Pete’s dog Bruno, and we went on a trip out to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia to do some hiking.  The inspiration for this trip was twofold.  First of all, Pete and Melissa had recently become friends on Facebook, though they had never met in person.  This seemed like a good opportunity for them to actually meet.  And then the venue came about after I saw someone else post pictures of the Maryland Heights overlook at Harpers Ferry onto Facebook, and I decided that I wanted to see it for myself.

Heading in, I first picked Melissa up at her house in Hyattsville, along with, to my surprise, Jason.  He was going to check out the Smithsonian, and so we brought him down to a Metro station.  After dropping Jason off at Eastern Market station, Melissa and I met up with Pete for breakfast at Sizzling Express.  After breakfast, we headed back over to Pete’s house to get Bruno, and then we all walked down to the car, which was parked on 6th Street SE.  I ended up taking Bruno’s leash, which was an experience all of its own.  Realize that when I was growing up, my family had a dachshund, which is a small dog.  Bruno is a basset hound, which is a much bigger breed.  Walking a basset hound is a different experience entirely from walking a dachshund, in that I was mostly walking Bruno, but there were definitely times when Bruno was walking me.  Bruno is pretty strong, and was able to pull me around at times as he checked out various items along our path.  Greta could never have pulled me around like that on account of her being too small.  But it was fun, so all was well, and Pete was there to remind Bruno to be on his best behavior if necessary.

When we got to the car, Bruno got in his carrier, and we were off.  To get there, we took the Southwest Freeway to GW Parkway to the Beltway to I-270 to US 340.  And for the record, 340’s east-west signing in Maryland always throws me off, because I am very much accustomed to 340’s being signed as a north-south route, as it is in Virginia and West Virginia, though that’s by far not the only US highway that changes directional designations like that.

Getting to Harpers Ferry, through a stroke of luck, we found parking at the MARC station.  The park ranger working the lot initially told us that the lot was full, but then as we were getting ready to loop around the lot to exit and find parking elsewhere, a space opened up in front of us.  No problem: I was in there.  Considering all of the hiking that we were going to do, I wasn’t about to pass up a space that close to where we were going.  When Pete and I visited in July, we parked way up on Fillmore Street, which was a considerable walk all of its own.  Right after I parked the car, I spotted Amtrak Superliner cars on one of the tracks.  I told them, “Hold on, gotta go be a rail nut,” and quickly dashed into the train station for a few quick pix of the eastbound Capitol Limited, which was servicing the station from the wrong track:

The eastbound Capitol Limited, on the opposite track from normal.

The eastbound Capitol Limited, on the opposite track from normal.

The eastbound Capitol Limited, departing the station on the opposite track from normal.

Interestingly enough, as I was photographing the train, one of the departing passengers recognized me!  Turned out that she had encountered me at the Forward on Climate rally in DC last year.  We talked for a moment as we exited the train station, and then I gave her a Schumin Web business card before we parted company.

After that brief jaunt into railfan territory, and after talking to the park ranger about payment and ticket display, and after verifying that everyone was in good shape regarding what everyone was bringing, we were off.  The Maryland Heights trail was across the river from the rest of the town, and so we headed over the bridge to the Maryland side.  The stairs down to the street on the Maryland side of the bridge were an open grate, which Bruno didn’t want to go down, and understandably so.  Therefore, Pete carried Bruno down the steps:

Pete carries Bruno down the stairs

While Pete went ahead with Bruno, Melissa and I got a couple of shots of the tracks leading into the Harpers Ferry tunnel, i.e. this:

Railroad tracks leading up to the Harpers Ferry tunnel.  The tracks on the left side are the CSX Cumberland Subdivision, and lead toward the MARC station, and eventually to Cumberland.  The track to the right is the CSX Shenandoah Subdivision, eventually leading to Strasburg, Virginia.

The tracks on the left side are the CSX Cumberland Subdivision, and lead toward the MARC station, and eventually out to Cumberland.  The track to the right is the CSX Shenandoah Subdivision, eventually leading to Strasburg, Virginia.  The two lines merge inside the tunnel.

Coming down off the bridge, we walked a short distance north to the trailhead.  Pete took care of Bruno…

Pete and Bruno walk toward the trailhead

…and Bruno took care of watering the plants.

Bruno lifts his leg on a bush

The fact that Bruno would lift his leg at everything, even when he was completely dry, amused me.  Greta, after all, was a girl, and a proper lady just doesn’t do such a thing.  In fact, Greta was so proper that she would wait until she got home after a walk to do her business.

Then when we got to the trailhead, I took care of a quick matter of business:

Giving our admission fee to Uncle Sam

This is me paying our admission fee to Uncle Sam.  Interestingly enough, you didn’t pay the ranger at the parking lot.  Instead, you got an envelope from the ranger, placed a stub on the dash, put your admission fee in the envelope, and then deposited the envelope in one of these little pylons around the area.

And then we started up the trail.  It was a three mile hike to the overlook, and mostly uphill.  That will definitely work your leg muscles, that’s for sure.  Partway up the trail, we stopped to check out the former location of a Civil War-era stone fort.  The fort is gone now, but it is clear that something was once there:

The site of a Civil War-era stone fort

The site of a Civil War-era stone fort

I also got a pic of Bruno at the fort:

Bruno at the fort location

From here, we continued on our path up the mountain.  The overlook is on a side trail, and thankfully, it was all downhill to the overlook, because we were tired of all of the uphill movement at that point.  Arriving at the overlook, we were greeted by this view:

The initial view from the overlook

When I looked out, I quickly locked onto a tiny feature in the distance: a bus.  Thus, my initial reaction to the view was, “Is that a Gillig Phantom down there?”  You probably can’t even see the bus in the smaller picture, but if you click to enlarge it, you should be able to see it.

But wouldn’t you know it – I was right:

Yep - it's a Gillig Phantom!

What can I say, except that I know my buses, even from a long way away.

The view was spectacular, though, as we got to watch an opening in the clouds approach the town and let the sun shine through:

I also found the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers to be rather interesting:

Confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers

What struck me as interesting was the fact that the rivers were two distinct colors.  This trip was a few days after some massive rainfall came through the area, and apparently, the Shenandoah (top) was carrying some extra sediment from upstream.  The Potomac (bottom) was much darker, and presumably carrying less sediment.

Meanwhile, Pete and Bruno took a moment to rest, and Pete gave Bruno some doggy treats:

Pete and Bruno take a break

Bruno also got to explore around a little bit, i.e. as much as his leash would allow:

Bruno, near the edge of the rocks

Melissa and I also took a bunch of photos from the overlook, plus some pix of each other at the overlook.  Here’s one that Melissa took of me:

Standing next to the view of Harpers Ferry

Every time I look at this photo, it gives me this unsettled feeling in my stomach, because it looks like I’m standing right at the edge of the cliff.  I’m really not!  It didn’t look nearly as close as it looks in the photo in real life.

Then Melissa and I switched places, and she got in front of the camera.  She stayed in the original spot that she was in when she took the photo, and I moved around, and we got this:

Melissa in front of the overlook

For those wondering, yes – Melissa did cut her hair since the last time I had seen her.  She is now sporting a short hairstyle!

And then a passerby took a picture of both of us:

Melissa and I at the overlook

And then after that, it wasn’t long until we started to head back down the mountain.  Melissa asked if there was a shorter way down, and my comment, pointing off the overlook, was that there was, and that while I’m sure it would be an awesome trip down, but I wouldn’t want to experience the landing at the end of it.  In other words, unless you want to jump off the overlook, nothing doing.  Thankfully, except for the hike from the overlook to the main trail, it was downhill the whole way.  Of course, downhill has its own hazards.  It’s not as strenuous as uphill, but you have gravity on your side going down.  Thus you want to go down, but since you’re traveling in the same direction as gravity, it will carry you down faster than you want to go if you’re not careful.

However, Bruno had a blast, and I got some shots of him on the way down:

And then eventually, we got to the bottom of the hill, alongside the river:

Then Melissa and I looked back up at where we’d been:

Hard to believe that we had hiked all the way up there and back!  Then we headed back over the bridge to the West Virginia side.  On the way over, I took a few photos of the abandoned bridge piers in the Potomac River:

Interestingly enough, Melissa got a shot of me while I was taking that last one:

Standing on the bridge, taking photos of abandoned infrastructure

There you have it, I suppose.  And then I got a pic of the abandoned railroad tracks on the way back to the car:

Abandoned track in Harpers Ferry

When we got back to the car, after a quick restroom break, we headed over to the field next to the train station, in the shadow of the tracks, to have a picnic lunch.  That was a great lunch following a great hike.

After lunch, we headed up to Hilltop House, mainly to show Melissa the view:

This photo, by the way, is the overlook as viewed from Hilltop House.
This photo, by the way, is the overlook as viewed from Hilltop House.

Then we drove over to see Jefferson Rock:

Jefferson Rock itself

Bruno near Jefferson Rock

Melissa poses in front of Jefferson Rock

And that was more or less it.  We got in the car, and settled in for the ride back to DC.  But first, we stopped for some quick photos of some old cars on the way down the hill:

Ford Model T

That last one, a Ford Model T, makes me think of Gertrude from Today’s Special.  It’s a shame to see these historic cars sitting out in this condition, though.

And that was that.  We headed back into DC, where we dropped Pete and Bruno back home, and then picked Jason up from the Metro to head back to Maryland.  We ended up having dinner at the Chevys restaurant in Greenbelt, and got these photos before we left:

I don’t know about you, but I look awesome in that second picture.  If only I had a stomach that was that flat in real life, right?

And then, after dropping Melissa and Jason off, I headed home.  I’d say that a fun time was definitely had by all.