Thursday, March 29, 2007

An afternoon hike up South Mountain

With a day to myself and beautiful spring temperatures, South Mountain beckoned. The trail head at Greenbrier State Park is just nine tenths of a mile down the road, so I grabbed my camera, a banana, water, and leatherman tool, and simply turned left at my mailbox,and this is the view that greeted me.

With the mountain in the distance you can just see the buds coming out in the trees of the valley.

As if someone called the prop department for a picturesque well...

...or mule barn, for that matter.

A little further up and this chilly brook of melt water passes beneath the bridge.

The mosses check in early.

Less than a mile from home I get on the trail head for the "Big Red" trail at Greenbirer, headed for the lake and parts beyond.

Rocks? Click on this picture to see why recycling is such a good idea.

Sooner than I expected the trail opened onto a wonderful vista of the lake.

At this point I'm thinking; "Shall I head back now, or keep going?"

I kept going. Spring was everywhere, and I was up for a really good hike.

After checking in on the new shoots in the stream that helps feed the lake, I stopped by the visitor center on the far side of the lake to visit my favorite mountain resident...

The largemouth bass in the aquarium.

Outside again I encountered an oriole nest from last year. Orioles make good use of the tinsel, fishing line, and fruit bags that end up dotting the woods.

Oh no! The dreaded Bartman Hill trail. I wondered what I had in mind. This trail is listed as "strenuous", and how! rocky, steep, and often barely discerneable...this thing really had me huffing and puffing 18 months ago. But what the heck, that was also 20 pounds ago. I think I'll give it a go.

Although the Bartman Hill trail is only .6 of a mile, it's all straight up and the footing is often atrocious. It leads to the Appalachian Trail at almost midpoint (sort of) and a pretty fair view of the valley beyond South Mountain.

Rocky trails like this give testimony to the fact that Robert E. Lee had to leave thousands of his shoeless soldiers behind in Virginia when he made his 1862 campaign into Maryland.

This terrain is mighty hard on the ankles.

As the trail starts to level out (finally!) there's nothing but sky up ahead.

And finally we come to the Appalachian Trail. Hmmmm, Maine or Georgia, decisions, decisions.

I opt for a look across the valley from the top of the mountain , catch my breath, and then start the much quicker descent.

Ending up back at the lake and a short break before continuing home. What a perfect afternoon.

Civil War history, and nature abound in these parts.

Ranger Mannie

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Pick 'em up and lay 'em down: The Hike up Nicodemus Heights

What a day! Park programming is back in full swing and the tempo has really picked up. Today, I joined Ranger Brian and about 36 visitors for a two hour ranger-led hike up Nicodemus Heights to view the battlefield from the positions of Stuart's horse artillery. It was, in a word, spectacular.

This is a once-per-year hike is dependent on three key components: the weather, the foliage, and the permission of the property owner (Nicodemus Heights is not park land but privately owned). Brian, and mother nature arranged for all three and it made for a perfect afternoon.

The participants gather and Brian kicks off the hike with background information on the early morning hours of the battle and the devastating effect of Confederate battery fire on the Federal troops approaching, and marching through, the Cornfield.

Hikers trekking uphill toward Nicodemus Heights, in the distance. The cows beat a hasty retreat in the face of our steadfast advance.

The appreciative gasps, and shutter clicks, were audible as the hikers, gaining the top of the Heights, turned around to drink in the magnificent panorama before them.

It was immediately obvious to all that the Heights commanded the approach of Hooker's First Corps. It was also evident that the Rebel guns on Nicodemus Heights were far beyond the reach of the Union long-range guns, and free to rain unimpeded destruction upon the advancing Federals.

A long shot of the Samuel Poffenberger Farm in the distance, the jumping-off point of Hooker's Federals. From the ridge just beyond the barn, Union guns of the First Corps sent counter battery fire toward the Confederate guns on Nicodemus Heights, to little effect, so advantageous was the rebel position.

Brian indicates the barrier the West Woods provided in impeding the fire of the Confederate batteries. The Rebels will have to limber up and relocate to Hauser Ridge, just south of Nicodemus Heights, from which point the Rebel guns will devastate Sedgewick's Division as it emerges from the woods into the muzzles of Confederate guns firing cannister.

What goes up, must come down. From the slopes of Hauser Ridge the hikers will return to their starting point in the Cornfield, for a wrap-up and a round of applause for Ranger Brian.

What a day...

and the season's just beginning.

Ranger Mannie

Friday, March 23, 2007

Cemetery Lodge: Sharpsburg's land-locked lighthouse

One of my favorite buildings, anywhere, is the Paul Pelz designed, lodge within the grounds of the Antietam National Cemetery.

This little high-Victorian gem has presided over the cemetery gates since 1868. An enchanted and very small building, the scale is perfect for its setting.

Its loaded with details like this fine, carved stone, Union shield.

Surmounted by this wonderful crenelated tower, our stone and stick-style edifice today serves as departmental offices for Antietam National Battlefield.

Dripping with gingerbread, the downside of this wonderful structure may be the amount of maintainence that is required for its continued upkeep.

There's a lot of original wood, like these ornamental ribs supporting the awning of the front entryway. This is typical of a Pelz design.

What the heck is this? Photographed here, completely out of context is...

a rain spout, pictured here in context. Hmmm... seems to me I must have been in an unusual position to record the previous image. Patience, all will be revealed.

The inviting entry to the lodge beckons. C'mon!

Recently, I asked my friend and colleague, Ranger Keith, if he'd take me through the lodge, and his answer was typical of the answers that I get from rangers at this park:

"Ahh, Christie, my car's in the shop, can I have a lift home?"
"Hey Brian, would you take me up to Nickodemus Heights?"
"Alann, could you fix me up with a picture of the original 90th PA monument?"

Like all of the above Keith gave me an enthusiastic "Yes".

So, here we go, through the front door of the lodge.

The inside of the entryway.

By the way, a sordid love-triangle murder occured in this very spot, way back when the park was still administered by the War Department...but that's another story for another time.

Check out the gorgeous Fireplace surround, which seems to be made of bronze.

One of the tower's ocular windows overlooks the administration building at the front of the cemetery.

This tower view is of the pergola/rostrum, site of all memorial day addresses since the beginning of that holiday right here in Sharpsburg (as ladybug looks on).

Note the distortion through the rippled glass.

The stairs up the tower start narrow...

and seem to get even more so.

Finally, we get to the iron spiral staircase and ranger Keith struggles to bull open the heavy trapdoor through the top of the tower.

A quick look back down the spiral staircase before pausing...

to catch our breath and survey just exactly where we are.

Looking down at the compound angles of the slate roof, and beyond to...

The Maryland monument in the far distance, between the pine trees. Click on this pic for a larger view...heck, click on all of them.

And turning south, we are greeted by the steady presence of "old Simon, towering, as always, above the bivouac of the dead that is Antietam National Cemetery.

And the "landlocked lighthouse" reference?

Seems that Paul Pelz, architect of this fine little building, the Smithsonian castle, and the Library of Congress building, was also a prolific designer of...


Like this one at

Now, every morning when I drive into Sharpsburg from Boonsboro I pass this lovely little lodge and think...


I think you might too.

Come see the light, just outside of Sharpsburg.

Ranger Mannie