Janes Island State Park, MD Part 1

It was an uneventful trip up to MD and one of our fave spots, Jane’s Island State Park. We snagged the site we’d had a couple of years ago when we came here for the first time and John and Mary set up beside us (sites 22 and 23). Contrary to our prior stay, we found a nearly-empty campground. As before, however, the waterfront sites are simply without parallel. Electric available but no water at the sites, although spigots are nearby. As was our former experience, cell service was spotty at best and, being near a military base, we theorize that some blocking activities might have contributed to cell service inexplicably dropping out totally on occasion. Happily, we found the Crisfield Public Library handy (just a 2-3 mile bike ride or drive away) and they had robust, free wifi and cell service.

But I get ahead of myself. Our transfer day was my birthday (April 7) so we settled into our sites and then headed straight out to The Watermen Restaurant for a celebratory (and delicious) meal. I thoroughly enjoyed my shrimp scampi on linguini with black olives. 

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On our first full day at Janes Island SP, John and Mary headed out to do some kayak touring.

I had fun taking pix of a loon fishing in front of our campsite.

We’d hoped for some grill-able seafood, but none to be found, but when we looked at the place where J & I had found excellent shrimp last year, we did note that they’ve got shrimp again.

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But we had to settle for some really tasty grilled burgers, with hassle back potatoes made by J & M in their dutch oven. Seriously delicious.

Then the rain and wind came and nearly blew us all away. We were relatively dry eating in the screenhouse, but when the wind sent the rains horizontal and it began dripping on us, we retired to our respective sanctuaries.

The next day (April 9) John and Mary took another kayak tour of the water trails around and were thankful for less wind. Jack and I ventured to the local Food Lion to stock up on necessities, and we did laundry at a local “duds n suds.” Had to hit the Crisfield Library for a bit of wifi. Returned to camp and enjoyed an excellent sunset that seemed to go on and on.

April 10 was dry yet a bit windy and we decided to take a leisurely bike ride around Crisfield, the harbor town nearby. We had a lovely lunch on the public dock supplied by Bubbies burger joint, and I worked a bit on the blog catch-up. Had a lovely “upside down” day with eggs, hash browns, and hot rolls for dinner, eaten around a lovely fire in the solo stove. 

 

Chippokes Plantation Campground, April 5 & 6

One last thing I forgot to mention as a big “pro” on the plus side of our Bike Florida Tour: Oranges.

All the rest stops had them in abundance, and they were cherry red, sweet, and O! so refreshing. So good, in fact, that we stopped at a roadside stand before leaving FL and bought a sack full. Yum.

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So we said goodbye to FL and headed to SC. Travel was unremarkable, thank goodness. But I did capture this pic of Angela and their Alto2114 traveling along ahead of us at one point.

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So Lynches River Campground was our overnight spot on Thursday, April 4, and that’s the campground that is mostly for tenters, with only 2 serviced RV sites. Mark and Angela got #2 (a pull-through) and we got #1 both with electric and water. The bathhouse was rustic to say the least, but it had exactly two private rooms, each with its own toilet, sink, and shower. For a one-night stayover, it was just perfect. Next stop: Chippokes Plantation Campground near Williamsburg, VA, April 5 and 6.

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Chippokes is actually in Surry, VA, and is a re-purposed grand farm and mansion, once an actual plantation. Today, it is quite a fine and spiffy Virginia State Park, with hiking trails, the mansion itself, equestrian trails, electric and water, and nice renovated bathhouses. Loop B has the most modernized and level campsites, where Loop A has older, less flat/improved sites.

We linked up with John and Mary at Chippokes, so we had three side-by-side sites with Mark and Angela. Roomba was in the middle, on site #2.

Mark and Angela’s son, Brent, linked up with them (and us), coming down from New York to see his parents while they were relatively close. He spent some of our arrival/set up day in Williamsburg and he and Mary and John all arrived around 5PM.

We all went out to dinner, hoping to catch the pub in Smithfield, but there was a minimum of an hour’s wait there, so off we went to Smithfield Landing where we had a delightful dinner, and all got to know one another a bit better. The walk through Smithfield from the pub to the Landing and then back to our cars after dinner was fun times together also.

The next day, Mark, Angela, and Brent headed to Jamestown, while Mary, John, Jack, and I headed across the ferry into Williamsburg. But first, we went to the Edwards Ham store and picked up some good old fashioned Virginia Ham products. Yum.

We rode the Pocahontas ferry and saw a smaller ferry passing across the river. It was overcast the day we headed into Billsburg, but it never rained despite the look of the sky.

We had a bit of a drive around the campus, telling J&M tales of our college days, and had a quite nice sandwich from Colonial Williamsburg’s famous Cheese Shop.

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That night, we all fixed our own dinners but joined up to eat at our site. We had shared appetizers and a fire to cozy up to as our final night together after our fun travels with Mark and Angela. Brent also was headed back north the next day, while John, Mary, Jack, and I were headed to Janes Island, MD for our next, longest stop of our Spring Trip.

Before everyone broke apart, I set up the timer on my camera to get a group shot. And Riley also had to have some fun before we bundled off to Maryland.

 

Bike Florida Spring Cycling Tour Pt. 2

Day Five of the Bike Florida tour (April 2) was a fun cycle that we “interpreted” so we did not have to ride 60-odd miles to see the Gulf of Mexico. The main draw was the potential to see some Manatees, but it was nowhere near warm enough that day for the Manatees to be anywhere near where we met the water and turned around. But it was a great ride anyway. 

What we did to “interpret” the ride was to drive to the Crystal River rest stop and begin our ride from there, pretty much straight along a long causeway, past a marine science center and the “land’s end” picnic and boat launch area. Theoretically, we were also going to end our ride at the cars, but Mark and Jack rode all the way back, hoping the map indicated a long stretch of cycles-only trail (apparently not so). So Angela and I drove the vehicles back to headquarters so we could all have a shower before heading over to the “ride’s end celebration” at a pub in Inverness. But I get ahead of myself.

It was truly the best day of the ride to date. Riding along the causeway out of Crystal River was quite pleasant, and on the way, I noted a sign at a place called Shrimp Landing that indicated they were serving “take out” lunch from 11 to 2. That was on the outbound side of the roadway. Evidently, some cyclists need reminding to ride with the traffic.

We made it to the end of the road and saw the place where Crystal River meets the Gulf of Mexico. There was a sign way away in the water that noted it was a “Manatee Zone.” A friendly cormorant was sunning on the sign.

Jack dipped his tire into the Gulf, just for the symbolism of it all.

On the return ride, we stopped by the Shrimp Landing place and they did, indeed, offer take out lunch. We all ordered shrimp po-boy sandwiches, which came with fries or slaw. Fresh and delicious, although we had to wait for them to be fixed to order. There was even a picnic table out front for our use—a couple of older locals were eating their lunch there, but were done by the time we were ready to start. And as it happened, another couple who’d driven in as we were eating were ready to eat just as we finished. Karma or what?

Behind this old, tired-looking place was the most beautiful bougainvillea I think I’d ever seen. Jack’s yellow jacket contrasted nicely with the enormous vine.

As I said earlier, Angela and I drove the cars back while Mark and Jack rode to HQ. We’d finished our showers and were lounging in our camp chairs in the shade by the time they arrived and reported that we hadn’t missed a thing in skipping that part of the ride.

After their showers, we hung out a while, rather than driving back to camp, because this was the evening of the celebration party, held at The Cove Pub and Grub restaurant nearby. It was pay-as-you-go for beverages and food, and they offered airboat rides to the group as well. A live band as old as the audience demographic was set up in the trees, and they were surprisingly good, aside from being waaaay too loud. But their playlist was fun and there was even some dancing captured on film.

It was a very pretty setting, and a walk down to The Cove itself (for which the restaurant is named) ended at a dock with a couple of seats that I took advantage of to take some pix before it got too dark.

Along the walk back to the party, I noted another tree covered with ferns. Florida is an amazing place.

Day Six (April 3)

The 42 miles of our last day were mostly on the Withlacoochee Trail. Angela felt like her leg was going to begin acting up, and with the return miles, she elected to stop at the rest stop and wait for our return. As a spare body hanging around, the rest stop personnel put her to work, so Angela had her first experience as a bike tour volunteer.

We rode to the trail’s northern terminus in Dunnellen, where the Withlacoochee and Rainbow rivers meet. We were told it was a nice little town to visit, but we didn’t ride anything extra, except for the part where we got lost. By the time we got to the turn-around point, most of the signage had been removed already, so we got a bit disoriented.

In making our way back toward Angela and the first rest stop, we ran into these two famous fellas.

As before the Withlacoochee was a lovely, shady trail and we thoroughly enjoyed our final ride. A little while later, we picked up Angela at the rest stop.

After our showers, we returned to camp via the Publix market in Inverness where we picked up some essentials for dinner. We wanted to fix our final ride dinner together, so Mark and Angela sautéed the scallops, and Jack grilled the asparagus and I made the rice. Of course, we had a nice fire for the first time on this trip.

Overall, the bike tour was a good experience, made more fun with Mark and Angela to accompany us. But both of us agree that our experience would have been much improved (we would have felt more integrated into the “group tour” part of the ride) if we had known we could camp at both of the HQ sites. At the time of our registration, that was not an option.

Tour pros

  • Friendly people
  • Good registration process
  • Great weather
  • Beautiful trails
  • Brooksville & Inverness (ride “hubs”)
  • Being able to “interpret” each day’s rides
  • Police/monitor support in town

Tour cons

  • Having to port our bikes to the start each day (and back to camp at the end of each day)
  • Surprise hills of significance
  • No organized, on-route lunches, and no on-route lunch options (except for the shrimp shack) on any of the routes
  • Decent but not superior rest stop food
  • Not enough shore time
  • Hardly ever saw any SAG support vehicles
  • VERY busy downtowns to start & end the rides
  • Substantial amount of urban cycling

We liked the Brooksville area in particular and would return to that neighborhood again. But there would have to be compelling scenery or opportunities for us to choose another Bike Florida Spring Tour. One of our major objections was the lack of lunch opportunities, except for the odd rest stop’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, for a substantial midday meal. In summary, we feel the tour did not deliver the level of accommodation we might expect for the price.

Cycling stats

Day 5

  • Ride time=1:40
  • Stopped time=1:50
  • Distance-22 mi
  • Average speed=13 mph
  • Fastest speed=19 mph

Day 6

  • Ride time=3:30
  • Stopped time=1:30
  • Distance=45.5
  • Average speed=13 mph
  • Fastest speed=26 mph

Mutual Mines Wildlife Refuge Campground, Inverness, FL

I’m afraid I misspoke in my prior post (Pt. 1) about Mutual Mines Wildlife Refuge—there are plenty of sites there, although they are unserviced, boondocking sites (water available on the grounds, however). 

I was conflating our interim campground when we head north again (in South Carolina) and Mutual Mines—the interim one has two serviced sites with the remainder being tent/unserviced sites. My bad and apologies. 

Mutual Mines, just outside of Inverness, FL was a lovely spot—although it did, as previously recorded, have a tricky, always-locked gate to which we’d been given the numerical code to the padlock on a chain for April. Evidently, “bad behavior” forced the state to close public/walk-up access to the area with a padlocked gate. 

Maybe it was an April Fool’s joke on us, but the number we’d been given for the padlock had not been “engaged” by the time we arrived on April 1. With a phone call to the headquarters, however, we managed to get the March number and finally got through the gate. Later, a ranger came by to let us know that she’d changed the padlock to April’s number.

In any case, there’s some history to the Mutual Mines location and name, and it was really quite a lovely and quiet spot. For those who want to read more of the history part, I’ve placed that at the end of the blog.

Meanwhile, back at camp, Mark and Angela had an issue with a part of their awning structure and had to head to Orlando for a replacement, where Mark had called and the part was available. They had just enough time to make it there before closing time. 

After the rains quelled, I took quite a nice stroll around the quarry/mine that is today a lovely lake with walking paths here and there. Here are a few pix from my stroll.

If we ever return, it looks like Site #1 would be private & tucked away, it’s large, and would have more sunshine directed to our solar panels than site 5.

There were really neat old trees everywhere, near the water as well as right next to Mark and Angela’s site (#4). I called their the “fern tree” because it was fuzzy on all the top surfaces of the limbs because small ferns grew all along the bark. I’d never seen anything like it and found it to be a delightful anomaly.

Later, Mark called—they were at the Cycle Florida Headquarters site in Inverness, headed into the shower trucks. By the time we got there, they were showered and we headed to dinner. It was a seafood place, and I ate some super fried catfish. But the neat thing about the restaurant was all the artwork. Here’s a sample.

History of Mutual Mine Campground

This camp is located on the site of an abandoned phosphate mine. (When you see and walk on the well-packed, white, chalky roads in the area, that fact becomes obvious.)

Just before the turn of the twentieth century, freezing temperatures destroyed the citrus groves in this area. Fired with the loss of their income, the residents turned to phosphate mining. Dunnellon had already become a major producer of the mineral on the world market. Locals observed this success and soon had their own phosphate book in full swing. Named for the Mutual Mining Co. of Savannah, GA, the operation here was supervised by W. H. Dunn, who earned $65/month. 

Laborers were paid 50 cents a day and mined the ore with picks and shovels until huge steam shovels (on large platform barges) were developed. 

Quarrying phosphate, Platform Steam Shovel, Camp’s Globe Mine (Hernandez),

The ore was sent by train to the Florida gulf port of Yankeetown, in Levy County, for export to Europe. The remnants of the elevated trams that were created here in the forest for the tracks are still much in evidence, along Forest Road #9. 

With Germany and Belgium as the main buyers of phosphate, the mine closed in 1914 at the onset of World War I. Soon, other FL counties began yielding a higher grade of phosphate. Today, Polk County, as well as Hillsborough, Hardee, and Hamilton Counties produce 80% of the world’s phosphate.

How Phosphate Was Formed

Florida is blessed with a bountiful supply of phosphate that primeval seas deposited here millions of years ago. The phosphate comes from sediment that was deposited in layers on the seafloor. The phosphate-rich sediments are believed to have formed from the precipitation of phosphate from seawater along with skeletons and waste products of creatures living in the seas.

In the early 1800s, scientists discovered that phosphorus promotes growth in plants and animals. Before this discovery, bones, which contain the element phosphorus, were used as an agricultural fertilizer. Today, phosphate rock provides fertilizer’s phosphorus.

Phosphate rock was first mined in England in 1847. It was in 1881 that Captain J. Francis LeBaron, of the Army Corps of Engineers, discovered Florida’s treasure in black phosphate pebbles in the Peace River. A “hard rock” phosphate reserve in North Central Florida was discovered next. Thus began Florida’s phosphate mining industry, which now accounts for about 80% of the phosphate used in the US, as well as about 25% of that used around the world.

The FL we know today and the phosphate buried in its earth is a relatively recent product of geologic processes that have been at work for a long time. Most of what is now FL was once underwater. Marine creatures in the form of coral, shellfish, and marine skeletons deposited the limestone that makes up the sedimentary layers. As time passed, sea levels dropped and the limestone became exposed. In central FL, the Bone Valley Formation is found on top of the Hawthorn Formation and is under about 20-40 feet of sand.

Fossils from the sedimentary deposits of the Bone Valley Formation—the heart of FL’s phosphate mining industry—are often uncovered in the process of phosphate mining and give us a glimpse of Florida’s prehistoric past. Among the abundant fossils found are those from the sea creatures that lived in the shallow waters that covered FL in the distant past. These fossils include the teeth of giant sharks and the bones of huge whales. The remains of hundreds of species of land animals, birds, and plants are also found in the layers of rock beneath the present-day surface. These fossils include many species the came to FL to escape the advancing glaciers of the Great Ice Ages. Some of these animals migrated to North America from other parts of the world, some of them crossing the Bering Strait land bridge from Asia when sea levels were lower. Others traveled around the rim of the Gulf of Mexico when areas now submerged were exposed.

Other evidence tells us that FL supported this great variety of creatures with abundant food supplies made possible by a temperate climate. Fossilized remains dug from the Earth during phosphate mining tell us a great deal about the life of the past and about early geological developments in FL.

Overall, I feel there is much of Mutual Mines, and one wildlife refuge (part of the same system) closer to Inverness, that would be fun to explore and learn about. Maybe our next FL adventure?

Bike Florida Spring Ride Pt. 1

It is now April 9, two weeks after we began our Florida cycling adventure, and our travels up from FL to Virginia again, and there to Janes Island State Park in MD. So, it’s catch up time (NOT ketchup time).

Our intermediary stop en route to Bike Florida’s spring ride was near Savannah, GA. After driving some 6 or 7 hours (a very long time towing) we hauled into Ft. McAlister State Park. This is a nice little park across a bay (don’t know the name) from Skidaway SP.

 

 

Our site, #44, was a drive-through, so we didn’t unhitch or do any set up at all, as our goal was to depart as early as reasonable the next day.

We had thought #44 was near the bathhouse, but as it turned out, there was a ton of construction going on, and enormous sections of the camping loops were closed. Long ditches crossed some of the paved driveways as they were laying new cable for electricity. And the worst part of it was that the target bathhouse was a total goner, with only stub-ups and piles of gravel to mark its renovation. 

So it turned out to be a long walk to the toilets, but it was pleasant enough.

Next day, we drove about 5 hours to our first Bike FL campiste, in “Camper’s Holiday” (site 27), and met up with Mark and Angela, with whom we were riding the tour. This was their first “organized” bike tour, so we went out directly after setting up to register and have dinner.

1910 rowing team

The next day (March 29) Was Day One of the Bike FL ride. Happily, they started us off gently, with a 22-miler, much of which was along the Suncoast Trail, which was paved and quite lovely.

Angela was having a leg issue, so she stayed back to rest and ice her leg. At that point, we discovered that the Camper’s Holiday was a prime vacation spot for a type of caterpillar that loves to eat live oak leaves. It was literally raining caterpillar poop, and the devils infested everywhere. Angela seemed to have a particular attraction for the devils, and she found herself plagued by (and completely creeped-out by) these nasty critters. 

By the time we left Camper’s Holiday, the beasties were cocooning and we found them in every imaginable crevice and nook, cranny and crack. Ugh. Big downside of Camper’s Holiday (at least at this time of year)—which, for the most part, was a nice, clean, friendly place. 

But the sites were chock-a-bloc next to one another, and ours was the smallest rig in any space anywhere. Half the place was permanent residents and the other half was transients—most of whom were snowbirds who spent their winters there in enormous homes on wheels.

Day Two of Bike Florida was somewhat different in that we discovered that the Brooksville area is the “hill country” of FL. We did a significant amount of climbing on this day, and man-o-man, was that difficult where the seat meets the rider. It was also quite a hot day, but we had decent rest stops and had coated ourselves with plenty of SPF, so in that respect, we were fine.

Happily, some of our ride was along a couple of other rail-trails, one called the Good Neighbor trail and one called the Withlacoochee trail. They were both quite nice, and moderately flat. The Withlacoochee was also nice and shady.

Along the Good Neighbor trail (more sunny because of the enormous long-leaf pines towering above) some wag had decided to take the time to use pinecones to mark his travels along the path. I took a series of pix of this “Pinecone Art” as we rode.

There were also many of these gnarly oaks deeper in the woods along the trail.

Off the path, however, we saw dead orange groves, wildflowers, and other scenes of which I did not have the time or energy to take pix, including: a black snake crossing the road, a dead armadillo, a gang of stork-like birds beside an impoundment, and more wicked hills.

If it hadn’t been for our fave instant-energy cycling snack of Honey Stingers, I might have had to call on the reinforcements (sag patrol). Part of the issue with this Day Two was our need to finish the ride by 1 PM, so there was no leisure involved at all. We had a date with a fraternity friend of Jack’s (and his wife) for dinner that night, and we had to get cleaned up and drive an hour or so away to meet up with them by 5-5:30 PM.

But we made it, and our arranged meetup spot was at a golf club of some fame as well as some history, that was beautiful. On this night, they were offering a seafood buffet, and the place was also famous for its food, so it was packed.

We enjoyed a completely lovely dinner, as well as a long conversation and catch-up with Ashby and Sharon. It’s rare that I have enjoyed meeting total strangers so very much. It was not only like the old saw, about Jack’s and Ashby’s separation for 50 years being like they had seen each other only yesterday—it was almost like that for me as well, who’d never met them before in my life! They were good friends by the end of the evening.

Our view from dinner.

Bike FL Day Three (Mar 31)

Angela had take yesterday off again (wise woman!) but she decided to try out her leg on our Day Three of the ride. Another beautiful day, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. By this time, the “points of contact” between us and our bikes were beginning to be “broken in” (which is a better situation than being not “broken in,” just to be clear).

While it was a rolling countryside day, including some lovely horse farms, we didn’t have to endure the steep grades we’d experienced on Day Two.

When we weren’t on the country roads around Brooksville, we were on the shady trail again, some of it on a different length of the trail.

The rest stops were well-provisioned and good stops, even though we had to see to it that Jack didn’t go into areas where horses were not allowed—often, a guy of his size on a bike is called “A Clydesdale.” So no Clydesdales in the photo below.

Among the folks also riding the spring tour were Craig, Linda, and Bruce, from our experiences with Bike Virginia and our Nova Scotia cycle tour back in 2015. Bruce and Craig were always ahead of us (most of the time) but we kept running into Linda along the path. On several occasions we chatted with her on Day Three; and we linked up with Bruce and Craig at tent city or at one or another of the rest stops and events.

Day Four was rainy and a transfer day, so we moved our camp from Brooksville to Inverness, a campground called Mutual Mines Wildlife Refuge, which offered exactly two RV camping sites, and a complicated gate lock that was closed all the time. 

So we took a break from riding, and I’ll tell more about Mutual Mines and our second FL camping adventure in the next blog.

Bike Stats

Day One

  • Ride time=1:40 hour
  • Stopped time=55 min
  • Distance=22 mi
  • Average speed=13.24mph
  • Fastest speed=36.97mph

Day Two

  • Ride time=4 hours
  • Stopped time=1 hour
  • Distance-47.75 mi
  • Average speed=12 mph
  • Fastest speed=30 mph

Day Three

  • Ride time=2:50 hours
  • Stopped time=1:30 hour
  • Distance=33 mi
  • Average speed=11.5 mph
  • Fastest speed=24 mph

GAP 7, To Meyersdale

September 17, 2018

As forecast, the rains came with a vengeance, curling around from the east and Hurricane Florence. Having nothing to do with the rains, but somewhat of a portent of our day, was this tree across the street from our lodging. Happily, it did not cause a power outage at our place.

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Eventually, I got wet enough that I feared for my “good” camera’s well-being, even as I kept it under my raincoat, so I put it in safe-keeping in my waterproof pannier. My iPhone has a waterproof case, so what photos I took in the steady, pouring, insistent rain of the day were taken with the iPhone camera.

Honestly, there’s not much to say about the ride for the day. We got wet. The trail was wet. Our bikes got filthy.

Happily, however, it was warm, temperature-wise. In fact I got so hot riding that I eventually took off my jacket which was wet from the inside as well as the outside from my own sweat and the nonstop rain. This was the day during which we climbed to Meyersdale, known as the highest town along the GAP Trail.

There is some interesting history associated with several bridge/tunnel/railroad structures we rode over and through. The Pinkerton bridges, tunnels and horn have an interesting story. From the 14th Edition of the official GAP Trail Guide (which I recommend if anyone is going to ride this trail):

There were two railroad tunnels built through the Pinkerton Neck (MP52), a narrow pinch of erosion-resistant geology that created a peninsula in the Casselman River (locally called “The Horn”). The first was the B&O (Baltimore & Ohio) tunnel, completed in 1871. Like many tunnels of the era, it was lined with timber, and when it was destroyed by fire in 1879, a bypass or “shoofly” was built around the horn while the tunnel was being repaired.

CSX completed a major construction project in 2014 to “open-cut” or “daylight” the B&O tunnel so it would accommodate double-stacked rail cars. The fill from this massive cut was placed on top of the Pinkerton horn and has drastically changed the way this area looks.

The Western MD RR built its tunnel in 1912, flanked by the Pinkerton Low and High Bridges over the Casselman River. It had not been open to trail use until 2015 due to its severely deteriorated condition. GAP Trail users had traveled along the B&O shoofly for a scenic 1.5 mile “detour” around the Pinkerton horn.

Major work was undertaken in 2015 to re-line the WM RR tunnel, making it safe for trail use.

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This photo is from the official GAP Trail Guide, 14th Edition.

We dripped our way into the town of Rockwood, PA (MP43, across the river from the Trail) to visit and eat lunch at the Mill & Opera House, for which we got a lovely tour of the truly ancient (and the proprietress reported, haunted) structure. While Rockwood was laid out in 1857, it was not until after the American Civil War that it began to boom with the arrival of the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) railroad. By the 1880s, Rockwood was southern PA’s fastest-growing villages.

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Our lunch (and slightly-drying-out-spot) in the Mill Shoppes & Opera House was most definitely “comfort food.” Many of us chose the chicken pot pie for lunch and man, was it warming and delicious. Lumber and feed were processed in the old mill building for nearly a century, and like many small towns with large warehouse-like structures, the building has had a performance area above the working mill and storage areas for nearly as long.

Judy Pletcher had a dream to restore the old mill and opera house, and her dream was realized in 2000. She described some of the renovation challenges, and indicated a few of the “left as-was” rooms (mostly storage areas) on our tour. These days the structure is a café, pizza shop, gift and retail shop “mall” on the lower floor, and a presentation space for the community upstairs. Along the upstairs wall, which includes a catering area for dinner theater and special events, are signed photos of many “stars” who have performed in the renovated Opera House. A large-ish (bigger than HO scale) model train runs around the main café room, along a track suspended near the ceiling.

Next we came to the Salisbury Viaduct (MP33.5). This is one of the most distinctive features of the GAP Trail. At 1,908 feet long, this amazing structure dominates the Casselman River Valley. The 101-ft. high steel trestle was a key engineering achievement for the Western Maryland Railway Co.’s Connellsville Extension. Hundreds of spectators cheered when the first train rolled across this engineering wonder in the early 1900s.

It was not built without cost, however. Disaster struck in 1911 when an electric traveling crane crashed to the ground while trying to lift a 14.5 ton girder up to the deck. Six men were killed and one was severely injured. A month later, a worker fell to his death from the trestle deck.

Like most of the train bridges in this part of the Western Maryland RR line, it was built to accommodate a second track, but that expansion was never built. Decommissioned as a through-route in 1975, the trestle was decked for Trail use in 1998.

There is also the Keystone Viaduct (MP30) at 910-feet long, and the Bollman Iron Bridge (MP30.5) originally built by the B&O to cross Gladdens Run in another county entirely. It was moved 100+ years ago to serve as a farm road crossing above the RR in Somerset County. In 2007 it was moved again to augment the GAP Trail as a piece of history. It is an early example of a cast and wrought iron bridge (by Master Bridge Engineer, Wendell Bollman).

Here are a few random images from along the ride.

At last we rolled into Meyersdale (MP32) and the Yoder Guest House where we were met by Charles Yoder. We had a nice bike shed in which to put our gear, and a hose with which to clean our bikes of the grit and grime the rain had not already washed away. It was somewhat horrifying to walk into this lovely renovated old home dripping like sponges—but we did, in fact, remove our disgusting shoes before entering.

Jack and I had a very nice room and the big bonus was that the bathroom had a heater included with the shower vent, so we were able to drape, hang, and spread out most of our wet gear in the bathroom to get mostly dry during our stay (after we ourselves had taken showers, of course).

Denise Yoder cooked a scrumptious meal for us, and we spent some good “community” time on the Yoder front porch, watching the traffic pass and chatting about this and that. The Yoder house is definitely a recommendation, because they were very friendly and accommodating, and have covered their walls with bicycle art.

It was a very fun place that I’d recommend to anyone passing through Meyersdale. Up from the Yoder’s is the renovated depot next to the trail that is also worth a stop. It is a museum of the railroad heritage and an interesting building to boot. There you can get GAP gear, a snack, water, and other necessities of trail riding.

MyersdaleWelcomeDepot2506
Picture taken the next day, after the rain.

Bike Stats:

  • Ride time: 3 hours
  • Stopped time: 3.25 hrs.
  • Distance: 32.3 miles
  • Average speed: 11MPH
  • Fastest speed: 23.3MPH
  • Ascent: 796 ft.
  • Descent: 125 ft.

 

GAP 6, To Confluence

September 16, 2018

Along the way toward Confluence, we hit Ohiopyle, one of my (and Jack’s) favorite destinations along the Great Allegheny Passage trail. While we’ve camped at, cycled through, eaten in, and wandered around Ohiopyle on many occasions in the past, we’ve never visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s nearby Fallingwater house. 

It was a long day, even though we only covered 30 miles on our bikes, with one or two significant climbs up to extraordinary views. Here are some random pix of the trail (taken both before and after our Wright adventures) the Youghiogheny River, and some sights along the way.

When we rode into Ohiopyle, we took a moment to look at the raging river, which is famous along this stretch for rafting and kayaking (experts only). We were told by the locals that a few days ago, due to Gordon, you could not see any rocks nor the waterfall, there was so much water flowing past after the storm.

OhiopyleWaterfall2453Whitewater2454

We gathered at Wilderness Voyagers to change our shoes, lock up our bikes, and board the van to head up to Fallingwater—possibly the most famous of F. L. Wright’s architectural achievements. Designed in 1935 for the Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. family (of the Pittsburgh department store fame) Fallingwater was completed in 1939, constructed of sandstone quarried on the property and built by local craftsmen. The decks are made of reinforced concrete cantilevered over the signature stream beside which the home is built, and which is an integral feature of the structure.

While the Kaufmanns never lived full time in the home, it was private until 1963 when son Edgar Kaufmann Jr. entrusted the home, its contents, and grounds to the Pennsylvania Conservancy. Fallingwater is the only Wright work to enter the public domain with all of its original furnishings and artwork intact.

Unfortunately, they do not allow photographs of the interior of the home, but it was set up in the exact way the owners lived in it, right down to the type of whiskies they served. Also, the artworks on the interior were quite varied and beautiful—all were originals—so I was disappointed that I could not photograph and share some of the best. 

Anyone who knows anything about Wright knows that his primary passion for his architecture was that the structure(s) would inhabit their environments nearly seamlessly. He was a prime advocate for merging the inner spaces with the outdoors. Fallingwater is most assuredly an excellent example of how that might be achieved, and then lived by the inhabitants of the structure. Some of the beams holding up the house are embedded in the rocks, and you can see some of the natural, in-place boulders integrated in part of the fireplace. Through a glass door and down some stairs, you can take a dip in the bright stream water that flows beneath the home. Desks and other pieces of furniture are constructed around or imbedded into elements like chimneys, glass corner windows, and doors. 

If you ever get the opportunity, it’s worth the fee for the tour, despite my feeling of being herded through the rooms of the home on a specific schedule so the guides could get as many people in and out of the home as efficiently as possible. There were tons and tons of people there during our tour, but no stragglers or folks not “contained” in a defined group. So we felt as if we were nearly alone in the house.

Also, we were not hurried: none of our questions (except one or two that our newbie guide admitted she did not know the answers to) were flicked aside or ignored, and our guide proved quite knowledgeable about every amazing aspect of the home.

We were able to take some pix outside, as we finished in the Guest House and were headed back to lunch and our pick-up point. So I’ve grouped them below—but first I wanted to show my photo of the “most famous” perspective of the house, side-by-side with Rachel Sager’s mosaic of the same view (from my post dated Sept. 15, GAP 5, Part 1).

We had lunch at the Fallingwater cafe, which was excellent. But again, because of Gordon, we were not able to participate in some of the things we had hoped to do in and around Ohiopyle, so we all elected (and we persuaded our Wilderness Voyagers driver) to go a bit farther afield from Ohiopyle to see another Wright property, Kentuck Knob.

This was quite a different endeavor for Wright, although he still had the concept of fitting the structure into its environment, and bringing the “outside in”—at least on one (the private) side of the structure. It was obvious that this commission was undertaken by a family with more limited means than that of the Kaufmann family. In 1953, I.N. and Bernardine Hagan bought 89 acres in the mountains above Uniontown, PA. The Kaufmanns and the Hagans were friends, and based on their visits to Fallingwater, the Hagans hired Wright to design their home. Kentuck Knob was one of the last homes to be completed by Wright.

Kentuck Knob was designed in a hexagonal motif as a “Usonian” house. Linguists and historians believe the term was coined in 1903 by writer James Duff Law. In Here and There in Two Hemispheres, Law quoted one of his own letters, “We of the United States, in justice to the Canadians and Mexicans, have no right to use the title ‘Americans’ when referring to matters pertaining exclusively to ourselves.” He went on to propose the terms “Usonia” and “Usonian” and it appears that Wright picked it up. The first known published use by Wright was in 1927.

In Wright’s lexicon, it evokes his vision for the landscape of the United States—including city planning and all types of architecture—to distinguish the art form of the time from all previous architectural conventions. In his vision, affordable housing would be made widely and universally available by designing low-cost homes that used passive solar heating, natural cooling, natural lighting with clerestory windows, and radiant-floor heating. They were usually envisioned as one-story houses with flat roofs, and often in an “L” shape to fit around a garden terrace, merging the indoors and the outdoors for comfort and light. Characterized by locally-found native materials, they incorporated his passion for visual connections between indoors and outdoors by using lots of glass and basic, simple designs. The term “carport” was coined by Wright in connection with his Usonian vision, to indicate a minimalist shelter for a vehicle.

In Pleasantville, New York, there is a 1950s-era intentional community created on the Usonian model, which is now an historic district. Wright designed 3 of the 47 homes in the Pleasantville community.

Likewise Kentuck Knob incorporated the Usonian vision by being single-story, low-cost, and designed to take advantage of radiant floor heating and passive solar gain. The hexagonal proportions of each and every room makes for fascinating decorating and furniture choices and designs. 

Again, we were unable to take photographs inside, but the exterior is interesting, with narrow windows on the “public” side of the home, that are made more private with the addition on the outside of a repeating pattern cut into some of the beautiful red cypress wood from which much of the interior is made. The central “heart” of the home is the kitchen, from which all the rest of the rooms “radiate.” Modest in square footage, the kitchen “ceiling” reaches up to the roof, which is the source for light, having a glass ceiling. A retrofit of screening helped the kitchen from becoming too hot to stand in. Wright intended for there to be only natural light in the kitchen, which made it impractical for cooking at night, so another change by the owners was pretty neat countertop lighting and fixtures ahead of their time.

Along the back of the house stretches a long porch offering solar gain in the wintertime, and shade in the summer, with through-holes in the overhang roof so the winter sun could melt the snow/ice on the porch floor, but also offer lovely “rain spouts” during summer to unite the interior with the weather and surroundings.

When the Hagans lived in the home (full time) there was a spectacular view from that back porch. There is debate about whether to cut the now-grown trees to re-kindle that view from the house, but it’s only a short walk to an open area (available for weddings, etc) from which visitors can take in that view.

KKView2492

And all along the way, and everywhere around the property, high and low, is outdoor art, sculptures, wind chimes, and wonders. At the “bottom” before the shuttle takes visitors up to the house, and all around the house itself are beautiful and interesting sculpture walks that visitors are encouraged to wander.

From Ohiopyle to Confluence is only about 11 or 12 miles, so we puttered on along the last of the GAP trail that follows the Youghiogheny River. At Confluence, the Yough is channeled into an enormous recreational lake of the same name. Where the Yough River, the Casselman River, and Laurel Hill Creek merge is the town appropriately named Confluence. From here eastward, the GAP follows the Casselman River.

Among our options for the day was a cycle to the dam that tames the Youghiogheney River. But we were all pretty worn out, so Allen drove us over in Minnie van. An enormous spume of water was gushing out of the dam, and the locals who were there to see this anomaly reported that they’d never seen so much water being released from the lake at once. Directly below the dam is the “Outflow Campground” which appeared to be in serious jeopardy, if they were releasing so much water to ease stress on the dam. 

We also heard that the remains of Hurricane Florence were due to reach the area, that night and the next day, adding to the burden left by Gordon the week prior. So the release was in anticipation of a night and a day of additional rain.

LakeYoughRelease2495

We overnighted in a “guest house” in a nice neighborhood—part Air BnB and part small Inn—and the group enjoyed a single malt whisky tasting hosted by Allen, after having dinner on the porch at the Lucky Dog Cafe (I needed some bug spray to have been able to fully enjoy our meal) which served delicious Mexican-inspired food.

Tomorrow: Riding through Florence (to Meyersdale)

Bike Stats:

  • Ride time: 2.5 hours
  • Stopped time: 6.5 hours
  • Distance: 30
  • Average speed: 11.75MPH
  • Fastest speed: 21MPH
  • Ascent: 388 ft
  • Descent: 0