National Park Access Free

2014 National Park "Free Entry" Dates!! January 20th Martin Luther King Jr. Day; February 15-17th Presidents Day weekend; April 19-20th opening weekend of National Park Week; August 25th National Park Service Birthday; September 27th National Public Lands Day; November 11th Veterans Day

Sunday, January 26, 2014

#6 Fredericksburg Boundary

Historic Fredericksburg
With snow still on the ground, and wanting to pick up the miles, Bonnie and I turned today's hike into an urban hike of Historic Fredericksburg. Actually, it would be better defined as a hike of the boundary of Fredericksburg, as the history echoes throughout the area and side streets - and one happens upon it ready or not.

Fredericksburg is bordered to the north and east by the Rappahannock river, a scenic river whose fall line tumbles from the rocks and rapids from the west, settling into tidal waters as it eases past the city. The towns history is more like the rocks and rapids of the fall line, as its history is awash in both the Revolutionary and Civil wars. The calm tidal waters that follow represent more of today environment, where people stroll down historic streets, passing shops, stubes, and cafes.

City Map including Rappahannock River and Rappahannock Canal
Following along the river and the canal, this starts out much like any other rural hike. The rivers' beauty and wildlife never disappoint, and the canal takes you back to 1849, when it was constructed to make the river navigable up and beyond the fall line rapids.

Rappahannock Canal Path

The canal brings you into town where history starts to come into focus. As you enter, you happen upon Kenmore - the home of George Washington's sister, Betty. A short walk further, you come across the home of Mary Washington, George's Mother. The homes are close enough that Mother visited daughter often, and she is buried on Kenmore property.

Kenmore - George's Sister's House (Betty Lewis)

Mary Washington's House (George's Mother)
As we hiked on and on, we passed more and more reminder's of our nation's history. When we arrived at the City Dock, we saw the area where a ferry crossed the river a long time ago - over to Ferry Farm - George Washington's boyhood home. Legend has it, if there was ever a cherry tree, it was here at Ferry Farm.

Ferry Farm - Across the river - Standing at the Ferry Crossing

We covered the boundary of the town. 6.8 miles in all. We stopped when done, grabbing a cup of coffee from a local cafe and visiting an antique shop. Our hike was done - but our time back to the 1600's, 1700's, and 1800's, was not.

If you get the chance, explore Fredericksburg. I recommend by foot.

See you on the trails...


Monday, January 20, 2014

#5 Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve

Chestnut Ridge Trail

What a great day to get outside! With temps pushing 60 degrees, and tomorrow's forecast of 4-8 inches of snow and much colder temps, this was a great opportunity to get one more hike in on a beautiful, sunny day.

Today, I checked out a 4.6 mile hike at the Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve. A beautiful area with numerous trails, culminating with a trek up Chestnut Ridge trail to a panoramic overlook.

Scenic overlook looking Southwest

 It was a nice view; the skies mostly clear, and as I faced west, I saw the Blue Ridge Mountains off in the distance. The greenstone and white quartz rock provided a perfect resting place, so I sat, taking in the sun, watching hawks glide, enjoying the peacefulness.

Catlett's Branch-East
Catlett's Branch - West

A number of small streams begin in the area, coming up from the ground and running quite clean and clear as they head off into more developed areas of the towns below. I followed along Catlett's Branch, through this hollow and that, as I worked my way through the preserve.

William Dawson grave-site today

Dawson grave-site (date unknown)

I am becoming more accustomed to the individual and family cemeteries I come across. Today, it was a cemetery for William Dawson, born in 1802, and passing 51 years later. I can't find much pertaining to him, though did find this old photo of his grave-site to go along with mine.

Beverly Mill
I ended the hike passing by Beverly Mill (also known as Chapman Mill.) It is a historic mill from the pre-civil war era, built in 1759, and powered by Bull Run Creek.

The author in his element!
The vista, the history, and the clear, sunny, beautiful day made this trip worthwhile. I would certainly come here again, being mindful of both day, and time of year, as to avoid the crowds.

Keep hiking friends,


Friday, January 17, 2014

#4 South Valley Trail

A few days after being knocked down and out with some sort of bug, both my appetite and desire to get back outside returned. Knowing I should stay relatively close to home, I chose to hike a 5.2 mile stretch of the South Valley Trail in Prince William National Forest. It was a stretch I had yet to hike, and I was pleasantly surprised with the views and dynamics of the trail.

Riley was my hiking partner today - and as she jutted down the path, tail wagging, it dawned on me that I was just as happy as she was to get out and explore this new section. Riley ran after some deer she had no chance of catching, and I soaked in the bright sunshine that was just warm enough to take the chill out of the air.

 Mawavi Road towards South Valley Trail

I wasn't aware of it, but in the 1930's the Civil Conservation Corps built a dam on Quantico creek that allowed for a lake to form. The quietness of the lake made it seem quite the place for wildlife to gather; and the deer, beaver, and geese in the area seemed to attest to that.

You would think with the trail running parallel to the creek, the land would be flat, but this is hardly the case. The trail winds back and forth along the creeks edge, then dives further into the woods. The area is hilly and somewhat rocky, and you get to take in many different facets of nature.

I also came across areas where assistance has been provided to the park, such as the footbridge below, which crosses Quantico creek. It was built by the Sierra Club as part of a bridge-building demonstration.

Footbridge built by Sierra Club
All in all it was a great day, at one of my favorite nearby places. If you haven't been to Prince William Forest Park, and you're in the area, be sure to give it a try. I think you'll enjoy what you see!


Sunday, January 12, 2014

#3 - Manassas National Battlefield Park

After a week of snow, ice, frigid temperatures and heavy rains, today was a day to get out in the fresh air and sunshine! Wanting to stay away from steep hill climbs and muddy paths, this National Park offered up rolling hills, well-maintained paths, and the history of an event that happened just a short 152 years ago. That, along with temps near 50, allowed for a near-flawless and beautiful day.

I am not a Civil War buff, but must say I thoroughly enjoyed hiking back in time, to July 21, 1861 to explore some of the events - and cover the ground - of the Civil War's first major land battle.

"There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer." -Brig. Gen Barnard Elliott Bee, Jr 

I started off today's hike at the statue of Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson. A Park Ranger pointed out a six mile trek that wound through gold colored grasses, wooded paths, family cemeteries, and strongholds held by both Union and Confederate soldiers. I couldn't have asked for a better route.

 The first of many deer I saw along the way

I noticed almost immediately that not many people were at the Park today. I know this will change as the weather improves, so I plan to take advantage of the ability to see sights while the crowds are small. Today, I had ample opportunity to come across a number of deer. They did not seem disturbed by me, so I passed with nothing more than a semi-watchful eye on their part.

 A Union Cannoneer's View

While a good portion of the hike was through wooded trails, the reality of what occurred here is identified in the fields, hills, tree lines, and houses that remain. The photo above is a view from a Union stronghold on Matthews Hill. Within eye-sight of where Confederate soldiers held Henry Hill. The tranquility of the area could not remove the fact that a lot of blood was spilled on this soil. Markers and memorials attest to that fact.

I appreciated the hike today. For the sun; the fresh air. For the serenity of this location. I was reminded yet again of what our National Parks have to offer.

Until next time... See you on the trails,


Sunday, January 5, 2014

#2 Prince William Forest Park

I am becoming very fond of Prince William Forest Park. It is a small park as National Park Service parks go, but the trails offer solitude, and in most cases, creek-side scenery where you're almost certain to see some form of wildlife. Today, as the weather forecast continued to decline, it was a herd of deer that rustled the silence of the day.

I chose a new path today, starting along the Laurel Trail Loop, crossing Quantico creek (south fork), then onto the North Orenda Road trail. The path was icy and slick, and I was best served to stay off to the sides of the trail for better footing.

Laurel Loop Trail

As I walked along this new trail, I was surprised to find one of the small, private cemetery's in the Park. I have heard of their existence, but to this date had yet to research their locations. This cemetery I came upon appeared to consist of 4 graves. I was only able to make out the inscription on one, and I believe it was the most recent: Katherine Johns, Born Nov 22nd 1891, Died Apr 13th 1931. I have yet to find information on Katherine John's, but was able to research there are over 45 family cemeteries existing within the park, and at least 300 individual burials have been identified.

Private Cemetery

My takeaway from today: Go to the park during inclement weather. You, the deer, and the dearly departed have it to yourself. I hope to learn more of the families and individuals buried here.

See you on the trails!


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

#1 Great Falls National Park - New Years Day

Happy New Year! I kicked off my goal of fifty hikes at 50 on New Year's Day 2014! My wife surprised me with an annual National Park Pass, so no better way to get started than a trip to Great Falls Park along the Potomac river (part of the National Park system).

I have been to this area before, with hikes along Billy Goat trail in Maryland (a great hike and rock scramble!), and the river today was as high as I have ever seen (see above photo). What a great way to get out, enjoy one of our National Parks, and experience the natural beauty of this area!

One of the more interesting things I came across was a marker of the highest recorded flood levels at this location (see photo below). The 1972 mark immediately reminded me of Hurricane Agnes, which caused much damage to the area. The top marker identified flooding in both 1936 & 1942.

My take-away from today: "Yes! I have started!" - and the reminder there is plenty of good hiking left to do in this area!

See you on the trails!