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Sunday, May 18, 2014

#20 - Difficult Run to Great Falls

I was very happy to be able to do this hike yesterday. It is one that has been on my list for awhile, the weather was perfect, and with the rains from the days before, the water levels were way up - providing views you don't normally see.

I was able to get an early start, which is key in the Great Falls area. By 10:00, I already had 3 hours of hiking under my belt, and was able to enjoy the calmness and coolness of the morning, catching some of the area wildlife before the sun's full rise.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect, though almost immediately, it was clear the water levels were high, some of the banks and paths had been breached, and other areas were not passable. Those turned out to be minor issues, as the area itself was beautiful, and I was determined to move on.

From the start - underbrush knocked down from flowing water
Trail washed out

Trail washed out
The area of Difficult Run turned out to be gorgeous, and I could not believe I had most of this area to myself. I paused a number of times, just to take in the early sun and rushing water.

Difficult Run

As I headed further downstream, I came upon an area with high rock walls and the water rushed by more powerfully. Difficult Run is essentially a creek, so to see this volume of water made for some nice views. In fact, as I sat down to take in the beauty, and the sound of the rushing water, I was surprised as I looked over at a Turkey Buzzard - who was looking back at me!

As I sat down for a moment to take in the sights and sounds, I turned my head to see this black vulture. The black vulture has shorter wings and tail than a turkey vulture - and is less common in this area. It's head is dark gray to black, compared to the turkey vulture's red head.
It was beyond this point where Difficult Run joins the Potomac - and I climbed from the waters edge up to Ridge Trail, where I could hear the river roaring in the distance. The views were beautiful, and I could not get over the speed of the river. Logs and full size trees moving at what seemed about 15 miles an hour.

First view of Potomac from Ridge Trail
Potomac from Ridge Trail

One of many large logs and trees sweeping by

Docks, barrels, tires, trees...

I moved from Ridge Trail to River Trail. Part of River Trail was closed, but the remainder made for beautiful views and some tense moments. Across the Potomac, on the Maryland side, is Billy Goat Trail. The National Park Service closed Billy Goat Trail due to dangerous conditions, though one hiker ignored that closure putting US Park Police in a dangerous situation.

US Park Police directing hiker to evacuate
Hiker on closed trail
US Park Police had their hands full with people ignoring closures

I came upon a Park Ranger rushing to get these two off the rocks

Spectacular views and being in awe of the rushing river kept this hike amazing as I worked my way toward Great Falls. Rock formations, plants, and wildlife made each step of this hike a great experience. As I made my way along, I was surprised to see both a Pileated Woodpecker and Red-shouldered Hawk. I was able to take a number of photos of these very beautiful birds.

River Trail

One of thousands of rock formations
Pileated Woodpecker
Red-shouldered Hawk
I made it to Great Falls. It was quite spectacular with the volume of water rushing through. I have never seen all of the rock formations completely covered. Even so, this level of water came no where near the top floods of the area. As I watched the water rumble by, I wondered how it would change the falls when water levels receded. I have attached a photo of Great Falls under more normal conditions - and as of yesterday.

Great Falls under more normal conditions
Great Falls - Saturday, May 17, 2014
 Yesterday's flow rate was 150,000 Cubic Feet per Second (cfs)
From here, it was Swamp Trail back to where I had parked. Green, lush, less traveled - as all of those arriving now were here for the river. The coolness and greenery was the perfect way to wind things down.

Swamp Trail

Chipmunk on Swamp Trail
Two Deer - Swamp Trail
I logged 7 miles on this hike, though the miles were never on my mind. Not with everything I had seen today. As I pulled out of the parking lot, dozens more were pulling in - smiles on their faces. Just as I had when I had arrived.

Keep Hiking, Friends!!

Until next time,


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