Thursday, September 18, 2014

MD Mason Dixon Trail -Map 6: Havre de Grace MD to Mason Dixon Line

Sunday August 17, 2014: Havre de Grace to Susquehanna State Park, MD, 6 miles

The MDT has taken us through a few funky waterfront towns at the top of the Chesapeake Bay, and today we started and returned to the funky-French-named town of Havre de Grace, Maryland. Nobody actually speaks French here, but General Lafayette did, and since he helped us win the Revolutionary War, and since he came through here a few times, he got to name the town. The MDT starts in the backyard of the Susquehanna Lockhouse Museum and connects to a set of beautiful community trails that took us north along the west shore of the mighty Susquehanna River.

Lockhouse Museum in Havre de Grace, MD

This was our shortest hike of the series so far. We gave ourselves a recovery hike after slogging 11 miles through Cecil County last time. The weather was cloudy but cool, with little sprinkles of rain and little peeks of sun. We followed the blue blazes up a wall of boulders at the Arundel Quarry boundary only to find ourselves stopped dead in our tracks by a wall - a three story high wall - of briars, tear-thumb, and cane-banks of thorns. With thick sticks we beat down a path, slipping and sliding backwards on the steep embankment. There were no blue blazes to be found anywhere and we hoped that the description on the back of the map was right "shooting range at top' but without the shooters. After a frustrating half hour, we topped out at the gate to the county police range. Closed on Sundays. Good, because I put away that kevlar vest years ago.

Straight up the quarry dump wall into a thicket of thorns.

Lapidum Road leading into the park.

The road walk beyond our climb was  rather pleasant. We crossed over I-95 and rambled down the hill along Lapidum Road into a haze of cool drops hitting the humid air of the river valley. Our stroll ended at the Lapidum landing, now a boat launch, once a thriving riverside town and ferry crossing. We explored the river front, the remains of the canal and the foundations of an old hotel. The clouds broke apart and sunshine squeaked out. I could imagine Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon and their huge surveyors team coming across on the bateaus that served to ferry big wagons, men, draft horses, and oxen teams.

Colonial era ferry across the Susquehanna.

We hiked up the hill to find the MDT, blended with another trail for awhile, and soon skirted down the same hill to Rock Run Mill in the center of Susquehanna State Park. Full disclosure: I worked in this region as a law enforcement ranger so I am really familiar with this park, but it is still one of my favorite state parks as a hiker and kayaker. We visited the old mill still and it still  gives me a little shiver to think it's standing here after hundreds of years, dozens of calamitous floods, and that people still care for it and keep her huge overshot wheel rolling on days they open the millpond gate to run the equipment inside.

Rock Run Mill in Susquehanna State Park.

Trail marker for the MDT in the park.

Sunday September 14, 2014: Rock Run Mill, Susquehanna State Park to Glen Cove Marina

Back to a ten miler, we started at Rock Run Mill where we left off ...ummm... like a long time ago. This past month has been busy and we haven't had a chance to resume our hikes until now. Fall is in the air and temps to start - in the upper 40s, low 50s! It was nice! For this section we did the least amount of road walking so far, keeping mainly to well established and much cared for trail sections. 

Flint furnace along Deer Creek showing 2011 earthquake damage.

Our first stop was on the Deer Creek bridge on Stafford Road. As we left our little road section to pick up the Lower Susquehanna Greenway Trail, we paid the old flint furnace a visit. Here flint , quarried nearby back in the early 1800s, was reduced to a fine material here that was used in porcelain production, some of the finest in the region. The old stack is showing a bad set of cracks, that according to someone who looks at it almost everyday, opened up as a result of the 2011 earthquake. Creepy. But if I were a bat I would think it was the best thing ever.

Sycamore trees starting to show colors!

All the way to Conowingo Dam the trail was wide and getting a little busy with joggers, cyclists, dog walkers, and Sunday morning strollers (the push kind). Hands down the busiest we've seen any section of the MDT thus far. Another short road section up the hill and across Shuresville Road and we were back into the woods. We did not get lost this time because some one really enjoyed making blue blazes.

Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River, at Fisherman's Park.

Clearly they are not releasing water from the dam! Great catfishing!

This trail marker would surely leave an impression if you ran into it with your head.

There's no way you'll loose the trail on this section!

We crossed a very busy Rt. 1 (be careful here!) and entered the thick river hills woods, well-marked with lots of ups and downs through a pleasant oak-hickory forest. We pretty much apologized to every spider we met for whose web we walked through, ate, wore, or inhaled. Back to the spider web sticks! The breezes and river views were lovely and even included the world's largest warning sign and a bomb-shaped scary looking thing. My friend Ken (who served in the Royal Navy) says it is a oropesa, a bomb-shaped scary looking thing that was designed as a mine sweeping float towed behind a minesweeper ship. And it was the third one found since a flood washed them down river (two through the gates of the dam!) this past spring. 

A very nice trail marker at Conowingo.

I think they mean to tell us the gates are open.

Big bomb-shaped scary looking thing washed up in Hopkins Cove.

So there we were pondering the scary thing when Kim asks "I wonder if I can get it home?" She read on her smart phone an article posted by the Cecil Whig concerning the other two floaty things found down river. "What would you do with a mine sweeping float anyway? How would you get it in your van?" I asked, "It's fifteen feet long and several hundred pounds." She was lost in thought, however, no doubt plotting her salvage mission as we climbed over a stile that crossed a live electric fence, then walked next to the live electric fence on roly-poly rocks for about 200 yards trying not to tumble into it. We came out on to a beautiful pasture.

The hills are alive!

I wanted to twirl like Julie Andrews and sing 'The Hills Are Alive!" as we broke into the warm sunshine, our most open section of the trail this day, when - still pondering her great recovery operation - Kim stopped and looked down. "Poop. Big poop."  Now, when you see a big poop and you are inside the electric fence, a few things go through your mind. Practically steaming poop in a bushel-basket-sized-heap could mean a sweet-natured horse just meandered by, or a protective cow strolling with her calf came here to nurse, or a nasty bull is waiting for us just over that crest ready to drive our bodies to mud with two stomps of his enormous hooves. We hoped for the horse. And moved along a little more quickly. I stifled the urge to twirl and sing. Make sure you close the gate behind you and drop the latch, advised the map.

Lava rocks. No really. Lava rocks.

The trail is getting progressively rockier underfoot. Long gone now is the Coastal Plain deposits, pebbly and sandy and soft and flat. Now we were well above the Fall Line at Conowingo where Captain John Smith had to turn back his expedition of the Chesapeake, above the lift of tides where his little boat could go no farther upstream. Now we were hoofing across lava rocks, well into the wickedly folded and metamorphosed river hills. Some of the weathered boulders still showed their ooziness. I picked up a really nice hefty clod of undersea lava and placed it in my pack for the collection at home. This sliver of ridge that runs about two miles from the dam to the north of Peach Bottom (my home) is the remains of a fore-wall of a volcanic island arc caught between the North African plate and the North America plate, a tectonic event that closed the proto-Atlantic Ocean and created Pangea. That rock added about seven pounds to my carry. It is very dense stuff. 

Glen Cove Marina open directly out on to the great lake behind the dam.

We tumbled off the ridge literally into the boat launch at Glen Cove Marina, ten miles north of our start at the mill. The launch is the flooded valley of a river hill ravine, carved over 650 million years by a swift little creek to the drop at the river. Now it is flooded by the dam pond. We snagged some ice cream from the little supply and bait shop there and talked to the owner about our trip. He's a really nice guy and cares very much about the MDT and the hikers on it. He's allowed thru-hikers and long distance paddlers to camp above the launch and has even treated weary travelers pizza and beer. "I love their stories," he said. I was reminded of my own 440-mile paddle trip down the Susquehanna in 1993 and how much I appreciated the river folks allowing me to pitch a tent, even inviting me into their homes for a meal or a beer, and always to tell and listen to river stories.

Kim told the marina owner about the big bomb-shaped scary looking thing and he assured her that it would be better off where it was. "Some guy towed that thing all the way around here one day," he said, "and tried to winch it up on his boat trailer. I asked him what he planned to do with this thing and he said he wanted it for a lawn ornament." I could see Kim was crestfallen. "That sucker must weigh twelve hundred pounds! He couldn't get even part the way up on his trailer. So he towed it back to where you found it."I asked her later what she would have done with it. "Lawn ornament sounds nice."

We aren't quite finished with Map 6 yet as there's still about six miles to go, but we'll save it for the start of Map 5 so that we can make a good 11 mile hike out of crossing the Mason Dixon Line.  Now I wonder how on earth did Charlie and Jeremiah do it? These hills are formidable. But then, so were they.

A bonus for this section - visiting with an old friend who lives near Glen Cove Marina. Hey Bob!


Link to the Susquehanna Lockhouse Museum:

The Cecil Whig reported on two mine sweeper floats down river from where we found this one in Hopkins Cove:

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