Thursday, March 21, 2019

MD Howard County: Two Hikes/Ten Miles

One of my trail challenges this year is to hike at least ten miles in every one of Maryland's twenty-four counties by the end of the year. I think this is one spreadsheet I can complete easily as I continue to get my strength back in my weaker leg. I work in Maryland and drive all over the state for my job, so a lunch walk or two and a weekend long walk should fill the slots by next winter. Lunch walks between meetings are a good way to avoid eating lunch in the car in some parking lot. Find a park and a five mile trail and go!

I completed ten miles in Howard County while on two different client visits over the last two weeks. The trail conditions were mostly rolling to flat but very muddy and flooded. I turned around a few times, bushwacked, and tried different combo-routes to make circuits on both hikes, including a road walk to add some fast pacing. 

Shrine of St. Anthony, Ellicott City - 5 miles 

Lots of turn-around action on flooded trails. 

The Franciscan Shrine to St. Anthony is open to the public and offers a network of wooded trails that lace through an oak-hickory-poplar woods on a series of old farm roads. I also did some road hiking and walked out to a neighboring farm (one of my clients) after taking the tour of the shrine itself with the assistant director, Joe.

Emily Caton MacTavish house on former plantation lands owned by her grandfather Charles Carroll III.

This is old Charles Carroll III land, formerly of the plantation Doughoregan Manor holdings, which over the years was sold off and subdivided so many time it's confusing. Thanks to poor farming practices over 250 years, a lot of this soil has been washed out to the Chesapeake or clogged the once deep river channel with silt and sand. Charles III's granddaughter Emily received a good chunk of land in the 1830s on which she started her own farm and had a home built by her grandfather as a wedding gift. It was fun to creep around inside it with Joe as it is currently undergoing a major renovation I like that kind of thing. 

Carroll Champion Tree

After a morning tour and discussion concerning an upcoming farm conference I had lunch with Joe in a beautiful seminary dining area surrounded by dark oak and many papal portraits staring down at us as we ate. When finished I took to the trails for a quick three mile hike but not before visiting the Shrine to St. Anthony. Anthony was a contemporary of St. Francis and in his old age preached from a tree house in a walnut tree. 

The actual shrine to St. Anthony (with a relic encased in crystal) against the gorgeous walnut carving.

From an illustration in the seminary, the walnut tree is an important symbol.

I love the complexity of tree forms both in nature and in art so I enjoyed looking at all the ways the walnut tree was incorporated into the symbolism of the shrine. I was thrilled to get to visit with a champion tree, the Carroll Legacy Poplar, which is estimated to be about 250 years old. It would have been a young tree at the time Charles III signed the Declaration of Independence and certainly would have been a favorite picnic spot for Emily and her family as it grew at the head of a old spring-fed stream on a gentle slope. As I worked my way around muddy trail sections, I found several other trees that may be quite old, including a walnut on the edge of the property where I was far off the trail to avoid a flooded section. There was even a tree house to climb - built in honor of Anthony - and a great place to do a little birding.

A custom-built tree house to preach or bird from. 
I finished my lunch walk with a quick mile out-and-back for two total miles on the road that leads into the Shrine to get some cardio into the mix, then it was time for my next appointment at two o'clock.  My leg felt pretty good until I stood up from our hour and a half  meeting. When I went to get up my leg was so stiff it wouldn't straighten! Riding home for two hours didn't help it either, so when I got back I popped some hiker's candy (Ibuprofen) and did some serious stretching.

Middle Patuxent Environmental Area - 5 miles

After a morning meeting at a local school I visited this conservation area via the Southwind Circle entrance. The main entrance is closed for the next year as a new road and environmental center are being built. It was easy to connect the two loops for a breezy five mile lunch walk through the beautiful flood plain and Piedmont woods. The trails were in excellent shape and I was able to do all the ups and downs without too much trouble - and without poles.

Middle Patuxent River - the main drainage for the Carroll lands 

The birding was great on both loops as was the mammal-watching. I observed a Red Fox on the opposite shore jogging along through the sandy floodplain being harassed by a few Blue Jays and a chorus of Squirrels. Later I caught a glimpse of a Beaver tooling across the river. Red-Shouldered Hawks engaged in courtship loop-de-loops overhead and Pileated Woodpeckers were working tree stumps and logs for tasty beetles coming to life in the warm sun.

Beaver sign included cut trees and a scent mound as well as a brief but loud ker-plunk and escape across the river. 
Red-Shouldered chases Red-Tailed Hawk.

As I switched to the north loop using a connector trail I witnessed a real air battle overhead as one of the Red-Shouldered Hawks tangled with a Red-Tailed hawk, obviously trying to chase it from its courtship/nesting area. The woodland is second or third growth, recovered from its days as tobacco land owned by the Carroll family. There are plenty of old trees, too, and Wood Ducks cruised the flyway down the river, whistling and calling on their way to scout out nesting cavities. 

Lots of male Cardinals brightened the trail.
Woodpeckers were out in force on this hike. I counted two Downies, a Hairy, four Pileated, several Northern Flickers, and two Red-Bellied.. The sun was warming the tree limbs and trunks and insects were beginning to emerge, making easy pickings for quick and easy meals. Lots of new nesting cavities were being excavated in dead standing timber. There were also more Cardinals than I could count. Spring peepers were calling from the oxbow ponds and I could see the bright green leaves of skunk cabbage unfurling in the muck. Spring is finally here!

Nice boulder outcrop  - but no rock hopping for me for a while yet!

Setters Formation Rock Type includes pink/orange feldspar bands in a Quartzite matrix.

Mineral profile - heavy flakes of Mica and a spider sunning in a warm pocket of root and rock. 

The Setters Formation geology stopped me for a few minutes as I examined the orange-ish bands of feldspar and sparkling mica in fields of dark biotite. Not far from here is Patapsco Valley State Park where there is some great Piedmont geology to be seen, including an 19th century feldspar mine tunnel. Once this leg is completely strong again, I'd like to take a hike there and photograph the abundant outcrops and mineral profiles. For now though I had to book it back to the car to make my 2pm appointment. The fast walking again felt great - especially up the hill through the open meadow and back to the south loop.

Wide, clean trails in an open woods. 

As I made for my car my cell phone buzzed and I checked my message to see that my appointment had cancelled. Down with the flu. Oh well, no afternoon meeting, but a great lunch walk and long drive home under a warm sun.


Shrine of St. Anthony
Trail maps are available on the west side of the old seminary/school building at the chapel entrance. The grounds contain a paved, handicapped accessible trail as well as the woodland trails. A really nice place for an afternoon hike, open to the public dawn to dusk.

Middle Patuxent Environmental Area
I did this hike really fast, so didn't spend as much time lolly-gagging around as I would have if not constrained for time. I should really stop back and just saunter this area for some better plant ID and rock-hounding.