Soldier's Delight is an interesting place for many reasons. It is most notable for its rare "serpentine barren" ecosystem and its variety of endangered plants. The area was also once the home of a chromium mine, and you can still walk down into the mine. (Although we've never done so; it's kind of scary, truth be told, that dark cut in the rock, the unknown deep in the earth.) And--as my trailhiking instructor told us years ago--finding a dumped body is an annual event at Soldier's Delight. (The remoteness of the place--there aren't many hikers--and the mines make it an ideal place, I suppose.) And that's the other advantage to it: It isn't overrun with other people, with screaming kids and hikers pottering along with fannypacks and walkingsticks...and bikes are forbidden, so you don't have to worry about being run down.
The serpentine ecosystem is layers of barren rock and low grasses. (The majority of endangered species are grasses.) Even on relatively cool days--like today--the places simmers, with heat pouring down from the sky and boiling up from the bone-pale stone. It is impossible to dismiss the notion of an alien landscape as you walk there. I have to continually remind myself: Yes, Dawn, we are still in Maryland.
The Department of Natural Resources is attempting to save the serpentine ecosystem from invasive Virginia Pines through tree removal and controlled burning, so from the rocks, the ragged stumps of removed trees stab the sky. The rocks bake beneath our feet and bright orange butterflies flutter among our legs and rest upon the rocks, wings pulsing slowly. Delicate four-petaled mauve flowers poke inexplicably from the "barrens." We pass trees with waxy leaves that point straight to the sky, a gnarled twisted tree that makes Bobby remark, "Maybe it's a gnome tree!" from which some civilizations believe sprites emerge. We pass trees laden with fragrant flowers like tiny honeysuckle, abuzz with bumblebees, around which dance swallowtail butterflies as big as my hand. The trails are not well maintained, so we duck beneath trees and battle thorns and occasionally must blaze our own trail where the marked trail is impassable. We both itch when we emerge, two hours later, and I have been stabbed in the leg by a branch and weild a wound like a vampire bite.
But, yes, we will return.