Cunningham Falls State Park
We'd done six hikes already this year before Saturday but they were all easy trails. CFSP--aside from the direct trail leading to the Falls--has nothing with a rating less than "Difficult." We were up to the challenge.
Saturday was a beautiful day with temperatures in the mid-80s. When we woke up, the clouds looked threatening, but Bobby checked the radar and there was no rain in sight for 600 miles. So we headed west on Interstate-70. One of the wonderful things about Howard County is that one only has to drive west for fifteen minutes before the mountains become hazy in the distance. I've never lived so close to mountains before.
Cunningham Falls is part of the Catoctin Mountains, which are in turn part of the Appalachian Mountain range. The Appalachians are the oldest and were once the highest above-ground mountain range in the world, comparable to the Himalayas. Millenia of wind and rain have worn them down to the graceful mounds that now grace our western horizon.
Getting to CFSP was a bit of a challenge, as MapQuest was a little dicey, then a sign was down and so we ended up guessing our way. Luckily, we made the right choice and ended up in the place we needed to be. There were two ways to get to the falls: the easy-rated Falls Trail--the only "easy" trail in the park consisting of a well-maintained gravel path*--and the difficult-rated Cliff Trail.
It is my nature-snob's opinion that no "trail" lined with gravel or containing fences to keep hapless walkers from falling over the side should count as a trail. If you're not getting your boots sucked off in mud, ducking under fallen trees, and possibly tramping through dung, then you're not really hiking.
Bobby and I thought that we'd have time for two hikes, so we were going to take the easy trail and save our climbing for later in the afternoon. Alas, we stepped onto the Falls Trail right behind a gaggle of suburban yuppies complete with the screaming kids...and we looked at each other and said, "Cliff Trail? Yes!"
It was worth it too because we never got around to the second hike. But the Cliff Trail was called "difficult" for a reason, though (luckily) most of the climbing was in the beginning. I have learned that climbing is best done as such: take a deep breath, put the first foot forward, and go. Don't stop. If you stop halfway up, it's hard to get going again. Momentum is your friend.
We made the climb, and it basically meandered down to the falls from there, past several interesting rock formations. The first photo turned out a little blurry but shows the top of the rock formation that you will see in the second picture.
Once we climbed down, we found that the rocks were spectacular indeed! Of course, I assured Bobby, being named after a Lord of Caves, I knew that they were there all along. I find myself wondering how elements over time have given rocks their shapes. These were deeply gashed in places and actually looked a bit precarious, like piles of blocks that might tumble over at any second. I wouldn't want to be standing beside them when we got a rare Maryland earthquake.
And yes, the dork to the right of the picture, staring at the rocks, is me!
Shortly, after, we reached the Falls. Unlike Swallow Falls (the State's largest waterfall) they are cascading waterfalls and so it's hard to get a picture of the whole thing. We did our best with the different sections though.
The Falls--as we expected--were crowded...and with the sorts of people who step outdoors for a purpose other than walking to their car at most once per year. The falls were best accessed by crossing the river and climbing a rock face. Coming from a somewhat neurotic family, I was nervous about climbing the rocks. Bobby had already scrambled up, and I said, "I don't think that I can do it."
It was just enough of a fall that I could hurt myself if I lost grip. And the rocks were very smooth, without handholds. I wubbled. I really wanted to go up.
So I put one foot up, just to see what it felt like. Then two feet...and I slowly began to climb. I slipped...but didn't fall. Then I was at the top and the worst was over! Until coming down again, that is.
We climbed up the falls, taking pictures along the way.
Naturally, I had to yell at Bobby periodically to be careful on the rocks and close to the edge. Well, it's an improvement over when we hike to the King and Queen's Seat at Rocks State Park and I won't even let him within five feet of the edge!
But here's proof that I did it: Dawn with the Cunningham Falls in the background.
And my handsome husband:
And the two of us together, taken by a friendly fellow up on the rocks with us:
This one made Bobby go, "Awwww...it's the 'gund!" last night while we were looking at the pictures. (Yes, he calls me the 'gund...and Felak too!)
Then came the process of climbing down, which took me a while while I had my pride handed to me by a bunch of kids who made easy work of it. I kept imagining how I was going to explain a broken leg to my skating instructor, since our show is on Wendesday. But I made it down without even a scratch. Next time, it will be easier. And--as I told Bobby--in twenty years, he can hope that I've cured myself of neuroticism altogether.
Bobby had packed a lunch of bagel chips, cheedar cheese cubes, and apples, so we walked back to the picnic area and had that. It was about 3:30, and we decided that it was probably a little too late to start the ambitious hike up to Cat Rock that we'd planned. We'd spent longer at the Falls than expected. Also, the Cat Rock hike is a seven-mile hike rated "difficult"...and with a two-hour skating rehearsal the next morning and a show on Wednesday (not to mention that my hip has been hurting again), we both thought it best to save it for another time.
So, instead, we went canoeing!
I'd been in a canoe once in my life before: at the age of nine, at the Beechmont Christian Day Camp in Kingsville. (Yes, Dawn went to a Christian Day Camp. No, the place did not burn down the moment that she stepped through the gates.) I was the second least popular girl in my camp group, so naturally, my canoeing partner was the least popular girl in the camp group, and I think that we managed to row about three feet before giving up and trying our lucky with the pedal-boats instead.
It took Bobby and I a few minutes to get the hang of the best way to work together as a team, but then we were off and good to go! We did most of the perimeter of the lake, and Bobby got some nice pictures of the lake with the Catoctin Mountains in the background.
This one is my favorite because you can see the shadows of the clouds moving over the mountain. There is something fascinating and beautiful about watching cloud-shadows move on mountains.
And Bobby in the canoe:
And Dawn in the canoe (with her crooked sunglasses on--don't laugh!):
It was a great afternoon, and we're already planning to go back and do the Cat Rock hike, as well as check out the boat rentals at our more-local Patapsco Valley State Park to go canoeing again.