Patapsco Valley State Park, Orange Grove area
The Orange Grove area boasts a 300-foot (100 meter) bridge suspended over the Patapsco River called the Swinging Bridge. The main trail runs between the Patapsco River and the railroad tracks and leads also to the Bloede dam, the first internally-housed hydroelectric dam. The trail was flat and very easy, but Bobby and I had decided to walk to the Trolley Stop for supper last night, which is about three miles from home, one way. It was a lot of fun, but I think we both appreciated an easy walk today!
We did about two to three miles, I estimate, at Patapsco Valley today, which totals to about eight miles in twenty-four hours. Ai! My legs and feet were sore by the end of it, but it was a good kind of sore--this sounds odd, yes, but will make sense to other athletic-types, I'm sure--not a painful kind of sore. That also probably sounds strange, but to me, there is a difference between "stop what you're doing right now!"-sore and "you've challenged yourself in a pleasant kind of way"-sore.
The Swinging Bridge is one of this area's main features, and you can't miss it: to access the trails on the other side of the Patapsco River, it is the first thing that you cross. At three hundred feet, it is quite impressive and indeed does swing beneath you as you cross it. Bobby and I entertained the notion of playing Indiana Jones on it...or maybe Pirates of the Caribbean! It affords a beautiful view of the Patapsco River, though.
Here is the bridge, viewed walking from the parking area to the trails.
And the Patapsco River from above, this one looking downstream.
The trail goes in either direction, so we picked to go left first, deeper into the woods and away from civilization. Because the trail runs parallel with the railroad tracks, there are bits of railroad-related structures and the occasional rotting traincar to be found, as well as culverts beneath which run the little streams that join the Patapsco. One in particular was interesting, and actually formed part of two trails that we plan to explore at a later date.
Walking under it, it is amazing how cold it becomes, as though it is air-conditioned!
Further along, there was a long wooden fence bordering the trail, and this contained an intriguing and--yes--slightly creepy surprise: spiders! At first, I thought them to be middle-sized versions of wolf spiders. They certainly resemble wolf spiders in appearance and in movement, but they build funnel webs and--according to my field guide--wolf spiders do not construct webs except for one genus. What sorts of webs that genus constructs it does not say. The only example of funnel-web spiders that it gives is the grass spider; these were certainly not grass spiders.
So we're going to say that their funnel-web-spiders-that-resemble-wolf-sp
(Jenni, I took these pictures for you, since we're always comparing spider stories!)
The spiders were about 1.5 inches (3.5 cm) long. This one shows the funnel web the best, just behind the spider. They would stand at the entrance of these like little brown guards...all they needed were halberds!
These next two better show the spider. This was probably the largest of the spiders along the fence. You can also see her funnel behind her, though not as clearly here.
Check out the larger-than-life spider-shadow on the fence behind her too!
When Bobby leaned in to have a look at one, she must have caught sight of his shadow because--in a blink--she was gone into her funnel. It was as though she'd simply disappeared.
Further along the trail came an interesting sight of the human-made variety: the Bloede dam, which was the first internally-housed hydroelectric dam in the world. Unfortunately, with the trees and undergrowth being at midsummer thickness, we could not get a good look at it. We took a little side-trail, but it dead-ended before we got to the dam. This was the best view (and picture) that I could get, through the trees. That white blob is the rushing white water.
The trail ended shortly thereafter, and we headed back to explore the trail downstream, heading back toward the picnic pavillions. On the way, I took some generic river photographs. The water is still high after all of the rain that we received two weeks ago, though not as crazy as it had been. Still, there were areas that should have been dry that were boggy, and it was fairly clear that the river had overflowed its banks in places. Interestingly, this was the first hike I have ever taken where every streambed has had actual water in it, sadly. Maryland seems to be in drought more often than not, and most of these streams are dry except after the heaviest of rains.
Sooo...generic river photos:
Benign as it looks, the Patapsco River is no joke. It is the same river that has flooded my hometown of Ellicott City in the past. Beginning in Western Maryland, it eventually empties into the Chesapeake Bay.
Also, a pair of generic pictures of the two dorky conservationists responsible for these pictures and this entry! I hope I don't have to point out which is me and which is Bobby. :^P
On the second leg of our hike, we found a little beetle that I'd never seen before. He rather resembled a potato beetle in shape and in coloration, but the banding pattern was horizontal (rather than vertical) and only three stripes. My field guide has been no help, so I'm going to have to research him elsewhere. In the meantime, we will call him a Random Beetle:
Whatever he actually is, lots of his cousins were squished on the trail, so they're common to the area and must also like to sunbathe on the warm asphalt...never good in an area prone to hikers, cyclists, and the occasional horse!
Besides a Random Beetle, there were a lot of damselflies (these are related to dragonflies, the difference being that while dragonflies rest with their wings spread from their bodies, damselflies fold their wings behind them), and two were attached in a rather provacative manner. I was pretty certain that they were copulating, but when I crept in for a closer look (now that was inevitable!), the one's naughty bits appeared attached to the other's...head? Do damselflies have oral sex? I didn't think so! I tried to get a picture, but they were shy and flew off. Alas, my field guide shows that this is actually a way in which they lay eggs, in which the male holds the female in place so that she can lay her eggs in soft wood. Hey, I learn something new everyday!
(Though I will admit to being a little disappointed that they were not copulating. Or having oral sex.)
We also found quite a sizeable gaggle of Canada geese, just chilling out on the opposite shore. Canda geese are not uncommon sights on the Patapsco River, but I'd never seen so many in one place before; it's more common to see a pair paddling along the river. Maybe this was a Canada geese rest-stop and they were there for the vending machines and comfort stations?
It's always interesting also to observe the human life spied along these trails, in particular those with adjacent picnic facilities that tend to attract folks whose idea of "outdoors" is walking to the mailbox. By far, though, the coolest people we encountered were a pair of older fellows on old-school bicycles. They whistled as they came up behind us, which is appreciated by any hiker, since it is hard to hear a bike approach on a paved trail (which this was). They looked to be in their seventies and were having a mighty fine time and were quite friendly in passing! I hope that when I'm their age, I'm still interested in visiting state parks.
We made our way back on tiring legs and sore feet. (When I got home, I discovered that I'd torn open a blister and the space between my second smallest and middle toe was filled with blood. Ai! And I didn't feel a thing!) Eight miles over twenty-four hours is not bad at all.
We crossed back over the Swinging Bridge and I took this picture of the Patapsco, looking upstream, from above. It is probably my favorite in the whole lot.
Another day, another hike. It feels like we opened opened more doors than we made discoveries today since every turn seemed to bring a new trail that looked exciting to explore. We will be back. This was simply the cursory trip to check things out.
In the meantime, amid the inspiration that Nature gives me, I started to formulate another story idea. I really must stop spending so much time outdoors and more time writing this stuff down! Soon, I won't be able to remember it all anymore.