Our choice of days was inspired: Foilage was at its most colorful, and the wind had been relatively low, so most of the leaves remained on the trees. Even the forty-five-minute drive out I-70 went by fast because the trees alongside the highway were absolutely gorgeous.
Cat Rock provides a spectacular veiw of the Catoctin Mountains, so we knew we were in for a treat. We parked just off of the road, at the base of the trail. There was a sign warning hikers that hunters also use the park during the autumn through spring, and Bobby said, "Well, as long as Dick Cheney isn't here...."
Though, talking to Johnny the Boss later, I found out that the President does have a residence out in Thurmont, Maryland, where the State Park is located, so....
The trail was rated difficult, and they weren't lying. It was 1.25 miles/2 km up the mountain, and I haven't been swimming or skating, trying to rest my hip, so I am seriously out of shape. And even after a mere three weeks of inactivity...I could feel it.
A practically perfect, beautifully scarlet maple leaf that greeted us as soon as we stepped onto the trail.
This little tree just begged to be photographed. The colors in the forest were spectacular: all hues of the spectrum between red and green.
The amazing range of colors in the forest, climbing the trail.
Some bright red berries that caught my eye!
Nearing the top of the mountain, my out-of-shape legs decided that they needed a break. We reached a strip of forest that had been cleared to make way for power lines, so we took a break to take pictures (and I also "watered some bushes," having had a lot of iced tea at breakfast that morning!) and for me to catch my breath. Bobby, not surprisingly, was fine: He plays hockey, skates, or runs nearly every day. My hip is feeling better, so soon, I hope to get back to swimming again.
The strip that had been cleared for power lines, nearing the top, where we stopped for a quick break.
A short walk later, we reached our destination: Cat Rock, which stands at 1562 feet/476 m, not too impressive when compared to other mountains in the world but fairly tall for Maryland. Also, the Catoctins mark the first of the mountains driving west into the Appalachians.
The elevation marker at Cat Rock. The Appalachian Mountains are some of the oldest in the world and were once the tallest...a few millenia ago! But compared to the rest of Maryland, which largely sits at or below sea level, this is a pretty significant elevation.
Cat Rock itself would perhaps be better described as Cat Rocks: It was more or less an impressive pile of boulders secure enough to scramble to the top. Rock-scrambling is not one of my best skills as a hiker. I am very uneasy on rocks, and what is an easy reach for Bobby often isn't so for me, being eight inches/20 cm shorter than he is. I got within three feet of the top of Cat Rock and couldn't reach a comfortable handhold to climb any farther, so I missed out on the best of the view. Bobby took lots of pictures, though, so that I could live vicariously through him. Still, it was disappointing, and if I was a few inches taller or just a bit braver, I probably would have been able to make it.
Looking up at Cat Rock from the ground.
Bobby's view from the top of Cat Rock, looking over the Catoctin Mountains and the autumn foilage.
The breathtaking range of colors in the Catoctins, from bright red to dark green.
Cat Rock with the mountains in the background.
A view from Cat Rock into the distance.
Definitely my favorite from this batch of photos, taken by Bobby: looking up into the colorful trees with a bright blue backdrop.
Colorful trees on the mountainside.
Cat Rock with the mountains in the background under a cloudy sky.
The hike back down was cake and pie: all downhill. The hikes that start uphill and end downhill are my favorites. I know that we're in trouble when we do a lot of downhill walking at the start because--sooner or later--we're going to have to climb back up, and I'd sooner do the climbing while fresh and not too tired. Bobby got a good ways ahead of me on account of my stopping every few minutes to take pictures of the gorgeous forest foilage. Even if I couldn't make it to the top of Cat Rock, that alone was worth the hike.
A brilliant orange tree against the gray stone at the base of Cat Rock.
The leaf-littered trail on the hike back down.
A perfect Halloween tree! Bobby and I call spooky-looking dead trees "Halloween trees" and pretend that they are haunted.
Back at the parking lot, we both agreed that this was easily one of the most beautiful and worthwhile hikes we'd ever been on--and we've been on quite a few. This year, the autumn colors looked more beautiful than usual. I don't think that they actually were; I think that this year, I finally stopped and looked.
Incidentally, we've been bad: We've ordered another camera. We've ordered a Canon Rebel T2 that Bobby found on sale for an irresistible price; we've been wanting an SLR camera since taking an evening course in nature photography a few weeks ago. SLR cameras come with the lenses separate from the camera body and were recommended by our instructor. Also, the Rebel is a traditional film camera, not digital, so that is new for us too. There are just some things that cannot yet be done with digital, so for our fancy-schmancy outdoor pictures, we thought it worth the cost and inconvenience of film.
So we'll have our little Fuji digital (that took these pictures), the SeaLife for underwater or really fast point-and-click digital shots, and the Rebel for our more calculated terrestrial nature photographs. Photography is addictive; there is just something special about being able to capture a moment on film and return to it and forever be able to remember what we were feeling in that moment. There is also something special about being able to share our adventures with people who might otherwise never climb to the top of a mountain, scuba dive on a coral reef, or experience a Maryland autumn.
Today, I carved another pumpkin since my wolf pumpkin had collapsed last week and is currently growing an interesting array of mold on the ledge between the kitchen and the study, and I wanted a pumpkin on the balcony for Halloween. Time and energy permitting, I might carve a third. But this one, I asked Bobby to choose the design. Last year, he really wanted a headless horseman pumpkin, but because I was a beginner and the design was rated "challenging," I was afraid to try it. This year, though--having proven my mettle with the wolf design--the headless rider would be a piece of cake. Not surprisingly, he requested the same design this year, and I spent about two hours carving it tonight.
This design was much easier than the wolf, but I really like this one; it's one of my favorite designs.