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Travel

Dark skies shed light on Shenandoah stars

Astronomers say that the Milky Way — that thick swath of stars that stretches across the dark night sky — isn’t visible for 80 percent of the people who live in North America. For many, the bright city lights cause the beauty overhead to disappear.

If you live in a light-flooded landscape, consider leaving the lights behind, perhaps on a one-with-nature trip to a national park, to find out what you are missing. Shenandoah National Park, on the western end of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, offers some of the region’s most unadulterated views of night skies and has several programs to help visitors appreciate them.

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Experience Harriet Tubman’s Eastern Shore

Water, marsh, trees, sky. This is the landscape of Dorchester County, MD, repeating itself along undulating narrow roads with high ditches for dozens of flat country miles.

This is the land where Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in 1822, where her sisters were sold to distant plantations and Tubman was sold to a new master at the age of 6. It’s the land she fled in 1849 to become a free woman in Pennsylvania, and it’s the place to which she returned to free her brothers, parents and approximately 70 others.

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Millersburg ferry boats mark 200 years of service

On any given day, travelers heading north from Harrisburg, PA, will be rewarded with spectacular views of the Susquehanna River and Blue Mountain. But anybody who keeps their eyes entirely on the road ahead of them might overlook two antique ferry boats traversing the river near the quaint town of Millersburg.

It is worth a pit stop to witness these floating historic landmarks — vessels representing the last known, all-wooden double stern-wheel paddleboats believed to be operating in the United States.

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Warm air masks coldwater dangers for paddlers

Parts of the Chesapeake region experienced expectedly warm weather recently, with some days in February feeling more like April. For paddlers, those first bursts of warm weather awaken the call of the kayak. If you count yourself among them, Moulton Avery, director of the National Center for Cold Water Safety, has a message for you: stop and think.

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West Virginia’s Dolly Sods: If wind doesn’t take your breath away, the view will

Far down a dusty dirt road, atop an Appalachian mountain ridge, vehicles were jockeying for any available piece of dirt on which they could park their cars. A fierce wind was blasting across the Dolly Sods, stirring dust and rocking the vehicles.

We finally pulled into an ad-hoc parking space near the Bear Rocks trailhead, but when the driver of the car to our right tried opening his door, the wind yanked it from his hand and it slammed into the side of our car. The driver sheepishly glanced at us as he tried to regain control of the wayward metal.

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Experience Alexandria’s maritime past

The developers of a luxurious waterfront hotel in Alexandria, VA, put construction on hold for several months last year after their shovels struck the wooden hull of a ship. The city’s team of archaeologists sprang into action, unearthing part of a 50-foot vessel scuttled into place around 200 years ago that contained a special kind of treasure: a piece of Alexandria’s maritime past.

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Kilns may again draw people to Cromwell Valley

Cromwell Valley Park near Towson, MD, has always seemed a place apart, a throwback to the days when this corner of Baltimore County was an agricultural valley. After passing the Big Screen Store, a beltway intersection and a busy high school, visitors are presented with 460 acres of trails, meadows and the Mine Bank Run stream valley.

This tucked-away getaway is popular with hawk- watchers and geocachers. Now, a piece of local heritage is providing another reason to visit: three newly restored lime kilns, located along a popular walkway that leads to a meadow filled with sycamore trees and deer. Stonemasons and brickworkers have repointed the brick and restored the beautiful domed arches and ironwork.

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Cross markers show extent of John Smith’s voyages

Ed Haile and Connie Lapallo, authors and historians who specialize in English explorer John Smith and the colonial settlement at Jamestown, VA, are following in Smith’s footsteps. Where Smith traveled with American Indian guides and a few fellow colonists, Haile and Lapallo arrive with concrete mix, a heavy granite marker and a water pail.

They are visiting 24 sites — as precisely as possible — where Smith marked the extent of his explorations with a Maltese cross. And they are replacing those lost markers with new ones. Eleven have been installed so far, with eight in Virginia and three in Maryland. Delaware will join the list soon.

“I like to think of it as restoring John Smith’s waypoints around the Chesapeake Bay,” Haile said.

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Herds of visitors love Pennsylvania’s Elk Country

On many days each year, Rawley Cogan can gaze out his Pennsylvania office window and see something that would have been impossible a little more than a century ago — grazing elk sauntering through the meadow and along the tree line in groups small and large, some with huge antlers that can measure 4 feet across.

“We have elk up close and personal lots of the time,” said Cogan, president of the nonprofit Keystone Elk Country Alliance. “It is a unique experience.”

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Spot waterfowl from a warm car at Merkle sanctuary

Nothing says winter like a V-shaped formation of Canada geese winging across a steely sky, their honking carried on a chilly breeze. Cold weather brings tens of thousands of geese, migratory ducks and other waterfowl to the Chesapeake Bay region as the birds seek warmer (or at least less frigid) places to await the return of spring.

The Bay is a relatively balmy refuge from the ice and snow that buries all food sources in their Canadian nesting grounds during the coldest months of the year.

There are many places around the Chesapeake region to view wintering waterfowl, and one — the Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary — is just a short drive from populous Baltimore and Washington, DC.

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Skunk cabbage rules the winter wetlands

The annual “swamp stomp” at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary is a wet, midwinter hike along the forested edge of the Patuxent River in Anne Arundel County, MD. For hike leader and sanctuary volunteer Siobhan Percey, it’s a pilgrimage of love — for the quirky, cunning and sometimes malodorous wetland plant known as Eastern skunk cabbage.

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Patuxent Research Refuge serves humans, flora and fauna

The Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, MD, is a wonderful surprise, a 12,841-acre nature preserve tucked between two major cities that is a world unto itself.

A turn or two off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway puts visitors on Scarlet Tanager Loop, a tree-lined winding road that leads through mature trees and ends in about two miles at a beautiful, interactive visitor and conference center.

Miles of trails meander around several lakes, where lilies bloom and Canada geese feed.

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Travel: Archives

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