Friday, October 01, 2021

Blockhouse Point Loop: Hunting for Pawpaws, Where The Water Ends and Other Sunday Morning Discoveries

A couple of weeks ago Shira found this list of 22 walks in the DC area. Last Sunday, the weather was perfect and we had a bit of time, so we decided to tackle one of walks on the list that we hadn't yet done: Blockhouse Point Loop. At 7.5 miles, I was confident we could knock this out in the morning and still have time to get some chores done in the afternoon.

We got to the Maryland parking area at around 9am and it was essentially empty. The conditions were a bit on the chilly side; something we savored as weather here tends to oscillate between too hot and too cool.

The hike starts with a trek through the woods down to the C&O Canal. The hike was quiet and there was no sign of civilization or other hikers. We entered the C&O Canal at Pennyfield Lock and saw our first walkers and bikers for the day. The stroll along the canal was delightful, with glimpses of the mighty Potomac and a number of blue herons willing to stand patiently while I snapped endless pics. We saw quite a few pawpaw trees, though no sign of any fruit. And we had one possible bald eagle sighting, though that could have been wishful thinking on my part.

It wasn't until Lock #23, when we left the C&O Canal that my mind was blown. Lock #23, or Violette's Lock as it's known seemed to fork off into two separate locks. Upon closer inspection, one lock was marked as Inlet Lock #2, and the other was noted as lock #23. Looking at the Inlet lock its purpose became obvious quickly enough: it was an inlet--as in, it let the Potomac water in to the canal. This answered two questions I hadn't really considered: (1) how do you fill the canal with water and (2) how do boats get into the canal? Why through inlet locks, of course. Inlet Lock #2 is used to keep 17 miles of canal filled with water, all the way down to Lock #5.

The other notable feature of Lock #23 is that the canal is filled in with soil at this point. Again, this is something I'd never considered. Apparently I've never been out this far on the C&O. I just assumed that the canal, like the tow path extended 180 miles. But this isn't the case. The water stops flowing at Lock #23, and that's only due to a massive Depression era CCC project that restored the first 23 miles of the canal. Without that project, there would be no working canal at all.

Hiking away from the canal and back towards our car, we continued to see pawpaw trees but no sign of fruit. That is until I found two perfect specimens  dangling on a tree, practically asking to be eaten. I grabbed them and ate the first fruit. It was perfectly ripe and quite delicious. Considering how tasty it was to me today, I can't imagine what a pleasure it must have been back when grocery stores and refrigeration were science fiction.

As we made our way back to the Blockhouse Point trail network, we saw an Isabella Tiger Moth larve, known as a wooly bear and a toad which kindly posed while I took pics. There was one short, steep climb to push through but other than that the hike was easy going. I was hoping for views of the Potomac from higher ground, but none materialized.

The hike was 7.5 miles as promised, and we arrived back at a full parking lot without issue. If I ever do figure out what season pawpaws appear, I'll have to repeat this hike in the hopes of having a massive harvest. And given the bird life along the C&O Canal, next time I may have to haul along the DSLR and telephoto lens. This hike is a winner.

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