Skip to main content

AT 2017: Day 81, Dahlgren Backpack Campground to Ensign Cowall Shelter

I'm a sleepy time baby, a sleepy time boy

Hike with Gravity

I was wondering if it had been unkind of Stick and me to push as hard and far as we did yesterday. We’ve been hiking nearly every day for more than 1,000 miles, but Ralph just got on the trail.

Then I saw him shimmy up a bear pole last night and decided there was no reason to feel sorry for him.

Date
Weather Mostly sunny and warm, high in mid 80s
Trail Conditions Easy terrain, with one challenging section of rocks
Today's Miles 14.0 miles
Trip Miles 1,054.9 miles

Still, we planned to back off the miles a little today. What we didn’t realize when we started this morning at 7:00 was this would be a draining day. It wasn’t difficult, just tiring.

After an easy and short climb, the trail took us to Turner's Gap, where it crossed U.S. Highway 40 Alt. This spot has played a role in history many times.

Known as the National Road, the highway through this gap was the first major improved highway built by the U.S. government. Construction started in 1811, and by the time it was completed in 1837, the road had become an important route for settlers moving West.

The Old South Mountain Inn was nearby. It has a history of its own which goes back 250 years, well before the road became the National Road.

The restaurant is said to be a lovely place. It certainly looked nice from the road, but the proprietor is reportedly not accommodating to smelly hikers. It was too early to put that to a test.

Also located at Turner's Gap was Dahlgren Chapel, which has been standing here since 1881.

It was named for Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren, who was a wealthy and well-connected resident of South Mountain and Washington, D.C. She actively opposed the women's suffrage movement.

An important battle of the Civil War was fought near here on September 4, 1862. General Robert E. Lee saw an opportunity to take his Army of Northern Virginia into Maryland and capitalize on recent battlefield successes. His plan was to force the Union into a demoralized position, possibly pressuring northern politicians to sue for peace, or at the least, to encourage Britain or France to aid the Confederacy.

But Lee didn’t count on one thing. A copy of his battle plans fell into the hands of Union commander Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan.

With knowledge of the plans, McClellan’s troops gained control of all three passes in these mountains. In terms of casualties, however, the losses were roughly even, about 2,900 casualties for the South and 2,340 for the North.

Lee was able to regroup his soldiers and prepare for another battle, which happened less than 10 miles away at Sharpsburg, starting on September 17, 1862. The resulting three-day fight, today known as the Battle of Antietam Creek, ended in the bloodiest single day of American military history. When it was over, 23,000 men had been killed or wounded.

Antietam ended in a draw, but the Confederates withdrew back into Virginia. That was enough to encourage President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

It’s fascinating to me how the trail I’m walking on is not just a string of nature and geology, but is also a string of American history. For every historical point it touches, there are other strings to follow.

Before long, we reached another historical spot, and I wished I had been here when its history was made.

The day was July 4, 1827, when most of the 500 residents of Boonsboro, Md. marched two miles from the town's public square up to this spot. Then with much fanfare and celebration, they began constructing a monument to President George Washington, who had died 28 years before.

The townsfolk erected a tower in just one day, reaching a modest height of 15 feet. Later that year when the fall harvest was over, volunteers returned to increase the tower's height to 30 feet.

It was the first monument dedicated to George Washington. The more-famous Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. was not completed until 1885.

The tower was designed to look like a cannon, though it looked to me more like a giant milk jug.

Although well-intentioned, Boonsboro’s citizens built their tower with dry-laid stone in a spot that was difficult to access. Vandals and nature eventually took their toll.

By the Civil War when Union soldiers used it as a signal tower, the monument was only a few feet tall, with most of its rocks scattered around the base.

The Odd Fellows Lodge of Boonsboro sponsored a restoration effort in 1882. An iron-framed canopy was added to the top and a road was constructed up the mountain to make it easier to reach the tower. Before long, though, the tower deteriorated again.

Then from 1934 to 1936, the Civilian Conservation Corps took the tower down, stone by stone, and catalogued each one. A foundation was dug, which apparently had not existed before. When CCC workers reconstructed the tower, they used concrete to hold the rocks in place.

Just as we arrived here, a park employee pulled up in a golf cart and opened the door. That allowed us to climb the circular stairway to the top.

We stayed here about 30 minutes, enjoying the view and chatting with Dory and Splat.

When we left the monument the trail was easy to walk as it followed to the top of a ridge. After about an hour we crossed Interstate 70 over a vine-covered footbridge.

A half mile later the trail reached a side trail to a spot called Annapolis Rocks. The views from the rocks attract a lot of hikers, so much so that the area was being loved to death.

When we arrived we saw several areas had been fenced off to allow for the abused forest to recover.

It’s no wonder this place is popular. The views were expansive. What's more, it’s easy for day hikers to get here. They only need to walk 2.5 miles from a nearby road.

Sadly, until recent measures were taken the campsites here had become overused party sites. They were frequently littered with trash and human waste.

The National Park Service, along with the state government, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and local hiking groups, formed a plan to fix the problem. The plan came from research conducted by Dr. Jeff Marion, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The AT was rerouted away from here instead of directly passing by it. Limits were put on the kind of camping that could be done. Alcohol was banned and a caretaker was hired to keep watch over the site.

A new campsite with 13 tent spaces was constructed using side-hill techniques, which served as a model for the campsite I passed by on Day 1 at Hawk Mountain in Georgia.

After lunch at the cliff, Stick left ahead of Ralph and me.

The remainder of the day was much less interesting and much more tiring. It included a long section over large rocks.

To make matters worse, we no longer had cooling breezes on ridge tops. Instead, we were walking in a thickly wooded section of trail in stifling humidity.

Ralph and I almost walked right by Pogo Memorial Campsite without realizing Stick had been taking a nap under a tree. We apparently woke him up.

I was jealous, as I was feeling tired too.

Later, we ran into Pippi and JP, who also admitted they were feeling worn out today.

It must have been the effects of the heat and humidity.

During our last modest climb of the day a light rain fell, then briefly turned heavy before stopping.

I was dragging when we arrived at the camping area of Ensign Cowall Shelter.

It started to sprinkle again as we cooked dinner, and that was a welcome sight for me. It was a good excuse to go to bed early.

I was in my tent just after 7 p.m.

I'm a sleepy time baby, a sleepy time boy
Work only maybe, life is a joy

We'll have a sleepy time time
We'll have a sleepy time time
We'll have a sleepy time time
We'll have a sleepy time time
Sleepy time time, sleepy time all the time

Comments

"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine." ref.