I tagged along while my wife attended a work-related conference in West Virginia‘s eastern panhandle. The in-laws watched the kids back home. That provided me with a rare couple of days to wander around the woods while my wife schmoozed with conference attendees. In an area so rich in significant events that shaped a nation, with John Brown’s final stand at Harpers Ferry, with the Antietam Battlefield just across the river in Maryland, with my background as a historian, what was my focus for my initial day? The Maryland-Virginia-West Virginia (MDVAWV) tripoint, of course.
In defense of my decision, it’s worth noting that I grew up a couple of ridges over on the Virginia side of the border. I’ve walked through these iconic historical sights dozens of times, often acting as an informal tour guide for family and friends. I wanted to focus instead, just this one time, on the geographic features of the tripoint area at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.
View Larger Map
Most readers have followed the Twelve Mile Circle long enough to know that I’m all about the easy catch. I’m driven to visit these places but I’m also lazy, and I feel no shame admitting that. Thus, while it’s theoretically possible to touch the actual MDVAWV tripoint — and many people have done that — I felt no particularly burning desire to walk down a heavily-traveled and dangerous highway with narrow shoulders for several hundred yards, hop a guardrail, and shimmy down a steep muddy bank to the riverside to do that. I considered it "good enough" to circle around the tripoint in all directions within reasonable proximity. I realize this is anathema to real tripointers who feel a need to place their foot on the actual physical spot for it to count, but so be it. If you’re not bothered by my lack of complete geo-geek compulsive accuracy, then please feel free to continue reading.
MDVAWV is one of those areas where one can easily travel through three states in a matter of moments, in this instance along U.S. Route 340. The video starts in Maryland at the end of a bridge since Maryland "owns" the entirety of the Potomac River where it serves as a border, a condition that traces all the way back to a 1632 Royal Charter. The preponderance of the clip then traverses Virginia territory until the very end of the video where one can spot the Jefferson County, West Virginia sign.
One should be able to complete the journey in under a minute during normal conditions. I would have accomplished that had I not been delayed by traffic at the stoplight. Somehow Virginia managed to cram an intersection, traffic light and a gas station into their tiny section of Route 340.
This is one of my favorite geo-oddities of all time. I have memories of this tri-state combo going all the way back to my childhood.
I crossed a river again, this time the Shenandoah, on the way to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The confluence of the Shenandoah flowing into the Potomac would be a great place to locate a town during a time when water served as a means of transportation and provided industrial muscle, and indeed that’s what happened here. History runs thick in Harpers Ferry — and maybe I’ll save some of that for a future post — but today I walked directly through the lower town and focused solely on the tripoint.
This vantage begins at the furthest tip where the Shenandoah and Potomac join, focused downstream. I guess the most interesting feature here is the section of West Virginia on the other side of the water. That, my friends, is the northernmost corner of the only section of the state that can be called "Almost Heaven" legitimately. The rest of West Virginia shouldn’t be allowed to sing that annoying song about country roads, but it’s completely acceptable in that small, narrow strip. I refrained from singing. That would be painful for anyone standing nearby. I did hum to myself quietly.
A pedestrian walkway along a railroad trestle extends from the base of Harpers Ferry to the Maryland side of the Potomac River, providing access to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park. The C&O Canal towpath stretches along the Potomac from Georgetown in the District of Columbia to Cumberland, Maryland. That’s 184.5 miles (297 kilometres). I hiked only about a half-mile of that distance until reaching the Maryland Heights trailhead.
The climb up the bluff is quite invigorating and passes the remnants of Civil War batteries that converted Maryland Heights into a mountaintop fortress. If I’d had more time that morning I would have completed the five-mile loop along the ridge to wander through some even more impressive ruins. Instead I took the spur towards an overlook high above Harpers Ferry on the Maryland side, with views of the town and of course the MDVAWP tripoint area.
This was a wonderful spot to stop for a quiet, contemplative lunch. I had the high ground all to myself.