C&O: Carderock to Georgetown

On August 31, 2017 · 2 Comments

I ride my bike most weekends and I like to switch-up the route whenever possible. Sometimes I complete a circuit. Other times I’ll go for an out-and-back. When I do that I enjoy playing a little game I call "how far can I get in an hour." We’re blessed with an abundance of well-maintained, scenic trails and I can make it a pretty far. One route takes me from my home in Arlington across the Potomac River into Washington, DC, and then straight up the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal trail. Usually I don’t cover as much ground on this trail because the crushed gravel surface slows me down. Also I have to take my hybrid instead of my road bike for better traction. I still enjoy the challenge though.

For months, I’ve been telling myself I should slow down and enjoy some of the scenic and historic sites along the C&O. On Sunday I finally decided to do that, although the notion didn’t come to mind until I almost finished the hour. So I did a fast hour out, with a much slower return, stopping frequently for photos. I became the stereotypical tourist in my own backyard.

Someday I will ride all 185 miles of the C&O Canal trail from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, DC. I’ve done stretches of it including the DC-area portion dozens of times. Until that day comes, however, I can now say I’ve recorded a small part of it. This accounting shouldn’t be confused with a trail guide though. A really good one already exists. Instead, I present a few things that I liked as I completed my return. Readers can click the arrows on the side of each photo to see additional images in the series.

Carderock; Mile 11.8

C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

Why did I stop and turn around at Mile 11.8? Because I looked at my watch and I’d finished the hour. I’m very precise like that. I needed to head back home. Actually I made it about halfway between Carderock and Great Falls (map) if I want to get technical about it. Whatever. The Carderock Recreation Area featured all sorts of outdoor activities, not just biking. Lots of people hiked its well-known Billy Goat Trail on the rough stony banks of the Potomac River. Others climbed its cliffs, some of the most easily accessible rock walls in the DC area.

Original Mile Marker; Mile 9.0

C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

The geo-geek in me loved the marker at Mile 9.0, an historical artifact dating back to the operational days of the canal. Construction began in 1828 and builders didn’t finish it until 1850, although some sections started serving commercial traffic before that. However, railroads competed with the canal even before workers finished digging it. Floods devastated it several times too. The whole enterprise finally ended, abandoned, after the Flood of 1924.

That mile marker (map) stood sentinel all that time, passed by innumerable mule boats filled with cargo, and then into the present era. It read "9 miles to W.C." Presumably that referenced Washington City and not the nearest toilet facility. It took a boat pulled by a mule about a week to cover the entire length of the canal so this marker meant two or three more hours to go.

Sycamore Island; Mile 6.5

C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

Sycamore Island always intrigued me as I passed it on earlier rides. A private club owned the island, as it had since 1885, and tightly controlled access to it. Members took their own hand-pulled ferry across the narrow channel from the C&O trail towpath to the island. They rang a little bell when they wanted to cross and the permanent caretaker headed to the boat to pull it across. Only the caretaker lived on the island full-time.

The club didn’t offer a lot of amenities by design. Members could take canoes out on the water, enjoy the island’s natural setting, fish, swim, chat with other members, read books, or simply relax. It offered a little oasis of solitude in an otherwise complicated world. Lots of people seemed to want that opportunity, too. Applications were accepted only "between January 1 and March 31st on even-numbered calendar years." Even after that, by all accounts, it could take years for a prospective member to finally get to the top of the waiting list.

Lockhouse 6; Mile 5.4

C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

Locks required manual labor to open and close. However, miles of the canal crossed wilderness and few people lived nearby. Lock tenders couldn’t commute to their jobs from nearby towns. The canal company had to build homes for their employees on site. Many of these original lock houses survived and a few can be rented for overnight accommodations. The C&O Canal Trust restored Lockhouse 6, 10, 22, 25, 28 and 49 for that purpose, with each reflecting a different historical period. Lockhouse 6 (map), pictured above, represented the 1950’s when people finally started to think about preserving the canal. Lockhouse 6 was one of the few for rent with electricity, running water and heat.

River View; Mile 4.5

C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

I’d seen a little stub trail leading from the towpath somewhere around Mile 4.5 on several occasions. Kayakers seemed to portage to it from a nearby parking lot so I knew it lead to the river. I had a little time on my return trip so I followed the stub to its conclusion (map). It led to what looked like a parking area (clearly visible on satellite), which seemed odd because I couldn’t imagine a car ever driving down the towpath to get to the stub. Maybe it provided a way for emergency vehicles to access the river or something. People sometimes did get into trouble on this turbulent stretch of water. I don’t know. The terminus also included a viewing platform with some great scenery just upriver from Chain Bridge. Barely within the borders of the District of Columbia, it felt a world away from the rest of the city.

Georgetown; Mile 1.0

C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

I rather enjoyed the final slow meander towards home. Soon, way too soon, I arrived at Georgetown where I had to leave the C&O a mile before it ended (map). There I had to cross Key Bridge once again and head back into Arlington.

Presidential Layers

On September 8, 2016 · 2 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle discovered quite the layering of Presidential place names recently, completely by accident. I tried to find a better example during the larger part of an afternoon and never came close. Someone from the audience should feel free to post a comment with better results.

Washington State

Washington State Capitol
Washington State Capitol. Photo by dannymac15_1999 on Flickr (cc)

George Washington as the first President of the United States certainly deserved places named for him in abundance. He probably didn’t need Washington Ditch although I couldn’t fault those responsible for digging a path through a swamp for seizing the opportunity. New York City served as the US capital at George Washington’s inauguration in 1789 and it moved to Philadelphia the following year. In 1791, Washington appointed a commission to establish a new capital city in accordance with the Residence Act. The Commissioners came up with a new name for the city… Washington. I mentioned that because a really important place — namely the capital city of the United States — honored George Washington from the very earliest days of the nation.

Settlers moving to the Pacific Northwest north of the Columbia River wished to split from the previously-established Oregon Territory in 1853. They wanted to call their news state Columbia. Oregon Territory’s nonvoting representative in Congress took their case to the floor of the House of Representatives. Then things took a strange twist.

Upon the completion of Lane’s speech, a new issue was injected into the proceedings. Suddenly the question was not whether the new territory should be created, but what name it should be called. Representative Richard Stanton of Kentucky rose and moved that the bill be amended by striking the word "Columbia" wherever it occurred and substituting "Washington." The House then voted favorably on the motion.

Despite legends to the contrary, the change was actually just one of those things that happened on a whim. They weren’t trying to prevent confusion with the District of Columbia. Congress simply wanted to honor George Washington even more. Thus the US ended up with a Washington State (map) not a Columbia State.

Lincoln County

Lincoln County Courthouse (Davenport, Washington)
Lincoln County Courthouse (Davenport, Washington). Photo by cmh2315fl on Flickr (cc)

Washington State eventually subdivided into 39 counties. Several of them honored presidents other than Washington: Adams; Garfield; Grant; Lincoln; Jefferson and Pierce. Lincoln County (map) appeared in 1883, one of many places named for Abraham Lincoln in the US in the decades immediately following his assassination. The western states settled quickly during that era. Only Native Americans lived in what became Lincoln County a decade earlier.

"Wild Goose Bill" (Samuel Wilbur Condit) might have justly claimed the honor of being the first actual white settler of Lincoln County as he claims his advent into this country as a settler where the town of Wilbur now stands in 1875. Wilbur, named for its founder in 1887, was incorporated in 1889. While out hunting Mr. Condit once mistook a settler’s poultry and shot a fat gander. Ever after he was known as "Wild Goose Bill". Before he platted and named Wilbur, his trading place was known as "Goosetown".

I liked that some guy accidentally shot a neighbor’s goose and they stuck him with a lifelong nickname. People on the frontier could be cruel.

Lincoln (community)

Lincoln, Washington

Within Lincoln County I found a community of Lincoln. Sure, I’d prefer another president instead of the repetitious Lincoln. That didn’t happen. Lincoln County honored no presidents other than Lincoln although the notion of a President Fishtrap intrigued me. So I took what I could get. Nothing much distinguished the community of Lincoln beyond an RV Park/Campground and a post office with its own ZIP code (99147). It’s possible to send mail to people living in Lincoln, WA 99147.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Lake

Actually one thing distinguished the tiny community of Lincoln. It stood on the banks of Franklin Delano Roosevelt Lake.

Lake Roosevelt formed as a result of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River (map). Construction began in 1933 at the beginning of the Roosevelt Administration and it took nine years to build. Its massive reservoir stretched 150 miles (240 kilometres), and the dam produces more electricity than any other facility in the United States even today. The President didn’t name the lake after himself, though. That happened after he died. I don’t know if this was the first place named for Roosevelt after his death although it had to be somewhere near the top of the list. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes selected the name only five days after Roosevelt died.

The spectacular presidential layering to beat in this silly competition: Roosevelt Lake, with the community of Lincoln on its shores, in the county of Lincoln in the state of Washington.

Odds and Ends 12

On March 23, 2016 · 10 Comments

It’s been quite awhile since I posted one of the recurring Odds and Ends articles. I had a bunch of small items to share, so why not? People seemed to like them. I considered that #12 must have been special because it was twelfth in line and Twelve Mile Circle liked to celebrate all things twelve, although honestly the number really had no greater significance. Readers who wish to see the previous eleven articles can always find them in the Complete Index.

Even Lower Clearance

Low Clearance
Tunnel Under C&O Canal. My own photo.

I discovered a number of roads with particularly Low Clearances several years ago. Later I had the privilege of visiting one of those sites in person while traveling through western Tennessee, a road with an overpass only eight feet (2.4 metres) of clearance. I went several miles out of my way to chronicle the site. Obviously I had an affinity for such things.

Little did I know that an even lower overpass lurked practically in my back yard and I’d passed within eyesight of it at least a hundred times. One of my regular bicycling routes through Washington, DC took me down the Capital Crescent trail sandwiched between the Potomac River and the historic Chesapeake & Ohio Canal heading northwest out of Georgetown. Recently I’d noticed a parking lot at Fletcher’s Boathouse. Then, for some inexplicable reason, I began to wonder how cars got into it. The lot didn’t seem to have an obvious outlet to a road. I spotted the exit a few days ago, perhaps because the trees didn’t have leaves yet, and saw an amazing sign out of the corner of my eye: "Tunnel Clearance 7 Ft" (2.1 metres). A tunnel beneath the C&O Canal let an access road connect to Canal Road (map). That’s how cars got into the parking lot. It felt tight even on a bicycle.

Comments on that earlier article implied even lower clearances (perhaps as low as 2 metres / 6.5 feet), nonetheless the Fletcher’s Boathouse tunnel was now the lowest automotive clearance I’ve seen in person.


Disputanta, Virginia

I noticed a small settlement southeast of Petersburg, Virginia, oddly named Disputanta (map). There had to be a story. What kind of dispute would lead to Disputanta? I prepared to give it the full 12MC treatment as I rolled up my sleeves and started searching. The story seemed tantalizingly good as it emerged. William Mahone built the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad. He and his wife Otelia supposedly rode along the newly-opened tracks, naming stations in succession. She had been reading Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and suggested placenames based on the book. William agreed and a string of stations became Wakefield, Windsor, Waverly, and [Mc]Ivor. Then they ran out of worthy candidates and it led to a bit of a disagreement. They memorialized their tiff with Disputanta. The story probably wasn’t true although it sounded good.

Then I stumbled upon an article in the Virginia Pilot, What’s in a name? — Disputanta. I’d been beaten by about four years and I couldn’t add anything to it. I hate it when that happens.

Coded Places

312 Urban Wheat Ale
312 Urban Wheat Ale by Frank Gruber on Flickr (cc)

Has anyone been following the great comments on the recent article called Mike? I mentioned that Milwaukee’s IATA airport code, MKE, was used as a surrogate for the city name in certain circumstances. Readers Philip Newton, Rhodent and John Wood pointed out other examples – PDX (Portland, OR), LAX (Los Angeles, CA), RDU (Raleigh-Durham, NC), and OKC (Oklahoma City, OK).

That also got me thinking about different abbreviations and codes used in a comparable manner, including those that I’ve referenced on 12MC before. For example, Chicago’s 312 telephone area code was adopted by the Goose Island brewery for its 312 Urban Wheat, sparking similar land grabs by other breweries in different cities as in More Geo-BREWities. I’d also referenced the postal Zip Code made famous by a 1990’s television series in 90210: Myth and Reality.

I wondered if there were other abbreviations or codes used in a similar fashion.

Iqaluit’s Road to Nowhere

iqaluit: road to nowhere
iqaluit: road to nowhere by Agent Magenta on Flickr (cc)

Iqaluit (or ᐃᖃᓗᐃᑦ in the Inuktitut language) was the largest settlement and capital of Canada’s Nunavut Territory, with nearly seven thousand residents. I grew more curious about the city as I researched Sawtooth Elsewhere. Iqaluit offered a What to Do page on its website that included a "Road to Nowhere." That was its actual name and the road truly led nowhere (map).

Every city has its most famous road and ours is the Road to Nowhere. Most tourists want a picture under the road sign. If you’d like to actually experience the Road to Nowhere, you can hike or walk it year-round, ski it in the winter or drive in the summer. This scenic route will take you just outside of town on a winding road that goes by lakes, rolling hills and tundra until it eventually ends, in the middle of nowhere!

I’d drive it if I ever visited Iqaluit. I did pretty much that exact same thing when I went "out the road" in Juneau, Alaska.

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