After months of cold weather, the morning of our hike dawned warm and sunny! People and dogs were in very good spirits Sunday morning when we gathered at the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center. We shared chocolate and Blue Dog biscuits and introduced ourselves to three new hikers and their dogs. Joining us for the first time were Allison with Nellie, Nancy with Splash and Cheyenne, and Gene with Bo and Rocky. Sarah brought Toby and surprised us with homemade cookies when we stopped at the Maryland Mine, the half-way point of our hike. We were glad to see long time regulars Alice with Diva, and Jenifer with Tigger back on the trails. Hike leaders Jeff and Cindy, who came sans dogs, and Pat, who brought Mickey, were all wearing our new K9Trailblazers hike leader hats and Jeff and Cindy also modeled the matching T-shirts. A spiffy group indeed!
We were fortunate to have Rod Sauter, a National Park Service Interpreter, accompany us to the Maryland Mine. Rod did a wonderful job of entertaining us as well as teaching us about the history of gold mining in the area. He brought maps showing the geology of the area and photos showing the mine and mill before they collapsed into their current conditions. To set the mood, he even played the harmonica ("My Darling Clementine", of course)! We learned that the “get rich quick” schemes really didn’t work in this area, and in fact more money was spent just building the Maryland Mine than was made from all the gold taken from the entire area! Extracting the gold was a painstaking process that involved milling gold laced quartz and seperating the gold from a slurry of water and stone. Gold was originally discovered by a Civil War soldier fighting in the area and was mined here until about 1939. At that point the land was considered more valuable than the gold in it so a trolley line was built to bring people from Bethesda “all the way out” to the Great Falls area in hopes that they would clear the land and build homes. Today we are thankful this venture failed and we can enjoy hiking the woodland trails in the oldest second growth forest in Montgomery County.
Throughout the hike we stopped to discover signs of activity we would easily have overlooked without Rod to point them out. This ditch right here? That’s where miners dug a trench to locate the quartz formations that held veins of gold. The veins ran north to south, so the men ditched east to west to try to locate veins of gold that could be as much as 200 feet below the surface. That ditch over there? That’s where the sewer lines went. The developers tried to induce people to build homes here by offering water and sewer service, luxuries in a time when septic systems and well water were the norm this far out. The flat area we’re standing on? That’s where the trolley went. And that innocent looking chunk of rock over there? Why, that's quartz and may even contain some of that long sought after gold. Who would have guessed?!
Because there was a lot of icy slush on the trails, we frequently fed and watered our dogs (and ourselves) to prevent hypothermia by keeping everyone hydrated and burning those yummy calories. Thanks, Sarah, for the cookies!
From the mine, we continued around the remainder of the Gold Mine Loop
with Georgeann Smale, a long time C&O volunteer, who knows a great deal
about the area and the canal. She shared stories about olden times and modern
day activities along the canal as well. Unfortunately the second loop Georgeann
was prepared to lead, along Berma Road and the C&O towpath, had to be
cancelled because Pat bummed her knee and couldn’t do the extra miles and
we didn’t have any other co-leader who had previewed the trails. But the
good news is that our group is welcome back! Neither Rod nor Georgeann are
dog owners, and they spend a considerable amount of time dealing with off-leash
dogs in the park. So they heartily approved the K9Trailblazers concept of
hiking with leashed dogs and scooping after them! Look for a rescheduled
C&O hike in the near future, but meanwhile you can print out the map
and go have a look on your own if you want. Alice and Diva actually did
the second loop after our hike ended, and Alice reported that the views of
the Potomac and the canal from Berma Road were lovely.
(click on images for larger pictures)