Updated on June 29, 2020
Day Trip to Pennsylvania and West Maryland
A star gazing trip to the woods of Pennsylvania, followed by some scenery on the way back.
My big trip to Utah at the beginning of June was coming up, so I thought it’s a good idea for me to go star gazing somewhere near my home first, giving my new Sigma 20mmF1.4 lens some field test.
There weren’t many places near Washington DC without light pollution, Spruce Knob in West Virginia and Buchanan State Forest in Pennsylvania were probably the only two spots within reasonably driving distance. After a couple of cloudy days and with much anticipation, I finally got a clear night forecasted for May 25-26.
Although Spruce Knob had darker skies, it’s forecasted to have some cloud covers early morning May 26, so I picked Buchanan instead, packed up everything and left home at midnight.
Buchanan State Forest Star Gazing
Weather-wise, the forecast I relied on (Canadian Meteorological Centre) called for a clear, cold and very humid early morning, which was certainly worrisome as fog could easily form under these circumstances. So while Weather.com predicted clear skies, AccuWeather predicted a foggy morning with low cloud ceilings.
It’s certainly a test of faith as I raced along I68 into west Maryland, among shifting fog (and not a lot of stars above). Yet the sights of a star-decorated heaven at my destination came most rewarding, leading to some enjoyable time ahead.
For the record, I took these photos in Buchanan State Forest of Pennsylvania, located along Route 326 south of the town of Rainsburg.
There was an overlook (A) located on “Blankley Road” (unpaved) not far from Route 326, where I took some of the photos. A trail running parallel to Blankley Road also afforded an overlook (B), presumably with less obstructions. But I found that hiking in the dark among all kinds of bugs weren’t very pleasant, even for a few hundred meters, so I didn’t venture there. Later, I found that views at the parking lot along Route 326 (C) weren’t any worse compared with the previous overlook.
These places were on a hill, with higher elevation than surrounding villages. It’s probably why my star gazing wasn’t bothered by fog/clouds that morning.
And when the horizons were lit up in preparation of a new day, I had a quick snack in my car, before driving to my next stop of the day, Dan’s Rock in Maryland, for sunrise.
A group of rocks next to a cliff south-west of the city of Cumberland. The site was directly accessible from a road, not being part of any established nature zone like state park or wildlife management area. That’s probably why artists came and painted these rocks with various patterns, without finding themselves in trouble.
Since the cliffs were facing east, I thought it’s good spot to watch sunrise, after my star gazing morning. Unfortunately, probably because
I went star gazing for too long I didn’t drive from Buchanan fast enough, by the time I reached the rocks the sun had already risen. I missed it probably by 1 to 2 minutes, tops.
The sea of clouds were rising so fast, that just a few minutes later they covered the rising sun.
After an hour or so by myself at Dan’s Rock, I found that the town of Paw Paw wasn’t too far away, with its famous tunnel on C&O canal. So on my return trip I decided to pay them a visit.
The country road leading from Cumberland to Paw Paw happened to be Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Scenic Byway. As its name suggested, it’s a delightful drive through the woods.
Trail to the tunnel started at “Paw Paw Tunnel Campground”. It was an 850-meter trail along the canal’s towpath. Again, I didn’t see anybody else on the trail.
The 950-meter long tunnel was built so that C&O Canal could avoid a six-mile stretch of Potomac River with bends and steep cliffs, not suitable for a ditch canal. Engineering difficulties and labor disputes among immigrant workers plagued the construction of the tunnel, making it hugely delayed (completed in 14 years instead of the estimated 2) over-budget ($600k instead of estimated $33.5k). As the last segment of the Canal to be built, its delay meant C&O Canal lost the race to reach Cumberland to B&O Railroad by 8 years.
At first, I decided to take the “Tunnel Hill Trail” over a hill to the other side of the tunnel, and then the tunnel back. Probably due to COVID, the hill trail didn’t seem much trod. The trail was still visible, but I wouldn’t enjoy blazing through spider nets, so I gave up after 50 meters in.
The actual town of Paw Paw was across the Potomac River in the state of West Virginia. It’s a quiet and relaxing little town, like so many others hidden in America’s countryside. (I bet the tunnel was more famous than the town itself). I did a quick driving tour of the town, before taking a stop at its boat launch site where I launched my drone.
I used my drone for a quick tour of the nearby Potomac River first, followed by the town of Paw Paw.
And here are two drone footages hosted by YouTube. Some panning control wasn’t very smooth. I tried to post-process them, which I wasn’t sure made thing better or worse.
Then I continued my trip back home.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t T-Mobile coverage in the town of Paw Paw, so using offline cache, I found that cutting through Green Ridge State Forest by Oldtown Orleans Road seemed to be the fastest way back to I68.
Yet 10 minutes in, I ran out of pavement. Since my car didn’t like gravel road, I headed back to Paw Paw, and decided to stay in West Virginia for longer by taking Route 9 to Berkeley Springs.
Condition of Route 9 wasn’t most ideal, with many uneven patches. But at least it’s paved.
And for the better part, after passing the town of Great Cacapon, there’s a turnout called “Prospect Peak”, overlooking Potomac River and surrounding valleys.
Since it’s right next to I68 on my way home, I decided to pay it a visit.
The fort was built in 1756-57 by the colony of Maryland during French and Indian War, as back then Indian raids were pushing Maryland settlers eastward.
Probably because it’s the politically right thing to do, the park seemed to be aggressively promoting the role of Nathan Williams in the fort’s history. As a freed slave, he purchased the fort just before the Civil War, and later built barn and farmland in and around it.
It’s interesting that during the Civil War, Union troops garrisoned the fort while Confederate troops were stationed just across the Potomac River. Nathan sold produce to both sides, and his justified this with the Union side by passing information about the Confederates.
And here’s some aerial footage. Panning motion in the following video wasn’t very smooth.
After that, I headed back home, concluding a yielding day.