Canal, River, Falls and a Walk

We had a breath of things to come today. Hazy sun, 60 degrees. It was predicted weather and I thought I might swing by the garden, but then my friend Carolyn emailed me and asked if I wanted to go for a walk. Well…


Here we are with a roaring Potomac swollen with snowmelt as a backdrop.

We discussed Dumbarton Oaks for a moment. She has never been there. But the gardens don’t open until 2:00 pm and we wanted to get started earlier. So we quickly decided on Great Falls Park, this time the Maryland side.


No kayaks today.

The Maryland side of Great Falls has some working portions of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The C&O, as it is called, was part of transportation history in the US, built to help southern states compete with the Erie Canal. It was used for shipping from 1830 to 1924 and ran 184 miles from Georgetown to Cumberland Maryland.


Towpath and lock.

The canal boats carried all sorts of things, from flour to coal to circuses and their animals. The boats were towed through locks by mules. In the summer, a replica of a canal boat takes people along for a ride and through locks that still function. This means mules and muleskinners! It can be exciting to watch.


Water leaks through a closed lock.

The canal was plagued by flood damage that sometimes shut it down for a whole year. In 1924, a flood damaged so many locks, the canal was only in use for 3 months. In 1938 the federal government bought the canal and its right of way from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and it became a park. It was threatened, however, in the 1950s when the interstate highway system was being built. It took concerted efforts of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, leading a long hike on the canal in 1954, to preserve it in the form Carolyn and I enjoyed it today.


The canal widens out at some points; it needed to accommodate two way traffic.

And boy did we enjoy it! Remember that 20 inches of snow I wrote about? Well, all the snow north of here is melting and the Potomac is high. At Great Falls, it’s high and roaring! It’s pushing big trees around, scouring down its narrow gorge and generally being majestic and gorgeous.


Okay, it’s carrying a lot of sediment and a bit brown, but wildly powerful.

We took off down the towpath and marveled at the canal’s width and the ice on it and the old locks. The river feeds the canal and also takes outflow when there is too much water.


This is one of the places through which water would be diverted back to the river when it got too high in the canal.

We turned around near Old Angler’s Inn and the entry to the Billy Goat Trail, which was flooded. At that point we crossed the canal to head back another way, on the Berma Road (yes, that’s an e in Berma and it was a straight shot).


Carolyn heads down the Berma Road.

From the wooded higher ground, we could see the canal, the towpath and the river all in one.


Left to right: Potomac River, towpath, C&O Canal. There’s more room between the towpath and the river than shows in the photo.

There were also other gorgeous views.


Canal side. Towpath in distance.

And some geese we had seen feeding on the way out were still feeding on the way back.


Hungry geese, looking a bit like river rocks in the cattails.

There were lichens, which I always like to see.


Beautiful symbiosis!

And what can be better than a long walk with a friend on a warm day in winter? Carpe diem!!!


Looking across the river to the Virginia side.

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49 Responses to Canal, River, Falls and a Walk

  1. Mary Tang says:

    In China manpower would replace the mules, pulling boats against mighty currents, once upon a time. These days rivers are being dammed and roads are being built.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Did you ever go on that canal boat ride with the mules and muleteers Lisa? These are beautiful photos of a beautiful place. And the photo of you and Carolyn looks as if the photographer just said something a lot funnier than “say cheese!” Perusing this post,I felt as if I went on this enjoyable winter walk right along with you!


    • arlingwoman says:

      I have never done the boat ride! But I’ve been there to see the boat coming in and being towed by the mules. Pretty fascinating. As for our photo, I think we were both glad to be out and a bit exhilarated by the water. It was a lovely time and I’m glad you’ve come along virtually.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Looks like a great outing LIsa – seize the day indeed!! And I love that you give us a little history lesson too! That river is so full of adventure and power and so much has happened on it and along it. What a wonderful place to be living! I’m glad to see there is a mellowing in your weather conditions.


    • arlingwoman says:

      We have another warmer day today, but rain is predicted. I do like to give the history a bit. Otherwise people would have to look it up…or wonder. I was a bit wrong about the park. The government owned it, but didn’t make it a park until 1971. Justice Douglas had to do about 20 years of community activism


      • I’ve heard of Justice Douglas so he has had an impact. We are having tropical weather, hot, sticky with occasional downpours……


      • arlingwoman says:

        Ahhh…My skin feels better just thinking about it!


      • Ah yes! You radiate good health as soon as summer starts – I just get all hot and bothered πŸ˜€

        Liked by 2 people

      • I’m with you, Pauline!

        Liked by 1 person

      • arlingwoman says:

        I’m one of those ‘bring on the heat and humidity’ people (we are NOT legion). I feel bathed in warmth and love in the summer. In winter I feel abandoned, cold, lonely and about to die. I have my coping mechanisms, which work quite well, given how long they’ve been honed, but still, winter…ugh.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That is so nice to hear, Lisa…I’m glad to know that someone loves what the universe deals us, even if it is the opposite of me! It means that there is a place for everything, and everything in its place. Humid weather is sweat to me, brought on by heat and hard labor, and having experienced the mindlessness and hardship of both, is something I do not relish.I know you are a tall, thin person, and I remember a time when I was very thin, traveling in Portugal with friends who could not understand why I found the sea water on the Algarve so terribly cold, and sat with a shawl around me in the wind as we picnicked on wine, grapes and cheese in the mountains by NazarΓ©…there are types of people, and types of weather, I’m convinced and the “twain” doesn’t always meet. Winter, to me, is difficult because of the weather, but also a state of mind that I like better than the state of mind of summer which is all lethargy and labor, stickiness, and no ambition. ….that probably makes no sense to you, I know.

        Liked by 2 people

      • arlingwoman says:

        This is very interesting. In the past few years, I’ve found I don’t get cold the way I used to. It’s the darkness and the inability to have any outdoor time after work that makes me a bit crazy and sluggish. As a gardener, the summer is all energy and growth and winter is a time of rest that can morph into lethargy and depression if not managed correctly. In any event, we need our opposites in attitude to help us navigate the seasons when they don’t appeal to us.

        Liked by 1 person

      • A very good way to look at it, Lisa. As my grandpa used to say, it takes all kinds to make a world. And spring is just around the corner!

        Liked by 1 person

      • arlingwoman says:

        Yes, I’m really a bit low from the wear of winter, which is why the walk was sooooo lovely.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. A spectacular walk – you lucky thing!


  5. That is some hike, with great pictures


  6. pagedogs says:

    I love hikes that are interwoven with history. This one was particularly interesting–especially the tidbit about Justice Douglas.


  7. Robin says:

    Wow! The Potomac does indeed look majestic and gorgeous, as I remember it from my visit. The lichens are beautiful, too. Thank you for taking us along with you. The boat ride sounds like fun. πŸ™‚


  8. Sylvie G says:

    Thank you for taking us with you on that beautiful walk. I love the photo of the lichen πŸ™‚


  9. LB says:

    Lisa, this is a wonderful post!
    It’s been years since I’ve been to Great Falls or even on the C&O Canal. One of my favorite photos of my son is when he was 2 yrs old (28 yrs ago!), with a broken arm, looking over one of the bridges at the water. Oh how I’d love to go back!
    Thank you for the history lesson, and the wonderful images, my favorite being the first of your happy smile.


  10. Lisa, I’m happy to hear you’ve had some nice days and a way to escape the long, cold winter. I can see how that would depress your mood if you couldn’t get out of the house after working all day. I do like the longer days of summer, but my temperament is better suited for spring and fall weather. Gardening in the heat of summer here is tough.

    The photos of your hike are fabulous. I’m always humbled by the power of moving water.


  11. badfish says:

    I grew up in that part of the world. Your photos…though gorgeous (is that lichen?)…do not make me want to return for winters!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Sheryl says:

    This post brings back wonderful memories of hiking at Great Falls in years past. It’s too bad that Billy Goat Trail was flooded.

    Liked by 1 person

    • arlingwoman says:

      It’s a great place! It was just part of the trail, but Billy Goat runs so close to the river that when it’s high, they often close it off anyway. Thanks for coming by–glad to bring back some good memories.


  13. What a great walk, thank you for bringing me along. The two of you look invigorated! Cheers, Johanna

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Robbie says:

    That is beautiful and really enjoyed your photos felt like I was walking with you. A crisp hike in late winter just what I enjoy. You had 20 inches-WOW! I use to live a bit north near Lake Michigan + as a kid in Minnesota. I remember high snows- but 20 inches is a big snow!
    I am glad they kept that trail for hikers and the highway out-good people fought back. We have a lovely hiking section ( Black Hawk-sauk Native Americans wintering area) a half mile from my house. It is in the heart of the city and protected with a river running though with trails. So glad people fought for our trails and parks-we have them now to enjoy:-)

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Boomdeeadda says:

    February spring run offs, WOW. River histories are really interesting aren’t they? That saying “if walls could talk” comes to mind. Oh man, the stories that would be told. We have places in the Rockies that enjoy rushing mountain run off all year long. It’s like standing next to an air conditioner and in the hot summer weather, that feels great. It’s so funny to see Canada Geese there. When we lived at the lake, they’d herald springs weather with their constant honking. Then soon after the lake opened, they’d swim around in great long line ups with their chicks and march up our beach to the lawn for extended power munching sessions. We had a lazy dog who refused to bark or even care. Consequently, they’d leave a ton of poo to clean up. Good times, good times. Ha. This Canadian is moving along. Nothing to clean up, just leaving a smile πŸ˜€ ❀ k

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Hemangini says:

    I love how you just went around and had fun in the snowy times near the beautiful river.. It must look so beautiful in summer and when the river is calm and quite… Such a natural beauty, lucky you and your friend. Wish I could visit.

    Liked by 1 person

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