Astronomers say that the Milky Way — that thick swath of stars that stretches across the dark night sky — isn’t visible for 80 percent of the people who live in North America. For many, the bright city lights cause the beauty overhead to disappear.
If you live in a light-flooded landscape, consider leaving the lights behind, perhaps on a one-with-nature trip to a national park, to find out what you are missing. Shenandoah National Park, on the western end of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, offers some of the region’s most unadulterated views of night skies and has several programs to help visitors appreciate them.
The gushing water of Mill Creek Falls, recharged by recent rain, announced the presence of the falls before I could see them. As the forest gave way to the streambed, I found a series of cascades tumbling through the woods along the lower Susquehanna River in York County, PA — an area known more for its quiet pastoral landscape than a tucked-away waterfall oasis.
Cromwell Valley Park near Towson, MD, has always seemed a place apart, a throwback to the days when this corner of Baltimore County was an agricultural valley. After passing the Big Screen Store, a beltway intersection and a busy high school, visitors are presented with 460 acres of trails, meadows and the Mine Bank Run stream valley.
This tucked-away getaway is popular with hawk- watchers and geocachers. Now, a piece of local heritage is providing another reason to visit: three newly restored lime kilns, located along a popular walkway that leads to a meadow filled with sycamore trees and deer. Stonemasons and brickworkers have repointed the brick and restored the beautiful domed arches and ironwork.
Inside the foyer of the Steamboat Era Museum in Irvington, VA, 200 small white lights illuminate a map of the Chesapeake Bay. Together, they trace a constellation along the estuary’s shorelines, meandering up its rivers and marking ports of call for the large fleet of steamships that traversed these waters for nearly 150 years.
The developers of a luxurious waterfront hotel in Alexandria, VA, put construction on hold for several months last year after their shovels struck the wooden hull of a ship. The city’s team of archaeologists sprang into action, unearthing part of a 50-foot vessel scuttled into place around 200 years ago that contained a special kind of treasure: a piece of Alexandria’s maritime past.
Stand-up paddle boarding came to the Chesapeake Bay region about seven years ago and shows no signs of waning. The sport is growing in popularity: There are paddle board races, paddle board team-building activities, paddle board yoga, paddle board youth camps and even a cool nickname for the sport — SUP.
Far down a dusty dirt road, atop an Appalachian mountain ridge, vehicles were jockeying for any available piece of dirt on which they could park their cars. A fierce wind was blasting across the Dolly Sods, stirring dust and rocking the vehicles.
We finally pulled into an ad-hoc parking space near the Bear Rocks trailhead, but when the driver of the car to our right tried opening his door, the wind yanked it from his hand and it slammed into the side of our car. The driver sheepishly glanced at us as he tried to regain control of the wayward metal.
Parts of the Chesapeake region experienced expectedly warm weather recently, with some days in February feeling more like April. For paddlers, those first bursts of warm weather awaken the call of the kayak. If you count yourself among them, Moulton Avery, director of the National Center for Cold Water Safety, has a message for you: stop and think.
On any given day, travelers heading north from Harrisburg, PA, will be rewarded with spectacular views of the Susquehanna River and Blue Mountain. But anybody who keeps their eyes entirely on the road ahead of them might overlook two antique ferry boats traversing the river near the quaint town of Millersburg.
It is worth a pit stop to witness these floating historic landmarks — vessels representing the last known, all-wooden double stern-wheel paddleboats believed to be operating in the United States.
Water, marsh, trees, sky. This is the landscape of Dorchester County, MD, repeating itself along undulating narrow roads with high ditches for dozens of flat country miles.
This is the land where Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in 1822, where her sisters were sold to distant plantations and Tubman was sold to a new master at the age of 6. It’s the land she fled in 1849 to become a free woman in Pennsylvania, and it’s the place to which she returned to free her brothers, parents and approximately 70 others.