On a recent hike in the Catoctin Mountain Park, we hiked the Charcoal trail. It was super informative and sparked our interest in the industry. We had stumbled upon the preserved Catoctin Furnace a few months earlier while we were the way to the Catoctin Zoo. We hadn't explored to deeply, so we decided to go back and check it out and see where the charcoal that we created up on in the mountains was used.
The signs along the road are unobtrusive, announcing the 'historic Catoctin Furnace District". I had driven by them numerous times and paid them no attention, but when I finally drove down that road, a whole new world of history opened up to me.
The Catoctin Furnace was in blast and operational as early as 1776 when it was instrumental in providing munitions to George Washington and his men. The furnace remained in operation, under different ownership until 1903. The grounds are well maintained and where applicable, beautifully restored. The Catoctin Furnace complex is spread out throughout the historic district but is all within short walking distance
The Catoctin Furnace Museum
The Catoctin Furnace Museum is housed in a restored iron workers house. This free museum is bright and cheery and the volunteers were quite friendly. As you walk in, a map of the complex is affixed to the floor allowing you to get a clear view of where you are and what there is to see as you explore this historical site.
The museum has a good number of artifacts on display. There are both items that were used at the iron works as well as items that were created and manufactured at this site. The displays are informative and interesting to see. The museum is not large. It only took us about 30 minutes give or take to view all it had to offer. Before we left, the volunteer manning the visitor center reminded us of the places that we should check out within the complex. We headed outside and started to explore.
Buildings at the Catoctin Furnace
The museum has restored two of the old houses in the area to use for museum purposes. The first building is a two story log cabin that was a colliers house. This home in particular housed two different families. Many times, these families would take in boarders to supplement their income.
The second house is the Forgemans house This stone house is absolutely adorable and has been renovated to include a working bathroom and kitchen. We were advised that we could peer into the windows but this building can be rented out for overnight trips.
The furnace is still standing and the historical society has rebuilt the shed that is connected with it. The size of the furnaces always enthralls me as I can only imagine the heat that must have emanated!
Catoctin Furnace Buildings in Ruins
Some of the buildings at the Catoctin Furnace complex are lying in ruins, too far gone to restore. One of these is the Iron masters Mansion. This mansion was built on a small hill so that the iron master could keep an eye on the workings of the whole village from the comfort of his own home.
It is hard to not stand at the ruins of what was once a large and grand house and not notice the difference between the iron master and the colliers houses.
Trails at the Catoctin Furnace
There are two main trails at the Catoctin Furnace. The first is a short interactive trail that is dotted with signs that give information about the history of the area and the ironworks. The trail ends at the site of an African America gravesite where workers from the ironwork lay. The gravesites were discovered during the building of the nearby route 15. In recent years, archeologists have worked to identify the remains in that are buried here and in the museum they have two busts that were created using the information that they discovered during their archeology expeditions.
The other trail that is on this property is a trail that meanders over streams and through the woods. It is also an interactive trail that has signs to give more historical information. This trail will lead you right to the Cunningham Falls State Park.
This small historical site has been well maintained and preserved. The history is rich and displayed in a manner that is interesting as well as easy to understand. Our entire visit took about 2 hours. That includes visiting all sites and hiking all portions of the short trails. It is well worth the visit!
To see where they made Charcoal to fuel this furnace check out the Catoctin Charcoal Trail post.
We were hiking in the Catoctin Mountain Park recently and I couldn't help but laugh about a situation we had about two years ago during one of our hikes in this gorgeous National Park system area. It was the day of the great big rattle snake!
The Rattle Snake
Our hike was over and we piled into the car, ready to get cooled down and relax on the drive home. We didn't have too far to travel. We lived somewhat locally and had both grown up in the general area surrounding this beautiful park. We hadn't gotten far from the parking lot when we saw a huge rattlesnake crossing the road. I had never heard the rattle of a rattlesnake and it had been discussed quite a few times that we wished that I would hear one in a safe environment so that I would immediately know what it sounded like were I to ever encounter one in the wilderness during one of our hikes. Without thinking we decided to stop the car and get out so that I could hear the rattle from a safe distance.
Very conveniently there was a pull off on the side of the road. I whipped the car into that pull off, watching the snake the whole time. We jumped out of the car and made our way to a safe distance from the snake. IT was watching us, but was never threatened enough to shake it's rattles in a warning. I snapped a few pictures but nothing. We were not going to push our luck, so we walked the few feet back to the car. That is when I realized my mistake!
Big signs dotted the edge of the turn around. The stated 'no stopping at any time' and big signs prohibiting any pictures being taken. Oooops! How could I forget that Camp David was nestled in these woods. I grew up in this area, I know about this fact but I had somehow just let it slip my mind in my quest to see the snake. We laughed about our snafu and quickly left the area and drove toward home.
The Park Police
We didn't even make it a half mile down the road before I saw a park police car sitting beside the road. I knew that they were there because of me. The pulled behind me and followed me. I laughed about how I could make a run for it and I could be out of the park before long. But I knew that was not to be. I knew that I was getting pulled over and furthermore, I knew that it wasn't REALLY the park police that would be pulling me over.
Sure enough, before long the lights flashed on. I was caught! I pulled over and remained calm. It was after all a mistake, even if it was a mistake at a federal level of security. Two 'park police' men got out of their vehicle. The were dressed for serious business. Flak jackets and numerous weapons, definitely NOT park police standard issue. One came up on each side of the car and they asked us to both put down our windows and I began to answer questions and I tried to not laugh when they tried to skirt the issue and use euphemisms instead of calling it Camp David.
"NO sir, I didn't pay attention to the signs until it was too late, my mind was elsewhere"
"Yes sir, I actually do know that there as you call it a 'military installation' in these woods'.
"Well you see sir, I was just trying to see a snake"
"Yes, I did take pictures with my cellphone"
They actually took my cell phone and inspected the pictures that I took. They could see when flipping through that we had been hiking on valid trails and to allowed places just a short time before. But it was still nerve wracking.
They finally let me drive away. It was obvious that I had just been thinking about one thing and not paying attention to my actual surroundings. We had a good laugh that day, but I know that in the future I will need to be careful. I am sure that my name is marked in some database system and a second infraction may not go as easily!
The Catoctin Mountain Park is managed by the National Park service and is one of the most visited parks in this area. Offering fabulous views, history, nature and some amazing hiking trails, this park is one of our favorites to visit.
The Charcoal Trail
We drove to the park on this hot summer day ready to tackle the trails and climb to a vista/overlook. We decided upon the Thurmont Vista loop. The parking lot had plenty of room to park and we hopped out into a light sprinkling of rain ready to begin. The parking lot has a few trailheads and while we knew that we wanted to hike the Thurmont Vista, we also knew that there was a short half mile interpretive historical trail off of this parking lot. We headed to that trail first thing!
The Charcoal trail is a very easy hike. The trail is well maintained and easy to navigate. Along the way there are signs that give historical information about how charcoal was made in this very area. We saw the remains of a cart to haul logs and learned about the process of burning the wood to create charcoal. We even saw a reconstructed hut that a collier would have lived in.
The charcoal trail was a neat jaunt through the woods and into an aspect of history that is not commonly discussed. I was happy that we did that short trail. But it was soon over and we were ready to head to Thurmont Vista.
Thurmont Vista Loop Trail
After our walk on the half mile Charcoal trail, we headed toward the Thurmont Vista. This trail was also well maintained. The trail meanders through the woods and eventually starts to climb. There are a few places where it became a bit rocky, but it was easily navigable for me since I had my trusty trekking poles with me. (I have a history of some nasty falls while hiking, so I always hike with my poles!)
We did pass some people on the trail, despite the rain that was falling. But after a mile we reached the vista and had the area to ourselves. The area was wide and would allow a few groups of hikers to relax at this vista. A bench has been placed to allow for some convenient resting after the climb.
We didn't linger long as it was raining and this was out in the open. We quickly headed back to the trail to continue on our looping hike. Very shortly after the vista we came to the turn off point for the planned loop hike that we were doing. Catoctin has their trails well marked and we could see that Wolf Rock was only three tenths of a mile down a different trail and Chimney rook only seven tenths. We decided to add a little spur trail to our hike. Off we went.
There were some areas of this trail that were a bit steeper and had to be traversed more carefully, especially in the rain. But it was still a well maintained and fun trail to hike. We quickly encountered the couple hundred feet of wolf rock and continued on to Chimney rock. The skies cleared for us just long enough for us to enjoy the sights at Chimney rock while eating our lunch.
After relaxing at Chimney rock we retraced our steps back to the Thurmont Vista Trail and headed further down the loop. The trail narrowed for a bit and was absolutely wonderful with it's cave-like greenery. Soon the trail began to descend. The trail maps mark this section of the trail as one of the most difficult trails in the park. We were heading downhill so it wasn't too troublesome. Once at the bottom of the trail we took the last leg of our loop back to the parking lot. This trail was quite rocky but not at all difficult to navigate.
All in all we hiked about 4.5 miles at the Catoctin Mountain Park that day. We had some wonderful views, saw some amazing geologic features and learned some neat historical facts. The Catoctin Mountain park was the perfect choice for a hot summer days activity!
The area now known as Fort Ritchie started humbly in 1889 when the Bueno Vista Ice company purchased around 400 acres as an investment property. They had grand plans to put in a man made lake to cut ice from. They would use the nearby Western Maryland Railroad to transport their ice from this mountain top to the homes in Baltimore, MD and Washington DC. The first man made lake was completed by 1901 and they installed a spur line off of the Western Maryland Railroad to use for loading their ice product. However, they did not take into account the ash and soot that the steam locomotives would disperse into the air. Ash and soot that would land and settle on the ice in their lake. This made the ice unusable and they had to come up with another plan. The quickly built a second man made lake and operated successfully for many years.
As refrigeration became more popular the areas purpose once again changed directions. In 1926 the Maryland National Guard built a camp on this site. The Maryland National Guard controlled the site from the inception of the camp until 1942. In June of 1942 the US Army turned this National Guard camp into a training camp for Military Intelligence. The US Army now controlled this base and used it heavily.
In 1995 the Army worked to consolidate and manage their resources and in 1998 Fort Ritchie was decommissioned and the resources were transferred to nearby Fort Detrick.
In the ensuing years the land has undergone little change. There is a community center and a park like atmosphere. Washington County manages much of the property and keeps the grass mowed and the property secure but the buildings remain intact. The property ownership has undergone some changes but has always been fraught with troubles that cause the ownership to remain in the hands of Washington County.
The roads are a great place to walk and ride bikes. The buildings stand sentinel along the roads. As we travelled the roads we noticed that the buildings close to the entrance were well taken care of and locked up. But as we moved further into the outskirts of the camp we started to notice that buildings were starting to show more and more signs of neglect. The doors had been busted down and it was possible to walk through the buildings and explore. We did not break into any building but if the building was open we entered!
Walking through Fort Ritchie is a great way to get some exercise. It is a fascinating view into life at a military camp. We were enthralled and will be back again!
We were in the area of the New River Gorge National Park for our weeklong vacation. We wanted to see everything that the area had to offer. We had a list of things that we definitely wanted to see. But we also had a list of places that would be ‘nice’ to see if we were able to work it into our week. The Sandstone Waterfalls were one of the items on the it would be nice to visit list.
Sandstone Falls is the largest waterfall in the New River Gorge National Park. It has a drop of about 15-20 feet. This waterfall spans the width of the New River, a width of 1500 feet and is divided by some islands. Located in the southern region of the New River Gorge National Park, Sandstone Falls would be easily to overlook. Many people associate the New River Gorge National Park with the New River Gorge Bridge and that would be an apt description. However, this National park offers so much more. There is hiking, abandoned towns, history and multiple waterfalls. The park is spread out over quite a few miles making some of the points of interest quite a distance away. The drive from the New River Gorge Bridge to Sandstone Falls took about an hour. It was a drive through gorgeous mountains and the last portion of the drive will take you along the edge of the New River. There are some places to pull off and take in the view of the river. We did this and as always the power of the New River blew our minds. One could just sit on the edge of the river and let the rumbling sounds of the rushing water soothe all worries.
The parking lot at Sandstone Falls is adequate and we had no difficulty finding a parking spot. We could hear the rumble of the falls and we were ready to get our first glimpse of natures glory. So we headed off to the trailhead. This trail is actually a boardwalk that will carry you across channels and over islands to various overlooks. It is a super easy hike and just what we needed after the awesome but intense hike down and back up Kaymoor Miners Trail to the abandoned coal mine. The boardwalk is handicap accessible and is only a quarter of a mile long, making it something that can be completed and enjoyed by anyone with any skill level. The level boardwalk was recently redone and was awesome! Periodically along the boardwalk path there were larger areas that offered vantage points where we could stop and see various areas of the Sandstone Waterfalls. We stopped at each area and took in the beauty. It is awe inspiring and we allowed the nature to wash over us at each overlook.
Along the boardwalk there are steps down onto the islands so that a visitor can actually access the waters edge. Of course we went to the rivers edge. We did not get into the water, but there have been multiple accidents here at the falls over the years, so use precaution. One of the areas that allow you to step off of the boardwalk is the Island Loop Trail.
Island Loop Trail
I would highly recommend this trail if you are in the area. This trail will take you on journey around one of the island at the Sandstone Falls. This one half mile trail is level, there will be little to no inclines. There will be some rocky areas, but they are easily navigable. What you will get in return is close up view of the river and a walk through an island that once had a grist mill and was farmed. Sadly, we could see no evidence of that history and instead you can see how nature is reclaiming the island. It was still an amazing hike because of that abundant nature. The beavers were doing their job quite well as we saw quite a bit of evidence of their hard work and we could even spy a beaver dam in on of the channels between islands.
A drive to Sandstone Falls might be a bit longer than you are planning but if you are visiting New River Gorge, the trip is well worth it! For us, it was the perfect recovery day after a few intense days of hiking. The easy boardwalk made it an enjoyable retreat to a powerful piece of nature.
We were ready to get out into the woods to enjoy some peace and quiet in nature so we headed to the Catoctin Mountain National Park! We decided to park at the Owens Creek Picnic site and hike from there. The first trail we hiked was the Browns Farm Trail. Our hike took us down an educational trail that sparked out curiosity and interest. History and nature surrounded us and we were in our glory.
Browns Farm Loop Trail
The Browns Farm Loop Trail in the Catoctin Mountain National Park is a short easy hike. The trail meanders in a loop from the parking lot. At the trail head there is an information booth that has the self guided tour of the loop trail available for anyone to pick up. We grabbed one and headed off down the trail. The trail was not overly used by other hikers and we were able to listen to the sounds of nature and breath deeply the smells of a mountain forest.
Along the trail there are markers. They are labelled with a number and a title. At each marker you can stop to read the corresponding information of the self guided tour. This farm tour took us on a stroll through an old farmstead high in the Catoctin Mountains (part of the Appalachian Mountain chain). It shows the diversity of the area and the unique characteristics that made it an opportune place for a farmstead. There is a pine grove, wetlands, a stream and a hardwood forest and a natural spring.
Along the way there are small remnants and reminders of a life once lived on this mountain top. There is a Buckeye Tree, which is not native to the area. One can only speculate that it was brought here to be planted by the family that started this farmstead. The location of the house and the nearby well is easily identifiable, even without the sign marking it as the Farmhouse. It is just a short walk away to reach the remains of the farms bank barn. The foundation is visible buried into the bank hill. The feeding trough still stands near the foundation, a testament to the livestock that once lived here.
We hiked here in the fall and loved seeing the remnants of an old stone wall peeking out from the undergrowth beside the trail.
One can only imagine how life must have been on a mountain top farm 100 years ago. It was definitely a slower more quiet existence that one can only dream of.
Browns Farm Trail
The Loop trail is not the only place to hike. The Browns Farm Trail branches off of the Browns Farm Loop and will take you another ½ to 1 mile further. It is an out and back trail that is a stroll through the woods with only one slight incline. Along that route you will see more foundations and more stone walls. These are not marked and we could only speculate as to what their uses were when the land that we were walking on was a working productive farm. It is worth the time to take that extra walk. The nature is amazing!
We had a delightful hike. We learned more about a history and an area that we didn’t know about. The farmstead families in this area are a forgotten piece of history and these trails will bring it to life. This is definitely a great hike to take. We live locally and we will be back for sure!
A few years back I found myself in a situation where I was doing a bit of traveling each weekend. Literally, every weekend I went away for at least one night and as often as I could manage it, two or more nights. The trips were usually not too far away, I usually stayed within an hour or two radius of where I lived. No, I was not independently wealthy or able to do that traveling because of some financial windfall. Through the two and a half years I only missed going away on 3 different weekends and they were not due to financial constraints, each of those were due to external factors (snow, sickness and death). Even more incredible was the fact that I actually managed to travel each weekend on a minimal budget! It is possible to travel with limited funds! It is possible to explore the world around us without a large travel budget. It just takes planning and flexibility to make your travel plans work with little money, I travelled on a shoestring budget.
Be open to going anywhere when Travelling on a Shoestring Budget
For two and a half years I went away each weekend on a very limited budget. It was an integral part of a relationship I was in (and still am in) for those years. I coveted those weekend hours and decided very early on that I would do whatever I had to do in order to make those weekends happen. During that time, at the bare minimum I stayed somewhere for 1 night each week, but I was always trying to find ways to stretch it to a two night or even a three night get a way. I was not independently wealthy. I didn’t have a high paying job. In fact, I was working a job that paid $10 an hour. With that said, you can see that I didn’t have a whole lot of extra money to play with. Yet somehow, week after week I was able to pay for gas and hotel expenses for travel, it IS doable! It is possible to travel and explore on a shoestring budget! It just takes planning and flexibility.
Being Flexible while Travelling
The first major concept to travelling on a shoestring budget is that you have to have flexibility. When you are looking to travel on a limited budget it is important to be willing to go to whatever place is offering a deal. When I had a set place that I wanted to stay, I almost always ended up paying more money for the accommodations that I booked. But when I was open to staying anywhere, I was able to score some incredible deals. As long as I was out and about, traveling and exploring something new; I didn’t care. Most of the time, I was willing to go to the area that offered me the best deal. I managed to book us rooms at some incredible hotels at a minimal cost. We were still getting away and exploring but the open flexibility that we had to stay anywhere and have no set plans introduced us to areas and experiences that I may have never encountered.
The first thing I would do each week when I was going to make our plans was to pull up my hotel app on my phone or pull up the website on the computer. I used Hotels.com and found that site to work great for me, but any such travel website or app would work. Each week I would have a general idea of how far we were willing to travel and I would begin my search. I would first pull up the map on the website (The information is the same between the website and the phone application, but the map to find a good radius is easier to navigate on the website.) I would then filter my search results to $50 and under and check all hotels within the radius that we were willing to travel. If I didn’t have any hits, I would raise the amount I was willing to pay by slow increments until I found something. I would check the reviews of the hotel and if it looked ok, then I booked. Now don’t get the idea that we were staying in the low budget hotels. Quite the contrary. Many times, we were staying at top of the line hotels. These hotels will lower their prices if they have a lot of available rooms. They do not want an empty room and $50 or $60 for a room is better than an empty room that is earning them no income. Most of the trips took place over the weekends and that opened up quite a few business class hotels as most business is conducted on the week days. I found that weekends near an airport also seem to have better rates, for the same reason due to those business travelers. I just had to be willing to follow the deals and stay wherever and in whatever town that I could find a good deal on a hotel.
Sometimes I didn’t have as much flexibility. I may have needed to be close to a certain location due to an event or place that I needed or wanted to see. I still found some incredible deals but once again it took a willingness to be flexible. I sometimes drove 5 miles further down the road to save $20 or $30 a night. Do I really need the pool? If I had a busy weekend planned, I eliminated hotels with pools as that sometimes was enough to save me a few dollars. I looked at the trip from all angles. Distance, amenities and even the size of the bed. Seriously, changing the size of the bed you get in a room can make a huge difference in price! Look at the room from all angles. If the hotel price seems too good to be true, read the reviews. I was looking for a hotel for a three-night stay, but I was really tight on money. I was almost willing to admit defeat and only go away for 1 or 2 nights because that is what the budget was allowing. But I searched and searched and searched. FINALLY, I found a hotel room for $19 dollars a night. It was near Atlantic City, NJ. I was nervous because come on now, $19 a night. I was really nervous. I read the reviews and the hotel looked decent. The only thing that I could discern was that it was about 3-5 miles from the beach and that I was booking the room for early October which was off season. I decided to jump on the room and I booked it. The room was just fine. It was clean, comfortable and roomy. I was willing to drive a bit. I was willing to have a locally owned hotel without a lot of the amenities and I was able to explore and experience Atlantic City, NJ on a shoestring budget!
Planning your trips on a Shoe String Budget
There were moments during my two and a half year run of going to hotels every weekend that I wasn’t sure how it would work out. But each time I sat back and thought about where I could cut a corner in order to make it work with the money that I had available for the weekend. I didn’t always buy the fanciest food when I was out and about. You know you can get a pizza for $5 right at Little Ceaser’s Pizza Right? If travelling and exploring meant that I had to eat a $5 pizza, then it was the sacrifice that I made because I wanted to spend that time travelling and exploring. Sometimes the hotels would have a breakfast and I would definitely partake of that, it was already paid for in the cost of my room. But when I stayed in hotels that didn’t have a breakfast option, I would eat leftovers from the night before. (I always make sure that I have a small refrigerator in the room for the express purpose of saving my leftovers.) There were weekends that I took food with me. There is nothing wrong with taking a cooler along. Fill it with your drinks and one of your meals it will save you a fair amount of money! If you want to travel and explore you will look at all the options and act upon them.
Exploring the local sites on a budget is also an act of planning. As soon as I would book a room, I would begin to look at what museums, parks and attractions were in the area. There are some amazing local museums that are absolutely free. There are parks that have beautiful views and a variety of activities. There are attractions that cost little to no money. Sure, some things will cost. But many things will be free or quite cost efficient. If you do your research you will have a great roadmap to the activities and places that you wish to explore in the area that you are staying in. I did this every weekend. I found places to see and things to do. We discovered the New River Gorge this way. Hiking is free and we knew that there was some amazing hikes, such as the Kaymoor Miners Trail in that area! Some cost money and some were free, but they all remained well within my shoestring budget. I would just plan. If the attraction we wanted to see cost more, I would shave off some expenses elsewhere (such as food). It was totally doable and we saw some amazing things!
Traveling on a shoestring budget is quite fun. I did it for those two and a half years. I wouldn’t trade those years and those memories for anything. They opened a whole new world for me and brought me to a deeper and closer relationship with the person that I travelled with. We frequently talk about those days. When we made a leap that caused us to not need to travel as much, we both vowed that we would never give up our weekends away! I may not need to be on such a strict budget since we are not traveling quite as much, but old habits die hard. I look for the best hotel deals. I weigh out the options of what we want to see and what amenities are available to us at each hotel and compare the costs. I still look for many of the free and low-cost attractions. I still take the time to plan out our get-a-ways. We may not always be low budget anymore, but I figure the more cost efficiently we can travel each time, the more often we can do it!
Belief In Living
Travel with us as we explore!