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Antietam National Battlefield Park

Hike Summary

Finally, the weather and my body have cooperated enough to allow me to go on a hike for the first time since the beginning of December. Since then, as I may have mentioned, I have either been sick or it has been snowing/too cold. This is a big contrast to last year, where I had few if any interrupted weeks of hiking.

All this being trapped indoors has made me a little nervous about my conditioning for the One Day Hike in April, but we’ll see how it goes.

Antietam is, almost surprisingly, not really all that far away from Northern Virginia. It’s about an hour and 20 minutes, give or take, from my place, and it’s a pretty pleasant drive up some scenic byways in Virginia, West Virginia, and then into Maryland. I’ve been using Waze lately as my navigation program, and it took me on some back roads on the way there.

This whole region is kind of the heart of classic Civil War Battles. I live right next to Manassas Battlefield, and as I am fond of sometimes saying, you really can’t swing a dead cat around here without hitting a place that took part in the war. I saved some of these places for winter exploration, because I figured with them being fairly flat, hiking would be less treacherous than somewhere like Shenandoah or out in GWNF.

And this theory seems to have borne out, at least on this occasion. I got there to the visitor’s center shortly after it opened, and had a little look around the gift shop before I headed out. It’s a pretty large shop, with a lot of the usual tchotchkes that one would find: T-shirts, mugs, pint glasses (which I almost bought one of but decided it seemed inappropriate somehow,) and pins and books. I was a little disappointed by their sticker selection – what I’d like to do with my Chromebook is to cover it with stickers of places I’ve visited – but the only sticker they had was a generic ANT circular one. Perhaps I should have stuck with my old plan of collecting patches, but I never quite know what to do with them. So, I bought a little pewter pin and headed out to the parking area.

There was little to no breeze, but it was cold. I had brought 2 hats and a couple of layers of clothes to wear. This was the first chance I’d get to try out the silk insulating layer that I got for Christmas. I spent so much time fumbling around with equipment initially that my fingers started to go numb. I actually went and sat in the front seat of my car and turned the engine back on, thawing my hands back out. One of the things I really should look into are liner gloves. I hate the way my hands feel when I am trying to use my camera or even doing simple things like pulling a map out of my pocket. I am always wanting to pull my gloves off for better dexterity.

Anyhow, off we set. The first portion of the hike was paved road, leading over to the observation tower, which was supposed to be closed, according to park rangers. The rolling fields were cold and empty, with very few people or even cars around. A little bit of a breeze was kicking up, making my face feel cold. I got to the observation tower and paused for a moment, examining the Irish Brigade Monument and getting my bearings to head down Bloody Lane.

Bloody Lane is a name that brings up a lot of imagery for anyone who has more than a passing interest in the Civil War. It’s one of the bloodiest spots on the bloodiest battlefield in US history. Over 5000 men were killed on this short stretch of road in a matter of only 3 1/2 hours. I am not sure exactly what I expected to feel. Maybe my mind was numbed a bit by the cold, or I was concentrating on keeping my footing in the icy setting, but the place was terribly banal. Snow smooths over everything, giving it a sort of sameness.  At this moment of time, to me, struggling with keeping my face warm and my legs moving, it was just a sunken country road.

I made my way down it, and then across the fields and up to the back side of the visitor’s center again, where I stopped to eat a snack and drink some tea. I got a view of hills off in the distance, framing the horizon.

I headed down the field towards Mumma Farm, where some of the real hiking started. At the Mumma Farm, there was a little spring house from which a spring (naturally) came forth. I found I spent quite a bit of time following this little stream as it wound its way around, eventually joining Antietam Creek.

I came down to the Roulette Farm, where I encountered one of the only other people on my hike, another person with their dog. I also saw some pretty blue skies to the northwest, in contrast to the gloomy clouds in the opposite direction. It made for some nice contrasting pictures.

As I made my way along, I’d been noticing these parallel furrows on the trail. I thought at first that they might be bicycle tracks, but they were too close together for that. Once I got into the wooded section of the Three Farms Trail, it finally struck me what they were.

Cross country ski tracks. Of course, silly me. It didn’t quite occur to me at first that a place like this would be a wonderful place for skiing. The same characteristics that made me pick it as a hiking location in the winter would be just as good for someone wanting to ski.

I ended up being a little too focused on those ski tracks I think, because it caused me to miss my turn at once point and I had to retrace my path and find my way. The forests opened up to the rolling battlefield hills again as I went past some of the other farms.

I went down and under the turnpike, and that’s when we really started to hike parallel to Antietam Creek. When I hear the word creek, I expect more of a trickle, but this body of water is pretty impressive, although it is likely swollen by snowmelt. It’s a pretty unforgiving looking creek, something about it made me nervous. Perhaps it was finally the events of what transpired here finally getting to me, but I really didn’t enjoy hiking next to it like I usually do with creeks and rivers. There were parts where it had eroded the banks and I got the superstitious feeling that it was grasping at the banks.

Another road crossing and my dog and I were closing in on Burnside Bridge. There were a couple of different approaches to the bridge, I decided to take the higher trail so I could see it from above.

It’s a very pretty bridge for so much blood that was shed over it. I stopped to take a look from above, and noticed something unexpected: the bridge was closed!

I was faced with a dilemma. Should I cross the closed bridge (which the visitor center rangers had assured me was open) or should I double back and retrace my path back to a turnoff where I could get back to my car?

I decided that if I didn’t tarry and went across quickly, it would be OK. The part of the bridge that had been damaged was barricaded off in addition to the barriers barring entry (which were easy to walk around,) and I didn’t mess with anything, not even taking my camera out, until I made it to the other side. There, I took some pictures of the damage, and set off on the last loop, around Snaveleys Ford Trail.

This was another nice little hike through the woods, a contrast to the earlier part of the hike which was mostly fields (except the one shorter section.) There are a lot of benches along the trail, mostly facing Antietam Creek, and I took an opportunity to take a break at one and eat another snack and jot down some notes. Stopping for any amount of time made me get a little chilled, so I wasn’t able to make as many notes as I usually do when hiking.

The very last section mainly consisted of following the road back to my car, which I was happy to see.

Before I’d set out to go hiking, I had scouted out a few places to check out food wise, somewhere that would be good to stop afterwards. One of these was an ice cream shop. My usual motto is “it’s never too cold for ice cream,” but today I just was way too cold. So instead, I went to the other place: Burkholder’s Baked Goods.

Burkholder’s Baked Goods is a Mennonite Bakery located just off of the downtown core of Sharpsburg (which is adjacent to the battlefield.) I drove up to the address, and at first I was taken off guard. This was a mostly residential neighborhood, and this place looked much like the other mid century ranch houses. There was a sign for the business out front, and there was parking, so I pulled in.

Inside, there’s a tiny storefront area with coolers filled with local milk and some chocolates, a couple racks of pastries, and a counter holding more. Since it was in the afternoon, pickings were a teensy bit thin, but they were bringing out more. The whole interior looked to be converted over to a bakery, with modest Mennonite women hard at work. I saw some cookies and I figured I’d take some home to my boyfriend, plus I got a couple of doughnuts for myself. Everything was incredibly inexpensive, doughnuts were only 50 cents a piece.

I brought my prizes out to the car and wolfed down the doughnuts. I almost went back inside to buy some more, they were that good, but I resisted. If you’re near the battlefield, this is definitely a good place to stop. I kinda wish they had some seating or coffee or something, but the quality of the goods made up for that lack.

2014-02-06 Antietam Battlefield
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