K9 Trailblazers Dog Hiking Club
(click on thumbnail images for full size picture)
It rained all night the day we left but nobody cried when we arrived at the trailhead and found plenty of parking between large puddles. We met early because horse trailers usually take up much of the parking area. Saturday, the horses and people (The "Rough Riders") were camping in the field in preparation for their "Ride or Die" trail ride. We were warned that 200 horses would begin "sharing the trails" with us at 11 AM. We assured the trail boss that our dogs could handle it! Our co-leaders, Diane with Kea and Jordan with Scout, had done a lot of preparation, and Jeff with Belle, Chuck and Lisa with Jester, and Pat with Mickey were eager to hike. So after Reese’s peanut butter cups and dog biscuits, we set out through Patuxent River Park
With permission, we hiked through the encampment to the trail leading to the Patuxent River. The horses were totally cool, the kids and adults were friendly, and the one off-leash dog came over to say hello and left. We hiked through an upland forest to a mixed upland/lowland area and finally reached the tidal marshes which, Jordan explained, are influenced by the tides but not brackish. The water level in the marsh rises and falls with the tides because of pressure from rising salt water further out, but no salt water actually comes this far in. We and our dogs climbed the observation tower and looked out at an osprey nest and a Great Blue Heron. As we continued walking along the boardwalk Jordan and Diane, with help from Lisa, described the various kinds of plants including some which grow their leaves in different shapes and sizes depending on how close to the water those leaves are. We saw, among others, marsh roses, pickerel weed, purple loosestrife and grasses of various kinds. When we found arrow plants Chuck explained how native Americans and early settlers used the roots and tubers for food.
At the end of the boardwalk is Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary, but it is off-limits to dogs so we turned back and wound our way along the scenic drive, old forest roads and wooded trails looking for, among other things, a maple tree with 9 trunks that Pat saw when she and Diane previewed the hike some months ago. We finally found it! Unfortunately, one trunk is nearly completely chewed through by beavers, and one is lying on the ground, a victim of recent storms.
We enjoyed early blackberries as we walked, and saw baby bunnies and a box turtle in the sun. The bunnies did their freeze-frame thing and, since nobody barked and we all stood quietly with our dogs on point until the bunnies hopped away, still thinking that freezing makes them invisible! We were appreciative of the trash cans and porta-johns we stumbled across just about halfway through the hike when we stopped to admire masses of trumpet vines in their blazing glory. Diane pointed out artifacts remaining from the days when the area was inhabited by farmers and miners. We saw several "farm implements" and what we called "fossilized cement" because the cement was hard and the burlap bags had rotted away. The group agreed that Chuck’s guess of "cement mixer" for a nearby ruin had been right on target.
We also saw the skeleton of a very old airplane, and Diane explained that the big field where the riders were camping was once the site of the airport that gave Croom Airport Road it's name. In 1940 the Washington bases "Cloud Club" leased a 450 acre potato field near Croom Maryland and turned it into Columbia Air Center, the first airfield in the U.S. operated entirely by an African-Americans and birthplace of many aviation pioneers. The Navy took over the field for training during WWII. After the war, Columbia Air Center remained in operation until 1956.
We took a side trail to have lunch overlooking 2 osprey nests with birds sitting on each. We also took a detour to climb another observation tower where we saw Great Blue Heron and heard many red-winged blackbirds. By the time we reached our cars around 2 PM the day was heating up and we had seen only one woman on horseback and a family of three at the last tower.