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Monday, September 3, 2012


What is a mule? It's the product of an unholy, a union between a male donkey and a female horse. That was just one of the many facts I learned this afternoon as the family drove out to the Chesapeake and Ohio National Historical Park in Potomac, Maryland to take a ride on a mule-drawn canal boat. The inspiration for today's excursion came out of the visit my daughter and I paid yesterday to the section of the C&O Canal in Georgetown. One of the things I noticed at the visitor's center there was a flyer advertising the canal boat rides, and the seed that was planted at that time germinated on this second day of a three-day holiday weekend. So without further ado...

Amber and I pose in front of the Charles F. Mercer, a recreation of an 1870's-era packet boat, used to haul people and goods along the canal.

The Potomac River runs alongside the restored C&O Canal at the park. Judging from the speed of the rapids and the number of boulders in the river, it was pretty obvious why the likes of George Washington felt the need for a man-made water transportation network.

The white house in the middle of the photograph was originally the home of the lock keeper. An addition was tacked on and served as a tavern as a means to supplement his income.

Some geese hang out in the middle of the Potomac.

Amber and her new-found friend Julia on the Charles F. Mercer. The two of them struck up a conversation about the caterpillar that Julia had found, and was proud to show off. 

The ride on the Mercer takes about an hour. On board are National Park Service rangers playing the parts of 1870's-era canal boatmen (and women). Here, the ranger is explaining how a lock works, while our boat was in the process of being raised by a height of eight feet (2.4 meters).

Mule power. The boat moved surprisingly quickly under the power of these beasts of burden. On board, the ranger explained how the original plans called for the canal to run between Chesapeake Bay and the Ohio River (hence the name C&O), but the costs of construction limited it to the 184.5 miles (297 kilometers) between Georgetown and Cumberland.

The view looking back toward the starting point as our boat was being turned around for the return leg of the trip. 

After our spin on the Charles F. Mercer, we went off in search of the Great Falls. The waterfalls were a short walk away, reached by way of Olmsted Island, which sits in the middle of the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia.

Though small, Olmsted Island is hella scenic, evoking images out of a James Fenimore Cooper story. This land must've been extremely beautiful to the first Europeans who settled here. It's a shame they couldn't have kept it that way.

The Great Falls of the Potomac River. The view was splendid, making it hard to believe that Washington, D.C. and its heavily-populated suburbs were only 14 miles (23 kilometers) away downstream.

A heron seems oblivious to the rushing torrent of water going by. 

My daughter strikes one of her numerous heroic poses as she conquers a rocky outcropping that had been co-opted to serve as an overlook for the rushing waters below.

This was the view as we crossed back from Olmsted Island. 

The Charles F. Mercer making its last run of the afternoon as we headed back to our parked car. My wife came along on this trip today, and really enjoyed both the boat ride and the scenic falls. She also insisted we drive out of our way to Herndon, VA on the way back to pick up a pizza from Papa Murphy's, one of only two outlets in our immediate area. Pamela has only been a resident alien in this country for four months, but she's obviously making some rapid adjustments.

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