If you’re like me, your life has been plagued by the Brood. Brood X to be exact. Now I’m sure everybody is sick of hearing (literally) about cicadas but I wanted to use my first Wednesday Nature Nugget to talk about the aftereffects of those pesky bugs.
So luckily in my area of Maryland, we’re finally past the peak of cicada activity and now are mostly dealing with the carcasses littering every spot of sidewalk. Although the sound was unbelievably loud, personally I didn’t find the cicada too bothersome. Except for that morning when I woke up the buzz of ELEVEN on my window. However, I have been wondering about their effect on the trees that just a few weeks ago ago were being swarmed by them.
Just on walks around my neighborhood, I’ve been noticing a lot of brown spots in the trees, mostly at the ends of branches. There’s been a lot of leaf dropping, some days making me wonder if it’s October, not June. Some quick research finds that this is a phenomenon called “flagging” and, you guessed it, Brood X is the culprit. When the females lay their eggs, they use their ovipositer (literally egg- placer) to gouge a slit in a branch and lay their eggs. If there are too many slits in a single branch, it may hang down from the tree and eventually break But never fear! Think of this as natural pruning. Pruning encourages new growth, so while things may look a little rough this year, flagging is helpful for the tree in the long run! However, extensive flagging on young trees can be harmful.
Other fun facts about cicadas:
They aren’t picky about their trees! Cicadas are known to lay eggs on over 200 types of trees. They don’t seem to like evergreens though.
During their seventeen years underground, baby cicadas (nymphs) feed on tree roots and undergo 4 molts!
large groups of buzzing cicadas can reach 100 decibels
I dunno about you, but I think I can wait another 17 years to see these guys again! I hope you liked this Wednesday Nature Nugget. Let me know if there’s any other topic you’d like to learn!
Maryland Heights has been on my hiking bucket list ever since I moved to Maryland. Which is ironic since the hike technically starts in Harper’s Ferry, WV! This is one of those amazing hikes where the view at the top makes it all worth it. I love to be rewarded for a really tough climb by an incredible view! Okay so let’s get into the quick details:
THE HIKE: Maryland Heights
Length: 4.6 miles Out and Back (option to add on a loop to the summit for a total of 6.6 miles) Elevation Gain: 1115ft Time: 2 hours Trail use: Hiking, leashed pets allowed Parking: Park at Harpers Ferry Visitor Center, $20 for 3-day pass ($80 for the annual NPS Pass) H&H: 2/5
Okay so this hike is an UNDERTAKING which is why it probably took me so long to finally do it! The only way to access the trail is from Harpers Ferry National Park. There used to be a parking lot at the trail head but that has since been closed. So unless you are already hiking the AT (go you!) or biking along the C&O Canal (also go you!) there’s no nearby parking except for the National Park. So that means that this hike is a little more costly than others. The entry fee per vehicle is $20 and that gets you a three day pass. This is great for anyone planning an overnight hiking trip. You can also get an annual Harpers Ferry pass for $35 or the American the Beautiful Pass for all National Parks for $80. Totally worth it if you’re planning on visiting more than one Park in a year. And if this seems steep to you, just remember that your money is going to maintain these beautiful parks for years to come!
So you park at the Visitor’s Center and then you can either take the free shuttle down the town (it comes every 15 mins) or you can follow the trails down. Just keep in mind that walking will add about 2 miles on either end of your hike! J and I did this hike after our very first time camping so needless to say, we were pretty tired already, so opted to take the shuttle down. It’s quick and plops you right out where you need to be. From there, just cross over the bridge and follow the C&O towpath to the trailhead! This is an extremely popular trail, so be prepared to share the trail with lots of people, including large groups of people. The trail incline is nothing to sneeze at, so make sure that you’re prepare to walk ~2 miles directly uphill. Just remember, it’s not a race and you can always let people pass if they’re going too fast for you!
Personally, I found the uphill trek to be a good challenge but the sheer number of people on the trail made it less ideal. Plus I found the trail itself to be, dare I say, kinda boring? But that’s all fine because That. View. Guys, the overlook was everything I wanted it to be. Such a glorious view out over the town. Buuuuuut again, other people ruined it for me. I was pretty upset at the amount of people littering and smoking at the overview. Plus it was so crowded that it was hard to find a spot to even take in the view. I would highly suggest trying this hike during the week or earlier in the day. Overall, I’m glad I finally did the hike, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I much preferred Weverton Cliffs which I’ll go over in my next post!
After finishing this hike, we relaxed and took in the views at quite possibly the most beautiful brewery I’ve ever been to:
THE BEER: Harpers Ferry Brewing
Address: 37412 Adventure Center Ln, Purcellville, VA 20132 Distance from Trail Head: 3.1 miles, ~5 mins Website: http://hfbrew.com/ Food?: Full Kitchen, no outside food H&H Rating: 4/5
By the time you get to the brewery you’ve been in three states today! Crazy right? Harpers Ferry Brewing is located right next to Harpers Ferry Adventure Park so there’s plenty of parking for everyone. I was pretty surprised at how huge this place was. There was plenty of seating in front and inside. But the real draw was the back yard full of adirondack chairs facing an incredible overlook of the Potomac River. After a long weekend of hiking and camping, this really was heaven.
The beer was pretty good but we decided to stick with one since it was a bit pricey ($8 for a draft). I had the NEIPA which was good, and I’m usually quite picky with my ratings. J opted for the IPA which was quite hoppy. There weren’t many other options, but we were pleased with our choices. And honestly, I could have been drinking anything with that view. This was a much needed relaxing afternoon for us. I hope you get to check it out too!
Potomac Pale Ale – American Pale Ale – 5.7% The Needles – American IPA – 7.0%
SUM UP: Maryland Heights is a very popular hike out of Harper’s Ferry that is an out-and-back moderately challenging hike. There is a park entry fee and a free shuttle close to the trailhead. Only 3 miles away is Harper’s Ferry Brewing, with incredible views, a full kitchen, and tasty but pricey beer.
For my first official combo, we’re keeping it close to home with one of my favorite standbys: Bacon Ridge Natural Area and Chesepiooc Real Ale Brewery. This is a really nice hike for people of all levels and Chesepiooc has a wide range of beer so there’s always something for everyone.
Bacon Ridge Natural Area Length: 6.0 miles (lots of opportunities to make it shorter or longer) Elevation Gain: 528ft Time: 2.5 hours (again, could be longer or shorter) Trail use: Hiking, biking, leashed pets allowed Parking: No entry fee. Small lot but parking is allowed along road H&H rating: 4/5
Bacon Ridge is a pretty popular spot but don’t be alarmed if the parking lot is full! You are allowed to park along the road by the trailhead, just be careful crossing the street! This trail is very popular with the mountain bike community so stay alert on the trail. People are usually quite friendly and happy to share the trail but remember that bikes can go pretty fast downhill! Stay alert especially if you bring little hikers with you.
J and I decided to the long loop of Bacon Ridge but there are plenty of shorter trails or options to turn around. I would suggest following a trail map (I prefer the AllTrails app) since the trails are not blazed and it can be easy to get off track. The trail does have some elevation change but since it was made primarily for mountain biking, all hills are pretty gradual and there are no steps or stream crossing. Along the route there are several benches for taking a rest or to enjoy nature. What this trails lacks in overlooks, it makes up for in biodiversity. My partner J has been learning a lot about trees and we spent a lot of time identifying different species. Here is the Certified Good Tree of this hike:
Another point of interest along the way are the rusted cars only about 0.5 miles from the parking lot. Spilling over the hillside are rusted out abandoned cars that look to be from the 1950s. Really fascinating, if not a little bit creepy to me!
Over all Bacon Ridge is an excellent exercise hike that can be as long or as short as you want. There’s ample parking, no fee, a portapotty at the entrance and conveniently only 15 mins away from….
Chesepiooc Real Ale Brewery
Address: 2408 Crofton Blvd Crofton, MD 21114 Distance from Trail Head: 8.6 miles, ~15 mins Website: https://www.brewcrab.com/ Food?: BYOF or Food Truck H&H Rating: 5/5
Chesepiooc is easily one of my favorite breweries in Maryland. And it’s not just me! They were voted the #1 brewery by WTOP in 2020, which is well-deserved. Chesepiooc specializes in small batch ales so they’re able to have a lot on tap and it’s always so good. They also specialize in cask ales, which means that the beer is cask-conditioned, unfiltered and served at cellar temperature (usually 50-55F). Cask ales remind me of a cozy Scottish pub and if you haven’t had one before, you should check it out! Hmm I’m sensing a longer post about cask ale in my future! Chesepiooc doesn’t do flagship beers, so everything is completely unique and might even change week to week. So if you like something, better get a growler!
Chesepiooc is located off of Route 3 in Crofton and has both indoor and outdoor seating. They don’t have a kitchen so feel free to bring some snacks or grab sustenance from the food truck that’s usually there on weekends (side note: if the Tacos Friday food truck is there, you MUST get a tacos, they are stupid good). Also, no kitchen means it’s very dog friendly! The tap room is very roomy and they’ve got picnic tables out front for those who like the fresh air.
Some of our favorite Chesepiooc beers* are:
Muscles from Brussels (Barrel-Aged) – Belgian Strong Ale 9.8%
Here Comes the Sun – NEIPA – 6.8%
Salt of the Earth – Porter – 5.7%
Taco Friday Lager – American Lager – 5.8%
*Remember, it’s small batch beers so these might not be around when you visit. But I’m positive you’ll find something you like!
SUM UP: Bacon Ridge is a natural preserve with trails for all lengths and abilities. It’s popular with mountain bikers so stay alert! Nearby is Chesepiooc Real Ale Brewery which is a local favorite that makes unique small batch beer and often has a food truck.