Serendipity on Maryland Heights

There may be many places to go on a pleasant day in May, but to me, Harpers Ferry is good enough.

I don’t mean the town, of course. While it is interesting, it is now a pseudo-historical/souvenir district, with many restored buildings populated with “civil war reenactment” actors. The best parts of Harpers Ferry lie outside the town and across the rivers –Maryland Heights and the C&O Canal across the Potomac and Loudoun Heights across the Shenandoah.

On this day we (my wife Chau and I) went to the Stone Fort following the Maryland Heights Trail. This was by all accounts a Baltimore oriole day — they seemed to be in every tree, especially in sycamores by the water. But they also proved to be frustratingly elusive: I only managed to get a couple of “passable” but not great shots.

The rivers were still swollen, and on crossing the river, we noticed a pair of zebra swallowtails mating on the towpath, as if to prove that we humans were not the only ones having fun under the sun this day.

Zebra Swallowtails

It is, of course, not surprising to see zebra swallowtails around here because their favorite food (in fact the only food) is the leaves of the pawpaw tree.

Maryland Heights Trail always gets very crowded on the weekends as it is a short hike offering splendid views. It is also very noisy around Harpers Ferry — cars, motorcycles, trains, even helicopters. But the trail to the Stone Fort is less trodden. It got cloudy as we arrived at the fort — relics of the Civil War era. But this part is more quiet and secluded.

Stone Fort

All along the way, spiderworts were in bloom, in some places almost carpeting the ground with their lovely purple and lavender flowers.


Rounding up the Stone Fort Trail, we decided to go to Maryland Height anyway (where we have been several times before). The following is an obligatory shot of the view of Harpers Ferry town from Maryland Heights.

Maryland Heights

Little did I know at that time that the best of the day was yet to come. On the way back, I saw a brilliant flame shining in the forest canopy — a beautiful scarlet tanager! This was the second time I saw a scarlet tanager, the last time being when I hiked Hogback Mountain less than two weeks ago, but at the time the bird was way up on top of a tree and I only got a miniscule snap of it. But my luck had changed this time, and I got some very clear pictures of this showy fellow:

Scarlet Tanager

So it is somewhat ironic that on this day of Baltimore orioles, my best picture is of a scarlet tanager, but hey, I wouldn’t complain!

(The hike took place on Saturday, May 7, 2011)

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