one trip EVERY month: mason neck in northern virginia

Saturday, February 22:  Today, with my MapMyWalk app in hand, I take three short hikes through the Mason Neck area of northern Virginia.  Even though this natural area is only a 40 minute drive from my house, I’ve never been here before.  It’s fun to explore, prodded by Marianne’s monthly challenge: one trip EVERY month.

pond along Bay View Trail
pond along Bay View Trail

The Mason Neck peninsula is less than an hour’s drive south our nation’s capital.  As a haven for bald eagles, it’s a draw for birdwatchers. We’ve had one of the worst winters on record here on the East Coast, so with the sun shining and temps hitting 60 degrees, it’s a perfect day for a walk.

Belmont Bay
Belmont Bay
Duck blind on Belmont Bay
Duck blind on Belmont Bay

Our first walk is a 1.6 mile loop starting and ending at the Visitor’s Center at Mason Neck State Park on the Bay View Trail.  We walk along Belmont Bay, off the Potomac River, and then over a boardwalk through wetlands.  A stroll through the woods leads us to another lookout point where we see fuzzy cattails and a beaver lodge in a marshy pond.  Surprisingly, this area, southeast of where I live, must have gotten a lot less snow than we got, because here there’s hardly any snow left on the ground.  Near my house, we still have dirty mountains of snow everywhere.

Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.

I’m fascinated by the parchment-like leaves dangling like wind chimes from the American beeches. I find it strange that these deciduous trees retain their leaves through a harsh winter, while most deciduous trees shed theirs.  Apparently these trees benefit from two leaf falls; first they benefit from recycled nutrients from the leaves shed by other trees in autumn.  Then they benefit again when they shed their own leaves in spring.  According to Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, marcescence is the term used to describe leaf retention. It is most common with many of the oak species, American beech, witch hazel, hornbeam (musclewood), and hophornbeam (ironwood). (Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences: Winter Leaves that Hang On)

American beech leaves
American beech leaves
American beech
American beech

The second walk we take is a short half mile round-trip walk on the Marsh View Trail.  At the end of this trail, we find a view of a peaceful pond.

the pond at the end of Marsh View Trail
the pond at the end of Marsh View Trail
Marsh View
Marsh View

Finally, our last walk brings us to a lovely surprise.  We go to the Elizabeth Hartwell National Wildlife Refuge, and wander 2 miles out and back along the Woodmarsh Trail.  We walk through some muddy spots and over a couple of boardwalks through the wood marsh.

Before we reach the marshland, we hear a noise that sounds like a bunch of native Americans doing a war dance, whooping and hollering in preparation for battle.  What we find when we arrive at the end of the peninsula is a sprawling wetland filled with hundreds of Tundra Swans.

Tundra Swans at Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge
Tundra Swans at Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge

According to Explore Virginia Outdoors: Come See the Swans at Mason Neck State Park!: “Tundra Swans are large snow-white birds with black bills and black legs. In contrast to the well-known Mute swan, the neck is not gracefully bent forward like a question mark, but it is as straight as a goose’s neck, only longer. Another difference is that these swans are not mute, they have high-pitched and yet gentle soprano voices.”  To read more about the Tundra Swans, click on the link above.

Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans

It’s impossible to get close to the swans and sadly I don’t have a great telephoto lens.  I suppose we could have waded out into the marsh or taken a canoe, but I think we would have frightened the swans away.  It’s a lovely surprise to watch them and listen to their lively songs and squawks. Every once in a while, there are periods of silence as they tuck their heads under their wings for a nap.  It is so peaceful here, I think I could take a nap myself. 🙂  Especially as MapMyWalk clocks me in at 4.28 miles.  A perfect day for fresh air and exercise. 🙂

one trip EVERY month
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one trip EVERY month challenge: the 17-mile drive at pebble beach

Monday, January 6:  After leaving Monterey, Jayne and I head to 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach, claimed to be one of the most famous scenic drives in the world.  The drive takes us through the Del Monte Forest and along the Pacific Coast.

According to the Pebble Beach brochure, horse-drawn carriages explored 17-Mile-Drive before people commonly used automobiles.  They started from the famous Hotel Del Monte, which is now the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.

The restless sea off Point Joe
The restless sea off Point Joe

Our first stop is Point Joe.  Early mariners often crashed upon these rocks, after mistakenly believing this was the entrance to Monterey Bay.  Underwater rocks cause a lot of foaming and frothing here, making for quite a dramatic scene.  To the north, we can see Spanish Bay, where Don Gaspar de Portola, the Spanish explorer, and his crew camped in 1769 while searching for Monterey Bay.

view from Point Joe
view from Point Joe
An artist at Point Joe
An artist at Point Joe
Spanish Bay
Spanish Bay
view from Point Joe
view from Point Joe

Looking inland, we can see the Spyglass Hill Golf Course, punctuated by cypress trees along the fringes.

Cypress trees along 17-mile drive
Cypress trees along 17-mile drive

Further south, we stop to take pictures of the rocky coastline in the waning sunlight.

View from Bird Rock
View from Bird Rock

In 1542, the explorer Cabrillo called this point of land Cabo de Nieve — Cape Snow — to describe the white landscape before him.  No one’s sure what he saw.  In 1774, Tomas de la Pena, a missionary, gave this western-most point on the Monterey Peninsula the name Le Punta de cipresses, or Cypress Point.  The name stuck and became official in 1967.

In my eyes, what Cabrillo saw were the white trunks of the cypress trees along the shore here.

View from Cypress Point Overlook
View from Cypress Point Overlook
from Cypress Point Overlook
from Cypress Point Overlook
view from Cypress Point Overlook
view from Cypress Point Overlook

The Lone Cypress is one of California’s most enduring landmarks, prevailing here on this rocky perch for more than 250 years.

The Lone Cypress
The Lone Cypress
The Lone Cypress
The Lone Cypress
Jayne at the Lone Cypress
Jayne at the Lone Cypress
Cypress trees
Cypress trees
cypress trees along 17-mile drive
cypress trees along 17-mile drive
more cypress trees
more cypress trees

We continue on as the sun sets to Pescadero Point, where we can see Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove.

Pescadero Point with views of Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove
Pescadero Point with views of Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove
Pescadero Point with views of Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove
Pescadero Point with views of Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove

We love this house with glass windows overlooking the bay.

House of glass
House of glass
Pescadero Point with views of Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove
Pescadero Point with views of Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove

We head into the charming town of Carmel, where we have wine and a cheese platter (Assiette de Charcuterie et Fromages: seasonal artisan cheeses, fresh and dried fruits, assorted cured meats and cornichons) at the bar at the cozy Grasing’s.

After this it seems a long, long drive back to Danville.  At this point we’re further south than we were in Monterey, so it takes us nearly two hours to get back to Jayne’s house.

To read more about 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach, see: Pebble Beach Resorts: 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach.

This post is in response to Marianne’s One trip EVERY month challenge.

One trip EVERY month challenge
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