Sunday, January 8, 2017

Miles and Mountains and Bears Oh My



I have a thing about bears just like I have a thing about sharks.

After Paint Annapolis, we headed for the Allegheny Mountain Range to get to Cumberland, Maryland, for Mountain Maryland Plein Air. Climbing mountains is no problem for the Ford F-250, but it was a bit of a sweat for the Smart car. The Smart was a boon in Annapolis, but we were definitely glad to have the truck in Cumberland, because it allowed Patrick Saunders to reach painting locations that the Smart just couldn't.

Patrick picked up his welcome packet shortly after we arrived, which included this brochure. It should have immediately set off a round of irrational bear fear, but at this point we were lunching in a rustic restaurant with a gorgeous lake view, and I was so enthralled with the beauty of the area that I couldn't get that worked up about being in bear danger just yet.

We quickly learned that when you attend a painting event and they go to the trouble of putting a brochure like this in your swag, it really means something. We ran into not one, but two black bears for the first time in our lives in Cumberland. We still haven't been to any other plein air event anywhere in the country where they put an animal warning pamphlet in your materials, but I will say that this part of the country is so pristine that it's more than worth the risk. Just seriously watch yourself, and not just in the woods. I mean in your subdivision even. Get some bear spray and keep it handy.

We stayed with a terrific host family with some adorable pets. Two very sweet cats frequently visited our room to let us fawn all over them, and to cover our suitcases and anything clean with cat hair. Just like old times. We felt right at home. Even though all of our cats are gone, we still take a lint brush everywhere we go, because our pets raised us right.

Patrick painted one of the cats as a gift to our hosts, but sorry, no photo - it was a relatively short event and the days were long and we didn't get around to photographing the painting. Oops. There were also two dachshunds in the house who actually protected us during a bear visit by barking like crazy. We met one of the dogs, but not the other, because apparently he has a habit of biting anyone who isn't family. Can't blame him though. He's a weenie living in bear country, so he has reason to be defensive. You might be able to catch his heroic and life saving barking in this video I shot of a young black bear strolling through the side yard of our housing hosts after checking their humming bird feeder for food. I will never forget seeing this one's long dark claws gently wrapping around the feeder after rising up on two legs to expertly assess whether there was any liquid to be drained from the thing. Bears are smart, ya'll.


This wasn't even our first bear sighting. Patrick Saunders and I went for a walk just one day before this video was shot and didn't get two blocks away from our host house when a black bear emerged from some bushes and waltzed into the street maybe 100 feet in front of us. Patrick says it was a small bear, maybe even the same one, but it looked huge to me, and he also claims it turned around and headed back into the bushes as soon as it saw us, but I wouldn't know, because I did an immediate about face. I walked, as slowly as I could make myself walk, straight back to the house, because the only thing I could remember from reading the bear brochure is that you are not supposed to run from bears, because they might decide it would be fun to chase you or something. So all of this is to say, when you're in bear country, GET BEAR SPRAY. Just in case. What if that bear hadn't seen or heard us coming and we'd walked right up on it and startled it? GET BEAR SPRAY. The end.

One of the first places we visited for Mountain Maryland was Swallow Falls State Park, to see the Muddy Creek Falls. Definitely worth a trip, but Patrick wasn't feeling it for a painting, so we explored the park, looking for inspiration. We really enjoyed the trails along the Youghiogheny River and Tolivar Creek, and witnessed damage done to hemlock trees here, some of which are more than 300 years old. Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast in 2012, and as you can read on the posted sign, caused so much heavy, wet snow to fall all the way in Garrett County that many trees snapped and uprooted. Incredible to think that weather from a hurricane that struck so far away could cause what they call a superstorm here.

Hemlock tree damage from Hurricane Sandy in Swallow Falls State Park

Not long after reading this sign, we got a lesson in the power of nature, and how fast mountain weather can change. We were enjoying a sunny June day in this park when we snapped these photos, and not a half hour later, we had to scramble to find shelter under a rock formation, because not only did it start to rain, suddenly there was hail. It passed almost as quickly as it came and the sun popped right back out. Good thing we were close to a rock overhang that we could pass the time under when the short storm hit. We didn't need shelter to protect ourselves, but we did need it to protect Patrick's painting canvas and my camera gear.


Once the coast was clear, Patrick found a spot at the Lower Falls that he wanted to paint. We were able to get off the trail and out onto a rock formation that jutted pretty far into the water so that he had a better vantage point to paint from. While he painted, I continued to explore the park.

Photo by Saunders Fine Arts
Lower Swallow Falls - Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

I found Tolliver Falls to be lovely as well, and more secluded. I only have iPhone photos of it though because the trail was pretty treacherous after the rain and hail, and I didn't want to risk damaging my good camera if I slipped and fell, so I left it behind with Patrick.

Tolliver Falls - Photo by Saunders Fine Arts


Tolliver Falls - Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

Photo by Saunders Fine Arts


Needless to say, we had a beautiful day at Swallow Falls State Park.

Another place we visited that really knocked us out while we were in the Cumberland area is the Savage River State Forest. It was wonderful just driving through it, and we even found a park that is adjacent to the forest that has the biggest, most secluded dry campsites we've seen yet. You are surrounded by forest if you camp at Big Run State Park, and your nearest neighbor at the next campsite is almost a city block away, if you even have one. We put Big Run on our list of places to camp with the Baked Potato if we ever come back this way. The only problem would be finding enough open sunlight in the forest to charge a portable solar panel so that we could keep the Airstream battery from getting too low, but that's a small price to pay for the most pristine dry camping sites we've ever seen. The trees, the creek water ... it was just perfect. You can camp at Big Run and spend weeks just exploring and hiking the Savage River Forest - they are next to each other and connected by roads and trails. Here's an iPhone video I shot of the forest as we drove through it.



During our drive, Patrick found a snapped tree he wanted to paint. This painting ended up being one of my favorites among his plein air pieces in 2016. When I look at it, it reminds me of yet another beautiful day we spent in Maryland, and I can almost smell the air again in that forest.

"Historical Record, Savage River Forest" (oil on panel, 16"x20") by Patrick Saunders won an Honorable Mention Award at the 8th Annual Mountain Maryland Plein Air. Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

The Cumberland area and the entire Allegheny Mountains region are clearly well worth your time to visit. Just get some bear spray first and you'll probably be fine.

Next up, Frederick, Maryland, which we liked so much it's now on a very short list of places we would consider settling down in if we ever get tired of life on wheels. - Kimberly

SaveSave

No comments:

Post a Comment