In Which I Relate Past a Adventure, With Photos and Everything

Yes, I know there’s no SEO value to either the title or the content of this post. I’m just going to tell you a story and not try to sell books, okay? (But if you want to hop over to Amazon and buy one or four, I won’t complain.)

On or about May 23, when our son Art and his wife Jennie were visiting us, we took a trip to the Paw Paw Tunnel. (I mentioned a visit there with the grandkids in a blog post earlier this spring.)

At the risk of boring you and taking up too much space, I’ve decided to share some of the information provided by the national park people. The first sign is kind of hard to make out, but you should be able to read the history of the place in the other two, if you feel so inclined:

sign 1 06.20.015 Sign 2 06.20.15 Placard 06.20.15


As shown by the sign below, there’s a trail that goes over the mountain instead of through the tunnel.

sign for Tunnel Trail 06.20.15When we were there with the grandkids, we were a little concerned about that “steep and strenuous” bit, so we just walked through the tunnel, went a little farther (where the kids caught salamanders in the canal and climbed the rock wall and otherwise had fun), then turned around and went back through the tunnel again. But when we were there with Art and Jennie, we decided to take the trail instead.

I didn’t bring my camera that day. Yesterday, though, Craig and I went back and retraced our steps (some of them, anyway) so I could illustrate the story.

This is a national park, and trails and things are pretty well marked. From the parking lot, you go up a path to the C & O Rail Trail, and there’s no question where to go from there:

signs along C & O trail 06.20.15

Because we wanted to go to the Paw Paw Tunnel rather than the town of Paw Paw, West Virginia, we went to the right and followed this trail for about half a mile:

C & O trail to tunnel 06.20.15It’s an easy walk along flat ground, nice and shady. You can’t see from this picture, but the Potomac River is on the right and the remnant of the old canal is on the left.

It was a hot, humid day, and entering the tunnel was a cool relief. In fact, the air temperature grew cooler even before we were inside.

Craig entering the tunnel
Craig entering the tunnel

Using flashlights, we walked through the 3,118-foot-long tunnel. We’ve made the trip often enough now that it felt familiar yesterday. It’s truly an amazing engineering accomplishment. I’m glad the park service has restored it and made it available for people to see.

Here’s a view of it from the other side (below).

Other side of the tunnel 06.20.15After leaving the tunnel, you follow the boardwalk and then it becomes a regular trail again. A short time after that, the Tunnel Trail joins it.

trail on the other side 06.20.15




There’s a sign telling you about the tunnel trail and pointing you in the right direction. So, last month, Art, Jennie, Craig, and I went up the trail, and yesterday, Craig & I did the same.

The tunnel trail took us back the way we’d just come, climbing to the top of that sheer rock face in the pic above, but it was a fairly gradual climb. Nothing “steep and strenuous” right off the bat.

Then we came to an intersection, and the sign was a bit confusing:

horseshoe arrows 06.20.15All four of us looked at it. All four of us said, “Huh?”

The trail continued on past this sign, and a wide gravel road joined it, going the opposite direction from what we wanted to go.

We were all in agreement: keep going straight.

The picture below left shows the trail we took last month; the one on the right is the road-like thing that went the wrong direction. Not only that, but isn’t the narrow path supposed to be the right path, and the wide road the one that leads to death?

the wrong way 06.20.15 this is the right way 06.20.15






I’m happy to report that neither trail lead to our deaths. However, the one we chose last month led to… well, it’s like this.

We followed it up and up and up and up (yes! steep! strenuous!), until… where’d it go? Oh, look, here it is! Take a zig to pick it up again. Climb some more, up and up. Pant, pant, pant… sweat, sweat, sweat. Brush away the gnats that get in the eyes, ears, and mouth. Climb, climb, climb.

Now, where’d that trail go? Anybody see it? Cast about in different directions.. Over here, guys! Climb some more. Where’s Dad? He’s back there resting. Who’s got water? (One of us, at least, had the presence of mind to bring some.)

Dad’s quit gasping quite so desperately, so it looks like he’ll be okay.

Pressing on…

After losing the trail the third or fourth time, it dawned on us that we maybe should have taken the road instead. But we’d meandered around enough that the chances of finding our way back the way we came were pretty slim. Better to keep going and try to figure out how to get back to the car.

I won’t give you a step-by-step description, but we wandered awhile. And, I have to admit, I enjoyed it. I might be the only one of us who did — everyone else was a bit put out by the situation. On second thought, Art might have had fun too, but with him, it’s kind of hard to tell.

After awhile, we found what appeared to be a hunter’s four-wheeler trail, though it didn’t seem to have been used in a couple of years. After a discussion about which way to go, we decided to go the left and see where it took us.

At least it didn’t take us upward again. After awhile, Art & Jennie were a little ahead of us, and Jennie called back, “There’s a road up there — I mean, a real, paved road! But I don’t know what road it is.” I replied, “Any road is good enough for me.”

The fact is, in this part of the country, you can’t ever get seriously lost. It might seem like wilderness, but you can’t go too many miles without coming to a house, a farm, a road, or something. But it had been a long, hot walk, and I wasn’t disappointed to learn there was an end in sight.

So, we came out onto the road, and a sign on a tree across the street caught my eye. What? Does that say what I think it says?

Are You Lost 06.20.15Apparently we weren’t the first people to follow the wrong trail! I don’t know who made the sign, but I’m thankful to whoever it was.

We followed the directions, which were a bit vague, but accurate. Here’s a picture of the dirt road mentioned:

road up the hill 06.20.15The directions said to follow it “to the top of the hill,” and, in fact, it started climbing immediately. Craig asked Art & Jennie if they’d mind going back to get the car for him. “This old man’s climbed enough hills for one day. You can come back and get me.” They agreed and took off up the hill. I waited at the bottom with him.

And waited. And waited.

Turns out it was quite a walk from there. They did, in fact, find the trail at the top of the hill, but it was a long hill, and it was along way back to the parking lot from there. By the time they finally made it back to the car, they were glad to sit down! And we were glad to see them when they came down the road toward us.

And it was the only vehicle we saw the whole time we waited. If we’d been looking for a kind stranger to come along to help, we might have been there till dark.

Craig and I wanted to try it again and do it right this time, so that’s why we went back yesterday. With a camera.

Go ahead and laugh at us for taking the wrong trail. When viewed with the benefit of experience, that horseshoe-shaped arrow on the sign makes sense. But all four of us were confused by it, so it wasn’t just me. Is there a lesson here? I’m not sure, unless it’s that the majority isn’t always right.

Hazy hills of West Virginia as seen from the dirt road going up the hill to the trail (which is in Maryland).
A glimpse of the Potomac River as soon from the road to the trail
A glimpse of the Potomac River as seen from the dirt road — the Potomac marks the boundary between West Virginia and Maryland.
road to the tunnel trail 06.20.15
The road to the trail
The place where the trail meets the road
The place where the trail meets the road
The Potomac as seen from the Paw Paw Tunnel Trail
The Potomac as seen from the Paw Paw Tunnel Trail (town of Paw Paw in the background)
The town of Paw Paw as seen from the trail (through a zoom lens)
The tunnel entrance as seen from the trail
The tunnel entrance as seen from the trail

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that when you follow the correct trail, it lives up to its “steep and strenuous” reputation (if you’re old like us), but it was a very enjoyable walk. We’ll definitely do it again sometime when it’s cooler out.

Not long after we left the tunnel, though, we started hearing thunder in the distance. First a little, far away, then a little more, a bit closer. It started sprinkling rain before we got to the car, but we never got wet. Except for sweat, which pretty well soaked us — some rain might have felt good! But I wasn’t disappointed that we weren’t caught in the woods by a thunderstorm.

All in all, it was a nice Saturday afternoon.

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