Reflections On The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

The Great Falls National Park just east of Washington DC is a great place to pursue any number of outdoor activities. Walking, climbing, kayaking, and photography are favorite pastimes in the popular park with dramatic scenery. I spent a couple of hours one winters afternoon capturing reflections on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal on the Maryland side of the Great Falls.

Bypassing the Great Falls to reach Washington DC

George Washington championed the idea of making the Potomac River navigable as far as Cumberland on the Ohio River. He set up the Potomak Canal Company to organize and construct a series of locks and canals to bypass several notorious outcrops along the river. Great Falls, in particular, presented a great challenge. Here the Potomac drops 80 feet through treacherous rocks. Taming the river so that even shallow drafted vessels could navigate the Great Falls required engineering skill and brute force. The first canal was built on the Virginia side of the Potomac. Started in 1785 the canal system including the creation of a stepped set of five locks hewn through solid rock. A small town developed in the area called Matildaville to service the laborers and lock keepers, now long abandoned. Before it closed the canal enabled thousands of boats to travel from Cumberland on the Ohio River to Georgetown in Washington, and then on to the East Coast. They carried flour, whiskey, tobacco, and iron downstream to the East Coast and cloth, hardware, firearms upstream into the interior. It took 3-5 days for a boat to get to Georgetown and 10-12 to climb back upriver to Cumberland. By 1828 the Potomak Company had gone bankrupt. Tolls could not recoup the cost of construction and maintenance required. The assets of the company went to the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company who built a new canal bypassing the Great Falls on the opposite (Maryland) side of the river, where this image was taken.

Capturing Reflections on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

The Great Falls area, in general, is a fantastic place for all types of outdoor activity with easy, well-made trails too much more challenging trails that scramble across the rocks of the falls and offer a vertigo-inducing view into the churning river. On the Maryland side, there is a well-kept trail that runs along the side of the canal offering beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. In this image, you can see the gates to one of the canal locks on the left and a reflective view of the trees and rocks that characterize the landscape. The Great Falls area is a great place for landscapes and industrial photography. As well as the spectacular images of the landscape there are various interesting and historical buildings and structures to capture, I took this photo in December on a wonderfully clear day. It is a three exposure HDR image with a -2, O, 2 brackets, processed in Photomatix and touched up in Lightroom.

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