Sunrise on Olmsted Island (A Walk Down Memory Lane)

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Great Falls from the Olmsted Island overlook, 13 minutes before dawn

I rarely go over to Olmsted Island – the Great Falls overlook in the middle of the Potomac river, accessible from the Maryland side – because, well, because there are too many people.  And I’ve been there a lot over the years.

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30 minutes later; note the mist rising

It’s fair to say that Olmsted Island is where I fell in love with nature.  I remember going there with my father when I was quite young, some time after 1969 when the steel bridges were installed but before they were destroyed by Hurricane Agnes in 1972.  I remember being devastated by the news, and wondering when, if ever, they would be rebuilt.  It would be 20 years before I was able to go there again.  I remember that while waiting, I explored all over Bear Island (where the Billy Goat A Trail is), climbing canal embankments down to the river, wading across to explore the Rocky Islands when the water was low.  Much of this while playing hooky from high school.

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one of many side-channels

I remember one day in the mid-1990s, two days after a big snowstorm which was followed by temperatures in the 50s and steady downpours.  I found my raingear, hopped in the car, and drove to Great Falls, where to my delight I found one other car – ONLY one other car – which belonged to the volunteer at the tavern, who told me that I had about an hour to get to the overlook and back before the bridges were closed against the floodwaters, which were already no more than 5 feet below that first span…  I had the place utterly to myself, in mist and fog and rain and flood.  It was spooky, it was mystical.  It was glorious.

I had Great Falls to myself.

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another side channel

The other day, when I took these pictures, it almost happened again.  Three women were there for only a moment; one man walked quickly there and back. For ninety minutes I had the place almost to myself.

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and another

Totally worth getting up early.

It’s still one of my favorite places on Earth.

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OLMSTED ISLAND
NAMED IN HONOR OF
FREDERICK LAW OLMSTED
1870 – 1957
ILLUSTRIOUS LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT AND ADVOCATE
OF THE PRESERVATION OF NATURAL SCENERY WHO,
AS AN ORIGINAL MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL CAPITAL PARK
AND PLANNING COMMISSION FROM 1926 TO 1932, WAS
INSTRUMENTAL IN PRESERVING THE GREAT FALLS AND GORGE
OF THE POTOMAC FOR THE USE AND ENJOYMENT OF THE PEOPLE
PRESENTED BY THE
AMERICAN SOCIETY OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS
1965

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