Monday, February 24, 2014

Winter Urban Hike

Although the weekend was very pleasant (clear, blue skies with temperatures in the mid-50s), the accumulated snow has by no means disappeared.  There's still a foot or more covering most unpaved, uncleared surfaces, and walking is extraordinarily difficult.  On Saturday, Kali and I walked at a state park with paved bicycle trails that had been plowed and were clear and dry, but unpaved, untreated trails were still snow-covered and icy.  So, we thought about other options for a long walk on Sunday and decided to tackle an 8-mile loop in Philadelphia.

The Schuylkill River (a bit of a redundancy, since the Dutch word Schuylkill means "hidden river," a name stemming from the fact the mouth of the river at the receiving stream [i.e., the Delaware River] was obscured by dense reed beds) forms the western edge of central Philadelphia.  The river flows within a large urban park created in the 19th century to protect water quality in a river that served as the source of the city's drinking water.  Today, roads parallel the river along both sides, but between the roads and the river runs a paved recreational trail that is very popular with walkers, runners, skaters, and bicyclists.  Because it was paved and had been plowed, the trail was clear and mostly dry, so Kali and I decided to walk from the north end on the western bank toward central Philadelphia, cross the river, walk back along eastern bank, and then cross the river again to our car - a total distance of 8 miles.

The image at the head of the post shows our approach to the southern end of the walk, nearing central Philadelphia.  The skyscrapers of Center City are at the right.  The large neo-Classical building on the left is the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  In the left foreground, along the river, are the clubhouses of the rowing clubs that use this stretch of the river for competitive training; this cluster of eccentric buildings is known as "Boathouse Row."  One of the clubs' teams is on the river in the right of the image.
Kali along the Schuylkill River esplanade
In the image above, Kali is standing at the rail above the Fairmount Dam, constructed to back up the river so that water could be withdrawn as a source of drinking water.  Behind Kali on the opposite bank of the river sits the Fairmount Water Works, completed in 1812.  The Water Works withdrew water from the river and pumped it to a reservoir on the hill above (Fair Mount), from which it was distributed throughout the city by gravity flow.  The Philadelphia Museum of Art now occupies the location of the reservoir.  The Water Works buildings have been rehabilitated and serve as an interpretive center for the city's water department.   

Fairmount Water Works and the Museum of Art
The Fairmount Dam also marks the head of tide in the Schuylkill River.  Downstream of this point, the Delaware River (and its tributary, the Schuylkill River) are tidal.  The image above was made at low tide, so some of the metamorphic rocks of the Piedmont are visible in the riverbed.  A very short distance downstream, the river crosses over onto the sandy Coastal Plain.
View northward across the top of the Water Works to Boathouse Row
The large house on the hill on the upper right of the image above is called Lemon Hill Mansion.  The area that is now parkland surrounding the river was once the private estates of wealthy Philadelphians who could afford to escape to their "country homes" instead of suffering through summer in the city.  All of the remaining mansions are now city-owned and are open to the public during the holidays when they are decorated for Christmas.
The recreation path in front of Boathouse Row
Looking Westward
This statue has always intrigued me.  Usually, I see it when I'm zipping past at 35 miles per hour on the road along the east bank of the river, but on Sunday Kali and I had a chance to look at it closely.  It was completed in 1966 by a Lithuanian sculptor and depicts an American pioneer carrying a caduceus gazing westward across an eagle's back.  It's dramatic and interesting, but so abstract it's hard to puzzle out.  My image isn't the best, but it's hard to interpret even when you're standing next to it.
Promontory Rock rock
At one point, the recreational trail enters a short tunnel bored through Promontory Rock formed from the hard metamorphic schist bedrock along the river.  My final image, above, shows the rock in detail - tortured, folded, melted and reformed during the collision of North America and Africa 200 million years ago.

Our 8-mile hike took us 2 hours and 23 minutes, including stops for images.  We ate lunch as we walked.


robin andrea said...

What a great walk! It really looks lovely there, something I didn't expect when thinking about a walk around Philadelphia. Glad to see that you and Kali had a chance to get out and enjoy those balmy temps.

Mark P said...

The old waterworks are really impressive. The old (and current) waterworks in Rome are housed in what is pretty much just a brick rectangle. Our own waterworks here on the hill are housed in a little wooden shed I built. Neither compares well with Philadelphia's.

packrat said...

Love that first photo, Scott, and the one with the mother jogging with her kids in the stroller-built-for-two.

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: As we approached the Art Museum on our walk, Kali said to me, "You know, we live here, but Philadelphia really IS worth visiting." I agree. And, it's a good thing we enjoyed the warm temperatures when we did because we're back in the deep freeze again with highs each day this week just approaching 32. Normal highs this time of year: 46 degrees.

Scott said...

Mark: The old Water Works really are impressive. They had fallen into major disrepair, but about five years ago, the Philadelphia Water Department took them over and completely rehabilitated them. (The Water Department has access to rate-payer revenues, which the city does not.) The Water Works not used for any water-supply uses anymore, but are full of interpretive displays. In addition, a portion of the building houses a river-view restaurant.

Scott said...

Packrat: There were quite a few joggers pushing twin strollers along the recreation path. The birth rate must be up in the city!