Ghost Trees and Ghost Boats

Almost exactly one year ago, my sister and I biked the northern section of the Mount Vernon Trail. It was nice. We started on Theodore Island in Arlington, got a great skyline view of the Washington Monuments, saw planes flying just a few hundred feet above our heads at Gravely Point Park, passed the Dangerfield Island Marina and stopped in Old Town Alexandria for ice cream before heading back. This section of the trail is really popular; so popular in fact, you may even find yourself in a biker traffic jam. But it’s well worth it if you want to get a feel for D.C.

Fast forward one year to yesterday. I was up at 6am as I always am on weekends (why????) and feeling a bit restless. I haven’t done much neighborhood exploration lately and I felt like going somewhere , but not too far away. I did a little Googling and discovered that there’s a place called Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve less than five miles from my apartment in the Central portion of the Mount Vernon Trail. I thought this sounded interesting. The only bad thing about this plan was that it was cloudy and dreary outside. I tend to think everything looks ugly without the sun, but my only other exercise option was to jump on the  stationary bike at the gym downstairs, and that seemed far more depressing and dreadful than getting out on a less than beautiful day.

One good thing about being me is that I don’t mind doing things alone. This is good because I don’t know that many people who like to do the things I like to do. For me, a walk is more about novelty — seeing new things — than the whole exercise thing. I’m not really a fast-walking, arm-pumping, ankle-weight-wearing power-walker type. I’m more of a stroller. If I see a path in the woods, I take it. I like to explore little nooks and crannies. I take too many pictures. I stop and look at things and Google them if they seem interesting. So going on a walk with me is kind of like going on a walk with a hardcore elderly bird watcher; things move slowly and tediously and you probably won’t work up a sweat.

But one  bad thing about being me is that I don’t plan very well. For example, somehow I’ve made it to 29 without ever owning an umbrella, raincoat or waterproof hiking boots despite the fact that I spent five years living in rainy Latin American cities and Virginia isn’t exactly the desert. What this means — besides the fact that I should know better at my age — is that I got pretty wet during my walk. About half a mile in it dawned on me that it had been drizzling for the last 30 minutes. I came to this realization by touching my head and realizing it was wet. But I figured it was 60 degrees out, it was just a drizzle and I’m a healthy 29-year-old; a little rain wasn’t going to hurt me. About a mile in I realized the drizzle had turned into a steady rain but I was already committed; I had decided I was going to walk from Dyke Marsh to Jones Point Lighthouse no matter what. About a mile and a half in, I came to the unpleasant realization that my shoes, socks and feet were soaking wet. Then I came to the even more unpleasant realization that even if I turned around right then, I still had at least a mile and a half to go before getting back to my car. The good thing about this experience is that I learned several lessons: 1.) I need new shoes. Old, flimsy non-waterproof shoes with holes in the soles are a poor choice for foot attire; 2.) I really need to get an umbrella; 3.) It wouldn’t hurt to have a raincoat; and finally, 4.) You shouldn’t commit to a miles-long walk without the proper attire because it’s uncomfortable AND you look like something is wrong with you.

But wet or not, it was a great walk. I parked at Belle Haven Park, walked down to the Belle Haven Marina, walked over to Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve then took the Mount Vernon Trail to Jones Point Lighthouse. The fog was so dense it was almost impossible to tell where the river ended and the sky began, as you’ll see in my pictures. The trees and boats looked like lonesome ghosts emerging out of nowhere and the marina was so quiet all I could hear was the pier creaking beneath me (swaying in some places…is that safe???) and birds chirping. Actually, it was more like birds squawking, not chirping. Tons of birds, in fact. Fog is a very dramatic, eerie thing and I felt like I was in some horror movie somewhere on the New England coast. It was pretty cool. I never realized how little I get out in less than ideal, sunny conditions, but I’m glad I went; it gave me an entirely new perspective of nature.

First there was One

A lonesome little duck going for a swim (float?) on the Potomac. I felt a bit sorry for this lonely little guy out all by himself on such a dreary day.

Then there were Two

But then it found a friend and it wasn’t so lonely anymore.

There was a hardcore duck party going on a few hundred yards away.

And then they found a lot of friends at this impromptu duck party. There is river, sky and beach here, but you can barely tell because of the fog. 

Potomac 1 Belle Haven Marina

A spooky view of the Potomac near Belle Haven Marina. But you see those little buds on the trees? That means spring is on the way. I’m hoping a lot of the trees will be in bloom next week. 

Potomac 2 Belle Haven Marina

This is a picnic area at Belle Haven Park. Because of the fog, moss and solitary picnic table, I think it looks a little haunted. I can imagine that on nice weekends, the park is filled to the brim with picnicking families. 

Potomac 3 Lonesome birdwatcher

This was taken from the Belle Haven Marina. Because it was so dark and foggy, a lot of my pictures look like I used a black and white filter, but this is actually the original version. If you look closely, you can see a man bird watching on the far left hand side. I think this is the picture that best captures what kind of morning it was. 

Potomac 4 Belle Haven Marina

A boat at the Belle Haven Marina.

A view of the Belle Haven Marina. Looks like you can rent canoes.

A view of the Belle Haven Marina. Looks like you can rent canoes.

Potomac 5 Ghost Boats

This is what I mean by ghost boats. The fog was so dense that I felt like I was looking at a minimalist watercolor painting when I looked out at the river. 

And now here's a ghost tree. I thought this tree looked pretty cool...just one lone tree on a tiny island.

And now here’s a ghost tree. I thought this tree looked pretty cool…just one lone tree on a tiny island.

More ghost trees.

More ghost trees.

Potomac 8 Wetlands

This was taken from the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve. I had to turn around about half a mile in because the rain picked up and I was a muddy disaster, but it was a pretty cool place. I always thought of myself as the kind of person who prefers mountains to water, but there was something very unique and enthralling about being in a place like this. The phrase “still waters run deep” came to mind.

Potomac 9 Stones and Trees

Another view from Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve.


I’m interested in visiting Dyke Marsh in late spring or summer; everything was a copper-orange color and I’m wondering if it all turns green in summer?  

Potomac 12 River sky

This gives you an idea of how foggy it was. I stood there for a while trying to figure out where the Potomac ended and the sky began, but I wasn’t able to.

Another example of blurred lines between river and sky.

Another example of blurred lines between river and sky.

Potomac 13 Jones Point Lighthouse

By the time I got to Jones Point Lighthouse my feet were soaking wet and I felt less than impressed. Are lighthouses supposed to be this short?

Potomac 14 Bridge

A foggy bridge near Jones Point Lighthouse.

Potomac 15 This guy has the right idea

This guy is smarter than me. I kind of wanted to steal his umbrella, but 1.) I’m not a thief and 2.) Stealing an umbrella from an older person is very low.

Potomac 16 extreme fog

Another foggy view near Jones Point Park. 

It was a pretty dismal day, but look at this! Signs of spring!

It was a pretty dreary day, but look at this! Signs of spring! In fact, the trees that weren’t in bloom looked like they would be in the next few weeks. This winter has been so cold and long for us Virginians that I’m looking forward to spring the way school kids look forward to summer break. 

Spring closeup!

Spring closeup!

The southern section of the Mount Vernon Trail feels very different from the northern section. The northern section has a very urban feel; you pass the Washington Monuments, the semi-high-rises of Arlington, National Airport and Old Town Alexandria, which is always exploding with people on nice weekend days. The southern section is quieter; there are still a lot of people, but it feels more rural and peaceful. After I finished my walk, I got in my car and drove the distance of the trail to Mount Vernon Estate at the most southern end of the Mount Vernon Trail and it seems like a great area for a hike. The Potomac seems, I don’t know — wilder? — and the trail itself sometimes leaves the river’s side, dipping into the woods, taking you on wooden bridges over protected wetlands, through old neighborhoods with large, 100-year-old houses (some regal, others not so much) and half a dozen riverside parks and picnic areas. I think I’m going to try to set up a bike ride with some friends next week.


Categories: Alexandria, D.C, D.C Sites and Places, DC Area Hiking, DC Area Outdoors Activities, Hiking, Outdoors, Parks, Virginia

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15 replies

  1. Nice photos! I was there just two weeks ago, visiting Dyke Marsh, and recognize the sights. You’re quite a trooper going out into this messy weather! I postponed a hike up in Maryland from today until next Sunday, because I didn’t think most of the 70-odd folks would appreciate the conditions as you did.

    I’ll bite: where exactly were the last two photos taken? I’m guessing the Belle Haven Marina picnic area, but I’m not quite sure.

  2. Duck party! Wow, what a gorgeous day… the quiet and the haunting fog are really appealing.

  3. Beautiful shots, I’m in love with the fog as it threatens to steal the subjects of your photos!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Sarah. We don’t get that kind of fog very often in Northern Virginia, so it was pretty cool to see things under less than ideal conditions. Are you still traveling?

      • “less than ideal,” but beautiful nonetheless!
        No, I’ve actually been back in physicality, in Cali since September, but I don’t think I ever returned. Traveling is my life, and I will never stop writing about it, even if it’s only dreams 🙂
        How about you? Any plans in the making?

      • No plans right now, just exploring local spots! But after being back for 2.5 years I’m starting to get the urge to go somewhere else!

  4. Some really great photos. You captured the mood of the day. And you went for your walk, “come hell or high water!” Good for you. There is a little lesson here about the proper gear though. Ahem. 🙂 –Curt

  5. I’m a sunny sky person myself, but there’s just something so alluring about the fog…

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