Leaf peepers have good choices for viewing in the greater D.C. area. We’ve been to the Shenandoah’s so we decided to try Sugarloaf Mountain this year.
Now mind you the mountain is not that high (1,200 feet), and diners don’t have the choices they do in Front Royal, but appeal is achieved in other ways. Shooting up I-270 can get you there in a little over an hour from Alexandria, and the crowds are much thinner. Sugarloaf is also just one of six registered natural landmarks in Maryland.
Melanie Choukas-Bradley, an author who knows a thing or two about trees, wrote “Sugarloaf: The Mountain's History, Geology and Natural Lore” in 2003. In it she tells us about Gordon Strong, a Chicagoan who moved to Washington and made money in real estate. The mountain cast its spell on the mid-Westerner when he saw it in 1902. Gordon and Louise established “Stronghold,” a non-profit that maintains the mountain.
Our first stop was in Clarksburg, a community of about 13,000 just off the highway. Normally, we would have breezed through it on our way to the mountain, but part of my web searching told me about an interpretive park there that brings back Dowden’s Ordinary.
The planners of this two-acre park tapped into their creativity. They didn’t let the fact that the Ordinary is long gone stop them. A steel skeleton of what the ordinary looked like is the centerpiece. A pair of interpretive markers tells its story.
Ordinaries were inns used by weary travelers, and served many purposes for the public. This one was strategically place between Rockville and Frederick. It’s also interesting that Clarksburg marks the end of sprawl in this part of Montgomery County.
We jumped back in the car and headed west along Comus Road. In a few minutes, the solitary mountain came into view. Five minutes later we were at the foot.
The Strong Mansion is used mostly by the white gown and tuxedo set, but is worth a look.
Paul Elliot provides a nice description of the hike up the mountain (60 Hikes within 60 miles). We chose the motored-vehicle option. There are three parking spots, one looking east, one westward and one southwestward. We lucked out and had mostly clear skies.
For lunch, we backtracked a bit and dined at the Comus Inn, also known as the Johnson-Wolfe Farm. You can’t miss it, located at the intersection of Comus and Old One Hundred Road. It’s a set of four buildings, the oldest circa 1862. The current owners have renovated with a sense of the original design. The accommodations are elegant, so the tennis shoes and jeans crowd might feel the pull of conformity. I fell off my wagon and indulged in an Angus Burger. The wait was longer than average but the staff tried hard and were friendly.
The return trip can be varied by heading south down Old Hundred Road, which we did. This takes you through Barnesville, and a few miles later, you pass under the MARC train track at Boyd’s. Getting back to I-270 took longer than I thought, but I always appreciate this kind of variety.
About Sugarloaf, Gordon Strong once asked, “What is the best thing we can do with it?”
The answer comes every fall. The simple pleasurable act of looking down into the valley and gazing at the colorful leaves is enough. Now I’m ready for the falling white flakes…