More places to discover around the metropolitan Washington DC area

It’s raining buckets here in DC. The yard looks like I should be thinking about investing in a boat. Though it seems that my banana plant (Musa Basjoo) is quite liking all this water.

My favorite Musa. It’s hardy to about 10 or so degrees Fahrenheit. It’s six years old and I am hoping that it will bloom one of these years.

Since it is so miserable outside I thought I’d bore everyone with a follow up to my last blog.

A couple of days ago the weather was fairly nice, albeit a bit humid. It seemed like another good chance to get out of the house. So we packed a picnic and set off to find some more obscure places to explore around the National Capital Area. Our first stop was the Old Town Bowie Railroad Museum. Not really that obscure actually: we had been there before. It is right next to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, the electrified main rail line from Washington DC to Boston. There were always a lot of Amtrak and MARC trains going through. It was a great place to do some train spotting, until the City of Bowie and/or Prince George’s County screwed it up. I will get back to that point later.

The station was opened in 1872 by the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad. Originally it was called Huntington City, but renamed Bowie in 1880. In 1989 the station was closed and moved a few miles north on the main line to what is now called Bowie State University. The MARC commuter railroad’s Penn Line services stop at that station.

It is now part of the Prince George’s County Historic Site system. What remains now is the rail control tower housing a railroad related research library.  A Chessie System caboose is also on static display.

There are benches and picnic tables, as well as toilet facilities (closed at this time). A restaurant is right next door, serving surprisingly decent food.

A view of the four track electrified mainline from Washington DC to Boston. The electrification of the line from Washington DC to New York City (about half way to Boston, Massachusetts) was basically initiated around 1905 by the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The two photographs above were taken from a little hill, right next to the highway overpass. It offers the best view of the tracks now, but it is not easy to stand on that fairly steep incline, waiting for trains to show up. Which brings me to the point I made earlier about the City of Bowie or PG County screwing up a nice place.

Until about two years ago one was able to sit on the aforementioned benches or at the picnic tables and one would have a wonderful view of the tracks. Folks would bring their lawn chairs and sit and wait for trains to go by. Alas, this is the view one gets now from the benches and the flat lawn part:

Some numbskull decided to take out the lawn, which reached all the way to the fence. Then decided to put in a bicycle path and, on top of all that, plant tall vegetation between the path and the fence. Well, so much for being able to see any trains and waving at the locomotive engineer!

And this is what it used to be like. Wow! One could actually see the trains:

Why MARC runs diesel locomotives under wires is beyond me. The Penn Line is all electrified! The argument about standardizing the locomotive stable for MARC’s three lines, two of which are not electrified, just does not cut it. Besides that, one sees MARC running with two locomotives quite often. Is it really necessary to have two MP36PH-3C diesels with a combined 7200 horsepower pulling four passenger coaches? I think not.


We left Bowie after I took a look at the current on-line train timetables. Due to Covid the railroads had severely curbed their service and there was no point in sticking around any longer. While I was waiting for trains, Brad had looked on the Internet for some more places to visit. What he found was Lake Artemesia Natural Area. This was just a short ride from Bowie and on the way home.

Now, this one we never heard about before now. If nothing else, this place has a fascinating history. Here is the short version:

In the late 1800’s this area had several ponds which were used to raise goldfish. In 1972 one Artemesia N. Dref, who owned the area, donated some acreage to the Maryland National Capital Planning Commission. Then in the late 1980’s the Washington Metropolitan Area Area Transit Authority (WMATA) started to build the subway’s (Metro) Green Line north from downtown DC along the CSX right-away. The CSX railroad’s tracks ran right by the western side of goldfish ponds. Metro needed huge amounts of gravel and soil to construct the base for the rail line. Apparently the area around the goldfish ponds contained exactly the material that Metro needed. A deal was struck between the Maryland National Capital Planning Commission and Metro. In exchange for the extraction of the gravel and sand, which destroyed the goldfish ponds, a nature preserve would be constructed once the Green Line construction was finished in this area. Thus we now have the Lake Artemesia Natural area. It contains a 33 acre lake, hiking/biking trails, fishing piers and nature habitats. It has become an important wetland.


A view of Lake Artemesia Natural area. Clearly visible are the railroad tracks on the left side of the lake. The two tracks closest to the lake are the Metro Green Line tracks. To the left of the Metro tracks are the CSX Railroad tracks, also used by the MARC Camden Line to Baltimore.

One of the Lake Artemesia Natural Area’s inhabitants. There was lots of other wild life. But this bird was the only one who stood still long enough for me to get a picture. I think it is a Blue heron.

A few photographs of the area:

A view across the lake. If one looks close enough one can see a Metro train going south towards DC.

A short video of trains in Bowie and at Lake Artemesia Natural Area:



All photographs and videos by Bradford Wing and Ralf Meier (iPhone 11 Plus, iPhone X and Sony RX100M7) ©2020

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