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Enjoying a blast from the past at Soldiers Delight

Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area, located on Deer Park Road in Owings Mills, is the place to come if you are looking for somewhere to learn more about our area's geological history, get in some physical activity, and enjoy the sounds and sights of nature. Coming here has a funny way of making you forget about your daily grind and remember what a diverse region we live in. The location makes this not only a convenient choice for hiking, but also an excellent way to discover — right in your backyard — the historical significance of this region. It has been one of my favorite hiking spots in the area, especially for a quick hike in the evening after a long day at work. After dinner, my family hops in the car and can be at the trails in under five minutes. Hiking can be a wonderful way to spend time together, catch up on our day and blow off some steam. For us, hiking keeps our senses alert and aware while giving us a chance to bond.

Soldiers Delight contains seven miles of hiking trails ranging from easy to moderate. Most of the trails are a bit rocky and some have tree roots growing through them, so at times the terrain can be a little rough, as with most hiking areas. We like to start at the Soldiers Delight overlook at 5100 Deer Park Road. As we pull up, we are greeted by sweeping views of serpentine barrens. Serpentine is a rock abundant in this area. What makes it unique is that it contains very little quartz and aluminum-bearing minerals. Weathered serpentine is dissolved rock, changed into sand and clay-poor soil which is easily eroded. This transformation creates a land surface which is rocky, infertile and sparse, and is the reason that the term "serpentine barrens" is used to describe these areas. This area looks like it came out of the Old West. You will walk amongst barren areas, with rocks jutting out, tall grasses, old mines and rare plants and animals.

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Most of our weekend hikes at Soldiers Delight begin with a trip down the serpentine trail to the visitor's center. It is open every Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and has some weekday hours depending on activities planned and staff availability. My 12-year-old absolutely loves the visitor's center. It is a great way to become educated about the history of our neighborhood, its geological significance and the wildlife present here. In the visitor's center, there are different learning stations that provide hands-on learning. Out behind the visitor's center is my favorite area: the Aviary. This is a great way to see some of our region's native birds up close and personal. Here, the birds can enjoy a natural habitat, and we humans get to see all of the beautiful species.

Here at the center, you can also pick up a Soldiers Delight scavenger hunt pamphlet. I can't even count how many times my son and I have done the hunt together. This is an awesome way to take all of the information you learn at the nature center and combine it with the sights and sounds of nature on the trails. It makes the trip all the more exciting and educational. It contains questions like "What makes a raptor a raptor?" or "Find the mining car ... what do you see inside of it?" After answering the questions on the hunt, it is amazing to see how much you can take what you observed in the center and relate it to what you see during your hikes.

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After our trip to the visitor's center, we like to follow the serpentine trail past the Red Dog Lodge — an old hunting lodge built in 1906 — up to the overlook and across the road to the Choate Mine Trail. This trail takes me back in time to 1927 when Isaac Tyson Jr., a 19th-century businessman from Baltimore, was one of the first to make the connection between the occurrence of chromite and serpentine barrens. During the 19th century, Soldiers Delight and the Bare Hills District of Baltimore County were the largest producers of chrome in the world. Along the Choate Mine Trail, there are remnants of the old mines including the large entrance to the mine — an amazing site. Taking the audio tour through this area is also a great way to experience it through the eyes of a miner.

If you don't have the time to travel west this fall, take a trip to Soldiers Delight. This diverse area that's right in your backyard will surely take you back in time, help you appreciate the heritage of our area and boost your mood.

Kelly Scible is a Reisterstown resident and can be reached at kellyscible@gmail.com.

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