Many people have probably enjoyed wildlife drive of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Yesterday I discovered a desolate part of the refuge that will forever be imprinted on my mind as “Skeleton Road.”
While wildlife drive is the main visitor area, the refuge actually covers a much larger expanse, much of which is rarely visited. Rather than turn onto Key Wallace Drive off the road from Cambridge, Maryland, we chose to continue driving south along Rte 335 in an effort to reach the southern borders of the refuge. A few twists and turns and then suddenly an unmarked road beckons a bit of daring. In retrospect, perhaps we should have turned around when we saw the skeletons.
A half dozen or so vultures gathered on the road ahead, hesitatingly flying off at the last second as our car approached. Soon we were in the midst of a slew of skeletons and fur, splayed on both sides of the road as if a sirocco (or a blender) had been turned on a passing herd. Most of the bones had been picked clean, though several rib cages and lower limbs stood nearly intact. Most of the remains were clearly deer, but there were other animal parts as well. Why here? I never did figure out an answer.
Traveling further along it became evident that the houses, for lack of a better word, were also largely skeletal. Abandoned, or in need of being abandoned, the houses likely were the home of squatters – some human, some animal. Some were clearly inhabited, though one wonders how the crumbling infrastructures and naturally skylighted roofs held up to the occasional thunderstorm. Banjo riffs from Deliverance involuntarily sprang to mind. Eventually the paved road became a dirt road, deeply potholed and muddy from many long cold winters, and then, abruptly, and perhaps appropriately, dead ended.
Surprisingly the vultures hadn’t returned to the scene of destruction by the time we returned; perhaps they knew we would be back, retracing our path back to the land of the living.
Luckily, when we did eventually get back to the main visitor area of the refuge, we were able to marvel at the majesty of several bald eagles soaring overhead and resting on hillocks in the shallow edges of the central body of the apt-named Blackwater. Along the drive we saw this Great Blue Heron, hunkering down in protection from the icy wind.
The trip also took us to the old National Marine Fisheries Service laboratory (now a cooperative unit with the state of Maryland) in Oxford, and a wine-tasting on St. Michaels. A wonderful day experiencing nature – and Skeleton Road.
David J. Kent has been a scientist for over thirty years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the e-book Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time. He is currently writing a book on Thomas Edison.