Tag Archive for serpentine


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Stream in Soldiers Delight. I can't remember where this is. Fall 1973.

Stream in Soldiers Delight. I can’t remember exactly where this is. Fall 1973.

As a kid, my favorite thing about Soldiers Delight was playing in the streams. They were very different from all other streams I knew, which were muddy. In Baltimore County walking in a stream generally meant walking in mud. The water in Soldiers Delight streams was clear, and the stream bottoms were mostly stoney. The stream banks were also grassy and sunny. Streams elsewhere could be sunny, but even managed streams through pastures or parks were often lined with a thicket of woody plants. At Soldiers Delight long stretches of streams were lined only with tall grasses and wildflowers. Plus there were minnows and frogs and snakes. These were great streams.

Arrested development

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Entrance to the Choate mine.

Entrance to the Choate chromite mine at Soldiers Delight in Maryland. Fall 1973.

Entrance to the Choate mine.

Entrance to the Choate mine. Although trash was being removed from the area, fresh appliances had been dumped above the entrance. Fall 1973.

Soldiers Delight would be a lot less interesting to some were it not for its contribution to the economic history of Baltimore County, Maryland. Serpentine outcrops including Soldiers Delight, Bare Hills, and the State Line Barrens in Pennsylvania supplied most of the world’s chromium ore in the mid 19th century. Issac Tyson, and later his sons, owned land and operated mines at these places, shipping all the chromite to Baltimore and monopolizing the industry from the 1820s until after the Civil War. But the long term impact of this activity may have been more ecological than economic.

Seldom scene

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A mouse eared chickweed at Soldiers Delight. I don't know which species this is.

A mouse eared chickweed at Soldiers Delight. I don’t know which species this is. Spring 1975.

There are portraits of more than a dozen species of plant among my old negatives of Soldiers Delight. Most of these are characteristic plants of the barrens, like post oak, blue stem, and moss phlox. A few photos are of plants that are uncommon in Maryland except on serpentine. I don’t know these plants well enough to be sure of the identification, and some might be impossible to indentify just from photos. I photographed these between 1973 and 1975 before I paid very close attention to plant names, but I must have been aware that certain species were special at Soldiers Delight.

Assay office

Click to enlarge photos Land purchased by the State of Maryland for the Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area included two historic buildings: Red Dog Lodge and a log cabin said to have been built in 1848. The lore is that…

Stemming the tide

Below is a diagram that was never shown to me in science class. Alfred Wegener proposed his theory of continental drift in 1912, but it was not until 1960 that most scientists began to accept the new paradigm that continents move around. The idea of crust formation at mid ocean ridges came even later in 1966. So when scientists and teachers in the 1950s and 1960s presented a story about the serpentine rock underlying Soldiers Delight, they got it wrong. Serpentinite is formed in the lower oceanic crust, typically at the mid ocean spreading centers. That’s where it picks up its heavy minerals, like chromium, nickel, and magnesium, which are more abundant in the mantle and deep crust. When Africa floated over here 300 million years ago, a little bit of this oceanic rock got pushed along with it and ended up in the Appalachian Mountains, and in Soldiers Delight. Nobody knew that in 1960.

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A diagram of magma rising through the mantle and forming new oceanic crust at a mid ocean rise. This is where serpentinite is formed.

A diagram of magma rising through the mantle and forming new oceanic crust at a mid ocean rise. This is where serpentinite is formed.

Red Dog Lodge

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Red Dog Lodge in a recent photo from the SDCI web site.

Red Dog Lodge in a recent photo from the SDCI web site. Both benches have plaques on them, I think one of them has my mother’s name on it.

Red Dog Lodge was built in 1912 as a hunting lodge and has been a symbol of Soldiers Delight for me since I started meeting, playing, and hiking there when I was a kid in the 1950s. It always seemed like a place with secrets, a place were men once did things that weren’t done anymore, things that Tom Sawyer would know about because he had seen them in a book. It was built for Mr. Dolfield, who gave his name to the road I grew up on, and also for the namesake of Sherwood Hill Road where our three-letter friends the Lees and the Coes lived. I knew Mr. Hibline who used the lodge after World War II, but I never knew that he was a person who used it, or what it was used for. It never occurred to me that somebody owned it. So I didn’t know much at all, but it was always good to be at Red Dog Lodge.

Convergent artifacts

Click photos to enlarge. Digging around for 40 year old negatives last week turned up a couple of even older things. I found a little T-shirt, and a couple of copies of the Sunday rotogravure section from The Baltimore Sun…