After three visits to Maryland’s largest freshwater lake, I have yet to set foot on it or in it. Deep Creek Lake is an enticing destination, for sure, but Garrett County is awash in numerous hidden treasures just beyond the summer sounds of motorboats and jet skis.
As a traveling buddy and I made our first excursion into the county a year ago, I recalled a lesson architect Frank Lloyd Wright learned while traversing a snowy field as a child. Wright’s uncle admonished him to compare the footprints each had left: Wright, his uncle said, had wasted his time meandering left and right while he, the uncle, had proceeded directly to their destination. But Wright, in remembering that conversation, realized that his uncle had missed out on delightfully unexpected finds along their walk.
In that vein, I set off with a friend to explore Garrett County’s Barn Quilt Trail — one small link in an art-and-culture-oriented scavenger hunt phenomenon found in 45 states.
These country road treasure hunts are perfect for meandering travelers who want to get off main roads and explore small communities, local markets, cozy inns and down-home restaurants. Our self-guided tour wound past 16 barns, each decorated with an eight-foot-square panel displaying a quilt pattern chosen by the property owners and often painted by community volunteers.
Our route took us along part of the historic National Road — the first highway built by the federal government, in the early 19th century — and through a town curiously named Accident. Apparently, when King George II wanted to pay off a debt with a gift of 600 acres, the intended recipient hired two separate surveyors to scout out the best land. Unbeknownst to one another, they both selected parcels with the same oak tree as a boundary. Thus, the “Accident Tract” was born.
It was certainly no accident that recently brought my family to FireFly Farms Creamery in that same small town. The creamery’s artisan goat cheeses are well known to farmers market aficionados in Dupont Circle and Silver Spring.
You’ll never take cheese for granted after watching the intense, time-consuming and temperature-sensitive hands-on process involved in this craft. For example, one batch of Cabra LaMancha, a mature washed-rind cheese, gives FireFly’s cheesemakers an incredibly physical workout. I watched as Dan Porter briskly and rhythmically ladled curd from the 140-gallon pasteurizing vat to make 24 four-pound wheels. After 10 minutes of gravity settling, each wheel is flipped by hand, then again in three hours, and again the next morning before being stored for aging.
In the meantime, a similar process started in another 140-gallon vat — this time to make Merry Goat Round brie. Stabilizing the milk, cutting and agitating the curd, flipping each of 240 10-ounce rounds and moving all into aging rooms is seamless choreography.
Every step taken and each person involved becomes part of a batch’s written “birth certificate” ensuring product consistency. Even seasonality is a variable in making goat cheese. The deepest part of winter makes for the best goat milk, with the highest protein and fat content, said Dan.
Another “I had no idea” moment came as we visited Husky Power, just 10 minutes south. If you only think Iditarod when you hear “dog-sledding,” Linda and Mike Herdering, owners of what they say is the nation’s southernmost dog-sled touring kennel, will expertly broaden your knowledge through year-round, information-packed two-hour presentations. Husky conditioning, weight training, commands and care are just some of the topics covered during these appointment-only sessions.
“Many people learn about dog sledding through books and movies,” said Linda, which she called “a very incomplete picture.”
We were surprised to learn that many mushers use wheeled carts (gigs) for training, touring and racing. “There are more dry-land mushers in the world than snow mushers,” Linda said. “These dogs are genetically predisposed to pull, and they don’t care what they pull.”
The most important factor in dog sledding is keeping the lines taut by having an alert musher and excellent brakes on one end and a competent lead dog on the other. Slack lines can get tangled, creating a deadly situation, especially for canines.
I was curious about what makes a first-rate lead dog. The selection begins in puppyhood. The dogs are observed while jogging along trails, said Linda. “You look for one that doesn’t wander off — one that keeps going and doesn’t look back.” Sled dogs usually join a team when they turn 2.
The team’s shaded gravel yard is practical, not scenic. Wooden boxes serve as shelters, and each dog is tethered by a precisely measured chain to allow exercise room apart from the others. “They’re happier knowing that they have their own space and no other dog can get into it,” said Linda.
My daughter particularly loved face-to-face time with the most personable Alaskan and Siberian huskies ever. Litters are named in themes, such as Jag and Colt for sports teams, or Slider and BlackBerry for cellphones.
Mike Herdering referred to one dog, Denali, as his “attack licker.” Doffing his cap and revealing a gleaming bald head, he grinned. “She really got me!”
Snow is not required for dog sledding, but temperatures below 60 degrees are, so actually trying the sport on Husky Power’s extensive trail network must wait for the September-to-April running season.
Although we’ve only scratched the surface of Garrett County’s offerings, our list of favorites is growing.
For whitewater fixes, the adventurous are drawn to the Class IV and V rapids of the north-flowing Youghiogheny, Maryland’s wildest river. A 10-mile stretch from Sang Run to Friendsville is particularly popular during scheduled water releases.
For those preferring quiet, upright paddling, New Germany State Park and Broadford Lake beckon. Hikes through the old-growth hemlock forests of Swallow Falls State Park catch mesmerizing views of rushing water — especially as it pours over several falls, including Muddy Creek, the state’s highest single-drop waterfall.
A recently restored 1884 Queen Anne-style B&O train station, now a museum in the very walkable, cute small town of Oakland, is a definite head-turner.
The stately Casselman River Bridge in Grantsville — celebrating its 200th anniversary in September — was the largest single-span stone arch in the nation when constructed in 1813. A walk across it leads to Spruce Forest Artisan Village, where experts in weaving, paper quilling, pottery, metal crafts and more demonstrate and sell their work.
Okay, one day I’ll stop meandering and focus on Deep Creek Lake itself. But first, I must swing by Sugar & Spice Bakery and Cheese, a wee Amish shop on Route 219 just south of Oakland.
Siegal is a freelance writer/photographer in Alexandria.