Camel's Den and the Abandoned B&O Loop



2.5 miles

Start at the Daniels Parking lot upstream from the dam.​

  1. From the trailhead, cross the stream then turn left following the small stream.

  2. Bear right at the trail intersection (going straight takes you back out to Daniels Road).

  3. To reach the Camel's Den (a small cave), after traveling 0.2 miles from the parking lot, take a spur trail to the left that crosses the small stream. The Camel's Den is on the hillside across the stream.
    • Return to the main trail and continue on the Trail of the Camel's Den, bearing right at all intersections.
    • There are many spur trails and alternate routes, most of which are access trails from adjoining private property.
    • By staying right, you will stay on the main trail.

  4. After you have traveled 1.6 miles, you will intersect with a trail on the abandoned B & O Railroad. Turn right, heading downstream. Travel for 0.9 miles to the parking lot.


This hike introduces visitors to one of the least traveled trails in the Patapsco Valley and includes interesting human history, geology, flora and fauna. The trail begins along the floodplain and climbs a small stream valley with a side trip to the Camel's Den, an interesting natural cave. From there the trail climbs sharply up a steep hillside to a dry ridgetop with stunning views of the Patapsco River. The vegetation drastically changes with the change in elevation. Ridgetops are covered with chestnut oak, hickory and mountain laurel, and tulip poplars among other hardwoods. The river valley is dotted with box elders, sycamores, and grasses. Natural rock outcrops provide variety to the terrain and places for rest breaks. Once the trail reaches a summit, hikers quickly descend to the Patapsco River Valley where they return on the abandoned B & O Railroad bed to the parking lot. This last leg of the hike has gentle, but muddy terrain. The variety of habitats makes this trip so interesting.

Brief history of the town of Daniels:

The Patapsco River's waterpower potential attracted a lot of industrial interest during the 1800s, and by the turn of the 20th century there were cotton, flour, paper and woolen mills all up and down the river. There had also been an iron industry in the valley, but that had died out by the Civil War.

This hike begins and ends on the outskirts of one of those milling communities: Daniels. The C.R. Daniels mill, originally called Elysville, founded in the 1830s, reached its peak of production by 1915. At that time, the mill employed 400 workers and operated 14,000 cotton spindles. Like most corporate towns, Daniels was almost a completely self-contained operation. Except harvesting, of course, every stage of the cotton manufacturing process took place on the property, including picking, carding, spinning and weaving. The mill also included a woodshop, wheelhouse, belt house, a heating plant, and probably a machine shop. During the 20th century, the mill even generated its own electricity for both the factory and the town.

Daniels, like many of the factory towns along the Patapsco, was a company town. The company dominated life in Daniels. It owned all property and was, for the most part, the only employer in the immediate vicinity. All the buildings in the town were owned by the company and rented out to its workers' families at a relative discount. By 1940 there were 118 dwellings on company land with an average of five rooms per house. The town was self-contained: it featured three churches, a general store, two schools, a library, a bowling alley and its own 20-man fire brigade. Life in Daniels changed forever in 1968 when the company bulldozed the town (rather than pay for improvements, such as a sanitary sewer system, for the town). Though many of the workers were unhappy with the company's decision to destroy their homes, the flood caused by Hurricane Agnes in 1972 eased some of the animosity. The flood gutted the mill and would have destroyed much of the town had it still existed. The James A. Gary Memorial Methodist Church is all that remains of the once vibrant milling community.

History of the Camel's Den/ Native American history in valley:

Prior to European colonization (and for a good while after their initial arrival) this valley was shared by two major tribes: the Piscataways and the Susquehannocks. The Piscataways often moved out of the valley during the times of the year the more militaristic Susquehannocks visited. Both tribes used the valley as a hunting and gathering ground, while occasionally establishing more permanent farming settlements.

​Native Americans frequenting the valley during resource gathering expeditions typically occupied caves such as the one named Camel's Den. Native Americans were masterful at making due with what the environment provided. The impact on the valley's ecology, though certainly present, came nowhere near the impact their European counterparts would have in later centuries. Therefore, caves are valuable resources, because they provide one of the few clues of the Native American presence here. The other most common clue you might find would be smooth, well-rounded stones used to grind flour and, on occasion, as a weapon for killing game.

Geological Formations: the Woodstock Dome:

At the top of the ridge, look around at the exposed rock and soil. You are standing on the outskirts of one of the more prominent geological formations in the region, the Woodstock dome. The Woodstock dome area, in and around the townships of Woodstock, Granite, Marriotsville and (former town of) Daniels, is one of several dome formations that surround Baltimore City.

In the geologic past, the now quiet countryside was "rocked" by plate collisions, when North America and Africa collided in the Paleozoic Era (230 to 550 million years ago), and by massive intrusions deep within the Earth's crust. These forces caused uplifting, warping, folding, and metamorphosing (chemical changes from intense heat and pressure) of the existing rock. The intruding magma formed granite, which solidified deep within the earth at the time these dramatic geological events took place. The granite formed the core of the dome, and the already present rocks that were affected by the intruding granite formed the outer layers of the dome. Over time, the uplifted dome has been much reduced by erosion, and much of the intruding granite is now exposed at the surface. That granite supported a substantial quarrying industry during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The town of Granite was, in fact, named for the rock that supported the town's very existence for much of its history.

The primary rock in this immediate area of Daniels is Baltimore Gneiss—the oldest rock now found in Maryland. Gneiss originally made up the outermost layer of the Woodstock dome. It is a foliated rock composed of quartz, pink and white feldspars, and biotite (mica). The original rock that formed the gneiss was probably a sandstone in an ocean environment when the plate collision a half a billion years ago took place.

The American chestnut:

As you make your way up to the ridgeline, notice that the vegetation changes dramatically. Instead of sycamores, box elders, elms, tulip poplars, spice bush and thick ground vegetation, you are, instead, observing oaks (chestnut oaks especially), hickories, dogwoods, sassafras, and mountain laurel, along with a few examples of the usual hardy tulip poplars (though greatly reduced in number when compared to the riparian environment). Note that these particular trees are much better adapted to dryer, well-drained, rocky, upland environments. Because these trees produce a considerable amount of shade, along with the fact that there is very little topsoil, the ground vegetation is greatly reduced.

After the fork in the trail along the ridgeline, you should have been able to find an American Chestnut but blight assaulted and killed them.

Not too long ago, the American chestnut was one of the most important trees of forests from Maine south to Florida, from the Piedmont west to the Ohio valley. In the heart of its range a count of trees would have turned up one chestnut for every four oaks, birches, maples and other hardwoods. In virgin forests throughout their range, mature chestnuts averaged up to five feet in diameter and up to one hundred feet tall.

Native wildlife from birds to bears, squirrels to deer, depended on the tree's abundant crops of nutritious nuts. Chestnut was a central part of eastern rural economies. As winter came on, attics were often stacked to the rafters with flour bags full of the glossy, dark brown nuts. Springhouses and smokehouses were hung with hams and other products from livestock that had fattened on the harvest gleanings. What wasn't consumed was sold. Chestnut was an important cash crop for many Appalachian families. As the year-end holidays approached, nuts by the railroad car-full were shipped to New York and Philadelphia and other big cities where street vendors sold them fresh-roasted. The trees were one of the best for timber. It grew straight, and often branch-free for fifty feet. Loggers tell of loading entire railroad cars with boards cut from just one tree. Straight-grained, lighter in weight than oak and more easily worked, chestnut was as rot resistant as redwood. It was used for virtually everything - telegraph poles, railroad ties, shingles, panelling, fine furniture, musical instruments, even pulp and plywood.

First discovered in 1904 in New York City, Chestnut Blight - a lethal fungus and Asian organism to which our native chestnuts had very little resistance - spread quickly. In its wake it left only dead and dying stems. By 1950, except for the shabby root sprouts the species continually produces (and which also quickly become infected), the keystone species on some nine million acres of eastern forests had disappeared.

Seedlings and saplings are resistant to the fungi because the bark is smooth and solid and the fungus can't break through. However, as the tree ages, its bark begins to furrow and that furrowmg provides the gap the fungus needs to enter the tree, attack the cambium layer of the inner bark, girdle the tree and kill it. As you can see, the fungus has attacked this tree and it's well on its way to dying.

Floodplain environments:

The trail next begins to dive back into the riparian environment. The ubiquitous (and invasive) Japanese stilt grass reappears and the trees suddenly change back to the box elder and elm mix that is typical of the flood plains. At the bottom of the hill, there is a considerable stand of tulip poplars. The tulip poplars are a common first generation tree that is sun-loving and grows very tall and straight, very quickly. Most poplars only last a generation (tulip poplars typically live to about 90), but during that single generation they quickly establish a canopy cover that allows the forest environment to take root (literally).

Flood plain environments are considerably less stable than their upland counterparts. They are also, however, considerably more fertile and support a wider variety of organisms. Flooding on a regular basis allows a new layer of topsoil to be deposited. Though the floods often kill the ground vegetation, the new soil allows new, fast-growing vegetation to grow back quickly. This faster growing ground vegetation dies back every fall and winter, and gives the ground even more nutrients to support more life the following year. Trees in this environment also tend to be faster growing and shorter living. The impact of human interference in the environment is also more apparent in the floodplain environment.

Because the ground vegetation is constantly changing in this environment, it provides non-native invasive plants a greater chance to establish a foothold and, after a few successive generations, they can overtake the native plants and dominate the environment. This effect has a chain reaction along the food web because the invasive plants do not provide the same nutritional support for the animals that depend on the food from this environment that the native species do. Some examples of invasive plants here in this environment include the Japanese stilt grass, along with Oriental bittersweet, Japanese pokeweed, Japanese honeysuckle, garlic mustard, tree of heaven, Norway maple, white mulberry, and multiflora rose.

History of the B&O Railroad:

After reaching the railroad grade, upriver from the trail junction with the abandoned railroad, hikers can see the exposed stone stringers and one of the bypassed railroad culverts, all of which lie along the railroad bed (hikers can add a 0.4 mile spur to this loop hike by making a left after reaching the railroad bed).

In 1829, America's first commercial railroad, the Baltimore & Ohio, or B&O, constructed its first "Main Line" up the banks of the Patapsco Valley. Though its commercial success was not guaranteed when it first began construction outside the city of Baltimore in 1828, it's directors and engineers were convinced that their enterprise was destined to be the great gateway to the west. As a result, the company decided to build an "all stone" railroad with expensive earth fills and stone bridges that would stand the test of time. Ultimately, this philosophy would prove correct in the sense that many of the structures originally built have survived for over a century and a half. However, building such magnificent structures (like the Thomas Viaduct) also proved to be a luxury the fledgling railroad couldn't afford. So, many of the railroads' early years were spent in debt, and the railroad would not begin to prosper until it finally reached its goal, the Ohio River, in 1853 (25 years after the railroad was started!).

The railroad stringers have the appearance of stone blocks that might have come from the foundation of a building. They are, however, the original railroad track that was laid in the 1830s. This is an example of where the company directors took the idea of building a permanent railroad to the extreme. Rather than using wooden ties, the B & O used stone "sleepers". The sleepers were laid end to end in two parallel rows. On the inside of the line of stones a flat piece of iron known as a strap rail was laid atop the stones and bolted into place. This was where the wheels of train cars rode.

Unlike many railroad culverts and bridges, the strap rail track did not stand the test of time. In fact it proved to be an unnecessary expense that the B & O could have done without. As the locomotives and trains became increasingly heavier, the iron rails proved too weak. Also, when the iron rail expanded and contracted with the changes in season (like the gaps on highway bridges), the stone sleeper underneath did not expand and contract with it. As a result, after a few years of being in the elements, the tracks became a major hazard due to their tendency to warp and bend out of gauge.

Perhaps the only thing notable that can be said about this early track was that it was set at four feet and eight and one-half inches apart. This gauge would ultimately become the standard gauge used by all railroads in the United States.

The culvert, just a little further down from the exposed stringers, is another good example of how the early railroad directors were obsessed with stone. Additionally, the fact that the railroad bed is, in itself, a substantial earth fill also serves to drive the point home about how the early railroad was obsessed with using permanent materials.

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