Friday, April 27, 2012

West Peak, Meriden


Time to hike the last section of Meriden's Hanging Hills: West Peak, elevation 1024, the highest trap rock ridge in Connecticut, and home of the legend of the Black Dog.  According to tradition, if you see him, "Once is for joy, twice is for danger, three times for death."

I meet up with Teeker and Devilindog on Edgewood Drive and we head south towards the radio towers of West Peak three miles up the trail.  While I generally try to hike northbound, sometimes I head the opposite direction if most of the letterboxing clues I'm following are written for someone hiking southbound.

Looking East along the gas pipeline.  
Climbing up the backside of a trap rock ridge is a lot easier that going up the steep west side where the cliffs are, so it's a pretty gentle hike so long as you don't take a detour down the gas pipeline and then have to climb back up. But that's how you learn important things, such as: Being stuck in the mud can cause a Charlie Horse.

Eventually you reach that dependable spectacular view out across the Connecticut Valley, getting greener by the day as the season progresses. Holy cow, but it was blustery up there.  A week ago I hiked in shorts and was overheated a good part of the day. But a week later I'm bundled up in multiple layers. That's April for you. 

My boxing partners had to return to their real lives after a bit, and I continued on, eventually finding the spot on the cover of the Connecticut Walk Book. For fun I tried to get the same angle as the book cover. What a difference in pictures, though. While CFPA undoubtedly had a better photographer with a better camera, and the season is further along, look at the difference in lighting between the two pictures. The harsh sunlight and shadow patterns make taking pictures in the woods on a sunny day almost a lost cause, at least for someone with my lack of skill. 

The tops of the trap rock ridges are sometimes really grassy and open.  I don't know if that is due entirely to the geology and shallow soil, or if the deer population is partly responsible. Deer will tend to eat everything but the grass, and if other plants grow slowly up on the ridges, they wouldn't last long if there was heavy deer browse.   
Palmate Violet

Violets are a very, very common flower, and there are many species of violets. But how often do you see a violet with leaves shaped like these?  The Palmate Violet is the only species with leaves so deeply divided.

And wham, suddenly there's an enormous tower over my head. I had no idea I was that close because the trees block out the view.  There's a controversy right now about whether cell phone towers should be allowed in State Parks. I was surprised to learn they weren't, since towers are a fact of life when you're hiking a ridge trail in a tiny state with three million people.

Here's an interesting tidbit about the towers from Wikipedia: "Edwin Howard Armstrong, who invented FM radio and who was a network radio pioneer, used West Peak for the location of one of the first FM radio broadcasts in 1939. His original 70' tall radio mast is still there. Currently West Peak is home to six FM broadcast stations, including WPKT, WWYZ, WZMX, WDRC-FM, WKSS and WHCN."

Wood Betany
Near the summit are these showy little flowers, some yellow and some red. 

West Peak, elevation 1024
At the radio towers there is a park road and parking area, although the road was closed and few people were there.  A wide path leads from the parking area to the summit, which of course is amazing.

The Black Dog was nowhere to be found. One of the tales involves a Connecticut geologist who supposedly plunged to his death up there after seeing the dog for the third time, and to this day, if you look at the official State of Connecticut Bedrock Geology map, you will see the silhouette of a black dog shown on West Peak (see here and then click on the appropriate grid).

ATVs visit Castle Craig
After exploring the mountain for a bit, I headed back over to East Rock and the castle using a combination of the park road and blue trail.  And got the pleasure of hearing ATVs once again. No kidding, there they are at Castle Craig. Well, at least they weren't tearing up the hiking trail. 

Striped Maple flowers

And then it was a three mile road walk down Park Road back to the car on Edgewood Drive, which took over an hour. The road doesn't open until May 1, so there were no cars.  Not a bad walk, if you haven't already been walking all day.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Metacomet Trail to Castle Craig

Marsh Marigold
Wild Geranium
Welcome to the Metacomet Trail section of the NET!  To recap, we started this journey in Guilford on the newly created Menunkatuck Trail, took a left onto the old Mattabesett Trail at Broomstick Ledges, and have been on the Mattabesett every since. But the Mattabesett Trail ended at the north end of Lamentation Mountain.  Some day I'll go back and get that NET spur formed by the other half of the Mattabesett that curves back to Middletown and the Connecticut River, but for now I'm sticking with the mainline NET.

After a long road walk, which I chose to skip, the New England Trail heads into the woods at Orchard Drive in Berlin, reborn as the historic Metacomet Trail, which will take us all the way to the Massachusetts border. This is perfect name for the trail because it follows the top of the Metacomet Ridge the entire way.
Striped Maple - a more northern species

Metacomet was the name of an important Native American who was known by the colonists in the 1600's as "King Philip."   He lead a resistance in 1675 called "King Philip's War", a conflict so dramatic and devastating to both sides that I can't figure out why there aren't any major motion pictures about it. Half of all Puritan towns were attacked, a tenth of all fighting age Puritan men were killed, and there were real fears that the colonists might be driven off the continent. It was of course a lot worse for the natives, however, who were mostly killed, shipped off as slaves, or became refuges and fled west.

On that cheery note, let's start our trek. It's a beautiful day for mid-April, with temperatures in the 70's and the trees leafing out like it's mid-May.  I leave my car at Hubbard Park and get dropped off at the intersection of Orchard and Kensington Roads.

Almost immediately there are problems with the trail.  For the next three miles, I will spend an extra hour or two while I backtrack, scratch my head, flounder about, ponder the gps and trail map, bushwhack, skirt blowdowns, and so forth.  (The hike got a lot better, so bear with me!)  And then my phone died because it "butt called" my husband, who answered the call but heard nothing but my footsteps as I tromped through forest, oblivious to the fact that my phone had made a call of its own. Which is why cell phones are great, but you can't depend on them.
Arrowwood Viburnum

I put in a trail report to CFPA, but if you're headed that way and want to follow the trail, here's a cheat sheet:

1. Gas line crossing - turn right onto pipeline, then look for trail opening on the left after maybe 100 yards. (Tree clearing took out some blazes I guess).

2. Summitwood Drive - blazes end suddenly in front of houses but a trail tread continues. Keep following that trail parallel to Summitwood Drive in front of the houses and eventually you'll see the blazes again.
Turn left here...don't follow the blue plastic markers straight ahead. 
3. Blue plastic markers AND blue painted blazes mark the trail for a bit starting at the end of Summitwood Drive.  The blue plastic does NOT mark the Metacomet --I thought it did -- it marks some feeder trail.  Someone didn't have enough sense to reserve the color blue for the Metacomet Trail. The blue plastic markers will keep going straight along an old roadbed while the blue painted blazes will take a very easy to miss hard left off the road bed (photo).  I know this because I followed the markers for a good quarter mile before I realized I was trending downhill when I should be on the ridge.

Decoy blue blazes along the edge here 
4. Big dirt road (labeled "Victoria Drive" on Google maps), with lots of recent clearing/earthwork that presumably messed up the trail.  Turn right onto the road. [See my updated May 4 post for this section] Go past a dirt road/long clearing on the left (photo). The trail goes into the woods on the left just after that intersection....somewhere (I never did find the trail entrance).  It parallels the road in the picture off to the right (west).  There are incorrect "decoy" blue blazes painted on some of the edge trees along that road in the photo which completely messed me up, but that's a long story that included a six-foot black rat snake.

I'll say here that the CFPA maps are beautiful, but at times like these I wish there was more detail. The utility corridors and minor roads are not shown, for example. If they were, I'd have a better idea which way to look when I get to a crossing and the blazes disappear.

Parts of the trail were wonderful and well marked, though. Columbine is one of my favorite wildflowers, and I found it bloom in a couple of dry, rock summits. The native Columbine is red and yellow. Any other color is the European Columbine -- not native.

Dry, dry, dry.  What a bizarro weather year! It's mid-April! 

View from Cathole Mountain

Just before descending to Route 71, I took a detour and bushwhacked up to Cathole Mountain, with a view of South Mountain and refreshing breeze. 

Elmere Reservoir Dam

After crossing Rt 71, the trail is easy to follow. Looks like it gets a lot of foot traffic, but hiking on a weekday I only passed one or two people.  The Metacomet heads over the top of the Elmere Reservoir dam, skirts over the back side of South Mountain, then comes out onto the paved park road at Hubbard Park and crosses the Merimere Reservoir dam. 

Merimere Reservoir Spillway

The Merimere spillway was bone dry. Not even a trickle was coming out of that reservoir.  I did not do that graffiti in the photo above. But it is a favorite saying of letterboxers. 

Merimere Reservoir

The trail follows the west side of Merimere Reservoir, gradually climbing up East Peak to a series of spectacular rocky overlooks of Mine Island directly below and the rest of the world beyond. We've now left Berlin and have entered Meriden. And not a sole up there besides myself! 

Mine Island, South Mountain, and Meriden

Finally!  I've been seeing this castle in the distance for weeks now. By the way, my dog can read. 

I love how the native trap rock was used to build the castle. It feels like it belongs. Here you can see South Mountain in the middle distance and the twin peaks of Mount Higby (remember Higby?) in the distance. 

View from the castle top
View from the castle top

Yeah!  Look at that empty parking lot.  No crowds.  The park road is closed to vehicles until May 1. And it's a weekday, so there were only a few people at the castle, but no one on the Metacomet Trail. 

Continuing on past the Castle, the view is no less spectacular. There's the Sleeping Giant, New Haven, and Long Island in the distance. 

Pale Corydalis

After more ridgetop views, the Metacomet descends half way down the mountain on loose stone and meets up with the Hubbard Park trail system.  I took the white trail east because I hadn't gone that way before. The white trail has a popular spurs that goes up to the Castle, which I took.  Although it's heavily used, it's actually rather difficult due to all the loose stone. Nothing like the Tower Road at Sleeping Giant.

Half way back down the hill, along the white trail, is the "Halfway House" overlooking the City of Meriden...

...with a view back at Castle Craig. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Free for All at Giuffrida Park

Dirt Bikes on the NET at Mount Lamentation Overlook.
So you're hiking miles in the woods and up a ridge to get away from it all, and enjoying the scenery of a National Scenic Trail, when some neighborhood teenage boys shatter the peace and quiet with their dirt bikes or quads. I've been trying to do most of my hiking on weekdays when the kids are in school, and have managed to avoid a lot of it, although I see the tracks and trail damage.

But at Giuffrida Park (and the surrounding land...I'm not sure where the park boundaries end), for whatever reason, the kids are particularly brazen.  I've been there four times now in the past month or so, and I think I've had to deal with them each and every time.  The last time, my teenage daughter was with me. "Those are SOOO annoying!" was her take on the dirt bikes. The sound of revving motors can be heard throughout the park, detracting from everyone else's pleasure.  From a distance, the sound is reminiscent of  a mosquito flying about your head in the dark when you're trying to go to sleep.  Close-up, the sound can be deafening, depending on the vehicle.

They basically own the trails.  In other places, kids will at least be polite and pretend like they didn't know it's illegal to ride on the trails and then bug out, never staying in one place for long in case someone calls the cops.  These guys are bold. At the Mt. Lamentation overlook (junction with the yellow trail), I approached one (Bike No. 961, top photo) and told him they weren't supposed to be here and should leave.  I got the 'ha ha you stupid lady you can't make me move' glare until I pulled out my cell phone camera and started taking video, and boy did they leave in a flash then (video below).  Hikers:  Cameras are your friends. If you see someone doing something harmful to the trail that is also illegal, take a picture or video if you feel you can do so safely.  Parents: Stop buying your children ATVs unless you have someplace legal they can ride.

Fresh NET dirt bike damage
Here's something a lot of hikers don't know:  It's a state law that all ATVs and dirt bike rides must carry written permission by the landowner unless they own the property they are riding on.  Also, such vehicles need to be registered. The Police can give you a ticket for not carrying that written permission (they did in my town). It's not like hiking, where you can legally walk on someone else's wooded property unless they post it 'no trespassing'.  With a dirt bike or ATV, you can't do that. So when you're hiking and see someone riding a dirt bike or ATV nearby, the odds that they are doing so legally are extremely slim. 

At Giuffrida and elsewhere along the NET, there are a ton of unmarked trails they use (illegally, I'm sure), but they also use the official trails, which is even worse.  Biker No. 961 and crew ripped up about a half mile of the New England National Scenic Trail, which is rather their intention. They TRY to throw up dirt, because that makes it fun (for them at least, but at everyone else's expense). For a half a mile the blue-blazed trail was full of freshly ripped up and throw about dirt, tire tracks, and rocks ripped out of place. For any ATV enthusiasts reading this thinking, "So what?"...This trail was built in 1931, by hikers, for hikers. 

These rocks were just dislodged from the trail bed by dirt bikes minutes before I hiked it.

And then as an addendum, we found a stash of metal BBs for use in air guns. This was up on Chauncey Peak at a popular lookout.  I like metal BBs better than plastic ones in terms of the environment, because they eventually corrode and disappear, while the neon plastic ones are just permanent litter.  But these metal BBs are, of course, a hazard to other park users, and this was a busy spot. I don't want some idiot shooting out my eye when I'm trying to enjoy the view. By the way, that thing weighs almost five pounds! Now what do I do with these BB's? 

Metal BBs cached on Chauncey Peak

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Daffodils at Hubbard Park, Meriden

Now for something completely different.  According to this website, there are 650,000 daffodils at Hubbard Park in Meriden. And I believe every one of them was in bloom on the day I just happen to go searching for letterboxes at Hubbard. What a happy coincidence! This is most unfortunate for the big annual Daffodil Festival to be held there in a few weeks, because they'll probably all be done blooming. Good for me, though, it was gorgeous.

I've skipped ahead a bit along the trail to box at Hubbard because I pulled a muscle (blowing leaves, not hiking) and needed to "flat land" it for a bit. It's a Thursday, with changeable weather and scattered showers, which is good for keeping the crowds down. People were busy setting up rides over by the band shell. This place must get mobbed, and supposedly 100,000 people attend the Daffodil Festival each year. 

The manicured area of Hubbard is only a small portion of the 1800-acre park, but it's very well done and very well maintained. Meriden has a somewhat rough reputation, but there is not a hint of seediness in this park.  There's Mirror Lake, the duck house, playground with some neat equipment, pool, tennis courts, band shell, gazebo, dinosaur footprints, lovely walks, and of course all those daffodils. 

There were parents giving their kids bread to throw out at the ducks and geese. It's really bad for the lake and birds, but the kids were having a blast and it was really cute. The birds stand around the shoreline and make way grudgingly while giving you the evil eye. I believe these birds may be descendants of the ones use to film Alfred Hitchcock's thriller, "The Birds." 

Bluets - Native Wildflowers
Looming above it all is Castle Craig up at the top of Hubbard's "Hanging Hills." I think my first glimpse of the castle on this trail was on Mount Higby back in Middlefield.  Both the castle and the pond were built by the very rich Walter Hubbard, who bought up dozens of properties to form a park and then donated it to the City. So if Bill Gates is listening, there are some private lands along the NET that would make really nice parkland for the trail.

Wait, what? Wifi? Here's the funny part:  This area had the worst cell reception on my entire hike. My Droid deemed the wifi signal to be weak, and it wasn't until I climbed up somewhat in elevation that I really started to get a better signal, and not via the wifi.

This was cool: Some big slabs of red shale with dinosaur tracks had been set down near the pond. It's neat because this is the general region of dinosaur tracks and the same rock type they have at Dinosaur State Park. And the cliff overhead is composed of big lava flows that spewed out all over the dinosaurs. A real Jurassic Park. 

One of the things I like about letterboxing is how I get pulled into odd little corners of parks and finding unexpected things, like this LED lighted flag overlooking Main Street. The lights were all turned on during daylight hours, and I could say something snarky about showing patriotism while wasting energy, but I probably used more energy driving to the park than these lights burn in a year. So I won't. 

Japanese Knotweed
I-691 cuts right through the park and separates the manicured part with the more rugged sections.  To get from one side to the other, there are two highway underpasses and a pedestrian walkway. Paved paths use the underpasses and lead to Merimere Reservoir, where feeding the geese is strictly prohibited. A nearby water tank illustrates the important role the Metacomet Ridge plays in supplying drinking water to the surrounding areas.
Garlic Mustard
Some of the more common edible wild foods were ready to be harvested along the trails.  Garlic Mustard was supposedly brought to this country for food and is one of the more popular wild foods, especially Garlic Mustard Pesto. Japanese Knotweed can be used instead of Rhubard in recipes, and has been used by the Japanese for thousands of years to make Itadori Tea.

That purple thing hanging way up in the ash tree is a trap for the Emerald Ash Borer.  They're monitoring for the presence of this new bug, which was in New York State last I heard,  because it quickly kills all ash trees. There is no way to stop the borer.  That purple trap is just about all they can do. That tree the trap is hanging from will likely be dead within ten or twenty years. 

Squawroot is something you don't see every day, or at least I don't.  It looks like little pine cones, but is a parasitic plant native to the area that feeds off the roots of oaks and beech.

This is such a bad time of year for poison ivy.  I sat down to "stamp in" after looking for the ivy, then suddenly realized it was all over and my hand was brushing up against it. The plant was just very hard to see (the leaf in the picture is tiny).  Look for the woody stem coming out of the ground with the shiny red leaves unfurling. 

Time to cross over I-691.  They've blocked the bridge with a forest of bollards apparently designed to keep  fat people off the bridge so it won't collapse.  Or something, I don't know.

I passed the bollard test and ventured forth, hoping not to run into any Pterodactyls like that scene in Jurassic Park 3.

Immediately after the bridge the trail heads up the trap rock and the feel of the hike is completely different. Here's a spring house, though it was pretty dry. I didn't go up very far..that's for another day...but hung around a lower loop. 

Then it's rain showers and approaching darkness, so back across the bridge I go. The drive home was filled with moody storm clouds, at times pink with the setting sun.