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. 

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