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.


  1. The comparison of photos for the cover is interesting. It definitely helps when the sunlight isn't quite so strong! The contrast is amazing! =)

    -- Ryan

  2. I use to go to this great location to operate my Ham Radio! Because of the height I could talk to several states using very low power! TOM COSS - WA1LYT