Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bradley Mountain, Plainville

This section of trail has had a drastic reroute not shown on the latest edition of the CT Walk Book, which is why it's always important to check CFPA's "Trail Notices & Relocations." The map above shows where the old trail and new trail diverge ("Trail Junction"). Heading northbound, the old trail passes over the peak of Bradley Mountain and then heads down the steep West face to Ledge Road.  That is now a blue/red feeder trail. The new trail goes East down the backside of the mountain and comes out at the intersection of Black Rock Avenue and Esther Street, which is two miles down the road from the original trailhead.  If you didn't know about the reroute and had spotted a car at the old end of the trail, you might become a bit confused out there. Fortunately there are signs explaining the reroute. 

Sweet Fern.  If you see (or smell) it, look for blueberries.

I  parked the car at the intersection of Shuttle Meadow Road and Long Bottom Road in Southington, and picked up the trail headed northbound. It's a pleasant rise up the mountain, with interesting rock formation and a couple of rock tunnels. Crossing a gas pipeline, I smelled blueberries. Actually, I smelled Sweet Fern, but in my mind that's the smell of blueberries. For the longest time I thought I was actually smelling blueberries, because when I detected that aroma, I'd look around, and there were blueberries.  In fact, Sweet Fern and blueberries very often grow together, and sure enough, there they were side by side, the blueberries almost ripe. Sweet Fern is not actually a fern, but rather a small shrub and likes dry, sunny places like powerlines and ridgetops. The leaves are really distinctive, and if you crush one very aromatic. 

Up on the ridgetop there are a series of almost-views that probably look great when the leaves are down. A red-blazed trail comes up from Crescent Lake and joins up with the NET here, although I've not been able to find a good map showing this. 
Crescent Lake
Eventually the trail does come out on a clear overlook of Crescent Lake, looking west out over the Connecticut Valley and the hills of the Western uplands. 

Bear Oak - a shrub of dry ridgetops

Sunset Rock on a beautiful summer day
The trail crosses over the town line into Plainville and soon arrives at Sunset Rock.  It's an interesting chunk of ledge, although the views are not as good as the previous lookout.  There's a nice grassy area with a fire pit and some concrete blocks that were once the footings for what was possibly a telegraph tower, although I was not able to confirm that.

Convenient water dish on Sunset Rock

Shortly after Sunset Rock, the trail diverges, with the old trail now bearing left and marked with a red/blue blaze.  A sign explains the reroute, which was done to make the road walk across I-84 easier. I took a right and followed the blue blazes. 

Bark on a leaning tree, smoother on top

I recently bought a book called "Bark."  Lucky you, because now I get to talk about bark. Yes, the entire book is about the bark on trees of the Northeast.  That's what you call a niche book.  At any rate, you see a lot of bark hiking. But do you really SEE it?  One tidbit from the book:  On a leaning tree, the bark on the bottom is rougher than the bark on the top, because the bark on top is more weathered.  The photo above shows a leaning Black Birch. So the book appears to be correct. I played games of looking at the bark as I walked past trees and guessing what kind of tree it was without looking up. High failure rate. But that's how you learn. 
Tilcon Quarry 
The rerouted trail was pleasant, gradually descending through picturesque forest and never steep. Eventually I heard rumbling and remembered that there was a quarry nearby.  I never could see the quarry, but could clearly hear the Snort in operation.

How to be a jerk of a neighbor in three easy steps.

Crown Vetch

Further on there were signs of civilization and the hum of I-84 ahead. I met up with another hiker while pausing to take a picture of some ridiculous "no trespassing signs" and we walked down to Esther Street together. He said that the reroute meant that the trail no longer went up to the peak of Bradley Mountain, which had great views looking south towards Sleeping Giant and West Peak.   So on the way back, when I hit the trail junction, I took a right onto the blue/red trail and was at the top in about a quarter mile.

View from the top of Bradley Mountain, looking south at West Peak

And he was right. By far the best views of the hike were no longer on the New England Trail, but via a side trip along the blue/red.

Sleeping Giant on the right, West Peak on the left.

Higby and Mount Lamentation in the distance?

The view looking south was pretty straightforward.  Sleeping Giant and West Peak were easy to identify. But what about the view to the southeast?  Was that the twin peaks of Higby in the distance? I believe that it is, with Mount Lamentation in front (the shoulder of Bradley Mountain is in the foreground).  What a crazy route the trail takes following the offset Metacomet Ridge in this part of the state.

Pitch Pine 
Pitch Pine needle cluster of 3
Back to the subject of bark. On Bradley's overlook were some Pitch Pine, which is the same kind of pine you see growing all over the sands of Cape Cod.  According to my book on bark, there are only two pines in the Northeast that commonly grow needles straight out of their trunks: Pitch Pine and Jack Pine. Of the two, Pitch Pine is a lot more common in Southern New England. Also, Pitch Pine has clusters of three needles, while Jack Pine grows in clusters of only two needles. So Pitch Pine it is;  a tree of dry, rocky ridges and sandy shorelines.  People once used the sap, or "pitch," for things like making boats water tight. It's even a verb: "Pitching a boat" is to seal the cracks.

Chestnut Oak
The overlook was surrounded by Chestnut Oak,  Red Cedar, Blueberry, Bear Oak, all pretty typical of trap rock ridges. I lingered for a good long time, then headed back to the car. I've had my eye out for Prickly Pear Cactus, which is supposed to grow on trap rock ridges, although I've only seen it growing along the shore.  I have the native cactus growing at Eklund Garden in Shelton, and it's starting to bloom, so finding a blooming cactus on the trail would be great. 

On the way down, I suddenly learned how to use my camera (Panasonic G-2) for close-up shots. It turns out that I can get a lot closer than I thought, I just have to use manual focus.  Why don't they tell you these things??? So here's a couple shots of small things up nice and close. 

Spotted Pipsissewa (aka Spotted Wintergreen)

Indian Pipes, a parasitic plant

Indian Pipes

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ragged Mountain, Southington

I've been to Ragged Mountain several times, and in fact the header photo is one I took from Ragged Mountain a few years ago looking towards West Peak. At the time I had no idea what I was looking at -- just some hills in the distance. I enjoy the fact that when I drive down the highway now I actually know something about the ridge I'm passing. Especially the hanging hills, which are very distinctive as you head east from Southington on I-84. 

The popular access point to Ragged Mountain is from West Lane in Berlin (the park is in both Berlin and Southington) and there is an entire network of trails, some well-blazed and others hardly blazed at all.  But my goal is to walk the entire NET, so a bigger loop is needed (see map). We parked the car on Andrew Street and started out with a 1.8 mile road walk south.

Road walks are not generally my favorite, but sometimes you do find the unexpected, like this giant anchor resting next to a tree at the edge of Wassel Reservoir. I thought it was a cannon at first. It begs the question of what a ship that big would be doing in the reservoir. 

And so we took a closer look and found this memorial plaque.  Ahh. The U.S.S. Thresher was a nuclear powered sub that sank off the coast of Cape Cod in 1963. Tragic Cold War stuff. 

We continued on down the road and passed some longhorns.  I did not expect that on our hike. 

We continued to Carey Street (no parking there), and picked up the blue-blazed trail as it turned up a gravel driveway across the street from two mailboxes that are labeled 97 and 147, and then up a nondescript hill and suddenly found ourselves at the bottom of a rather dramatic cliff. Whoa. This is a view of Ragged Mountain I've never had. 

Ragged Mountain is one of the best known locations for rock climbing in Connecticut.  We did some of our own climbing, "scrambling" to be more precise, heading up what is called a "draw" in CFPA's trail description.  The draw, a sort of gully, starts out pretty easy with some stone steps, but gets more difficult as you near the top.  There was one spot in particular that was troublesome because the rock was quite smooth and rounded, giving no real foothold.  The skinny 12-year-old thought it was easy, though. "Really? That was it?" She sounded disappointed. 

At the top of the small cliff.

And here's the reward for that scramble, views to the south of the Hanging Hills in Meriden.  Short Mountain is in the foreground, practically invisible. Must be why they call it Short. 

Memorial messages.

There's a prominent memorial to a fallen rock climber up here, with quartz messages left at its base. A reminder to respect Nature. 

Climber's ropes at the top of the big cliff.

At this point the trail follows the ridge, repeatedly crossing gullies or fracture lines that are perpendicular to the ridge line. Down and up, down and up.  I remember those gullies being a lot more difficult in November after they were covered with fresh leaves, causing me to slide down one or two of them on my butt. Before long we came out onto the top of the big cliff, which was crossed with ropes which presumably had people dangling at the bottom of them. Don't trip! This was the wide open top of Ragged Mountain and the views were great.  The big cliff and some of the land below are owned by a group of mountain climbers called the Ragged Mountain Foundation, which maintains a map of their property here.

Blueberries ripening
The next few miles were rather uneventful. The gullies ended once we were past the big cliff.  It was a Saturday and the trail was rather busy, considering how far it is from a trailhead.  A lot of unprepared people apparently try to hike the loop formed by the Metacomet trail and the red/blue side trail, called the Ragged Mountain Preserve Trail in the CFPA Walk Book. Twice I've had to give away my trail map to people who had started out on the loop but had no idea how to complete the loop and also had no idea just how long that loop really is (six miles).  Once they get past the big cliffs they start looking for the trail back to the parking lot. It's not there, but a couple miles down the trail, and not especially easy to see, either, for people who are not hikers and have no map.

Patterns in the trap rock
Squaw Root
At some of the overlooks, the trap rock has a pattern of little silica ridges that are harder than the basalt and therefore protrude somewhat after weathering. They were created when cooling joints formed in the lava, and later filled with silica. Sort of like mud cracks that got filled in with something. Trap rock jointing can create dramatic rock columns with four to eight sides and are the reason for the Giant's Causeway in Ireland.  Compare this picture with the one above.

The trail continues for a few easy miles to a canal and the junction with the red/blue trail. All along the trap rock ridges I've been seeing canals built to direct water runoff from the ridge into drinking water reservoirs, and I assume that's what this one is for. 

Canal lined with stone
Photogrammetry marking
The trail soon crossed a lonely paved utility road with a big precise white "X" painted on it. Buried treasure?    I had no idea what it was for, but my husband said it was for photogrammetry flights.

I wasn't expecting much from this last leg of the journey, from the canal to our car. I was surprised. Before long we came out onto our first, but not last, view of Shuttle Meadow Reservoir, and had ourselves a little break.

Shuttle Meadow Reservoir
Lacquered Polypore
The trail headed along the ridge top, and we had more frequent views than we had at Ragged Mountain. It was gorgeous!  The trail has the feeling of one forgotten by hikers, but frequented by mountain bikers. There is a powerline corridor that runs parallel with the trail and the ridge, but you don't realize it's there. There's also a road down below, but again, you don't realize it's there. So it's quite enjoyable.

We passed some tree fungus called Lacquered Polypores. I saw these on Short Mountain as well. They really do look like someone gave them a thick coating of shellac, and if you tap them they feel like they're made of wood or plastic, not slimy like you would expect.

Following the ridgeline above Shuttle Meadow Reservoir.

So we walked along, getting closer to the car, and I pulled out my gps to check our progress. Gosh, there are a lot of contour lines between us and the car. Hmm.

Wha??  Steep trail ahead?  I did not know this was coming. They should have a marking on the CFPA maps for places like this.   The trail quite suddenly plunges down a very steep slope with loose rock and dirt. There's also a trail that continues along the ridge for views, but we had already walked seven miles or something and were not interested. I regret that decision. Sounds like the view was different than what we had be seeing along the ridge. We made sure to keep a lot of distance between us as we descended in case one of us slipped into the person below, but this turned out to have a down side. I was the last one to start my descent, and I knocked a cobble stone loose that went bouncing down the slope like it was shot out of a canon. "HEADS UP!!!" was about all I could do. Fortunately, it missed everyone and we made it down without incident. 

At the bottom, trail came down notch on the right
The cliff was very cool. Wow! 

Too. Many. Deer.
And we were almost back to our car. The rest of the forest was sadly impacted by what is probably way too many deer.  No shrubs or saplings, just a lot of freshly sprouted maple seeds along with a blanket of invasive garlic mustard.  A mountain biker headed up the slope and I asked him incredulously if we was going up that cliff we just came down. He said he knew a way around.  I'm tempted to go back and check out the trail further.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Short Mountain at Timberlin Park

I'm back to the NET after being away for several weeks. I needed to finish up hiking the Tunxis Trail, which I started last fall and promptly broke my ankle the first day out.  It was quite a contrast to the NET. Different kind of terrain and it was very isolated and wild (read blog post here).  Also had some vegetables to get in the ground and there was a trip to the Cape. 

Probably the hardest part about letterboxing at Timberlin was the radically altered trail system. There are new trails as well as trails that used to be one color and are now another color. And apparently no map online that showed the entire trail system so I could plan my route out ahead of time.  So I followed my native guide (Teeker), who helped me navigate this uncharted territory. My gift to you is the above map, such that it is, based on my gps tracks (the southern part of the green trail may be a bit off as it diverged -- see this map).   The trails are all pretty easy except for a short mossy scramble down the north face of Short Mountain.  That section wasn't horrible, but it was enough that I left my backpack behind knowing I would be right back.  (Later I was confused as to why my gps didn't show a track for my was sitting in my stationary backpack back up on the hill duh.) I did read about plans to extend the red/blue trail up to short mountain, so my map may be soon obsolete.

Pond at Timberlin Park
The Timberlin Golf Course is a major feature of this park, which might explain the algae in that pond (golf courses use a lot of fertilizer). You drive through the golf course to get to the main parking lot, and I found six golf balls while boxing. 

Boy Scout bridge built by Sean Haber, Troop 24
From the Timberlin parking areas, there are a couple ways to get to the NET. The Amelia Green Trail (now blazed green, but sections were apparently once blazed green, white, and possibly a salmon color)  leads over the most impressive Eagle Scout bridge I've ever seen, built out of steel. Some distance after the bridge, the green trail hits a "T" and many people take the major unmarked trail to the right, which loops up and connects with the NET on Short Mountain's north face, just before the NET descends steeply to Carey Road. (The right fork in that unmarked trail has been closed off -- this fork was previously recommended by some).

Red Berried Elder
The other option is to take the blue & white trail from the pavilion area, and head up the south side.  You're looping around Short Mountain clockwise.  I was headed up from that direction when I passed these red berries on a bush that looked sort of elderberry-ish.  These are Red Berried Elder, and are not edible like normal Elderberry. 

View of West Peak near the South Overlook
There are several overlooks, a couple of which are completely unobstructed, and others areas with partial views. 

Pasture Rose
Several of the overlooks had these stunted rose bushes on them. I believe they are Pasture Roses, a native rose known for its short stature and ability to grow in dry, rocky areas.  The flower looks like the roses you see at the beach, Rugosa Rose, but the bushes are very small. 

Looking northwest towards a vineyard

The day I descended the north side of Short Mountain, I forgot to replace my camera's memory card, and had to switch to the cell phone camera for the last two pictures. Sorry. 

The descent down the north face of Short Mountain

The descent is not long, but it is steep and the damp, mossy terrain made for some slick areas. It was a scramble, and I used my hands on occasion.  But I had the feeling that if I fell, I might break a couple legs but would survive, so I had that going for me. 

Interesting Trail Sign
The trail hits bottom fairly quickly, crosses over a stream, and passes this interesting trail sign, before skirting a few backyards and hitting pavement. Ragged Mountain beckons.  But that's for another day.