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

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