Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Pinnacle and Hospital Rock

"Why is that human whistling?"
Yup, the deer have been eating.
What a great hike!  In addition to breezy, cool, dry air in July, I found some cactus as well as a piece of early American history in the form of "Hospital Rock."  But I've jumped ahead. The hike started with a ramble back up the New Britain section of the trail for about a mile so I could hide a letterbox, just south of I-84 and near the Tilcon Quarry. Right off the bat I got to have a nice conversation with a doe, who was polite enough to wait around while I leashed my dog and dug my camera out of the bottom of my pack. She clearly knew that I was right there but just kept chomping away on the vegetation until I whistled.

I hid the letterbox for New Britain near a certain leaning birch tree with bark that's smoother on top and headed back to the car on Esther Street.  If I was a purist I would walk all the road parts, but I'm not, so I follow the blue-blazed route along the roadway in the comfort of my car across I-84 and parked at 440 New Britain Ave in the parking lot for New Alliance Health (thank you, thank you, thank you, for not putting up some signs telling me not to park there).  Hopped across the street and there was the trail and an old railroad track.

This time of year there are a ton of wildflowers growing along the roadways.  Almost none of them are native for the simple reason that the soil conditions along our roads is completely different than any natural soil ever found in New England. It's highly compacted and the chronic salt usage has changed the soil chemistry. For one thing, the soil is very alkaline, while our natural soil is very acidic. Most of the roadside plants originated in far away lands with barren, alkaline soil, atop chalk cliffs, for example, and are well adapted to these conditions.

Queen Anne's Lace 
There is a profusion of Queen Anne's Lace and Wild Chicory all along Connecticut's roads right now. Chances are, if you see white flowers they are Queen Anne's Lace, and I guarantee that if the flowers are blue, they are Chicory.  Queen Anne's Lace is also known as Wild Carrot because it is the ancestor of the domestic carrot. The root looks pretty much like a carrot but you really can't eat it because it's too fibrous. It's noted for how the bloom curls up into a 'bird's nest' when it's done flowering.

Everlasting Pea
Chicory is special, too. The root has often been ground and added or substituted for coffee.  Check the ingredients for some of Celestial Seasoning's herbal teas, and you'll see "roasted chickory."  I've never tried it because the only place it grows around here is along roadways, which are invariably contaminated with heavy metals, and you don't want to eat anything gathered there.

The most dramatic flower was Everlasting Pea, which actually had peas. Again, not a native of North America. That one is not so common. It was growing along the railroad tracks rather than along the nearby roadway.

Prickly Pear on the cliffs

I had a lot more fun later on when I headed up the cliffs and found some Prickly Pear cactus.  Finally! I've seen Prickly Pear, a plant native to Connecticut (YES this is true) growing in sand in Stratford and Milford, but never along the trap rock cliffs where it is said to grow. And here it is.  Looks like it bloomed, too. Sorry I missed that, the flowers are beautiful. PS never touch the cactus.  There are invisible thorns. You will need a magnifying glass and tweezers to get them out. 

Tilcon Quarry and I-84

The New Britain section of the trail that I was on earlier in the day ascends the ridge just to the  east side of Tilcon Quarry (to the left in the photo).  But this was the first time I got to actually see the quarry.

It's a mostly a gradual ascent heading up towards Pinnacle Rock, with the occasional view like this one. Unfortunately there was an ATV trail that also leads to this spot, and so there was a fire ring a pile of litter. The only time I see litter along this trail is where there is an ATV path. 

Hot tub for dogs, with a view
There's a lot of open ledge as the trail finally approaches the Pinnacle, with Rattlesnake Mountain and some kind of radio tower coming into view to the north. All very dramatic.

Rattlesnake Mountain coming into view 

The Pinnacle

Railings!  There are railings up at the top! And a little bench. Ha. And people were ironically using the railings to attach their rock climbing gear to. That's funny.

Hartford, closer and now more to the northeast than before

I didn't go much further along the NET than that, but decided to explore some of the unmarked side trails. I was keeping an eye out for the elusive "Hospital Rock," which is said to be nearly impossible to find without directions. Reasonable historians don't want the general public to know where it is, because you just know some idiots will deface it. So it's pretty much a secret.  All  knew was that the rock is nondescript, in the woods, and somewhere in the area.  

On the rock are many carvings from the 1790's of young people's names that were under quarantine for small pox inoculations. Back in the good old days, they would take the pus from a small pox sore and rub it into a scratch. With luck, you would get mildly ill for a bit then be immune to small pox for the rest of your life, which was a good thing because it was very deadly and horribly scarred many survivors.  After the inoculation, people were contagious for a few weeks, so a small hospital was set up in a remote area to house the people getting the inoculation. 

Amazingly, I found it. I will do my part to keep the secret and won't tell you how I found it, other than that the fact I used  my geeky geology background and a dose of intuition. But I'll share some photos. Bear in mind, these names were carved into the rock the same decade that our Bill of Rights were passed. You might say these young people were of the very first generation of U.S. citizens. In the bottom photo is the word "liberty,"  and it's circled. 

1 comment:

  1. Sad to see what happens in ten years.