Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Penwood State Park, Bloomfield

White Wood Aster near the parking area
We continue north along the long ridge of Talcott Mountain, which is really just a 13-mile long section of the 100-mile long Metacomet Ridge. The main summit of the ridge is considered to be where Heublein Tower is, but the ridge itself runs from the MDC properties up to the Farmington River.

The name "Penwood" comes from Curtis Veeder, the former owner of the property, who was said to be fond of some Pennsylvania woods. Mr. Veeder, an inventor as well as an officer of CFPA, donated his land in 1943, including the hiking trails he had cleared. You will recall that the Metacomet Trail (and New England Trail) was created and is maintained by CFPA.

I was in Penwood last November because it has a long paved loop road, and I had recently broken my ankle. At the time I could not risk hiking on the Metacomet Trail, and even the uneven asphalt road seemed difficult to walk on. This was just a few weeks after the October snowstorm, and the park was a mess with downed trees, although the paved road had been cleared.  At any rate, it was a joy to return on two fully functioning legs and start up the Metacomet Trail, which Veeder himself may have cleared.

Zillions of Black Birch saplings
One of the first things I noticed was how thick the forest is. They obviously have some kind of forest management plan in place, and there were plenty of old cut stumps where the park had been selectively logged. That let in a lot of sunlight for the profusion of saplings.  Black birch are by far the most common sapling type, which is a sign of too many deer. They don't like the taste of black birch (which smells like root beer, so go figure).

Lake Louise
Rubaduc's Pet Mushrooms
After a pretty hike of a mile and a half or along the ridge, the trail crosses the paved loop road (closed to traffic) at Lake Louise, named after Veeder's wife. An article on Wikipedia, which I did not see until just now, claims the lake is a kettle bog. I wish I had taken a closer look, although frankly it's pretty mucky around the shore.

Herb Robert (not native)
From this trail junction, the Metacomet continues north, the paved loop road goes east and west, and another paved road heads northeast to the site of Veeder's cabin. Let's go visit Veeder's cabin site via the Stairway to Heaven (several websites reference it this way). The partially deteriorated stairway is laced with Herb Robert (blooming) and Columbine. A lot of work went into those stairs. I can imagine Curtis and Louise walking down the stairs from the cabin to the pond below.

Stairway to Heaven
At the top of the stairs one meets up with the paved cabin road (cheaters!), lined with picnic tables. I couldn't tell quite where the cabin was, but it had clearly been up there somewhere. The heavily worn trail goes up quickly to yet another Pinnacle (is this the 3rd on the NET?), with gorgeous views.

View from the Pinnacle - Looking south to Heublein Tower

I enjoyed seeing Heublein Tower off in the distance from up here, since I had just been up in the tower a few days previously.

Foundation for....something.

Just past the Pinnacle is a concrete foundation.  Don't know what it was for. No chimney, so I don't think it was the cabin.

Tastes like chicken. Seriously. 
As soon as you pass the Pinnacle overlook the trail becomes wonderfully isolated, continuing along the wooded ridgetop for quite a ways. I passed a tree loaded with Sulfur Shelf Mushroom (the photo shows about 10% of it). This stuff is very easy to identify and, I swear, tastes like chicken when sauteed in butter. I was going to grab some on the way back but forgot.

Another trap rock formation across the valley

Feeding holes from a
Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
There were just hints of a view all along the ridge, but maybe half way to Wintonberry Road I found a spot where, if I sat down, I could see out across the Farmington River Valley to the ridge beyond.  I was intrigued by the two little hills there.   Looking at the CT geology map, I discovered there is another line of traprock off to the west composed of the "Buttress Dolorite", if you must know.  Dolorite is nearly the same thing as basalt, but it cooled more slowly having never reached the surface.  The Metacomet Ridge is composed of  a pair of formations called the Holyoke Basalt and Talcott Basalt, which did reached the surface as catastrophic floods of lava. Here's a handy map that shows the distinctive trap rock formations that surround the Farmington Valley.

While the Metacomet Ridge is the main trap rock ridge that crosses Connecticut, there are a few other trap rock formations such as Sleeping Giant and West Rock. Like the trap rock of the Buttress Dolorite, these stray trap rock formations never reached the surface.

Alternate paved path up towards the Pinnacle

At any rate, the trail continues on a long the wooded ridgetop, gradually descending to the Wintonberry Road, where I was able to verify that I could park for the next visit.  I turned back, hid a letterbox, and before too long arrived back at the Pinnacle. This time I took the paved road back down, which seemed a lot longer than I expected.

Virginia Creeper
The fall colors are just getting started, but should really get going since the temperatures were down in the 30's the night before.  After arriving back at the junction of the paved loop road and Metacomet, I took the loop road back to the parking area. It also seemed long. Walking on pavement just seems long to me unless I have headphones. I don't know why people like it so much.

The Pokeweed was in full berry mode. You do not want to eat them, as they are toxic, but Pokeweed shoots were a traditional spring potherb down south, especially for the poor. They were called Poke Salat, which is the source of the 60's hit "Poke Salad Annie." 

Changing colors of the birch saplings

This last picture is for my husband. Curtis Veeder was known for his unique stormwater drainage system, in which the storm drains were set in the center of the road instead of at the edges. That meant the road was highest at the edges and lowest in the center (modern roads are the opposite). Most of the drains have fallen apart or are buried in debris, but there were a few still visible.

Veeder's unusual storm drain design

Friday, September 21, 2012

Skyline Trail and Avon Land Trust Loops

Trail locations per my gps receiver

Yet another way to hike to Heublein Tower: The Hazen and Skyline Trails on the steep west face of the mountain.  I found the maps online to be lacking, and offer the one above which was based on my gps track.  I parked on Hazen Drive near a sign that says "Hazen Park."  The trail actually starts on Nod Road, but parking here saved me an elevation gain of over 100 feet.  The Hazen Trail is blazed yellow (yellow-green on the map above). 

Paper Birch
The trail is easy to follow and well blazed, and not overly eroded from too many feet. Quite pleasant, with crisp air and leaves that were just starting to change color. My last hike to the tower started out with groups of joggers in spandex passing me, people with headphones, and couples chatting. So although the scenery was nice on the 'other side', the feel was more urban that here (my previous hike was also on a weekend -- makes a big difference).

Climbing the west face of a trap rock ridge is going be a different experience, because that's the steep side of the mountain, complete with cliffs and talus slopes.  And you're generally starting from a lower elevation. Hazen Drive is at elevation 280 ft.  That's 170 ft lower that if you were climbing up the mountain via the Metacomet (from either direction) and about 260 feet lower than if you were taking the popular Tower Trail. More climbing is what I'm saying.  It's also steeper.  It can't be helped. It's still a lot less of a climb that any of the 4,000-footers in New Hampshire.

Damaged trees from the October 2011 snowstorm
"Standard No. 10"
Surprise well under the iron door

I'm seeing a lot more storm damage in this part of the state. Avon and the Farmington River Valley were especially hard hit by the freak October snowstorm of 2011. You can see the small trees in the picture above arched over from the snow load (rather than blown over in a wind).  The trails up here are lined with lots cut up fallen trees. Tremendous amounts of work went into cleaning up the trails.  Now there are branches falling out of trees that had snapped last October and have been dangling ever since.  I ran across quite a few of these later in the day on the Avon Land Trust trails.

After passing over a boardwalk, a cast iron door laying on a rock by the side of the trail caught my eye. What is this?  It said, "Standard  No. 10" on it.  Maybe the door to an oven that someone found and propped up on the rock??  But also looking intriguingly like the door to a secret moonshine repository. I pulled on the door just to see what would happen, the heavy door quite suddenly popped off, and I had a 10-foot well at my feet. Whoa!

Getting near the top, the trail levels out for a spell

Onward ho and up we go. Past some powerlines steadily up the hill, and the yellow trail comes to the blue-yellow Skyline Trail.  Up, up, up. After a bit the trail comes to a grassy knoll with a hint of a view and then follows the grade for a bit. Very pretty. Great trail design, because it gives hikers a break from the constant climb.

Vesicular Basalt, aka lava rock with bubble holes

Never forget trap rock started out as a really deep lava flow.  I passed a pile of trap rock cobbles full of holes formed from gases escaping the lava.

The climb resumes up switchbacks to the top of the cliffs
Then the trail turns back towards the mountain and begins climbing again, using switchbacks as it nears the top.  Almost looks like an old narrow road or mule path. The blue and yellow blazes suddenly end, replaced with some faded orange survey tape here and there, but the trail is quite clear and easy to follow. It's just disconcerting if you don't notice it right away and then worry that you took a wrong turn.   I ended up backtracking down to the blazes, pondering the situation, and decided I was going the right way after all. 

The trail popped out on top of the ridge next to these two yellow signs and I knew instantly where I was. Two years ago I had followed an unmarked trail off the Metacomet along the ridgeline out of curiosity until I got to these signs, which indicate you will be shot or something if you trespass.  And I had wandered on over to the two signs again last week. I was standing right there and did not see the Skyline Trail. You simply can't see it unless you know it's there and walk right up to the edge of the drop off and look down, There are no trail markings other than a tiny piece of orange survey tape around a small tree up top. So if you are up by the tower and want to find this trail, go south on the blue Metacomet, past the pavilion and radio tower, following the ridgeline. The Metacomet will turn left to leave the ridgeline (it might be the second left), so you go straight onto an unmarked path for maybe 100 feet or so to these signs. (if you get to the paved park service road, you've gone too far).  The trail goes down over the drop off just before the signs - look for the tiny piece of orange tape.
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It's Friday and the top is a lot less crowded than last Sunday. WAY less crowded. It's beautiful. This time, I want to go up to the observatory, which means parking little Biscuit out front, something I don't like to do. But there was staff right there and only a couple hikers around, so it felt OK. I was determined to get back down to Biscuit as soon as possible, so I ran up the steps. For a few flights, anyway, then, gasping, I staggered the rest of the way up to the top.

It's a heck of a view up there, that's for sure. I could even see Totoket Mountain in Guilford, but it didn't come out well on the camera.

View looking south
The Hanging Hills of  Meriden were the easiest feature to identify looking south, and the profile of Sleeping Giant in Hamden was also visible through the haze to the right of West Peak. Closer, and to the right, were the twin radio towers on Rattlesnake Mountain in Farmington.

View looking north
Looking north to where I'm heading over the next month is more of Talcott Mountain (which is a long ridge, not a particular peak).  In the far distance is Mt. Tom, in Massachussetts. I'm going to take a guess that the ridge in between is Copper Mountain and West Suffield Mountain, where I'm headed.

Beautiful observatory - Empty!!

Biscuit, right where I left her. 

I rambled on over the King Philip's Mountain, as I had something to hide there, then came back and started back down the Skyline Trail.  I did so carefully, and with my trekking poles, because there was loose stone. Nice and slow and easy does it. Past the yellow turnoff where I first got on the blue-yellow trail, and decended all the way to the next main yellow trail junction.

On the way, I passed the remnants of yet another balloon. Gosh, I'm so glad balloons are theoretically "biodegradable" (per companies who sell balloons). The balloon might be decomposed in another five years, although I don't know about the string. I picked it up off the trail and took it home to throw away. Thank you for littering, whoever released this. Also found another golf ball. I can understand how balloons get in the middle of the forest, but golf balls?? --- Hold the horses, I just Googled this mystery.  Crows and ravens are known to steal golf balls.  Most people believe the crows mistake them for bird eggs, which are part of their diet. Longstanding mystery solved. Thanks for your help.

Back on the yellow-blazed Hazen Trail, I took a left and headed towards the loops of the Avon Land Trust. If I lived closer or knew quite how long and hilly these trails really were, this would be a hike for another day.  But I charged forward and was quickly brought to my knees in tears by the unrelenting ups and downs of the Hazen Trail.  This was partly due to my lingering up near the tower.  It was now getting late in the day and I started to worry about sunset, which drove me to walk faster.

Finally I arrived at the BEGINNING of the Avon Land Trust loops. There is another way to get there, via Nod Way and up a grassy utility line.  So a normal person could start these loops nice and refreshed. The beginning is marked with some signage (including a sign letting me know where I had already been) and a nice little memorial bench.

There are three overlapping loops, the first white, then blue, then red. I actually combine them all into one big loop. All the loops were pretty well blazed. The trails were clear enough, although they could use a bit more work. But I am happy enough that there were blazed. The remote red trail had the most blazes and least tread.  Hiking parts of it was like bushwhacking with blazes, but that's OK. At least I knew where to go. Which was getting more important with the lowering sun.

Turtlehead, a wetland flower
Cankers from Beechbark Disease

Up and down and up and down and up and down. Phew! This is why I included the map up above. The maps available don't show topography, which is a really important part of these trails. I'm guessing I did more uphill hiking after I descended from the tower than on my may up to the tower.

Descending on the white trail, I saw a large stump that had been flipped over. I can only think it was a bear.

The setting on the side of the mountain is beautiful.  Although there are houses down below, I didn't really notice them much.  The red trail gets pretty close to Rt 44, and I could hear rush hour traffic as people raced home from work. So glad my LL Bean headlamp is in the pack -- it's that time of year when the sun is setting earlier and earlier every day.  I picked up the pace a bit, and got back to my car on Hazen Drive just as the sun hit the horizon. Nice!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Heublein Tower, Simsbury

MDC filtration plant and Hartford view at the parking area on Reservoir Six

Reservoir Six
What a great way to get up to Heublein Tower! The standard (very busy) route is up an old roadbed from Rt 185 and Talcott Mountain State Park, and I've done that before.  Another way is from Rt 185 via the Metacomet Trail (New England Trail), and I've also done that (it's very nice). Today is something new: Parking at Reservoir No. Six in Bloomfield and taking the back way in.  This route has more variety, starting with the view of Hartford from the MDC parking lot and a walk along Reservoir Six.

I took the trail along the reservoir north to the blue/red trail, passing the sign directing me west up to Heublein Tower because I wanted to do a big loop, and continued north, where I picked up the blue blazes of the Metacomet and followed them southwest towards the tower.  This trail brings you to a scenic view on the top of King Phillip Mountain (975'), a peak that is slightly lower than the peak on which nearby Heublein Tower sits (1040').  What's wonderful about this peak is it's isolation relative to the mobbed pathway within earshot down below. 

Stiff Aster - a classic trap rock flower 
"King Phillip" was the White Man's name for an Indian by the name of Metacomet in the 1600's, so it's another way of saying "Metacomet Mountain." And since we're on the Metacomet Trail on the 100-mile long Metacomet Ridge, this does seem to be a place worthy of sitting down and contemplating the man called Metacomet and his war: "King Phillip's War."  If you don't know all about King Phillip's War, you should, because there were more casualties as a proportion of the population than any other war in our history. Here's a very readable link.
I enjoyed the traprock terrain and classic ridge-top plant life, including lots of beautiful Stiff Aster in bloom. That's a short little aster that grows up on trap rock ridges, often in seemingly bare rock. I rarely see it anywhere else.  There's also a ton of Bearberry, a shrub that grows only about a foot high, often in the sands of Cape Cod as well as the tops of dry rocky ridges, and some stunted Red Cedar and Bear Oak (a shrub).

Hang- Gliders

Continuing south with the blue blazes, the trail abruptly dumps out on the the popular gravel road that leads to the tower.  I went the opposite direction (right) down the hill along a ridgeline and came out onto a spot where the earth just suddenly falls away (unlike most cliffs, where there's a lot of dramatic rock that somehow screams out "cliff!!").  This is the spot used by hang gliders, and I was in luck today as a couple were up there getting ready to take off. I didn't stick around to see that, but it was neat seeing the hang-gliders just the same. 

Hang-Glider take-off point
Heublein Tower
Maple Leaf Viburnum
And then back up the tower road I went, up, up, up to the tower. I've been inside before, but couldn't do it this time because it was just me and my dog, and I didn't want to leave her tied up alone.  I do plan on going back soon via the Avon Land Trust property to the west, so I might grab be able to grab some shots of the amazing views up there.

Without lingering too long I followed the blue blazes past the pavilion and into the woods, descending steadily and before too long found myself on one last knoll before the reservoir. Enjoying the spectacular September weather, the dog and I laid down on the forest floor, look up at the tree tops, and just relaxed for a spell.

Hiking is not a race.
Say hello to the little spider (look close)

After ten minutes or so I realized there was a little spider right above my face, and decided it was time to move on. Reservoir Six was up ahead. 

Northern tip of Reservoir Six

Path back to the Res. 6 parking area

What a nice way to end a hike!