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


  1. Great post! I really enjoyed reading it. Our group hiked Penwood in April, but it would be worth going back for the fall colors.

    The cabin has me stymied. I am positive my husband and I X-C skied there about 20 years ago and there was a cabin. I thought when we were there this spring, I had somehow missed it, but now I wonder if it is just gone. I don't remember hearing about a fire or anything.

    The two hills in your photo are probably the Barndoor Hills in Granby. The eastern one is in McLean Game Refuge and the western one is on property owned by the Granby Land Trust. You can hike both.

    I have hiked at various points along the Metacomet in the Farmington Valley. All the views are to the west. The western highlands in Simsbury, specifically the Hedgehog Trail (check out the Simsbury Land Trust walk book on-line), has tremendous views looking east (and quite a number of geocaches - don't know about letterboxes).

    Thanks for a great post.

    1. There was indeed a cabin not far from the pinnacle. I have a picture of it that I took in 1978. I couldn't figure a way to attach the jpg. file to this reply, or I would have included it. Let me know how to get the photo to you, and I'll do so. The cabin burned in 1992.

  2. Thanks, Sarah. I wondered if they might be the Barndoor Hills but didn't want to go out on a limb for that.

  3. american chestnut cabin burned ~ 1992

    site was also a bunker communications post for governor (cold war) in case of emergency, probably a communications tower on those cement footings. there was a nike missile site to the south end of talcott mtn SP

  4. The concrete just past the Pinnacle are footings for a former fire lookout tower operated by the state from 1946 to about 1969