Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hatchet Hill, East Granby

Sharing the trail with a Spotted Salamander

Shagbark Hickory sapling
Red Maple sapling
Hatchet Hill is one of the shortest sections of trail I've hiked, especially since there are no connecting trails or parks to wander off into. So I was expecting much, but right off the bat I nearly stepped on a Spotted Salamander in the middle of the trail. I usually only see these critters at breeding time in the spring, usually crossing the road on the first rainy night after the snow melts in their rush to vernal pool spawning grounds. A road around the corner from me is covered with these salamanders and wood frogs every spring, and cars  just drive right over them, unaware.

This part of the New England Trail is about two miles due west of Bradley Airport, and the sound jets taking off and landing every once in a while was interesting.

The fall colors were nearing their peak, and although there was a lot of the bright reds and oranges of maples on the drive up, the color along the top of the trap rock ridges was mostly the yellow of birch and hickory. It's too dry for sugar maple, and the oaks were really just starting to change color. The occasional red maple did live up to its name. It's a great fall for color this year.

When the trail hits the top of the ridge there's a big sign next to the trail that says, "Cemetery Restoration Project."  Huh?   Upon closer look, there was a piece of red shale stuck into the ground like a headstone, and nearby were three pair of stakes.  But that was it. So when I got home I Googled, "East Granby
Cemetery Restoration," and wow, what a story:  In the late 1700's, a man by the name of Deacon Joshua Holcomb and four of his grandchildren died of small pox and were buried in this isolated spot on his farm.  This is the second time along the New England Trail that I've run across artifacts from the horrible small pox epidemics of the 1700's (see Hospital Rock in Farmington).

Cemetery Restoration project
White Oak sapling
The plot sickens seventy years ago when an eccentric man (jerk) of the name of William Eli Talbot took the headstones and cemented them into his basement walls along with other artifacts including a meteorite, factory bricks, and millstones.   And so decades of Metacomet Trail hikers have walked within a few feet of the small pox graves without having any idea there was anything there other than trees and a stone wall.  A retired history teacher by the name of Tom Howard and his wife have been working for years to restore the cemetery. New headstones have been made but not yet installed, and ground penetrating radar was going to be used to locate the remains.  If you would like to read more about the cemetery, read this

Roncari Quarry
Soon the trail begins to follow the edge of a huge quarry that has eaten away the east side of the mountain all the way to the ridgeline, and it continues that way for nearly one mile.  The quarry was in operation and the sound of trucks and especially the backup warning beep was a constant. This is known as the Roncari Quarry, and is apparently a great place to collect mineral specimens worth good money just as this one, although I don't know how one gets permission to do so.  The quarry is owned by the Tilcon Company, who lists cement as the currently available product there, which would explain all the cement trucks.  I've lost track of the number of trap rock quarries along the New England Trail, maybe half a dozen?  The quarries don't bother me unless they eat into the ridgeline and mess up the trail.

Witch Hazel in bloom
Japanese Barberry (invasive)
This is a good time to look for Witch Hazel in bloom. It's odd for plants to flower now, especially trees, but Witch Hazel does it. Sometimes you can find the tree blooming after all the leaves have already fallen. This is the same Witch Hazel you can buy bottles of at Wal-Mart or Walgreens, and a lot of it was harvested in the State forests of Connecticut. In fact, eastern Connecticut is considered the Witch Hazel capital of the world. If you are even slightly interested in this topic, you have to read this article from Yankee Magazine.

Silver Dollar seed pod (not native)
Because the fall colors were so beautiful, I kept looking for a good viewpoint and not finding it. The view was always just enough to tease (or taunt) the hiker. I did suddenly notice a weird silvery seedpod on the trail about 2'' long and came to a dead stop.  I looked for more and eventually tracked down the source, a whole patch of the plant with the seed pods fluttering in the breeze. These are called Silver Dollars or the Money Plant, and they are not native.  People plant them in gardens as ornamentals, and they mysteriously appeared here on the top of the ridge.

The view on Hatchet Hill. 
On the way back, I finally found a spot with an unobstructed view to enjoy the fall color, not far from the cemetery.

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