Thursday, December 5, 2013

Reservoir Loop, Middletown

Asylum Reservoir #2
The forecast was for temps near 60°, with the sun coming out in the afternoon, but I got cool, moody fog instead. That's OK, fog can be fun to hike in. Also, it keeps the riff-raff out. No other hikers, ATVs, bikes, nothing but the sound of water dripping off the branches and some chickadees. 

Connecticut State Hospital -- "the asylum" -- est. 1866
There are several "Asylum" reservoirs, cleverly numbered from one to four. The reservoirs were built to supply water for Connecticut State Hospital, the state's first mental health facility, or "insane asylum" as they called it at the time.  The reservoirs were uphill from the sprawling facility, and could supply not only drinking water, but water under pressure to fight fires. 

The Mattabesett Trail follows the west shore of the reservoir with several overlooks of the reservoir and Hartford that were nothing but fog during this hike. I'll be back here again, hopefully before it snows, to finish up the spur, so I'll get another look. 

Lichens are greening up after the drought
Although I like hiking in the fog or on a misty day, the rock can be quite a hazard. There were no steep sections on this hike, but the rock doesn't have to be steep to cause a fall. The rock was coated with a slick layer of slime, and the going was very slow. 
This was very tough to get down.
 While laying out a trail, bare rock, like the one in the photo above, is very enticing for the route -- it's already cleared! -- but it's treacherous to walk down in wet weather. For the above photo, I chose to find a way around rather than hope my feet wouldn't slip on the slimy rock.
4.2 miles to the end of the NET Spur
The Reservoir Loop is made by turning right onto the blue/yellow trail at a sign. The blue/yellow trail was a much easier walk in the wet weather. Need to watch very carefully for the blazes, though. 
View from the blue/yellow trail
It's not all gray out there.
What a view
Old pegmatite quarry
We're getting closer to the heart of Connecticut's pegmatite district, and the trail passed along the top of an old quarry.  The trail above was littered with countless shards of quartz. The colonial miners were probably looking for feldspar to use in ceramics. 

Chunk of pegmatite: white feldspar, gray quartz, black biotite, silver muscovite 

The Journey Begins in the Driveway

Sikorsky's factory in Stratford, where they make Black Hawk helicopters.
Although the New England Trail feels remote, it's really a suburban trail with almost nowhere to camp legally, so the typical hiker is not a backpacking thru-hiker, but a dayhiker like myself.  If your goal is to dayhike the entire trail, driving will be a significant part of the experience.  On the plus side, you will find yourself driving through towns and along roads you never gave a second thought to previously, and saying things like, "Oh, so this is what Durham looks like," or "Northford?? What is Northford?"  To dayhike the New England Trail is to explore the string of towns the trail crosses. 

West Rock Tunnel on the Wilbur Cross in New Haven
For the NET spur, I've found a particular route I enjoy driving, one that gets me off the expressway and lets me see Connecticut. Google emphatically tells me to go north up the Wilbur Cross and I-91 all the way to Berlin and then back south on the expressway Route 9 through downtown Middletown. Ugh. What's the point? To save a few minutes of driving, assuming there are no accidents on the highway?  

Accident shuts down the highway in Hamden.  

So I stay on the Wilbur Cross just until Exit 63 in North Haven and then follow Rt 22 east to Rt 17 north.  I like Rt 17.  It's a picturesque two-lane highway with little traffic and few lights. The GPS Droid Lady on my phone goes apoplectic at times, frantically trying to reroute me back to the fastest, crappiest route. I make her shut up with the volume button and ramble on down the road listening to my favorite tunes. 
I like Route 17 through Durham
Old barn along Rt 17
Turning onto Higganum Road
Another road I've grown fond of is Higganum Road, which heads straight east from Route 17, crossing the flat floor of the Connecticut Valley, with farmland on either side, until it abruptly starts winding up the forested hillside of the Eastern Highlands. 
Higganum Road crossing the Connecticut Valley floor
After reaching the plateau, Higganum Road continues on and turns into Candlewood Hill Road, with more farms, woods, and the occasional house. This is sooo much better than I-91. 
Candlewood Hill Road

Remember, this is one of the most densely populated parts of the country. 

Local color: painted rock on Candlewood Hill Road in Higganum
Old mill building in Higganum and town center, Candlewood Hill Road
After this drive, which takes about an hour for me, I'm ready to hike!