Friday, June 20, 2014

A New Beginning: East River to Long Island Sound - Part 1

My daughter took some of the photos
There's a new section of trail in Guilford heading south from East River to the shore of Long Island Sound, where the "Gateway" to the New England Trail was just recently dedicated. Of necessity, the trail abandons the woods and follows paved road for about four miles. I drove this section because that's the normal mode of travel for a paved road. Or at least that's what I tell myself.  If you are a thru-hiker or have a goal of walking the entire trail, it's not a bad stretch to walk considering how developed Connecticut is near the shore.

Driving the trail.
This section of trail runs through Guilford's historic district, and there were so many interesting things to see that I've had to break it into two sections for the blog. Guilford was one of the first towns settled in Connecticut by the Puritans back in 1639, and there are several old buildings that have been preserved as museums. Doing this section by car allowed me to spend much more time at the various attractions. We started with lunch at the Shoreline Diner where the trail crosses busy Route 1, also known as the Boston Post Road because it was the road used to carry the "post" (mail) from New York to Boston. I'm guessing it was probably an Indian road before that.
The familiar blue oval trail sign marks the Route 1 crossing
It was my daughter's last day of school and I had to pick her up from school at 10:00 am (I really don't understand High School schedules these days), so the timing worked out just right for a celebratory lunch at the Shoreline Diner (buttered lobster roll and sweet potato fries, if you must know). We could see the blue oval trail sign on Route 1 from our table out on the patio. There were a couple of hotels across the street, something a thru-hiker might make use of.

Shoreline Diner, Route 1
After crossing busy Route 1, the trail went down a much quieter road, where we passed a sign that said we were entering Guilford's historic district, and soon we came to Alderbrook Cemetery. I was initially disappointed because it seems like a modern cemetery, but upon exiting there was a seemingly random display of dozens of very old tombstones from the Puritans leaning up against a big stone wall. A few were actually cemented into the wall itself.

The blue blazes are just on the other side of the wall.
This would be very easy for a hiker to miss. Although the old tombstones are only a few feet from the trail, the wall blocks the view from the trail/road, so you need to go in the main cemetery entrance to see them. 
Would you want this picture on your tombstone? 
Many of the old tombstones had a variation of a face and wings. Some were creepy (like the one above), and others a bit less so. According to a site on the History of Puritan Gravestone Art in Connecticut, (yes! there is actually a website for this!), what started out as a seriously morbid skull and wings in the 1600s evolved into a cherub and angel wings by the 1700's, and I think we saw that evolution in these tombstones.

"Here lyeth ye Body of Mary ye wife of John Goodrich,
who dyed Decembr ye 25th: 1722 in ye 61st Year of her age.
You know a tombstone is old when the word "the" is represented as the letter "y" with a tiny "e" above it.

Some of the tombstones were cemented into the wall.
We were left with the mystery of why these tombstones were laying here. And where are the bodies?  I posed this question to our tour guide at the next stop, the Griswald House (more on that later), and she suggested these might be the tombstones that were removed from the Guilford Town Green back when the town decided to make the Green more attractive. She showed us some artwork showing the Green in the 1800's, and there was a little cemetery there with cattle grazing nearby. Later in the day, when we drove past the Green looking to buy something cold to drink, my daughter commented, "So those kids over there are playing over dead bodies?"  

Guilford Town Green c. 1820, with cemetery and cattle
Shortly after the cemetery, the trail passes in front of the Thomas Griswald House, a typical saltbox house from the time of the American Revolution.  I almost passed it up, because it doesn't look like much (and is often closed, so check the hours), but I was so glad we stopped. The house is almost entirely in it's original state, and we had a wonderful tour guide. 
Our delightful tour guide explaining how the kitchen fireplace was used for cooking.
What made this house tour interesting is the focus on how ordinary people once lived, especially women and children.  We learned, for example, how women prepared baked goods within the built-in oven in the back of the fireplace (build a fire in the little oven, let it go for awhile until the surrounding bricks are hot, then pull out the fire remains into the main fireplace.  Now the oven is heated and ready to bake something. And I complain about my oven's digital controls).

A sink carved out of brownstone.
Our tour was maybe an hour long and we picked up all sorts of tips about the good old days. I enjoy learning about how ordinary people used to live, but I wouldn't want to go back to those times. Life was tedious. For the women, every day was all about cooking, sewing, weaving and, of course, child care.

Spinning wheel  for the spinster.
And if you didn't get married, you might be expected to do a lot of the spinning, and they'd call you a spinster. 

A New Beginning: East River to Long Island Sound - Part 2

Driving down the trail
Continuing on down the four-mile paved sections of the NET, it's not far from where we left off at the Griswald House to the next big historical attraction, the Henry Whitfield State Museum.  This is the oldest house in Connecticut, built in 1639, the year Guilford was founded. It's also called the Stone House, and is a landmark in Guilford (where you can also find the Stone House Restaurant and the Stone House Cafe) . 

This might be the right location
Where the Griswald House was unassuming and easy to miss, you can't possibly miss the Stone House, in the same way you can't possibly miss the Corn Palace in South Dakota.  

There's a very old house behind all this bling
The stone house was meant to function as a protective fort from the Natives Americans, although it's also said that the Indians helped quarry the stones. Maybe one tribe was hoping for protection from another tribe, which happened a lot. And regarding all those American flags draped over the was built in 1639 by the British long before American flags even existed.

This is actually a real thing.
Since this is a state facility, there were signs everywhere, including a sign designating parking for Segways. This was so unexpected I had to ask the staff about it. I haven't even seen a Segway in years, and they have special parking for them?  It turns out there is a Segway rental company that advertises tours of Guilford's historic district, and the Segways were taking up all the parking places for cars. Which opens up the intriguing possibility of doing this four-mile stretch of the New England Trail by Segway.  Go ahead. I dare you.  
Blue blazes go right through the complex.  Visitor center is in the background.
We were told that the inside of the Stone House is not original. Where a walk through the Griswald House was like going back in a time machine and visiting a typical house with all it's furnishings and household tools, once inside the Stone House you could be in just about any museum building. There were displays of random old things everywhere under glass cases, roped off, or suspended from the ceiling: A gun powder horn, a saw from a saw pit, furs.  
This section of the NET is called the Menunkatuck Trail

I have no idea.
We breezed through the museum pretty quickly because we were getting hot, tired, and thirsty, and had just had an hour-long tour at the Griswald House.  

This part was original - a ten foot long fireplace
Our next stop was Metro North's Guilford Train Station. The NET goes right through the station, crossing the railroad tracks via a skywalk.  Backpackers could arrive conveniently by commuter train from New York's Grand Central Station, or from Boston. There are no blue blazes inside the building, but I have to believe hikers will figure it out.

Guilford Train Station (blue blaze on telephone pole on right)
Up in the skyway --- on the New England Trail!

Even at the train station there was history. Just to the east of the modern station was an older one dating back to the 1800's, now in ruins. There are efforts to preserve the old station

Ruins of an older train station 

The old water tower. 
After a quick trip to the attractive town center for cold beverages (there were green/blue blazes along the way as this is a side loop for the NET), we were off to our final destination: Chittendon Park. 

Heading to the shore
It didn't take long by car to reach the shore, and it wouldn't take that long if you were walking, either. 

Chittendon Park and Long Island Sound
A quick turn into Chittendon Park, and there's the kiosk I've been seeing pictures of.  Only a few weeks ago they held a Gateway Dedication here, complete with live music and refreshments. I meant to go, but didn't make it. The kiosk is located next to the parking lot, and the park itself is mostly a ballfield. There are no blazes leading you to the shore but all you need to do is walk across the grass towards the water and you'll figure it out. 
Osprey nest (left) and Falkner Island (right distance)

The last few feet of trail
There's a beautiful new boardwalk built for the trail that helps people get over some marshy areas to the shore.

The End. Or the Beginning, depending on your point of view.
What a beautiful ending (or beginning) to this trail. The shore here has just the right mixture of sand and marsh to make it accessible but still natural and wild. We took off our shoes and hung out for at least an hour.

Hermit Crab

Quahog (pronounced Coe-hog)

Sea Rocket

Jingle Shell.   I saved this one. 


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Trail's End - Middletown

Asylum Reservoir #2, Brooks Road
Finally!  All winter long this last section of trail has been taunting me, but anyway, better late than never. And I see there's a new sign at the Asylum Reservoir trailhead. Pretty sure that wasn't there last fall. I started out today the same location as my last hike in December, but this time I walked all the way through to River Road along the Connecticut River, a distance of about five miles. My amazing husband agreed to pick me up at the end and cart me back to my car.   

Meet Mr. Quinn, an 8-month old package of crazy
I got a Welsh Terrier puppy last fall, which was one of the reasons I couldn't finish up the trail before our early snow in December.  I left my trusty Wire Fox Terrier Biscuit at home today because taking both dogs is just too much. I felt bad leaving her home. But if I leave Spazz-Boy Quinn at home with nothing to do, it's bad for everyone (and everything). 

Lots of interesting rock along the first section
The first half of this hike features lots of dramatic rock and is pretty slow going unless you have the agility of a goat. I'd avoid it if it's wet or icy out. The terrain is quite scenic, and is rough enough to have kept out the riff-raff.  

Asylum Reservoir #1
The trail passes by Asylum Reservoir #2, then twists and turns up to an overlook of Asylum Reservoir #1.

Pitch Pine
It's a high point along the rim of the Connecticut Valley. The land drops away on either side: To the west is the Connecticut Valley, while to the east is the Connecticut River. There aren't many views along the hike though, due to the trees.

"Rock Pile Cave"
Not long after descending from the reservoir overlook, the trail comes to  what the CFPA walkbook refers to as a "rock pile cave."  It was a lovely place to stop for lunch.

Dog walked right over this half-grown Garter Snake and never saw it. 
After lunch, the terrain change fairly abruptly.  The dramatic rock was left behind, the path leveled out, and the walking became a lot easier. Eventually the path began a very gradual descent down the bank of the Connecticut River.  


As the path descended, the plant community changes. Instead of pitch pine growing out of rock, there were large patches of Mayapple, something I don't run into very often while hiking in Connecticut.  The trail circled about and then began to run parallel to a powerline corridor for quite some time.

Very dangerous open well - yikes! 
I almost missed seeing this incredibly hazardous well only a few feet from the path. I think my dog actually spotted it.  It was maybe 8 or 10 feet down to the water surface, and I don't know how deep the water was. Based on all that green moss growing on the well walls, I'd say it's been open to the sky for quite a while. Whoever owns the property should get that covered over ASAP.

Well is located in the lower left part of the photo (looking back up the trail).
Powerlines are to the left, parallel to the trail.
Piece of shell found next to the old well
Tadpole -- probably for a Green Frog
Laying on the trail maybe ten or twenty feet from the old well was an old piece of wampum shell, perfectly round and obviously formed by humans. I don't know what to make of it. Wampum has been used in jewelry for hundreds of years, and continues to be used to this day. It was also used as an alternate form of currency by colonists for a time, but since anyone could just make their own wampum beads from shells (often poorly), they lost their value. Normally there would be a hole drilled in the enter of a wampum bead so it could be strung up. So what is this? Did it just fall off some hiker's jewelry a few years ago? Or is it a relic? The location along the banks of the Connecticut River adjacent to a hand-dug well gives me pause. Any thoughts? There were no other shells around, just this one on the trail. It's quite eroded, but was most definitely a round disc, about 3/4" diameter.

Probably an old quarry road
This was a very big area for pegmatite quarries back in the day. I thought I might pass a lot of old quarries, but instead I passed a lot of old roads that were probably constructed to access the quarries.

Pink Lady Slipper
When I hike through the woods, I feel like I'm surrounded by stories. There's the story of the trail itself, of course, starting as the Mattabesett Trail in the 1930's and now also the New England Trail.  How many people have walked the same trail since then?  But there are also stories in the rocks and plants and animals. The Pink Lady Slipper (above) can live for 50 years, blooming only when conditions are just right. It takes many years for this plant to have it's first bloom. This particular Lady Slipper may have been in bloom back when Nixon was president.
Speckled Green Fruitworm (Orthosia hibisci)
And here's a green caterpillar. Sure, it's just a plain old green caterpillar, but that looks like a epic journey he's on. Maybe he's grown large enough and is ready to transition into a moth.  Assuming I correctly identified the critter, it is "one of the most ubiquitous forest insects of spring and early summer." It will eat, "many woody shrubs and trees including both broadleaf and coniferous species." Which would explain why it's so common. This insect will do well regardless of suburban development and invasive species.

Connecticut River!
Ragged Robin (not native)
There was only one overlook along the second half of the hike (the map lied), reached by following the powerlines to the crest of a hill. The Connecticut River - finally!  Sadly, the trail does not actually end right at the riverbank, as there is a huge powerplant in the way, so this is the only view of the river.  On the opposite side of the Connecticut, the ridgeline along the rim of the Connecticut Valley continues, as does a CT Blue-Blazed Trail along the top, but it's no longer called the Mattabesett Trail (it's called the Shenipsit Trail.)

Severe trail damage from dirt bikes
This section section of the hike was full of damage from ATVs and dirtbikes.  All in all, the general area is probably not a bad location for them to ride since there are no residents nearby to disturb. It's not a state park or forest - not sure who owns the land. There are lots of old woods/quarry roads, as well as the powerline corridors. I wouldn't want to have to listen to them while hiking, though, which is why I went early in the day and chose a day that was rather gloomy and threatened rain. The strategy seems to have worked, since I didn't hear any ATVs at all. But clearly they are in here a lot.

Dirt bike erosion several feet deep.
Maidenhair Fern
But they seriously need to stay off the hiking trail.  The dirt bike damage becomes more severe as you get closer to the trailhead on River Road, but even near the top I had so much trouble getting around an ATV-created mudhole that I slipped and soaked one of my boots. I wasn't wearing waterproof boots because, and I'm not making this up, my dog ate my Gore-tex lined boots. So I spent the rest of the afternoon with a foot that was soaking wet. I hate it when people act like riding an ATV or dirtbike on a trail is just a form of trespassing - no big deal. It's not, it's vandalism, because the machines destroy the trails for hikers.

A sign at the trailhead says a trail relocation is in progress. I didn't see any evidence of the trail being moved, but I'm guessing they may have given up on the trail where it is due to all the dirt bike damage. What a shame.

Power plant as seen from the trailhead. 
There's a huge power plant on the Connecticut River right across the street from the trailhead, but is was surprisingly rather hidden by the trees. River Road was completely deserted - not a car anywhere. Except for my ride, of course :). Next weekend is Trails Day, and I'm looking forward to going to the grand opening of the NET trailhead at Chittendon Park in Guilford. Food and live music along the shoreline - what a great way to celebrate.