Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Folklore, tribal knowledge.  Happens all the time at work - a certain method, something we do for one product and not another, something we all "know" about a customer.  Tribal knowledge.  It's not written down (at least somewhere you can find), it's passed down from one person to another - one operator, engineer, salesman.

Sometimes the story grows, a little bit added each time.  Until it becomes more legend than real and loses any effectiveness.  Or it goes the other way, ignored.  And unless it gets written down, someday the storytelling ends and it's lost forever.  But even then, the written version never seems as good as the telling.

I met an old friend for the first time.  Which sounds weird, but I went hiking Saturday with Julie. She writes a blog (or better stated the blog) about hiking Sleeping Giant,  I Googled Sleeping Giant Trails when I started hiking again this spring and her blog came up.  And since then, we’ve been writing and commenting back and forth.  So it was great to finally meet her and put a face to the words.  Her blog is a super resource for anything on the Giant – from hikes along every trail, to the history and the interesting sites you have to see but aren’t shown on any trail map. 

There are at least a couple of books out that detail the history of the mountain and park.  Better yet, the Sleeping Giant Park Association runs a “History of the Giant” hike.  Better because you read about it, but just can't visualize it until you're on the mountain.  I saw that again on Saturday - hunting down the eyebolts on the chest to see where Cedarhurst was built, looking across from the Chest to the Chin trying to picture where the Cook cottage was built, tracing out the foundation of the Stone House; some things are just better in the telling.

Tribal knowledge - Keep sharing the stories.  Google doesn't have everything yet.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Westwood Trails, Guilford

“The Westwoods trail system is the largest recreational area for hiking in Guilford. Westwoods contains 39 miles of trails on 1,200 acres. It contains a wide diversity of fascinating natural formations such as cave structures, water falls, salt and fresh water marshes, inland tidal lake, carved rock sculptures and rock formations.”

That's the intro on the Guilford Land Trust website.  A copy of the trail map is available here, but the best bet is to stop at Bishop's Orchards nearby on Route 1and pick up a larger copy (along with any fruits, veggies and pies you might need - I love this place!).

The hike was organized by the New Haven Treks.  It was a cloudy day, but cool and breezy - good hiking weather.  We hit the White, Yellow and Orange circle trails, along with a few side trails; approx 5 miles.  These are multi-use trails – a biker in full battle gear rode out of the trail just as we were gathering, and did a wheelie drop off the parking lot log on the way out.  So keep an eye out...

The first trails here were laid out in 1967 by Richard Elliott. And unless there were two trail consultants Richard Elliott in the 60’s, he’s the same guy who helped design the trail system at Sleeping Giant.

First stop on the White trail was near this Cyprus tree - that looks like it smashed through a boulder to start growing.  It's a pretty good bet the split boulder was here long before the tree, but it was a neat sight.

A little farther on the White, we crested a ridge looking down on the Lost Lake.  The cliff here makes a really good picnic spot overlooking the lake.  We took a little break and were joined by a runaway - little Zoey decided we looked like more fun that her family, and we couldn't get rid of her.  She stuck with us down and then up again over the next rise.  Finally, one of the guys took her by the hand and led her back.  OK, by the paw - I don't know how her little Dachshund legs got her up the cliffs, but she made it easier than the rest of us.

Indian Cave on the
Orange Circle Trail

The draw here, other than a nice walk in the woods, is the geology - the trails go up, down and around rock ledges and cliffs.  And in several cases, right through cracks and crevices in the boulders.  Pictured left is the "Indian Cave", a shelter formed by a boulder overhang.  I think it's a local thing - calling any boulder formation that keeps out the rain a cave.  A friend in New York (who lives not far from Howe Caverns) wasn’t impressed with our calling a few nestled boulders on the Regicide Trail 'Judges Cave'.  He’d feel the same here, but there are small caves to explore along the rock formations.

Land of the Lost
Rock Formations

Yes, the trail really does
go through here!

The trails crisscross a clearing for the power lines, and without blazes it’s easy to lose track of where you are.  So I’m not sure which trail led us up and onto a rock ledge. (or course it’s possible I was chatting instead of paying attention to the trails…)  Evan, the hike leader, brought us up to an area covered with cactus – in Connecticut!?  Here’s the question – is Prickly Pear native, non-native or an invasive plant?  It seemed quite happy growing out the sandy areas on the rocks. 
Prickly Pear growing wild on the ledge

Find the
Hidden Mickey's

This will be a different park when the winter thaw and spring rains fill up the streams and marshes again.  We hiked over several dry stream beds, and along what the maps call the “Seasonal Waterfall”.  Like Prydden Falls on Lake Zoar, it was out of season.  But come back in February, March, April… it should be a different sight.

Dry now, but come back in the
spring to see this "Seasonal Waterfall"

The Plank Walk across dry streambeds.
Dry for now, anyway.

It was a good hike with a good group.  There are many more miles of trails to hike here, and across the Branford border in the neighboring Stony Creek Quarry Preserve. So call this post Westwoods 1. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Zoar Trail - Newtown

Zoar Trail – 6 ½ mile Loop Trail on the west shore of Lake Zoar in the lower block of the Paugussett State Forest in Newtown, CT

Note - normally I can find a trail map online to share.  This time you'll just have to pick up a copy of the Connecticut Walk Book.

Scenic, /’sinɪk, ‘sɛnɪk/ (adj)
1.      of or relating to natural scenery <a scenic view>
2.      having pleasing or beautiful scenery

Would you describe this as scenic?

How about this – is this scenic?

If you weren’t sure, let me fill you in.  These were taken along the 2.4 mile section of the Zoar Trail designated as a “Scenic Trail”.  Now what do you think?  Quite scenic, eh??  Good thing they told you, wasn't it?

A really empty beach
From the parking lot on Great Quarter Road in Newtown, the trail runs along the shore of Lake Zoar (the Housatonic River north of the Stevenson Dam), and then loops back through the forest.  It starts out with an easy walk just off the shore, until you reach a small sandy beach area.  Across the river is Jackson Cove Recreation Area, and I saw maybe four people out on the beach.  I thought it would be more crowded for Labor Day Weekend, but even the lake is quiet.  There were more people on the trail than on the beach - families and dogs out for a walk, a few hikers - it was a nice cool day, just beginning to feel like fall.

A little farther, the trail gets rocky and hilly - much more like your typical Connecticut trail - and then turns away from the shore into the forest; a mixed woodlands of hemlock, pine and hardwood trees.  You're coming up on what sounds like the focal point of this hike - Prydden Falls.  A small side trail, blazed blue/yellow, takes a right off the main trail and brings you back down along the brook towards shore. The Falls make a great picnic spot, there's a large flat rock in the middle that's great for sittin' and chillin'.  And I found a nice couple doing just that.  Do you know what was missing?  The falls!  I guess it's just not waterfall season, the brook was bone dry.  The other hikers seemed quite disappointed; I just invited them back in the spring.

Rocky spot -
watch your step!
Prydden Falls? or Prydden Rocks

Just after the falls, you reach a cutoff trail and sign noting this section of the trail is closed between April 1 and August 15.  It’s closed off to protect nesting hawks.  The Blue/Yellow cutoff trail heads west up the hill along the Prydden Brook.  Since it’s September, I can walk on through.  It must have been safe; I didn’t see or hear anything hawk-like the entire afternoon!

The blue trail continues another half mile or so, and then makes a sharp turn west to begin the loop back.  This section has a new set of stairs thanks to the Trail Crew.  Without the steps, it’s a steep climb on an eroding trail.  But the steps were really well done – they got me up the trail, they protect the trail from further damage, and they didn’t look out of place.

At the top of the steep climb, the trail levels out and heads southeast through the forest and mountain laurel.  It climbs up and down traprock ridges.  The Connecticut Walk Book map shows two lookout points, though you might have to wait until winter to see anything east through the trees.  As the trail descends, you’ll cross two more blue/yellow side trails.  (Don’t worry, you’re not heading backwards – every side trail here is blue/yellow).  These lead to the parking areas on Leopard Drive and Paugussett Road to the west of the state forest.  Another mile or so and you come out a park road, along a neighbor’s back yard, and then out of the forest onto Great Quarter Road.  A half mile walk along the road brings you back to the parking area.  There’s not a single blue blaze at the forest exit point or along the road – it’s kind of a stealth trail here.  UPDATE - the trail was relocated to stay in the woods and not bail out onto the road here.  See Hiker Tom's comment below for link to the trail map.

There’s a lot to see, and maybe it’s best to think of seasonal highlights –
  • Early spring – the Falls!
  • Spring after the April trail closure – Prydden Brook along the west trail and blooming Mountain Laurel. (and leave the Hawks alone!)
  • Winter – Views toward the water off the west trail overlooks, and maybe an eagle or two over the river.
  • And there’s always the Scenic Trail...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mattabesett Trail - Bluff Head

½ mile loop hike - Mattabesett Trail and Lone Pine Trail - Guilford and Madison, CT

Trail Map - Guilford's Northwoods Trail System

What better place to start hiking the Mattabeset than right in the middle? I was on my own Sunday, so I picked a loop route - 5 ½ miles of the Mattabesett, then back around on the 4 mile Lone Pine Trail. Starting and ending at the trail parking lot on Route 77 in northern Guilford.

Heading west from the parking lot, the trail starts off with a bang – a very steep climb up Bluff Head. The main trail climbs almost straight up to the 720’ crest, but there’s a side trail (blue blaze with orange dots) that takes an easier route up the hill. Your choice – 300 yards straight up, or 1 mile zigzagging up the side. I had almost 10 miles to go, so straight up it is!  Complete with warning signs from CFPA noting it's a bad idea to fall from the ridge!

There are a series of rock outcroppings along the edge that allow great views east and south to the Sound, west along the ridges with Hartford way in the distance to the northwest, or straight down to Myerhuber Pond in the neighboring farmland.

The trail continues around the edge of Totoket Mountain, a reasonably level hike (somewhere along here you hit the highest point in Guilford). Another trail intersects the blue trail, this one blazed in fluorescent lime green. I don’t know where it goes, but it will be tough to miss the glow-in-the-dark markings. Hunting is allowed in some of the forest here; a single sign posted the warning. And I could hear someone prepping for hunting season not too far away – is there a rifle range nearby?

After about 3 miles, near the border of Guilford and North Branford, the Lone Pine Trail cuts away to the north. A trail kiosk marks the spot; just follow the blue/red blazes – though the red dot has worn off many of the trees. The trail turns east at the Durham border, following a long rock wall that marks the town line - trap rock quarried and stacked like cordwood. Some of the stones are scribed with initials and dates – 1894, 1927… so either the wall has been here for quite some time, or the someone's been creating a little history.

The trail winds back down the mountain, crosses a river (at least it will be next spring) and exits the woods into a neighbor’s back yard. Near the Private Property signs, a shagbark hickory stands out – the Buffalo Tree noted in the Connecticut Walk Book. Two burls (insert Milton joke here) are said to resemble buffalo heads. Here’s the tree, you decide.

See the Buffalo Head?
How 'bout now?
(the lighting was better this time)
Back into the woods, the trail runs along the edge of the James Valley Preserve – over some solidly built bridges over Hemlock Brook - and out again along the neighbor’s back yards and fields on an unimproved road until the trail comes out onto Route 77.  Continue north and across the street, the trail heads toward the woods again at a parking lot for the Braemore Preserve (across from a red barn and farm stand – Bluff Head Farm).

The trail starts through a wildflower field and a stone bench halfway into the property makes a good spot for lunch, looking back though the field and up to the Bluff Head cliffs. 

And then into the woods again and up the hill.  The trial climbs through a rock formation, and then wanders through the forest.  Along the way, I found a Lone Pine tree on the Trail.  I wonder if anyone’s noticed that before.  There are about a dozen other trails through here in the Braemore and Rockland Preserves – hiking and biking, bridle path, nature trails – check for more info on the Guilford and Madison land conservation sites, it looks like a great place to wander around.

Just over a mile in from Route 77, the Lone Pine meets the Mattabesett Trail again.  Signposts point out the different trails all around, I jump back on the Blue and head south again.

Through the forest, over the rocks, two deer get spooked and run away… yada, yada, yada.  About two miles later you hit the southern-most point on the Mattabesett in the Broomstick Ledges area.  Watch the trail carefully here - there may still be logging and building going on as many of the blazed trees have been cut and there are blue ribbons and blue blazed sticks in the ground guiding your way. 

Menunkatuck thataway
The trail cuts north and then south again – up, over and around the ledges – and meets up with the new Menunkatuck Trail.  The new blue blazed trail forms part of the New England Trail, along with the Mattabesett, Metacomet and Monadnock trails from near Long Island Sound up to the Massachusetts / New Hampshire border. This hike is just a little piece of that.

Down the hill into a valley, the trail follows and then crosses a small stream.  It's beautiful down here, with a nice cool breeze.  Ferns grow along the stream, and the rocks are covered with moss.  The Guilford Land Trust site talks about Route 77 as the transition point between two types of geology – basalt trap rock ridges to the west and gray schist, which was originally sea bottom, to the east. My only Geology courses were a long time ago, but here at the river I did note the rocks and ledges were much coarser grained than the trap rock at Bluff Head, or at Sleeping Giant.  And there are veins of a creamy white rock, quartz I guess.  So for any rock hounds out there, this is an interesting area to explore.

A quick climb up and over the ridge, and I’m back down to Route 77, just north of the parking lot to end the hike.  Good hike, and a nice area to come back and explore.


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