Friday, March 29, 2013

Bloomfield - Farmington River Park

Date Hiked:  Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Number in Group: 9
Estimated distance round-trip: 2 miles
Weather: 55°F breezy, cloudy
Resources: (look at descriptions of caches grouped to the east of 187)
Highlights of the trip: river, some place new

I had been looking around (on-line) for a place to have our first hike of 2013.  Every place I could think of, I was afraid we would end up with either icy or muddy trails.  I looked at various sources for ideas, but ended up on looking for clusters of caches that might indicate an area with a trail system.  That's how I came across Farmington River Park in the northern part of Bloomfield.  The geocachers on the site mentioned that this park was little used.  Certainly, I had never heard of it before and I only live a few miles away.

Farmington River Park encompasses 78 acres along the river in an area between the Tariffville Gorge and Rainbow Reservoir. There is a large sign marking the entrance to the parking area.  Given how little-used this park is, the parking area is pretty large.  There is a kiosk, but unfortunately no map and I have not been able to find one on-line.

We had a nice sized group show up with a couple of people we hadn't seen in awhile.  We headed down the wide gravel trail out of the parking lot with the kids leading the way.  Before we got too far, there was a trail going off to the left and down toward the river.  It would be pretty easy to miss this trail, although once you are on it, you can see small, metal, Farmington River Park tags on the trees.  We followed this trail along the river going in the direction of the Reservoir.

This area of the river is flatwater and would be a nice place to kayak.  I have read that there is a put-in place on the other side of the river under the Route 187 Bridge.  The take-out spot, which we noticed last year when hiking in Northwest Park is on the far side of Rainbow Reservoir.  (I created a Google map showing a rough guess as to the route we hiked, the area covered by the park, and the put-in and take-out points for kayaking along the river.  More information on using the river can be found on the Farmington River Watershed Assocation's website).

We kept to the trail along the river and came to an area that must be a summer hang-out.  There was a rope swing over the water, a fire pit, and glass from broken beer bottles laying around. 

Rope swing.
The trail started turning in from the river and was joined by other trails.  Which way to go?

We crossed a stream, climbed a small hill, and ended up at a large dirt area that is obviously an ATV or dirt bike track.  It was pretty large and trails extended beyond it, but we decided to make this the turn-around spot.  (Later, looking at Google maps, I could see we had been in an area behind Griffin Office Park).  Since we weren't sure where the other trails would lead us, we returned to the parking lot on the same trail.

We had a nice walk here and met only one other person on the trail.  I think he was a little surprised to see our group.  The trails were only muddy or icy in a few spots.  Most of the hike was on dry trails.  It was nice and quiet along the river and I think it would be fun to come back and get the geocaches.  I think it might be even better to do some kayaking in this area.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

West Granby - Holcomb Farm & Diamond Ledges

Date Hiked:  Thursday, Dec 13, 2012
Number in Group: 4
Estimated distance round-trip: 1.5 miles
Weather: 44°F and sunny
Resources: Holcomb Farm Trail Map
Highlights of the trip: rocks

One of the great things about organizing these hikes is that I force myself to explore new areas.  Today, we hiked at Holcomb Farm, but on trails I had never been on before.  Instead of parking at the farm, we drove up Broad Hill Road to a parking area on the left across from a log cabin house.  The road beyond this point is dirt and has been closed for the winter.  (The road continues all the way over to Route 219, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you have four-wheel drive and good ground clearance).

We took a short walk up the road to another parking area on the left.  This is where the trails for Holcomb Farm can be found.  We followed the green trail, and when it branched, we took the right hand trail.  A little further along, the purple trail came in on the right, but we stayed on green.  We walked along through the woods and one eagle-eyed member of our party found the biggest mass of Witch's Butter that I have ever seen.  Very cool.

Witches butter (someone played with the vividness setting on my camera).
The green trail was again joined on the right by the purple trail and this time we made the turn.  We were headed back in the direction we came but a bit higher on the ridge.  On our left, was a rocky outcrop and to our right a clearing with a picnic table and bench.  With the leaves off the trees, we could see the nearby Barndoor Hills.  (Note:  The online trail map shows the picnic table farther north on the purple trail.  It is really closer to the 90-degree corner of the property line with the McLean Game Refuge).

Just a short way along on the purple trail, there was a white sign marked "Lookout" and a trail that led around the back and up the rocky outcrop we had just passed.  (My printed trail map that is dated 2007 indicates another lookout on the other side of Broad Hill Road.  Are they really the same, but just improperly marked on the map?  Or is there another nearby lookout?)

View from the "Lookout"

Just loved these little mounds of moss.
We continued north on the purple trail until the junction with the orange trail (shown as brown on the on-line map).  We took the orange trail west out to Broad Hill Road and started down the road to our cars.  On the left side of the road are a couple of Land Trust properties.  The first we came to was the Petersen Preserve.  A little farther down the road was the Diamond Ledges Preserve. 

From the road, across from where we entered the woods to the Holcomb Farm property, was a trail that took us in to the rock wall of Diamond Ledges.  We had come full circle.  Diamond Ledges is apparently used by rock climbers.  I have seen references to it online.  We walked in to the face of the wall and then climbed around to the top.  From here, there was a good view of the Barndoor Hills.

Barndoor Hills as seen from the top of Diamond Ledges.

See the person part-way down on the left for scale.
The rocks here are pretty cool.  Bits of quartz and mica and other neat minerals protrude from the walls. Don't think about rock collecting, though. There are signs along the base letting you know that this is a nature preserve and is used by rock climbers so you are not allowed to damage the rocks and break off specimens.

How long have I lived in the area?  How could I not have known about Diamond Ledges?  This place is fabulous.  This is why organizing these hikes is so great.  It forces me to try out new places.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Canton - Uplands Preserve

Date Hiked:  Monday, Dec 3, 2012
Number in Group: 6
Estimated distance round-trip: 1.5 miles
Weather: 57°F and sunny
Resources: Canton Land Conservation Trust, Uplands Preserve Trail Map
Highlights of the trip: stone walls, quartz

When a beautiful December day like this comes along, you have to get outside!  As I told others in the group, I had originally planned a different hike.  But after reading the description of the rugged trail and feeling a little sluggish after too much good Thanksgiving food and not enough exercise, I chose this hike as a way to get moving again.  We'll work our way up to my more strenuous plans.

The trail for the Uplands Preserve starts at the end of Westwood Drive, a neighborhood of very nice homes on a hill in Canton.  The car ride took care of most of the "up" in Uplands, so the hike was as easy as described on the Land Trust's website.  When you first enter the woods, you pass through a recently made break in the stone wall and come to a kiosk.  We turned to the right on the yellow trail.  There was a little confusion at first because the blazes were small and hard to see, but we soon found our way.  I suspect the trail is more obvious when there are leaves on the trees and bushes.  With the leaves down, everyplace you look seems like it could be the trail.

There were a couple of things we noticed as we walked along the beginning part of the trail.  We saw a large nest, out on a limb, near the top of a tree.  I would say it was a squirrel's drey, but it just looked too well formed.  Most of the ones I see around my own house seem a lot "messier".

It just didn't look like a drey.

The other thing we saw were a lot of trees along the stone walls that had very shaggy bark.  I am familiar with shagbark hickory, but this didn't seem the same.  I will have to come out here again once the trees are leafed out and figure out what it is.

Does anybody know what kind of tree this is?

We went past the first left-hand turn for the yellow trail and took the next.  The trail ran along one of the many stone walls on this property.  Given all the trees, it is hard to imagine that this was all cleared land at one point.
Lots of stone walls on this property.

The trail also had some interesting rock outcroppings.  I don't know why we didn't explore them.  The kids didn't seem that interested even though there was a little cave up there.

We should have climbed up there to survey the area.

We also saw a lot of quartz.  In some of the pieces, there looked to be feldspar, as well.

We connected with the blue trail and went around it a counter-clockwise direction back to the kiosk.  Just be on the lookout near where the yellow and blue trail connect as there is another unmarked, but easy to follow trail that goes down the hill.  On the trail map, it appears as the dashed black line that just sort of ends. 
Larger trees growing in a line against the stone wall.

This was an easy hike that got us outside to enjoy a beautiful day.  We'll have to check back in the spring and see if we can identify those trees.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Windsor - Northwest Park

Date Hiked:  Friday, November 9, 2012
Number in Group: 6
Estimated distance round-trip: 3 miles
Weather: 54°F and sunny
Resources:  Northwest Park, Trail Map
Highlights of the trip: Views of Rainbow Reservoir, farm animals, nature center

We had a beautiful day for our hike at Northwest Park.  In fact, some of the kids even wore shorts.  Do they know it is November?

Northwest Park is a beautiful park with varied and well maintained trails.  Today, we decided to hike along Rainbow Reservoir.  We started at the nature center and headed west along a farm road until we came to the reservoir.  We were standing on a concrete structure  (An old dam or bridge?  Old topo maps didn't provide any clues) that juts out into the reservoir and we were surprised to see a bunch of people canoeing.

Canoes on the reservoir.

Across the reservoir is the Mandell JCC's Camp Shalom.
As we backtracked to the yellow Wetland Forest Trail, we went by a pond.  The trail here is pretty wet, but solid enough that we were able to cross.  On the far side of the pond, we could see a beaver lodge.

Hard to see beaver lodge on the far side.
We turned north on to the yellow trail and then continued north along the edge of the reservoir on the pink-blazed Rainbow Reservoir Trail  There were several areas that we could get down to the water again and the kids enjoyed practicing their rock-skipping skills.  We were at one of these spots when a plane took off from nearby Bradley International Airport.  The reservoir is nearly at the end of the runway, or at least it seemed that way, as a very large jet roared by overhead.  We could also see the public boat launch where the canoes were being taken out.


Poor tree.

Rainbow Reservoir Dam.
We came to the end of the pink trail and took the short (and kind of hard to see) black-blazed Triassic Trail through the woods toward a farm road that would lead us back to where we started.

One of the fields.
After we got back to the nature center, we went to the animal barn.  We all enjoyed looking at the animals.  There were sheep, goats, a turkey, and a donkey.  There were also cows in a nearby enclosure.

Hey!  Don't stick your tongue out at us!

One of the Billy Goats Gruff?
The nature center has quite a few nice displays.  The only thing that was a little bothersome was that most of the mammals were not labeled.  This is generally not a problem because I can tell a bear from a porcupine, but when it came to the fox and coyote, it would have been helpful.  Plus, just having a little placard with extra information about range, habitat, etc. is always nice. 

Two coyotes and a gray fox (I think).

Black bear and a porcupine.

One of the displays that I should have spent more time on was the one titled "Birds of Prey from Below".  There was a nice board showing the different birds and how to distinguish them, and then when you look up, there are painted birds for you to identify.

In the pond display, there were a couple of live turtles (Box turtles and Painted turtles) and a stuffed beaver and heron.

Northwest Park has a lot to offer.  In addition to hiking, the animals, and the nature museum, there is also a tobacco museum.  They offer summer camp, classes, and other nature activities (there was an owl prowl this weekend), as well as a coffee house concert series.  In the winter, you can rent skis and snowshoes (or bring your own) and enjoy the trails. 

Check out Steve Wood's very informative page on the Northwest Park Nature Center and the tobacco museum at his CT Museum Quest website (my go-to guide for all things CT).

Saturday, October 27, 2012

West Simsbury - Hedgehog Trail

Date Hiked:  Thursday, October 25, 2012
Number in Group: 4
Estimated distance round-trip: 3 miles
Weather: 60°F and overcast
Resources:  West Mountain Trails Map, SLT Walk Book Western Highlands
Highlights of the trip: Views across Farmington Valley

There were only four of us today, but that was okay because we had other commitments that wouldn't allow for much dilly-dallying.  We parked at The Master's School and took the red trail into the woods from the northeast corner of the parking lot.

Off to our right, we came across this little a-frame with a corner missing.  I have hiked this way before and never seen it, probably because the leaves usually block it from view.  We did not investigate it, so I don't know what it was used for.

No idea.
When we had a choice of the green or red trail, we stayed on red.  The green loops back into the red trail farther on.

Eventually, we came to the overlook.  This has to be one of the best vistas around.  According to the Simsbury Walk Book, on a clear day, you can see Mount Tom to the north.  Far to the left, we could see a rather large hill, but I am guessing it was not Mount Tom.  Could it be Sodom Mountain in Southwick?  I wish I had that PeakFinder app for my iPhone (but first I would need an iPhone).

View north looking at Barndoor Hills and beyond.
Looking east over the Simsbury Bog.
Metacomet Ridge in the distance.

The colors on the sumac were beautiful.
We left the overlook and continued on the red trail down, down, down to the stream where it changes from the Hedgehog to the Cathles Trail.  At the bridge, we left the red trail and headed west on the white trail.

Bridge at junction with white trail.
We crossed another bridge and headed south on the blue trail.  The trail is fairly rocky here and I suspect it is pretty wet in the spring.  You can see the talus slope to your left.  One thing I noticed is that the rocks are quite a bit different from the Metacomet.  The traprock on the Metacomet is basalt.  Here, there seemed to be more schist.  Many of the rocks we were walking over had large crystals of quartz and other minerals.  They were really interesting and I wish we had a geologist with us to explain what we were seeing.

Western side talus slope.

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)
As we continued south on the blue trail, we could see the Simsbury Reservoir through the trees to our right.  We wound our way along the trail and could see some of the buildings of The Master's School to our left.  After connecting with the red trail again, we eventually returned to the parking lot.

American Beech
A colorful carpet of leaves.
This is a great fall hike with spectacular views of the Farmington Valley.  I highly recommend it.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

East Granby - Cowles Park to Metacomet to Tariffville Gorge

Date Hiked:  Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Number in Group: 8
Estimated distance round-trip: 2+ miles
Weather: 60°F and sunny
Resources:  FVHH previous hike, Along the New England Trail
Highlights of the trip: View from Metacomet, Farmington River

With foliage season in full swing, it was time to climb up high somewhere for a view.  This week, we ventured back to Cowles Park.  We had visited Cowles Park in the spring, but hadn't climbed up to the Metacomet Ridge and the lookout over Tariffville Gorge and the Farmington River.

We hiked through Cowles Park and crossed the power lines to get to the Metacomet.  Sitting on one of the power lines as we came out of the woods was some sort of hawk.  It was very light colored, at least from the front.  It flew away as one of the large dump trucks working on CL&P's power line project rumbled by.

Going out on a limb (sorry) and saying Immature Red-Tailed Hawk?

I had just read the blog post by Teresa on Along the New England Trail of what she ran into when she was about to take the trail across the power line cut.  CL&P was stringing the cables on the new towers and the cables were whizzing along the ground - with no warning that they were there!  Scary.  We stopped for a moment just to make sure all was clear (and to let two dump trucks pass) and then we headed across.

The new towers (on the right) and a dump truck that just went by.

We climbed up to the Metacomet and headed left/south to the view point over the gorge.  Fabulous!

Overlooking Farmington River.
After a few minutes taking in the view, we hiked down the somewhat confusing trail to Tunxis Avenue and walked to the end.  The ridge we had just been on was just above us.

Looking north along Farmington River.

No kayakers today.

We walked back along the road to the area where the old Spoonville Dam had been.  The dam had been damaged in the flood of 1955 and was in two pieces.  The river was forced to flow between the broken end of the dam and the shore and the volume of water it made it hard for fish to navigate upriver to spawn.  The dam was removed this summer.

Area near the old Spoonville Dam.
We left the river and crossed the street to the orange trail leading us back into Cowles Park.  This was a great hike to do on a beautiful fall day.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Granby - McLean Game Refuge

Date Hiked:  Monday, October 1, 2012
Number in Group: 8
Estimated distance round-trip: 2+ miles
Weather: 70° and sunny
Resources: McLean Game Refuge, Trail Map
Highlights of the trip: Nearly dry Kettle Pond, foliage starting to turn at Spring Pond

McLean Game Refuge is a place we have all hiked many times before, but what's not to like?  Instead of using one of the main entrances on either Route 10 or Barndoor Hills Road, we used the entrance on Canton Road near Spring Pond.

We proceeded downhill, but before getting to the pond, we turned right and followed the woods road as if we were headed to Trout Pond.  We soon came to a bridge over the Bissell Brook.

Bissell Brook.

We remained on the woods road until it intersected with the purple-blazed North Trail.  Here, we took a left and climbed the hill and took another left at the top and followed along the ridge (an esker?)  This trail meets up with another woods road that we followed until it the North Trail went left by Kettle Pond.

Cottonwood trees fell into Kettle Pond after October storm in 2011.

Kettle Pond is several feet below its usual level.  I think it is fun to take advantage of times like this to go out towards the middle of the pond and look around.  In addition to being able to see what is normally covered by water, I also like to turn and look back at my usual vantage point.

After a little exploring we headed up the hill toward the field.  We walked in the pine forest around the edge of the field and turned left off the North trail to go down to Spring Pond.  The colors are only just starting to show on the trees.

Spring Pond.

From Spring Pond, we headed back to our starting point, passing once more over the Bissell Brook.

Bissell Brook near Spring Pond.
The Game Refuge is one of my favorite places to hike.  There are plenty of trails and if you choose one of the less used entrances, you almost feel like you have the place to yourself.