Friday, October 30, 2009

Naugatuck & Whittemore Trails

The Whittemore Trail starts on Route 42 in Bethany and enters another "block"of Naugatuck State Forest (this state forest is confusingly composed of several separate blocks of land in various towns).
The blue/white Whittemore Trail is only 0.8 miles long, but provides a nice connection to the Naugatuck Trail (blue). Much of it follows an old road gradually up the hill.

The Naugatuck Trail was refreshingly easy to hike after my toil on the Quinnipiac. Leaves and acorns were the greatest hazards. The drawback was the lack of scenic vistas, but that was OK. I enjoyed the last of the fall foliage instead. (There is a vista off a spur to Beacon Cap, but I didn't go that way today).

You do need to pay close attention to the blazes on this trail. About half way along the trail, midway through some substantial steps, the trail sneaks off to the right while the steps and main path head off to the left. A few years ago I walked at least a quarter mile along this old road before I noticed the lack of blazes and turned around.

I walked about eight peaceful miles seemingly far from civilization, seeing no one. Hiking can be very relaxing, the footfalls becoming hypnotic after a mile or two. I notice little plants and animals along the way, like some hickory nuts amongst the sassafras. This walking seems instinctual for me, and I reflected that woman traditionally were the gatherers and would walk for miles through the forest looking for roots, herbs, nuts, and medicinal plants for their families.

It's hunting season, so I was wearing blaze orange. I have no problems with hunting in the State Forests, but some idiot hunter had a blind not twenty feet off the Whittemore Trail, facing the trail. He was apparently waiting for deer to walk down the hiking trail! Jerk. It was unnerving that I couldn't tell if anyone was behind the blind watching me until I got even with it (there wasn't). In my son's words, "That's mad creepy."

Nearby was a tree stand, this one about 100 feet off the trail. Really? A great big State Forest and you guys have to hunt on top of the hiking trail?

But that was nothing compared to my little side trip to another block of the State Forest in Naugatuck later in the day to look for a DEP letterbox. There are no hiking trails there, just logging roads, and it had gotten late. When I arrived, there were pickup trucks parked along the road and more guys in pickups were apparently looking for placed to park. I chose my parking spot (the wrong one, it turns out) and headed down the woods road a short ways to find the letterbox. It was 4:00 and getting dim, and I heard a shot really close by. Yikes! I decided to leave that trip for another day and headed back to the car, at which point a couple of friendly game wardens stopped by. I've never seen so many hunters in one area! It was likely the local river on opening fishing day.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How Deer Impact a Forest

The top photo was recently taken in Naugatuck State Forest Sanford Block, where deer hunting is allowed. There's all kinds and food and cover there for wildlife. This is how a young forest should look. The bottom photo was taken in Orange open space where hunting is not allowed (the lower photo is very typical of areas with high deer populations). As you can see, the overpopulated deer have stripped the food and cover needed by many species to survive. This is not natural!

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Quinnipiac Trail: Journey's End

I finished up my journey along the Quinnipiac Trail by parking in Hamden just outside the gate for the YMCA camp Laurel on the northern end of Downes Avenue. For the rest of the day I walked north along a sharp ridge line that defines the town boundaries of Hamden, Bethany, Cheshire and Prospect.

The first part of the hike was in Naugatuck State Forest, Sanford Block, and included the highest point along the Quinnipiac Trail: Mt. Sanford at elevation 890 ft. First there was a false summit, which had the only really good vista for the day. A wooden box nailed to a nearby tree held a couple of notebooks for people to jot down their thoughts, and judging by the volume of comments a lot of people must walk up there.

Near the true summit I found one large pile of rocks and many smaller piles of rocks at intervals that made me suspect this might be a Native American ceremonial site. No view there, but when the trees were cut you would have been able to see for miles to the east and west.

Turning over a rock I found an ENORMOUS grub - a couple inches long! It's the larvae of the Giant Stag Beetle, a beetle that I believe could kill and eat a small dog.

There was lots of Witch Hazel in bloom along the hike. Witch Hazel is used as a medical astringent to reduce inflammation of sensitive tissues (hospitals give it out post-child birth) and nearly all of it is harvested locally.

How often I find the remnants of balloons in the middle of the forest! Grrr. Releasing a balloon is littering, people! At least this one didn't fall in the ocean to be ingested or to tangle up wildlife.

At one point I heard the sound of an amplified Indian Flute drifting through the trees from a ranch down below, very much like my hike in Pomfret while they were having a pow-wow in the park. It seemed to belong here. I sat down and had lunch.

There is 'almost a view' for most of the hike, both to the east and west, sometimes at the same time. It was actually a bit maddening. Nothing a little logging couldn't cure.

The Quinnipiac joined up with a trail for Roaring Brook Falls, the highest single drop falls in the state, so I descended the side trail to have a look. After a few inches of rain the night before, the falls were really humming. This photo just shows one section.

A much shorter but still beautiful upper falls was up by the Quinnipiac Trail:

This Hepatica looks like it's getting ready for spring:

This chipmunk was probably so stuffed from the bumper crop of nuts it couldn't move:

Parts of the hike were on an almost razor's edge, with the land dropping off quickly to the east and west. Nearly the entire route of the Quinnipiac is along the top of trap rock ridges made of hard basalt that was once molten rock. I just wish there were a few VIEWS.

The trail ends at this survey monument marking the town boundary line for Cheshire and Prospect. Well, technically the trail goes up the road and then ends, but I don't understand that at all. As far as most people are concerned the trail ends where it comes out of the woods and hits the end of Cornwall Avenue in Prospect.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Regicides Meets the Quinnipiac

In my previous search for treasure along the Quinnipiac Trail, I missed a landmark trail junction with the Regicides Trail. Just didn't see it. Today I tried a different tact, parking at the end of West Shepard Drive in Hamden and following the very end of the Regicides Trail to the Quinnipiac. The seven-mile Regicides Trail follows the top of West Rock Ridge north-south, and at one point is up above the Wilbur-Cross tunnel.

West Shepard Drive is not an official parking spot. The end of the road appears to be an old State park road that is now closed. I went past the half-barricade and parked before I got to a greenhouse on the right. Any further and there were piles of dirt and logs on the road. A resident has kind of taken over the road there, so you feel rather like you might be on someone's property for a moment, but there are no signs or anything saying you can't be there, and I think it is a public Right-of-Way.

The road quickly turned into a nice paved park road closed to traffic, and I immediately found the blue blazes of the Regicides Trail. Some massive boulders of basalt (trap rock) reminded me of the Judges Cave on the other end of the trail. That's where a couple of British judges hid out after signing the King's death warrant. ("Regicides" means killing royalty).
A steep climb up and bingo, there was the Quinnipiac Trail, marked by this tree that I had totally missed the first time.

I found what I was looking for, hid something extra, then found a rock from which to savor the view of New Haven. It was amazing.
Afterward I drove over to Sleeping Giant and was shocked to find Park staff asking me for $14 to park there. WHAT???? $14 so I can walk around on a trail??? Fees doubled thanks to our state legislators. I thought the point of a State Park was so that regular people had someplace to go, not just the wealthy. And people were paying it, too. Not me. There are many other ways into the park. I found a spot along Mt. Carmel Road at the Mill River where some other cars were parked and quickly found what I was looking for. Advice: If you go to the Giant, go on a weekday if possible (no charge this time of year); and if it's a weekend then use one of the alternate entrances, where there is no charge and there are generally fewer hikers.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Quinnipiac Trail: York Mtn and Mad Mare's Hill

I continued my exploration of Connecticut's First Trail by spotting a car at Downs Road and getting dropped off at Kimberly Road in Hamden, just a bit west of Sleeping Giant. We had trouble locating the trail from Kimberly, since new construction had apparently eradicated any blazes you can see from the road, but after walking a bit behind a likely-looking gate, I found a blaze and was on my way. I climbed gradually up Rocky Top and soon came to this little surprise.

A bit further, and some logging had created some beautiful meadow/brushland, but where in the blazes were the blazes??? I searched the edge of the clear-cut in vain, with difficult footing due to the heavy brush. Finally I fired up the gps and started bushwacking towards the road, at which point I discovered the trail.
The trail follows a roadway for spell, then heads into the woods, onto another road, back into the woods and straight up York Mountain, where the view of New Haven was nearly as good as at Sleeping Giant.

As the trail followed the ridgeline, I looked for the Regicides Trail coming in from West Rock Park, but I couldn't find it. Hmmm. It threw me off, as I had expected it to be well-marked.

The trail weaves oddly back and forth between Hamden and Bethany here.

I'm guessing that's Lake Watrous down below.
More and more views - Lake Watrous(?) to the right of West Rock Ridge, and New Haven to the left of the ridge (not shown).
You know how kids roll on those shoes called Heelies? I did that on acorns. Just rolled down the trail on my feet. The nuts were everywhere.

This section of trail needs more blazes. I got tired of not being able to find either the next blaze or the trail tread. I had another "lost" moment, unable to find the next blaze and wondering where in heck the trail was, so I sat down to examine my gps again. Almost to West Woods Road and Bethany Gap! The trail was supposed to take a left around there and descend, so I looked left and found it.

I crossed the road and huffed and puffed up the steepest climb of the day to Mad Mare's Hill at 720 ft. More views. Continuing along the ridge line I stopped to admire this frozen Garter Snake on the trail. The dog walked practically right over it and it still didn't move.

Some mushrooms were growing out of a log. All that scene needed was a chipmunk

These remnants of an old cabin were unexpected. I bet whoever lived here had a spectacular view, but it's a bit overgrown now.

From there, the trail gradually descended over a couple of miles to Downs Road. This was my favorite part of the entire hike.

Even though it was a Sunday in October with great weather, I didn't see a single person on the trail the entire day, and for the most part couldn't hear human noises either. If you want to escape the crowds and enjoy some great views, this is the trail for you, so long as you don't mind a few hills and can deal with a shortage of blazes.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mile-A-Minute Vine, Newtown

Mile-A-Minute Vine, also called MAM or "Kudzu of the North", grows up to 6 inches a day, smothering everything in it's wake, including trees. It arrived in southwest Connecticut a few years ago and has spread to several other towns, including five known locations in Newtown, where the pictures below were taken by Ann Astarita:

One of the sites became study area with an introduced weevil to see how much of the plant the weevil might eat. A few holes in the leaves, but it doesn't look that significant.

Please keep your eye out for this plant and report any findings to the state or your local conservation office. has a great website about this terrible weed.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Oak Valley Trail, Shelton

Enjoyed a walk along Oak Valley Trail this morning. Hope Lake gave a clear reflection:

Lots of Tulip Trees along the trail. Big, tall telephone poles. It's an ancient species dating back to the time of the dinosaurs. In the southern Appalachians Tulips grow up to 30 feet in circumference.
Maple-Leaf Viburnum is very common and generally unnoticed until the fall when it produces these berries:
I love the powerline corridors. The early-successional habitat is one of the rarest in Connecticut, and it supports lots of wildlife.