Friday, April 8, 2011

Machimoodus - Land of Noises

Machimoodus State Park overlooks Salmon River Cove and the Connecticut River in Moodus, Connecticut. Mount Tom, which dominates the park, is famous for its mysterious noises, called "the Moodus Noises," which were at times attributed to Hobomock (a Native American spirit or giant), witches, carbuncles, God's wrath at the back-sliding Puritans, and exploding vapors. "Machimoodus" actually means something like "Land of Noises."

We now know the noises are caused by micro-earthquakes, and this is the most seismically active area in the entire state. The most recent was on March 23 this year. A loud bang prompted 911 calls, and emergency crews searched the neighborhoods for sign of some calamity, but geologists simply recorded a small earthquake. A nearby deep cave is thought to amplify the sound of rock snapping.

Machimoodus lived up to its name. Although I heard no rumblings or booms, I stepped out of my car to the sound of a coyote howling nearby. Later, an old car passed down the trail (not sure how it got there) then stopped right around the corner from me, and through the trees I heard a man making a horrific noise such that I thought he must be getting stabbed repeatedly with a knife. I headed into the safety of the forest lest I be attacked as a witness. The noises continued and I finally suspected the man was simply heaving really loud and probably had too much to drink. This was confirmed when peace returned to the park and I continued down the trail.

The mountain had special significance to Native Americans as the place where they could get in touch with Hobomock. According to a local resident that I ran into, an eccentric millionaire took title to the land and built a network of private carriage roads, which are now hiking trails. The road in the photo above heads up the banks of the Salmon River through a mossy hemlock ravine.

After the winter from hell, the forest is finally coming back to life. Here's some early spring Coltsfoot in bloom.

The Mourning Cloak butterfly overwinters and is one of the first butterflies of spring. His edges are frayed, but hey, he survived the winter.

My favorite moment of the day was finding this tiny Round-Lobed Hepatica growing at a scenic overlook.

After visiting the overlooks, it was a nice change of pace to walk along the shoreline of the Salmon River.

It's nice to know that the Salmon River does in fact have salmon.

At some point I noticed some big black tourmaline crystals in a boulder alongside the trail. You can tell they are tourmaline by the rounded triangle shapes. Another hiker later told me there was an old tourmaline mine up there. I had an idea of where that might be, having seen what might be smashed white rock through the trees near the overlooks, and so I went looking.

Yup, that's it, the place of tourmaline. It was everywhere. The common black variety is called Schorl. Up in Maine they find pink and watermelon tourmaline, which are used in jewelry.

But what is black tourmaline used for? In the Victorian era they made "mourning jewelry" out of it. Tourmaline is odd. Some crystals, when pressure is applied, produce an electric current, which is why it was used in detonation devices during WWII. Also, when heated, tourmaline crystals are electrified and can pick up light objects. I don't know why this particular spot was quarried, though.

Found this teeny-tiny critter under the tourmaline, probably a Red-Backed Salamander.

In 1791, an earthquake centered here was felt as far as Boston and New York and caused chimneys to topple, boulders to move, fissures to open up, and fish to jump from the water. There were dozens of aftershocks over the next few months.

It will happen again.

It isn't a groan, nor a crash, nor a roar,
But is quite as blood-curdling to hear,
and has stirred up more theories crammed with learned lore
Than you'd care to wade through in a year.
-Reginald Sperry, 1884