Sunday, July 5, 2015

Memorial Day Weekend: Coolidge State Park

This Memorial Day was the first camping trip for our youngest at 8 months old. Having experienced camping with a baby once, we knew we could do it again. We had tired of camping in Massachusetts and wanted to get back up into the northern states. I knew the White Mountains would be too cold so we opted for Coolidge State Park since it was just a little over two hours away in Plymouth, VT. We also booked a lean-to site for the first time, which proved pretty useful with several toddlers running around. They loved the "stage" and it was convenient to store some of our extraneous gear in that we found necessary with little ones.

Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, we did quite a bit of standing around saying, "Do you want to do something?" Someone came up with the brilliant idea to go on a hike. Eight months post baby and one major hike behind me I was game. Coolidge SP is part of the Coolidge Range and has tons of hiking trails in the surrounding area. We didn't go crazy but picked a short nature walk to get the blood flowing and enjoy the park. We followed the Slack Hill Trail which started near our tent sites and cut back into the sites by the CCC Trail. 
Heading to the trail head

Lil Dude following Zazu up hill
We started out just fine. It was warm and there was a slight breeze. The first night we camped it was below freezing so the warmer temps were greatly appreciated. I would guess that we had barely hiked a quarter mile and Lil Dude decided to bail because he was "tired" and wanted "to nap." Big Dude was okay with this because he thought he would get to try out his new hammock. So back down the trail they went and the rest of us traveled on. I was carrying Little in my Ergo and she was dozing.

Signage to head to the "Contact" Station a.k.a Ranger Station
 We strolled through a lovely deciduous forest with slight hills and pretty mild grades. We did meet up with several other hikers and families. One family warned us of a blow down ahead. It seemed to be a long time coming but honestly was only about a half mile away. It blocked the entire trail and was one of those that you could not go under or over but had to go around.
Nate sizing up the situation

Once we hiked around the tree we continued along the established path. The leaves were starting to fill in the trees and there were some neat items along the trail. 
Huge quartz

After approximately a mile and a half we descended to a vista. It was the only vista on the trail and had been manually cleared to provide the view. There was a group there ahead of us so we stayed to the side and snacked some. It was clear and Mount Ascutney could easily be seen. Ben and I had hiked that one in 2007 and assisted some hang gliders with take off. It was pretty cool!
View of Mount Ascutney from the Vista point
After some time, we moved on down the trail. It rose and fell nicely through the woods. There was little wildlife to be found, most likely because there were so many people on the trail.

Wood Nymph Melanie

Pretty wildflowers that I really should learn the name of
We reached the picnic area of the state park and crossed the parking lot. We could have hiked back down the road but opted to continue to explore. We found a terrific shelter in a large field. There were two huge stone fireplaces on each end inside. The view was awesome! You could see Killington Ski area across the field. There were still traces of snow on it and someone said there was still some skiing taking place.
View from the Bradley Hill Picnic Shelter
We hiked down behind the tent sites by the CCC Trail for approximately a half mile. Then we turned at the sign post directing us to the tent area. We weren't entirely certain where it would come out but we weren't too worried.
CCC Sign Post
The short trail had a few little stream crossings. Everything was so dry that they hardly moistened our shoes. 
Sad little stream

Bridge over mud
We re-entered the tent area and easily hiked up the road to our sites. Being Sunday afternoon on Memorial Day weekend, many campers had already packed up and ventured home. We stayed on another night and went home early enough that traffic wasn't too crazy. 

The hike itself was a nice little stroll. Little slept through most of it. I definitely appreciated the vista on Slack Hill and then the bonus of the view from Bradley Hill. Looking at the website, I see that there are letterboxing opportunities at the campground as well. If I had had some time to plan I think I would have tried to do some of that.

Coolidge State Park was a good one for those who want to camp quietly. There were very few generators and RV's. It was mainly tents and the like. It's convenient to some historic sites (Cal Coolidge's Birthplace) and tourist attractions (a.k.a. breweries for Big Dude). Before we left the campground we drove through the Lean-To site area, some of the views were fantastic. Scary sites for those of us with children due to the drop off but awesome views of the Green Mountains and Black River Valley.

Where: Slack Hill Trail and CCC Trail, Coolidge State Park, Plymouth, Vermont

Directions: From Jct. Hwy 100 and Hwy. 100A: Go 2 mi. N on Hwy. 100A.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Summer is coming! Mount Monadnock Hike

Summer is bouncing into New England. After  a hard snowy winter, we're so glad to see high temps. I admit I am a bit nervous about the lack of rain. It is quite dry in this area and I'm thinking we'll be in drought conditions in no time. Since we've had some nicer weather, I've managed to get my boots on and complete a few hikes. I've done a few small ones that I've covered in the past and last month I hiked Mount Monadnock with my Girl Scout troop.

I'm very excited, my high school aged troop decided that they want to go backpacking this summer. I, of course, jumped on it and will be hiking with them in June. I am a bit nervous as I am still breastfeeding my baby but I'm hopeful that it will work out okay. I know other moms make it work so maybe Little and I can make it work too. 

BUT back to the real point of this, Mount Monadnock. We decided to do a "local" day hike to make sure that the girls can endure a mountain. Little did we know, it was going to be a beautiful day with tons of people at the state park.

I planned to take Little (the baby) with me and then I enlisted Big Dude to join in with Lil Dude and our friend, Dan. I figured if I could hike with Little and a day pack, hiking in June shouldn't be too much of a stretch. 

We arrived at the gate around 10:30 and waited in the line to park. The rangers were directing everyone to take the most popular routes up and down, White Dot and White Cross. I've hiked these before and have actually enjoyed other routes more but we opted to follow the recommendation.
Visitor Center
After we parked we found Dan and then the GS Troop arrived. I planned to hike with the girls and Big Dude and Dan could go at a slower pace with Lil Dude who was likely to want to hike. We started out at a decent pace and the girls chatted easily while hiking White Dot. The trail initially is a gentle incline but it quickly becomes more challenging as there is little reprieve from the incline and it becomes more steep. 

Lil Dude hiking with Big Dude and Dan
At one point I worried one of our girls would not make it. She looked rather ill. We of course were prepared for this possibility but she continued on. We had a few breaks and around 12:30 I stopped to feed Little. She was a trooper just hanging out in the baby carrier while I climbed over rocks and tree roots. This is when I ended up breaking away from the troop and could not possibly catch up. Fortunately, my Dudes and Dan caught up to me and I continued on with them.

View up to the summit from the trail

Many people complimented me for being "brave" or their "hero". I definitely appreciated that as I felt like I was dying! It was tough and very warm (for her and me!). At times, I was kicking myself for this plan especially since I had only completed some small trail hikes and neighborhood walking prior to this trip. 

Just being funny

Just before White Dot and White Cross connect, I could see one of the other troop volunteers on White Cross. She called to me and let me know where the other girls were. I let her know that I most likely would not catch up but would follow behind and keep an eye out for them. Most of them hiked up to the Summit but  she and the girl who wasn't feeling well were heading down.

White Cross/Dot Junction

We continued to hike up the mountain and I was surprised by my three year old. Lil Dude LOVED climbing the rocks. We had brought our carrier for him but he was determined to climb and climb and climb. Once we reached around 2900' he started to tire but wanted to keep going. He would get in the backpack and then would want to climb again. 

Lil Dude Climbing some steeps

When we were close to the summit, I decided to stop and wait for the boys to go up. It was too treacherous for me to ascend the rock so awkwardly balanced. I was tired and concerned that I would lose my footing. I waited and watched the other hikers. I saw one guy climbing up on crutches and two others who were hiking barefoot.

Big Dude with Little resting below the summit

The boys rejoined me a short while later. Big Dude said Lil had changed his mind and wanted to come back down. We rested a bit and then started our descent on White Cross. At this point, Lil was definitely tired. You could tell by the whining and repeated changing of his mind. Truth is it was also nap time for him at this point so Big Dude decided to carry him down.

The foursome just below the summit

The trip down was steep but not a steep as White Dot would have been to come down on. We were all tired and realized it was starting to get very late when a ranger passed us going up the trail. Not too long after that Big Dude started to feel very dizzy and we paused to figure out what needed to be done. Both of us hated to do it but we asked Dan if he would mind carrying Lil Dude for a while. He definitely was our hero! 

Mini Snow Man

After that point, the trail seemed so much longer than it should have been. We rejoiced when we rejoined the White Dot Trail. We hiked out and found the once full parking lot fairly deserted. A few people we had seen on the trail (some struggling and some not) congratulated us on finishing the hike. I was pleased that I was still standing and felt very little discomfort. I definitely am proud of Lil Dude for hiking so much of the mountain and keeping a good attitude while tired. 

Lower White Cross/Dot Junction

We stopped for pizza in Jaffrey and I got an email from the other troop volunteer, making sure I was okay with them leaving (which of course I was, I knew they had commitments back home to make). I let her know we made it down safe but much later than "book time." Book time is about 4 hours, I had estimated we could do it in 5. Truth is it was closer to 7 hours for us!

The Full Moon on our drive home

Mount Monadnock is one of the most frequently climbed mountains in the world and on the day we climbed, it felt as if half the world was on the trail with us. In a sense it was nice because people were encouraging each other. Generally, I hike to get away from people though. While the White Dot and White Cross are the most direct trails, I definitely would recommend some of the other trails if you want some reprieve from humans. Unfortunately, it is a no dogs allowed state park so our pup stayed home. I've recommended this mountain to others in the past. Its local for us (within 2 hours) and challenges many people. The state park is a fee use areas and there is a campground attached to the state park as well.

Lovely view

Where:  Mount or Grand Monadnock, Monadnock State Park, 116 Poole Road, Jaffery, New Hampshire  03452

On the Web:

Directions: From Route 3 (Northbound): Take Route 3 north to exit 7 in New Hampshire. Follow Rte. 101A west to Rte. 101 west to Peterborough, turn left for 202 west to Jaffrey. Turn right onto 124 west and follow signs to Monadnock State Park. From I-93 (Northbound): Take 101 west to Peterborough, turn left for 202 west to Jaffrey. Turn right onto 124 west and follow signs to Monadnock State Park. From I-93 (Southbound): Take 101 west to Peterborough, turn left for 202 west to Jaffrey. Turn right onto 124 west and follow signs to Monadnock State Park. From I-95: Follow Rte. 101 west to Peterborough, turn left for 202 west to Jaffrey. Turn right onto 124 west and follow signs to Monadnock State Park. From I-91: Take Exit 28A, follow MA Rte. 10 to NH Rte. 119 east. Take Rte. 202 east to Jaffrey. Turn left onto 124 west and follow signs to Monadnock State Park.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Walk in the Woods: Lowell Dracut Tyngsboro State Forest

This year it seems we only hiked during holiday weekends. Originally we had thought we would go camping over Independence Day but we decided there was much to be done around the house. Big Dude was easily convinced to go for a short walk in the woods nearby. There are several conservation areas local to us but we had not been to this one in about two years. 

Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro State Forest is spread out over three towns in Massachusetts. I learned about it when I worked in a residential treatment facility for boys that had an outdoor based component. It contains about 1,140 acres of woods and wetlands. I've often come across paintball tournaments, mountain bikers, and cross country skiers while hiking the woods. It may have been a Native American village prior to the arrival of the colonists and there are often rumors and ghost stories told about certain areas of the woods.  

Ghosts or not we went to the trail head on Trotting Park Road in Lowell. There are several entrances to the forest but I've always found this one the easiest to access.

Trail head on Trotting Park Road
We parked and unloaded the dog and Lil' Dude. He took great pride in being able to walk under the gate without ducking his head. After a few steps he decided he wanted the Big Dude to carry him in the backpack. So up he went and on we walked.

Beyond the Gate

L2 on the Healthy Heart Trail
We had decided to try to follow the Healthy Heart Trail. On the trail map it is indicated by the hearts. Interestingly enough, the family trail appears to be the same path. Throughout the entire forest are blue hiker blazes.

We hiked for a short while before we arrived at our first turn in the loop. L5 took us over a small footbridge and deeper into the forest towards Tyngsboro.

L5 Marker

We caught glimpses of wetlands through the trees. The trail had several footbridges on them. None of them had water or even mud under them. It had been a rather dry beginning to the summer so far. We came upon a funny plank bridge that forked into a "Y" shape. As we walked over it, we couldn't determine why it was a "Y" since the trail joined back up around the trees.

"Y" bridge
We walked on with the sunlight shining through the trees. The weather was warm but not hot. It definitely was comfortable for this pregnant lady to be hiking. At the side of the trail, we came upon a teeter totter. Of course, Big and Lil' had to go over it.

Teeter Totter
Soon after, Lil' Dude declared he wanted to hike too. This was good because it meant I could hand off the dog to Big Dude. Apparently, Ansel was very excited to be in the woods. He was pulling and trying to be at the front of his "pack" for most of the hike. We stopped to look at a pretty wetland area.


Fortunately as Lil' Dude wanted to walk, I was able to hand off our rambunctious pup to the Big Dude. Lil' was much easier to keep in check. 

We crossed back over Trotting Park Road at L10 and continued down the Heart Healthy Trail. This section of the trail gave us lovely views of Spruce Swamp. There was a gentle breeze and it kept the bugs away. Lil' Dude ran ahead a bit and explored along the trail. We could easily see him, so we were not concerned about loosing him, especially since he stopped every few seconds to touch something.
Giant Tree

Spruce Swamp

Spruce Swamp

Spruce Swamp
There were a few off shoots from the trail so we decided to continue hugging the shoreline. This meant that we missed the turn to follow the Healthy Heart Trail. However, it did bring us to this lovely spot. 
Party Zone

Creative Use of Bottle Caps
Clearly, kids are still partying in the woods. They made a fire ring at a point in the trail that juts into the swamp. I will admit, if I was to pick a place to have a fire and hang out, I'd choose there. Unfortunately, it did look well used. Hopefully, no harm comes from it.

We hung out there for a while, making certain that Ansel and Lil' did not get cut up on the glass. We enjoyed our snacks and some water. The breeze certainly was picking up, so once snack was gone and I took a few photos we moved on.

Relaxing pooch
We followed the trail up to D1. There were some huge rocks along the trail. I definitely could not get a picture to show the enormity of them. Lil' Dude did some climbing and then we wandered along.
Giant rock
While wandering up to D1, Big Dude and I noticed that many of the trees had what appeared to be scorch marks on their trunks. We speculated about fires but thought we might have heard if there was a forest fire near us. Granted, it has been a few years since my last visit to this part of the woods. I hope the fire didn't start because of a forest party.
Fired damage or something else?
By the time we reached D1, Lil' Dude was tired and definitely wanted to be carried/not carried/carried/not carried. There was quite a bit of crying and grumping. Big Dude popped him in the carrier and we set back down Carney Road towards the junction with the Healthy Heart Trail.
Carney Road

Spruce Swamp from Carney Road
We found the junction and followed the Healthy Heart Trail through the woods back towards the parking lot. It was confusing because there were many turn offs that just weren't labeled well. Somehow we actually managed to choose the right paths.

Along the way we found a cluster of boulders that were larger than any of the ones we found earlier. I love finding glacial erratics in the woods. They looked like lots of fun to play on but the tired Lil' Dude needed to get back to the car.
Ginormous Rocks
We made it back to the parking lot and got Ansel and Lil' Dude into the car. There were a few more cars in the lot than when we showed up. We had parked in front of  a stone that was spray painted with the word Love on it. So I climbed up and took a baby bump shot. It's not often there is a picture of me on the blog as I'm behind the camera most of the time.

I know I have displayed a lot of graffiti and trashing of the woods, but this is indeed a nice little forest with many walking trails. I've traveled through it several times over the years. The fact that it is so close to home is terrific for me. 

Where:  Lowell Dracut Tyngsboro State Forest, Trotting Park Road, Lowell, MA

Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro State Forest is located in north-east Massachusetts.
From the South: Take Rt. 495 to Rt. 3 north. Follow Rt. 3 North to exit 32. Go right at the end of ramp, onto Drum Hill Rd. go 5 sets of lights you will cross over the Rourk Bridge. Go left at the lights on the other side of the bridge. Go 500 yards then take a right at lights onto Old Ferry Rd. Take a left onto Varnum Ave. After ½ mile, go right onto Trotting Park Rd. Parking lot is at the gate.