Monday, June 27, 2011

Midstate Trail Part 9- Graffiti Bridge to Route 12 in Ashburnham

We started off our next section of the Midstate on a lovely sunny Sunday.  I had decided to cut the "last section" in a short piece and a longer piece so that we weren't hiking a 15-mile hike with elevation change as our finale.  It worked out very well.  We met Mel at the side of Jewell Hill Road in Ashburnham.  While waiting for her on the memorial triangle our dog found this lovely creature.
As you can tell Mr. Water Snake was not too pleased that Ansel The Inquisitive Dog wanted to be his friend.  I took the dog to the other side of the island and Ben took pictures and pretty much harassed it.  Mel arrrived and we drove down to Graffiti Bridge.  We went behind the jersey barriers and over towards Bragg Hill Road and South Ashburnham Road.  Then we found the entrance into the field and power lines.  I took this picture of the rusted farm equipment.  I really like how it came out.    

We crossed the pasture and went down into the woods.  It was quite damp from the rain the 3 days before.  But the trails were manageable enough and our feet stayed dry.  Well us 2-footed creatures stayed dry. 

This was the first time we took our dog on the Midstate.  I checked to make sure we could bring him on this segment.  Some sections don't allow dogs or are on private property and I would worry about it even if it was okay.  I noticed he was getting rather hot though so we took a break right at the sign for the Westminster Conservation Commission.   

Ansel wasn't really interested in water or a snack so we humans ate ours and then went on.  This was a very nice area to hike it.  It was well maintained and the forest was lush and green.  It is so nice to be on trails that are not littered or packed with people.  

As we rounded the corner to head up the hill to Muddy Pond Shelter, Ben spotted this guy in the middle of the trail.  Another Water Snake.  I only know this now because I compared our photos to the ones online.  I'm not afraid of snakes when I know what they are.  On this hike, I managed to come across an unknown snake in two different areas.  Ansel never saw this one.  Ben and Mel had no fear.  I managed to be quite nervous but I made it by.  I definitely advise having a camera with a decent zoom to take photos for flora and fauna identification later.  And keeping a safe distance.  I know now that I was overly cautious with this guy but I'm okay with that.  
We reached the Muddy Pond Shelter in Westminster.  It was a lovely spot for camping!  I totally want to go back.  The amount of beer cans littered about was sad but the shelter is situated in a rather clear area over looking the pond.  While we were there a family came out with fishing gear for an afternoon of fun.  I think they had the right idea!   

We moved on and then the trail became a bit of a bear.  There was LOTS of overgrowth.  The vegetation has just flourished with all the rain and sun.  Here's Ansel heading into the ferns.    

We managed to get through the brush carefully.  Some of the vines had huge prickers on them!  But I think we only had one or two scratches.  Then we found the cart road the trail cleared out again.  While in the woods we started hearing some strange noises.  As I moved into the woods and took this picture of the abandoned truck I realized that the "dog" was actually a rooster.  Even though the truck is a sure sign, the rooster confirmed that we were getting close to the main roads again.

Directly after we passed the truck we had to gingerly get our way past the stream that was in the midst of the trail.  Ansel of course went right down the middle. 

I found a hollowed out tree that was playing with the light.  I love taking photos through the frame of nature.  

We could tell that we were heading down hill towards Rt. 12.  The sounds of cars and a lawnmower were getting louder and louder.  When we reached Philip's Brook I took a quick picture of Ansel the Muddy Dog and of Philip's Brook from the bridge.  The water was moving downstream very quickly.  

We made it back to our car and our first snake (yes, he was still there) in about 2 and a half hours.  That seems to be about right for us.  So we finished at mile 7.72 from the north terminus.  The FINAL trip has been scheduled.  Even though this was a shorter day for us, I know we're going to appreciate it next time.  I just hope that my photos continue to get better.  I really like the shots I took on Part 9.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Midstate Trail Part 8 - Wachusett to Grafitti Bridge

So I started this post right after the hike but a week has gone by and it's now time to finish. On June 11 Ben and I decided to hike the next section of the Midstate. Little did we know that the showers predicted for that day were to be more like heavy rains.

Through the beginning of the hike, I kept checking with him to see if he wanted to bail. I wouldn't say I wanted to head for home but if he did I was right on board. Alas, neither of us wanted to wimp out so we trudged on. I complain but it wasn't too bad. The rain kept the bugs at bay for most of the trip.

About 2 miles in we came to Redemption Rock. We climbed up it and looked for the engraving. The engraving was quite worn down and barely readable but it was there. 

It was here in April of 1676 that King Philip’s War hostage Mary White Rowlandson was released from Indian captivity.  You can find out more about this park by going to the Trustees of the Reservation website.

We crossed Highway 140 and entered Leominster State Forest. The rain became increasingly worse and unfortunately, we were starting to get cold. We pushed on and the rain started to let up. Fortunately, we were up on the top of Crow Hills and there was a breeze. This helped us to dry off some of our rain gear. The hills in this park had stone stairways that were quite slippery. We had to use extra caution when climbing them.

We traveled to the end of the park and behind new housing developments. There was a brief moment of confusion as we came to the junction of Stone Hill Road and Narrows Road. A new house had been built and the trail marker was up the driveway. We felt as if we were trespassing briefly but then we crossed back into the woods and followed the trail to the Wachusett Village Inn.  
We crossed over Rt. 2 on the Waterman Memorial Bridge. The rain had decidedly stopped (for the moment) and we stood briefly over the traffic to let the breeze dry out our raincoats. Both of our coats were wet inside and out.

East Bound

West Bound
About a mile after Rt. 2, we crossed Highway 2A. A little bit later we heard people hiking behind us. For the first time that day, there was another couple on the trail. As we worked our way to the power lines we lost the trail. They blazed through and found it again. We leapfrogged each other on the trail. They pulled ahead as we entered the pasture lands.   
Throughout this hike we've followed and crossed over many stone walls. This was the first time we actually walked on the walls. The grasses were quite high in the pasture and the trail markers were directly next to the walls so it seemed to be the most practical thing to do. 
We hiked along the walls in the woods after we left the pastures. The trails in this section were a tad confusing. The other couple lost the trail and we could see why. For some reason the trail started to switchback downhill and then over to the gravel Syd Smith Road. It seemed like we could have gone straight to the road and downhill.

We walked on through the woods and started seeing signs along the border of private property. At this point, I was pretty done with hiking for the day and starting to feel miserable. Fortunately, there was a boardwalk and we could hear construction vehicles. Ben thought we were near the end. Turns out he was right. We found Graffiti Bridge and our car.

I must admit, I feel that the bridge is a bit trashy. I understand that it is a tradition in Westminster for students to put their mark on it. However, the amount of rubbish that was on the ground under the bridge was awful. If only people would clean up after themselves. Oh and create better artwork.

At this point, we are 13.5 miles from the north end of the Midstate Trail. Our next hike is on the calendar. It seems as though our hiking buddies have found other summer fun, but that's okay. We miss them on the trail but we're determined to finish hiking this in 2011! And then back up north for the real mountains. :-) 

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Midstate Trail Part 7 - Wachusett Mountain

It was a bright sunny day when we struck out on the trail. I was excited because we were going to be hiking one of the last 3 segments of the Midstate Trail and we'd be hitting the high point, Wachusett Mountain. We parked at Intervale Road, covered ourselves in DEET and went into the woods. We wondered how the trail was going to be after the tornadoes that had struck western Massachusetts and threatened the area. We quickly came upon a the Ware River. The water seemed low and slow to travel.

As we walked on we found that the trails had brand new foot bridges. As we crossed over a few of them, I remembered that National Trails Day was the day before and wondered if the bridges were installed that recently. The mud and water wasn't too bad but the bugs were pretty fierce.As pretty as the woods and river were, we quickly found that we would be road walking for a good portion of the morning. In fact, nearly the entire portion from Intervale to Ball Hill Road in Princeton was along paved streets. I do think that the paved streets might have been a blessing in disguise. When we were on the old dirt roads, the mosquitoes were outrageous. We pushed through very quickly to be rid of them.

At the end of the last dirt road we came to this old horse farm. The house looked as if it were empty, but the mail box was the coolest thing. Unfortunately it did mean more street walking for us.I got excited when we came upon the Providence and Worcester Railway bridge. I knew that this was a sign that our pavement pounding ways were at an end soon.

Soon we entered into the Massachusetts Audubon Society Wildlife Sanctuary. For the rest of the hike we would be in the woods. We entered the Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary off of Rt. 62. The trails were well maintained and pretty.We followed the yellow triangles through the sanctuary. We went through several old pasture lands. Some had bird houses and benches for wildlife watching. We had a snack at a small pond and noted the beaver chew marks on the trees. Some of the ferns were extremely large. It appeared as if they were three to four feet tall. The greenery throughout the forest was lush and lovely.

At the end of the Chapman Trail we came across a marker that told us the distance to the summit. This is when we realized how quickly we had been hiking. We were about an hour ahead of schedule!We left the Audubon and entered Wachusett Mountain State Reservation. All of us had hiked Wachusett Mountain before. Dan has skied it many times. It's funny, whenever I think of the word Wachusett, I immediately get the jingle stuck in my head. Since we all live close enough to the ski area, we've heard the advertisements for Wachusett Mountain Skiing many times. I really should get out there to ski one of these days.

We followed the Dickens and Harrington Trails to the top. About half-way up we started hearing people. Being such a nice day, I knew there were going to be many hikers. When we found the summit, we saw all sorts of people and dogs. The trails at Wachusett State Reservation are good for nearly all levels.

When we arrived at the summit, we stopped for lunch. We also realized it would take us at the most an hour to get to the car. We phoned our friend that was to meet us for dinner to warn him that it would be an early dinner. While we snacked we watched families explore the pond. There were koi fish swimming around happily. We saw a few frogs and newts too.

About this time we noticed a change in the weather. The clouds had started to roll in and it seemed to cool off quite a bit. After we finished eating we wandered the summit a bit to see what we could see. From the summit, a clear day reveals views of Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire, the Berkshires to the west, and the Boston skyline to the east. We climbed up on one platform and could make out the outline of Boston pretty well. As you can see from the photo, there was a little bit of haze. We could see Monadnock pretty well but couldn't make out the Berkshires.

I did learn that this year the auto road was still closed. It had been for about a year. The summit was taken over by huge amounts of fencing and several construction vehicles. They also had removed the displays that were mounted up on the summit. Hopefully, they will finish construction soon. We started down the north side of the mountain and found the ski lifts. Ski lifts always look strange without snow. We also found this bronze plaque memorializing the 10th Mountain Division.

We looked down the mountain a bit and then followed the Old Indian Trail to West Side Trail and Semuhenna.There were many people coming up the trail. Towards the top we would hear questions like "how much further" and "are we close?" It always bothers me when I see people hiking without water bottles though. I understand Wachusett is a busy mountain with short hike options but the Girl Scout in me says "Be Prepared!" After all, you never know what could happen.

When we found the Old Indian Trail again I knew that Balance Rock was very close. It is pretty easy to spot a glacial erratic. A huge rock deposited in the middle of nowhere is just a fun discovery. Balance Rock led to photos of us looking strong. See I can lift this rock all by myself! After all, I didn't want it to roll down the hill.

We hiked the last half mile to the parking lot and found Dan's car. There were a few more cars there in the afternoon compared to when we arrived in the morning. Dan drove us back to Intervale Road and we picked up my car.

Our last stop was to Gardner Ale House. As much as Ben enjoys hiking, I know he enjoys beer too. So I visited the MA chapter of Views and Brews and found that Wachusett is one of the hikes for The Gardner Ale House. So the three of us went off to have some food and sample their beer.

I'm not a beer drinker myself so I can't judge that for you. But if you want good food near Wachusett, I would say try this place. The food was pretty good.
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Friday, June 3, 2011

Vermont Views and Brew Weekend

This Memorial Day Weekend we went to camp at Woodford State Park in Vermont. I had decided on this site because of the Views and Brews hiking list I found via Peakbagger. Turns out that we've most likely completed many of the hikes in NH. So I checked out the Vermont Chapter of the Views and Brews and decided that Bennington would be easy enough for us to get to.
On Sunday, a group of us decided to hike up Harmon Hill. We found the trail head easy enough just off of Rt. 9. We started up the steep, steep trail. The "steps" were tough but not too bad for our dog. It was his first hike out with us and he was eager to go. After pulled us up to the top of the trail we came to a lovely path through the woods.

All the rain had made it a bit buggy and muddy. Fortunately, there were some planks laid out us to avoid the mud. We were glad of if, unfortunately, the dog didn't feel it was necessary.
After such a strenuous hike up, the even trail was really a nice change of pace. We enjoyed the stroll through the woods. We met up with some other campers from our campground and a thru hiker. We asked a couple that we met up with at the summit to take our photo.

It was a hot hike and we all needed a rest. We snacked and had some water while we looked out over Bennington and the Taconic Range. As you can see the sky was a bit hazy.

We wandered our way back down the trail. Along the way we took some photos of the fungi and vegetation that we saw.

We found the "steps" down the path that we took slowly. The end of the hike came up quickly and we carefully crossed Rt. 9 to the car.
When we got back to our campsite and found the rest of our group had completed the second hike that was connected with this checklist. They said it was easy, so we thought about it for a second and decided to go. The trail was quite buggy and muddy but the view of the reservoir was pretty.
We returned to the campsite with one very muddy pawed dog. He was so tired that he plopped down and napped for hours.

We went to dinner at the Madison Brewing Co. that evening. Despite calling ahead with a reservation, they seemed extremely unprepared for us. The beer was okay, the food was pretty good, but the service was not so good. They did have a knight though.

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