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.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Memorial Day Weekend Part 2: Natural Bridge State Park

On Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend (yes, this post is grossly over due) we went to the Natural Bridge State Park in North Adams, MA. It's a 48-acre park that apparently Nathaniel Hawthorne spent some time in during the 1830's. It was a quarry for many years and a privately owned tourist attraction that only became a state park in 1985 The entrance is only a short distance from Clarksburg where we camped and very close to the hairpin turn on Rt. 2.

We arrived on a lovely sunny morning. On the drive in we passed a meadow in front of the marble cliffs. 

We quickly found the parking lot and the visitor center after a short twisty road. We paid our two dollar parking fee and unloaded dog and child. The trail was easy to find and well traveled.
Visitor Center
We walked down the path towards the outcropping of rocks. There were metal bridges and railings that contained the people from falling down. After crossing the dome, I could look down into the cliffs from a new angle.   


The ledge that we were standing on had lots of carved "graffiti" in the stone. Some of it was worn away but some was still legible. Big Dude and I switched off the dog leash so that I could go down the stairway to see the bridge.

I'm always in awe of how water carves and smooths stone. The colors under the bridge were greens and blues and browns. It was cool, as expected, due to the stream running through the rocks. I wandered dog free to explore the staging that was set up. There were still remains from the quarrying suspended over the water.

Then I snagged the dog leash and wandered over the un-natural bridge to find some of our friends. 


We watched a dog chasing a decoy for quite a while. "Annie" was a well trained dog who truly seemed to enjoy this game of fetch. She dashed into the stream over and over again, eager to find the decoy. While watching, Mel recognized a gentleman from a show that she, Big Dude and I had attended in the spring. He was a musician that played during the taping of "Says You" at Regis College. Have to say, she has a pretty good memory for faces. After watching Annie's antics for a bit, we crossed back over to the other side of the stream and a few of us had snacks at picnic tables near the banks of the stream. The kids ran around some and then we went back towards our cars. 

On the way, I spotted this marker near the visitor center. It's not that big only about a foot wide but it clearly gave the coordinates for where we were. 

We enjoyed our quick trip to the Natural Bridge. I've been to a few others (some that have collapsed even). While this one is not as impressive as the large ones that people can cross spanning oceans, the power of the water on stone is still amazing. I definitely would recommend it as a stop if you are out in the North Adams region.

Where:  Natural Bridge State ParkMcCauley Road, off Rte. 8, North Adams, MA 01247

From East or West/Rte. 2: Take MA Rte. 2 to North Adams and intersection with MA Rte. 8 north. Turn onto Rte. 8 north and continue for 0.5 miles to McCauley Road and park entrance on the left. Follow the dirt road; it soon becomes paved.

From North: From VT Rte. 8/100 at the Massachusetts-Vermont line, follow MA Rte. 8 south for 3 miles. Turn right on McCauley Road and park entrance. Follow the dirt road; it soon becomes paved.

From South/MassPike (I-90): Take Exit 2 in Lee and follow US Rte. 20 west to US Rte. 7 north to Williamstown for 31.7 miles. Take MA Rte. 2 east for 6.2 miles, through downtown North Adams to MA Rte. 8. Turn left onto Rte. 8 north and follow for 0.5 miles. Turn left onto McCauley Road and park entrance. Follow the dirt road; it soon becomes paved.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Memorial Day Weekend Part 1: Clarksburg State Park

This past Memorial Day Weekend we camped with a group of friends at Clarksburg State Park. Having lived most of my life in the northeastern portion of Massachusetts, I've been enjoying our trips to the western part of the state. We followed the Mohawk Trail (Rt. 2) out to North Adams and prayed that it wouldn't rain. The camping trips in 2013 were terrible with rain. Memorial Day Weekend last year we were cold and wet most of the weekend except for when we were heading home. Labor Day weekend it was lovely until it rained and flooded most of the campground! We did hit some downpours on the road but once at the campground we managed to miss most of the precipitation.

Saturday morning we decided to stop in at the ranger station to pick up a trail map. We wanted to take our breakfast trash to the dumpster anyways. So Big and Lil' Dude, myself and Zazu wandered down the camp road. The ranger let us know that the weather was looking good for the weekend and gave us a map. We continued to the dumpster and followed the road to the bath house at Mauserts Pond.

We passed the trail head for Timberline and Shoreline Trails on the way. We decided that we would hike Shoreline back up towards the campsite after we checked out the beach. 

The pond looked full and the hills in the distance were lovely. I'm fairly certain that those hills are actually across the state line in southern Vermont. 

The bath house looked like a new facility. It had a clean and tidy look to it. I'm often surprised when I find a MA state park that appears to have had some money put into it. Many of them have fallen prey to budget cuts. 

We knew before we left home that swimming was out of the question. They had just treated the water for aquatic vegetation. :-(  

The beach itself appeared sandy and looked like a great place to picnic and spend the day. The fence and benches looked like they had seen better days. They were at strange heights. Lil Dude found one that he could climb up onto by himself. The other benches he needed assistance to climb on.

We spent some time examining the beach. Then we decided to head back towards the trail head. We crossed through the grove of picnic tables and charcoal grills. 

Then we hit the trail. The map we had was the basic one that state provides. There is a second one on their website that gives a better description of the Pond Loop and the legend of Mauserts Pond. The second map is much more entertaining, I advise printing it out before heading to the park. A park with a history of "sin" is an added bonus to the beauty of the woods. 

The trail starts out as a track for four-wheeled vehicles. Eventually it downgrades to a single track. There is very little elevation gain and it was a short while before we came to the junction of the Headquarters Trail. We continued on the Shoreline Trail and came across this curiosity.

We spent some time examining it and attempting to figure out what is could have been used for. Clearly it had been there for some time but we still don't know it's purpose.

A bit further down the trail we came to a lovely clearing looking north to Vermont. Soon after that we noticed a beaver lodge on the other side of the pond. Unfortunately, I did not have my DSLR on me so my point and shoot had to do.

About this time, we noticed lovely blue blazes marking the trail. We had not seen them early on but later I learned that they were to designate the Pond Loop. 

Lil' Dude remembered from our last hike that he should keep an eye out for blazes. So every time he saw one he let us know.  

And then the trail got muddy. There were bridges and boards laid out to aid against erosion and trail destruction. However, many of the boards were rotten and sinking into the muck. 

We came across this lovely marbled rock on the path. After finding it we noticed there were several along side the trail and through the campground.

And then it got very muddy.  

Like stinky mud.

As we moved up to higher ground and closer to the campground we spotted this boulder surrounded by tree roots. I loved it! Nature will work to overcome and adapt to it's neighbors.

Did I mention that we brought Ansel with us? Yup, muddy paws emerged once more. Don't worry he had a good grooming when we got home.

We sat at Lookout Point for some time. The skies were starting to clear up. The park had a picnic table there and it was the path for small craft boats to hike down from the campground. 

Not too far away we could see a line of windmills in the distance. They weren't moving very fast but I'm sure they catch some decent breezes on the ridge. 

While we were sitting, a father and pre-teen daughter came down with their kayaks. They launched and had the pond all to themselves. They were headed out to the beaver lodge when we left the pond. We walked up the short path to the campground road. From there we found our campsite and relaxed. 

The campground itself is relatively small. Reservations opened this year later than all the others in the area. So we managed to get in without issue. Our group had 4 sites. We tend to be relatively quiet campers (even with small kids). There was one large group that started it's parties up after quiet hours. There did not appear to be a campsite manager through the night. It probably would have helped with the noise control. There is a newer bath house in the campground as well. If we were to camp there again, I would try to get a campsite close to the pond. Our friends' were farther away from the road and experience less traffic noise. Given our history of bouncing from campground to campground, we probably won't be heading back to this one in the near future.

Where: Clarksburg State Park, 1199 Middle Road, Clarksburg, MA 01247

Directions From the East/I-91: From I-91 take Exit 26 in Greenfield and follow MA Rte. 2 west for 34 miles to North Adams, to intersection with MA Rte. 8 north. Turn right and follow Rte. 8 north for 3 miles to Middle Road. Turn left onto Middle Rd. and continue for 0.1 mile to park entrance on right.