14 1 / 2013
Well, it’s been a while! CT A to Z spent the last month or so frantically beavering in the lab, before heading back to the homeland for a while. When we returned to CT things were decidedly British, foggy and damp, with icy patches all over, so it was with trepidation that I headed out on the Farmington Canal Trail to test out my exciting new road bike in a traffic free situation.
The Farmington Canal is a wonderful resource for the New Haven Community. In the summer its packed full of commuters, dog walkers, Chinese power walkers and tiny children wobbling around on bikes. The Canal was first active in the late 1820s, part of the mega canal building craze that gave birth to the massive Erie Canal in New York State and provided a means of transport to burgeoning industry, linking New Haven on the coast with Northampton all the way up in Massachusetts. It wasn’t the speediest form of transport, boats being drawn by mules led by humans, and with unpredictable patches drying up in hot summers, but did allow for relatively easy movement of heavy loads. Within only 20 years though, the canal had been supplanted by the faster rail industry, and a track was even built right on this site, which was active until the 1980s.
Strictly these days the State Park bit only goes from Todd Street in Hamden north to Cheshire. Annoyingly, by the time I got to this bit it was pretty badly iced over, and so I actually didn’t make it.
The photos therefore, are all from further south. The trail is pretty innocuous, mostly not in the most spectacular of locations. It runs behind lots of small businesses, cuts through patches of woodland and provides a quiet route as an alternative to the bustling Whitney Avenue.
There’s a couple of dramatic cuttings where it heads through little hillsides, but it’s mostly a well surfaced, safe place for recreation of all kinds.
For this, it’s a wonderful resource, and well used. On a good day you can see the head of Sleeping Giant, and stop at the amazing Wentworth’s ice cream (but not on a Sunday).
But what struck me on this distinctly dull day was how this trail quietly tells of Connecticuts more modern history. There are many stark reminders of the financial history of the past few years, with warehouses turned into gyms (including the awesome True Athletics) and Zumba Centres, and “lifestyle centres” turned to wasteland.
When the sun comes out again, I hope to get up to Cheshire and see the restored locks that can be found there, and perhaps explore some of the sections further north (not yet joined up) that form the rest of the Greenway.
24 11 / 2012
First off the bat, I’m really not sure that Farm River comes before Farmington. But the DEP website reckons it does, and who am I to argue?
After an exciting ten days where CT weathered not only a hurricane come super storm, but also a 7 inches of snow dumping Nor’Easter, CT A to Z was able to get back on track with the arrival of the Thanksgiving break. Worried that this one would be too easy, based in East Haven just down the road, we managed to make it more difficult by driving straight past the car park twice. There’s a house right next to the small car park with a number of exciting features in the garden, including a five foot high stone walrus, which rather takes the attention away. Don’t try and park on the blocked off track or go down Brown Road, both lead to dead ends and the former will lead to a nice scratched bottom of car. The car park is on Short Beach Road, just before you hit the woods themselves. You take the only trail out of the car park, down the hill through the laurel, and towards the shore.
Part of this trail is included in the future 25 mile long Shoreline Greenway Trail, planned to extend from Lighthouse Point to Hammonassett Beach and there’s already some subtle signage up. This section doesn’t connect to any of the others yet, and it looks like it may be some time before that happens.
Farm River is a small State Park managed privately for the State by Quinnipiac University. This move has caused a little controversy as they now charge for permits to enter on the Mansfield Road/marina entrance, but there’s enough of a trail network from the Short Beach Road access point that you don’t need to bother with that nonsense. In the summer the boat launch and a large number of exciting nesting birds make the park quite a hotspot. But in the winter the place was all but deserted, including a strange super modern summer house that seems to be boarded up and left to rot, despite the signs of life surrounding it, like spooky piles of chopped wood and security cameras. It’s all a bit weird really (Actually, random message boards suggest it may have been a small cafe. Even weirder).
CT A to Z recommends avoiding this less exciting limb of the trails - on the DEP map the branch to the north with the fishing and binoculars symbol, but taking the limb that goes further to the south. If you’re here in nesting season (March to August) though, do take a peak in the marsh to the left of this branch, where an Osprey platform sits in the middle.
After heading over some beautiful rocky knolls surrounded by salt marshes there’s a little rocky promontory with a gorgeous view of the Sound and docks, with a large amount of carpet like flattened grass at the base, damaged by the storm surge of Sandy.
This lovely spot seems to have been left pretty much untouched by the wrath of Sandy, and there was no sign of another soul when we were there. It’s a very small but serene spot, tucked in between the luxury developments, and is ideal for a short escape after a day of Thanksgiving Excess.
03 11 / 2012
Despite Enders State Forest taking up a rather large portion of land near Barkhamsted way up in the North-West corner, it’s another of these parks that is generally curiously absent from the internet. There’s no maps, nothing on the DEP site, and a few online reviews talking about waterfalls. So on a damp and grey midweek morning, I set off with my parents and a vague idea of where to park, hoping to find something of interest.
There’s only really one way out of the car park, which is on the south side of Route 219, despite the presence of multiple trails, they all pretty much converge on the large vehicle track on the far right hand side.
If you follow this trail down through typical CT style woodlands, you’ll start to hear the rushing of water and soon, looking carefully, you’ll notice a series of small side trails that lead tantalisingly towards the sounds.
The side trails are all a bit more gnarly, but if you don’t mind a little scramble and damp then they’re not a problem. There’s a few random drop offs nearby, so if you’re with kids you may want to keep them on a close rein. It’s a very short distance downhill to the falls, which are remarkably lovely. There’s three major falls, with a few minor ones interspersed along the way, formed as Enders Brook carves its way through a soft seam of rock towards Salmon Brook.
While you’re down there scramble about as much as is safe - some of the best views upstream don’t appear till you’re right next to the falls.
My favourite fall though, is one I’ve christened “the table,” where a perfectly still square pool on top cascades over an overhang, a perfect natural replica of those fancy swimming pools in holiday resorts where the edge just disappears.
My powers of description are really not sufficient for this place. It’s an absolute gem, incredibly beautiful, and was deserted except for a lonely photographer the day we were there. The falls, the surrounding woods, and the geology (awesome pothole)…
…means that Enders State Forest fits a lot of fun into a tiny area. I took a GPS track aiming to map the paths, but everything falls in such a small area that it’s kind of pointless. Still, if anyone’s interested in seeing it, leave a comment below.
Apologies also for the blurry photos - my camera’s not the best in bad light!
03 11 / 2012
Land next to the Connecticut River comes at a premium, whether you’re Mr Rich investment banker or the State itself. For this reason, the CT DEP are incredibly happy to have secured their very own portion of riverfront, right next to the East Haddam swingbridge, enabling access to the public. So many public in fact, that they decided to pretty much make the whole thing a car park. Yup people, that’s right. 16 acres of prime riverfront, at least 9 of which must be car park. There’s also a little bandstand and a couple of ramshackle piers, from which private companies run sightseeing tours in the summer and at weekends.
The real draw to Eagle Landing is in the name. In the winter Bald Eagles who have escaped harsher climes to the north, make this portion of the river their home - plenty of trees for perching in, space to inhabit and these days, even a ton of fish to eat. When we visited around a week before Sandy however, it was still too early, and a couple of errant Seagulls was about the best the park had to offer.
Luckily, just as we were leaving an alarm went off and the Swing Bridge opened, which meant we pretty much doubled our time there. Not the most exciting of Parks, but probably a good place to hang out with a picnic in the summer.
05 10 / 2012
There’s not many State Parks in Connecticut that lead to full blown existential crises (other than the why do I live here and not in California kind?), but Dinosaur State Park manages this feat easily. Because what you’ll find here is not only magnificent an astonishing, but so mind blowing that it’s almost impossible to comprehend. As you take their invitation to Step into The Early Jurassic prepare to be surprised, not only by the timescales, but by the story of a Connecticut so very foreign to the one we inhabit currently.
The problem with all this talk about dinosaurs and ancient geology is that’s is so long ago, and so massive, that it’s just impossible to comprehend. Dinosaur State Park makes a couple of stabs at this, the first more successful than the latter. When you walk towards the Exhibition Centre, a space aged dome surrounded by highly manicured rolling lawns, there’s a timeline in the footpath, with every foot representing a large unit of time I can’t quite recall. This is awesome, and enables you to get a grip on just how recently humans arrived, and how long the CT of today has been in the making.
The second is in the welcome film “Step Into the Early Jurassic” which is a slightly cheesy introduction to the geology and timeline with an unsuccessful penny metaphor. Despite the worrying accent of the archaeologist, it’s an admirable attempt at an intro to what you’re about to see.
Which is this.
(Thanks official website for the pic)
That’s right kids. Actual preserved Dinosaur tracks. And tons of them! The whole location was made a State Park within a month after they were uncovered by a bulldozer in 1966 because they are, quite simply, immense After studying the size, nature and tracks of the location for years, the theory is that this was simply a route a ton of the animals passed through, likely within a short period of time, that had a fortuitous amount of the correct kind of mud and post track events to be preserved for millennia. There’s attempts at dioramas and models, but really, the tracks are the only thing to take in here. They’ve left bits of the excavated rock in place on the edges, so you can see how the tracks were under layers and layers of compressed rock. It really is something, and well worth a visit.
Once you step back outside into the sunlight, there’s a few miles of unspectacular trails, and aside from the prehistoric looking swamp…
…which is pretty awesome, there’s a small arboretum with specimens of ancient plants, some of which were just starting to turn colour as the nights get colder. For kids there’s track casting and mineral mining stations , and a bunch of educational programs.
But really, as an adult, you don’t need that stuff. Just go and look at those tracks and try to imagine the Taconic Range as high as the Himalayas, cracks in the valley spurting lava, great rivers and mud plains full of beasts as big as a bus. It’ll blow your mind, in the best kind of way.
16 9 / 2012
So, just why does the Devil’s Hopyard have such a menacing name? Did the devil try to leap across the river, catch his tail, and then get so hopping mad that his hooves burned big pot holes between the cascades of Chapman Falls? Was there a tenant farmer named Dibble, who owned a portion of land and raised hops, who through chinese whispers and a bit of a reputation became the Devil? No one actually seems to know, least of all the State of Connecticut, but the name appears to have stuck. Today it’s not the satanic links in the park that draw the visitors, but the small yet striking Campbell Falls and the gorgeous hemlock forests that surround it. Obtained by the State in the early twentieth century, the Falls had a previous life driving a mill wheel, though now the land has been completely reclaimed by nature and little trace remains.
Aside from the Falls there’s a few short trails at the Park. We’ve walked the orange trails before starting the A to Z, and while they were tranquil and scenic, they didn’t feel worthy of a re-walk. They’ve also suffered some fire damage over the past year, so I imagine they currently don’t look quite at their best. The overlook is alright, but the view is obviously bog standard CT, with rolling forested hills and a few turkey vultures in flight above. Today we took the red trail on the opposite side of the road that splits the park, and there were short sections that reminded us of Muir Woods in California.
The balmy temperature, the clear forest floors, the somewhat smaller trees were rather pleasant, and the small brooks flowing under the trail provided for some bridge based amusement.
The red trail is short, and after crossing the road, we continued along the red to the bend, past the cool rock with a shark fin;
and then freestyled it across the river to the orange trail on the opposite side.
Because if you go to Devil’s Hopyard, there’s simply one feature you must check out. It’s such remarkable geology that someone had to write it’s name on the rock next to it in case you missed it.
Seriously, the Devil’s Oven (presumably he needed to warm up after getting his tail wet) is a very small cave bedded into a decidedly more impressive rock face. It’s a bit of a steep jaunt up the hill, but the cliffs are pretty impressive even if the Oven is not. You head straight upwards from the marker post (which confusingly is only marked “Bridge” if you come from the south), and after about a minute of scrabbling, you’re there.
The orange trail back towards the car park and Covered Bridge is a little rocky, so not for very little or very old feet, and you’re quickly back at the car park having done a wee tour of the best bits of a very lovely park.
16 9 / 2012
Dennis Hill is the smaller, lesser well known brother of Haystack Mountain in the northwest corner of the state. They fall either side of the lovely little town of Norfolk, and were likely both formed from the same geological processes, both being rather conical shaped. Unfortunately the descriptions of the geology provided by the state are very small scale, focussing on the rocks by the side of the trail, and not the formation of the feature. There’s a lot of volcanic type stuff in there though - gneiss and schist, so perhaps they were volcanoes. And in fact, when you get to the top, it seems that those assumptions may be correct. A famous Yale geologist claimed this spot as an extinct volcano after a visit to the property one summer. The second interesting geological fact that you discover at the top of the hill is that water that hits the top of Dennis Hill will fall into three separate watersheds.
Anyway, Dennis Hill used to house a summer house for Dr Frederick Dennis, a famous surgeon from New York City with even more famous friends. In fact, he was the White House physician for both Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft, with the latter making multiple visits to this property. He was also a big lover of state recreation, and held a legendary annual steak dinner for members of the State Parks and Forest Commission, aswell as using this property as an experimental area for forestry and growing a wide range of tree species. Once Dr Dennis died in 1934, the whole hillside was donated to the State, and the summerhouse eventually converted into a picnic barn. The picnic barn has retained the original shape of the house, which is a crazy octagonal thing with large windows for taking in the views, apparently based on the design of wool markets back in Wales (presumably Wales UK?). While the views are not quite so spectacular as the information suggests, the ones to the south and south east are serene, even with full foliage.
R. and I parked at the lower car park on our trip during a beautiful early fall day, and first took a stroll around the looped yellow trail on the lower flanks of the hill. Despite the decreased elevation there’s a lovely view from the picnic shelter on this loop, and for a short trail there’s quite a variation in vegetation. Swampy areas, pines with clear forest floors, and thicker scrubbier areas which are beginning to become over run with rhododendrons, which probably look beautiful when they flower in spring.
After completing the loop we then headed up the white trail towards the summit, where things got fernier and began to smell like the Lake District back at home. In fact, all of a sudden we thought we’d stepped through a portal, as we popped out onto the asphalt and we’re presented with a large swath of bracken type ferns. I’ve not seen a field of so many ferns since my trip back to Scotland, so it was a welcome surprise.
Just a note, if you’re trying to go down the white trail, it’s not too easy to spot, but exists from the clearing north of the road that looks like this:
The picnic shelter at the top is pretty great, a large cool structure with plenty of tables and retaining the original vision of the architecture of Dr Dennis’s summer house. The metallic roof doesn’t even look too out of the place, and the large picture windows are a great place to sit and watch the world go by.
After taking our time admiring the view, we strolled back down the main road to the car, a very short distance but retaining the air of a driveway to somewhere important. It was a pleasure to spend some time up here today, but I can only dream how exciting it must have been with a legendary steak dinner waiting at the top!
07 9 / 2012
Day Pond is a rather teeny State Park, which forms a small corner of the much larger Salmon River State Forest. It’s a man made pond which was dammed by the Day Family in order to drive a sawmill, at an undisclosed “colonial” time in history. The park was obtained by the State in 1949, and there’s now a cute sandy beach with swimming area, picnic pavilions and the remnants of the dam to inspect on a lazy weekend.
I don’t really have much to say about Day Pond, other than that. It looks like a nice place to spend a quiet afternoon. We took the blue blazed trails into Salmon River, so I can’t really talk about them yet, but on our return tried to find the short yellow trail that’s within Day Pond. The only problem was that as we were walking down the road looking for the trail head, the heavens opened. We never found the start of the bit that runs parallel to the entrance road, and after a couple of minutes of getting progressively wetter, things took a turn for the worst and suddenly turned into one of those amazing monsoon downpours. So we cut in from the road and headed at an angle to intersect the yellow at any point where it might exist, and after a couple of minutes of slipping around on the wet leaves, we saw it and pegged it as fast as we could back to the car.
Still, the whole area is pretty standard CT. A few smallish erratics (and one enormous one)…
…a little more ground vegetation than perhaps we’re used to, and the small Day Brook waterfall that definitely deserves a visit at a time other than the middle of summer.
The highlight of our day was not, I’m sorry to say, a permanent feature of the State Park. When we approached the wrecked car which upset CTMQ on his travels here, we were greeted with flashes of light. As we moved closer, there was a middle aged lady in incredibly tight purple trousers crouching in a seductive fashion over the car wreck, while a guy took photos of her with a full photographer set up - a flash umbrella and everything. It was utterly bizarre, and the comment she made about “at least I’m wearing clothes” just made things all the more surreal.
So, Day Pond. A generally family Day Out, but perhaps avoid the car wreck.
07 9 / 2012
Well, readers, this will be a quick one. Because I will confess now, we weren’t actually able to make it to Dart Island.
There’s three islands in the Connecticut River that are State Parks. There’s Dart, Haddam, and finally Selden Neck. They’re only accessible by the water, and here at CT A to Z we are without boat. We could have borrowed one from friends in north west CT, but to be honest, we just couldn’t figure Dart out. The only information out there, other than it being the smallest of the three islands, is that you have to come from the water. But there’s no State launches within a distance that’s canoe-able by two people who aren’t particularly good at canoeing. There’s no hire places nearby either. So we decided to take the cop out option. On the way to Day Pond, we would drive to the river and take a look at the Island from afar. If you scrutinise the area on google, the west bank seems to be an enormous industrial complex, which no hope of getting close in an average car. So we took to the east bank, and headed for Oaklum Dock Road, which looked like a very promising combination of name and google satellite images.
Turns out, there’s even a small launch there. It seems to be public, or at least there’s no signs saying otherwise. Next door is a fenced off private yacht club where couples were having wedding photos taken, right in front of the huge chimneys of the aforementioned industrial complex. Hmm.
And boy, did the State Park actually look fun?! We hit it on probably the last major boating weekend of the year, and the river was full of all kinds of craft, ranging for kayaks to jetskis to large luxury yachts. People were jumping in the river and there was serious gazebo enabled sunbathing and grilling on the sandbank on the edge of the park. So there you have it. You can launch from Oakum Dock, and it would be a short kayak across the water. But wait until next summer, when hopefully you’ll get a party and a free hot dog on a not very interesting and very bushy looking island.
There you go. I promise to try harder next time.