Gifts from August

While a couple of my local recreational areas have been closed due to the too-much-love phenomenon (complicated by the no-sense-of-stewardship phenomenon), I am still getting out for good walks. August started out hot and hazy. It’s going out with hints of fall: fresh breezes, low humidity.

Pack Monadnock

On the one and only hilly hike I tried recently, Pack Monadnock via the Marion Davis Trail, I slipped on a bit of wet ledge and fell on my best-padded feature. I’ll have the bruise for another couple of weeks. It was worth it, just to be back on Pack. Even on a hazy day with a noisy storm approaching – which is what had me zipping downhill too quickly – Pack Monadnock makes for a nice hike.

View of Mount Monadnock from Pack Monadnock with Wapack Trail sign
The view of Monadnock from Pack Monadnock is unimpressive in summer haze. All photos by Ellen Kolb.

Pack Monadnock is in Miller State Park, one of the New Hampshire state parks that is operating under an advance reservation system for parking permits. Yes, COVID restrictions are still with us. I’ve used the reservation system at a few parks since last spring, and after some initial annoyance, I’m OK with it. It rules out spur-of-the-moment trips to certain parks, but there are always other trails to consider.

Close to home

Bench in a forest
The overlook I discovered: peaceful, not flashy.

Closer to home, my favorite nature preserve in town has been a soothing refuge all summer. I recently discovered a little overlook that I somehow hadn’t known about, complete with bench, in a quiet part of the preserve. What does it overlook? A bone-dry stream-bed, that’s what. We’re in a drought. Birches in the preserve have shown their stress by dropping leaves early. The larger ponds and marshes in the preserve are at low water levels, but they’re still full of life.

Dragonfly on log in pond
I sat pondside to watch for herons, and got distracted by the dragonflies.

Beaver Brook, Hollis

I took my own advice and sought out a less-used trailhead at Beaver Brook, where the Jeff Smith Trail meets NH Route 130 in Hollis. I was rewarded with a couple of hours of near-solitude on surprisingly varied trails.

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Maple tree hosting the day’s most dramatic-looking fungus

The mixed hardwoods were no surprise. I loved coming across a meadow with an old cellar hole and a stone wall nearby, dead giveaways that there had once been a farm there. My favorite trail turned out to be one that I hadn’t known about before, through a patch of woods dominated by white pines. Pine needles cushioned my every step.

The breeze in the trees there reminded me of growing up in south Florida, where fifty years ago long-needled Australian pines dominated every local park. Those trees were non-native and invasive, but I didn’t know it at the time; they were just normal trees to me. The memory of the sound of the wind through those long needles has stayed with me. The pines in New Hampshire with their shorter needles play a slightly different tune, just as soothing.

Tiny late-summer pink wildflower in New England
Less than an inch wide and only a few inches above ground, this wildflower caught my eye.

Queen Anne’s lace and goldenrod tried to get my attention, but a tiny pink wildflower beat them both. I don’t know what it’s called. Perhaps it’s something common, but it was new to me: a gift from August.

Summer on the trails

It’s time to dig out my blaze orange gear. My favorite hiking season is at hand. I have no complaints about the season just ended, though. It was a beautiful summer in New Hampshire and beyond.

Mt. Kearsarge, Rollins State Park, Warner

The fire tower on Kearsarge was getting a serious makeover this summer, with heavy mats laid over the trail from Rollins State Park to accommodate construction vehicles. Hikers were still welcome, though. The broad ledgy summit offered its usual fine views.

Mt. Kearsarge summit, NH

view from Mt. Kearsarge summit, Warner NH

Mt. Kearsarge NH fire tower

Mt. Kearsarge fire tower gets a makeover, summer 2019

While I was there in July, a group of kids from a Boys and Girls Club arrived on the summit with their chaperones, having hiked up from the state park on the other side of the mountain. One boy, maybe ten years old, bounded around like a puppy. “Dude! I’ve never been to the top of a mountain before!” I suspect he’ll go in search of more.

North Country trip

Four days of car camping in August brought me to trails in Pittsburg and Jefferson and a few places in between. Ramblewood Campground in Pittsburg (a five-star establishment, in my book) and Percy Lodge and Campground in Stark served as homes-away-from-home.

It’s tough to pick my favorite part of the Cohos Trail. On this trip, though, Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson staked a pretty strong claim. I circled the refuge one sunny afternoon, stringing together several trail and road segments to make an 8-mile loop. Once out of the woods, the view was all about the surrounding peaks: Mt. Martha to my south, the Presidentials to the east, and the Pliny Range to the north. That just might be the most rewarding flat hiking route I’ve found so far in New Hampshire.

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Cherry Pond, Jefferson NH. looking toward Pliny Range.

I didn’t limit this trip to Cohos Trail segments. I discovered Second College Grant, a Dartmouth College property the size of a town, where I enjoyed a serene walk alongside the Dead Diamond River. Another day, perhaps I’ll return for a hike up Diamond Ridge.

From Stark, I took a quick drive to Milan Hill State Park to check out late-afternoon views from the fire tower. Not a hike, but still a treat.

New Boston rail trail

What a difference since my last visit about five years ago. I found the shady New Boston rail trail south of Lang Station upgraded significantly since my last visit. Trail volunteers, take a bow.

New Boston NH rail trail

New Boston rail trail, NH

I walked for the first time north of Lang Station on the trail to the Goffstown line. Very different up that way: a work in progress, or maybe just in the planning stage. I found blowdowns, mud, and at the Goffstown line, an overgrown swath separating the trail from Route 114.

Someday, if a whole lot of things work out just right, the New Boston trail will connect with the Goffstown rail trail, which already connects to the Piscataquog trail in Manchester.

Rhododendron State Park, Fitzwilliam

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Blooming in July at Rhododendron State Park

I think I missed peak bloom at Rhododendron State Park in July, but there were enough blossoms to make the drive to Fitzwilliam worthwhile. The loop trail through the rhododendron grove is shady and not too long.

Actually, this quiet little state park has more to offer than a few weeks of rhododendron blooms. A trail branches off the grove loop, heading up Little Monadnock mountain with its view toward Monadnock. A mile’s walk on a quiet road just outside the park entrance leads to Rockwood Pond and the Cheshire Rail Trail.  This summer, though, I was there for the flowers. I wasn’t disappointed.

Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon: life-list material

My husband and I spent nine too-short days in Utah and Arizona in early September, where I got my first-and-maybe-last look at some of the gems of the national park system:

Zion, where temps in the low hundreds did nothing to dull the scenery…

Zion National Park

Zion National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon, land of the hoodoos, where even a half-moon can’t blot out the stars at night…

Bryce Canyon, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park

and Grand Canyon’s North Rim, far from South Rim’s crowds, where the sheer scale of the canyon left me speechless.

Grand Canyon

View of Grand Canyon from North Rim, Arizona

Along the way – it takes a lot of driving to see all three parks in only a few days – we found some beautiful lesser-known recreational areas: Cedar Breaks and Red Canyon in Utah, and portions of Dixie National Forest in Arizona.

As our return flight descended over the Monadnocks on the way into Manchester, I was happy to see our familiar green hills. This is home. Still, I treasure the awesome sights and beautiful places we saw out west.

Monadnock Region Sampler

A summer Saturday, great weather, and no schedule to keep: this is as good as July gets.

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The blossoms that give Rhododendron State Park its name.

I’ve never managed to get to Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, NH during peak bloom time, which is supposed to be mid-July, give-or-take. Even so, I’ve never had a disappointing trip there. The rhododendron grove is shady and cool, with or without blooms.

I skipped the trail leading from the grove to Little Monadnock Mountain. Instead, after  a walk around the grove, I left the park via Rockwood Road to connect with the Cheshire Rail Trail at Rockwood Pond a little over a mile away.

Rockwood Road

Where the Rhododendron State Park sign points left, Rockwood Road goes right.

Rockwood Road is unpaved but well-maintained, at least in midsummer. I walked the first half-mile with only a barred owl and a few tiger swallowtails for company, which suited me. Beyond that, as I approached the pond, I passed a few houses and was passed by a few very polite drivers.

Last time I saw Rockwood Pond was on a foggy autumn weekday without another soul in sight. This time, there were picnickers at the shore and canoeists on the water. Not much traffic on the rail trail, though. In fact, the only other pedestrians I saw were in the grove at the park. Grove, road, and trail together made a great walking route for me. Bug repellent was useful.

 

Rockwood Pond

Rockwood Pond, Fitzwilliam, NH

A map of the area suggests to me a longer loop hike for some other day: from the trailhead in Rhododendron State Park, go uphill to Little Monadnock; follow the Metacomet-Monadnock trail northward into Troy; turn south on the Cheshire Rail Trail; then turn right (south-southwest) on Rockwood Road to return to the park.

But no long hike for me today. Instead, after my walk I drove to discover a couple of places that were new to me (even though they’re apparently very well known by the rest of the world).

  • I am now a very big fan of Monadnock Berries in Troy, where I picked about three pounds of scrumptious blueberries while enjoying a prime view of Mount Monadnock.
  • The Kimball Farm ice cream stand in Jaffrey was crowded, and I could have done without the smell of fried seafood being served a few windows over. But those are just quibbles. My ice cream cone, allegedly a “mini” portion (but don’t you believe it), was perfect.

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Monadnock and blueberries: a great combination. Photos by Ellen Kolb.

 

Midweek, Mt. Monadnock

When the Forest Society announced its challenge last year, offering a patch for anyone visiting 33 specified Forest Society properties, I jumped on board immediately. Since then, I’ve had great fun discovering some new trails. Others are already familiar – Mt. Monadnock’s trails, for example.

Monadnock State Park is only one piece of the patchwork of ownership on the mountain. The Forest Society has a reservation there as well. For the most Monadnock hikers, borders between properties are imperceptible.

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The view south from Mt. Monadnock’s Halfway House clearing

On a recent visit to Monadnock, my indifferent level of fitness ruled out a summit hike. I settled for an easy walk to the Halfway House clearing, featuring a wonderful view to the south with Gap Mountain foremost.

The well-marked parking lot on NH Route 124 on the south side of the mountain is where to pick up the Halfway House trail and the parallel Old Toll Road path. (Bring $5 for park admission; there’s an iron ranger when the booth is unattended.) The Old Toll Road is a wide, well-drained boulevard with a packed crushed-gravel surface. Uphill, to be sure, but easy. It leads to a tiny patch of private land with an imposing house on it. Past the house, the boulevard becomes a trail: rocks, roots, spring’s inevitable mud. No problem. The Halfway House clearing, named for an inn that once stood there, is less than a 5-minute walk ahead.

Old Toll Road, Spring

Old Toll Road, mid-spring

I looked up to the summit and saw no hikers. That’s unusual, as local hikers will attest. Normally the summit seen from that distance looks like an anthill.

A cool breeze kept the bugs away on the overcast day. I knew I was likely to be rained on any minute. I didn’t care. Solitude on a Monadnock trail is meant to be savored.

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A peek at Monadnock’s summit from the Halfway House clearing

First day hike 2017: Wellington State Park

New Hampshire enjoyed benign weather on New Year’s Day, perfect for a First Day Hike. I headed to Bristol, home of Wellington State Park and the Elwell Trail. No snowshoes needed; the trail was well-packed. Gravity got the best of me a few times despite the YakTrax on my boots, but I fell gently thanks to the snow cover. About sixteen of us were led up the trail by Andrew of the Newfound Lake Region Association.

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Newfound Lake in Bristol, NH, seen from Little Sugarloaf

Our destination was Little Sugarloaf, a modest little peak about a mile and a half from the Wellington parking lot. There were plenty of hikers on the hiking trails and snowmobilers on the snowmobile trails, with cooperation and good cheer all around.

The payoff view: Newfound Lake on a clear and sunny day, with ideal sights and sounds. We watched a pair of bald eagles fly around the islands below us. The snowy peaks of Franconia Notch about 40 miles away were visible. I knew there were snowmobiles all over the lower trails, but I could barely hear them from Little Sugarloaf’s summit.

A few of my more ambitious companions decided to hike on to Sugarloaf, a few hundred feet higher and (I’m told) with much more exposed ledge than Little Sugarloaf. I might check that out some autumn day.

Find maps of the area at newfoundlake.org.

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Happy New Year from the Granite State Walker!

 

October, Pack Monadnock

Columbus Day weekend is wrapping up for the leaf-peepers. Autumn colors are still muted in my area, except for a few specimen trees flashing scarlet. I figured the Monadnocks would be a little showier today. I stole a couple of hours from my schedule this morning and headed to Miller State Park in time for a walk up the auto road before it opened to cars for the day. I actually spent time alone on the summit of Pack Monadnock! A rare treat, that. I thank God for days like this.

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From the Pack Monadnock summit: Mt. Monadnock, about twelve miles away.

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Near the base of the auto road. My guess is that the P on this marker is for Peterborough, one of three towns that can lay claim to part of Pack Monadnock.

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Plenty of colorful foliage over there on North Pack Monadnock.

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When I took my kids to Pack Monadnock when they were little, the first thing they wanted to check from the summit was whether it was “a Boston day,” clear enough to see Beantown’s skyline. Today was a Boston day.

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Bleached by the sun’s glare: the New Boston Air Force Station’s radomes on the left, city of Manchester, New Hampshire on the right.

And here’s the Granite State Walker, offering a chocolate-milk toast to the physical therapist who helped me get my knee back into shape this year.me-on-pack-monadnock