Autumn afternoon

As a pedestrian, I like to take advantage of the auto road up Pack Monadnock in Miller State Park during off-hours, when the gate is closed to auto traffic. Sometimes I’d just rather reach the summit on smooth pavement instead of using the trails in the woods. I recently made the trip as late afternoon was shading into evening.

Miller State Park auto road (Pack Monadnock), late October. Photos by Ellen Kolb.

The road’s uphill grade gave me a bit of a workout, even at my modest pace. I’m discovering that a pair of trekking poles can be helpful to me no matter how smooth the terrain. My poles and I made it to the picnic area at the summit about 35 minutes after leaving the parking lot, covering a bit under a mile and a half of road with 700 feet of elevation gain.

Mount Monadnock seen from Pack Monadnock

Gold and bronze leaves caught the setting sun and made the woods glow.

The Boston skyline was lost in haze, except for one of the Back Bay skyscrapers situated at just the right angle to reflect the sun’s rays. It was probably the glassy Hancock building, which I know has a different name now – but it will always be the Hancock building to me.

Mount Monadnock – the Grand Monadnock – is only a few miles away. The view of it from the picnic area at the summit of Pack Monadnock is almost clich├ęd; everyone takes a photo from the same spot. I’m no exception. The colors of the sky vary with the season and the time of day. Sometimes the view is hazy and sometimes it’s crystal clear. However many pictures I’ve taken there, no two are identical.

New Hampshire historical marker number 270, Miller State Park, Pack Monadnock summit

I love finding historical markers on my walks, and there’s a new one atop Pack Monadnock in honor of Miller State Park. Almost all of the New Hampshire markers are placed along state highways, but this one rated a special spot. Route 101 gets you to the park, but you’ll have to drive or hike to the summit to see the marker.

I got to the park too late in the day to join the autumn raptor migration count that takes place on Pack Monadnock daily, sponsored by New Hampshire Audubon and the Harris Center in Hancock. It’s a fascinating event that’s definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area this time of year. Bring the kids!

The park’s $4 admission fee is a bargain. I put my donation in an envelope and dropped it in the iron ranger, which is a donation box visitors can use when there’s no attendant on duty. For visits during the park’s regular hours, I advise checking the New Hampshire State Parks website first; reservations might be advisable on busy days.

Several of the state parks have auto roads to featured vistas, and they each make for a pleasant drive. My favorite way to enjoy those roads, though, is on foot in the early morning or late afternoon, when the gate is closed and there are no cars around. Autumn with its moderate weather is prime time for a visit.

Construction this spring at Miller State Park

A favorite tactic of mine for enjoying Pack Monadnock without crowds is going to Miller State Park midweek. That option will be on hold for awhile this spring, as major work on utility infrastructure in the park will begin in April. Read on the New Hampshire State Parks website about the project and its schedule.

Access to trails and the auto road will be limited at various times.

I won’t complain much about the inconvenience. As a southern New Hampshire resident, I benefit from assorted utilities and modes of communication whose infrastructure needs to be set up on hills. At the same time, I appreciate the fact that such set-ups are subject to public hearings and environmental considerations.

It’s a good idea to check out the state parks website before heading to any state park. A few are retaining a reservation system for parking, first established to manage last year’s COVID crowds. A few miles away from Miller and Pack Monadnock, Monadnock State Park requires a reservation AND a $15 parking fee (ouch!), which covers up to 6 people per vehicle. Know before you go.

Wapack Trail sign, mountain, New Hampshire
View of Mt. Monadnock from Pack Monadnock in Miller State Park. Ellen Kolb photo.

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.

Large maple tree hosting large fungus, mushroom, located in New England
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.

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.

boston-skyline-cropped

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

NH fire towers: always worth a hike

The architecture of fire towers is pretty simple, stark and functional. With the exception of the glorious stone tower at Weeks State Park, they all look pretty much the same, distinguished only by the number of antennae and dishes attached. But oh, the wonderful hikes I’ve had to each one of these towers … with more to come.

Pack Monadnock via Raymond Trail

The view from Pack Monadnock’s summit was a treat even on this cloudy day. I hiked up via the Raymond Trail for the first time. The score is Ledge 1, Hiker 0 after a slight slip on the way down, and I keep a first aid kit in my pack for just such occasions. The hike was otherwise uneventful. Rocky stretches, but not as ledgy as the Wapack Trail up the mountain. Unlike the Wapack and Marion Davis trails, Raymond Trail doesn’t start from the Miller State Park parking lot. It goes up the west side of the mountain from a trailhead on East Mountain Road that has parking for three cars (maybe four in a pinch).

Coming from Manchester via NH 101: drive west through Milford, Wilton, and Temple. Take a right at Mountain Road, about 0.2 mile past the Miller State Park entrance. Mountain Road becomes East Mountain Road. The trailhead is on the right, about a mile off of 101.