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Friday, February 28, 2014

Laura's Tower and Ice Glen

An arctic blast of air came rushing into our area last night and knocked temperatures back to mid winter levels, making it feel like mid January instead of three weeks from spring.  Bright, sunny skies drew me out, however, for some hiking in the Berkshires.  Headed over to Stockbridge to do a cluster of trails maintained by the Laurel Hill Association.  Laura's Tower, Ice Glen and the Mary V Flynn Trail provide several different walks totaling a bit over 3 miles total.  
 Initially the trail starts at a beautiful bridge crossing over the Housatonic River.  It is a lovely stone arch and steel suspension bridge that was built in 1936 by a local architect.
The trail crosses railroad tracks and immediately begins to climb into the woods.  The woods here are mostly comprised of pines in this section of the trail. The bright sun was shining through any open areas.
 At a split in the trail, a left takes you steeply up the slopes of the hillside to the tower.  The forest canopy keeps it fairly dark through this section.
 Nearing the tower area, the trail opens up to a large area of hardwood trees and becomes noticeably lighter.
 Birch trees become prominent in this section.
 After less than a mile climb, the 30 foot tower becomes visible.  Not a true summit, the tower sits upon one of the many small peaks of Beartown Mountain at an elevation of 1465 feet.
 The climb up the 30 foot stairwell is very steep.
 Once atop the tower, there are remarkable views to the west and decent views north and east while views south are blocked by the treeline.  Here is a view west with Tom Ball Mountain to the far left and West Stockbridge Mountain rising in the distance to the right.
 West Stockbridge Mountain can be seen about 5 miles away towering over the valley below.
 From the tower, the trail can be seen below through a sea of oaks, red maples, birch, cherry and ash trees.
 To the northeast rise the hills of October Mountain State Forest.
 A closer look at the Stockbridge countryside.
The First Congregational Church of Stockbridge can be seen clearly along Main Street.

 After a short walk back down the steep trail off Laura's Tower, I turned at the fork in the trail and proceeded on the Ice Glen Trail.  It is a fairly short walk to the mouth of this amazing spot.  One immediately notices that each side of the trail is flanked with towering white pines and eastern hemlocks as well as enormous boulders.
 Continuing on the jumbled trail through boulders the size of small houses there is a sense that you are so very small.  The towering trees are amazing as well.  The oldest hemlocks in this area are over 300 years old.
 I paused for this photo to illustrate the sheer size of some of the boulders strewn about the glen.
 Deep crevices that go at least 10-15 feet deep can be seen all along the trail between the boulders.
 One cannot help but be in awe at just how majestic this spot is.
 This is actually a fun trail but one must be vigilant about watching their footing climbing over and between boulders, while still enjoying the 150 foot white pines all around you.  The glen itself is only about a quarter mile long, but it is such an amazing spot that you cannot help but linger.
 After completing both of these trails, I decided to take the 1.2 mile round trip Mary V Flynn Trail.  This is a flat trail built in 2003 that runs between the railroad tracks and the Housatonic River.
 Most of the Housatonic River is free of ice, with the exception of some of the colder, shadowed parts.
 The trail is almost completely straight and level the entire way with several benches for resting along the way.
 The Housatonic River flows gently along the entire trail.  Across the river in this section are the backyards of local homeowners.
 I could even hear the sounds of chickens and roosters from this house across the river.
 This dog was barking like crazy from across the river.  His barking followed me for a short distance even after he was no longer visible.
 The late afternoon sun cast long shadows through the trees on the return trip.
Although cold(temps in the teens, wind chills close to zero), I kept warm with appropriate clothing and made for a very nice day in the Berkshires.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dyken Pond

My father and I headed out to Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center on yet another cold winter day.  Dyken Pond, at 180 acres, is the largest lake on the Rensselaer Plateau as well as the headwaters for the Poestenkill Creek. The Center sits on nearly 600 acres of land in the towns of Grafton, Poestenkill and Berlin.   We took a short walk onto the frozen lake and didn't appear to be seeing any signs of recent ice fishing action.
Much of the woodlands at the Center are a mix of Birch-Maple Mesic Forest as well as a Hemlock-Northern Hardwood Forest.  The broken in trails made for mostly easy walking, although off trail the snow remains over a foot deep.
Along small streams and brooks there are usually lots of signs of animal tracks.  We tracked a grey fox into this area by Otter Cove.
There was some open water in the Otter Cove section.
We kept a watchful eye open for signs of animal tracks in the woods.
My dad was having trouble keeping his ice cleats tied down to his boots.
We tracked a lot of red squirrels and even a couple of Fishers.
Along the Mary McFalls Historic Trail is an area known as the Sentinals, a pair of massive glacial erratic boulders.
A bit further down the trail, we came across an area where there was much animal activity. There was even a small dug out shelter several feet away near a foot bridge.
Dustin Swamp, a large wetland, is located on the southern end of the property.
The trail skirts the outside of Dustin Swamp offering nice views and opportunities to see wildlife.
There is a very nice lean-to along the white marked Long Trail.
The lean-to affords a nice rustic, shelter from the weather.  It can be especially nice to find, when out in a  downpour or strong winds.
Lean-to's are popular in the Adirondacks, Catskills and along sections of the Appalachian Trail.  This was a nicely built lean-to with an outhouse about 50 yards away in the woods.
A line of snow squalls came moving through as we walked out onto the boardwalk near Dustin Swamp.  We saw some mink tracks on some of the ice, heading into the woods.
As we got back to the truck, the snow continued to fall.  It didn't amount to a lot, but just enough to coat everything white.
Overall, we walked about 1.75 miles altogether.  It felt great to get out into the woods, even with a cold, windy, snowy day.  I truly appreciate the opportunity to get out with my dad and soak in his wildlife knowledge.  Always a pleasure.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Lake Taghkanic State Park

Bright, sunny skies and unrelenting cold were the big stories for today's hike at Lake Taghkanic State Park in Ancram, NY.  A popular park and lake in the Taconic Region of NY, it has plenty to offer with over 10 miles of hiking trails, two beaches, playgrounds, basketball courts, playing fields, a nature center, cabins for rent just to name a few.
Formerly known as Lake Charlotte, it was renamed Lake Taghkanic when the land was donated to the state.
I hiked the Lakeside Trail, which basically runs the perimeter of the lake for a total of 4 miles.  
The trail offers almost non stop views of the beautiful 156 acre frozen lake.  
A view of the cabins on the far shore that are available to be rented.
The late February sun was doing its best to warm things up, but the biting northwest winds kept the windchill in the single digits.
Although it was a cold weekday afternoon, I was still surprised to not see any ice fisherman on the lake.
There are several benches and picnic tables throughout the trail offering the hiker a chance to relax and enjoy their surroundings.
This deer seemed very at ease as I approached.  I took several steps closer to get a better photo.
When he still didn't get spooked, I ambled in even closer to about 25 yards away and took a very nice photo.  As I began walking again, he quickly fled.
Through the trees and far beyond the lake, rise the breathtaking Catskills.
Most of the trail was compact, crust, frozen snow, so walking was fairly easy and made snow shoes unnecessary.
Most of the trail is pleasant walking along the shoreline with only a couple of difficult sections to navigate near wetlands.
The Lakeside Trail actually follows a gravel access road for a short distance near the cabins.
There is a row of cabins available for renting.  They sit up on a lawn, about 30 yards from the lake shore.
As the sun began its descent, I neared the end of the hike. The trail literally crosses the lawn in front of the cabins here.
A beautiful sunset was the perfect end to a nice day hike.  This is the sun setting behind the Catskill Mountains from a parking area off the Taconic Parkway.
The last of the sun's rays fading beyond the horizon.
I had a chill from the bitter winds, but 4 miles after a full day of work made for a perfect day hike.