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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.

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