First Day Hike 2016: Hollis


Woodmont Orchard, Hollis NH, New Year’s Day.

The New Hampshire state parks people added Silver Lake State Park to the list of locations for guided First Day hikes, and I think this one’s a keeper. The state park abuts town conservation land with trails maintained by the local snowmobile club. With the area’s first measurable snowfall of the season having fallen just a few days ago, boots were all the equipment I needed to join the fun. I left in the car every accessory except my camera and a map, and spent an hour on trails I’d never visited.



I didn’t even mind the snowmobile that passed me at one point. It would have been churlish of me to object to the exhaust fumes when people like the sled’s cheerful and careful driver maintain the trail I was on.

Days like this remind me why I started this blog. Silver Lake State Park is where I used to take my kids swimming when they were little, and I thought the lake itself was all there was to it. Today, after living in the area for a whole lotta years, I discovered new trails in what I thought was a familiar place.

New Hampshire is really a tiny slice of the republic, and the southern tier is even tinier. Yet here in what looks like an insubstantial part of the map are parks and trails that most New Hampshire visitors and even some residents will never see. Every year, I find something new: a little trail connecting two urban parks, country roads with drivers who don’t mind sharing the pavement with pedestrians, a Hollis trail connecting Silver Lake with Woodmont Orchard. I want to drink it all in and come back for more.


Pawtuckaway, Round Pond Road

The snowless days are ending; I’ll be shoveling my driveway in just a few days, if the forecast holds. This was my last chance to visit some nearby trails before winter conditions set in. I had planned to walk up a hill with a pretty view, but decided at the last minute to stick to level paths. I went to Pawtuckaway State Park and explored the northwest corner of the park via Reservation Road and Round Pond Road.


Reservation Road in Pawtuckaway State Park, December 26, soon to be snow-covered.


North Mountain seen from Round Pond Road. This must be a wonderful birding spot at dawn and dusk.


I don’t know what agency or company owns this odd square-shaped antenna on North Mountain. 


Round Pond, harshly lit on a brilliant sunny day. The pond is about two and a half miles from where I parked on Reservation Road.


A side trail off Round Pond Road leads to the Boulder Field, where the woods are full of large glacial erratics. Dozens of rock climbers were nearby practicing their craft.


I heard a pileated woodpecker hammering away on my way to the pond, and saw this (but no woodpecker) on my return walk.




Cheshire County drive

I spent this foggy and snowless December day driving from the Merrimack River to the Connecticut River and back, stopping for walks now and then. Visibility was too limited to make a mountain hike worthwhile, but rail trails and roadside parks made for fine stops.


Rockwood Pond, Fitzwilliam NH

I chose a short segment between the nicely-restored depot in Troy and Rockwood Pond in Fitzwilliam – a round trip of just over four miles on a wide, straight trail. Conditions were fine. The only sounds were from birds and my own steps. No ice or snow, just a bit of mud on the southern half of the walk. I’m told that on a clear day there’s a splendid view of Mount Monadnock from the shore of Rockwood Pond. I thought this morning’s fog on the pond made for a pretty good view on its own.


No one else in sight, and hardly a sound besides birdsong.

Swanzey was next, and I managed to work a pair of the town’s famed covered bridges into my route. Pleasant as they were, the most exciting sight of the day was a bald eagle I spotted as I was driving. (No photo. Why couldn’t it have come into sight while I was walking?)


Thompson Bridge in Swanzey, complete with sidewalk. 


In New Hampshire, where there’s a river, odds are there used to be mills.


Ashuelot River seen from Thompson Bridge. The Ashuelot rail trail is nearby.

The village of Ashuelot is in Winchester, my next stop. It has a covered bridge of its own. The rail trail goes by an abandoned RR depot that looks pretty sorry after the cheery little depot in Troy. The “no trespassing” signs all over the place don’t help.


Bridge in the village of Ashuelot, Winchester NH

After business in Brattleboro, Vermont – the main purpose of my trip – I took the more-or-less direct route back east, along New Hampshire routes 9 and 101. I stopped for a half hour at Chesterfield Gorge,  a small roadside state park on  route 9.


Enjoy Chesterfield Gorge with just a three-quarter-mile loop walk from the parking area.


Wilde Brook, which cuts Chesterfield Gorge.

The ride home took me past Monadnock, invisible in the persistent fog. It’s strange to look across Dublin Lake and know the mountain is right there yet out of sight.

As the photos show, this is a very mild late autumn. In a fit of irrational exuberance, I almost tossed sandals in the car before I left home. Good thing I refrained; there was just enough mud and chill to make me glad I wore sensible shoes.


Clock shift

Daylight Savings Time is over, cutting into my late-day trail time. All I ask is just enough daylight to enjoy a leaf-covered trail without twisting my ankle.

So far, so good. I’m sharing Horse Hill with lots of neighbors who are trying to fit some outdoor time between work and dinner, including a fair number of mountain bikers. The preserve is large enough that I don’t feel at all crowded, even when the parking lot’s full.


Parking lot: full. Trail: all clear. Horse Hill Nature Preserve, New Hampshire.


My favorite tree along the way. It’s survived some rough weather in recent years.


It’s been a dry autumn. I barely needed the bridge to cross this little stream.

Exceptional autumn – and a winter hike is already on my schedule

November’s here in southern New Hampshire, and foliage season goes on. Scarlet’s gone, but gold and bronze persist. Autumns like this make winters like the last one worth enduring. The trees in my yard are one stiff windstorm away from being stripped, but for now the leaves are dropping lazily.


Already, New Hampshire State Parks has announced its slate of First Day hikes for January 1, 2016. Silver Lake in Hollis has been added to the usual venues: Monadnock, Weeks (please, someone up north go enjoy that one for me!), and Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion Historic Site. I like my New Year’s Day options: a First Day hike, the Peanut Chip Chase 5k in Temple, or something else that might occur to me the day before.

But that’s two whole months away. For now, autumn.


Another NH rail trail link completed: Manchester-Goffstown

The Singer family's behind many philanthropic efforts in the Manchester area. It's fitting that the bridge carries the Singer name.

The Singer family’s behind many philanthropic efforts in the Manchester area. It’s fitting that the bridge carry the Singer name.

New Hampshire’s Piscataquog Rail Trail finally reaches across the Piscataquog River, connecting Manchester with Goffstown. I put off some workday tasks long enough to walk the trail from its east end all the way across the new bridge. With all due respect and gratitude to the many people who made the project happen (Manchester Moves and the Singer family, for starters), I didn’t stay for the ribbon-cutting and speechifyin’. Trails are for walking.

On the Manchester side, looking toward Goffstown, at long last.

On the Manchester side, looking toward Goffstown, at long last.

On the Goffstown side.

On the Goffstown side.

I call this right neighborly.

I call this right neighborly.

It was a good morning to walk along the trail all the way to the Merrimack River flowing past Manchester’s millyard. It’s mid-autumn and the foliage might be considered past peak, but it’s still beautiful as far as I’m concerned.

Second Street bridge, near east end of Piscataquog Rail Trail.

Second Street bridge, near east end of Piscataquog Rail Trail.

The Queen City: Manchester, New Hampshire.

The Queen City: Manchester, New Hampshire.

Familiar and fresh

Saturday, and another nine miles on a very familiar path. I’m reminded again that I’m no photographer, especially when my camera is an afterthought on a mobile device. My pictures are generic New Hampshire foliage shots – but each one is of a spot I’ve seen in all seasons for more than a decade now, on unhurried walks like this one.

Unkety Brook, Dunstable MA

Unkety Brook, Dunstable MA; osprey nest atop tree at right

When the Nashua River Rail Trail opened in 2002, an osprey nest was visible from the bridge over Unkety Brook. I look for it every year. It has taken a beating, and after one storm – was it the Halloween snowstorm of 2011? – it looked destroyed. Two springs later, the osprey were back.

Unkety Brook, Dunstable MA

Unkety Brook, Dunstable MA

There’s a farm field bordering Unkety Brook on the north side. Nothing but corn stubble remains from this year’s crop, visible as the whitish ground cover in the center left of the photo above. Most years, I see butternut squash or pumpkins in that field, but this time it was corn. We had a very dry summer, and Unkety looked low in July and August. The water level looks better heading into fall.

Nashua River Rail Trail, Pepperell MA

Nashua River Rail Trail, Pepperell MA

The glaring sun reminded me all afternoon that it would have been a good idea to wear a visor. No doubt that it’s autumn, though: the sun was much lower than at the same hour even a month ago, and it was fleece-pullover weather. The leaves on the trees edging the trail, as opposed to the trees along the nearby river and brooks, haven’t even begun to turn.

Nashua River, East Pepperell MA

Nashua River, East Pepperell MA

I have an AMC River Guide from 1978, more useful at this point for history than for navigation. About the Nashua River in Pepperell, the writers fretted: “From [Groton] to East Pepperell, the river is not attractive, as the increase in water level has flooded swampland and killed the trees.” Much has changed in 30-plus years, and the area upstream from the modest little dam in Pepperell is now in my opinion the loveliest part of the river.

Certain ceremonies must be observed: Columbus Day weekend marks season’s end for the ice cream stand in Pepperell near the rail trail, and I observed the occasion with a small-not-small dish of Moosetracks. No photo. Trust me – it was splendid.