A visit to Madame Sherri’s place

With a car and several hours at my disposal this weekend, I decided to head out to New Hampshire’s southwestern corner for a visit to the Madame Sherri forest in Chesterfield. I average about one hike there per decade. Believe me, it rates more. Only my distance from the area keeps me from more frequent visits.


The castle staircase: a signature spot in Madame Sherri Forest.

And who is the Madame Sherri who left us with the remnants of a castle? The Forest Society tells you all about it on a page that includes important information about the trails on the property.

I was a little concerned when I arrived at the trailhead and found the parking area filled and the roadside lined with “no parking” signs. I managed to find a tiny spot that accommodated my tiny car. Here’s a tip: the kiosk at the far side of the parking lot has a little notice card informing visitors that overflow parking is available a short distance up the dead-end road across from the trailhead. Too bad the sign can’t be seen from the road, but I’ll remember the parking arrangements for next time.

Once on the trails, I crossed three bridges over dry streambeds. The area’s drought is not easing. All the more remarkable, then, that wildflowers continue to bloom. I love the icy-blue asters still flowering.

Indian Pond may be lower than usual, but it’s still a beautiful spot.


Indian Pond, Chesterfield, New Hampshire.

And then there’s the castle, which rates a respectful nod at each visit. Imagine what the full structure must have looked like in its glory days. The kiosk at the parking area actually has some good photos and historical information about the site.

I picked a wonderful day for a drive, with Monadnock dominating the scene between Dublin and Keene. I had actually planned to make several stops yesterday: Madame Sherri, Gap Mountain, and a short visit to Monadnock’s lower slope. Once in Chesterfield, though, I decided to enjoy the forest. More trail time, less car time. I don’t regret the decision.


The Granite State Walker at Madame Sherri’s castle.

Hint of fall


Goffstown, New Hampshire. The “W” is a mystery to me. Ellen Kolb photo.

This has been a summer of drought in southern New Hampshire. The heat seems exaggerated. Even the weeds are beginning to show signs of stress. Today, though, a few yellow beech leaves drifted down in front of me as I walked on the Goffstown rail trail – reminding me that summer’s end is in sight.

Will the fall foliage be affected by the drought? I don’t know. Even if the usual brilliance is dimmed, fall will be my favorite season with its crisp air. Today’s hint – those few leaves lazily dropping along my way – was enough to make me realize that my favorite time of year is almost here.

National Parks: an anniversary to celebrate

I’m told that today is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Huzzah! I treasure my trips to the gems of the park system. This is my little thank-you note to the NPS team.

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Acadia National Park, Maine.

I love Acadia, and I love it even more in the off-season. Best trip there I ever had was on a blustery, showery October weekend when I had the carriage trails practically to myself.


Acadia’s carriage trails get heavy use in the summertime, but October finds them quiet and inviting.

When I visited Yellowstone, bison greeted me as soon as I crossed into the park on Route 20. My one trip was during a week before Memorial Day – a shoulder season, post-winter and pre-summer, with no traffic jams. A week is too short a visit; there’s so much to see, and choices must be made. I felt the same way after seeing Yosemite.

last look at Yellowstone river

Geysers are all well and good, but be sure to get away from Old Faithful to find the Yellowstone River.


A springtime visit means seeing the bison calves – from a distance. I was safely in a car when taking this photo.

Grand Geyser

Grand Geyser is more impressive than Old Faithful and draws smaller crowds. I loved it.

It wouldn’t have occurred to me to visit Grand Teton National Park if I hadn’t gone to Yellowstone. On a map, Grand Teton looks like an afterthought compared to its imposing neighbor to the north. It’s a marvel in its own right.

view from Colter Bay GTNP

The Teton range from across Colter Bay Village. The summits were in cloud throughout my trip.

atop Signal Mountain looking east

Another side of Grand Teton NP: looking east from Signal Mountain.


I like my local hikes just fine. They’re affordable, for one thing, while a trip to any national park farther away than Acadia is a bit of a reach for me. I’m glad I’ve done some reaching, though. We have treasures out there.

A pair of real Granite State walkers

How many miles have I walked this year? A couple of hundred, if my journal is accurate, averaging a measly couple of dozen each month. Well, my knee hurt for awhile. The weather wasn’t always nice. I was busy. Blah, blah, blah … and just think, I fancy myself the Granite State Walker.


The last few yards of a 200+ mile walk.

Today, I met a couple of real Granite State walkers. Wendy Thomas and Griffin Nozell, mother and son, just finished walking the length of New Hampshire, beginning at the Canadian border in Pittsburg and ending today in Nashua at the Massachusetts state line. They chose road walking rather than trail hiking, and in the process they built an online community that cheered them on all the way.

I joined Wendy and Griffin for the last couple of miles of their trip, just to meet them. I’d been following their travels via their Facebook group, Border-to-Border New Hampshire.


Wendy Thomas and Griffin Nozell, at the end of their border-to-border walk.

Thanks, Wendy and Griffin, for your fine company and conversation! I especially loved sharing impressions of Pittsburg, where they found the same warmth and hospitality that have made all my hikes up there so memorable.

They tell their own story better than I can. Link to Wendy’s blog, Lessons Learned From the Flock, for her introduction to their journey. The title of her post includes an important clue: “…because we can.” She has chronic Lyme disease, as does Griffin.

Griffin and I have moderate Lyme related arthritis, along with other orthopedic conditions – which can sometimes make even walking difficult.

But we’re not a family known for throwing in any towels.

Last year when Griffin and I were talking about personal challenges I mentioned that we should climb all of New Hampshire’s 4K+ mountains. We looked at a map of NH’s mountains, sighed and realized that with our joints, that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

“Well we could walk New Hampshire instead,” I volunteered.

And with that simple suggestion the idea of a Border-to-Border New Hampshire walk was hatched.

The Lyme-related arthritis was not in evidence today. Both of the walkers might have had sore joints and blisters, but their pace was steady and no one was limping. It was a day of sunshine and good humor. I was glad to see that friends bearing flowers and sushi were waiting for them at the state line.

And you know what? It turns out that Wendy and I are neighbors. We live in the same town, about a mile apart. We didn’t meet until today.

Wendy plans to write up her travel notes for her blog, entitling the first post “Spoiler Alert.” She’ll have observations and insights different from those of someone hiking off-road. I urge you to head over to Lessons Learned From the Flock to read more about the border-to-border hike.

Griffin and Wendy have left me feeling inspired and encouraged to plod on, sore knees and all, always discovering more things to love about our Granite State.

Summer drive: Benson’s etc.

Hot day, feeling sluggish, mulling over a list of places to go: I finally just got in the car and started driving. Cue George Harrison’s Any Road.


Along the Haselton Farms trail in Benson Park

Zipping through Rt. 111 in Hudson enroute to yet another Forest Society property (I’ll get that patch if it kills me), I realized that I was near Benson Park. I hadn’t been on the property in years – since it was Benson’s Wild Animal Farm, in fact. I made a quick detour, found the park, and walked a good three miles on its trails and paths. The trails I chose weren’t crowded, even with a couple of Pokémon Go groups intent on doing whatever it is they do.

Download a trail map before you go. I settled for taking a photo of the map at a kiosk on site. Kids, don’t try this at home; batteries are fickle friends.

The history of the property is available on the Town of Hudson web site. Indulge me as I recount a grossly oversimplified version:  once upon a time in the town of Hudson, New Hampshire, there was an amusement park called Benson’s Wild Animal Farm. We Of A Certain Age can recall bringing our families there once a year for the annual Sanders company outing, back when Hudson seemed to me way-the-heck-out-there.


Several small gardens in Benson Park can serve as shady spots for lunch.

(I have since walked to the Canadian border, where I adjusted my notions of what in New Hampshire constitutes way-the-heck-out-there.)

The Finer Minds at the state capital decided that a Circumferential Highway would ease all of Nashua’s traffic problems. (I hear you tittering over there in the back.) The Benson’s property was bought up by the state to mitigate the expected loss of wetlands for the highway project. Years passed, and the Circumferential Highway project quietly expired, leaving only exit 2 off the Everett Turnpike to remember it by. Eventually, the Finer Minds released the Benson’s property to the town of Hudson.

More years passed, many people put enormous efforts into rehabilitating the property, and Benson’s Park is now a Hudson jewel with a playground, dog park, memorials, and a trail network. The longest single trail, Haselton Farm, is about two and a half miles long; many shorter ones allow for extended hikes.


Not your typical trail feature.

On the Haselton Farm trail, some of the pavement remains from the Wild Animal Farm days, and the occasional sewer-access cover along the way serves as a reminder that this used to be a more developed area. On this 90-degree summer day, the trail was wonderfully shady, and a light breeze made bug repellent unnecessary.

This was the best spur-of-the-moment stop I’ve made in a long time. It’s great fun to find a place like this fairly close to home. I’ll be back.


9/11 memorial at Benson Park, featuring a beam from the World Trade Center.


I left Benson’s and stopped at the Bockes Memorial Forest just a few miles away before hunting down a pair of historical markers in Salem and Hampstead. Only short walks at each of these stops.

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Last stop was at an old friend of a place, the rail trail near Lake Massabesic in Manchester and Auburn, where I found everything I needed: shade and breeze and views of the lake.


Lake Massabesic 

May you enjoy some shady hikes of your own this summer!

Forest Society invites all to discover NH

Call it the Society for Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the SPNHF, or the simpler Forest Society: however you say it, here’s an organization that wants to show off its holdings. The payoff for you and me: a patch. I’m a sucker for patches. My favorite in-state patch so far is the Tower Quest from the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands (earning that one was great fun!), but the Forest Society is tempting me with a patch of its own.


The Granite State Walker at the Merrimack River near Forest Society’s HQ in Concord, NH

The Forest Reservation Challenge involves visiting 33 of the Forest Society’s New Hampshire holdings. No deadline that I can see, which is a good thing, since the 33 holdings are scattered all over the Granite State. These things take time. For all of us with either limited time or a limited budget for gas, there’s a “Tier 2” challenge: visit several properties in one region of the state, plus answer questions about each property. Alas, selfies are involved, which is a mild annoyance for those of us who are not photogenic (I illustrate this post with Exhibit A). That’s how the good folks at the Forest Society know that we’re not just using old photos from our friends’ collections.

The Forest Society’s web site explains the challenge in full. I’m going to give it a try. You may find, as I’m discovering, that some Forest Society lands are actually fairly close to home. Some may be close to routes you already travel regularly. I’m looking forward to re-visiting some favorite spots and discovering new ones.

Whether I earn the patch or not, I’m going to have fun on the trails.