Monadnock Region Sampler

A summer Saturday, great weather, and no schedule to keep: this is as good as July gets.

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The blossoms that give Rhododendron State Park its name.

I’ve never managed to get to Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, NH during peak bloom time, which is supposed to be mid-July, give-or-take. Even so, I’ve never had a disappointing trip there. The rhododendron grove is shady and cool, with or without blooms.

I skipped the trail leading from the grove to Little Monadnock Mountain. Instead, after  a walk around the grove, I left the park via Rockwood Road to connect with the Cheshire Rail Trail at Rockwood Pond a little over a mile away.

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Where the Rhododendron State Park sign points left, Rockwood Road goes right.

Rockwood Road is unpaved but well-maintained, at least in midsummer. I walked the first half-mile with only a barred owl and a few tiger swallowtails for company, which suited me. Beyond that, as I approached the pond, I passed a few houses and was passed by a few very polite drivers.

Last time I saw Rockwood Pond was on a foggy autumn weekday without another soul in sight. This time, there were picnickers at the shore and canoeists on the water. Not much traffic on the rail trail, though. In fact, the only other pedestrians I saw were in the grove at the park. Grove, road, and trail together made a great walking route for me. Bug repellent was useful.

 

Rockwood Pond

Rockwood Pond, Fitzwilliam, NH

A map of the area suggests to me a longer loop hike for some other day: from the trailhead in Rhododendron State Park, go uphill to Little Monadnock; follow the Metacomet-Monadnock trail northward into Troy; turn south on the Cheshire Rail Trail; then turn right (south-southwest) on Rockwood Road to return to the park.

But no long hike for me today. Instead, after my walk I drove to discover a couple of places that were new to me (even though they’re apparently very well known by the rest of the world).

  • I am now a very big fan of Monadnock Berries in Troy, where I picked about three pounds of scrumptious blueberries while enjoying a prime view of Mount Monadnock.
  • The Kimball Farm ice cream stand in Jaffrey was crowded, and I could have done without the smell of fried seafood being served a few windows over. But those are just quibbles. My ice cream cone, allegedly a “mini” portion (but don’t you believe it), was perfect.
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Monadnock and blueberries: a great combination. Photos by Ellen Kolb.

 

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When the temps hit 100…

My state is having its annual heat wave. My car’s thermometer registered 104° today. It’s hot enough to make me forget for a few days that icy driveways are only a few months away. It’s even hot enough to make an indoor treadmill look appealing. But I found a good place for a half-hour walk today: a rail trail under a nice shady canopy of trees.

Summer day Goffstown rail trail

The Goffstown rail trail was my destination today. You might have a shady refuge just like it near you. Packed sand underfoot, trees overhead, river nearby. Restful and cool, until the trail crossed a power line cut and the shade disappeared for a hundred yards or so.

From the trail’s bridge over the Piscataquog River, I could see a couple of kayakers who were no doubt in for a whopping case of sunburn. Still, the river was their refuge from the heat, so good for them.

Piscataquog from Singer bridge

As I turned around at the bridge to return to my car, a smiling bicyclist flew past me. She called back to me over her shoulder, “isn’t this a glorious day?”

Yes, it was.

More ideas: Five years ago, I made a list of five of my favorite southern New Hampshire hot-weather hikes

GSW rail trail photos in latest edition of New England Antiques Journal

Treat yourself to this article by Brian Roche in the latest edition of New England Antiques Journal: Bridging the Gap Between Past and Present: The Preservation and Repurposing of Historic Railroad BridgesIn one of the sidebars, you’ll see some pictures familiar to longtime readers of Granite State Walker.

Hands Across the Merrimack (and Manchester)

Hands Across the Merrimack bridge, Manchester NH

I was surprised and pleased to get a call a few months ago from Mr. Roche, a freelance writer. While researching the rail bridge article, he came across this blog and its posts about the Hands Across the Merrimack bridge in Manchester. He kindly sought permission to use some of my photos.

The resulting article features photos of several northeastern bridges of striking beauty. I’m honored that a few of my photos made the cut.

Mr. Roche spelled my name correctly in his text; it was left to a magazine editor to misspell it in the sidebar. But to err is human, and to publish photos of a New Hampshire treasure is divine.

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Second Street bridge, just west of Hands Across the Merrimack Bridge, along the Pisacataquog trail.

 

A short stop at Winant Park, Concord

I love these little discoveries that leave me wondering how did I not find this place sooner: this week, it was Winant Park in Concord, near St. Paul’s School. I’d seen it listed on the city’s map of area trails, but had never managed to find time for a visit until recently.

My first attempt at a visit ended quickly due to ice on the trail, as seen in the photo below. A few spring-like February days later, I returned and enjoyed 45 good minutes in the woods.

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Winant Park trailhead in Concord on an icy day. The bridge deck was clear just a few days later, after a February thaw.

Piles of snow edged the parking lot and some stretches of trail, but a warm week had melted a great deal of snow and left the trails muddy. There were a few other cars in the trailhead parking lot, which is easy to find on Fisk Road just off Pleasant Street.

The park is wooded, with a pair of vistas I enjoyed: a view featuring the State House dome (a view obviously preserved with diligent tree-trimming) and a view of the hills and low mountains to the south and southwest. A kiosk at the trailhead and informational signs along the trails offer information about the park’s history. The trail network is simple and well-marked.

Winant Park SSW overlook

View from a hill in Winant Park (l-r): the Lyndeborough hills, Crotched Mountain, and Monadnock peeking out from behind Crotched’s ski area.

This is an urban park, with “urban” being relative; we’re talking Concord here, not Boston. It’s not a destination park like Monadnock or Pawtuckaway. It’s an easy stop for anyone in or near Concord, though, and it’s a fine place for a quiet walk in the woods. Make a point of finding that southwestern vista, which might not be so visible once the trees leaf out.

In kindness to the trails and their maintainers, I’ll wait until mud season is over before I pay another visit here. But I will be back.

Destinations, Found and Missed

I really thought I could nail down that Forest Society patch for visiting 33 Society properties throughout New Hampshire. I’ve fallen short. Dalton and Sandwich did me in, which is to say I haven’t been able to manage a trip to Dana Forest or Eagle Cliff. I’ll settle for earning the patch via tier 2 status, AKA the easy way, which involves concentrating on one specific region and answering a few questions about the properties there. I shall send the Forest Society my entry in a New Year’s Day email.

Don’t think for a minute that my time on the patch project has been wasted. I loved every  property I visited. Every mile driven was worth the time and effort. Sometimes, I’d go a few miles off-route on a business day just to find one of the reservations or forests on the project list. (Tip: always keep walking shoes in the car.) One gorgeous fall day, I spent hours on the Route 16 corridor plus-or-minus a few miles, discovering four Forest Society properties including High Watch Reserve. I wanted to stay up there on Green Mountain until the last leaf dropped.

Seeking inspiration for your hikes this coming year? Check out the Forest Society’s list. Make a list of state parks you want to visit. Do a web search of conservation commissions in the towns near you; you’ll find a treasury of local trail maps and descriptions.

Just get out there.

October Assortment

This has been a muted fall in New Hampshire, which is not to say a bad one. There are brilliant trees here and there, but for the most part, this month has been dominated by gold and bronze. Here’s my October sampler, featuring Oak Hill, Horse Hill Preserve, Ponemah Bog, Craney Hill, and Crotched Mountain.

Oak Hill, Concord

It had been seven years since my last walk to the fire tower on Oak Hill. Finally, I got back there. I had been warned about wasps near the cab, but the first frosts must have  nipped them.

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Oak Hill fire tower, Concord NH

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View to west from Oak Hill. The plume of steam is from a plant near the Concord-Boscawen town line.

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A small notice announces a new trail on Oak Hill, created by Concord High School students.

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The day’s best maple leaves, spotted along the two-mile trail leading to the Oak Hill fire tower.

 

Horse Hill Nature Preserve, Merrimack

The best color this fall has been in the wetlands, not the hills. A walk to the center of the Horse Hill preserve rewarded me with much brighter foliage than I’d seen just a couple of days earlier on a drive toward the Monadnocks.

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I’m amazed that the beavers haven’t abandoned this lodge so close to a Horse Hill trail. I guess we hikers haven’t been disruptive.

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Leaf-peeping in one of my favorite spots in Horse Hill Preserve.

 

Ponemah Bog, Amherst

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The shrubs and water plants in the bog were showier than the trees.

Craney Hill, Henniker

The NH Fire Towers page on Facebook clued me in to the Craney Hill lookout tower, once a fire tower. Now, it’s open to the public two weekends a year, during foliage season. I made it to the tower just in time – last visitor on the last day!

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Craney Hill lookout tower, Henniker NH.

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From Craney Hill, looking toward Craney Pond, mid-October.

 

Crotched Mountain, Greenfield-Bennington

I didn’t stop with the Gregg Trail this time. Two friends joined me for a walk to the ridgetop via Shannon’s Trail. I owe thanks to the folks who managed to get a picnic table up there.

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The view from the picnic table atop Crotched Mountain: a hint of color, and distant Monadnock. And oh, that sky.