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.

 

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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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Midweek, Mt. Monadnock

When the Forest Society announced its challenge last year, offering a patch for anyone visiting 33 specified Forest Society properties, I jumped on board immediately. Since then, I’ve had great fun discovering some new trails. Others are already familiar – Mt. Monadnock’s trails, for example.

Monadnock State Park is only one piece of the patchwork of ownership on the mountain. The Forest Society has a reservation there as well. For the most Monadnock hikers, borders between properties are imperceptible.

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The view south from Mt. Monadnock’s Halfway House clearing

On a recent visit to Monadnock, my indifferent level of fitness ruled out a summit hike. I settled for an easy walk to the Halfway House clearing, featuring a wonderful view to the south with Gap Mountain foremost.

The well-marked parking lot on NH Route 124 on the south side of the mountain is where to pick up the Halfway House trail and the parallel Old Toll Road path. (Bring $5 for park admission; there’s an iron ranger when the booth is unattended.) The Old Toll Road is a wide, well-drained boulevard with a packed crushed-gravel surface. Uphill, to be sure, but easy. It leads to a tiny patch of private land with an imposing house on it. Past the house, the boulevard becomes a trail: rocks, roots, spring’s inevitable mud. No problem. The Halfway House clearing, named for an inn that once stood there, is less than a 5-minute walk ahead.

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Old Toll Road, mid-spring

I looked up to the summit and saw no hikers. That’s unusual, as local hikers will attest. Normally the summit seen from that distance looks like an anthill.

A cool breeze kept the bugs away on the overcast day. I knew I was likely to be rained on any minute. I didn’t care. Solitude on a Monadnock trail is meant to be savored.

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A peek at Monadnock’s summit from the Halfway House clearing

First day hike 2017: Wellington State Park

New Hampshire enjoyed benign weather on New Year’s Day, perfect for a First Day Hike. I headed to Bristol, home of Wellington State Park and the Elwell Trail. No snowshoes needed; the trail was well-packed. Gravity got the best of me a few times despite the YakTrax on my boots, but I fell gently thanks to the snow cover. About sixteen of us were led up the trail by Andrew of the Newfound Lake Region Association.

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Newfound Lake in Bristol, NH, seen from Little Sugarloaf

Our destination was Little Sugarloaf, a modest little peak about a mile and a half from the Wellington parking lot. There were plenty of hikers on the hiking trails and snowmobilers on the snowmobile trails, with cooperation and good cheer all around.

The payoff view: Newfound Lake on a clear and sunny day, with ideal sights and sounds. We watched a pair of bald eagles fly around the islands below us. The snowy peaks of Franconia Notch about 40 miles away were visible. I knew there were snowmobiles all over the lower trails, but I could barely hear them from Little Sugarloaf’s summit.

A few of my more ambitious companions decided to hike on to Sugarloaf, a few hundred feet higher and (I’m told) with much more exposed ledge than Little Sugarloaf. I might check that out some autumn day.

Find maps of the area at newfoundlake.org.

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Happy New Year from the Granite State Walker!

 

October, Pack Monadnock

Columbus Day weekend is wrapping up for the leaf-peepers. Autumn colors are still muted in my area, except for a few specimen trees flashing scarlet. I figured the Monadnocks would be a little showier today. I stole a couple of hours from my schedule this morning and headed to Miller State Park in time for a walk up the auto road before it opened to cars for the day. I actually spent time alone on the summit of Pack Monadnock! A rare treat, that. I thank God for days like this.

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From the Pack Monadnock summit: Mt. Monadnock, about twelve miles away.

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Near the base of the auto road. My guess is that the P on this marker is for Peterborough, one of three towns that can lay claim to part of Pack Monadnock.

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Plenty of colorful foliage over there on North Pack Monadnock.

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When I took my kids to Pack Monadnock when they were little, the first thing they wanted to check from the summit was whether it was “a Boston day,” clear enough to see Beantown’s skyline. Today was a Boston day.

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Bleached by the sun’s glare: the New Boston Air Force Station’s radomes on the left, city of Manchester, New Hampshire on the right.

And here’s the Granite State Walker, offering a chocolate-milk toast to the physical therapist who helped me get my knee back into shape this year.me-on-pack-monadnock

First Day Hike 2016: Hollis

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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.

 

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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