Thursday, March 23, 2023

Mount Tom Notched


     This may be a case of saving the biggest (and best?) for last. Over time I've posted about exploring the state forests of southern Washington County. All except for one. That would be Mount Tom State Forest. At 1724 acres it's more than double the size of any of the others. A lot to explore so let's get started.

     This large, irregular shaped block of land lies southeast of the Village of Cambridge near the Vermont border. You can drive a clockwise circle around it by going out Ashgrove Road (Co. 67), turning right onto Chestnut Hill Road, then taking another right onto either Lincoln Hill Road or, going a little further into the hamlet of White Creek to access Co. 68. Finally, one more right turn will put you on Rt. 22 back to Cambridge. It's a scenic drive of farms and forests, streams and mountains easily done in a leisurely half hour.


     The easiest way to immerse yourself in Mt. Tom might be a traverse of the Notch Truck Trail. As the name implies, this is a rough road best suited to 4x4 trucks and then only in summer and fall. It bisects the eastern side of the forest from Chestnut Hill Road to Lincoln Hill Road. No 4x4? No problem. This is a fine route on foot, mountain bike or horseback. One other option is to ski it. That is what I did on the first day of spring. It's a nice little trip but not without its challenges.

I risked the travel and am glad I did

     My first mistake was to start from the Chestnut Hill Road end. When there's snow (sort of needed for skiing) there's no place to park. It wouldn't be Washington County if they made an effort to accommodate the visitors that are encouraged to come. A few swipes with a plow is all it would take. After pulling off the road and into the snowbank as best I could, the next hurdle was mashed potatoes. At least that's what I think they call the wet, heavy spring snow I encountered. It's tough to make turns in but doable for straight ahead  X-C touring. 

     A sign, a gate and a gentle slope quickly leads to a crossing of Pumpkin Hook Creek which was flowing busily on this warm, melting day. Then comes the longest uphill of the trip. It warms you up nicely and there's the promise of a fun run down on the way back. Most of the Notch Trail is actually level to gentle grades, somewhat surprising given the rugged terrain surrounding it.

     Broken and bent trees from a recent heavy snowstorm were the biggest obstacle I encountered. Chainsaw work will be needed before the route is drivable. Other than that it was an easy ski until the far end where direct sun had melted most of the snow exposing dirt and rocks.

The Lincoln Hill end of the Notch Trail

     You're at the wrong place if you want precise time and milage info. I gave up on watches and such a long time ago. My best guess would be that it's a couple of miles one way and can be done in a relaxed hour out and another hour back. From Lincoln Hill Road the Notch Trail is plowed for a ways and there is parking where the trucks turn around. This might be a better place for a ski start.


     A few observations: the trail traverses an attractive mixed hardwood forest with lots of hemlock sprinkled throughout. There are small rivulets and pools of water beside the path for much of the way. Rugged ledges and dislodged boulders hem the road in places and there are a couple of unobtrusive camps mid-way, apparently private in-holdings. There may be snowmobiles at times and though ATV's are prohibited...well, you know how that goes. The only other tracks I saw were those of a snowshoer coming in from the south end. Light use seems to be the norm but it's probably best to avoid during hunting season.

Birch, boulder and byway


     The Notch is just one small part of the state forest. Other points of interest include an abandoned lime kiln and quarry, various summits and wetlands, a tree seed orchard and the site of a former settlement. And the Mount Tom that gives the forest its name? I'm not sure where that is. Guess I'll have to come back and try to find it.



Thursday, March 16, 2023

On Canvas & Screen

      Passing along a couple of items on relationship with place as reflected in art.

     The Laffer Gallery in Schulerville currently has an exhibit of over 200 works by Harry Orlyk. Based in Salem, he paints landscapes on location, even in winter, while ensconced in his black Dodge van. For those familiar with southern Washington County the fields, streams and barns he puts on canvas are recognizable old friends.  The show is up till March 26 and Orlyk will be at the gallery on Saturday, March 18 at 6:30 pm for an artist talk. Gallery hours are Thursday - Sunday from 12 to 5 pm. Visit their website and facebook page for more info.

     In Days of Heaven there are scenes of reapers all but lost in endless fields of wheat. These sequences have special resonance for me. Family lore tells of my great-great-grandfather bringing the first mechanical reaper to Washington County. He would move from place to place with horses, machine and crews of men bringing in the late summer harvest. Today, whenever I drive by a field in Easton or Argyle I wonder, did my ancestor from over a hundred years ago once work here?

Still from Days of Heaven

     Terence Malick's 1978 film is oft cited for its beautiful cinematography. It takes place in early 1900's Texas but was actually filmed in Canada. It somehow manages to convey both the beauty and the harshness of the American heartland as well as the struggle and joy of those who worked it. Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Sam Shepard anchor the love triangle plot and there's Linda Manz's unforgettable narration. What's its message? Maybe something that can't be put into words. Something that can only be conveyed thru images and the emotions they provoke. One of the most sensitive evocations of place ever captured on film. Days of Heaven can be streamed and is available on DVD from local libraries.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Reach for the Sky

     "I want to see towers" slurred the inebriate sitting next to me.

     While putting a little distance between the guy and myself, I thought: "Keep drinking buddy. Pretty soon you'll be flat on your back looking up. Then these bar stools will look like towers."

     But that didn't seem like charitable advice so instead I suggested he give himself time to sober up before heading southbound on the Thruway. Three or four hours later you'll be agog in towers, I told him. 

     Later I had my regrets. What if he took my advice? All the traffic, all the muggings he'd have to endure just to see concrete, glass and steel scratching the sky. Maybe he could have gotten his tower fix right here in the North Country. They wouldn't have the name TRUMP plastered on them but that's a good thing, right? So I put together this guide to local towers. Just to be helpful. Next time, next bar, next drunk, I'll be ready.


     Granville's Tower of the Golden Dome represents something of a homecoming for me. Many years ago I made this an annual pilgrimage. I would first stop and chat with the farmers who owned it, then walk up thru their pasture to the top of the hill crowned by the oddity. The spot had a mystical feel conducive to quiet contemplation. Then life got busy, decades went by and the tower became just a distant memory. Until several years ago when nostalgia drew me back. But things had changed. New roads, new houses, no farm. It was disorienting and I left in despair, wondering if my old haunt even existed anymore.
     Eventually some detective work and a gracious landowner combined to bring about a reunion. Earlier this winter, with permission and good directions, Gwenne, Zia and I trudged up the final slope to once again stand in awe of this strange and sublime monument. The inscription carved into the marble lintel reads something to the effect: "That thou mayest watch here to our return". A suitably mysterious message for a structure that looks almost medieval. You can, of course, find out more about the towers history (hint: James Waldron Gillespie). Or you can just delight in the fact that such wondrous places are out there "watching for our return".

Gwenne and Zia at the Pinnacle

     You'd think something like the Tower of the Golden Dome would be a unique, one-of-a-kind type of thing. But you'd be wrong. On the same afternoon we were in Granville we drove the relatively short distance to Dorset, Vermont for a 'two-tower' day. The Pinnacle is the name of both a hill and a tower on the hill's summit. In Dorset turn off Rt. 30 onto Pinnacle Lane to find the trailhead. There are a number of short easy trails that wind around the hill. You could spend a couple of hours here hiking, reading the informative signs and enjoying the tower. If it wasn't for Gwenne and Zia I'd still be there examining the amazing diversity of rocks it's built from. Thank God for rich eccentrics and the 'follies' they've bequeathed us.

     Sticking with the genre of stone towers let's look at a few that fall more in the industrial/utilitarian realm.


...and now

          From quarry to kiln to canal was the program at Bald Mountain, Town of Greenwich in the mid-1800's when a thriving lime industry was going strong. A couple of the hulking kilns still hide in the woods, reminders of an industrial past.

     Further north in the Town of Fort Ann this behemoth stands sentinel in deep forest. It's the Mt. Hope Blast Furnace, once used for smelting iron ore. I've hiked in many times in the past but now a group called Friends of Camp Little Notch blocks access. It's sad when an area's historical legacy is taken away from long time residents by outsiders.

          Maybe this is stretching the definition of tower a wee bit but there are a number of old bridge abutments that 'tower' above you when in a canoe and they can be quite impressive. I know of ones in the Hudson, Battenkill and Moses Kill and there may be others.

     The undisputed champions of area towers are the Schuylerville Monument (154') and the Bennington Monument (306'). Both commemorate Revolutionary War battles.
     Sticking with the genera of soaring stone for a moment, here are a few more I've come across:

The impressive entrance to Whitehall's Skene Manor

Perfect symmetry invites you into the
Mountain Grove Memorial Chapel, Huletts 

Back in Whitehall is this mini-castle with its
corner towers

Just up the street the facade of Our Lady of Hope
lifts our gaze heavenward
It's capped by a shining copper roof (not visible in my photo)
that's a Whitehall landmark

Up in Putnam cliff, chimney, portico, steeple and monuments all
strive for the sky at the United Presbyterian Church.

     And a couple more church steeples in...



      How about the exquisite New Skete Bell Tower?

     Some cemetery monuments tower impressively.

Philip Embury's grave
Woodlawn Cemetery

This cross sits on a hill near the entrance 
to Evergreen Cemetery in Salem

The Col. Williams obelisk perched on its large boulder
Lake George

At Juckett Park in Hudson Falls

     In farm country silos to store feed are ubiquitous and often the highest structures around. They can also store other materials as well. I may do a whole post on various types so be forewarned. Here's a small sample of these useful towers:

A big blue Harvestore dwarfs an old cement stave silo
In Ashgrove beside White Creek

Cement silos at the soon to be closed cement plant
From the Feeder Canal Trail, Glens Falls

From the bottom looking up
Another view of the cement silos from the web

The recently restored coal silos in Hudson Falls
also along the Feeder Canal Trail

     Cell towers are, of course, and unfortunately, common on the landscape but only Pilot Knob has a Frankenpine!

Building the Pilot Knob 'Frankenpine' cell tower
web image

Is it a cell tower disguised as a water tower or vice versa?
It's in Cambridge and there's an open ladder going up the right leg.
I used to like to rock climb but that is way too scary for me.

     Then there are the forbidding guard towers at the prison in Comstock. When I drove by there recently I didn't even want to stop long enough to snap a photo, so I let Google do it. 

Screen shot from Google Street View

     On a clear day you used to be able to see forever. Washington County has a couple of fire towers and I've climbed both of them in the past. Now they are closed. But it's no big deal, all you are missing is gorgeous views.

Wind turbine, solar panels, tower - Black Mountain

As high as you can get (legally) in Washington County
The tower on top of Black Mountain

Two photos of the Colfax firetower in the Town of Jackson
Formerly a nice destination with great views from the top
Now closed and apparently used as a cell tower. Gab on...

     There used to be a lot of tall smokestacks when Washington County was more industrial. A few still stand but many have come crashing down as they deteriorated and became liabilities.

Then and...


     The two images above are of the Champlain Silk Mill stack in Whitehall. It still stands and you can see it as you cross over the canal on Rt. 4 heading east. I was there just the other day but without a telephoto lens it's hard to get a good shot so I used these pictures from the web. All the buildings in the old post-card are gone with the chimney alone sticking up like a (very big) sore thumb. 

     Speaking of sore, the trash plant in Hudson Falls is definitely a sore spot for many in the local area. It has to be the tallest stack in Washington County.

Web image

Another phallic symbol at the H&V plant in Clarks Mills

An old photo showing the fate of many obsolete stacks
This one was at the cement plant

     I actually have more photos but it's past my bedtime so let's wrap this up. Obviously, I won't be going to New York City to see towers anytime soon, not when we have a virtual forest of them up here on our end of the Hudson.