Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Rathbun's and Rail Trails


      I'm not sure what I enjoyed more, the swamps or the syrup. When we went to Rathbun's Maple Sugar House to meet friends for breakfast recently we were a little early (maybe because we drove and they rode bikes!). This gave us time to stroll the woods road in back of the restaurant while waiting for the others to show up. Glad we did because the path lead to three scenic wetlands and the tiny streams that drain them while roller coasting over several low ridges. Stone walls lined the way hinting at a time when these woods were sheep pastures. Now the 'livestock' are chipmunks, squirrels and beavers.

     This area of Washington County including parts of Granville, Whitehall and Hampton drains mostly into the Mettawee River with a low divide sending a few streams east into the Poultney watershed. Elevations range from just over a 100' along the river to Thorn Hill's 1163' summit. It's a hilly part of the low Taconics with a general north-south orientation of ridges and valleys but the topography is rather chaotic with many small ponds and swamps scattered amongst the higher ground. For wildlife it's an ideal mix of woodland and field, of upland and wetland.

Woods and waters make great wildlife habitat
(web image)

     I'm unaware of any public lands here so the best way to explore is by wandering the back roads that branch off Co. 12 and 21. You can drive, bike or find a place to park and walk. There are also some fishing access spots if you want to check out the Mettawee. Other points of interest include the East Whitehall Brick Church with adjoining carriage sheds and cemetery, views from Welch Road, Hatch Hill Cemetery and a lime kiln in the woods between Hatch Hill Road and Co. 12 (on private property). Also note that the 175 acre Horn property on Baker Road has been conserved by the Lake Champlain Land Trust but is not open to the public.

Ledge, forest and understory typical of this part of Washington County
(web image)

     After a great Rathbuns breakfast Gwenne, Zia and I took a short drive to Poultney, Vermont where we walked off the pancakes. The Slate Valley Trail's Poultney River Loop is an easy 3+ mile circuit around the village. It uses a section of the D&H rail trail that runs from Castleton, Vermont twenty miles south to West Rupert. The Poultney Loop branches off  the rail trail to follow the river in back of the former Green Mountain College campus. It's a level open path well suited to walking, running and gravel/mountain biking. 

Pics from a quiet, drizzily walk in Poultney

     Poultney took a tough blow when Green Mountain College closed in 2019. Raj Bkakta bought the property in 2020 and now he and his wife Dahnee are transforming the campus that will still have an educational focus. She has started a K thru 6th independent school and he is developing a program for those who want to enter the spirits industry. Also in town, the Poultney Pub has reopened after winter renovations and it appears that Hermit Hill Books is now operating as Laureate Fine Books. Up the street Stone Valley Arts at Fox Hill has a busy schedule of offerings, just one more reason Poultney is a great place to take a hike and stay for food, drink and culture.


Thursday, April 11, 2024

Get to the Points


Gwenne and Zia at Crown Point

  The eclipse was just the icing on the cake. Gwenne and I (along with thousands of others) saw the event from Crown Point. The featured attraction lasted maybe two minutes but we spent the better part of the day exploring the area. Two state park facilities sit side by side here. Crown Point State Historic Site is to the north and a state campground is adjacent to the south. There's also a seasonal visitors center and the graceful bridge that connects New York and Vermont. On the east side of the bridge is Chimney Point with its own historical sites and campgrounds.

Views of Crown Point on Eclipse Day


     The Crown Point State Historic Site contains the ruins of two colonial era forts: one French and one British. There are also fossils in the limestone outcrops and distinctive ecological communities that have developed due to carbonate rock and the climatic influence of the large lake. Because this is a migration route with varied habitat the site is also used for bird banding events. There are numerous paths and hiking trails thru out the park.

     The campground features 66 sites, a day use picnic area, boat launch, fishing pier and the towering Champlain Memorial Lighthouse. Both parks offer views of the bridge. With walkways on both sides you'll want to stroll across it for the views and the experience of ambling from one state to another.

Crown Point Campground site map 

The lighthouse and bridge

Bridge walkers (and sitters) on eclipse Monday

     Chimney Point on the Vermont side of the lake is a destination in itself. There is a state historic site here as well as the DAR Mansion and surrounding Vermont State Campground. Other points of interest include several wildlife management areas with a boat launch, a restaurant, RV parks and the Ass-Pirin Acres minature donkey farm (visit at your own risk...you may end up buying one of the lovable creatures!). A short drive away is the Dead Creek WMA, legendary among birders. For history buffs Mt. Independence and Fort Ticonderoga are nearby. 

Chimney Point and  Champlain Bridge
web image

Eclipsers at Chimney Point on Monday

DAR Campground site map

     You could spend several lifetimes exploring Lake Champlain and surrounding shores. It's that big and why it's sometimes called the 6th Great Lake. The Empire State Trail follows the western shore and there are infinite biking, hiking and paddling options thru out its watershed. Even better, it's easily accessible from Washington County via scenic, short drives. Time to go, no eclipse needed.

French fort ruins

Lighthouse and fishing pier from the bridge

     * The Lake Champlain canon of books could fill a small library. Here are just a few that will help you enjoy visits:

     - Lake Champlain: A Natural History by Mike Winslow is a good introduction to the lake and its watershed.

     - Wetland, Woodland, Wildland: A Guide to the Natural Communities of Vermont by Elizabeth H. Thompson and Eric R. Sorenson will take you deeper into the ecology along the lake shore (and elsewhere in Vermont).

     - Empires in the Mountains by Russell P. Bellico puts the various colonial ruins and battle sites into perspective.

     That's it for now but I have a sense that this is going to be my Lake Champlain summer, so probably more to follow. You've been warned...    

  And a few more eclipse day pics...

Some had elaborate gear

Holly and Tom absorbing the energy

Holly got this colorful shot

 Pine cone eclipse art at Crown Point

Wednesday, April 3, 2024


     Join the Battenkill Conservancy and Trout Unlimited for a Spring trash cleanup on Saturday, April 6th, 10 am at the Stateline rest area on Rt. 313 (between Cambridge and Arlington). Safety vests and snacks provided. Other cleanups planned for the canal and river at Hudson Crossing Park, Schuylerville on April 21 and May 5.

Ready for a good scrubbing?
Google Earth view of Stateline Park section of Rt. 313

     Southern Adirondack Audubon Society presents a program "Dam it! Beavers and why they are important" at Greenwich Free Library on Wednesday, April 24 at 7:00 pm.

Web image

     On Sunday, April 14 at 8:30 am Steve Mackey will lead an ADK bike trip from Canal Park in Fort Ann to Rathbuns for breakfast (pancakes and maple syrup!). 24 miles with hills (it's Washington County, duh). Call Steve at 518-793-6484 to join.

     The Salem April Fools Race must to be getting a little slower with age (just like me!). It has dropped back a week this year to Saturday, April 13 with races starting at 9 am. Some of the hills will still make a fool of you.

The 5K race coarse

     It's the fourth year for The Great North: Battenkill Valley bike rides. Various options leave from Cambridge on Saturday, May 4. Beer and apple pie after!

     Finally, it's not all fun and games. On Thursday, April 18 anytime from 5 to 8 pm you can learn more about Boralex's planned Fort Edward Solar Project. The open house event will be in the Durkeetown Church, Town of Fort Edward. Something like this involves a substantial change to Washington County's landscape and economy. This is a chance to ask questions and learn more.


Sunday, March 10, 2024

The Phyllite Zone

     Time to get this border situation straightened out once and for all. No, I'm not talking about that border. Not the one in the news all the time. Problems at the southern border require underlying issues like corruption, lack of economic opportunity, gun violence, unsustainable birth rates and this country's insatiable gluttony for cheap labor be addressed. Given the state of our politics do you really think that is going to happen? Me either.

     So let's deal with the border between New York and Vermont instead. This should be easy, even fun by comparison. First we'll start with a bit of advice for my realtor friends: "STOP IT!" Stop offering Washington County property with 'Green Mountain views'. Yes we have beautiful views to the east (and west) but the mountains along the NY/VT border are the Taconics, not the Greens. The Green Mountains are further east in central Vermont and only visible as a distant horizon from a few places in Washington County.

Find the Taconics? Look for the narrow strip marked 'T'.
The map is a bit off. The Taconics should fill in a little more towards
the 'A' Adirondacks where the purple border zig zags.

     Next, let's put slate in its place. It's been hogging all the glory for too long. Yes, it's beautiful, useful and of great economic significance in a narrow belt from Granville up towards Poultney and Fair Haven. But most of the mountains that lie along and just east of Washington County's border are made of phyllite. May not be as well known but it's a pretty neat rock well worth getting to know and that's what we'll do in this post. 

Detail of an old geologic map. The slate belt along the NY/VT border.



     The slates and phyllites along the border originated as clay muds eroded off the edge of proto-North America some 500 million years ago. Over time they settled to the sea floor, were buried and then lithified into shale. Eventually they got caught up in a plate collision called the Taconic Orogeny that subjected them to heat, pressure and metamorphism. Metamorphic rocks are classified according to grade, or how much they have been changed. In the Taconics the grade tends to increase from west to east or from lower elevations to more mountainous. Thus we find the higher grade phyllite to the east of the slates and mudstones that underlie the lower hills to the west.

Web image

     Foliation and fissility are two terms associated with these rocks. Foliation refers to a layering caused by mineral grains aligning from  pressure and fissility describes a tendency to split into sheets. They are related characteristics seen in both slate and phyllite. Mica flakes are what give phyllite its satiny sheen, best seen in freshly exposed surfaces. Also diagnostic is a crinkled or wavy appearance. The color I've seen locally is a grayish-green. A very pretty rock.

     So where do you see this beauty? Hikers will see outcrops on St. Catherine, Haystack, Mt. Antone, Equinox, Grass, the Folded Rock Trail and Two Tops among others. People looking for a roadside ledge should check out the cut on Rt. 313 between the rest area pull-off and the Vermont state line midway between Cambridge and Arlington. Watch for traffic (and falling rocks!) but you can usually find recently dislodged shards at the base of the cut. Thank the Battenkill and the DOT for slicing thru the ridge to let us look inside. 

Rock and roll
My bike resting on the 313 phyllite ledge

The Phyllite Zone
A Google Earth screen shot from high above Cossayuna looking east
Merck Forest, Bear, Equinox, Red, the Battenkill Gap and Grass Mountain left to right 

Saturday, February 17, 2024

What a Saint

     Would you like to be known for your faults? Me either. But with mountains, faults can be the key to understanding their origin and history. Take St. Catherine Mountain for example. It forms the eastern backdrop to Vermont's Lake St. Catherine in the Towns of Poultney and Wells. It is part of a north-south range of hills and mountains with very steep west facing sides that reach their apogee at Pond Mountain. Here, impressive vertical cliffs tower 600 feet and more above the village of Wells. 

Google Earth screen shot of Pond Mountain looking north

Gwenne took this pic of the Pond Mountain cliffs
Looking east from Rt. 30 just north of Wells

       The dramatic topography here is the result of thrust faults where large chunks of the Earth's crust were pushed westward during  a plate collision 450 million years ago. Called the Taconic Orogeny, it gave us the hilly landscape of New York's eastern border.  

On this geologic map the heavy dashed line down the center
marks the position of a thrust fault

     To those of us who love to explore (my hand is raised), features like this ridge and cliff have an hypnotic draw. I've long dreamed of starting in Wells (with coffee and a pastry at the Wells Country Store!) before climbing along the spine of the range and finally coming down for a well deserved swim/beer/cookout at Lake St. Catherine State Park.

My fantasy hike starts with an ascent of Pond Mountain at the 
bottom right and continues along the ridge over St. Catherine
Mountain with a descent to the Park just off the top of the map

     Alas, it is not meant to be. To the best of my knowledge most of the route is privately owned with no public access. Most, but not all. Thanks to the Slate Valley Trails  and a generous landowner there is a path to a vantage point on St. Catherine Mountain that should not be missed. Gwenne, Zia and I hiked it recently and it gives an enticing taste of what the whole ridge walk could offer.

The hike starts at the red balloon on the right.
Two trails lead up the mountain to a viewpoint in image center.
Lake St. Catherine is on the left.

     To get to the Lewis Deane Nature Preserve take a right off Rt. 30 just before the state park entrance (Rt. 30 is the scenic road along the east side of Lake St. Catherine between Wells and Poultney, Vermont). Drive a little less than a mile on Endless Brook Road to a small parking lot on the right. The trail crosses the brook on a new footbridge to open meadows where there is an informative kiosk, some small ponds and a sentry on a hilltop.

Bridge over tumbling waters

Gwenne and Zia with the King of the Mountain

        In 2002 the landowners donated this 85 acre property to Green Mountain College for use in teaching, research and recreation. When the college closed in 2019 the land reverted back to the original owners who continue to let people hike here. There are two trails to the top of the ridge. We took the short and steep yellow trail up and returned via the green trail for a loop of several miles.

Up the yellow trail


     The forests are a mix of hardwoods and evergreens with some sections of dense hemlocks. Careful observation will reveal signs of past land use such as grazing and logging. Rock outcrops are of  greenish gray phyllite, layered and tilted. They originated as off shore muds more than a half billion years ago before taking a wild ride of 50 or 60 miles to end up here. No wonder they're crooked and crumpled.
     After hiking a mile or so you arrive at the top of the ridge and an amazing view. There is a wetland directly below and the lake just beyond. Quarries of the slate belt are visible with the hills of Washington County leading your gaze to the Adirondacks on the horizon. Faults aren't such a bad thing if they give you a panorama like this!

     I suggest taking the green trail back down. It switchbacks at a gentler grade and takes you thru some interesting forest stands. The long even slope down a hogback to Endless Brook is a delight and the final section to the meadow follows the stream.
     The state campground would be an ideal basecamp for adventures in this area. There are other Slate Valley trails nearby and one of my favorite bike tours leads from here to Poultney, Middletown Springs, Pawlet and Wells. The swimming holes of the Poultney River are just up the road and for refreshments you have several options in Poultney and the rustic elegance of The Barn restaurant down by Pawlet. It's a saintly place to spend time exploring.

     Let's finish up with some interesting images of the area that I found on the Web:

Looking south with the Pond Mountain cliffs and hills of the fault scarp left to right

Looking north past the steep west face of Pond Mountain

Looking south with St. Catherine Mountain, the cliffs of Pond Mountain
and other hills of the fault scarp angling from left to upper right

     And finally, a web image of a beautiful oil painting by Andrew Orr. Pond Mountain from across Little Lake: