Tunxis Mainline Trail: Section 2
Plymouth/Burlington, 5.7 miles, with Rob Y
April 20, 2008
I’m a huge fan of David Lynch. I’ve seen all of his movies a couple times (required to understand most of them) – even the really whacked out ones. Once you learn to immerse yourself in the idea that most of his stuff is told from a dreamworld POV (in a manner of speaking), you’ll “get it” much more.
(Except for “The Straight Story,” which is straight up narrative, and super slow and pure with no violence at all and yet – is arguably his best movie.)
Inarguably, his worst film was “Fire, Walk With Me.” As one who watched the “Twin Peaks” series about 8 times (the only show/film I’ve ever watched more than a few times), I can unequivocally say that the movie extension of the show was abysmal. So why did I just waste three paragraphs to get to that point?
Because this really cool section of the Tunxis mainline trail was really quite a Lynchian experience for me and Rob Y. All the elements of a Lynch movie were there – alone in deep dark woods, entire hillsides blackened from a recent fire, a somewhat creepy historical site with a fire ring in it, a run-in with a very nonchalant government worker in the middle of the woods, flame licking our boots here and there, hyperactive slightly-off fire warden with perfectly slightly-off tastes in car decor, a mini horse and pot-bellied pig, and a backwards talking midget.
Okay, not really on the last one, but that would have felt normal somehow.
Don’t front on Rob too badly – it was rather early.
“To the hike!” you urge. And so, to the hike we go… Have you heard of Plymouth, CT? I hadn’t. The Burlington section of the Tunxis mainline does begin in Plymouth and spends it’s first 1.5 miles or so there, before entering Burlington proper for the rest of the 11 miles of this section. Burlington also contains a substantial amount of regional Tunxis trail mileage.
(The first section ended near an urban section of Bristol, about 5 miles south of where we were starting. Funny thing about a bunch of CT’s blue trails. They have breaks.)
Rob and I agreed to meet at 6:30 to spot his car at Sessions Woods nature center (our original plan to bang out the full 11 miles was thwarted by some lunch plans my wife had made) which we did. We drove over to the south end of Marsh Pond and parked right next to the trailhead. (The CFPA Walk Book doesn’t say you can park here, but there are no posted signs and space for at least two cars.)
The first mile or so is a gentle, flat hike through hemlock and pine along the western edge of the reservoir/pond. After a sharp right turn at the terminus of the White Dot Tunxis, the trail climbed ever so slightly along an old woods road. Here’s something exciting – when the trail turns left (north), right off the trail to the left (west) in the skunk cabbage patch, there is an old stone marker with a “B” on it. This is a 200 year old (I’m guessing) boundary marker where Bristol, Burlington, and Plymouth converge. Are you sitting down? Here it is:
This is the stuff you read CTMQ for, folks.
It was right at this point that Rob and I noticed the smell of a campfire or wood burning stove. Neither of us said anything about it nor found it the least bit odd. We hiked onward.
As we crested a small rise, we saw some smoke and then a charred and smoldering tree stump. “Hmm, that’s not good,” I said. “Careless campers,” mused Rob. So we walked off the trail and checked it out – not too bad, just some a couple tree stumps and – hey, look over there, more stuff smoldering.
We decided it wasn’t “on fire” really so we hiked about twenty more feet, past the Yellow Dot Tunxis’s southern end. More smoldering sections and larger patches of black. “Let’s call someone.” So we did.
Note: If reporting a forest fire in central CT, literally feet from three other towns (Harwinton, Plymouth, Bristol) than the one you are actually standing in, expect to get bounced around between different police and fire departments. A lot. Rob, a trooper through and through, stuck with it and finally got in touch with a lady at the Burlington PD. Just then, I headed north a bit up towards Tory Den and noticed that the entire forest for as far as I could see was burned up.
Now, keep in mind about 97% of the trees were still standing and the soil wasn’t burned more than a few centimeters, but all the leaf litter and brush was burned up and/or black. So I’m not pretending this is anything like a real wild fire, but it was still very surreal for us. The lady on the phone told us that they were aware of the fire and the state DEP had been out all day yesterday working on it. Okay, cool.
Let’s go check out Tory Den then. Tory Den is awesome. It’s the first “cave” or “den” in the state wherein an adult human can actually hang out comfortably. It is certainly not the first one that was used back in the colonial days as a place to hide. You have your Will Warren’s Den in Farmington where some hoodlum hid out from the townsfolk and who could forget Judges Cave in New Haven where anti-Loyalists hid from the Redcoats – on and on it goes.
Tory Den is no different except the person hiding out here was a dang Tory! A Limey! Turns out, this part of Connecticut was a big Tory holdout area and one particularly infamous Tory, Stephen Graves of Harwinton, used to hide here all the time when the Patriots came for him. He was eventually caught as was his brother-in-law but the cave served as a great hiding spot for many other Tories over those years. Read much more about CTMQ’s visit here.
Me in Tory Den and you see how cool Rob looks here, calling the fire department? A true hero!
The cliffs above the cave are rather impressive (and imposing) in their own right. We poked around the Den area – stirring up the ash and dust with every step. This entire area was burned off – leading me to think the fire may very well have started in the Den itself, which is probably popular with local kids.
Back to the mainline trail (Tory Den is only about 2 minutes up the Yellow Dot) and west towards the Mile of Ledges, “the most rugged section of the entire Tunxis Trail system!” I’d been joking with Rob all morning that “the most ruggest section of the entire Tunxis Trail system” was on the horizon – little did I know that smoke and ash would make it all the more rugged.
The Mile of Ledges is really fun and really interesting. Come Fall, when the soot and junk is gone, this is an awesome little hike through here – though kids under 6 or so are probably too young. It actually is fairly rugged, but nothing insane at all. Unless it’s on fire – that would be pretty intense.
Once towards the end of the little box canyons and cliffs, we rounded a bend and looked down towards a little lake and – flames! Fairly significant ones at that. We were told to call the police/fire back if we saw flames. As we looked north we saw more smoke and decided that we should probably hike onward and worry about calling after we were sure to be safe.
The whole fire thing sort of took away from the really fun, really cool hike itself. At one point, about 20 feet off the trail, a wall of flame was rushing towards us. (Please note: walls can be a foot high and rushing is a relative term.)
As we called the important people, I saw a single gentleman trudging through the woods towards the fire and us. I pinpointed our location to the phone lady and then we went to talk to the DEP worker. He was a nice guy but sadly had difficulty pinpointing his location on his highly detailed topo map. I helped.
I love this picture. I did ask him before I took it and he was just speechless for about 3 minutes.
Rob and I didn’t hang out too long as getting burned alive while teaching a state worker how to work wasn’t in our plans. We walked off and noticed our new friend just sort of staring at the flames. We moved on.
Soon, we reached the south end of a beaver pond which, like all active beaver ponds, forced the trail to move back and up several times in the last few years. This was when Rob asked me what a fish says when he bumps his head on a wall.
The trail skirted the pond and it was all quite pastoral to say the least. Soon we were approaching Greer Road and were greeted by a young fire chief or police guy of some sort. I don’t know, as he didn’t introduce himself at all and only seemed interested in my trail map – even asking if he could have it. Odd. Then we noticed his little Acura had a cheap plastic gold license plate frame. I’ll leave that alone.
A short little road walk down Greer to cross West Chippens Hill Road. We noticed the fire engines/firemen standing around in the staging area to fight the fires up the road a bit. Their coffee looked tasty. We crossed over a lawn after passing a weird little menagerie or mini farm animals. I’m telling you, this was a crazy hike.
Back into the woods and quickly up onto another “lookout” that really looks at pretty much nothing. I only note this one because it’s called “Hemenway Lookout,” but bears no relation to CTMQ reader and literary guru, Dick Hemenway. But I choose to believe that it does somehow. Here is his lookout:
Then onto a cool cliff feature that has you walking on the edge, cutting back, and then walking beneath the cliff. I can’t really describe it, so here:
Cross East Chippens Hill Road, swing left and follow the trail straight into… the lake. Yes, beavers were up to their tricks again and the trail has been swallowed up very near it’s swing back towards the road. Around the “Beaver Marsh Complex” and through some flat hardwood forest land and then enter Sessions Woods Wildlife Management Area.
The Tunxis here becomes a wide graded path with handy interpretive signs along the way. Like, this one about forest succession:
Hmm, maybe they should stick that one a few miles west in the burned up part. Now that’s what I call Forest Successsion. Here’s another:
Are there robot deer on the loose? Horrifying! We ended our day at the nature center parking lot – one of the best nature centers in the state by the way, but I’ll be back for that later. This was a great hike through some really, really cool stuff. Burlington offers many loop options as I’ll be exploring in my regional hikes.
One way to keep squirrells out of your blue bird box
Some social commentary: Not sure you can see it, but this house’s backyard has a huge swingset, jungle gym, children’s playground thing in the backyard. You know… the backyard that literally has hundreds of acres of really fun woods full of crazy rock formations, little dens and caves, climbing walls, streams, wildlife, etc, etc, etc. Lame.
Links of Interest
The fire as seen from south end of Marsh Pond
Mainline Section 2 Approximate Breakdown:
0.0 Miles: Marsh Road
0.8 Miles: White Dot Junction
1.5 Miles: Yellow Dot Junction (Tory Den)
2.0 Miles: “Mile of Ledges”
3.0 Miles: Greer Road
3.2 Miles: Walk through weird yard with animals
3.4 Miles: cool cliff thing
3.6 Miles: East Chippens Hill Road
3.7 Miles: Nature Center Trail Junction
4.6 Miles: Orange Dot Junction
5.7 Miles: Sessions Woods Center
The Tunxis Trail in Burlington (Mainline in blue).