“Stiling” and Profiling on the Tunxis
Plymouth/Burlington/Harwinton, 2 trails, ~10 miles, solo
April 27, 2008
As summer approaches, I’m able to get out of the house earlier and earlier to start with the sunrise. If wife and child are still sleeping, it’s like I’m not even gone, right? Right. Which is why for this hike I was up at 5:15 and and on-trail by 5:55 AM.
I didn’t really hold out high hopes for this section of the Tunxis regional trails, as the topography was fairly flat and the main attraction – The Tory Den – I had seen just a week earlier. That’s not to say I wasn’t excited for my trek; just that I wasn’t exactly “giddy.” The threat of a chilly rain didn’t help much either.
However, as is always the case, once I started walking my spirits soared and I had a grand old time. I was doing a rectangular loop which would complete the Tunxis Yellow Dot trail (entirely in Burlington) and knock out a the majority of the Tunxis White Dot (Plymouth, Harwington, Burlington) west of Route 69.
If you are not familiar with Burlington, you need to be careful when deciding which roads to drive on. This pastoral town in central CT, bordering Bristol of all places, has many dirt roads. Beyond that, it seems to also have many unconnected dead-ends as well. I’m not complaining – heck, There are so many webs of the Tunxis here precisely because Burlington remains undeveloped.
I parked at at the southern end of Johnnycake Road about 2/3 of a mile south of the northern end of the Yellow Dot. For continuity, I’ll toy with space and time and just describe the Yellow Dot as if I started at the northern terminus.
Tunxis Burlington Region Yellow Dot Trail, 3.6 Miles
I magically transported to the middle of the woods, on the eastern edge of Johnnycake Mountain where the Yellow Dot begins, at an intersection with the White Dot. See, look:
The trail heads southwest and the only remarkable feature here is the proximity to which the trail passes an electified fence. See, look:
Soon, I passed very expensive houses and emerged onto Old Field Road, then headed south down Johnnycake. Wow, that’s weird, I just passed my own car that I parked a few hours ago! See, look:
Okay, now that that charade is done and I no longer have to pretend I began my day with what was actually the end of it, I feel better. Don’t make me lie to you again. My day really began here, at the end of the paved portion Johnnycake Road. The trail follows the dirt road for a while and then veers into the swampy woods.
What was funny was that I was hiking on the first day of rain in about a month, but I still encountered muddy and sometimes impassable trail conditions. See, look:
I also encountered a plethora of fiddlehead ferns just beginning to unfurl. There were hundreds of them, in varying stages of development. So I did what anyone would do – made a note to come back here quickly after I was done to snip off enough for dinner.
Which is exactly what I did. Delicious. These things are sold at some supermarkets and just called fiddleheads. But of course, eating them a few hours after picking is always better… just sauteed in a little butter with maybe some garlic powder – mm, mm. There are a million other recipes for them here in New England, but simple is almost always better in my blog.
A perfect fiddlehead and an old, old metal trail marker.
It did start to drizzle on me at one point, but nothing too alarming. After a a couple fairly uneventful miles, I reached a cool little canyon area that told me I was near Tory Den. A short little uphill scramble, up over a rise, and I was suddenly surrounded by the fire-damaged acreage Rob and I had encountered a week prior.
It looked exactly the same as it did a week ago; blackened trees, black crumbly leaf litter, black mountain laurel skeletons, charred rocks. If this were done by lightning, then I wouldn’t care. But of course it was either a careless smoker (it happened on Opening Day for fishing in CT), or stupid kids with a campfire – and that makes me mad.
I crunched through the Tory Den area, which is definitely a spot every able bodied Nutmegger should check out. It’s very unique and has quite a history. It also has the southern terminus of the Yellow Dot Trail – and here’s what it looks like to finish, just south of the burnt up area:
I scoured the awesome (free!) Burlington Land Trust booklet for some cool stories from the Yellow Dot and all I got was that there used to be a chicken farm where I hiked. And now that farm (Greer Chicken Farm) is a take-out chicken joint in Bristol. World’s most annoying chicken restaurant website here. (Warning: Impossibly Grating Music.)
Tunxis Burlington Region White Dot Trail (Western portion), 6.4 Miles
In total, the White Dot is 9 miles long – but I’d only be doing 2/3 of that today, the rest to be done on a different loop hike on a different day. The White Dot’s beginnings are rather modest – a road walk along East Plymouth Road in Plymouth. There is a ton of trash along this road.
After about five minutes, the trail (still along the road) crosses into Harwinton and then begins it’s journey due north for a couple miles along old roads. The first bit of old road passes by some interesting historical sites, such as the former homestead of Stephen Graves.
I don’t feel the need to rehash his story, but again, you can read all about it here, in my Tory Den report.
Soon I came to the Bristol Reservoir Number 3 land which was just like every other reservoir I’ve hiked past except something silly struck me here. There I was, pretty far off the beaten track, at a fairly remote reservoir owned by the town of Bristol (although I was still in Harwinton) and some municipal worker took the time to carefully attempt to reseed some grass along the access road. I just thought it was weird, that’s all.
But not quite as weird as coming upon a “Gecko Crossing” sign (with gecko picture) in the hollow of a tree along Blueberry Hill road – a graded dirt road through some very pretty woods. It’s very driveable, but I saw no cars on my hike.
There were clasisic New England Barns…
Funny story about this barn/house. I stopped to take a picture and noticed some ring-neck pheasants and other cool birds in a pen just to the right of this picture. So I walked over and started making bird noises at them for a response. It wasn’t until I said, “Hello, Mr. Pheasant” to the pheasant that I noticed the owner of the barn/house standing not 15 feet away just staring at me.
He said not a word, nor did I. We nodded at each other and I continued north up the road – totally embarrassed but quickly got over it. After all, it was 8 AM on a Sunday morning along a nowhere road in a town called Harwinton. Soon after I passed the latest addition to my(unfortunately) growing “Carcasses” list.
The White Dot then veers sharply right for a bit, then sharply right again and skirts a massive beaver dam created marsh and lake complex. It’s pretty cool what beavers are capable of, but somewhat alarming at the same time. I passed by a young couple who had camped out overnight and continued around the marsh. At some point I crossed back over into Burlington and began heading northeasterly again.
That meant I was nearing Johnnycake Mountain road again and near some rather massive new homes. The trail avoids most of the cleared area and even finds a cool little hemlock grove with a large cliff in the midst of giant useless yards of new giant useless houses.
After crossing Johnnycake Road – hey,what the heck is a Johnnycake anyway? Jonnycake is an unleavened cornmeal pancake popular in regional American cuisine and strongly identified with Rhode Island foods. A Jonnycake is usually made of lightly sweetened cornmeal and hot water and fried in butter, somewhat similar to fried polenta or thin wheat bread.
Jonnycake is often served with maple syrup or other sweet toppings and were popular dating back to colonial times. I’m quite sure they are bland and nasty to our modern tastes. Anyway, the trail is suddenly completely different and crosses open farmland and green fields.
From the 1160′ summit of Johnnycake Mountain, I took in views of the surrounding hills and the Johnnycake Mountain Farm below. There is a cool little register box before the summit, with descriptions of the area. Long story short, the owners of that farm opened up other farms around the country with the Johnnycake name. But back to the trail, one must sort of guess which way it crosses this old pasture land to get to the two stiles to climb over the electrified fences.
It’s a secret, but the fences are no longer “live,” but it’s still fun to pretend when ascending the stiles.
Once through the fields, the trail crosses some hastily made logging roads and gets a bit jumbled before dipping back into the woods and down a reentrant to a little stream. It passes the Yellow Dot intersection and then dips and doodles a bit before climbing up the lower slopes of Wildcat Mountain. That climb will happen another day, as once I hit Route 69 I turned around, joined the Yellow Dot, finished that, picked some fiddleheads and drove home.
There is one little spot about 4 minutes west of 69 where one cheap camera shot captured 6 blazes at once. Slight overkill, wouldn’t you say?
Gee, which way do I go?
As with all of the Burlington sections, this hike felt fairly remote – even despite the proximity of some houses along the way. it offered some variation and passed by some pretty cool stuff. If you skip the out and back to Route 69 (only completists need to do that), it’s a nice 9 mile or so loop.
The Tunxis Trail in Burlington (White Dot in Light Blue, Yellow Dot in yellow).
For the Curious: