Saturday, March 10, 2018

Short Hike #2: Snowshoeing at The Clark

Looking toward Williamstown Village from the Stone Hill viewpoint

I didn't have a ton of time this afternoon, but I wanted to play in the snow a little bit while we still had some. So off to Williamstown I went, where there's a good 2 feet on the ground after Wednesday's storm. I had heard about the network of trails at the Clark Art Institute and, since I had never been there although living so close, I figured it was a good destination for the day. Parking at the uppermost parking lot, far removed from the crowds at the museum galleries, I strapped on the snowshoes and headed into the woods, figuring I could do an easy 1-2 mile stroll.

Trail map at the trailhead

Easy? Maybe not, as I was generally breaking my own trail. Immediately after crossing a bridge, I took a left onto the Pasture Trail, ascending through the woods. I passed through a gate and walked onto the meadow giving this trail its name. During the summer, this meadow is home to a local farmer's cows and horses. No trail could be seen, so I struck out across the deep snow to what appeared to be the high point marked on the trail map as a "scenic view". And scenic that view was.

The beautiful village of Williamstown. Pine Cobble is in the background. 
Looking east toward North Adams

What goes up must go down, so I went down to the north, exiting through a gate at the north end of the meadow. I walked along the fence to the broken-out Nan Path and turned left. There was a gate at this end of the meadow and I will keep that in mind for future visits.

Bridge after turning on the Nan Path

At the far side of the bridge shown above, the Howard Path branches off to the right, and the Howard Path I took. This path was unbroken and, although I could see outlines of steps along the trail, my snowshoes did not feel steps as I descended to a creek.

The Howard Path

After the creek, it was an uphill stroll through the edge of the woods back to my car. While I only hiked slightly less than a mile, it took nearly an hour between breaking a trail and admiring the views.

I definitely need to get back to the Clark at some point when I can stop inside and view the artwork, but the trails are certainly worth a visit in the warmer months, too.

Getting Here

The Clark is located on South Street approximately 0.4 mile south of the Williamstown village center. Multiple parking lots are on the property, with the southernmost being best if you are only here to walk around the property.


The Clark Campus information. Trail maps and information about the museum.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Snowshoeing in the Spa City: Saratoga Spa State Park

Island Spouter, one of the few geysers east of the Mississippi River
All photos mine

New York has several unique natural destinations, but few are more unique than Saratoga Spa State Park. Located within the city limits of Saratoga Springs, the park contains many interesting geologic features, including the only geysers in the United States east of the Mississippi River. The region's namesake mineral springs have long been visited for their alleged health benefits and the water bottled for sale. To combat overpumping of the springs, the area became a state reservation in 1909. Several of the spa buildings were built with New Deal funds in the 1930s. The spa area became a state park in 1962 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

We had a significant snowstorm last Friday, so I figured I'd spend some time Saturday playing in the snow. Most of the snow fell southwest of Albany, but I was unsure if roads would be plowed, so I decided to head north to Saratoga. Parked near the Roosevelt Baths, strapped on my snowshoes, and into the woods I went. I started down the Geyser Trail, taking it to the short, orange-blazed Springs Trail.

Trails generally looked like this. Geyser Trail near the Roosevelt Baths

The Springs Trail descends into the gorge carved by Geyser Creek, ending across from the education building. Turning right along the road, I crossed the creek and immediately turned right onto the Vale of Springs Trail. It isn't long before you pass this beauty on the right.

It's the cover photo again!

Yes, that's Island Spouter, one of the area's best-known springs. Like all of the springs, Island Spouter is carbonated mineral water. It also happens to be a geyser that shoots 10-15 feet into the air. The island is composed of tufa, a type of limestone created by mineral deposits from the spring.

Continuing down the trail (with Island Spouter to the right)

Once you're done admiring one of New York's most unique natural features, continue north along the trail. The narrow trail runs along the bank of the creek, eventually reaching a massive tufa deposit encroaching on the trail. This deposit was created by Orenda Spring, located up the cliff.

Orenda Spring's tufa dome
Closeup of the tufa dome

The tufa dome from the other side. That little ledge is the trail.

Past the tufa dome, we pass under a bridge leading to Saratoga Performing Arts Center and reach a stairway. Time to climb out of the gorge. Take a left at the top of the stairs, pass back under the bridge, and Orenda Spring is on the right.

Orenda Spring
Orenda is another of the major springs, but unlike Island Spouter, you can easily get to its water if you so desire.

Looking south from Orenda Spring

From up here, it is possible to see just how big the tufa deposit is. Continue south and we reach an overlook, where one can get another view of Island Spouter.

A short distance to the south, we get back to the road and the bridge. I turned left on the road and crossed the bridge again, but stayed alongside the road. A couple of springs are alongside the road.

Polaris Spring, located next to the road

Tallulah Spring is set back from the road
Tallulah Spring

A trail departs to the left a short distance south of Tallulah Spring. This trail leads to Ferndell Spring.

The trail winds along a creek, eventually reaching the spring, which was dry.

Ferndell Spring

I continued past the spring, turning left alongside a road. Another left led me back to my car, 1.6 miles and about 1:15 after I left. During tourist season, the state park can get overrun with people, but this time of year, it is peaceful enough to truly enjoy the area's natural beauty. Did I mention it's free outside of the summer season, too?

One more thing: Saratoga Spa State Park does rent snowshoes when snow is on the ground. Available at the park office, see website for more details.

Getting Here

Saratoga Spa State Park is located between US Route 9 and NY Route 50 in the southern part of Saratoga Springs. During the winter, one needs to enter the park via Avenue of the Pines or park at the SPAC lot along NY 50, as the southern entrances are closed. Winter parking is off of Roosevelt Drive and at the SPAC lot. There is an $8/vehicle entry fee between Memorial Day and Labor Day, as well as on weekends in May, September, and early October. 


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Short Hike #1: New Croton Dam

The dam's distinctive spillway

A new category of posts I'll do concerns short hikes that take less than an hour to complete. Most of these are near major roads and can be easily completed as part of another trip. The first one here is a place I finally got to last November, the New Croton Dam in Cortlandt, NY. This dam, constructed from 1892-1906, impounds the New Croton Reservoir, part of New York City's water supply system and once the tallest dam in the world. The gorge along the lower Croton River is quite scenic and popular among locals. During the summer, there is a parking fee, but outside of the peak season, entry is free.

The parking lot for the area's trail system lies near the base of the dam, next to the Croton River. The trail, generally paved with gravel, departs from the east corner of the lot and begins climbing the side of the gorge, heading toward the Hudson River. The trail soon forks; the left trail continues climbing and left is what you want. There's a hairpin curve and we start to head back toward the dam.

The trail generally looks like this
A little over halfway to the dam, the Old Croton Aqueduct departs to the right. Now a state park, this was New York City's original water distribution system. A trail follows the abandoned aqueduct to Manhattan, crossing the Harlem River on the High Bridge. I hope to eventually hike the aqueduct and post about it here.

Typical blazes

The start of the Old Croton Aqueduct trail, now a state park

Soon enough, we reach the dam. The road across the dam was closed to vehicles after the terrorist attacks in 2001, but it remains open as a walkway.

Standard NYCDEP water supply facility sign 
A vestige of the dam's former use

Looking south along Croton Dam Road

Once you're up here, it's a flat walk across the dam.

Looking into the gorge

Partway across, looking back south

Looking east at the reservoir

Approaching the bridge (replaced 2005) over the spillway

Near the bridge, there are several plaques.

The dam and water supply system is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark

Continue across the bridge for some amazing views.

Crossing the bridge

The spillway

Across the bridge 
The bridge

Signs that will never see another car

You don't say? 

If you continued on the road, you'd reach New York Route 129, which runs along the north side of the reservoir.

Looking north along the abandoned road 

Since I didn't want to do a road walk, I started back the way I came.

Looking west into the gorge

Once I got down into the gorge, I continued past the lot to get a good look at the dam from below.

If you walk onto the bridge carrying the entrance road (watch for cars), the park's signature view can be seen.

The bridge

Signature view of the spillway and bridge

Looking downstream toward the Hudson

From here, I returned to my car and went on my way, continuing to my next stop of the day. What was my next stop, you ask? Bailey Mountain, the highest point in Westchester County, located in Mountain Lakes Park in North Salem. That may get a "short hikes" post in the future.

Getting Here

Croton Gorge Park is located at the base of the New Croton Dam along New York Route 129, just east of Croton-on-Hudson. The park is easy to access from both US Route 9 and the Taconic State Parkway. There is a $10 parking fee Friday-Sunday from May to September.