This is an account of my trip through Vermont in 2011.
Molly Stark State Park – August 17
I drove to Molly Stark State Park and slept next to an apple tree. It smelled beautiful. I was careful to place my tent just out of range of the falling apples, but I had trouble driving the tent stakes through the pebble-filled soil. That night, I practiced roasting perfect marshmallows.
Driving – August 18
I drove north to Lake Willoughby and drove around the area figuring out what trails there were to take. Later, I took route 105 east by numerous farms, trees, and mountains. It was a very scenic drive. There are entire sections of road that are nothing but pine and ferns. Finally, I found the dirt road off of 102 that leads to Maidstone State Park. After passing by nothing but trees for three miles or more, I suddenly found a row of houses around the edge of a lake. At the very end of the road is the park.
Highlights: I saw a fox cross 105 in front of me.
Mount Hor – August 19
Off of route 5A is a dirt road that goes nearly halfway up Mount Hor. I took the trail the rest of the way up. It was steep. I got very sweaty. Although the top is covered with vegetation, there are three cliff lookouts near the top with some limited visibility. Each is only big enough for two or three people. On my way from the second to the third lookout, I heard thunder. Soon after, I heard an approaching roar which turned out to be sheets of rain hitting the treetops. Seconds later, the storm was right over me. Less than two minutes later, the storm passed on. I continued to hear distant thunder as I reached the third lookout. Then I descended.
Highlights: I saw a snake and more tiny toads than I could ever count.
Mount Psigah – August 19
Directly across the road from the Mount Hor access road is the trail to climb Mount Psigah. Psigah and Hor flank the southern end of Lake Willoughby, with Psigah on the east. On the west (lake side) of Mount Psigah is mostly bare vertical rock, but from the south is a trail that leads to the top. It is very steep and I was exhausted by the time I reached an exposed area near the top. I also checked out two of the western lookouts. These are openings in the woods right at the edge of the cliff that offer a much better view than at Mount Hor, though they are just as small. They were awesome. Rather than keep looking for the others, I headed back down to eat and rest.
At the very beginning of the trail is a pond with dead trunks sticking out of it. The way the sunlight caught them struck me as very nice. Unfortunately, I would not have my first camera until 2013.
There is a lot of coniferous life on Mount Psigah, and it smells beautiful. There was also a lot of fungous, of many colorful varieties. In several places I swear I could smell rich, butter-fried, portabella mushrooms, but could not see them. It was very strong. Near the top there were birds whose wings made loud whirring noises when they took off. There was also a giant dragonfly whose wings were louder than I was used to.
Highlights: I saw a large nest in a short tree near the top. I saw a dead insect I think must have been either a female dobsonfly or a horntail fly.
Maidstone State Park – August 19
I drove back to Maidstone State Park by way of 105. As the sun set behind me, a strange mist began to rise from the forest around me. By the time I got to 102, I didn’t see it anymore. Arriving just after sunset, I sat by the lake and ate ravioli. That’s when I saw a loon surface just thirty feet from me. A few seconds later it was gone. I waited a long time for it to surface, but it never did – at least not where I could see it. That is the only time I have ever seen a loon.
The park was surprisingly low on insects and I slept outdoors in one of their lean-tos. After climbing two mountains, sleep came easy. The next morning, I visited the beach there to take a quick swim. As I sat drying my feet on the rocks, I saw a large frog in the water. We stared at each other for minutes. Finally, I poked a stick toward him. He jumped up and bit the end of it! We played this game three more times. I’m not sure what his motives were. Later, I took the trail that ran along the shore from one beach to the second beach.
Highlights: I saw many minnows and what must have been an ichneumon fly – something I have read about but never seen.
Fairbanks Museum – August 20
I visited the Fairbanks Museum in Saint Johnsbury. Finding the street it was on was no problem, but finding which direction to go once on that street was. The museum itself has no sign, the front of it is obscured by trees, the angle of it one sees from the road is different than the angle in the brochure, and many of the buildings around there have the same style. Finally, I got inside.
All the exhibits are in one large room and most of them are taxidermy. They were having a special on birds that week and so I saw hundreds of birds grouped by continent. There was also a moose, bears, monkeys, a tiger, a wolverine, a muskrat, and several other mammals. There was also a special section just for hummingbirds. There must have been a hundred hummingbird species represented.
Really cool was the globe tool, a six-foot spherical screen that would show different rotating maps of Earth. Different choices included tectonic plates, ocean floor, and Earth after rising sea levels. There were also maps of The Moon, Mars, and other planets.
The layout at the museum was sometimes irksome. One exhibit purportedly explained how and why early ideas of what dinosaurs were like differed from those today, but instead of showing a side by side comparison for each one, the arrangement of the models was scattered and incomplete. Often, it was difficult to tell where one exhibit ended and another began.
I also noticed the usual “green” propaganda. A placard stated that species are disappearing today at a rate even faster than they did during the end of the age of dinosaurs, and that today’s rate of extinction is unprecedented. There is no way they could know this. The data is far too incomplete. The fossil record is so sparse that they can’t even find the “missing links”, how could they know for sure exactly when a species went extinct? Does anyone remember the coelacanth, the fish that everyone thought went extinct millions of years ago only to be found still living? Nobody is in agreement how many species are on the Earth in the first place, let alone how many are dying. We are still counting new ones and estimates of the total vary widely. Also, breeds and subspecies are reclassified as full, independent species all the time. I also happen to know that we simply lack the infrastructure to track population levels of every species there is, especially when some were only just discovered and may not ever be seen again. The world is a big place, and collection is based somewhat on luck. Incidentally, the extinction of the dinosaurs was not the greatest in history (the Permian-Triassic event was much greater), so it is a cherry-picked comparison in any case.
Museums must hate me.
You don’t have to go far from home for long to find interesting things. I enjoy the small places in between. This is an account of my trip through Vermont in 2009, which was the first time I drove more than two hours away from my home by myself (I lived in New Hampshire at the time). If you have an eye for detail, there is always plenty to see.
Harriman Reservoir - June 8
After parking and walking to the opposite side of the Harriman dam, I discovered a snowmobile path that ran for a very long ways. I decided to make a hike out of it. I eventually gave up walking and turned around after what must have been more than three miles. This entire time, I did not see a single human on the path. Nor did I ever see anyone on the opposite shore, nor a single boat in the water. It was very peaceful. The water was unsuitable for wading. It was full of leaves, muck, and branches. Trees grew right up to the water. There was no proper beach anywhere. Besides, the water was colder than I expected for June.
Highlights: There were large, yellow butterflies everywhere. In one location, there was a dogpile of them on the ground. I gave chase but they got away. They all seemed to have great difficulty getting off the ground. Eventually, all but one did, and it was still there when I returned that way to my car.
Molly Stark State Park – June 8
Turning east on route 9, I headed for Molly Stark State Park. A trail from the park leads to the top of Mount Olga, which is really more of a big hill. It is quite steep, but the length of the trail was slightly disappointing. Also, the top is covered with trees, blocking any view. There is a fire tower at the top, but the plastic windowpanes are cracked and dirty. It was still nice.
Highlights: The air all the way up the trail was strong with the scent of Christmas trees.
The Maple Museum – June 8
Off of route 9 is a gift shop named The Maple Museum. It closes at 6, but since she was awaiting a package from UPS, the lady there let me in at 6:20. The store has maple syrup of all grades and blends, plus maple candies of all kinds. It also carries baskets, shirts, books, postcards, salsas, sauces, figurines, and all the usual stuff you find in any gift shop. The one thing that really intrigued me was the maple soda. It wasn’t as good as I expected.
91-North – June 8
I decided to begin heading north that evening to the Willoughby area so I would have less distance to go the next morning. All the way north on 91 on both sides were small mountains and large hills covered in trees catching the light from the setting sun. Also, it seemed at times that I was the only one out on the road. Traffic was almost zero. It was very scenic and peaceful.
The Wells River Motel – June 8
I stopped at the Wells River Motel for the night. It was nice, but more than I like spending. Also, I couldn’t get hot water in the shower the next morning. That was fun.
89-North – June 9
Since it was raining, I decided to skip Willoughby and head northwest on 89 to the aquarium in Burlington. If you think mountainous landscapes in the sun are cool, you’ve never seen them in the rain. Great, curling tentacles of mist wrapped around the mountains on either side of me barely a thousand feet over my head. These mountains were really more like very large hills, actually, although some were quite steep.
ECHO Aquarium – June 9
The ECHO Aquarium in Burlington is directly on the shore of Lake Champlain. Its exhibits primarily concern the history, geology, and ecology of the lake, but there was also an exotic frog exhibit. There are no very large tanks, but I did see numerous fish, turtles, and frogs. I learned that a freshwater variety of dune grass grows nearby and that foreign zebra mussels encrust anything left on the lakebed.
Isle La Motte – June 9
Later, I drove north to the Chazy Reef on Isle La Motte. The white-powder dirt roads of the islands turned my tires white by the time I got to the end. Half of the island is fossil reef including stromatolites, bryozoans, stromatoporoids, sponges, coral, and various mollusks. There are trails to take through the woods to see different rock formations with fossils in them. I didn’t see much. Most of it just looked like rock to me, but I did learn how to recognize fossil stromatoporoids, which are long-extinct, cabbage-like relatives of sponges that I had not heard of before. By this time, the rain had stopped, but it was still cold and windy. There was one location where the rock under my feet sounded hollow.
Highlights: I saw a black and yellow snake, a long, thin, bright green beetle, and a bright red beetle with bright blue wing covers.
Stillwater State Park – June 9
Returning southeast on 89 and route 2, I pulled into the Groton State Forest. A cluster of state parks are there. I pulled into Stillwater State Park hoping to find a campsite to spend the night (much cheaper than a motel). The park borders a lake and has restrooms, pay showers, a sandbox, a badmitten net, half a basketball court, and a swingset. I was one of only two campers in the entire campground of over fifty sites. That night it became extremely cold. I had to put on a sweatshirt, change into long pants, get out my heavy blanket and my beach towel just to be warm enough – and this was in June!
Highlights: I saw a rabbit, a lightning bug, and heard what I think were owls all night.
Owl’s Head Mountain – June 10
Still in Groton State Forest, I drove to Owl’s Head Mountain to do some mountain climbing. I was a bit disappointed with it. I drove ninety percent of the way to the top (that’s where the parking lot is) and the trees at the top only allow a 100-degree angle view. Still, it was a decent view for what it was.
Afterwards, I took a trail down the non-steep side of the mountain and looped back to my car by way of the main road. In the half-hour it took me to walk on route 232, only four cars passed me.
Highlights: I saw a very young, diseased, maple tree with hot pink blotches on the leaves. I saw two types of slugs, both up to four inches long.
Kettle Pond – June 10
Still in Groton State Forest, I visited Kettle Pond and took the trail that wraps around it. Despite the flat grade, it was hard going due to all the rocks, roots, and mud. It took longer than I expected. There were no suitable beaches.
Highlights: I saw two types of newts.
93-South – June 10
Deciding to return home early because of the unusually cold weather, I took 93 south to see the White Mountains. I noticed as soon as I passed the border from Vermont to New Hampshire that the thousand-foot hills that lined the road on both sides suddenly became vast mountains that sloped off away into the distance. The drive was largely uneventful.
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.