This weekend, I searched for a socially isolated hiking spot using a combination of thumbing through our old posts, scrolling around open street maps looking for green areas, and finally googling for town conservation lands. I hit on the Stoddard Rocks and Pioneer Lake Conservation area. It was newly established in 2012. Open street maps shows trail on the adjacent SPNHF lands, but not on the town conservation area. The town conservation page has PDF maps and descriptions. The photos of the rocks looked fun for Isaac to climb, and the trails looked like a worthy goal to GPS and add to open street maps.
The trail from the Pickerel Cove trailhead was well blazed, but the trail bed was rough. It looked like they had flagged the trail and cut the vegetation, but they hadn’t done anything to the foot bed. In places it fumbled through uneven rocks. In other places, it was smooth loam that will slide down the hill and erode if it gets much traffic. I had printed out a copy of the kiosk map and was trying to follow our progress. Tyson was GPS’ing. The kiosk map looked detailed, like it was built from GPS tracks, but it didn’t agree with Tyson’s tracks. After we turned onto an old farm road, an even older road turned left, but it wasn’t blazed, so I figured it was abandoned. Tyson wanted to GPS it anyways. I said we could get it on the way back. So we continued on the obvious route. It wasn’t until we crossed Pickerel Creek that we realized we were on the Pioneer Lake Dam trail when we had meant to be on the North Stoddard Rock Trail.
The view at Pioneer Lake was quite pretty. The lake has a few tree covered islands in the middle, and some marshy blueberry patches along the edge that look red this time of year. The dam is modern construction, but 100 feet downstream and 10 feet lower, we found the remnants of an old rock wall dam. The lake must have been much smaller then, more of a pond. A beaver haul track over the dam connected Pioneer Lake and the stream. While contemplating the lake, Tyson asked Isaac why anyone would ever want to put pie on their ear? Isaac hasn’t stopped giggling about that since.
At the lake, a few black flies started targeting Isaac. One benefit of the random photo on the front page of this blog, is I had forewarning that black fly season was coming. For the past few weeks, the blog had been showing me photos from our Bald Mountain hike in 2016 when we were hounded by black flies. I brought bug spray this time.
The signs to Stoddard Rocks pointed left from the lake. We decided to go right for a longer loop. This trail continued following an old road. After three minutes on the old road, I realized I wasn’t seeing blazes any more. Then we started having to climb over or around dead trees across the road. I thought we should turn around. This couldn’t be the trail we were looking for, we must have missed another turn. Tyson said he was sure there had been no turn, this must be it. Besides, weren’t we out exploring? Was traipsing along this old road any worse than any other exploration? The road only got worse. It turned into a stream. However, I realized that at regular intervals, I was seeing blue flagging on trees. Maybe they planned to open this as a trail but hadn’t gotten any farther than flagging it?
The loop trail had no views of Pioneer Lake. Instead, it passed through good bird habitat. I heard a wood thrush whistling. I never can spot wood thrushes. We heard several wood peckers hammering away. I briefly spotted one of them. A chickadee sang from a tree near the trail and then perched while we admired it. Some brownish-gray bird watched us from a rock in the gloom under the hemlocks. Isaac saw that one. The woods also appeared to be good moose habitat from the amount of moose poop we saw.
The trail map shows three routes up to Stoddard Rocks on the north side of the lake. North of the rocks, it shows two more loops. Our plan to maximize trail coverage while minimizing doubling back was to take the middle of the three trails up to Stoddard Rocks. At the first junction, both the straight ahead and right trails were blazed and well maintained. A sign pointed up the hill for Stoddard rocks loop, south. Isaac bounced on a log while Tyson and I contemplated the map. Per our plan, we wanted to continue straight to the second right turn to the summit. We hiked up the hill. We hiked down the hill. We crossed the stream at the far northwest corner of Pioneer Lake. That wasn’t correct. Somewhere we had missed the middle blue trail. Oh well, at this point we could just take the last trail. The third trail junction was, again, well signed: Stoddard rocks loop west — this way; south — that way. While we double checked our map, three other people came hiking up the trail. Ah well, we had a good run of complete social isolation. We let them go first.
From here up to the rocks, the trails did what we expected. We climbed one rock part way up the hill before lunch. At the top of the hill, we had to convince Isaac to eat lunch first before trying to climb the other rocks. A mourning cloak butterfly floated around us while we ate lunch. Then we spent a half hour scrambling around the smaller rocks. The largest ones looked unsafe without a rope and harness.
Before we descended, Tyson explored the top of the hill looking for some evidence of the middle blue trail down. All he found was the eastern loop trail. We kept looking as we hiked down the hill. Once the hill flattened out, I switched to looking for the trail junction with the two northern loops. Just about where I thought we might spot it, I found a trail junction with an old unmaintained road.
And Isaac’s bouncing log.
We had come full circle to where we had found the first trail up to the rocks. At this point Tyson pulled out his GPS track to re-evaluate where we were. Our track matched up best with the middle blue trail on my map — the one we had intended to take. We had actually missed the first trail. Tyson hiked back the tenth of a mile to the previous swamp, but he never found the first trail. A mystery.
At this point, we would have to go halfway around the circle again to pick up the western trail where it continued north, avoiding the rocks. Tyson declared enough on going in circles. We headed back to to the car, counter clockwise around the lake. We crossed paths with one other family. The top of the next hill has an old apple orchard. Maybe we should come back in the fall to pick apples? We found the old cellar hole and the well. We detoured onto the North Apple Orchard trail to map it out to it’s trailhead. There is a half a car worth of parking at that trailhead, so I wouldn’t suggest it for non-local people. We doubled back up to the orchard. From here we could take the blazed and signed trail back to Pioneer Lake Dam. Or we could take an old road going in the direction of the fourth trail on my map, and possibly short cutting back to the very first old road Tyson had wanted to GPS.
This road appeared to have seen some maintenance because all the downed trees were from this past winter, nothing older. Down lower on the road, where it was boggy, we found moose tracks. At the very bottom of the road, where it crosses Pickerel Creek, we found a beaver pond — a beaver pond across the road. Two ducks swam away in the distance. Isaac counted five newts swimming in the water. Tyson spotted a frog at the bottom. The water was very clear. We considered trying to cross on the beaver dam. That looked too mushy. Then Tyson spotted a gangway made of two 2×4’s farther down the stream. Isaac and I walked across it. Tyson declared it too dicey and hopped rocks. A short way up the hill we rejoined the trail out to the car.
So, in summary, the trail map is aspirational. (Here is the version I was using.) If you want to hike straight to the rocks and back, follow the blazes and signs. We didn’t find any trails connecting to the trail system on the neighboring SPNF land. The rocks were lots of fun and well worth it.
Among the things missing from open street maps is Pioneer Lake itself. Tyson added the lake along with the trails we hiked, but it may take a few days for it to show up.