Saturday, November 12, 2011

Autumn Rambles - Parker Woodland and Bluff Point

With the unbelievably beautiful November weather the last week we just had to make the most of it.  There wasn't an opportunity to get back to the mountains, but there are some really lovely places to enjoy the season in southern New England as well.

Parker Woodland

On Sunday we took advantage of warm, sunny day and headed to Parker Woodland in Coventry RI.  This is one of the RI Audubon Society refuges which means that unlike many of the other RI hiking locations there are no hunters to worry about in the fall.  We've been there several times in the past but still hadn't managed to hit the whole trail system (which is a bit over 7 miles).  Our last time there was the end of January last winter when there was almost three feet of snow on the ground and gave our snowshoes their best workout of the winter.  It's a beautiful place in the snow and I hope we'll get enough to make it back this winter.

The foliage wasn't as bright as I had hoped, but there were still pockets of color all along the way.  My favorite part of the trails here are those that follow the brook.  There are some wonderful spots to sit on the rocks and listen to the water while taking a break.  Such a peaceful spot

Flowing colors

Down the chute

For a beautiful fall day there were surprisingly few people out.  There were several cars in the lot but we wound up seeing only two other people the whole day.  We meandered our way around the trails and wound up hitting them all - a one day 'red-line' of the refuge.  We found an area of large boulders at the far end that provided the perfect spot to scramble up to for lunch.

Perfect lunch spot

Peaceful stream

On the way out we found the 'dragon tree' that we saw last winter.  It didn't look as happy now.  Guess he's waiting for the snow to put on his other face.

Subdued fall dragon

Happy winter dragon

If you're in the area and decide to visit Parker Woodland the Audubon Society web site has more information and a trail map here:  It's a great walk in the woods any time of year.

Bluff Point

With the beautiful weather continuing into the work week and a bunch of vacation days left to use we took advantage and headed to Bluff Point in Groton CT on Wednesday.  We had missed our traditional last paddle of the fall in Stonington with lunch at Noah's so this location came with an ulterior motive.  While I felt bad about missing the paddle I simply refused to miss that lunch!

It was a beautiful day as we drove down to Groton - brilliant blue skies an bright sunshine.  As we drove through Mystic we entered a fog bank - signs of things to come.  As it turned out this is a great walk on a foggy day and the water views take on a whole new character.  Bluff Point State Park is a peninsula bounded on two sides by Mumford Cove and Poquonnock Cove and on the end by Fishers Island Sound.  The last two summers we've paddled to Bushy Point Beach and around Poquonnock Cove when we've visited with our friends who have a cottage on the water across from the cove.  We had also hike in the park many years ago (probably when we were dating in the 70's) but hadn't been there since.  We certainly won't wait that long again - it's a great walk.

The first half of the loop along Mumford Cove showed us the benefit of being here on a foggy day.

Mumford Cove

Misty marsh and cove

Groton Long Point through the fog

Vanishing point

As we looped through the woods there were patches of beautiful autumn color.

Autumn blaze


There were also many signs of the destructive force of Hurricane Irene.  The trees here didn't have much protection and there were large trees snapped like matchsticks everywhere.

We came across one very unusual sight.  A large branch had broken off high in a tree and had landed branch-tips down forming a perfect arch right over the middle of the trail.  It was a little disconcerting walking under it, but it looks like it isn't going anywhere any time soon.

Arch over the trail ahead

Looking up from under the middle

Better view from the other side.

The bluffs at the end of the point usually have a sweeping view out across Fishers Island Sound to the Atlantic.  Not so much today...

As we headed back up along the shore of Poquonnock Cove we emerged from the fog and back into the brilliant sun.

Misty marsh and Poquonnock Cove

The sunny road home

Foggy island

Fog bank at sea beyond Poquonnock Cove

We once again red-lined the whole trail system hiking all 6 of the 5.4 miles.  The 6 miles actually could be made more like 10 with all the unmarked side trails that exist all over the park.  Will be fun to explore more of them next time.  There is more information and a trail map here:

With another great walk behind us the best of the day was still ahead - lunch at Noah's in Stonington Borough.  This is a simple little restaurant and bar tucked between the shops in this quaint seaside village and has some of the best seafood anywhere in southern New England.

Field green salad with candied walnuts, dried cranberries and warm Gorgonzola in a phyllo crust.
Grilled Stonington scallops with watercress and crunchy vegetables in orange-ginger soy dressing.

After lunch we walked around town and enjoyed the water views (which we usually have here from the kayaks) and checked out all the beautiful old houses.  It's a great place to admire the seaside cottage architecture and the colors that make each home unique.  Someday I want to go back and do a photo tour of the front doors in the village.  They are truly unique and beautiful.

Stonington Harbor

One of our favorite places to paddle

The natives enjoying low tide

Guarding the gate

Before heading home we made one last stop.  Bomster scallops are some of the best in the world and come from here in Stonington.  The Bomster family has a small retail store next to the dock with fresh frozen scallops and fish.  While fresh fish is usually the best, not so in this case.  The scallops are flash frozen on the boat and never exposed to fresh water.  They are better than any "fresh" scallops you'll ever find.  The retail store is also unique in that it is self service.  There are several freezer cases with the products, a price list, a mail slot for cash and a self service credit card machine.  Nice to see such a trusting system in today's world!

I'm not sure how much more of this amazing late fall weather we're going to get.  It's certainly still here this weekend.  Hopefully we'll manage to squeeze in a few more rambles as nice as these were.  And then there's snow to look forward to...