Tuesday, May 19, 2020

George B. Parker Woodland Refuge

I woke up this morning thinking it was going to be at best a partly cloudy day. It was almost cloudless. A fine day for a final hike in the forests of Rhode Island before I have to return to Ann Arbor to do some things that I cannot avoid doing any longer (not sure how long I’ll stay in Michigan). We would visit the George B. Parker Woodland Wildlife Refuge which is owned by the Audobon Society of Rhode Island (like Maxwell Mays wildlife Refuge - see visit of a few days earlier there). When we pulled into the parking lot around 09:45 skies were still virtually clear, winds rustled the leaves and branches up high but we barely noticed them, and the temperature was edging towards 60°F. A fine morning to spend walking through the forest.

Previous hikes I would categorize as easy walks. Little elevation gain and loss and good footing make those trails in Arcadia and Maxwell Mays easy introductions to southern Rhode Island. Today would be a bit more challenging. This property is supposed to include fields as well as forests and streams but our modest lollipop-shaped hike would not expose us to any fields or even glades. The closest we would come were areas where the forest grew slightly less dense.

The standout feature of the first part of the hike was extensive boardwalk. While much of it is in good shape there are segments that clearly need some tender loving care to remove nails that stick up, seriously sagging boards, and some boards that are not at all secure. The bridge-segment, complete with railings, is in good shape even though it has a bit of a lean. There must be some rather wet regions that the trail works its way through but the forest doesn’t seem to change.

Photo taken May 19, 2020 at 10:25 AM

This is just part of a homestead composed of several buildings (foundations at least). It was most likely originally owned by the Vaughn family and built in 1750. I am not sure when the homestead was abandoned or why it was left. Sometime after people left fire destroyed a lot of structures. Back when it was active there would have been fields and pastures to support people and livestock. They may have had orchards too. One thing that was not obvious though was ready water access (my topo map suggests water may be present not too far north of where this photo was taken at the main farmhouse).

--May 19, 2020 at 10:25 AM. Greene, RI, United States

Photo taken May 19, 2020 at 10:31 AM

Ken is standing in what likely was a cold storage room. The stairway gave access to this space from the outside.. Photo by Jonathan.

--May 19, 2020 at 10:31 AM. Greene, RI, United States

We joined the Coventry Loop Trail (dark blue, hard for me to see, blazes) and in short order came to the foundations of parts of the Vaughn Family homestead. This homestead was built in 1750. I’m not sure how long it was inhabited but at some point people left and a fire destroyed at least the wooden buildings. Still it is always fun to see what remains and imagine how people may have lived.

Photo taken May 19, 2020 at 10:49 AM

The trail is rocky and full of roots waiting to trip you up. Trees encroach the footbed too. We are not far from the Vaughn homestead which sits on Biscuit Hill. Jonathan is on the left; Ken is on the right. Photo by Judy.

--May 19, 2020 at 10:49 AM. Greene, RI, United States

The trail is definitely on the tougher side of easy or easier side of moderate depending on how you choose to view the world. Roots and rocks abound so step with a bit of care. The trail is also hillier. We gradually climbed for the first 1.5 or so miles before having the largest descent. At that point we were working our way around the loop sometimes nearing at least one swift-flowing stream. None of the climbs are long but compared to the previous two hikes they are noticable. It also seemed to me that at the start of the walk birds of various species were far more active than they were during the middle portion of the hike. I wonder why? You would think near a stream life would sound more lively.

Photo taken May 19, 2020 at 11:19 AM

The boulder of the day with Judy and Jonathan off to the right providing just a bit of sense of scale.

--May 19, 2020 at 11:19 AM. 1670 Maple Valley Rd, Greene, RI, United States

Photo taken May 19, 2020 at 11:58 AM

There are about 100 stone piles, they look like cairns but it isn’t clear that is what they are, in this area. No one is sure why they are here or who built them. Theories range from the truly outrageous to more mundane. Chance are that at this point we will never know so perhaps it is best to just enjoy them for what they show: signs of human endeavors.

--May 19, 2020 at 11:58 AM. 1670 Maple Valley Rd, Greene, RI, United States

What makes this section most interesting to us are the cairn-like piles of stones. No one knows why 100 stone piles that look like cairns are scattered about the area. Theories range from what I could classify as nuts to more reasonable. We certainly can ignore the ludicrous ones such as the piles were crafted by Phoenicians or ancient Celts. Notions that farmers from the 18th or 19th century would have considered stones a nuisance to be gotten rid of as they cleared fields and used stones to build walls and homes but it isn’t clear they’d make cairns. Nor can we say Native Americans did or did not build them.

Overall the hike was about 3.4 miles in length with about 320 feet of gain and 330 feet of loss. The weather stayed superb throughout the entire trip. We did not see anyone today.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Breakheart Pond

Perhaps spring has properly settled in. To be fair I should write instead that perhaps we have returned to temperatures and weather conditions that are closer to the typically expected conditions for this time of year. Ealier in the month, and for most of April, I feel confident in saying temperatures were well below normal with cloudy/rainy days well above normal. Taking a peek at weatherspark.com we find:

Average Weather in May in Warwick Rhode Island, United States Daily high temperatures increase by 9°F, from 63°F to 72°F, rarely falling below 53°F or exceeding 83°F.

It has been considerably cooler and wetter. But although next week isn’t shaping up to be as nice as these past few days I think it has become properly nice at last. With the weather being nice it would be a shame not to go out and explore at least a little bit. Even if the place being explored is one we have all been many times before: Breakheart Pond in the Arcadia Management Area.

Arcadia is a multi-use recreation area which, among other things, means hunting and fishing are allowed. We donned our hunter-orange vests again. Over the couple of hours we were out we saw over 20 people and only a smattering of them were wearing significant amounts of orange. Some just did not know it was hunting season (turkeys I believe). We did hear quite a few gunshots throughout our time outside but they were never close. The boomed intruded on what was a lovely Saturday morning as temperatures rose into the low 70s under an almost cloudless sky.

Our plan was to walk around Breakheart Pond. I am pretty sure we followed a lollipop path using the John B. Hudson, Hicks, Breakheart Trails. The walk is through forest. Unlike our walk in the Tillinghast Pond forest which took us through definitely different ecosystems, the area around Breakheart Pond feels like one great forest. No dead zones in this, mostly oak I think, forest.

Many of the trails are well marked but bring a map because there are many old woods roads and un-marked trails in the area. We had a nice paper map but you can also find online printable maps1 or use what a mapping app provides.

This is an easy walk that has a surprising amount of total ascent and descent, about 250 feet over the hill just south of Breakheart Pond.But you barely notice. We moved through the forest full of birdsong stepping over a couple small rivulets that Mom doesn’t think we have ever seen before. But the spots where it has been muddy in the past must be permanently muddy as we encountered mud this time too. Just step with care or deal with some moisture.

At the start of the hike we encountered just two women who were clearly new to the area. We were able to give them some advice on which trails to follow. They struck out on the “white” trail which is a bit more rugged and certainly muddier than the “yellow” trail. Both trails lead to the pond so you can make a narrow oval loop with them if you prefer. When we reached the pond itself, easily as large as Tillinghast Pond, we found many cars in the parking lot. Some people were paddling kayaks and canoes, or rowing a boat, on the pond. No doubt others were hiking somewhere and we saw a few of them. Photo taken May 16, 2020 at 10:26 AM

A couple streams were more rivulets than proper streams but we did cross some larger streams like this one. M --May 16, 2020 at 10:26 AM. 260 Arcadia Rd, Exeter, RI, United States

Photo taken May 16, 2020 at 10:27 AM

Ken rocking his orange vest on a lovely spring morning. Photo by Judy. --May 16, 2020 at 10:27 AM. 260 Arcadia Rd, Exeter, RI, United States

We had thought we would make a slightly bigger loop and so struck out north on the Breakheart Trail. When we came to a junction, perhaps a third of a mile from the northern tip of the pond, we decided to start returning towards the pond. The path felt more like a very minor forest road and within a couple hundred feet we passed by a metal garbage barrel that was full. This seems like a peculiar place for such an item. There is nothing nearby. In fact, very soon after passing the barrel the road becomes very muddy and brush-laden. I am pretty sure we were not that far, as the crow flies, from intersecting the Hicks Trail but we decided to keep our feet dry and so retraced our steps back to the junction with the Hicks Trail.

Photo taken May 16, 2020 at 10:24 AM

There is a man-made stream in my parent’s back yard. The inspiration for that water feature comes from this stream doesn’t have a name but it is a nice swift water way. --May 16, 2020 at 10:24 AM. 260 Arcadia Rd, Exeter, RI, United States

The bulk of the not-wearing-orange people we would encounter were in this area around the pond. I suppose the pond is the standout feature although I think that outside the immediate area by the roaring outflow and parking lot your views of the water aren’t that great. We found ourselves some boulders to settle upon and have a quick lunch before climbing out of the lowland where the pond lays. During this last stretch of walking we met a young couple carrying what appeared to be huge backpacks. As we got closer they turned into huge bed-like objects strapped to their backs. They told us that they were part of their rock-climbing gear. If you fell off the rock you would land on the cushion of the large, thick, foam pad. None of us have ever seen anything like that before. We weren’t sure where they would go rock climbing but perhaps they were just going to find a big boulder and practice falling off of it. Strange.

All in all this was a nice morning ramble through the woods. It would be easy to make a bigger loop and spend moe time in the area of Breakheart Pond. Perhaps next time we will do just that.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

When is a Pond Not a Lake?

The weather continues to be spring-like. We had planned a different hike but were forced to change our plans when we came up against a big traffic jam on the way to Arcadia State Park. We settled on Tillinghast Pond which is owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy. The management area hosts 13 miles of trails which wander through a variety of ecosystems. You can also paddle Tillinghast Pond which seems, to my eye, rather large to be called a pond.1 People also hunt and fish depending on the season, turkey season now, so we wore hunter-orange vests.

I have visited this area a few times over the years. However, this time as we set out on our counter-clockwise loop it seemed to me that things were different. The forest didn’t seem as dense. Part of that could be put down to the time of year.Previous visits have been in the summer or perhaps early autumn. We passed through an area that had been deliberately cleared. We passed the remains of a homestead (water heard in the distance; in or out-flow of the pond) then wound our way along the twisting trail into the first of several dead zones. I don’t know what types of trees they were (some hemlocks and pines; many deciduous) but I do know the trees were all dead. Had I taken a photo it would show a ravaged scene with some signs of new low-growing life coming up in the much more open area. Cycles of life: but I find myelf wondering if this cycle was caused by something that should not be present. The way the dead zones change the feel of the area is remarkable.

THe Flintlock Trail winds through a variety of ecosystems. Sometimes you move through a somewhat wetter area; sometimes drier; glades appear now and then sometimes clearly man-made. It seemed to me that there were far fewer birds about than we experienced in the woods at Maxwell Mays earlier in the week.

Photo taken May 14, 2020 at 11:32 AM

The big boulder of the day. The Flintlock trail wiggles a lot before reaching Tillinghast Pond. Sometimes it passes through stretches with exposed boulders but none as large as this one.

--May 14, 2020 at 11:32 AM. West Greenwich, RI, United States

Eventually after some climbing and descending (about 110 feet over the course of the whole loop - spanning the Flintlock Trail and the white-blazed trail) we caught our first glimpses of the almost glass-smooth Tillinghast Pond. We curled around the eastern end of the pond and soon came to the edge of the meadows and small dock that juts out into the pond. What a fine spot for a snack break.

Photo taken May 14, 2020 at 12:16 PM

Sitting on the dock of the pond, watching ripples roll away... We had a nice snack break here on the northeastern tip of Tillinghast Pond. A lone kayaker works his way west and we heard a hiker talking as he walked along the far shore (he and his fluffy white big dog caught up to us later).

--May 14, 2020 at 12:16 PM. West Greenwich, RI, United States

The medows are yet another ecosystem that you could cut across to save time but it is against the rules. The Nature Conservancy wants people to let the nature be and that is understandable. I wonder if there is an explosion of wildflowers in the meadows.

The pond appears and disappears from view and after a short road walk we dipped back into the trail network for the final walk back to the car. We saw a lone paddler and two walkers and one dog. A fellow was standing by a boat in casting his fishing rod. I am sure there were more people about because we counted 8 cars evenly split between the put-in point and the parking lot where we parked.

You won’t get a serious hiking workout in this area but you will enjoy yourself as you walk through forest, meadows, glades, and along the shores of a large pond.

  1. The dividing line between when a body of water becomes a lake or pond is a bit squishy. This article provides some interesting insight into the terms. I don’t know how deep Tillinghast Pond is but suspect it isn’t that deep which is a big part of why it is a pond and not a lake even though it is likely about 12 acres in size. ↩︎

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Tides of Life

Photo  taken  May 13, 2020 at 5:59 PM

Top: not quite the highest of high tides but close.
Bottom: not the lowest of low tides but pretty low.
— Warwick, RI.

We are on a roll: two sunny days in a row. Tomorrow should be pretty nice too so perhaps a more typical spring is settling in here in the Ocean State. I decided to walk the beach at Rocky Point again. I was hoping to actually walk along the beach all the way to the pier that is being built. It is a rocky beach that is definitely submerged when the tide rolls in. Today, as the bottom photo in the duo-pic shows, the tide was out.

Unfortunately for me, I was not the only one to have the idea of spending some time outside at this modest state park. I encountered a handful of families goofing off on the narrow strip of beach. One fellow was sitting on searock soaking up the sun. Parents and their kids were playing along the surf-line. I put my mask on. But I still felt it was too crowded. Would I have felt that way before COVID-19? I decided to retreat to the paved path above (maybe 15 feet above sea level) the beach. Here I found more people biking or walking. A few dogs too. My peace was gone.

I think this may have been the greatest number of people I have encountered at Rocky Point. I wonder if more people will spend more time at parks since so many other opportunities to do things outside of the home are currently not available. While I am glad people are spending time in nature (such as it is in a former amusement park nestled amongst neighborhoods on the coast of Warwick Neck) I wish for fewer people so I don’t have to worry about viral loads being carried around.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Maxwell Mays Wildlife Refuge (and my eye)

Photo  taken May 12, 2020 at 11:18:30

My eye had been bothering me some before I went to the ER. I bet I’d be wearing dark sunglasses back then. Today in dappled but bright light I was more comfortable waring clearing lensed glasses.

--May 12, 2020 at 11:18:30. Coventry, RI, United States

Two weeks ago I spent the many hours in two ERs trying to learn what was up with my eye. The next day I went to a clinic for a closer check-up (based on the ER eye doctor’s recommendation). That visit lead to a return visit a few days later to see a cornea specialist. That visit determined that I needed sutures removed: they were loose or broken. For those of you with normal eyes this is something an ophthalmologist takes care of in his or her office: no muss; no fuss (snip snip you’re done pretty much). For me it is more involved: surgery requiring mild sedation. The surgery was scheduled but I think that was more challenging than normal because of COVID-19. COVID-19 certainly affects everything from the ER visit to time in the hospital. From a patient’s point of view forget visitors. The surgery went well and the sutures are no longer present and so my eye is much happier. I still do not feel as though I am reading as well as I should but that has been a long-term issue only worsened by the problem. I can tolerate normal light levels again which is good. And the maddening irritating feeling and pain are gone.

Photo  taken May 11, 2020 at 11:16:00

I didn’t have to walk up into the grass like Mom and I did last time when the tide was high. This isn’t miuch of a beach, certainly not one people will happily sunbathe on (those exist in Rhode Island but not here), but it is a beach nonetheless.

--May 11, 2020 at 11:16:00. Warwick, RI, United States

With the return of eye health I have been able to go for walks again. A return visit to Rocky Point on a blustery morning with a very high tide (not as high as last time but close) was one walk. I am so glad to have a wlk that is more interesting than a walk along neighborhood streets (all I really have back in Ann Arbor). Rocky Point is about 0.3 miles from the house. Sure, it is hardly a nature walk but it is more than a walk in on neighborhood streets.

Photo  taken May 12, 2020 at 11:20:22

I wonder where this boulder was located before the glaciers receded. As you can see it is quite large and no other boulders in the area are even close to the size of this one. Mom provides a bit of scale.

--May 12, 2020 at 11:20:22. Coventry, RI, United States

Photo  taken May 12, 2020 at 11:23:12

The trails are blazed various colors. I believe we entered along the white trail before following the Hemmitt Hill (yellow) trail. But what caught our attention here are the two great cavities in the tree. I suppose woodpeckers could have made them but they seem rather large and low. Maybe a barred owl lives in one but I don’t think they create the cavities. So, what did?

--May 12, 2020 at 11:23:12. Coventry, RI, United States

The bigger walk, though only a bit longer, was along some trails in the Maxwell Mays Wildlife Refuge. We strolled through the meadow into a dense forest where Carr Pond sits. Our walk, and perhaps many of them, do not really give you good views of the pond for long. Instead focus your attention on the forest. Perhaps you will see a fox, deer, wild turkey, or a snake (we saw the latter). Listen for birds and maybe even manage to identify some of them. Wonder what those great cavities in a tree might be or how long trees near the pond will survive assaults from beavers. Enjoy yourself.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Hurray For Nice Weather

It is a lovely day. Warm - too warm for the clothing I have with me , clear blue skies, numerous birds singing, and flowers blooming. It isn’t quite perfect but that’s because I can’t comfortably be in all that light since my eye is unwell (more on that in a week). But it is a fine change from the cloudy and rainy days we have had. Perhaps this is why so many cars are parked on the road by Rocky Point. You can’t park in the parking lot but you can park on the road. Fortunately our walk did not really expose us to the hordes that surely must belong to the twenty plus cars. We have walked the beach many times. This time the tide was very high. I’ve never seen it this high and suspect it was higher earlier given that the grass we walked upon to avoid getting wet was matted down. Days like today remind you Spring has really come into its own. And if the weather doesn’t convince you the activity of life from turkeys, to birds, to coyote will convince you. It does us.

Photo  taken  May 3, 2020 at 10:30 AM

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

A Walk In Rocky Point on Narragansett Bay, Warwick, Rhode Island

As of this writing, April 14, 2020, you can still visit state parks in Rhode Island if you walk or bicycle to them. Of course, you want to keep your distance from anyone you might walk past and wearing a face mask may now be required for any public outing (though I was not and am fairly sure the 3 or 4 other people I passed were not - they’re dogs certainly were not). It is important to get outside. Soak up the natural sounds, visuals, sensations against skin, smells. Remind yourself the world is larger than your house in a more active way than what any news program can provide.

A couple extra points:

  • The quahog (pronounced, “co-hog”) boat is a common sight on the bay. My understanding is that these boats are typically one-person operations and I doubt they could be much more crew given the size of the vessels.
  • The arch in the video was one of 11 arches sponsored by General Foods during the 1963-64 WOrld’s Fair which took place in New York CIty. The original arches had electronic message boards but by the time the arch came to Rocky Point that feature had been lost.
  • I think I heard Northern Cardinals, European Starlings, Morning Doves, Song Sparrows. No doubt numerous other species made their presence known through their songs.

I hope you enjoy the video.