Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Grand Tour

Coon Hollow, Diamond, or Tory Cave; Bershire County

An unusally wet Coon Hollow Cave entrance

One other trip I wanted to get in before the inevitable end to this year's outdoor season was a tour of a large section of karst within the central Berkshires. It is one of the more amazing pieces of geology in Massachusetts, from the speleological perspective, with a least a dozen solution formed marble caves located in a 'corridor' just over two miles long.

Taking my usual back road approach, I traveled down through the northern portions of this 'cave corridor', turning into the less inhabited woodlands, to finally come out overlooking the side of a valley. Several mountain streams drain down the sides of this valley setting up a classic cave karst scenario where waters flowing off the less soluble schists, onto marbles, eventually makes it's way underground. Not far from these 'contact zones' is often a likely site that caves might want to form. It this particular area three caves - Coon Hollow, Dolo, and Coffin Caves - are diversionary routes from the surface streams. Sometimes the surface stream beds (or sections thereof) run and sometimes can carry running water.

My first destinations were Coon Hollow and Dolo Caves where one might say they are geologically connected if not physically. They are both underground channels for the same surface stream. On this day, waters were high and normally dry sections of streambed were carrying water - right on into the cave entrances. Moving on to another section of forest, a second stream draining into the karst lands was also running water in sections not normally found and right by the entrance to Coffin Cave. Descent into the caves under these conditions would be ill advised. Somewhere within the earth the hydrological flows of the two cave systems, Coon Hollow/Dolo and Coffin, do meet and exit through a major spring - my next stop.

Waters from this spring travel a ways down through a beautiful section of wilderness and on into a geologically separate section of karst. Paralleling close to the main stream is one running underground where a small section can be accessed through Blanket Cave. Eventually a couple hundred feet farther along - much further than one can travel through the cave, the underground waters issue forth and travel somewhat alongside the main brook. Eventually a second stream coming from a slightly uphill resurgence joins the Blanket Cave stream. And even farther along the hillside a third resurgence can be located.

Some of all this 'resurged water' comes from an upland plateau of sorts - another less obvious example of karst topography. Waters coming off the shoulder of the valley highlands do eventually make their way underground upon the plateau, in the insurgence once know as Temper Hole. Beyond Temper the plateau exhibits characteristics of underground features with sunken ravines and sinkholes.Most of these features end in the area where Bill Blankey's Cave is found (whomever Bill Blankey is/was - is lost to time) preceded by newly discovered Skeleton Cave found higher on the ravine's wall.

With all caves visited and accounted for, it was only left to make my way back up and out the valley of karsts. Returning to my car I find an eager group of orange clad men pouring out of their SUV in preparation for the next day's beginning of shotgun deer hunting season. Retracing my route home by way of the woods road, I passed more streams diving into the ground providing warm memories of past excursions into the nether regions of this expansive karst.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Monadnocks and Pulpits

Pulpit Rock: circa 1870

The gray, cold skies of late autumn portends the coming of winter but offer up some of the best outdoor experiences of the year. Before closing my season out for another year, I wanted to visit the rocky formations within the Connecticut River Valley one more time. Having such a beautiful day this late in the year is certainly a gift not to be taken lightly so I extend my journey to climbing Mt. Toby.

Toby is a monadnock standing close to the mighty Connecticut River. I used one of the old mountain roads that comes in from the west ascending past a fallen in sugar shack. The last one-third of a mile provides a nice challenging climb of about 450 feet in elevation. Views on the summit are quite limited until one climbs the fire tower (seen from the valley on the drive in) and is rewarded with a breathtaking vista. Leaving the mountain top, I checked the remains of the sugar shack seen on the ascent (just downhill from here a couple of faults trending south to north run through the area) and looked into a couple side trails.

But before pulling out of the Valley, I decided to focus on the section of rocks known in the Victorian Age as the Rock Shelter. This is the impressive territory of rock formations photographed some 140 years ago. Walking past my well known rocky acquaintances Rock Roof and Kittie' Nook, I arrived at (yet another) Pulpit Rock. In this version, Pulpit Rock is section of the grandiose ledges that has given way leaving a free standing boulder. Trying to photograph the modern day version of the antique photograph was nearly an impossible chore with today's forest all around. Although many 'quasi-cave' formations exist in the area, I finished off the day with a very real - but very small - cave, dubbed Graves' Cave when I first came across it a few years back.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Finally: The Quarry

With the end of another season bearing down (I generally don't do winters) I wanted to finish up what was started locally on two recent trips: the location of the major stone quarrying operation near Pulpit Rock and formerly associated with the Sikes/Sykes Family in central Berkshire County. The first stop took me to a the picturesque St. Helena's Chapel in New Lenox. Here, it has been reported to me, that stone from the aforementioned quarry was used in its building.

Moving on to find suitable parking, I ascended into the mountains. Typically, I use a crisscross pattern to cover large sections of land when doing reconnaissance work and in this case I worked lower to higher elevations. Not much was seen initially except a few rubble piles that may be due to small time stone cutting. Finally - at the higher elevations - I arrived at Pulpit Rock.

A quick spin by the Rock and caves and I decided to descend, covering another section of forest, only to arrive back near the mountain road I made my initial ascent on. With still nothing much to show I was weighing my next move when Fate once again smiled down upon me. A man was making his way through the forest and that person was the landowner. After some discussion on the local area and history, he took me around to show his land boundaries and point out the beginning of the old quarrying operations which indeed lay upon his property. After bidding adieu to my acquaintance, who had to move on, I began exploration of the quarry site. What went on here were a number of shallow cut operations over a large section of (now wooded) mountainside.

When finished with the quarries, I returned once again to the old mountain road to look for any possible evidence of a former homestead site. Recent information came to light that H. B. Sikes' home had burned long, long ago. My own observations sadly found little to nothing that H. B. was ever here. Then it was down the mountainside once again, feeling content that the major areas of interest on the Sikes - and their mountain - had been well sought out.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Stone to Cartoons

This time of year brings the annual recreational trek on down into Connecticut. Per usual, some historical and geological adventures may get into the mix but that tends to be secondary. However, with dawn just breaking, I made my way out of the central Berkshires to my first stop. St. Andrews in Washington is a chapel whose stone is said to have originated from an area of recent studies: Skyes Mountain. At some point in the near future the exact quarry will have to be located but for now I could only gaze at the chapel walls which consisted of a vast assortment of stone - including quartzite - mortared together. These definitely were not precision cut blocks of stone.

Eventually arriving in the Bristol, CT area, I sought out a bit of a mystery. A stone cross - a memorial to a man's departed daughter - once stood on a ledge overlooking town. A few local people remember visiting it in the pst(even myself) but it has not been seen in recent times. A good mount of searching has left me believing it may now be gone. Possibly fallen to the construction of a modern day home.

Arriving at my host's home we took on one thing natural and one thing historic. The first being Sessions Woods in the town of Burlington followed by the Barker Character, Comic and Cartoon Museum. The latter is a virtual Mecca for all us aging Baby Boomers who remember - and revel - in indulging ourselves in past memories of cartoons and old TV shows.

The rest of the two day stay was a washout with tropical storm remnants roiling around. However, a visit was made to the local library where I confirmed a stash of caving newsletter publications once left by a prolific cave explorer/friend no longer resides there. Timexpo Museum in Waterbury was one of the last stops before retreating from the rains for a spell then making my way home.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Return to Rock Mountain

Returning to old Rock Mountain, whose perimeter was skirted during the recent trip on October 27, a southerly approach was taken. This visit was to include scouting for old settlements and cellar holes along with possible signs of additional quarrying activity.

The old mountain road served its purpose well as myself and hiking partner Tom located at least three former cellars long ago abandoned. One had an interesting stand of rare (for these parts ) black locust trees (now dead) lining the outside of the old cellar hole. Here and there a small ledge was seen that had been worked but that was more to the north, well out of the more southern areas underlain by Cheshire Quartzite.

At our final - and most northern cellar hole - we linked up with the area explored just two weeks previously. Turning towards the southwest we began an ascent of the former Rock Mountain - now called Sykes. Our climb brought us past outcrops of rock somewhat different - but belonging to the same geologic unit explored in the nearby pseudo-karst. Contained here was a good sized porkie den formed by weathering, frost wedging, and gravity assist.

Scooting over the summit area for a ways, little rock was seen but perhaps one more minor outcrop of rock worked in the past. A dark, picturesque bog brought us out near our original road which was followed back to the car.

Later on Tom was able to gather information at the local library mentioning what must have been a major quarrying operation run by the Sikes family from the mountain settlement. It will be the focus of a future adventure. My own impression is the name Rock Mountain is somewhat of a misnomer as the most rocky sections are really just outside what most would consider the boundaries of the mountain. But that's history for you!