Note: The photos that illustrate this trail report were taken on 10/25/2009 during a hike around the wetlands pond area. I did this portion, specifically to revisit the golden-colored tamaracks, and was immediately struck by the thought that there were a lot less compared to what I remembered. As I walked along the main trail, I discovered why. I found four downed tamarack trees that had recently been felled by beavers; I can only guess that there were several more gnawed down and since either used by the beavers or cleaned up by humans. I know beavers prefer hardwoods over softwoods, but it was interesting that with several other varieties of conifers around the pond, that tamaracks seemed to be the ones specifically sought out. In these cases, it seems the beavers chewed off more than they could handle since the trees were left abandoned, which often happens when a felled tree gets caught up on others, or when a beaver is interrupted while working.
Counting the rings on the chewed-through stumps, these trees seemed to be about 20 years old. It was a shame to see them down. In Curt Stager's book, Field Notes from the Northern Forest, there is an interesting chapter about beavers. One point mentioned is that beavers have furry flaps behind their teeth that close off both for underwater purposes and in order avoid choking on wood chips and saw dust that are generated while gnawing on trees. The water in the pond seemed higher than usual but I don't know if that was due to beaver activity or recent rains. There was a beaver lodge built at the shoreline, right next to the trail; as well as another one away from the edge.
Tamarack tree felled by a beaver (photo by Webmaster)
That's the end of this update section, now, on to the original trail report:
This serves as sort of an update to the main description of the Cross Vermont Trail (CVT) along Wells River and its adjacent paths.
This hike was done in the fall rather than the summer and covers an additional spur trail leading from the CVT.
As before, I started out along CVT's wide path. It was covered with dead leaves and the rustling of the leaves as I kicked my feet through them is a traditional autumn sound that never fails to stir up happy memories. It's fun to get such close-up looks at the leaves in order to determine what kinds of trees are in the vicinity. Along this route I saw mostly bigtooth aspen leaves... but since the trees were mostly bare I couldn't figure out which leaf types went with which tree trunks.
The highlight of hiking this route in the fall is that the long, beautiful wetlands area was totally free of bugs so I was able to spend a lot more time in this area. This part of the trail is almost exclusively lined with conifers: white pine, hemlock, spruce, fir, and tamarack. Tarmarack (also known as larch) is the only conifer tree in the northern United States that sheds its needles every year but before it does so, the needles turn a bright gold so seeing these golden "Christmas" trees interspersed among the traditional green "Christmas" trees was really magical.
In his book, Trees of New England: A Natural History, Charles Fergus gives a possible explanation for why this conifer, whose needles are already adapted to conserve water, would need to shed them over the winter. He notes that the tamarack, as well as three Asian trees that also shed their needles, used to grow above the Artic Circle millions of years ago. This is where the winter nights are long and dark and Fergus theorizes that it served no useful purpose for the trees to hang onto their needles, keeping them alive, even when it was impossible for the needles to return value to the tree because the darkness prevented them from performing photosynthesis. I thought that was an interesting and logical explanation. And if global warming continues on its current course, these trees will probably once again be growing above the Artic Circle.
Tamarack tree felled by a beaver, on the Cross Vermont Trail
(photo by Webmaster)
Along one side of the wetlands area trail is a large pond with lots of dead snags poking out of it. The other side is densely populated with cattails as well as some trees. The trail surface is short green grass, sprinkled with dead needles. This section of the trail is wide and straight and looks especially enchanting with the sun slanting through the trees illuminating both the tamaracks and the path with a soft golden glow.
There were a few ducks on the pond and other birds all around. Winter 2009 update: There are now some interpretive signs along the pond section, both on Cross Vermont Trail and on Blue Mountain Union School Trail. Subjects covered include red maple, hemlock, white pine, beavers, and the hallucinogenic Amanita muscaria mushroom.
At the far end of the pond, on the right, is a sign indicating "BMU". This trail leads, in a quarter mile, to the Blue Mountain Union School. Even if you don't wish to go all the way to the school, it's worthwhile to follow this route for about a tenth of a mile because it contours the far end of the pond as well as part of the opposite side, giving a different and more open prospect than what the CVT offers.
Beaver lodge on the shoreline (in the foreground) (photo by Webmaster)
The trail goes up a gentle incline and at the top of the rise you can look over the pond and see a hilltop farm just on the far side of I-91. This farm is uphill from the one that's visible across the river at the point where the trail passes under I-91.
Continue past the rise to reach a section of shore opposite the CVT. After that the trail curves to the left away from the pond but there are still more wetlands sections to its right. Then the path goes up a short, steep pitch to come out at the parking lot of the Blue Mountain School.
Returning to the CVT, I walked to its end, then turned around and took the next right onto the eastern end of the Blue Mountain Nature Trail (unsigned but the path is obvious). The path crossed a wide crooked-looking bridge and then wound its way to the shore of the placid Wells River. The water was totally clear and I could see the goldish colored sandy bottom. The river appeared to be only a couple of feet deep.
Wetlands pond, taken from the Cross Vermont Trail (photo by Webmaster)
Circling away from the river, the nature trail then climbed a short steep pitch, was flat for a while, then climbed for a bit more (although gently this time) to reach the plateau peninsula. There are one or two trails that go left and cut the loop short but just keep going straight and the trail will end up curving around to return to the CVT without making any abrupt turns. This loop is marked thoroughly by survey ribbon.
I saw three deer in this section. They were in a hemlock grove in the narrow area between the outside of the trail and the river. Although the understory was mostly open, the deer ran off and quickly disappeared from sight. At this point I could see across the river where there was lush green grass on the far side contrasting sharply with the golden beige of the river itself and the needle carpeted path that I was walking on.
I returned to the CVT and had lunch at the bench in the wetlands section. Then I continued on, passing under I-93, and then turning right at the eastern end of the Boltonville Nature Trail. I descended on the narrow path, going slowly since the thick layer of dead leaves made the path a little slippery.
Berries (photo by Webmaster)
Then I reached the floodplain area where a wide green swathe meandered through the tall grass, dead goldenrods, and milkweeds. The milkweeds were shedding their seeds supported by silky white threads so the spots of white provided a nice accent to the landscape. The river was very close by and was gurgling along in this section.
Just after leaving the meadow area to return to the woods, there was a short wet and muddy section. Since I was wearing sneakers, my feet were instantly soaked. Not the best feeling on a 40 degree day, but by this time I was near the end of my journey anyway.
The gentle gurgling of the river soon transformed into loud pounding as the river rushed down some small cascades and squeezed through a narrow, rocky gorge. This is a fascinating spot. The water seemed to be running full-tilt here in spite of it being autumn and there was lots of white water.
Taking a little detour away from the trail, and continuing upstream, the water was much more calm and was again perfectly transparent. In this section there were more rocks than sand on the river bed.
I returned to the trail and went up the easy hill to rejoin the CVT. Then I turned right and quickly reached the parking area.
Tamaracks, with more colored foliage in the background (photo by Webmaster)
Tamarack cones grow upright on the branches and are less than an inch tall
(photo by Webmaster)
Blue Mountain School Trail (photo by Webmaster)