Rainy weekend hike around Bartholomew’s Cobble

Bartholomew's Cobble

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Should you find yourself at Bartholomew’s Cobble on a rainy Saturday, think twice about stopping. The visitors center and natural history museum will be locked shut, puddles will abound in the parking lot and the paths will prove slightly perilous. When nobody answered the information line, I should have known.

But some of us had driven all the way from rural St. Lawrence County wanting to visit the beautiful Berkshire County. Being the oldest town in the county, I rallied for Sheffield and nearby Ashley Falls. Also, being the antique buff that Dad is (or was), I knew he would enjoy driving past the largest concentration of antique dealers in the country. We counted 15.

But, we still had our hearts set on exploring, so, with umbrellas in hand, we picked up a brochure at the entrance of Ledges Trail and carried on. We read about the ancient bedrock formation including the twin rocky knolls that were described to be rare, geologic phenomenon for the Housatonic River Valley.

Of the five miles worth of trails, including a high point atop Hurlburt’s Hill, we hiked only a mere mile. Spitting snow turned us around but not before probing two gloomy caves on the Cobble and smelling the scorched rock facing Corbin’s Neck. Might there had been a small accidentally fire recently?

Walking past old farming fields, freshwater marshes with beaver ponds, transitional forests of rare Cottonwoods, these are other attractions we look forward to the next time we visit when the weather is better.

Trail blazing with UKPro on East Mountain

East mountain

Squirrel Hunting with UKPro
This is me trying to capture a shot of a noisy squirrel inside a rotting stump with my handy UKPro Carbon Pole and Pivot Mount 4″. Acting like a long limb, the lightweight pole easily allowed the GoPro camera to enter a space that Chip probably calls home. But, alas, the little stinker was able to camouflage in the darkness. All that were captured were faint chirps and clicks.

At only 778 feet above sea level, this part of the Appalachian Trail (AT for short) is an easy experience. East Mountain proves especially enjoyable for videographers, like me, capturing the fun crawl with their armchair mechanic. Mine never dreamed of tackling any portion of the longest hiking-only footpath in the world but today he did great!

We escalated in under an hour through a mixed forest of white oak, sugar maple, birch, beech and hemlock. The UKPro gadgets allowed us to easily capture POV (point-of-view) style frames, a colorful tree canopy, deep fissures in the ledges and handheld walking shots.

The “white blazes” on the trees helped keep us on the right route since we were easily distracted capturing the scenery around us. Bird nests, tall branches, looking over the edge of a cliff; all these activities were made possible thanks to the UKPro accessories.

Some of you may remember that this part of the Housatonic Valley was clobbered by a tornado in 1995. It took out the Berkshire fairgrounds, tore through barns and homes, and uprooted age-old trees on East Mountain. But nature repairs itself quickly and we found only scant reminders of the destruction.

Park yourself on the summit for views facing Everette, Race and Bear mountains with the faint silhouette of the Catskills in the distance. Continue on for three additional landscapes revealing Connecticut and points north.

Watch the YOUTUBE video to see the UKPro in action.

To learn more, visit UKPro.

Stargazing on Columbus Day

Strasenburgh Planetarium

Strasenburgh Planetarium

Rochester Planetarium

Rochester Planetarium

Columbus may have discovered the Americas in 1492 but Zeiss discovered the universe! Columbus Day weekend was spent at the Strasenburgh Planetarium with a star projector nicknamed “Carl” built by the great Carl Zeiss glass company.

The Rochester space facility first debuted the projector’s cutting-edge technology in 1968. It was the world’s first computer automated planetarium projector.

A few years later a young, impressionable blonde would visit, a toy cardboard telescope in hand and favorite book tucked under, hoping to discover the secrets of the cosmos. 35 years later, I returned with sis and Mutti to continue to probe the darkness. And, despite the projectors age (and ours) we sat staring at the 65-foot dome ceiling just as intrigued, captivated and mesmerized with the laser show as ever.

Of the 8900 stars, including the sun, moon and planets, only one bulb on the mechanical dinosaur blew during the show. The show operator, stationed at the console, apologized profusely for lifeless Vega – one of three bright stars that usually represents the Summer Triangle.

To enjoy more astronomy and science lessons, visit the interactive Science Museum building next door to the planetarium and round out your visit with a walk through the Cumming Nature Center.

Sharing rations with Mutti’s Mutt

Monument Mountain

Monument Mountain

At 1,642-feet, Monument Mountain is a short but challenging climb for any Mom leashed to their obligatory poodle. Even so, I took mine, and her furry dust mop, to the Southern Berkshire summit on a sunny day when paths were dry and the footing stable.

Mutti and her companion’s water bottles soon emptied as we neared the top of Squaw Peak. We took a load off along the cliff’s steep scramble catching our breaths and then quickly loosing them again while overlooking jaw-dropping views of the Housatonic wetlands.

Red Hawks, without a care in the world for vertigo, soared on warm currents hundreds of feet above rocky outcroppings. We rounded out the hike with cold cut sandwiches but, as expected, my juicy ham slices were quickly begged out of my grasp by Mom’s black beast.

Still, we wouldn’t leave home without her.

Monument Monutain

Monument Mountain

Monument Mountain

Monument Montain

A fall ride along the Hoosic River

Ashuwillticook Rail Trail

Rissa Sawyer Coordinator Adams Rail Trail

Adams Visitor Center Ski Museum

Hoosic River Watershed

Another cloudy day, another rail trail discovery! Not more than an hour away is an easy 11-mile ride ideal for bikers looking to roll past babbling brooks and smell the ripening aroma of decaying foliage.

The dropping of bright red maple leaves brushed across our helmets as we took to the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail in Western Massachusetts. The historic rail corridor, built in 1845, runs between Pittsfield and North Adams, Massachusetts but only the spur between Lanesborough, Cheshire and Adams is open for pedestrian traffic – for now.

“The 1.5 mile extension, a stretch between Adams to North Adams, is said to open by the end of this season!” cheered Rissa Sawyer, coordinator of the Visitors Center in Adams.

(It’s always a treat to see others as anxious about rail trails as we are). For now, a giant orange sign alerts the public not to enter but George and I saw plenty of bikers and walkers ignoring the warning.

Rissa was most accommodating in so many ways. She provided us, not only with information about the trail, but access to the Center’s microwave to warm up left-over slices for lunch. She also handed me a pamphlet produced by 6th grade students at Lanesborough Elementary School describing the dozens of plants and animals found along the Hoosic River watershed.

“It’s the only river that flows north!” announced Rissa.

After taking advantage of the clean facilities and picnic table, the Adams native further invited us to tour the exhibits at the Thunderbolt Ski Museum, part of the Center’s main attraction.

Displays included vintage skis, black and white pictures, National Ski Patrol memorabilia and adventure films. All represent the heyday of skiing in Adams including, to my surprise, modern races still taking place every winter.

Maybe it was the inhaled greasy pizza or the uphill grade, I reduced my mileage by several notches looping back. The bonus was it didn’t rain and, not unlike other rail trails, the Ashuwillticook has amazing scenery, descriptive kiosks and dozens of comfortable benches.

No rest for some at Almudena Cemetary

Almudena Cemetery

Almudena Cemetery

Almudena Cemetery

It’s a Saturday afternoon and Michael and Alexander aren’t out on the street doing what kids normally do; riding bikes or playing soccer. Instead, they’re scrubbing and polishing crypts to a brilliant luster.

“I really like my job because I can help my mom buy food,” smiles Michael, words spoken in Spanish but translated by my friend Liz.

The hard-working brothers also don’t seem to mind the somber nature of working at the Almudena Cemetery in Cuzco, Peru. On the contrary, it’s a rich, festive and decorative place to toil.

The boys buff chrome borders and glass windows with hand cloths and a few squirts of lime juice. Alexander uses his bare hands. On the outside of the grottos are dioramas or windows into past lives. Sentimental objects and memorabilia like dolls, flowers, photos, soccer balls, even beer bottles, reflect the personality of those buried.

For some reason, the names and birth/death dates of the dearly departed aren’t always on display?

For a few extra nuevos soles (Peruvian currency), the siblings will even sing folk songs or dance. They did so for us which upped their bottom line.

They aren’t the only ones to take advantage of the enterprising nature of cemeteries in Peru. Street vendors roam past burials selling flowers, water, soda and trinkets to family members who decorate the dioramas.

With tips, the boys can earn up to $8 a day. The money helps to pay for essentials like food, clothing and school books. That may not seem like a lot to us but, to the vulnerable, it makes a world of difference.

Unless it rains, the siblings clock in right after school, scrub until dark (easily a 10-hour day) and then head home. Not surprising, a majority of the seven acres is reserved for those who were rich and/or famous. If the monthly stipend or rent is not paid than a humiliating sticker is slapped on the face of the glass panel until it is. If not, the casket or urn is removed and dumped.

After the sun goes down, the brothers retire to their mud brick home high in the hills that overlook Cusco. Despite the breathtaking views, the steep climb up and down hundreds of steps hampers frail members of the family from getting around, especially grandparents who still live with their children. But, they have no other option.

Living in the urban city is expensive so the poor tend to dwell on land they have no legal right to occupy, also called “squatter settlements.” Most lack electricity, water, and waste disposal services but it’s a roof over their heads and, for that, many are thankful.

Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, I’ve see this complicated housing phenomena often when I visit developing countries. But, that’s a subject for another blog…

I highly suggest a guided tour of this unusual attraction and be sure to bring tips for the boys.

Cusco Cemetery

Almudena Cemetery