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2009 was lovely.  Full of happy moments with family, friends, nature and two fluffy black cats.  Winter walks, easter egg hunts, gardening and hikes, birthdays, weddings, and good homemade food.  Here’s to many more beautiful moments in 2010.  Happy New Year!

Alexandria Dawson Conservation Area – Hadley, MA

Park on a pull-off on the corner of West Street and North Lane and follow the Connecticut River to the left.  The height of the levee offers great views of farms and the river.  It loops around toward Route 9.  Take a left onto the Norwottuck Rail Trail and follow it back to West Street to make a nice loop.

Trail Length: About 3 miles

Trail Difficulty: Easy

Letterboxes: One and more on the bike path if you’re up for it.

View: ♥♥♥  Horizons full of corn fields, mountains, and rushing water.  On nice days you’ll often see hot air balloons or small planes taking in the beautiful view from above.

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Amethyst Brook Conservation Area – Amherst, MA

Yesterday I needed a bit a calm.  After a hectic week and an even-more-hectic-weekend, I needed Amethyst Brook.  For years Amethyst Brook Conservation Area has been one of my favorite local trails to explore.  I love the damp, earthy smell of pines and the soft rippling of the brook that seems to follow you along the trail.  In the forest it is dark and cool with dancing speckles of sunlight filtering in through the trees.  Just perfect.

Park in the pull-off lot off of Pelham Road in Amherst.  Please note that this a very dog-friendly trail and one of the few places in town where dogs are allowed to run free off leash.

Trail Length: This runs along a small portion of the Robert Frost trail and loops around the brook back to the parking lot.  Probably a mile or so.  There are just so many trails to explore that I suggest wandering and seeing where the adventure takes you.  The RF trail continues up Mt. Orient in Pelham for some valley views.

Trail Difficulty: Easy

Mosquito Factor: Bring bug spray.

Letterboxes: Four.  And a geocache.

View: ♥♥  No spectacular vistas here, but there are so many hidden treasures to discover in these woods.

gardens….

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labryinths…

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rusty Fords…

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and old stone ruins…

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The trail at times leaves conservation land and comes quite close to private homes.  It’s always best to be respectful and stick to the trail.  Of course, the neighbors are awfully accommodating…

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And my personal favorite – the evolution of the bridge.  As you make your way further down the trail, the bridges get more and more sophisticated.

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Happy Hiking!

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Mt. Tom State Park – Holyoke, MA

Mt. Tom State Park is filled with miles of great hiking trails and some really spectacular cliff side views on the mountain.  On this super hot and humid day, however, an easy walk around shady Lake Bray was just what I needed to cool down.  From the Holyoke park entrance, Lake Bray and its parking area is right on the left.  During the summer weekends and holidays, there is a $2.00 parking fee.  Bray Loop Trail is a short, accessible trail that loops around the lake.  The trail is less well-traveled on the side of the lake opposite the parking lot and can get a bit muddy.

Trail Length: 1 mile

Trail Difficulty: Easy, with one minor uphill climb at the end.

Mosquito Factor: Okay until you cross the bridge over the swamp, then ATTACK!!!

Letterboxes: I found three.  Great spot for kids and easy letterboxing.

View: ♥♥♥ I love the view and I’ve seen so many different types of birds here! This picnic table was the perfect shady place to sit and enjoy the scenery.  I came on a Monday afternoon and it was so quiet and peaceful.

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Norwottuck Rail Trail – Amherst, MA

The Norwottuck Rail Trail starts in Northampton, MA and runs 11 miles through Hadley and Amherst.  It is one of the happiest places I’ve been in the valley, passing so many families and people running, skating, biking or walking together in the sunshine.  You walk along the river, past farms, through woodlands and meadows – even through a tunnel that goes under busy Route 9!  To get to my favorite bit of trail, I park in Amherst toward the end of the trail either at the pull-off on Mill Lane or at the very end lot on Station Rd.

Trail Length: 11 miles or however short you’d like it to be…

Trail Difficulty: E-Z.  Seriously.  Flat and paved, perfect for small children, bicycles, wheelchairs, or walking your pet rabbit.

Mosquito Factor: Not bad.

Letterboxes: Oh so many! I found ten. Ten in one day!  Check out great little side trails for hidden treasures.

View: ♥♥♥ The scenery is just lovely – especially getting further down toward Belchertown with swampy marshlands.  I guarantee you’ll see a turtle.  I always do.  My favorite discovery this time around?  The Amherst College birdhouse sanctuary – so beautiful!

Goat's Peak

Mt. Tom State Park – Holyoke, MA

Mt. Tom is the highest peak in the Mt. Tom Range at 1,202 feet.  Goat Peak hosts a lookout tower for views of Easthampton and Northampton and during September and October excellent sightings of falcon and hawk migrations.

Park at Hampstead Parking Area and pick up the M&M trail down past the water fountain to the right.  If it’s a weekend in the summer, there is a entrance fee of $2.00 to the park.

Trail Length: 1.2 miles roundtrip – a short and pleasant hike

Trail Difficulty: Moderate.  Gentle trail up moderate incline to the summit.

Mosquito Factor: Not too bad, actually.

Letterboxes: None on this trail yet.  But definitely look for treasures hidden on nearby Beau Bridge, Tea Bag, and Bray Loop trails while at Mt. Tom.

View: ♥♥  I read from the top of the lookout tower, the view is 360 degrees of the valley, but I found the view obstructed quite a bit by trees.  I hear it is stunning in the fall though with the foliage, so I’ll try again then and hopefully see some birds of prey.  Note on the lookout tower: YIKES!  I’m not really afraid of heights, but this metal structure allows you to see right down to the ground through the steps and I had a slight moment (or five…) of terror climbing up and down.

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From the M&M trail, the lookout tower isn’t horribly obvious.  In fact, I met another hiker at the summit and asked her where the tower was and she had no idea.  So I did a little exploring down an unmarked trail to the right and I found it.  There’s even a lovely kiosk about the migratory birds of prey to spot from the tower.  Definitely worth exploring.

Happy Hiking!

Mt. Norwottuck

Mt. Holyoke Range State Park – Amherst, MA

Mt. Norwottuck is the highest peak of this mountain range at 1,106.

Pick up the M&M trail (white blazes) at the Notch Visitor Center in Amherst, MA and follow to the summit for nice views of the Pioneer Valley.

Trail Length: 1.2 miles to summit

Trail Difficulty: Moderate to Steep.  There are a good deal of up and downs on this trail and toward the end, a bit of vertical scrambling up rocks.

Mosquito Factor: Yikes!  Granted it had just rained (hasn’t it always just rained this summer, New England?) but the mosquitoes were quite bothersome.  In fact,  I would give them a 8 for bothersome-ness.

View: ♥♥♥  The best view is actually a little further down the trail from the summit.  Descend toward the Horse Caves, but after that first ledge, take a small trail straight ahead instead of going left with the main trail for a beautiful view.  Here I was able to look down at a red-tailed hawk soaring majestically through the mountain ravine.

Letterboxes: 2.  There is one hidden at the summit and another hidden in the Horse Caves if you are looking for a longer hike.

NOTE: The Horse Caves are NOT caves for wild horses as I hoped – DO NOT BE FOOLED!   Nor are they horse shaped caves.  Instead they are neat cliff formations where legend has it, Daniel Shays and his rebellious supporters hid away from the militia after Shay’s Rebellion in 1787.  (Okay fine, I like history).  Check them out by following the M&M trail down the other side of Norwottuck (and beware mosquitoes!).  Loop back around to the Notch by picking up the orange blazed Robert Frost trail.

I will definitely be back to check out more hikes at the Notch soon – next up is the short Laurel Loop trail to scope out another potential letterbox.

Happy Hiking!

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