30-Sep-2006 -- The day was a blessing four times over. First, I made a visit to the Degree Confluence Project's founder, Alex Jarrett, that morning in Massachusetts. Second, after 40 years, I finally achieved visiting my 50th state, Connecticut. Third, I saw my long-time friend Mick Miller for the first time in seven years. Fourth, less than two hours after achieving Connecticut and seeing Mick, we were both standing on our first Connecticut confluence. It doesn't get any better than this!
On a beautiful autumn day, we voyaged on a geographic expedition to northwest Connecticut. I met Mick at his home in central Connecticut, and soon we were driving northwest on scenic State Highway 20. We traveled through Granby, notable for its beautiful painted horse statues standing throughout the town. We continued around Barkhamsted Reservoir and came within a few hundred meters of Massachusetts before continuing deep into forested terrain. We turned right on Mill Street and passed a house that looked straight out of a fairy tale such as Hansel and Gretl, with vines overtaking the buildings that were still inhabited. We parked at the intersection of Mill Street and Hogback Road, gathered our supplies, and set out on foot through the Connecticut forest.
Forests have played a major role in the history and
culture of Connecticut. The state is one of the most densely populated in the nation, yet remains 60% forested. At one time, nearly all of the state was forested. However, by 1820, after clearing of the forests for agriculture, only 25% of the forests remained. In 1830, the Erie Canal opened and Connecticut’s agricultural zenith had passed. The small, stony farms of Connecticut were unable to compete with larger, more mechanized farms in New York and farther west. Therefore, forests began to return to much of Connecticut--white pine first, then oak and hickory. Other species such as birch and red maple also established themselves on abandoned cropland. Then, the shade-tolerant, sugar maple, beech, yellow birch, and hemlock, became established. American chestnut blight largely wiped out these trees in the early 1900s, while harvesting wood for charcoal was predominant, until coal became king. Oak, hickory, and other hardwoods grew in place of chestnut. Elm disease took its toll. Today, urban sprawl is the predominant threat to the state's forests.
We hiked down Mill Street, past the Hansel and Gretl house until we reached the best launch point near 42 North to plunge into the forest. After clambering through a stand of trees, we reached the most beautiful part of our hike: A perfect field of 1 meter-high ferns. I felt like I was walking through a sea of green. Hiking into another stand of trees, we angled east-southeast, and soon encountered a modest ravine. We sensed impending victory. We found the confluence on the east side of the ravine, about 10 meters south of several massive boulders that were no doubt orphans from past continental glaciation. The numerous trees caused us to lose GPS signal a few times, but surprisingly, after about 15 minutes, we were both able to zero out our GPS receivers.
The confluence lies on ground sloping slightly to the ravine to the west. The noontime temperature was 65 F (18 C) under sunny skies; a beautiful autumn day in New England. We saw no animals or people during our journey. Mick was quite excited to be on his first confluence trek. I had been to 42 North a few times before in Illinois, Nebraska, and Wyoming, but this was my first time atop 73 West. We took photographs and a movie, still seeing no one on the grounds. I realized later that due to the dark conditions in the forest, I should have been using the camera flash. On our way back to the vehicle, we discussed the possibility of visiting 42 North 72 West in the other corner of Connecticut that very afternoon. We were in complete agreement that it must be attempted, and therefore we set off straight away. The total time on the trek was less than one hour on one of the most beautiful confluences I have seen.