Thursday, November 29, 2012

In My Footsteps: Great Blue Hill - Milton, Mass.

            More than a hill, less than a mountain.  Great Blue Hill is part of the larger Blue Hills Reservation in Milton and Canton, Massachusetts.  It is a perfect hike for those who enjoy hiking but it is also small enough, 635 feet to the top, that anybody can enjoy it.  The name Blue Hills came from the first European explorers who noticed a bluish hue on the slopes of the hills when seen from a distance.
However, if hiking does not appeal there is also a Trailside Museum at ground level as well.  This features some cultural and natural history exhibits and also live animals outside.  When I was there I got to see deer, snow owls, hawks, and a playful otter that seemed to do tricks for me while I watched it in its tank.
            The hike up to the top of Great Blue Hill is the main attraction.  The hike begins on trails.  It’s a gradual climb which leads you across a paved road at one point.  That road is not for the average driver, it is for those who are authorized to visit the Blue Hill Observatory and Science Center at the summit.  Those are usually school groups or weather professionals. 
            In the summer the hike is much easier.  Add in some snow and it might get a little trickier.  The climb is never too steep but believe me when you’re trudging through six inches of snow it makes it a little slow going.  If there is a choice definitely choose warmer months for a hike.  There is skiing on Great Blue Hill also if that tickles your fancy.
            If you cannot visit Great Blue Hill when it’s warm there are some advantages.  One thing I noticed was the fact that there were hardly any other people along the way.  I was truly alone with my thoughts surrounded by the beauty of nature.  As you ascend to the summit of Great Blue Hill the scenery is not any different from any other forest walk.  That changes as you approach the top.  Suddenly it gets brighter and through the trees you begin to catch glimpses of the tremendous views awaiting you.
             At the top you can see all around you for miles.  There is a picnic area for use in warmer months.  In winter you can hear the sounds of skiers not too far away.  Though the views from the summit are spectacular there is a way to top that.  Eliot Tower is part of a stone building at the summit that can be climbed to the observation deck.  Built over seventy years ago the view from Eliot Tower is spectacular.  The Boston skyline was my favorite site to see from the tower; it’s difficult to miss.  I braved the snow and an icy floor in the tower for that view and it didn’t disappoint.  I made sure to shoot a video of my time there to whet the appetite of any potential travelers.
            Great Blue Hill has so much to offer.  The Trailside Museum has exhibits and animals, there is skiing in winter, a weather station for potential school trips, and of course the beautiful views from the summit at Eliot Tower.  Summer or winter it really does not matter, anytime is a great time to pay this spot a visit.  Have fun and happy traveling!

Great Blue Hill:  Trailside Museum, 1904 Canton Ave (Route 138), Milton.  Take Rt I-93 to exit 2B (Milton, Rt 138 North). Follow the exit ramp to the first set of traffic lights. Go straight through the lights and the parking lot is 0.5 miles ahead on the right. The museum is at the end of the parking lot.

The summit trail in winter.

A deer at the Trailside Museum.
Coming up on Eliot Tower at the summit.
View of the Boston skyline from Eliot Tower.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

In My Footsteps: Purgatory Chasm

            One of the most incredible spots I have visited thus far is also one of the most dangerous.  It is located in the town of Sutton, Massachusetts tucked in the picturesque Blackstone River Valley.  It was designated a state park in 1919.  The basics are that Purgatory Chasm is a naturally formed, quarter-mile long granite gorge.  The walls on either side of the chasm rise as high as seventy-feet.
            It does not take very long to see how imposing Purgatory Chasm is.  The wooden sign pointing to the beginning is within sight of the opening.  The scattered boulders around the entrance make it seem virtually impassible, and at some points I thought it was.  There are warnings as soon as you begin your journey.  I highly recommend only attempting this during nearly perfect weather.  Even the slightest inclement weather would make hiking through the chasm a dangerous nightmare.
            There are some safe patches where you will walk the bare ground, but those are offset by large boulders that must be traversed as well.  Most of the dangerous work has been done, there are blue lines marking the safest route to take along the floor of the chasm.  One thing to watch for are the stream of chipmunks darting across the chasm floor, it became a game for me to see just how many of them I caught sight of.  There are spots along the chasm route that have unique names to them.  They include: His Majesty’s Cave, Lovers Leap, Devil’s Pulpit, and Devil’s Corn Crib.
            Though hiking the cliffs of the chasm is discouraged there is nothing stopping someone from trying.  I witnessed several people doing just that.  Seeing them make it safely to the top of the sloping rocks I decided to find my own place to try the same.  Since I am writing this I obviously succeeded.  The climb was not overly difficult, especially since I chose an easier path to the top.  I wanted to see the chasm from above but not kill myself attempting it.  For those of you wishing to see it from above but not willing to risk life and limb fear not, I shot a video of my time there and I am including a link to it.
            An incredible natural spot, Purgatory Chasm is somewhere that everyone should visit.  In addition to the gorge there are two miles of hiking trails around the gorge as well.  There is also a playground near the visitor’s center for kids who might not be able to safely navigate the chasm.  Of course the chasm itself is the main attraction as it should be.  Use care and caution when crossing the quarter-mile granite chasm, but also take the time to enjoy the natural beauty as well.  This is a true gem in the Blackstone River Valley.  Have fun and happy traveling!

Purgatory Chasm:  198 Purgatory Rd., Sutton, Massachusetts
            Take I-495 to Exit 13B for I-95, take Exit 4 to get on I-295.  Take Exit 9B for Rt. 146, take Exit 6 for Purgatory Rd.  Keep left at fork for Purgatory Chasm, destination will be on right.

The entrance

Lovers Leap

How the chasm looks from the inside.

People I saw rock climbing before I tried it myself.

Looking down from above.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

In My Footsteps: West Quoddy Head Lighthouse

            West Quoddy Head Light was the reason I decided to do travel writing in the first place.  I was always fascinated by lighthouses growing up on Cape Cod.  There was Nauset Light, Chatham Light, Nobska Light, and Race Point Light among others that were familiar to me.  As I got older I still retained my interest in these guides for passing ships.  First I began by learning more about nearby lighthouses like Three Sisters in Eastham, Wood End and Long Point Lights in Provincetown, and Wings Neck Light in Pocasset.  Then I began daydreaming about lighthouses up and down the east coast.  That is when I found Jeremy D’Entremont’s New England Lighthouse website.  It is there that I first saw West Quoddy Head in Lubec, Maine.
            With its red and white striped façade it immediately captured my imagination. There was only one problem, from where I lived on Cape Cod it was an eight-hour drive to Lubec.  I was not exactly thrilled about the idea of a 16-hour round trip drive so it was necessary to find a spot to stay overnight.  That’s when I hit the jackpot.  My cousin Tracey and her ex-husband Steve had owned a cottage on the water in Owl’s Head, Maine.  It was nearly exactly halfway between me and Lubec.  It was a rental but as luck had it nobody was there for a week in October.  I was allowed to stay there for nothing, what a great deal.
            Now, don’t get me wrong, I was excited for a week of traveling up and down the Maine coast.  It was going to be a tremendous experience.  However, the trip was totally based on getting to see West Quoddy Head Light.
            The lighthouse itself was built in 1858 overlooking Quoddy Narrows and within eyesight of Campobello Island, a part of New Brunswick, Canada.  Lubec is the eastern most point in the United States.  It is one of the most photographed and painted lighthouses in the country.  The red stripes on West Quoddy Head come from its close proximity to Canada.  In Canada the red stripes are common to help the lighthouses stand out against the snow.  Assateague Light, located on Assateague Island in Virginia, is the only other lighthouse with similar red stripes in the U.S.  The lighthouse is now on the grounds of Quoddy Head State Park and was named to the Registry of Historic Places in 1980.
            There are a few parking spots next to the lighthouse but the main parking area is located a few hundred feet away.  This is the better parking area as the lighthouse sits down a slight hill and sets a magnificent scene immediately upon your arrival.  When I said this was a popular spot to visit I meant it.  There is only one main road, Rt. 1, leading out to Lubec once you get past Ellsworth, near Bar Harbor.  I ended up behind an SUV with Texas license plates almost immediately after passing through Ellsworth.  I stopped for breakfast at a McDonalds in Machias and so did the folks from Texas.  When I arrived at West Quoddy Head an hour and a half later I was not surprised when the four people from Texas arrived shortly thereafter.  I can’t say if they came all that way just for the lighthouse, but you never know.
            I was definitely in awe and very happy to be at West Quoddy Head.  I must have managed to take a photograph from every possible angle including wandering out into a nearby field.  I also shot a video of my time there as I was not sure if I’d ever have a chance to be there again.  I wanted to be able to cue up my memories anytime I felt like it. 
            There was a sort of guide there sharing some information.  I found out that the lighthouse was not the eastern most point in the U.S.; the guide pointed out a few large rocks out in the water technically considered to be part of the country.  Of course I shot a picture of them.  I tried hard to strike a good balance between photographing every possible inch of the grounds while also simply standing and soaking in the feeling of being there.  I try to do that at many places that I am truly excited to visit.
            I began the walk back up the hill to my car and continued taking photos looking back.  I didn’t want to leave, but knew that I had a four hour drive back to my ‘home base’ in Owl’s Head.  West Quoddy Head is still tops on my list of favorite lighthouses, although there are a few I have researched that might come close.  Of course none of those are within ten hours by car, so they will have to wait.  I drove eight hours to see West Quoddy Head, anybody who lives closer needs to go check it out.  It is a beautiful and unique piece of history.  Have fun and happy traveling!

West Quoddy Head Lighthouse:  Quoddy Head Road, Lubec, Maine; GPS (44.815256,-66.951007) – From Ellsworth, Maine take Rt. 1 heading east.  Follow Rt. 1 approx. 75 miles into Whiting; turn right onto Rt. 189, follow it 8.8 miles, turn right onto Maple Tree Rd., after a mile turn left to stay on this road.  Turn right onto S. Lubec Rd. after .6 miles, take a slight left onto Quoddy Head Rd., follow it to the end.

Monday, November 5, 2012

In My Footsteps: Medfield State Hospital

            With 130 articles written during my travels I have seen a lot of amazing places.  However, as can be the case, with showcasing a town in an article some of the places can be glossed over to make sure everything fits.  I have decided to start a series of articles each showcasing one specific place per article.  There are so many that have their own story and my experiences there deserve more than just a paragraph.  Since it is the Halloween season, or was, I have decided to begin with the scariest place I have visited: Medfield State Hospital.
            Medfield State Hospital is an historic spot.  It was a mental hospital built on Hospital Rd. in Medfield, Massachusetts in 1892.  At its peak there were fifty-eight buildings located on the grounds and could house 2,200 patients.  It was a self-sufficient property, raising its own livestock and produce while also producing its own heat and power.  The property was closed in April 2003 due to a decline in patients.  The grounds have been used for films such as Leonardo DiCaprio’s Shutter Island.
            The grounds are still open for walking as of November 2012.  When I visited I had high expectations from photos about the experience and I was not disappointed.  I pulled up and parked in a dirt area directly across the street from the imposing collection of buildings.  Sure, I had read the grounds were open but I did not see any other vehicles.  There was a white trailer located at the entrance to the grounds so I approached and a security guard stepped out.  He told me the grounds were open to be walked but there was to be no photography.  I clutched my tiny digital camera tightly in my pocket and moved on past.
            The road curves slightly and soon I was out of sight of the trailer and pulled my camera out.  I was immediately fascinated by the boarded up brick buildings.  The blood red plywood over the windows made the stoic buildings more eerie.  The sunny day added haunting shadows to these buildings.  I had the grounds all to myself and did my best to soak in this unique atmosphere.
            The deeper I got into Medfield State Hospital I began to notice something.  The silence.  It was a creepy calm.  There were no birds, no squirrels running around, nothing.  When I had parked my car there was the normal buzz of nature but not on the grounds.  It felt fitting.  The silence would eventually be broken by the howls of the wind passing through cracked windows.  The first such howl sent a chill down my spine.  It was thrilling.
            So much of my time was like something out of a suspense-filled horror movie.  I felt like I was on camera awaiting a monster or killer.  Then my fears were realized.  Okay, not really, but as I was at the furthest end of the Medfield State Hospital grounds I noticed a beige sedan slowly creeping its way up one of the roads.  There was a single man driving and scoping things out.  A perfect horror movie setup, right?  I tucked my camera in my pocket as he slowly passed.
            On the eastern edge of the grounds is a white water tower which gave me a dream vibe, like it was something you would have seen in a dream sequence of A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Perhaps the creepiest part of these buildings was the ‘crying’ windows.  The window frames were painted white and the years of weather had caused the white paint to run some down the bricks looking like ‘tears.’  In a place where mental patients once roamed it again seemed fitting.
            All of these creepy experiences are not meant to drive potential visitors away.  On the contrary, I believe that these things make it a more desirable place to see.  Some of the buildings were in great condition such as the main hospital building and the church.  Other buildings were damaged and had the red ‘X’ on the façade indicating they were most likely meant for demolition.  With roads and sidewalks there were times it felt like I was walking through a haunted ghost town; I could almost hear the sounds of the former patients on the wind.  To make the creepy journey complete if you’d like there is a Medfield State Hospital cemetery a few hundred yards west of the ground where 841 patients were buried between 1918-1988.  I did not venture that far.
            Easily the most eerie spot I have visited, Medfield State Hospital is a must see for horror fans.  I heard the howling winds, saw the creepy man slowly driving the grounds in his car, and heard the silence from the birds and squirrels.  Who knows what experiences you will have when you go?  Perhaps you should bring your running shoes though.  Have fun and happy traveling!

     My first book, In My Footsteps: A Cape Cod Travel Guide, is now available at, and, soon to be in stores everywhere!  Follow me on Twitter!

Medfield State Hospital: 9 Hospital Rd., Medfield, Mass. GPS (42.207954,-71.335561)
            From I-95 N take Exit 9 for Rt. 1. Take 1st left onto Rt. 27, follow it 8.6 miles. Turn right onto Hospital Rd., hospital grounds will be on the left.

The hospital grounds looked like an abandoned ghost town.

Some buildings were in relatively good condition.

This look like a something dream sequence from A Nightmare on Elm Street.

The 'crying' windows.

The creepy church.