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The laurel grove on Mt. Holyoke October 24, 2008

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature.
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Hike distance 2 miles/Elevation gain 700 feet

Conglomerate rockWhenever I’m out in Northampton to visit my sister, I often do a short hike in the Holyoke Range.  I like to start at the parking lot where Rt. 47 nearly touches the Connecticut River and climb up the Conglomerate Rock Trail, which has no rock at all on it except for the single enormous and solitary boulder from which it gets its name.  The boulder is dark and melancholy, its surface as wrinkled as the hide of an elephant.

The trail comes out at the auto road near the Halfway House, and from there I can take the Halfway Trail to the summit or walk up the road to Taylor’s Notch and take the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail in either direction.  On this gray, breezy day I walked up the road to the notch and then took the M-M Trail to the summit.  I was wearing a pair of clogs because I’d forgotten to throw my running shoes into the car when I drove out, but the soles seemed to cling nicely to the polished rocks and roots on the last stretch going up to the summit, so I was able to take the steep Halfway Trail down with no problem.  On the balcony of the summit house, a geology professor was giving a lecture to a group of huddled students with their sweatshirt hoods pulled over their heads.  They looked as though they were metamorphosing into miniature boulders.

In the woods below the Conglomerate Rock, the trail passes through a grove of the largest, oldest, gnarliest mountain laurels I have ever seen.  Some of them are more than 15 feet high with trunks six or eight inches in diameter.  I always think of central Mass. as a place of hemlock and laurel, but these are the best, the grandfathers of the laurel forest.  The leaves are mostly too far from the ground to look at, so what you are seeing is the massive twisting trunks that have intricate strips of peeling bark.  They speak of age, the kind of age that commands respect.  I would love to know how old they are.

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