Saturday, August 23, 2014

Traversing Milford By Trail

A small gravel portion of the Cliff Trail
What better thing to do after dropping your car off at the shop for the day, than to taking the day to appreciate your own two feet? I could have just walked the two miles home or called for a ride, but without a car, I'd be left with little means to do anything productive. I decided I'd rather be grateful for a day to do nothing but amble in the woods.

From the center of town I made my way to the edge following Route 206, passing the closed down steel Blue Bridge on Mott Street and over the more modern concrete bridge over the Sawkill Stream. Here the road widens and traffic increases, as one will eventually travel into Delaware Water Gap or Sussex County, New Jersey depending on whether you go left or right at the fork. Within minutes, I reached the entrance to the Milford Cemetery on my right. This is an access point to the Milford Knob Trail. Once at the Knob, one can overlook the entire town of Milford speckled with church steeples, a picturesque grid of tiny roads, and the tops of green bushy trees. The Knob will however have to be the topic of another post, because in this case I used this trail only to lead me to another.

Follow the winding roads through the manicured green lawns of the Milford Cemetery up, up, up and you can reach this gated entrance to the trail. On this day, I followed the trail just a 0.2 mile in and then turned left on the Quarry Trail. This is a more gradual 0.5 m ascent up to the Cliff Trail. The Milford Knob Trail will take you straight up, to the overlook, and then left across the top of the ridge on the Cliff Trail. Perpetually covered in a bed of leaves that will only get thicker come fall, The Quarry Trail takes you alongside the mountain past Eastern Hemlock, various Oaks, and Birch. Green grass sheltering Violet leaves and Chickweed, as well as Blackberry brambles line its edges. Once intersecting with the Cliff Trail, I turned left and followed the narrow alternate trail which takes you right up to the edge of the cliff and to the first overlook.

An colorful overlook along the Cliff Trail
I was quite pleased to see that the wooden fencing here had been artfully decorated. Unfortunately kids will be kids, and this fence had formerly been decorated with all kinds of creative lude depictions and suggestions - I have no beef with "Katie luvs Billy 4-eva", I mean none, go 'head sing your love from the mountain tops, but the rest of it, come on kiddies, let's have some decency. Well it appears someone came up with a some spray paint and has illustrated Milford's embrace of the LGBT population. Right on- this is productive grafitti. Plus, it's kinda pretty.

Looking towards the Delaware Water Gap at the Riverview Overlook on the Cliff Trail
However, just beyond this fence, is where the real beauty lies. There are several designated overlooks along the 2.8 mile Cliff Trail, however at just about any point one can wander to the edge and behold the sweeping landscape below, made up of rocky cliff, farmland, the McDade Trail, the Delaware River, and the Kittatinny Ridge.

Looking back towards town along the Cliff Trail
On this day I followed the Cliff Trail down to its terminus at Raymondskill Falls. Raymondskill Falls are majestic falls surrounded with its own set of easy designated trails as well as bushwacked meandering sidetrails... however it is heavily frequented with tourists. Thus, why bother with all that, when I can enjoy somewhat lesser visited falls and on a weekday morning, probably completely uninhabited by the city folk. And so doubling back less than a 0.1 mile on the Cliff Trail, I turned left, following the yellow blazes of Hacker's Trail.

A portion of Hacker's Trail
The first 0.5m of Hacker's Trail looks almost identical to the way in which one has just come down off the Cliff Trail, but worry not, you are indeed on a different trail. Upon reaching the intersection with the Logger's Path and turning left, continuing to follow Hacker's Trail (turning right would lead you back to the Cliff Trail), the landscape changes. I was dropped yet further down, nearly to the moss-covered rocky banks of Raymondskill Creek. Here I passed rich woods of White Pine and Eastern Hemlock, as well as more Birch. The trail is more difficult to follow as it is less popular to head towards the real gem of this trail from this end. However, traveling in this direction, one is afforded side trails to the creek where tiny cascades follow over big black smooth rocks forming surprisingly deep pools along the way. I couldn't reach bottom in one pool I took a dip in the other day, although it looked unassuming at no more than 10 feet in circumference. When the creek is low, I have also walked the sun-dappled flat rocks that cradle the edges of creek all the way to the larger falls.

Hacker's Falls
Within just 0.6 m, I reached Hacker's Falls. I used to come here as a kid with my friends and swim the day away and many kids still do just the same. Although I have never dared, the craggy cliffs offer excellent cliff-jumping spots. But if you decide to go for it, make sure you know what you're doing as so many folks have gotten injured here jumping from these cliffs, the park service decided to close down the road that used to bring you to a trail that was a shorter walk to the falls.

The swimming hole at the base of Hacker's Falls
However, on this day, just as I had hoped, there wasn't another soul here, and so perfect for a dip and time to quite literally smell the flowers. Now I do apologize ahead of time, but I failed to bring my camera on this trek and so all these photos were taken with my phone. My phone is terrible for up-close shots, and so no flower faces. But along the rocks lining the far edge of the swimming hole I found a variety of Violet (Viola spp.) leaves, flowering Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) and Blackberry (Rubus spp.)vines, as well as several showy Cardinal Flowers (Lobelia cardinalis). If you check out the scientific name, you can see that this too is a Lobelia, and thus related to Lobelia inflata. However whereas Lobelia inflata is rather unassuming with its tiny blue flowers and modest stature, Lobelia cardinalis can reach up to 5 feet tall (although these were only about 3 feet tall), and bears a spike of scarlet flowers each 1-1 1/2 inch long. It is a flower first spotted as a flash of red across a creek or narrow river. 

The other find was more Water Pennywort (Hydrocotyle americana), funny how once you identify a plant it simply seems to pop out at you everywhere you go, in the places you've probably overlooked it a hundred times before. I also had the pleasure of meeting Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia). This flower required my literally hanging onto the craggy cliffs to get a better look as it only grew atop the rock itself, making a home in the shallow soil collected there and the spray of the waterfall. The leaves of Harebell are so slender they barely look like leaves, but rather more like needles or tough grass. From what I understand, Harebell does bare larger heart-shaped basal leaves, however they are absent by the time it flowers.

On the Buchanan Trail
After playing around here for a long while, it was time to head back towards civilization. So, hopping back on Hacker's Trail, I headed for the Buchanan Trail which intersects within 0.5 m. This is the more heavily used route to reach the falls. However, before reaching the Buchanan Trail, take note that the falls are actually on a short side trail off of Hackers Trail, so within just 0.1 m, expect to reach an intersection with Hacker's Trail and turn right. Follow this 0.5 m and then turn left onto the orange-blazed Buchanan Trail which leads through sandy woods and past a meadow of Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), Goldrod (Solidago spp.), Daisies (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum), and Thistle (Circium spp.)  The Buchanan Trail will then lead 0.4 m to the parking area at Cliff Park off of Route 2001. Once here, I felt I had appreciated my feet enough and so called home for a ride. Although, I wouldn't want to wish my car into the shop again anytime soon, what a perfect way to spend the day.

Check out this link for a map of this area:

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