Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Titan's Pizza - I mean Piazza

It was supposed to be a short hike, Sunday.

I had heard of this strange rock formation called Titan's Piazza, from a hiking book. I also saw a reference to it surfing the web, on a site featuring a book from famed geologist of old Edward Hitchcock. He drew this intriguing picture of it:

Well, what the heck could that be? It looks like a wave crashing on shore. That's a rock? That's near here? I know they usually exaggerated a little in their drawings, back in the day, but I have to see this thing.

I quickly looked up the location on a map I had, and some websites, and got ready to go. I figured we'd grab a coffee, then run up and have a quick look at it.

Kelly said "Aren't you going to bring the map?"
I then sealed our fate for the afternoon, by saying "Nah, I'm pretty sure I know where it is."

We headed out on Rte 47 to the western end of the Mt. Holyoke range, where the rock was located. On the way we saw, on the left, a road called "Titan's Pier". I had read that there were cliffs about 20-50 feet high along the river here. We took a quick drive through to check it out, but apparently the locals had put an end to peepers. Lots and lots, and lots of 'Go Away' signs.

We moved on, before we got shot.

On the other side of Rte. 47, nearby, there's an unpaved road that meets the gate of the Summit road. Near the beginning of this dirt road there's a trail entrance, where the M&M trail begins the Holyoke range section of it's northerly march. The map I saw showed the Titan's Piazza very near this section of the trail. We parked and headed up, following the familiar white blazes of the M&M.

I did this hike a couple years ago, but definitely didn't see the giant cupcake-looking thing called Titan's Piazza. I would have remembered it, I think. Maybe I just missed it.

We climbed for a little while, and passed this power line, carving it's way through the forest.

The clearing it cut through the woods provided a nice view of Mt. Nonotuck of the Mt. Tom range, across the Connecticut river.

This is a nice 'ridge' hike, with lots of views to the west and south as you hike on. The bare trees serve to expand the views slightly.

As you progress to the more northerly side of the range, the Hemlocks and Pines become more numerous, and there are huge swaths of shady green slopes.

These two hikers took a break on a tree that seemed especially built for the purpose.

Some parts of the trail run right along the edge of high rocky drop-offs.

Also all along the ridge are lots and lots of trap-rock formations and rock beds to walk/climb over.

We had a brief exchange over whether or not these were fossils. Of course it was the two of us arguing over something neither knew too much about. We're pretty good at that.

We had reached the upper limits of the ridge, and no Piazza. We had gone too far to just turn back. So we kept going towards the summit house.

Near there were the remains, I'm pretty sure, of another short lived summit house. I remember reading something about it. It was built by one of the disgruntled co-owners of the original house, to compete with it, but burned down shortly after.

We got to where the M&M met another trail heading back down. It was starting to get cold, and the ground was frozen in several areas. We decided to start heading back.

This section of trail branched off the M&M and went directly down to the Summit Road, near where the old Tram/Half-Way House is.

It was easy walking from here. We walked down to the gate, and across, to the dirt road leading to where we parked. We stopped to look at a few cows mysteriously hanging out in the woods, rather than the field.

We took note of one cow's HUGE udder. Full of milk? Or freakish mutation? Me and Kelly had differing views on that, and on exactly why they would be hanging out in the woods. We turned and walked on. I was thinking lazily about giant udders, as I happened to glance to my left. I stopped in my tracks.

Lo and Behold. Thar' she was.

We had found it. That's why we missed it earlier, the trail had gone right over it. Matter of fact, we had unknowingly stopped, right on top of it, to enjoy the view.

We scrambled up the loose shards of rocks below to have a better look. It didn't look to big at first, but as Kelly got closer I could tell it was a pretty substantial chunk of rock.

Also, as I clawed my way up the steep incline and got closer, the more details began to come out. It is a pretty amazing looking old lava formation.

The edge of a lava field. The outer layers of the bottom part had broken off over time, and were scattered all over the place on the ground around it. This left the overhanging bulges of rock, that still looks a lot like flowing lava. There were white mineral deposits all over the lower edges, calcium from water running off the hill maybe?

So there wasn't that much exaggeration in Hitchcock's drawing after all.

I left with a sense of the wonder of history. We were glad to have finally stumbled upon the rock formation. Mission accomplished.


Mary E.Carey said...

Wow, it really DOES look like the drawing. Kind of like a big bird plumping its feathers. A Mt. Holyoke professor told me about this place for a story I was writing about the Range. I looked it up and here's what I had written: "Professor Mark McMenamin's students at Mount Holyoke College don't only walk the range - sometimes they scale it on ropes.

McMenamin brings classes to Titan's Piazza, a 'spectacular' example, he says, of basalt columns on the north side of the range.

To get there, students must climb a rope tied to a tree. What awaits is worth the effort, McMenamin insists. 'It looks like these pendulous chandelier things, like a natural Alhambra,' he said, referring to the Moorish castle in Granada, Spain.

The basalt columns are formed from the underside of the lava flow, which makes this a treasure of a geological site, McMenamin said.

'When the students see this, their eyes get really wide. I have to tell them to be careful, that pieces of basalt can come off and be like very thin knives.'

But, he said, 'In fact, it's quite a safe place to visit.'

Dickinson's teacher, Hitchcock, found the Piazza quite intimidating back in 1841. 'It seems as if you were standing beneath so many large hexagonal kettles, set closely together,' he observed in 'Final Report of the Geology of Massachusetts.'

'Yet when you think how feebly the columns hold on upon one another,' he continued, 'and see around you the evidence that thousands and thousands have fallen, and think how instantly even one of them falling upon a man would annihilate him, you cannot feel perfectly easy, while standing beneath such a Piazza, interesting though it be.'"

Tony said...

Good stuff. Is there more to that story about the range?

Roping down the side would have been fun, had we known where it was!

I read somewhere that scrambling up the steep slope from below like we did, over the broken traprock there, is not recommended. Not sure why, except maybe it disturbs the natural setting too much.

Of course, a hiker writhing in pain from a broken-rope slide down the rock would disturb the natural setting too.

Mary E.Carey said...

Looks like you could easily break those rock formations. The Daily Hampshire Gazette did a whole series on the Range last summer. I could email you the stories if you'd like.

Tony said...

If it doesn't take up a lot of your time, I'd appreciate it. If it does, then don't worry about it, maybe I can look them up. I'm sure I know someone who has an online subscription to Gazette, I'm thinking they'd be archived there...