A while back, Arizona-transplanted former valley resident Larry R. suggested we take a hike up the nearby Rice Farm Nature Preserve in Wilbraham. He was sure it would knock our socks off. Procrastinator Tony M. did a quick google search, thought it looked cool, but then allowed the advice to slip to the the back burner on his list of valley things to check out.
Then the old farm and its protected preserve regained my attention again when some purchases concerning the old farmland and it's nearby iconic stand was recently in the news. I recalled Larry's email, deemed this to be an ideal hike for leaf peeping, and immediately made plans forthwith.
Turns out Tony M. was a idiot, as this turned out to be one of the most enjoyable hikes of our year.
Rice Farm Nature Preserve was close by, the sun was beaming bright that afternoon, the weather was crisp and cool, the wind gusting and the foliage, well, let's say the whole shebang was conducive to a good hike.
The trail head is found at the end of Highmoor street in Wilbraham. It starts with a low, level walk over some extensive roots and freshly carpeted leaf clutter.
Then it's an easy march along well marked trails under a canopy of color.
The trail steadily gains altitude winding up a low hillside, but at no point getting to what we'd call too steep or difficult. Although it's late in the year, the woods are still very much alive.
Time flew and it didn't seem to take too long before we were near the upper reaches of the hillside. The plan was to head for a 'Sunrise Peak' that was marked off on our trail map; where there are some ledges we thought would give us good views of Monson to the east and beyond.
But then our handy GPS was showing that there was an apple orchard right nearby and we decided to fit it into the route. A short walk later and the wooded trail suddenly opened up into a broad open apple orchard, stretching back down the hillside.
And above the low-slung apple trees was the aforementioned sock-knocking view Larry had advised, lo' these many months ago.
The lower valley stretches out before us and is curbed in the distance by Mt. Tom and the Holyoke range, all the way to Long Mountain.
All the while, fast moving clouds splotched calico shadows on the whole orange peppered scene.
It was downright magical.
We stopped here and took a break on the grassy trail, relaxing and soaking up the view. While the bloggerette explored the area grasses and milkweed, I was on the look-out for landlocked and/or air bound wildlife.
It wasn't long before she was rewarded with a coat full of tag-alongs,
...and I was rewarded with a low fly-by from a red tail Hawk.
The raptor was riding the wind billowing up the hillside, and using it to hover in place while it scanned for lunch; occasionally dive bombing the tall grasses for some unseen, unlucky creature.
After a good healthy dose of this mountain living, we cleared the bloggerette's coat, made her put her shoes back on, and moved on up the grassy hill. Nearby and right above the apple orchard was a wide clearing devoid of trees, and providing an even wider view of the stunning scenery.
I was half expecting Julie Andrews to come dancing out of the woods at this point.
But instead, some low dark clouds were emerging from above the trees and were moving in fast. The bloggerette's nose was a little red and sniffly from all the action, the sun was confoundedly sinking to the west, and it was time to think about heading back down.
Sunrise Peak and it's ledges will have to wait for a return visit.
...which, there certainly will be.