Thursday, October 04, 2012

West Palmer Hill and behind the Fitchburg-Westminster Landfill

I had a wonderful walk Sunday on a part of Palmer Hill in southwestern Fitchburg that I never was able to get to before. One way in, along a private road, never seemed to welcome parking and trespassing. Another way in involved hiking through several miles of mountain laurel, and I never made it through that way either (see here). This time I parked next to the Fitchburg-Westminster Landfill driveway off Rt 31, went east downhill into the woods to the edge of the water (A), crossed the intake brook, and got up to the side of the hill that  way.

Since this hill is basically one of the Manoosnocs, I hoped to find the same kind of sites I found east of Notown Reservoir. I call this area the "Capital of the Inland Empire" because of the numerous large rectangular mounds. Mostly I find them up high on the shoulders of the hills but mindful of more recent discoveries, I have also started exploring along the edges of wetlands - looking for those older piles. So here, my strategy was to circle the edge of that "Sawmill Pond" (A to B) then cut diagonally up the hill and come back along the higher slopes.

From where  I parked, I cut down through the trees and it was a bit heavy going and as soon as I got to the edge of the water I saw an arrangement of rocks that was not quite natural but not quite clear as a structure. There were several  instances of arrangements of rocks in a row, suggesting an outline.
[It was so dark in there most of my photos are worthless. I tried as hard as possible to hold my hands steady but, as it is, I am wondering when I'll get to enjoy some better pictures from this new camera. It has been raining every single weekend since I got it. And it was raining throughout this walk.]
[You can see some construction where rocks show through on the left. Also you can see these rocks are mounded up three or four feet above the forest floor - probably quite a nice pile underneath all that debris.]

Over and over throughout this walk I was seeing collections of rocks that might be random but probably were man made structures. I think they are just too old to keep their shape. Also I keep having a sneaky thought that most people would see nothing but random rocks.

So I crossed the smidgeon of brook there and continued counterclockwise around the pond, finding one or two more of these hints of structure. I had a tough stream crossing, nearly losing it, and then headed uphill on the diagonal.
I slogged up through the bushes to a knoll barren of much interest (C) and then headed north towards Rt 2 back down through the bushes. These got thicker and thicker and I decided I made a mistake and circled back around - out through a lovely little bower with moss and lichen and out into the more open woods - again climbing diagonally uphill.
 So I came to what I thought was the summit and there (D) two stone walls formed a corner. Within the corner was a rectangular mound with a few outlying piles of smaller rocks. This could be field clearing but probably not. I had stepped on the summit hoping to find something there, and would not give up on that idea, just because what I found was unclear. Poked around some more and realized the hill continued to the east, so I headed up there (E).

First thing I get on to the higher summit and there is a smear of rocks against the slope about 20 feet across. Is that a rock pile? There are the trees, there are the bushes, and there are the rocks poking out in just one spot. I follow a stone wall and come a gap in the wall with a trail passing through the opening.
So I walk a few steps through the opening and find a boulder with a pile of rocks built up against the side (or fallen off the top).
To me, it was clear the wall opening lead exactly to this spot - a coordination of the walls with this unusual structure. That whole hillside has walls - some pretty standard, others lower and further gone back into the dirt.

I explored the hilltop (E) some more and got further from where I first topped the hill. I worry about getting lost and it was a cloudy day. At first I was on a reliable slope with the traffic sounds from Rt 2 giving me a directional beacon. But on a hilltop you loose the slope reference, and I was worried about shifting or losing the increasingly distant sound. Up there, I came across at least two other smears of rock.
Pretty sure these are structured rock piles but it could still be field clearing. Except there was a bit of remaining rectangular structure in the pile.
[Here finally is a decent video, click on the thumbnail]

So I am still not sure, and heading back past the wall opening and this time I follow the trail down hill heading back in the direction of the first false summit.
[A "twins"]

Back at the wall corner (D) I started exploring outward back downhill and towards my car - figuring I would not see much and would extract myself from the woods. Well I tell ya, just as the first part of the walk was boring and devoid of anything too clearly interesting, now on the way back I kept seeing more and more rock piles, more and more obviously ceremonial (F).
Most people wold not recognize these as man-made, let along as rectangular burial mounds. Here they are, scattered all over the slope. If you live in New England and walk in the woods you will know these kinds of rocky slopes. But it is so exiting to see such a familiar kind of slope dotted with these hard to see almost invisible mounds.

I could see light through the leaves and an opening up ahead and thought I would get out of the woods at the top of the landfill and, possibly, find a simpler/quicker way back to my car. Before I could get out, there as one more site. Here were the most beautiful piles I saw all day. (Click on thumbnail)
Another view of that well formed pile:
[Another view of that well formed pile. A clean vertical face is not surprising. This is a "marker pile" - a satellite near a larger burial mound. When looking at it from the direction of the large rectangular mound, the flat surface faces you.]

There were several other piles in this group and I am thinking: "these are satellite piles, so where is the rectangular mound?" There it was, a few feet away. I took a last few pictures, ran the memory dry on my camara, and stepped out of the  woods (G). It was about a half mile back to my car along the landfill driveway and Rt 31.

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