Where It All Began – Lantern Hill – June 22
For some reason when we were climbing Percy Peaks last weekend, I decided I needed to go “home” this weekend. I needed to be on the “mountain” I first climbed at age 7ish. I don’t know why I felt this pull, I just knew enough to heed the feeling.
At the age of five, my parents moved the family to Ledyard , CT. A small rural community, way before the Pequot casino ever came to dominate the area. My front yard (ok across the street) was a forest and swamp that the blue blazed trail system cut through and behind the house, Lantern Hill loomed. I would eat breakfast looking out at the mountain from our kitchen table. From our house, we could often see campfires glowing from the rock at night. Or one night I remember watching a ferocious lightning storm grab ahold of the summit, striking it repeatedly. The prettiest time was the fall when the colors would set the mountain ablaze.
I don’t know how many times I went up that mountain, but as the youngest of six in our family, someone was always in charge of watching me, so that meant if they went up to Lantern Hill, I went too. We pulled into the little parking spot and I was instantly transported to being a little kid, following family members up the incline. Most times we didn’t drive here, instead we would the half mile or so to get here, sometimes via the road or we would use cut through paths off of Lantern Hill Road.
I learned how to read blazes on trees from my siblings and outdoorsy neighbors. They taught me importance of reading, understanding and following them. Maybe the path is a bit more worn, but following the blue blazes looked like it did when I was little.
What appeared next on the trail wasn’t familiar to me. The Casino has created another trail system for their guests, The Lantern Hill Trail and used different markings than the traditional blue trail.
As this was my trip down memory lane, I wasn’t having anything to do with this new trail. OK to be truthful, I am still a bit bitter about this entire casino taking over the land. Don’t try to reason with me that it was their land first, blah, blah, blah. They destroyed some beautiful hiking trails off of Indiantown Road and I wonder if Cedar Swamp still exists or if some building sits on top of it now? I have never been to the Casino and will not support it in any way.
Back to the blue blazed trail. Go to the left.
From here the path goes up and how I remember my oh so little legs churning up these hills, trying to keep up with the “big kids”.
After this the views start to open up looking over Lantern Hill Road and Indiantown Road. In the 1970’s and 1980’s we could see our little neighborhood. I couldn’t wait to see it again, I wanted to look down over my childhood.
WHAT? Where is the big field behind my house? That always made it easy to spot. Our neighbors had a mini farm with a field for their horses right behind my parent’s house. It always made it easy to spot looking down from Lantern Hill. It was gone. I was sad. We snapped lots of photos to try to see if we could spot it or any of the neighbor’s houses, but we couldn’t figure it out.
We still had more views to check out, so we started scrambling up.
Our to our next viewing spot. Mike spent time trying to find my childhood landmarks. I gave up and instead focused on the blueberry bush right in front of me.
We had a few rock scrambles and I felt like a kid again. Up I went, having fun. I remembered it was here that I had no fear of heights or rock scrambles. I could go to the edge and look out. I was just a kid in the woods hanging with my older siblings.
Until one day, Larry decided to be funny and hop down to smaller ledge, I thought he had fallen off the edge of the hill. At that moment, a fear of heights took hold. This incident came clearly back to me as we hiked up today. It was a startling memory, but I was glad to know how my fear began (sorry Larry this is not intended to make you feel guilty).
Again we tried looking out to find the familiar landmarks of my youth, but to no avail.
From here we followed the trail over to the other lookout. This I remembered always being a sea of green. Didn’t need to spend time looking for anything special, I could just absorb the views.
We trekked along following the GPS to the summit. There is no marking, we could find, to tell has we had reached the summit on Lantern Hill. We watched the turkey vultures for a bit, something that was familiar to see from my youth.
Over to the left the old Silica Mine was still in existence, just not active.
We arrived at the tail end of Mountain Laurel season blooms. I do recollect being here when it was in full bloom and how beautiful it made the hike, during those times.
We turned around and headed out the way we came. I had to stop and catch my breath as I saw the casino buildings rising out of the land. I held back tears because it was an unnatural structure, screaming for attention, in such an organice place.
I stopped at the bottom of the trail and just stood. I took a moment to thank the universe for putting people in my life who gave me the love of nature. It started with my siblings and their partners (yup they are older than me, I am truly the baby of the family) for dragging me along (though I don’t think they had much of a choice)on their outdoor adventures. I was thankful for neighbors who brought me outside to teach me the names of trees and flowers, Mrs. Teft and Susan. Lastly, my mother, who was a walker. She walked everywhere, including the blue blazed trails, or un marked paths in the woods to cut pussy willows or just simply to walk to clear her mind. They all taught me there is no better playground than outdoors in the woods or a better place to find peace in a chaotic world.
It was a good trip back “home”. I haven’t been in Ledyard in over 10 years and I think the last time I climbed Lantern Hill was almost 30 years ago. I did forget it was an easy hike and very short. It took us longer to drive there than it did to do an out and back hike. Maybe next time we can do a car spot with someone and hike more of the blue blazed trails in the area.
The Details: Park on Wintechog Hill Road, North Stonington or you can park at Two Trees Inn and follow the trail from there to the blue blazed trail. We just went up and back for about a mile, total time was 30 minutes. Still great views out, but for friends and family who want to see the views we saw in the 70’s and 80’s they are gone, covered by trees.