Hikin' Herons! Part 3: Black Spruce Bogs Natural Area
Trail access for the Black Spruce Bogs Natural Area was down an unmarked dirt road off a backroad in Tamworth. It was narrow and bumpy and lonely, and I liked it. I had to park pretty quick, too, since the road was being slobbered up by the unsettling White Lake. The lake had the tenacity of an ocean, waves lapping and plunging to the shore. There wasn't much parking for a fishermen's road, but I fit the car in between two trees and had a look around.
A gated area hid an abandoned building – White Lake State Park's ghostly past, perhaps – and to trails went in both directions around the lake. Standing at the shore, I could see White Lake State Park's abandoned beach. We would go that way, I decided.
Bonus Hike: Around The Lake Trail
We left the fishermen's road and hopped across a small wooden bridge beneath the old white pines. There was a NO DOGS sign on the State Park side of the lake, but I ignored it – I didn't even expect to see another person, let alone any rule enforcers. The trail was surprisingly quaint. I thought a trail at the popular park would be wide enough for an ATV to drive down. We saw some huge trees! Pines and spruce dominated the area. We had to crawl over or under a few fallen trees, as well.
It was a short walk to the beach, closed to tourism for the season, dotted with picnic tables and tree branches and shrapnel from the lake. The wind was something else! It was loud enough to make noise. It blew onto my face and into every gap of my hood and sleeves, chilling me. Wilder held onto his fur as it danced like the waving tree tops. We paraded across the beach, looking out to Mt. Chocorua, Paugus, Passaconaway, and Whiteface. The water rose and fell in the wind.
It was as if the spirit of Chocorua himself was booming: NO DOGS ALLOWED IN WHITE LAKE STATE PARK.
We ran for the cover of the trees. There were fallen trees – big ones – bobbing in the water. As we approached the north side of the lake we were finally deep enough in the woods to avoid the wind. We passed a few friendly people, but otherwise had the woods to ourselves, happily crunching through icy leaves and puddles filled with pine needles.
At the tippy-top of the lake there was an iced-over bridge across an outlet. I lured Wilder over with a tight leash and lots of praise, then we found an intersection leading to the Pitch Pine Trail, part of the Black Spruce Bogs Natural Area. We continued around the lake, though, promising to return that way.
This side of the lake was much calmer – no wind at all – and at times, it reminded me of Walden Pond, eternally serene, a walk to savor. We had to crawl under a fallen log. We were startled by some ducks splashing the water in flight from unexpected guests. They had been relaxing under a loping tree branch above the water, surrounded by a rooty shore – a perfect resting place, until we came along.
Black Spruce Bogs Natural Area
The Wilder and I turned on the hunt for adventure into the tall ship masts of the Black Spruce Trail. The area was a bit spread out. There were the spruce and just enough deciduous growth to douse the trail in leaves. But it was phenomenal. And quiet. We couldn't hear a thing but our own pitter patter until we got to the first bog. The occasional gunshot banged off in the woods beyond.
The first bog was what I expect to see when I read the word “bog” on a map. Icy muck and spruce trees jutting for the sun out of the swamp, wild bush and scrub making the place impassable and antagonistic for those wielding cameras. But Thoreau comes to mind, who preferred “a few square rods of impermeable and unfathomable bog” over the artificial beauty of a well-curated garden. “How vain, then, have been all your labors, citizens, for me!” he joked. To put a house on a spot like this, I thought, is certainly an idea I could get behind.
But it was wild. Even the path was overgrown and brambled. We climbed up Esker Trail around the bog, and not even after gaining elevation could we get a clear view. The second bog, however, felt more like a peaceful backcountry pond. It lended itself to a bit of showoffness, as if it were saying, “I'm the nice bog, take a picture of me.” All it needed was a moose taking a drink and I'd have a postcard.
I'm glad we never saw the moose, though, because the gunshots sounded closer. I did not want to get in the way of any hunters. The trail ended at a snowmobile path that began somewhere on the fishermen's road and continued northwest off the map I had. The path had a solid layer of snow already and plenty of boot prints leading toward the gunshots.
We took one last look at the bog, walking a sliver of side trail we missed earlier, providing a more intimate look at the spruce trees growing from the muck. What a marvelous place! We took great care as we climbed up a hill into the pitch pines to head back to White Lake. The gunshots sounded louder as we hiked north, so Wilder and I made ourselves scarce.
The map referred to this place as the Pitch Pine National Natural Landmark. It was a tongue twister, and a neck twister as well! It was mesmerizing to walk through those giant trees, gently waving in the breeze. The occasional gunshot sounded softer with each pull of the trigger. Can't those guys hit that deer already? Soon we made it to the intersection that rejoined the Around The Lake Trail.
The last stretch of our lake walk was through broken glass ice puddles and we cringed our way back to the fishermen's road. But first, Wilder took a dip in the lake. I had to be stern with him, though. The dog wanted to go full-on winter swimming. It's never too cold for this guy. Nonetheless, we both enjoyed the full blast of car heat as we drove back home, another phase of our Hikin' Heron challenge complete.