Tale of two hikes
BRANT LAKE — On an overcast morning, as my family slept, I snuck away for a quick hike out to Sand Lake, near the town of Speculator. Since we were visiting family in the area, I figured why not take advantage and check out a place I’ve never been to.
I pulled up to the trailhead on the Powley Road and noticed a campsite with some partially burned wood in it. “No big deal,” I thought, since the wood was not burning or smoking, and continued through the site to catch the short trail out to the lake.
The trail started out a bit eroded, dipping down from the road. But it was nothing unusual, as most trails inside the Blue Line suffer from some wearing-away. After a quick walk over a brand-spanking-new boardwalk, the outlet of the lake appeared on the left. It was a beautiful, rocky stream, strewn with sticks and logs.
A heard a loon call out from the water, and after another minute or so I came on an unexpected view. There, on the shore of Sand Lake, with a solitary loon swimming just off shore, was a circle of rocks, obviously used as a fire pit.
That wasn’t the unexpected part, however. In the fire pit were a bunch of Bud Light bottles, plastic wrap, what appeared to be a candle in a glass jar and a couple of fishing lures, complete with rusty hooks.
I watched the loon and looked around, finding more garbage, including a thin rope tied around a rock and an abandoned tarp.
The loon didn’t seem to mind the trash or my presence, but after taking a few pics of the lake and the loon, I gathered what garbage I could (I couldn’t carry all of it) and began to hike out. It’s always bothered me that people are willing to carry a full beer out to a place, but too lazy to carry the empty bottle back, but I was really more upset that I could have filled a kitchen trash bag with all the crap that was out there.
As I got back to the campsites, I took a closer look at a pallet that was sitting just off the trail. On a waterproof page from a trail register, some state Department of Environmental Conservation staff member had left a note not to mess with the wood that was there, as it was being used for the new boardwalk.
That’s when it clicked, and I realized the wood in the fire pit nearby, that I had seen on the way in, was all milled wood, most likely from the boardwalk project. I could only hope the project had been completed before the wood was burned.
A week or so later, I was near Brant Lake and again decided to take a quick walk out to a pond in the Pharoah Lake Wilderness. Glancing at a map, it seemed like Gull Pond would offer a quick way to stretch my legs on the way home.
I stopped in the empty parking area and headed into the woods hoping to stay ahead of the few drops of rain that were starting to fall. The trail to Gull Pond is one of the most well-built trails I’ve seen. Most of it is along stone and dirt turnpikes that raise the level of the trail above the surrounding wetter areas.
After about 10 minutes, I came to a rock outcrop and went to the top to see a gorgeous, but small, mountain pond. There was a large rock in the middle and a wall of cliffs on the far side that dropped pretty much straight into the water. It was quiet and serene, and on a less busy day I would have gone for a swim.
On the rock outcrop, the remains of a small fire were evident, but there was no trash to be seen. In fact, other than the trail construction and a three-rock cairn on the little island, it was as if I was the first to have been there in years.
I looked around a little and did find one piece of evidence of man’s presence, but the small boat stashed in the woods was hardly intrusive, and obviously not litter. It was a great place that I would go to again without hesitation.
Sadly, although the Sand Lake and Gull Pond hikes are similar in almost every aspect — distance, difficulty, remoteness — one hike left a much better taste in my mouth. And it was not the taste of Bud Light.