July 23, 2017 • Natchaug State Forest • Mashamoquet Brook State Park • Written by Curtis
The day after our trip through Rhode Island, we spend most of the morning weighing our options for what we could possibly do. We came up with many ideas: staying local, going to Hartford, going to Boston, going to the Western part of the state. But none of them really motivated us to get out of bed.
So we lounged around some more before ultimately deciding on knocking out some more of the Sky’s the Limit challenge locations. There were two locations relatively close to each other only an hour North of us so we saved the Letterbox clues, grabbed some snacks, and hit the road.
We followed I-395 to Norwich where we got off and continued North on CT 32. A while later we entered into the town of Willimantic where we picked up CT 66 to CT 198. While in Willimantic we crossed a bridge over the Willimantic River that had large 4 large copper frogs on spools. I, in my deluded memory, convinced myself that this was an homage to Mark Twain’s ‘The Jumping Frog of Willimantic, Connecticut’ (a combination of Twain’s real stories ‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County’ and ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court’).
In reality the bridge pays homage to the ‘horrific’ Battle of the Frogs, a bizarre chapter of Connecticut history from 1758 during the French Indian War. At that time, there was a drought, and the local frog pond was dwindling. So much so that one night, the frogs starting fighting each other for the remaining water. The cacophony was so loud that it convinced the locals that the French and Natives were attacking. Pandemonium ensued, farmers turned out with their guns, only to find in the morning hundreds of dead frogs.
We of course did not know this at the time, and simply continued driving. We soon found our way to our first site of the day in Natchaug State Forest: the Birthplace of Nathaniel Lyon. Lyon was a Brigadier General in the Union Army during the Civil War and is known for his actions in the Missouri theatre during the opening months of the War. It was in that capacity that he also became the first Union General to die in combat during the war in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.
We took our pictures and found our letterbox and then moved on to the next site in nearby Mashamoquet Brook State Park. We managed to find back roads into the park and parked near where we thought the trailhead to the next site was. Turns out we were a bit off and there was actually a parking lot right near the site. But we’re no stranger to walking and it was a beautiful day, so we didn’t mind walking the extra mile. We’ve noticed how the sites for this year’s Sky’s the Limit Challenge haven’t been much of a challenge at all to reach — they’re all a very short walk to reach. Through letterboxing, we’ve also come upon sites that were part of previous year’s challenges and find the parks in 2015 were more our style, with longer hikes in actual mountains.
The second site for the day was ‘The Wolf Den,’ a rocky outcrop that forms a small ‘cave’. According to local history, the site gained its name in 1742 when Israel Putnam killed the last wolf in Connecticut by crawling head first with a torch and a musket into the den.
When we first got to the den, there was a family surrounding it, so we opted to continue on and grab a few letterboxes. We ended up walking maybe another third a mile to ‘The Indian Chair’, a chair shaped rock on top of a cliff, before turning around. We made it back to the den and took our pictures. I attempted to crawl in like Putnam did, but didn’t make it very far. Charlotte would have had better luck, but she wasn’t interested in going all the way. I have my doubts towards the veracity of the story. The cave doesn’t go anywhere, and I’m pretty certain you can see its entirety from the entrance.
We walked back to the car and tried to figure out what else to do. The day was still young, and the weather pleasant, but we couldn’t find any other hikes or letterboxes to do. Turns out, the Eastern half of the state is MUCH flatter than everywhere else. We decided instead to take back roads home and just stop wherever piques our interest.
We followed CT 169 South and as we were driving through the town of Brooklyn, we noticed a large bronze equestrian monument on the side of the road. A sucker for monuments, I of course stopped. And lo and behold, it turned out to be not only a monument but also the tomb of Israel Putnam.
After his wolf slaying days, Israel Putnam was a rather adventurous man, serving at Fort Edwards, Lake George, and the Upper Champlain during the French Indian War, was shipwrecked during the British invasion of Cuba, and fought in Pennsylvania during Pontiac’s Rebellion. These experiences served him well once the Revolution broke out and Putnam came to fame as a Major General in the Continental Army and is famous for ‘leaving his plow in the field’ and riding 100 miles to Boston to lend his services in the Battle of Bunker Hill.
We found a nearby box before continued driving home; stopping for ice cream of course.