After reading about it in the paper, we tried a new trail (new to us, I mean) in Fahnestock State Park.  We’ve been hiking in the park for years and it is exciting to realize that there are still significant portions that we have yet to explore.

We checked our trusty—and well-worn—trail map and found that the trailhead for the Sunken Mine Railbed Trail is located just a short distance (about half of a mile) closer to us than a trailhead we have been using for many years.  We’ve passed by the parking area a hundred times with only a vague notion (at best) that another convenient hiking opportunity awaited us there.

As its name implies, the trail follows an old mine railroad.  This seemed apparent for the first quarter of a mile from the trailhead as the path was wide and flat.  However, the trail then traversed up and over a ridge (where several trees, toppled by Hurricane Sandy no doubt, made passage difficult) and dropped steeply down to a pond.  I don’t think even a mine railcar could manage that terrain.  While we were enjoying the view, we noticed that the night had been cold enough that a thin scrim of ice had formed over the pond’s surface.

From there, the trail widened and continued in a straight and level alignment along a raised berm; clearly, this was the former railbed.  Although not physically challenging, I enjoy flat, roomy trails because they allow two or three hikers to walk side by side with less fear of stumbling or tripping.  This, in turn, facilitates conversation making for a much more social experience; walking and talking in the wilderness.

When we’d been hiking for half an hour, we came to a sharp turn in the trail and again checked the map for potential routes back to our starting point.  A loop was possible and would have been preferable except that another quarter hour of outbound walking would have been needed.  We didn’t have the energy for what would wind up a hike of 90 minutes duration and so decided to turn around and head back the way we came.

Further study of the map revealed that the comeback point on the loop we could have taken is the same trail intersection that we passed, from a different direction, on a hike last month (about which, for a change, I did not blog; for photographs, however, see October 7, 2012).  I was reminded that everything, potentially, connects to everything else.  (And I wonder, for instance, whether this section of mine railbed connects to a similar section of the Appalachian Trail; see January 1, 2012.)  With today’s hike, I have filled in a gap in my mental map of the park.

On the walk back, the sun was in our faces and its warmth felt good (even if it was also blinding).  There is a quality to the light at this time of year that always makes it feel later in the day than it actually is.  Even at its highest inclination, the sunlight remains oblique and thus heavily filtered by the atmosphere.  In the summer, this condition only occurs near sunrise and sunset but in winter, it lasts all day.  As a result, the look of early morning quickly transforms into the appearance of late afternoon.  It is a strange sensation to completely skip a time that feels like midday.

On the other hand, the low angle of the light is great for studying textures.  The shallow rays accentuate the smallest surface irregularities so that even tiny pebbles and diminutive tree roots cast shadows that drape across the full width of the trail.