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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
 
 
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
 
 
 
PHOTOS 14:  OPTIONAL CLIMBS, PART 2: OBSERVATION TOWERS ALONG THE A.T.
 
JANUARY 31, 2006
 
 
 "I discovered around me an ocean of mist, which by chance reached up exactly to the base of the tower and shut out every vestige of the Earth, while I was left floating on this fragment of the wreck of a world...in cloudland."
- Henry David Thoreau, from the summit of Mt. Greylock
 


Beautiful Veterans War Memorial tower on the summit of Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts.

This is a continuation of the section on interesting optional climbs on the Appalachian Trail.

 In addition to historic fire outlooks with great views, you can also see some spectacular panoramas from several observation towers right next to the Trail. If you're hiking the AT, I don't think there is a fee to go up any of these towers.

Most of these observation towers are built as memorials to individuals or groups. I doubt that any of these more elegant towers are used for fire detection, although their lofty locations may have been used as such in earlier times.

WASHINGTON MONUMENT, MD

The first monument to George Washington, built in 1827, fits into this category. It is built on Monument Knob in Maryland and sits about two hundred feet off the AT. The observatory, thirty feet tall and constructed of native stone, is shaped like an old-fashioned cream bottle. See photo below.

The tower was open on Day 61, so I went to the top to see the view into the valley to the west (very hazy that day). I included more history about this monument in Photos 4.

HIGH POINT STATE PARK, NJ

The tall, slender High Point Monument is located in beautiful High Point State Park in northeastern New Jersey. Completed in 1930, the monument was built through the generosity of Col. Anthony R. Duser and his wife, Susie Dryden Kuser, and is dedicated to all of New Jersey's war heroes. The Kusers also donated the original 10,500 acres of High Point State Park to the people of New Jersey in 1923. What an awesome gift!

Although the AT doesn't go up to the base of the monument, a red- and green-blazed side trail will take you there. I did not go over to the monument, which marks the highest elevation in New Jersey (1,803 feet). The best angle I had for a photo of the entire structure on Day 91 was from the vantage point on the AT below:

At the top of the 220-foot tower observers have a great view of the ridges of the Pocono Mountains toward the west, the Catskill Mountains to the north, and the Wallkill River Valley in the southeast. The ATC guide promises that much the same panorama of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey can be seen from a wooden observation platform directly on the A.T. (I did go up on that one.)

If you have more time and energy than I did you might be interested in the optional trek to the monument and on up to the top. There is no fee to enter the park from the Appalachian Trail any time of the year or by vehicle in the off-season. There is a fee if you enter by vehicle from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

BEAR MOUNTAIN STATE PARK, NY

The 40-foot tall Perkins Memorial Tower, shown below, is right next to the AT in New York's Bear Mountain State Park. The attractive stone structure, located on the summit of Bear Mountain (elev. 1,305 feet), was built in 1934 in memory of George W. Perkins, first president of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission.

From the top observation level you have a 360-degree view of the New York City skyline, the Ramapo Hills, and the Hudson (River) Highlands.

When I did an internet search for this site I found a most interesting web site that shows a virtual panoramic view from the Perkins Tower as if you were standing there, moving in a circle so you can see in every direction. How cool! It's at the Hudson Valley Living Panoramas site: http://www.hvnet.com/panoramas/perkins01.htm.

(Beware; you might get hooked and spend a lot of time doing other virtual tours on the site!)

Day 95 was a long, hot day for me with several mountains to climb up and down so I only read the information plaque on the Perkins Tower, took a couple photos, and went my merry way without climbing the four flights of stairs to the top. I got to see most of the views that are in the web cam from the Trail overlooks on the summit.

The web site above indicates there is a wealth of information in exhibits placed on each landing as visitors climb to the top. I'd like to go back someday and see that.

MT. GREYLOCK, MA

Another impressive war memorial is on the summit of Mt. Greylock (elev. 3.491 feet), the highest point in Massachusetts.

Greylock is part of the12,500-acre Mt. Greylock State Reservation. The 92-foot tall War Veterans Memorial Tower rises majestically from the summit to commemorate casualties and veterans of American wars. The best photo I took of the monument on Day 104 is at the top of this page.

The AT goes right up the walkway to the granite tower, which was built in the early 1930s. There is a large bronze plaque (shown below) embedded in the stone path near the monument that describes the concept of the Appalachian Trail. Several brass plaques, some with literary quotes, were placed on the summit in 1998 when the tower was renovated for the 100th anniversary of the Greylock reservation.

There is a powerful light at the top of the tower that was originally destined for a lighthouse in Boston Harbor, but ended up here. The light can be seen for over 70 miles!

The interesting story regarding the influence this mountain has had on literary giants like Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau (and the strong ocean metaphors they used, such as the one quoted at the top of this page) can be found here: http://americasroof.com/ma.shtml.

This is an enlargement of the beautiful light at the top of the memorial:

I wanted to finish on top of Mt. Greylock on Day 104 so Jim could also enjoy the views to four states: New York, Vermont, Connecticut, and eastern Massachusetts. This is one of the few mountains on the AT with road access to the top.

The best views are from the top of the War Memorial. I was too tired after a long day on the Trail to go all the way to the top (I got part way up) but Jim did and said the 360-degree panorama was impressive.

The tower is open during daylight hours from mid-May to mid-October. If it is closed or you're too tired/unable to climb it, there are also observation platforms around the summit grounds that offer scenic views such as this:

Or if you want to see the gorgeous 360-degree panorama from the Greylock summit at dawn in the comfort of your own home or office, just go to the Massachusetts Dept. of Conservation and Recreation's website: http://www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/western/mgry.htm. Click on "panoramic view" in the text.

These things are totally addictive!

CLINGMAN'S DOME, NC/TN

The best-known observation tower along the AT is the one on top of Clingman's Dome in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It has nearly ten million visitors each year! Built in 1959, the tower evenly straddles the North Carolina-Tennessee state line.

At 6,643 feet, Clingman's Dome is the highest peak on the Appalachian Trail, second only to nearby Mt. Mitchell at 6,684 feet. The reason so many people visit the tower on the summit is simple: not only is there a paved road to a parking lot near the top and a paved trail the last one-half mile, there is a also a wheelchair-accessible ramp to the top of the futuristic-looking observation tower.

You'd think I'd have a photo of such a popular tower, but all I saw was the lower end of the ramp when I was there. On Day 14 I ended my first long day in the Smokies about half a mile from the tower. Since it was near dark, I didn't go up to take a picture. The next morning when I passed the base of the long ramp, it was too foggy to even see the tower. Not much incentive to climb up there, knowing I couldn't see anything! Jim took this photo of me in the parking lot just before I began on Day 15:

Pea soup. I obviously couldn't see much in front of my nose that day.

You can easily find photos of the sleek tower, which almost looks like a spaceship, on any number of web sites by doing an internet search. This one is from http://www.westernncattractions.com/clngdome.htm:

The photo above must have been taken at sunrise or sunset because other photos show the concrete structure to look more white than terra cotta in color.

Reportedly, there are "occasional breathtaking vistas" from the top of the observation tower, but the view has deteriorated significantly in recent years from the haze of air pollution caused by vehicles and industry in the region. In addition, many of the spruce and fir trees have been killed by wooly aphid insects, as you can see in this photo near the summit on Day 14:

 

Regardless of the blight and haze, hiking (or running) on the AT through the Smokies is sheer pleasure most days. I intend to go back with Jim to run at least the eastern half of the Trail through the park on a sunny day so I can see what I missed last May. And I'll want to boogie on up to the top of the Clingman's Dome observation tower then to see the sweeping mountain views.

So - when you're hiking on the AT, I encourage you to climb up some of the fire overlooks and observation towers you pass. The views from on high are worth the time and effort on a good-weather day. Enjoy!

Next up: continuing the theme of structures along the Appalachian Trail . . . "Sign, sign, everywhere a sign," a sometimes-humorous look at the myriad of directional, warning, and renegade signs on the Trail.

But don't start humming that song or it will get stuck in your brain the rest of the day!

Humming along,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil