Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Twinway Trail as it just reaches the summit of Zeacliff, September 2008

This is the Twinway Trail at the northern edge of the broad summit plateau of Zeacliff. Zeacliff is the eastern terminus of a long ridge, or granite shelf, that extends west to Zealand Mountain, and then, with a few undulations, all the way to Mt. Guyot (Ghee-O). Fifty years ago the section of the trail in this photo is where you broke out of the trees and stepped onto a broad open area with gorgeous 360 degree views, gleaming white granite ledges and blueberry bushes extending for a mile west and a few hundred yards north and south. With those gorgeous views on sunny summer days when the blueberries were ripe it was absolute heaven. Towards the east the ridge breaks off in a sheer cliff, Zeacliff itself, with a breath-taking, 1300 foot drop to Whitewall Brook on the floor of Zealand Notch. Two huge and devestating forest fires burned through Zealand Notch more than 100 years ago. The first fire occurred in July 1886 when J. E. Henry was logging here. The exact area of destruction is not known. The fire was believed to have started north of the notch, close to Route 302. A second fire in May 1903 (after Henry had ceased logging in the valley) burned as much acreage as the 1886 blaze (approximately 10,000 acres) but burned further south through Zealand Notch and up high to the top of Whitewall Mt. and perhaps to the top of Zealcliff. Newspaper accounts don't offer specifics. One newspaper article described Zealand Notch as "death valley". "It is a dull-brown waste of lifeless, fire-eaten soil and stark white boulders. All about lie great blackened stumps and tangled roots of what were once majestic trees." (from Fran Belcher, 1980) If the 1903 fire burned over the top of Zeacliff it would account for the thin soil, the barrenness I recall from 40-50 years ago, and the emergence of the balsams and spruce over the past thirty years as plant life struggles to re-colonize the area. I want to do some more research on the fires of 1903 and 1907 to try and survey the exact terrain the fires burned.

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