Purgatory Chasm State Reservation by Kara Howland
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Finally, the snow and ice has cleared-it's beautiful out once again. The long and hard winter has given way to clear blue skies and bright warm sunshine and temperatures of nearly 60. How refreshing it is to feel the sun on your face and to finally be able to go outside with just jeans and a t-shirt on. It's time to put your heavy and bulky winter coat away for the season. A great place to enjoy the wonderful weather is the Purgatory Chasm State Reservation in Sutton. It's a leisurely drive through windy country back roads dotted with beautiful homes nestled amongst the deep woods, or a quick trip down Route 146 and it is right off the exit.
You may not even be aware that this gem of a state park even exists. It is almost hidden in the spacious and towering forest. So, if you are looking for an inexpensive and fun way to spend a spring or summer day, just pack a lunch, invite some friends along, or load up the kids in the car and take a nice drive to an interesting and beautiful spot. It makes for an adventurous daytrip. The parking is free, and there are places to sit and rest and eat a picnic lunch, or to bring hamburgers and hot dogs and use the grills and stone fireplaces that are there. You'll need a good lunch after a long day of hiking through the woods and caves!
According to Department of Conservation and Recreation's website, www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/central/purg.htm, Purgatory Chasm is a natural landmark, and stretches a quarter of a mile in between granite walls that can rise as high as 70 feet. There are some interesting names to the numerous rock formations, such as The Corn Crib, The Coffin, The Pulpit, Lover's Leap, and Fat Man's Misery. Although geologists will disagree on how the Chasm was formed, a popular theory is that almost 14, 000 years ago, dammed up glacial melt waters suddenly broke through and created the chasm.
Although people differ about the Chasm's origin, one thing that's not in dispute is its beauty. The area is picturesque and serene. The birds are singing and chirping, happily announcing the new arrival of spring. The air is crisp and clean here and it's a good place to clear your head and to appreciate Mother Nature and what she has to offer. The towering pine trees and other trees grow tall and lush in the state park, some even are growing sticking out between two huge moss covered rock formations. On a sign at the park, visitors learn that Peter Whitney, "America's First Frontier", wrote in 1793 that the Chasm "is the most stupendous place, and fills the mind of the beholder with the most exalted ideas of the infinite power of the great Creator of all things". You just might agree with Whitney after visiting the Purgatory Chasm.
At the entrance to the park, Smokey the Bear, complete with cuffed jeans and his yellow hat, greets visitors with a friendly fire level danger sign, and urges you to prevent forest fires. The parking lot area is neat, tidy, and attractive, accented with white birch trees and tall dark red lampposts. Further down, there's a covered stone structure which houses picnic tables. The American flag whips proudly in the wind. In one area which abuts another parking area, flat and smooth rocks makeup big slanting wall covered with dropped pine needles and spotted with pine cones. The steep rock formations throughout the park are breathtaking. There are signs which point out the various areas and trails to visitors. There is also a sign warning visitors of the Chasm's "bold and unique landscape". It warns of the possibility of "slippery and deceiving rocks", so be careful while hiking.
The day that I visited, there were a fairly good number of visitors. A group of teenagers parked their car, got out, and bounded towards the caves. I could hear their whoops of laughter and shouting as they descended down into the caves and made their way through. I could hear them calling back and forth to each other as their voices echoed off the rock walls. I also saw some more dedicated hikers: two young men decked out with backpacks and sturdy boots quickly trekking over the jagged rock formations. There were also those there visiting the park who were just there to enjoy a quiet and relaxing stroll through the wooded trails that wind through the park or to take advantage of the more tame rock formations, like the young couple who walked out of the park holding hands and drinking from plastic water bottles, or the older man who brought a bag lunch and soda with him to enjoy quietly at one of the picnic tables.
The Purgatory Chasm is peaceful and quiet but not staid and boring. It is an ideal spot for people to go to enjoy the outdoors, appreciate the beauty of nature, or for a fun, adventurous and exciting outing.