Some 40 miles north of Plymouth Notch, Route 100 plunges down into its darkest, coldest stretch—the heavily wooded Granville Gulf Reservation. “Gulf” in this case refers to a geological process from more than 10,000 years ago, when mountaintop glaciers melted. The release of vast quantities of water gouged notches—or gulfs—into the mountains, creating a narrow chasm walled in by cliffs and forest. In 1927, Redfield Proctor Jr., who was governor from 1923 to 1925, donated most of the 1,171 acres of this six-mile ribbon of woodlands to the state, with prohibitions against hunting, fishing and commercial tree-cutting; the tract was to be “preserved forever.”
The section of Route 100 that crosses Granville Gulf was not paved until 1965. Even today, few venture farther than a turnout overlooking Moss Glen Falls, spilling 30 feet over a 25-foot-wide rock face. “It’s gorgeous—a real photo-op,” says Lisa Thornton, a forester at the reserve. She’s right.
Using a map originally drawn by a biologist more than 40 years ago, Thornton leads me toward a wedge of forest on the cliffs. We clamber up a hillside over spongy soil until we reach a stone ledge covered in moss and fern—and a stately stand of 80-foot-tall hemlocks, perhaps 500 years old. The trees survived, Thornton says, because they were virtually inaccessible to Native Americans, European pioneers and timber companies. I’m reminded of Frost’s poem “Into My Own”:
One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as ‘twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.
For most of its length, Route 100 is paralleled by a 273-mile footpath that runs along the main ridge of the Green Mountains. Built between 1910 and 1930, the Long Trail preceded—and inspired—the Appalachian Trail, with which it merges for about 100 miles in southern Vermont. Created and maintained by the nonprofit Green Mountain Club, the trail offers 70 primitive shelters amid pine- and maple-forested peaks, picturesque ponds and alpine bogs. “Our volunteers maintain the shelters and keep clear 500-foot-wide corridors on either side of the trail—making sure there are no illegal incursions by timber companies,” says Ben Rose, executive director of the organization.
One of the most accessible—and geologically distinctive—points on the Long Trail is Smuggler’s Notch, a nine-mile drive northwest from Stowe, the town best known for its ski resort, on Route 108, through the Green Mountains. Legend holds that its name dates back to the War of 1812. Trade with Canada, then still an English colony, had been suspended by the U.S. government; contraband goods were allegedly transported through this remote pass.
Huge boulders, some more than 20 feet tall, dot the landscape. “My grandfather used to bring me up here and we would climb past the boulders down to a beaver pond to go fishing,” says my guide, Smith Edwards, 69, nicknamed “Old Ridge Runner” by his fellow Green Mountain Club members. (Edwards has trekked the entire length of the Long Trail four times.) He began hiking the trail as a Boy Scout in the 1950s. “Back then, they would drop off 13-year-old kids and pick us up three or four days later, up the trail 50 miles,” says Edwards, who is retired from the Vermont highway department. “Of course, that wouldn’t be done today.”
We walk a good two hours on the Long Trail, ascending half-way up Smuggler’s Notch, past birches, beeches and maples. Ferns, of which the state boasts more than 80 species, carpet the forest floor. “Here in the moist and shaded gorge they found a setting to their liking,” wrote naturalist Edwin Way Teale in Journey Into Summer (1960), one volume in his classic accounts of travels across America.
Some of the most numerous road signs along Route 100 warn of an ever-present danger: moose. The creatures wander onto the road in low-lying stretches, where tons of salt, spread during winter, wash down and concentrate in roadside bogs and culverts. “Moose are sodium-deficient coming out of their winter browse,” says Cedric Alexander, a Vermont state wildlife biologist. “They have learned to feed in the spring and early summer at these roadside salt licks, which become very hazardous sections to drive through.”
The danger has increased as the state’s moose population has risen, from a mere 200 in 1980 to more than 4,000 today. Their prime predator is the four-wheeled variety. When an animal is struck by a car, the impact often sends the creature—an 800-pound cow or a 1,000-pound bull—through the windshield. At least one driver is killed and many more are injured every year.