A three-legged rock, a birds’ nest and a visit with Lucy: Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area

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Tripod Rock, a glacial erratic consisting of a giant boulder perched atop three smaller rocks, is one of the most popular natural features on Pyramid Mountain.

How has Tripod Rock not fallen over after all these years?

That was my first thought upon coming across said natural feature at the top of Pyramid Mountain. And if you’ve ever visited Tripod Rock, that has doubtless been one of your first thoughts as well.

That is exactly what it is: a giant boulder perched atop three smaller boulders, deposited there millennia ago by a moving glacier during the Ice Age. The technical term for it, as I understand, is a glacial erratic. And there it has stood, weathering the ravages of time, storms and probably more than one would-be-vandal.

I actually saw a couple of kids and parents who were gutsy enough to go crawling around in the space underneath the main boulder, all the better for taking selfies. I myself would be a bit squeamish about having that much tonnage of rock directly above me.

So, Erin, you may ask, tell me more about where I might find this mammoth Mesozoic monstrosity? Well, sit ye down, children, and I’ll tell you all about it – and some other cool features besides.

The Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area is out in Montville in Morris County, in central-west-northern New Jersey (how’s that for geography?). It’s part of the Ramapos range running north-south down the middle of the state.

There are two mountains in the area, actually. One is Pyramid Mountain, and the other is Turkey Mountain, right across the road.

If you’re coming in from outside Morris County, you’ll likely have to take I-287. (I got off at the exit for Woolton Avenue in Boonton, followed it west to Boonton Avenue and headed north from there into Montville.)

Check out the visitor’s center while you’re there. They’ve got lots of displays and information inside, and a very nice native species garden out front. And when I was there, they had the side deck roped off because there was a nest of phoebes on the light box next to the side entrance.

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At the time I visited, the deck was cordoned off because of a nest of phoebes – one of the many bird species you might find at Pyramid Mountain.

The park staff’s suggested hike for getting to Tripod Rock from the visitor’s center is a lollipop loop hike using the blue, yellow and white trails. The blue and yellow trails form the candy part of the lollipop, and then the blue trail heads north and forms the “stick” part with the white trail.

The blue trail is officially known as the Butler-Montville Trail. The white trail – that’s the one that connects you from the blue trail to Tripod Rock – is the Kinnelon-Boonton Trail. The yellow trail, from what I can tell, doesn’t officially have a name.

To access pretty much all the trails from the visitor’s center, the blue trail leads into the woods – it’s very conspicuously marked – and takes you over a footbridge, just after which you’ll come to the yellow trail junction. All of the key junctions, I’ll point out, are very conspicuously marked – you’ll often see a large cairn of rocks in addition to the blazes.

I saw a notice at the visitors’ center about bears being among the resident wildlife, so I asked the park staff if they had seen any lately. Apparently the bears that live along Pyramid Mountain are very shy bears; they don’t want anything to do with humans.

Among the local flora, I noticed a fair number of wild blueberry bushes, none of them bearing any fruit. You’ll apparently also see some laurel in the area, so it means that the plant life is similar to what I’ve seen up at Bear Mountain.

There were a lot of people out taking the trails that weekend – families, couples, dog walkers and hikers kitted out to the nines with gear. I guessed, and rightly so, that a fair number of them were going out to check out Tripod Rock.

The yellow trail is billed as being easier to ascend than the blue trail. Though it helps if you can climb like a mountain goat – you will be climbing over a fair number of rocks on the way up the northern half of the trail. I recommend bringing a good set of trekking poles – I had to stash mine in my pack so I could have my hands free on the ascent. But they’re valuable as you’re making your way back down the mountain along the blue trail.

So, you come up to the blue-and-yellow junction, at which point you take the blue trail north. Just north of this point you’ll come across Lucy’s Overlook – according to my trusty (and increasingly battered and trail-worn) New Jersey Walk Book, it is named for Lucy Meyer, who was involved in the Pyramid Mountain preservation efforts. (Thank you, Lucy!) Check it out – you get a nice view over the mountains to the west. Lot of rocks to climb over, though, so mind your footing.

So, back to the blue trail, which will eventually veer off to the left while the white trail continues straight ahead. And as I said before, this is the one that takes you to Tripod Rock.

Once I was done at the rock, headed back whence I came, this time taking the blue trail back down the mountain to the visitor’s center. At this point, you’re pretty much walking along the top of the ridge. And there are a couple of viewpoints where you can see all the way east to New York.

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One of the ridge-top viewpoints along the blue-blazed Butler-Montville Trail, where it is possible to see to the New York skyline.

I’d brought my binoculars with me – you’re looking out way down at the forested valley below Pyramid Mountain and the Ramapos (and the high-voltage power lines), before it eventually curves back up into the Watchungs, and I recognized a few buildings up on the ridge line in Verona and Montclair. And farther out still, the tips of the Empire State Building and the new World Trade Center. It was a nice little visual treat to top off what had been a quite satisfying hike.

Next time I’m up at Pyramid Mountain, I’ll check out some of the longer trails, or take a walk over at Turkey Mountain. Stay tuned!

For further reading:

Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area: Morris County Parks Commission

 

 

 

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