Remnants of the state's glacial past are all around us, from giant, solitary boulders in the middle of the forest to kettleholes that pockmark the landscape.
But few places are as filled with glacial features, or as stunningly beautiful, as Ledyard's Glacial Park, where the state's 13,000-year-old geological history is evidenced by a giant kettlehole and a formation of rocks known as the "boulder train."
Tucked away in the eastern portion of Ledyard, the town-owned property preserves some of the state's richest geological history.
And you don't have to be a geologist or rock hound to understand the significance of the area, which was created when the Wisconsin Glacier plunged south 13,000 years ago. It created a huge swath of boulders known as the "Ledyard Moraine."
The technical explanation for the boulder field that stretches to the forest's horizon? According to a study done by Barbara Lahr Maire on the area in 1976, the boulder train is a "frontal accumulation, during a minor readvance in the general ice retreat."
In other words, there are boulders of all shapes and sizes. The rocks range from the size of a soccer ball to large trucks. The rocks are piled up or lean against one another, forming small caves where "in Colonial times wolves and bears have retreated," Maire noted.
"Ledyard's boulder belt and moraine is a spectacular linear glacial landform extending for several miles," she wrote. "A glacier edge remains in one location only when the amount of melting equals the amount of snow accumulation at the glacier source. When this happens, rock materials of all sizes are brought forward in the glacial ice and released at the melting edge."
From the parking area along Whalehead Road, visitors have two choices when exploring the 22-acre boulder train.
They can climb aboard the main trail, marked with blue blazes, that cuts through the heart of the boulder field. The mile-long loop is for the more adventurous, with a lot of climbing, hopping and scrambling over the boulders. A view from the park's high point is breathtaking, with boulders strewn across the woods as far as the eye can see.
The alternate trail is equally as long, but runs along the perimeter of the boulder train and through the woods. There are still impressive rock formations to see, including some boulders balancing on top of larger ledges. The trail is also easier on the legs and knees with less scrambling.
Although not connected, the Glacial Park Kettlehole Trail on Avery Hill Road Extension is a loop path that winds around the top of a depression created when huge chunks of the glacier broke off and melted. The melting created both dry and wet kettleholes, although most of Ledyard's examples are dry. A small trail leads to the bottom of the kettlehole, giving visitors a perspective on just how massive the glaciers must have been.
"This is a fascinating natural phenomenon which should remain intact and accessible to Ledyard residents," Maire wrote. And it has remained so.
Take Route 12 to Route 214, or Stoddards Wharf Road. Take a right on Avery Hill Road Extension just past Avery Cemetery. Take a left on Whalehead Road and look for the parking area on the left under transmission lines. Go to town.ledyard.ct.us/DocumentCenter/Home/View/420 for a full explanation of the geology and Maire's report.