As Old as the Hills
Erosion aside, the loop through Menemsha Hills possesses scenery that is the stuff of imagination. Canopies of oak and maple cast thick shadows on the trail. The rare sunlight shimmers off of the occasional small ponds that flank the path. Boulders teem with lichen, a mosaic of lime-green that reflects the purity of the air. It’s rare to get a glimpse of a rooftop through the thickets, and it appears then only if the eyes are trained to look for one. Passersby are few and far between. Aside from the prodigious numbers of ticks—those useless creatures—there’s not much that could be improved upon. “Even the poison ivy looks pretty—as long as you don’t touch it,” says Chris Kennedy, the Martha’s Vineyard Superintendent for the Trustees of Reservations.
The first point of interest is Prospect Hill. At 308 feet above sea level, it is the second-highest point on the island. (A few record-seeking neighbors hauled a heap of stones and stacked them four feet high to steal first place from the 311-foot Peaked Hill, though that effort had no impact on the actual elevation.) The hill provides a panorama to reward the effort required to get here: the outposts of the Elizabeth Islands, the flash of a beacon from Gayhead Light, the former military installation at Noman’s Land, the white sands of Lobsterville Beach, the deep blue of Vineyard Sound. For bird watchers, Prospect Hill is also a great vantage point to see Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, and other species that pass through in late summer.
The descent from Prospect Hill leads to a private, dirt road that divides the property. The soil underneath turns to sand, and the trees—now hollies and scrub oak—turn shorter and barer. On the approach to the shoreline at Great Sand Bank Overlook, the trees retreat from sunshine that’s easily 10 degrees warmer than the shade. It’s a short stroll through the valley and dune grass to reach the end of the trail, the sounds of footsteps turning from the quiet crush of sand to a thump over a wooden staircase during the descent.
The loose cobblestones of the beach below stretch for three-quarters of a mile. Crumbling cliff faces rise from the shoreline and expose shades of white and red from the clay underneath. Offshore, the cool blue of Vineyard Sound ripples against a cluster of submerged boulders. It’s a sport fishermen’s paradise—lobsters wash ashore after storms, trout are just a short walk to Roaring Brook, and it’s easy to land stripers in the autumn. This beach is also the most elusive summer rarity on the Vineyard: waterfront real estate, free and open to the public, virtually absent of crowds.
Of the many thousands that visit Menemsha Hills each year, most come in the fall. Typically, Kennedy says, these are year-rounders drawn to the foliage, the droves of monarch butterflies that flutter through, and the chance to take a deep breath after another summer season. In other words, autumn is for those familiar with the secrets of Menemsha Hills. For the uninitiated, there’s no better time to get acquainted than the present.
Jeff Harder is managing editor at Cape Cod Life Publications.
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