Mike Valletta

Storyteller. Photographer. Traveler.



Daytripping in Litchfield County

The past few months I have been traveling a lot, mainly out to the other New England states. I’ve been cheating on Connecticut as my first love has always been Vermont. I’m a Vermonter at heart, what could I say! I live for simple days, and an era that has gone by. I live for those enjoyable days spent in the great outdoors as well as exploring new sights. It’s been a while since I spent any time at all traveling around Connecticut, even Litchfield County for that matter. Any tine spent, has been minimal at best.

Today, I decided to do something about it once and for all. Like Occupy Wall Street, I decided to Occupy Litchfield County. After all, this is my home and it’s always great to see the ever changing landscape. After seeing Geoff Fox post a blog yesterday about Kent, I decided to take a drive down and see what has been happening in my absence. Come to find out, so many glorious things! For starters, Kent has again been named the number one foliage town in all of New England by the readers of Yankee Magazine. If you peek through some of the pictures in this column, you’ll have every idea as to why! Kent is a favorite small town here in Connecticut. It’s old world charm has certainly tied in well with the new world. It’s a destination where you could easily lose your sense of time as you explore the unique shops and eateries, and don’t forget about Belisque Chocolatiers. It’s home to the best hot cocoa in all of Litchfield County. Chocolate straight from Belgium. It’s like chocolate heaven! Trust me, I’ve tried it and ended up on cloud nine. Can someone deliver that chocolate to Torrington?

As I made my way through the shops of Kent, I decided I should continue my journey up through Route 7. It’s a scenic road traveling through western Litchfield County and up through the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. It snakes it’s way around the Housatonic River passing an old covered bridge in Cornwall and on up through Canaan. I ended up veering off towards Lakeville passing Lime Rock Park and making my way up to Salisbury, home of the great American Ski Jumps. Is it ski season yet?

Salisbury is another town I have fallen in love with over the years. It’s quaint and it’s home to the highest elevations in the state. It is this part of northwestern Connecticut where the scenery really gets interesting and the way of life is majestically different. It’s called Berkshire Time. For those of us who live in northern Litchfield County, we’re fortunate enough to know about this time. It’s not only a little bit backwards from the hustle and bustle of the world today, but it’s also a sense of place. A time that just makes you sit back and unwind. Take a load off. Unplug. Unschedule yourself! Berkshire Time is a time out from the rest of the world, and I love every minute of it.

As I strolled through Salisbury, I couldn’t help but get a kick out of the scarecrows scattered around town. They were just too cool! So many creative people helped to put these on display for all to see, and the tourists up from New York and the like seemed to get a real kick out of them too as they snapped away with their cameras.

There was something on my mind as I walked around Salisbury, however. It was a bit of confusion. In my travels in Vermont and New Hampshire, I noticed that many of the local stores had cool gifts that promoted the area. Everything from bumper stickers to apparel. The states in northern New England really seem to promote their tourism industry. I wondered, shouldn’t we be doing the same thing here in Litchfield County? We do, of course, have little odds and ends here and there, but it’s not well enough defined. We have plenty of tourists who visit the area per year, and it’s certainly a profitable industry for us here in bucolic northwestern Connecticut. It remains to be seen what the future may hold, but it’s certainly worth looking into.

Making my way out of Salisbury and up past the farms in Canaan, I made my way to Norfolk, the last stop on my journey. What a beautiful place. It’s referred to the icebox of Connecticut, and when I got out of the car, I could feel that icebox! Just a tad cooler than the rest of the places I had been to. I got out of the car and strolled on into a place called The Artisans Guild, a place where local meets mainstream. Much of what is in here is made by local artisans, and wouldn’t you know, I ended up finding something to promote the land I live in! I purchased a sweatshirt made by my friend Rachel Hannon Harrell who is the maker behind the brand Quallies Kids Apparel. Don’t let the name fool you, she does make adult apparel and it is readily available. The sweatshirt I purchased had the famous Norfolk directory on the town green on it. I couldn’t resist purchasing it. I knew Rachel well, and I knew that supporting the local economy is important, now more than ever.

As I made my way back to Torrington, passing down rural Norfolk Road viewing the foliage that was about, I couldn’t help but to think what a wonderful place I live in. I’m blessed. It’s a world filled with good people, and even better scenery to go along with it all. If there was a time in your life that you were truly happy, I think I reached the pinnacle after this weekend. An amazing weekend capped off with a beautiful day trip through scenic Litchfield County, CT.

Peak Foliage Week in Litchfield County

At last, we have made our way past Columbus Day here in Litchfield County and by all accounts, we know exactly what that means; the foliage is ready to peak. What seemed to have started out as a dull season thanks to the wet weather we have enjoyed this summer, has actually turned out to an ambient festival of colors, especially in northern Litchfield County in towns like Norfolk, Torrington, and Salisbury where the colors have popped tremendously over the past week.

This fall has been nothing short of boring. The farmers markets, the hayrides, the apple picking, the hot apple cider, and the weekend foliage tours have all made this an autumn to remember no matter what the foliage looks like. As New Englander’s, autumn is by far one of our most adored seasons. It signals change. Some much rather not see what comes after autumn, but others like myself are counting down the weeks until ski season arrives, and with the foliage peaking, it’s only a matter of time now.

If you’re wondering where some of the best spots for viewing are, take a tour along some of the back roads of Colebrook and Goshen, you’ll be impressed by what you see. Many of the secondary roads bring back memories of Vermont. There are plenty of dirt roads to keep you busy, and don’t worry about getting lost, that’s just half the fun. Grab a cup of hot apple cider and enjoy the sights with the family this weekend. You may not get to see sights like this again until next year as autumn draws closer to a close here in the northern hills. For the southern hills, in towns such as Watertown, Kent, and Thomaston, there’s still an ample amount of time left and expect a peak foliage in the southern part of the county by October 21st. This is New England, however, and nothing is ever set in stone. We’re full of surprises! Won’t you join us?

The pictures in this column are from a short foliage drive around the Colebrook and Norfolk areas.

A Rockin’ Fourth of July at Lime Rock Park

This past Saturday, while thinking of where to enjoy the fireworks this weekend, I decided on making the trek up to Salisbury to enjoy the fireworks spectacular that took place at Lime Rock Park. I’ve only been to Lime Rock a handful of times, but never at night, and I must say its a rather amazing place in general. Tucked in the southern Berkshire Mountains lies this track that zig zags it’s way through a valley of high hills, and when the sun goes down, those hills seem to come alive as the sun looks like it’s being tucked away for a good nights rest.

The night began with a lot of traffic. As rural as the Salisbury area is, many people from the surrounding areas, including New York and Massachusetts, made their way to Lime Rock to take in the sights. The price was modest at $15 a car load that went to support the local Lions Club, and as a supporter of all things local, I’m willing to help, especially when they are offering up a grand old time. Parking was fairly easy as we were being directed to parking in the outfield row by row. As I parked, I noticed that people were already outside of their cars grilling away on small grills as well as enjoying a few drinks, even some enjoying a glass of wine while they laid on blankets in their truck beds just waiting for all of the action to start.

As for me, I took out my camping chair, which I always carry in my trunk, and brought it as close to the track as possible in the outfield as a crowd of at least a couple hundred sat along the hillsides as well. I arrived at 7PM and the fireworks wouldn’t start for another two hours around 9PM so there was ample opportunity to enjoy the evening. Not a soul wanted to head on up to Salisbury with me, so I was here solo, which I really didn’t mind since sometimes we all need our space, and having time for yourself is one of the many secrets to staying happy. Honest! As I looked around watching families bond together while playing frisbee or playing a game of catch, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own childhood and how the days gone by have really just flown right by! As a kid growing up, the days just felt so long, now, looking back, you are suddenly faced with asking yourself where exactly the time went. If I could relive those days, I would, as I’m sure we all would. They were some of the best days of my life, and they will be the days I will cherish in my memory bank forever.

Around 9PM, the temporary lights in the parking lot began to dim as a way to signify that the fireworks were about to begin. I was eager! Working in retail, I have spent the past 3 years unable to watch fireworks in a setting such as this since I had been working the fourth of July holiday in previous years. This being my first year off, I simply couldn’t contain the kid in me. Boom! The first one sets off sending a giant blow up to the sky and when it couldn’t go an inch higher, it opened up like a big white parachute in the sky. The crowd went wild as they cheered on for America’s birthday. One by one the sky began to lit up the dark star lit skies of northwestern Connecticut. The fireworks seemed to have made an echo through the valley as well as they loud booms danced their way through the hills.

When it was all over, the grand finale took place and boy was it ever a sight to see as dozens of them lit up over the sky for a solid 4 minutes or so, and after not seeing a show such as this in nearly three years, I was every bit of impressed, but I was also very much impressed with Lime Rock. They really know how to put on a show and steal the thunder. Sure, there’s fireworks in the cities, but nothing compares to a fireworks show in the scenic Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. A place where time just seems to stand still and you can still relive your childhood, even if it’s just for one lazy summer night.


Discovering Raggie Culture

Iron Ore on Mt. Riga

I have been on a quest since last year, searching high and low for everything that I can get my hands on about Raggie culture here in northwestern Connecticut. What’s a Raggie you ask? A Raggie is simply northwestern Connecticut slang for someone of a social downward spiral and backwoods isolation. That slang, however, is just that, slang. To understand Raggie culture, you have to go direct to the source, and I don’t mean a typical search online or even in your local library, I’m talking about going to thee source, a place way up high known as Mt. Riga in Salisbury. It is here where the definition of Raggie is not the slang word that we use it as today, in fact it is the complete opposite.

The word Raggie has been around for generations here in northern Litchfield County. In fact, you should take note that if you travel anywhere south of Litchfield and speak the word Raggie, people wont have a clue as to what you are even talking about! The word has become widely used in our part of the woods, but the word takes on many meanings. If one were to be in Torrington or Winsted, the “home of Raggie culture”, one would find that the word actually offends some folks who take it the wrong way, almost as a form of racism. If you were to use the word in Salisbury, where the word Raggie actually originated from, you would discover that many people would think of those mountain people who lived up on Mt. Riga during the iron ore days, who had little to nothing in modern convinces, which there are still those today up on Mt. Riga who enjoy the splendor of nature without the use of electricity or running water.

Last summer, I took a ride up to Mt. Riga, a short 30 minute drive northwest of Torrington, and discovered the place for myself. I was warned before heading up there, however, that I should mind my business and not get too involved in discovery as those that live there do not want to really be bothered, how true that is I still do not know. I didn’t run into a soul up there. The drive was daunting at most. A steep incline almost the whole way to the top, along a dirt road none the less which was packed with ledges that my car could fall off of as I drove with white knuckles, and once I reached the top, thinking that there would be some sort of bustling place to see, I discovered nothing but water, trees, a cemetery, and 3 houses. Honestly? I drove myself up this big ol’ mountain for this? What was I thinking! I knew what I was thinking, I was thinking I was a nutcase on a quest to find out about the word Raggie.

I’m no nutcase though. This quest actually brought some light onto the subject for me. I had to look past what was actually in front of me. I had to not judge the cover of this place. A closer look here revealed that there was a great deal of history here. You see, Mt. Riga was home to one of the most prominent iron ores in the region. A great furnace used to reside here, which was actually quite bustling as it supplied iron to the communities in the region. Today, you wouldn’t even be able to tell how popular this place was without a little background research before heading up, or talking to some of the locals at the coffee-house in Salisbury, which many can tell you stories that will keep you in suspense for hours on end.

Mt. Riga today is a very different place than it was. It’s a place that is now entirely in touch with nature as you drive along dirt roads and hike the backwoods trails, such as the Appalachian trail which runs through the summit. In fact, an AMC Hut is located on the summit as well, which is maintained year-round for those who want to escape the elements or catch a nap. Quite frankly, it’s a tranquil place filled with an overabundance of nature that will absolutely make your head spin, not to mention that there is not a soul out here to bother you.

So, the next time someone asks you what a Raggie is, you might want to ask them to clarify. The word has more meaning than you think, and if you think you can discover the meaning online, you would be greatly mistaken as a variety of websites out there lead you to believe in the incorrect meaning of the real Raggie culture, which you really have to discover for yourself. One place to start making that discovery, however, is at Torrington’s own Brazen Betties, located in the heart of Downtown Torrington. It is there will you find these great Raggie T-Shirts that are available to you so that you may show off your northwestern Connecticut pride. Who says Raggie’s aren’t stylish?

Video: Salisbury Jumpfest

Salisbury has been the center of attention over recent weeks as they prepared for their annual Jumpfest weekend, which took place this past weekend on Satre Hill in Salisbury. The event marked 85 years of ski jumping in Salisbury and kicked things off with a brand new ski jump, which replaced the antique one that had been using. Below is a collection of some great videos from YouTube on all the action at the event.

The crew of Rocket Fine Street Food in Torrington also got to check out the events as they enjoyed the night off from cooking, and enjoyed a night of jump watching! You can read their post by clicking here.

Litchfield County is Snow Exhausted

It has been a winter to remember here in Litchfield County, and it is not over yet. We still have many more weeks of winter upon us. As one storm closes, another one looms right around the corner. It is like we have a weekly subscription to snow, that we simply cannot refund. Mother nature again gave us a beating here in the hills as she dumped nearly several inches of snow this past Tuesday followed by snow, sleet, and ice on Wednesday, making for hazardous travel conditions throughout, not only the county, but the entire northeast.

Across the state, we heard of roofs collapsing like dominos, and here in Litchfield County, we heard of an avalanche in Salisbury right along Route 44.  The snow and ice have all been just too much and many wonder when exactly it will all come to an end. This winter, Connecticut has primarily been the epi-center of almost every winter storm to hit the east coast. The Hartford region has now received close to 80″ of snow this winter so far, making it the 9th snowiest winter on record.

As for me, I was fortunate enough to have these days off from work. I was being pretty productive, however, walking and driving around snapping pictures as I went and toured an array of winter scenes across Litchfield County. In Torrington, the sounds of sirens were everywhere as many had a tough time navigating the roads, which is why many during the height of the storm, including myself, took to the streets on foot. It was surely one of the safest ways to get around and though I didn’t need to go out, I sure wasn’t going to sit around the house and watch as cabin fever set in. A little fresh air does a body wonders!

As I walked around Torrington, I saw an array sights, including a truck driver who made a vicious attempt to getting into a warehouse parking lot where the lot hadn’t even been plowed out yet. In another neighborhood, a mail carrier was spotted, which as we all know no matter rain, sleet, or snow, that mail just has to go!

As the day turned into night and the snow was exchanged for sleet and ice, concerns were heavy about a potential severe ice storm here in Connecticut. As we awoke in the morning, however, we learned that had in fact dodged a bullet. The storm was not as severe as anticipated, however was still tough enough to give us quite the winter wallop. As I set out in my car and toured some parts of the county, I couldn’t help but to wonder where exactly we planned to put all of this snow. I mean, we are literally beyond our waist in snow in many locations. One really does have to wonder what will happen come spring thaw as the snow begins to melt and create massive flooding throughout the state of Connecticut. It remains to be seen, but one thing is certain; no matter what that pesky groundhog has to say, winter is still not over.

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