I am definitely excited over hiking the Hams Bay gut on another occasion. This is not yet one of my primary destinations for a lot of reasons. On the negative side there were the ants. Millions of the little critters crawling on our feet. Fortunately, they were not aggressive and nobody got attacked. It was just eerie, being afraid to stop for a break due to the fear of being eaten alive. But there are many very positive reasons for wanting to hike and explore this area. This is also called the Caledonia Gut.
As always, a long history of occupancy intrigues me and this area is rich in human occupancy. There is evidence of a Pre-Columbus Indian occupancy and along the trail we saw two abandoned structures one from around the 1950’s with cinder block construction and one much further up stream with a primitive early colonial type of stonework. I have not done my research on the occupancy of this area but apparently many people in different eras considered this area to be economically viable.
If you want to find a stream, you must find a moist forest with gently sloping hills leading down to a low point that continues down to the sea. You don’t want steep hills surrounding the path to the sea but you do want thick forests with a ground level layer of leaves, vines and smaller plants all working to hold the soil in the hills above the stream bed. St Croix does not have a classic rainforest as our hills are not really tall enough (above 1500 feet) to force excessive rain but the west end of our island is still described as a “Tropical Moist Forest” which means we have a little less rain, more good days of hiking and lack of a monsoon season. The gut (dry stream bed) starts gently up from the north side of Hams Bay beach heading towards the west and is relatively dry.
Almost immediately, one observes a thicker canopy overhead and much larger and older secondary growth forest. There are also many more vines hanging from higher in the trees producing a beautiful effect.
Not only are the trees larger but the species are different from the dry east end. The tree above is a small Kapok which had spiritual and medicinal significance to the Neo Indians of Mexico, the Caribbean., and Central and South America.
This west end moist forest works in the classic manner to build new soil which gently moves down the hill to be be deposited along the stream bed. The plants not only break up the rocks into smaller pieces and granules, the rich organic matter deposited by the trees slows the flow of water down hill and the ants mix the organic matter into the soil. At the start of the Gut near the sea, the alluvial soil deposits are over 6 feet deep as opposed to Wills Bay where soil is very shallow or non existent.
There is still an active quarry in this area mining a volcanic rock locally called blue bitch which is an extremely hard construction stone similar in properties to basalt which is formed by igneous lava flows. Unlike, true Basalt, Blue Bitch is formed from the compression of layers of volcanic ash deposited over millions of years. The difference is that this compression along fault lines took place at a much higher level than the similarly formed tuffaceous rotten rock which is always present adjacent to the Blue Bitch.
In the area of the quarry, there is a constant blue gray haze in the air when the quarry is operating and everything is covered with a layer of blue gray dust. As quarry operations need to exist to supply our construction needs, this quarry is almost ideally situated. It is in an unpopulated sector of the island and the noise is quickly dissipated by the forests. Yes, it happens to be next to a natural hiking trail but once you are a half mile inland you no longer see the dust or hear the noise along the rest of the trail.
The naturally occurring bolder of blue bitch, pictured above, shows the stratified layers of the deposited volcanic ash and the rounded edges caused by weathering. Blue bitch weathers by two mechanisms, first the volcanic rock adsorbed carbon dioxide and gets weakened and this bolder lying in the stream bed is constantly sand blasted by smaller stones and pebbles cared by the stream during periods of heavy rain and hurricanes.
As we move further up the stream bed we are excited by the presence of water which is really nothing more than a small puddle but it does indicate the presence of water even during relatively dry periods.
As we move further inland we, eventually come to a continuously running stream which is no longer disappearing into beds of alluvial sand and gravel or perhaps disappearing into fractures in the sub strata.
In the area of near constant flow we discover the sign of a human presence from an earlier era, Concrete blocks were not common in the Caribbean prior to World War II and the long term abandonment of this structure indicates it was probably bult between 1940 and 1960.
As we continue along we find our first trickling waterfall and we are excited by our discovery as we had all heard that there are no running streams on St. Croix. I don’t know how long this will continue to flow in the really driest of seasons but there had been no heavy rains for about a month when we took this hike.
Further up the stream, we found the signs of an even earlier occupancy which might be pre-Danish as the Danish had building inspectors who generally insisted on much higher standards of construction. This is the most primitive stone work that I can recall seeing on St. Croix so If I had to take an uneducated guess, I would place it about 1750.
Finally we reach a point that the stream gets narrow and the going gets tough. Since we had walked for 1.5 hours finding our way, we decided to call it a day rather than search for a way around. In addition all of us were a little worried about what would happen if the millions of ants along the trail suddenly got aggressive instead of being fairly passive as we had not brought insect repellent on our hike as you don’t need it on the dry east end.
It only took us about ½ hour to return to our starting point because we remembered the trail so we could have either gone farther or spent more time exploring the two structures on the way back.
Another potential hike for another day. Before I go back, I want to do more research. To be honest, I am not sure of the history, the plants or the occupants of this area and not even sure if I was walking in Nicholas or Caledonia or both in addition to Hams Bay. But it was a fun initial walk to the area. The complete photo album for this hike is at facebook.com/hikestcroix.
Prior to a second trip up the Caledonia Gut from Hams Bay with students from the West Indian Heritage Institute, I did a little more research and found that the stone house which was poorly built was on all the Danish Maps of 1750 and before so I was correct in placing it in that era. However, I wasn’t quite sure other than timber how the resident, John Farmingtion survived (until 1767 at least).
I am aware that The Estate owners of St. Croix harvested timber and farmed leftover stands of Indian crops like cotton and indigo in the East End but wasn’t sure what was so economically viable to make residency possible in the Northwest Quarter. There was running water in the stream from the time of Indian occupancy (200 BC) until the 1980’s when the naturally occurring stream at the top of the hill was damned and with water, residency was possible if there was a source of revenue. Timber was a onetime crop with little residual cash flow in that era because of the lack of Forest Management.
John Boyd Reynolds (no relation) lived and hiked St. Croix in the eighties and reminded me of the Cocoa Trees and Vanilla Orchids but I simply didn’t connect the dots until I hiked with Raymond Hector who walked this area in the forties and knew a Mr. Nicholas who lived in the cinder block house shown in the original post who was responsible for a galvanized pipeline that connected his house with water from the continuously running portion of the stream. The area above and to the South East of his house is still called Estate Nicholas.
Raymond told me the house was on a much older foundation because the back portion of the house was made from coral blocks from an earlier era. Seems Mr. Nicholas lived on a cocoa plantation and received other revenues from the citrus trees he planted by the stream bed and also most likely from castor beans planted during the shortages of World War Two. I see the evidence of Castor, Mango, Palm and more all of which probably arrived in St. Croix prior to 1600.
According to Mr. Hector, the irony of the damned up spring is that it is now located on the Sustainable Farm which would not be sustainable without the water from the pond which was artificially created. So to sustain their conservation effort in a newly planted area, they need the water from what was a naturally running spring which in turn deprives the Caledonia Gut of the water it needs to sustain the Central and South American Plants brought here by the neo Indians over 2000 years ago.