Cross Country with a Compass

Soldier Hill from Google Earth

Most people with a military background are familiar with the basic use of a compass although it is rapidly being replaced by GPS and Google Earth. Also, the Garmin application for a cell phone does a credible job of tracking you and displaying where you have been and where you are. The only problem with GPS cellphone aps is they use a lot of power and could kill your battery when you need it the most.

Now there are two reasons to use a compass, one is to keep you on a straight line if you are lost which is highly unlikely on an island that is only six miles wide (it has happened) and the other is based on the use of a map to get from where you know you are to where you want to be.

Our family has a weird idea of fun and when my niece Cait visited, we decided to do a compass walk from the top of Judith’s (Soldier) Hill to the Judith’s Fancy Gate. This is approximately the path taken by Indians and Pirates who were lookouts at the top watching the sea to warn the main group about approaching enemies.

Now this type of walk takes a little planning and map reading skills. The satellite view from Google Earth will show you the starting and end point but it doesn’t do much to show you the steepness of hills. Notice the cleared field across from the gatehouse which gives us a bigger target. This feature will be transferred in a rough manner to the topological map.

Topological Map of Soldier (Judith) Hill

An old fashioned topological map does a better job of showing you the lay of the land. Hilltops are fairly obvious because they are marked. On the side of the hill where the contour lines are close, you have a steep slope and unless you are prepared for mountain climbing you should avoid those areas. Where the lines are spaced far apart, there are gentle slopes. Unfortunately, On St. Croix we have Guinea Grass on the leeward side of hills, especially on gentle slopes.

Guinea Grass also called saw grass

Guinea Grass (above), also called saw grass because it will cut you, is often 6 to 8 feet tall. At the time of Pirates and Indians, there was no Guinea Grass on the islands so in all probability, they took the gentler walk to the South West. We decided to avoid that problem with a more westerly path which was West South West from the end of old developers road still visible on Google earth. The blue path is the walk from my house to the top of Soldier Hill. The red line is our proposed path.

Termite Nest Blocks Our Path

So how did we do?

The answer is pretty well.

As expected, there are obstacles which you have to walk around and then attempt to get back on the original path. Unfortunately, this is not always possible.

Satelite Tracking of Our Actual Path

So after being diverted to the south about halfway between the peak of the hill and the open field we found we could not make a correction because the brush was too thick. We took our best guess at a course correction and walked due west coming out exactly where we planned and Cait led by compass the whole way because you really couldn’t see a clear path.

She was so proud of herself, I just had to challenge her to go due south which is directly through very heavy and tall saw grass which we had so expertly avoided up to that point. Once inside you could not see the beginning where we started, the end where we wanted to go and there were obstacles in every direction. Without the compass, our only guide to due south was the sun but that is another story. We survived and that was just one more little adventure in our lives.

When I suggested that she would never do that again, she protested and said there are other family members that need to be initiated. The pictures of Cait leading the way are at Facebook.

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The Nature Concervancy – Estate Little Princess Greathouse, St. Croix

Little Princess Sugar Mill

The plantation system of the Virgin Islands is very well documented with the Danes having kept incredibly detailed records of their period of colonial rule of the Islands. Scholars have been studying these records and The St. Croix Landmark Society has been working since 1948 to preserve and expand our knowledge and history of the plantation system.

On St. Croix, there are three Plantation Greathouses open to the public and two are definitely worth a visit. Whim Plantation near Frederiksted is easily the best documented of all the plantations and is definitely worth a tour. During the guided tour they share their vast knowledge of St. Croix and you will learn of the unique features of Whim such as the restored animal mill and the unique moat around the Greathouse which has one curved end.

Estate Whim Plantation is easily accessible by Taxi and/or by driving as it is well marked on Centerline Road and they have ample parking.

Estate Clairmont is also owned by the Landmark Society but the location is not well marked, there are no guided tours and parking is limited. When you visit Clairmont, pretty much all you see are ruins and grass.

Little Princess Greathouse and Grounds are between those two extremes. The Greathouse is off the main roads and the route is not well marked. There is more than ample parking once you arrive and for those staying in Condo’s or hotels to the west of Christiansted, it is within easy walking distance. For Club St. Croix, Sugar Beach, Colony Cove and Mill Harbor, walk along the beach past two deteriorated docks and then start looking for a path that goes up into the woods from the beach. There is usually a sign marking the entrance except after storms when it gets knocked down.

From Pelican Cove, The Palms and the Condos west of them, it can be reached along the back streets in Princess which go directly to the road which enters to the Conservancy. It can also be reached along the beach.

There are no personally guided tours on a regular basis although the staff will help if not engaged in other projects. The out buildings are not preserved although there is a trail among some ruins. The Greathouse is well maintained as a functional building for the work of the Conservancy.

The difference between the two organizations can be gleaned from their mission Statements:

The mission of the St. Croix Landmarks Society is to advance understanding and appreciation of the unique historical and cultural legacy of St. Croix through preservation, research and education. (Circa 1948 in St. Croix)

The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. (Circa 1992 in St. Croix)

As part of their mission, the Landmarks society would be prone to destruction and remove of invasive and native species which would grow on and destroy all historical ruins and to fight secondary reforestation to preserve the culture and heritage of the St. Croix as it was in the Plantation Era. On the other hand, the Nature Conservancy is prone to not only tolerate but to promote reforestation as a method of developing ground water retention and stream development to support plant and animal life.

Since the goals are different, the end results will be different and the trails through little Princess and the East End Park system do highlight the struggle of the rest of nature to prevail over man yet at the same time document the influence of 2000 years of human intervention in the process by the plants brought to the island by the various peoples and cultures and their agricultural processes.

There is room on this planet for both well executed endeavors and both Greathouses are worth a visit and your support.

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Hiking with Children – A Million Dollar View!

My grandchildren are capable of some pretty incredible hikes with prior planning and their effort at Goat Hill was spectacular, but that is another story. On Sunday July 17, I decided to see what kind of shape they were in prior to the more strenuous hike at Goat Hill or even the long but not too strenuous walk at Salt River.

The Christiansted Bypass

My friend Tom has been hiking along the Christiansted Bypass and I invited myself along with my grandchildren. We were joined by our friend John who used my camera to take pictures. We started at Contentment and walked the 1.2 miles to the intersection at Mt. Welcome on a Sunday to avoid any construction activity. The kids loved the freedom to run ahead in the absence of any traffic or people.

The Old Hospital

At the beginning, there was a slight rain which we pretty much ignored as we stopped to see the view and take pictures. Our first picture was the old Sydney Lee Hospital.

Back of the Anglican Cemetary

There is a well constructed and attractive wall at the back of the Anglican Cemetery and there is a gate and stairways down for the adventuresome who like to explore old Cemeteries.

Looking West to Richmond

Looking North to St. Thomas

Looking East to Gallows Bay

All along the sidewalk there were spectacular views of town looking West, North and East.

Protestant Cay, Christiansted Harbor, St. Croix, USVI

However the closest point seems to be at the planned overlook with ample parking which is not yet paved.

The Altona Lagoon Play Ground and Activity Trail

Naturally since we were so close, the girls wanted to go to the playground at Altona Lagoon which is one of their favorites. (We went there a few more times.)

While the views are excellent, the total cost of the road is much more than a million and is projected to be about $29,000,000 or about $25 million dollars per mile. Not a bad investment in a scenic trail for hikers and tourists in the middle of our global recession.

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Hiking with Children – Ham’s Bluff

Swinging in Frederiksted

Our trip to Frederiksted began with a stop at the Playground in town across from the Fort. My granddaughters love all of the equipment and search for the best in each park. In this case the incredible swings won. Both girls managed to swing as high as possible but Miss Ana at the peak of her swing was starting to turn upside down as the chains were slack.

Start of the Trail to Hams Bluff

Our next stop was the National Guard Training Center, the start of our hike to Ham’s Bluff Lighthouse which is one of my favorite places to hike. Like many of our roads and paths, the trail to the top was very overgrown and even at 3 pm on a slightly overcast day, the canopy completely blocked out the sun and made part of the trail a little eerie.

Climbing in the Dark

For my granddaughters, this just added to their sense of adventure as they used a telephone pole to see if they could climb above the canopy.

Success - The view from the top

Their progress was blocked on the first pole by vines and trees but the second pole in a clear area was too much temptation to pass up so both climbed to the top.

Lighthouses are to Climb

Naturally, the lighthouse structure was considered by them to be an extension of the Frederiksted playground and they climbed that too. I have watched their climbing skills develop over the years and was not really nervous as I watched them climb their obstacles one at a time in a fairly disciplined manner.

Life on the Edge

After they got down, I was listening to Cayla explain the history and cultural significance of the area which she had down pat from the internet when I noticed miss Ana exploring the ridge line of Hams Bluff above Maroon Hole. I managed to take her picture after I ordered her back from the edge.

After we left the area, I took the girls to Rainbow Beach for a swim and then to Sprat Net at Cane Bay for another swim before heading home for dinner.

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St. Croix, a 15 mile walk from Fort to Fort.

!5 mile Fort to Fort Walk, St. Croix

I had a great day on July 3, doing the Fort Christiansted to Fort Frederiksted, 15 mile, walk in about four hours and forty minutes or a pace of 3.2 miles per hour which was good enough to put me in the middle of the pack. This walk was billed as a re-creation of the historic Fort to Fort walk of July 3, 1848, which resulted in emancipation and I’m sure the organizer, Senator Positive Nelson, would have liked a very tight formation as we entered town as a political statement.

In fact, it was difficult to assess the size of the group (about 50) as everyone had different objectives and goals. Some ran, some were extreme power walkers, some like me walk to stay fit and others were out for a very social stroll. One group of power walkers completed the walk in about 3.5 hours which was an average speed of over 4 miles an hour. The fast group was mostly women and no I couldn’t keep up.

The entire group was culturally deserve and more social than political. Senator Nelson had to work overtime running up to the front trying to make sure the Traffic Police could handle the traffic over the 3 mile spread for everyone and then waiting at the break stations for the last ones to catch up before heading to the middle of the pack again.

I didn’t take any pictures as it was an overcast and occasionally rainy day and frankly, there is not much beautiful scenery along Queen Mary Highway. In taking the walk, I was rather amazed at how generally flat the road is and even the few hills are well graded to minimize any strain.

I definitely will do this walk again but would not recommend it as an individual outing. The Traffic Police were essential, especially at intersections, although everyone must recognize that most of our drivers love to socialize and support all our various events along the roads. As we reached the west end, there was a greater amount of socializing between walkers and drivers.

We were met at the Fort by the Chant group and the drummers and dancers were out in force. The attendees were once again very social and a good time was had by all.

The event was well organized with fruit and liquids at two break stations and the Fort. Transportation back to the starting point was provided to everyone who needed it by the friends and family of Senator Nelson. A great day that deserves a rerun.

While this was my first time, it was actually the tenth year and a few in the crowd had done it all ten years. If you like walking or hiking, join the group, you will be welcomed, have a fun day and end up with a great sense of accomplishment.

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The Difference Between Hiking, Walking and a Guided Tours.

Hiking is an outdoor activity which consists of walking in a natural environments usually along know trails. For humans, walking is distinguished from running in that one foot is always touching the ground. Running begins when both feet are off the ground with each step. This distinction is a formal requirement in competitive walking events. Strolling is enjoyed world wide as a leisure activity where the walk is at a slightly slower pace in an attempt to absorb the surroundings.

I find it totally amazing that the calories burned for strolling, walking, hiking, or running is the same and only depends on distance traveled. Thus, a mall walking granny covering 10k (6 miles) burns the same energy as an Olympic runner over the same distance and as part of a diet plan, strolling is just as good as jogging when measured by the distance traveled. (To strengthen your lungs and heart, you actually have to move a little faster than strolling but that’s a different topic.)

For walking tours with groups of 10-20 people, I plan on peak speeds of 2.5 miles per hour with an average of 2 miles per hour due to educational stops. Anybody who is physically able to stand, walk or shop for two hours will have no trouble joining me on a walking tour.

The pace of an educational hike depends on the bio-diversity and the history of human occupancy in the area of the hike and the speed averages 2 to 3 miles per hour. The more human occupancy and biodiversity (different plants) there are to talk about, the slower the walk. Educational hikes generally take about 3 hours to 3.5 hours and are a little more physically stressing than a walking tour.

To put my favorite hikes in perspective, strolling “Mall Walkers” have a consistent pace of 2.5 to 3 miles per hour with few shopping stops. Walking the dog for exercise is a little more strenuous at 3 to 3.5 miles per hour. Those who do power walking as a cardiovascular exercise have to sustain 3.5 to 4.5 miles per hour for an hour or more while Olympic walkers have to move at 5 miles per hour to be competitive. Joggers move at 5-6 miles for normal humans and those capable of running 12 miles per hour are sustaining an Olympic marathon pace.

I believe that a guided tours should be scenic, informative, a great experiences and fun. The fact that you may also burn a few vacation calories is coincidental.

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Hike to Hams Buff & Maroonberg


Looking East From Hams Bluff

The short walk up the hill from the National Guard Training Center at Hams Bluff should be a major attraction for visitors and a mandatory coming of age for every student in our local schools. The area is rich in both natural beauty and Crucian history. It was formed at the same time as Et Stykke Land (100 million years ago) but while much of the history of human occupancy of the very East End is lost, the History of Maroon Ridge lives in infamy.

Path to the Top of Hams Bluff

The walk to the peak of the west end of Maroon Ridge starts out easy enough but the hill gets a little steep near the top. When you reach your destination, you get a view of all the other Virgin Islands to the North and the last time I was there, it was so clear you could see Vieques and even the hills of Puerto Rico to the west.

The Detoriating Lighthouse

The Lighthouse is like an aging queen with a great amount of dignity but showing the stress of getting old. There are several groups who recognize the need to take preservation action almost immediately, but I am not terribly sure they are coordinated or that they all prioritize the need in the same manner. One group who seems to have it as a major priority is Save the Hams Bluff Lighthouse which has both a website and facebook page.

These web sites are good for historical details of the lighthouse and a document from the National Park Service gives additional information but be careful of the NPS report, it is flawed at one point by giving the wrong year for Hurricane Hugo so I would question the other facts as well. The Park Service document is still worth looking at because it includes the details of the site plan, keepers area and operations.

For me, a far a more important article by Lomarsh Roopnarine covers the historical analysis of the Maroon Community at Hams Bluff which the Danes referred to as Maroonberg. According to him and other authors, the Danes operated a particularly brutal form of slavery and runaway slaves were severely and publicly tortured. If recaptured, death was a certainty and it might include up to 9 days of brutal torture. Moreover, once a slave ran away, there was very little long term chance of not being uncovered by the Danes periodic roundups. This left suicide and high risk flight to Puerto Rico as the only real options.

Maroon Ridge

Staying on the plantation was not much of a long term alternative. According to Roopnarine, “The Danes imported roughly about 57,000 African slaves and a decade or so before emancipation in 1848, about 28,000 remained. The death rate varied from 15 to 20% every year in the Caribbean and was especially high in the first three years of the slaves’ arrival and among children.”

Reports during the Danish period indicated that the Danes were aware of runaways and even named the Northwest quadrant of St. Croix, Maroon Ridge or Maroonberg. A Maroon community was located in the North Shore or the North Ridge region of St. Croix and escaped slaves used this area as a gateway to Puerto Rico. The population census of 1791 shows 953 freed Africans; 12,096 African slaves; and 1,385 runaways, for a total of 14,434 Africans on St. Croix. So during this census period over 10 percent of all slaves had run away and were on their way to join the community at Maroon Ridge or traveling to Puerto Rico.

In most slave communities, the Maroons survived by living in caves, swamps or impassable mountains. Because of the small size of the island and the aggressive pursuit by the Danes, permanent residency at Maroonberg was not an attractive option so the former Crucian Slaves developed their own form of freedom and became “Maritime Maroons.” It seems for the first half of the Danish slave period, the Spanish in Puerto Rico were in desperate need of manpower and military intelligence. So they promoted the Maritime Maroons in many ways including setting them partially free after one year of service, employing them in the militia, giving them land to farm and if they converted to Catholicism, complete freedom.

Maroon Hole as seen from Hams Bluff

Of the thousands who fled the plantation in search of freedom, most would have passed through Maroon Ridge, some were recaptured and tortured by the Danes, even more committed suicide rather that face recapture and of those who became Maritime Maroons, more perished in the treacherous sea in their small boats. Three hundred intrepid souls made it to freedom in Puerto Rico.

Hopefully, more undocumented Maroons made it to the West end of Puerto Rico and hooked up with the Puerto Rican Maroon community, but there is no documentation to support either permanent residency at Maroonberg or direct contact of the St. Croix Maroons with the Puerto Rican Maroons in Western Puerto Rico.

The very least we should do is to have a marker in this area identifying the people and telling their story.

Posted in Hams Bluff, Lighthouse, Maroon Ridge, Maroonberg, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Point Udall @ Et Stykke Land, St. Croix

100 Million Years of History

Celebrating 100 million Years of History

 Et Styke Land is the name of the estate at the Eastern most end of St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands and it’s history was pretty much written in stone 100 million years ago when this portion of St. Croix was uplifted from the seafloor. The geography and formation of St. Croix is more closely related to the development of the Islands of Cuba, Hispaniola and Pureto Rico than the volcanic development of the St. Thomas and the Lesser Antilles. Et Stykke Land was to the east and lower than the island formed around Ham’s Bluff around the same time.

Issacs Bay Bolder

At the time, the seafloor of the Caribbean Plate consisted of alternating layers of Mudstone, Sandstone and Limestome which are compressed mud, sand and skeletal fragments of marine organisms from mass extinction events respectively. Obviously, there is no such thing as an orderly earthquake so the land mass rose in a very disorderly and broken manner and one of my favorite boulders which broke off in the upheaval is the one now lying on it’s side in the middle of Isssac’s Bay which shows the layered ocean floor.

Upheavals and uplifting continued for the next 35 million years more or less and created two islands the one on the east from Seven Hills to Et Stykke Land and the one associated with Ham’s Bluff, Caledonia and Crique Dam with an open sea between the two. While Et Stykke Land was bigger, it was much lower than Ham’s Bluff.

Development of soils and plant life occurs over millions of years and the development depends on factors of land mass size, distance to the nearest neighbors, climate and topology. The world’s smallest islands, like Jarre Island South of France in the Mediterranean, remain barren windswept rocks with little biodiversity because they are too small, too low, and too isolated to get the initial population of seeds and animal life. Until the uplifting of the seafloor around and between the east and west end 25 million years ago there was probably not much life on Et Stykke Land because the land mass was too low, small and isolated for soils and plant life to develop.

Once the island became about it’s current size twenty-five million years ago, the lower portion of the East End started to develop it’s own micro climate. From Easter to September, during the rainiest period, the most air currents from Africa drift to the Northwest but the East end is too low to cause any substantial uplift and cause rain.

During the winter months, clouds and rain develops west of Estate Grapetree Bay and rain falls on the southwest side and center of the island. Therefore, the rain will fall on the Center and West End of the island and pretty much any time of year, the very eastern portion is without rainfall. Depending on the source, Et Stykke Land can have as little as 15 inches of rain a year with a typical year having 25 to 30 inches.

Despite being one of the smaller and completely isolated islands in the Caribbean, seeds drifted in from elsewhere and plants and soil started to develop. The seeds were also carried by birds, ocean currents and hurricanes. Since man has always had a major impact on his environment, we will never know exactly what St. Croix looked like before the Neo-Indians reached the islands about the time of Christ.

The Saladoid and Ostionoid were the Neo-Indian groups who colonized and occupied the island. The principle difference between these groups is that the early arrivals who colonized the Islands seemed to keep close cultural ties with their South American origins and their ceramic and pottery designs were similar for about the first thousand years. At the peak of their population on St. Croix, the cultural contact appeared to diminish as the island groups developed their own style along with Puerto Rico and Hispaniola.

While not technologically advanced, these groups were proficient at firing ceramics, making cotton rugs and hammocks, fishing, foraging, farming and fun. There control of fire was evident in the way they fired ceramics, built their canoes and cooked their foods. They introduced important food crops and commerce items wherever they traveled. They traveled with wild avocado, yellow sapote, sapote, peanuts, Lima beans, cotton, bottle gourds, fruit trees, papaya, manioc, possibly maze, calabash, pineapple, soursop, guava and sapodilla. In all probability they also brought us tan-tan as that is classified as a per-Columbian species according to researchers at the USDA Forest Service and the straight poles would have been valuable in building thatched huts and poles for supporting crops. Moreover the nitrogen fixing capability of the plant would have been an asset.

The other important aspect of their farming method was as South and Central American Tribes, they would have been familiar with and used slash and burn agriculture which had the benefit of enriching the soil for a few years before destroying it.

The importance of the knowledge of Saladoid and Ostionoid culture is that they were present at Cramers Park for almost 1500 years before Columbus and had ample time to totally alter the habitat of Et Styke Land although other than the sea isle cotton and tan tan, the other dominant species observed during hikes include include Seagrape, Acasha, grass, Cactus and Ginger Thomas all of which are native species. I might suggest that this area was burned and because of the dryness of the area, the only thing of value they could grow was cactus which store water, tan-tan, cotton and grass all of which do quite well in the driest of areas. The first three definitely had value to the settlement. The introduction of Guinea Grass which is hard to ignore was definitely African or European for animal feed and grazing.

Cramers Park was the only place on the North-shore, east of Estate Grapetree to have a Neo-Indian settlement because it apparently was the only area to have a stream. Once the East End had been burned, it would have been very logical to use the drier most easterly land for tan-tan and cotton and the land by the stream adjacent to Cramer’s Park for growing crops. Thus, the actual settlement would have been between the gardens and the sea.

The dry south side of the island probably wasn’t altered too much during the early Neo-Indian era except for the chance introduction of Tan Tan and cotton. However, as the soil was depleted on the north side, it would have been easier to burn the south side by Jack’s and Issac’s Bay and plant Tan Tan and cotton there then to find a new place to settle on an increasingly crowded island. There were no know Neo-Indian settlements from Salt Pond to Et Styke Land on the south side as there was no know water or streams on that portion of the island.

The problem with slash and burn type agriculture is that there is an insatiable need for new land, yet burning or damaging the forest canopy destroys the streams. The Neo-Indian population peaked prior to the arrival of Columbus and prior to that time was relocating inward to find more farm land and then they probably migrated westward back to Puerto Rico pressured by the environmental changes they had caused and also pressured by the Caribs who were coming north and occupying the Lesser Antilles.

There is at least one report that when Columbus crew first sighted St. Croix from the North East they were quite pleased because it appeared cultivated like a great Garden. (The actual Diary for this voyage has been lost so it would be hard to verify that claim.) However, any landscape would have been preferred to Guadalupe where a crew got lost in the dense forests for so long that they were almost left behind.

After discovery of Santa Cruz, the Spanish had little impact on Et Stykke Land and the only notable presence on Santa Cruz was Ponce Deleon who came with a garrison to farm the opposite end of the island as the Puerto Rican conquistadors were so busy chasing native women and looking for gold that they were in danger of starving to death. Their farming in cooperation with the Indians was apparently limited to the southwest plain.

Of course after they got the supplies they needed, the treaty with the Indians was broken and some Indians enslaved. The Indians got the message and left St. Croix permanently after 1500 years of relatively successful occupancy.

The small population of Dutch and English settlers also had minimal influence on the island as they were so busy fighting each other that they had little time for productive farming. The island was next managed by the Knights of Malta and then the French.

Two thirds of all who came under the French died from fevers because “the air was so infected by the vapors from the ground”. This was probably still a very wet island and the presence of the Neo-Indians only had localized impact on the environment with the critically dry Et Stykke Land being hardest hit.

Point Cadejarre, St. Croix

The earliest Maps of St. Croix by the French and Danish support the concept of a wet island with a dry east end by the location of rivers and streams and the names given to the prominent features. Supporting the concept of a wet island is the fact that the Lapointe map of 1671 shows four major rivers on the western half of the island and the Danish Map of 1754 identifies a dozen large and small tributaries. The French identified the very east end as dry naming the point on the south side of East Bay “Point Cadejarre.”

This doesn’t have any translation as a single word but when you break it down into the two words it apparently evolved from, “cade” means abandoned by it’s mother and Jarre is the desolate and barren island south of France previously mentioned. As there was no other major landmass in site and this point would look as desolate and barren as Jarre Island, they apparently used the compound word Cadejarre to indicate a barren point of land without a mother country.

Morne Rond, St. Croix

We also have from the French era, Morne Rond where Rond is a circle and Morne means desolate, gloomy or joyless. Or, there was a desolate little round hill to the west of Point Cadejarre which is still there today. Of course this was also a little joke based on a play on words. Saint-Amand-Montrond was a beautiful historic spiritual center located in the middle of France.

At this time, the ecological history was pretty much set in stone as the original plant species of the fragile east end of the island had been disrupted by the Neo-Indians with their slash and burn agriculture and the introduction of non-indigenous species. However, the French made two decisions which permanently altered the landscape of the rest of the islands. To solve the disease problem they decided to burn the entire island from east to west and the prevailing winds in the dry season would have helped them achieve their goal. The other decision was to stop focusing on dry region crops like cotton but use the available manpower to focus on growing cane. This was now possible because the densely wooded center and west end were now cleared of the forests and this was the intrinsically wetter side of the island.

Looking Down on Point Udall from Sugarloaf (Goat) Hill

 When the Danes purchased the islands from the French, their assessment of the very east end of the islands apparently changed very little from the French. The names of Morne Rond and Cape Cadejarrre survived til the present and the only dramatically new geographical name was Et Stykke Land for the property located in the Estate associated with East Point which has now been named Point Udall. Et Stykke Land means “a piece of land” and as creative as the Plantation Owners were in naming their estates, this area was simply not worthy of any other name until the local Government conferred that honor to Morris Udall and renamed East Point after him.

Posted in 2012 Season, Cotten Garden, Cramer's Park, Et. Stykke Land, Issacs Bay, Jacks Bay, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The Wills Bay Baths and The Sugar Factory!

1796 Capstone

In my last post about the walk from Carambola to Wills Bay, I promise to comment on a trip to the Wills Bay Baths if I ever did the hike again. Well my friend Mitch scheduled a large group from the Palms to do the hike with the expressed purpose of swimming in the Baths and he asked if I would go along. Pictures of the Baths are in our Facebook album.

I used this trip as an excuse to learn a little more history about the area. As previously mentioned, the Indians probably had very little to do with altering the environment of this area as the closest water was a few miles away in Prosperity.

The majority of the trail to Wills Bay runs through two estates, Estate Sweet Bottom and Wills Bay. The Davis Bay Estate which is Carambola was originally annexed to Pieter Markoe’s Estate Prosperity which had plenty of water to grow cane. With those properties,the Markoe clan prospered in St. Croix for centuries. In 1767, Sweet Bottom was occupied by William Furnels Enke and while the estate had a nice name, he located his house at the top of the hill close to his neighbor, Robert Stewart and apparently Mr. Enke never prospered as there is no evidence that he ever built a sugar mill in Estate Sweet Bottom.

In 1767, the Wills Bay Estate appears to be part of Robert Stewart’s Mt. Stewart property and run in conjunction with it. At the peak of Cane production in 1796, it became feasible to establish a sugar mill down near the Bay and most probably cane from the hills was carried down to the mill, where it was processed into sugar and molasses. When the sea was calm, the barrels were shipped by water to markets.

We find the Sugar Factory

One of the concepts I missed on the last hike was a Sugar Mill is pretty worthless unless you have a sugar factory to process the cane juice into sugar and molasses. The sugar mill crushes the cane stalks and presses it dry so at the end of milling, you are left with cane juice and the dried stalk, which is called bagasse, is burned as fuel to evaporate the water from the juice causing the sugar to crystallize from the Molasses liquid. The sugar is valuable as one end product and the molasses is used to make rum.

We find the Remains of a Pot Used to Evaporate Cane Juice

To handle a lot of sugar cane, you need a very big factory because evaporation is a slow process. The cane juice runs down a troth to  iron bowls called coppers and water is evaporated out of the soup bowl shaped pot (about 50-100 gallons) by a fire directly below the pot. So, the only thing we were sure of was we were looking for a very big factory on the down hill side of the mill; To the north is a higher hill, to the south is the road and to the east is a very steep hill with no obvious factory at the base.

This was a large Factory

We found the factory which was huge, probably more than 6000 square feet, to the southwest of the mill on a relatively level pleatue below the mill level. We spent over 30 minutes exploring the factory, while the others finished there swim in the baths. I was pleased with my new knowledge as I am sure the rest of the group was pleased with their swim. In St. Croix, it is impossible to do everything on the same day. All the rest of the pictures of the Wills Bay sugar factory ruins are in our Facebook Album.

Posted in Annaly, Carambola Trail, Davis Bay, Prosperity, Sweet Bottom, Uncategorized, Wills Bay | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

In Search of a Water Fall – Hiking the Hams Bay Gut.

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.

The Start of Our Hke

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.

A Small Kapok Tree

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.

Alluvial Soil Deposites

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.

Operating Quarry

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.

The Quarry Haze

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.

Weathered and Stratified Blue Bitch

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.

We find a small pool of water

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.

A conusously Flowing stream

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.

Concrete Block Building

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.

A Flowing Waterfall

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.

An Older Structure

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.

End of our Hike

End of our Hike

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

Update on History

 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.

 Go Figure!!!

Posted in Caledonia, Hams Bay Gut, Nicholas, St. Croix Plants | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments