Berkshire naturalist Thom Smith goes prospecting for ice.
In what we like to call an old-fashioned winter, when temperatures fall well below freezing, we live in a shining land.
Throughout the Berkshires I have photographed waterfalls and cascades both summer and winter, but locally few frozen spectacles cause as much excitement as the massive natural ice sculpture and formations formed by seeping water as it freezes, thaws and refreezes.
Some icicles naturally appear different colors. Tannin, iron or algae in the water can change their hue. Blue ice amazes most viewers, and the color comes from much the same reason water is sometimes blue: It absorbs both red and yellow light, leaving the blue end of the spectrum visible. In ice, the colors are of a lower energy level, giving a tinge slightly on the greener side. And the thicker the ice, the more tendency to appear green, blue-green or blue.
Icicles and Icefalls often build up in the Northern Berkshires — on Route 2 at the North Adams and Florida town line — and in the Southern Berkshire along Route 8 near the Connecticut state line.
Head east out of North Adam along Route 2, on the Mohawk Trail, and at the hairpin or Dead Man’s Curve is a turnoff with an ideal view of the the wall of icicles. Occasionally people apply food coloring to the icicles in a misdirected enhancement scheme.
Along this historic highway, more rock cuts will provide striking icicles and formations. For a pleasant winter drive, nearly 13 miles to the east of the hairpin turn, just past the bridge crossing the Deerfield River, take the first left onto the quieter Zoar Road. Follow it River Road and on to Whitcomb Hill Road to come back to the Trail in the Town of Florida.
Farther south, for a display of ice over rock faces, look also along the Massachusetts Turnpike at mile marker 34, heading east at Woronoco, just before crossing the Westfield River. Smaller but no less intriguing ice formations build up along Route 9 between Windsor and Goshen.
But none measure up to those 40-foot icicles along Route 8 in Sandisfield, on the West Branch of the Farmington River, near the beginning of the Colebrook River Lake. A turnoff six and a half miles south of the Sandisfield town sign provides a safe place to view the frozen formations. Traffic is generally moderate, but the road is used frequently by tractor trailer and other large vehicles, so use care.
Frozen waterfalls, when they are not buried in snow, are also as exciting during the months of deep freeze as they are during the spring thaw. Some are still easy to reach fin the winter — Belleview or Dry Brook Falls, next to Bellevue Cemetery in Adams; Wahconah Falls in Dalton, east of the town on Route 9; and Umpachene Falls in the Town of New Marlborough on the Clayton-Mill River Road.
Both frozen falls and seepages can be dangerous, so use care when approaching and exploring them.