Mohawk Indians once trod this route across the rugged Berkshire Hills to raid the Pocumtucks of the Deerfield River valley, and armies from Colonial Boston in turn traveled this way to defend the Western Frontier. But the real flood of traffic began in 1914 when the trail opened to automobile traffic — just six years after the first Model T rolled off Henry Ford’s production line — for its panoramic vistas helped whet the nation’s appetite for leisure-time touring.
1. Northfield Mountain
From the summit of Northfield Mountain, found north of Rte. 2 in western Massachusetts, the view arcs out across a crazy quilt of corn and tobacco fields, ponds and reservoirs, stands of oaks and maples, and 19th-century factory towns, all linked by the majestic sweep of the Connecticut River. On the mountain itself, Northeast Utilities maintains a 2,000-acre complex of woodland hiking paths and ski trails — the Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center. It’s a fine spot to sample this corner of the state, whose character has long been defined by three key ingredients — farmland, mill town, and forest primeval.
2. Turners Falls
The life of the Atlantic salmon — a trout rather than a true salmon — is as fragile as it is astonishing. Each spring, tiny alevins by the millions hatch from eggs in freshwater streams throughout the Northeast. Most of them perish, but some survive and head downriver to spend the next year or two at sea. As adults they return, fighting their way upcurrent to spawn in the same streams where they were born — unless something stops them. And stopped these fish were, until recently, by power dams built across the Connecticut and other rivers. But at Turners Falls, Northeast Utilities has built state-of-the-art fish ladders that enable the salmon — and many shad as well as undesirable lamprey eels — to bypass their dam. At a special viewing area, open in May, you can experience the miracle of the fish’s spring migration.
3. Shelburne Falls
Just beyond I-91, Rte. 2 begins its climb into the hills. Scaling the steep wooded slopes of Greenfield Mountain, the Mohawk Trail spins on past apple orchards, pastures, hay fields, maple-sugar houses, and old barns brimming with antiques. Shelburne Falls, the first of the hill towns, is a huddle of rambling Federal-style houses and a historic shopping district nestled beside the Deerfield River.
The first visitors here were Indians, who came to net salmon at the base of the falls, where a swirl of boulders in the closing years of the ice age scooped some 50 circular pools into the bedrock. One pothole, measuring 39 feet across, is said to be the world’s largest. Nearby, the 400-foot-long Bridge of Flowers spans the Deerfield River. Originally built for trolley cars, it now displays bright seasonal borders that erupt in a nine-month display of color, from springtime’s daffodils and summer’s gladiolii to autumn’s asters.