The Lost Man of Purgatory Chasm


Being in the city persistently is a little depressing. The smells, the sounds, the sights…they are neither comforting nor pleasant on anything like a regular basis. We have also found that, while climbing stairs and walking a fair amount to bus or car is nice, getting to a gym for regular exercise is a hassle around here. Yesterday we gave ourselves a break from the blah of Boston and took ourselves for a nice rigorous walk in Purgatory Chasm.

Purgatory Chasm was an absolute delight, for a number of reasons. First off, when you pull into the parking lot, there are signposts here and there directing you to different points of interest in the park:

To Chasm →

To Playground ←

This juxtaposition may not amuse the rest of the world, but it made me giggle, and it’s sort of typical of the park’s overall message: Hellish danger ahead! Bring your kids!

The chasm itself is about a quarter of a mile of smallish cliffs and boulder-studded valley. It’s one of those places that sparks imagination—by the time we got to the far end, I’m pretty sure we had hiked at least a mile, because every few feet there’s something fascinating that must be explored or climbed on the other side of the chasm. The park advertising team intended to encourage a sense of danger and excitement with their random labeling of a few particularly interesting features, including: Devil’s Pulpit, Devil’s Corncrib, Fat Man’s Misery, and Lover’s Leap.

I had to wonder at one of these signs, though. Amidst features named for woe and despair, there was a claustrophobic crawlspace titled “His Majesty’s Cave.” How does this fit the theme? I wondered, until I realized that the names could be fairly old, and the namers were likely not loyalists to the British crown.

Of course, I should also point out that when I say “we hiked,” what I mean is that I was a photographer’s widow, hiking with a ghost. This is a mark of how interesting the terrain was. In the first ten feet of the trail, John got captivated by a tiny waterfall and paused to take pictures. I hiked a little further, paused to admire the scene and wait for John to catch up, pointed at something interesting when he did: rinse and repeat. Several dads with toddlers passed us during the course of our walk, but the pictures were worth it. (I’ll try to put some up once John has a chance to edit them).

The final photo shoot on the way out was a roundish stone building with jail-like grates set into the open windows and heavy wooden doors on either side. John started snapping photos like crazy, and I walked around the perimeter, looking for a sign that would explain the historical significance of this building and why on earth it was hanging out in the middle of the woods. Finding nothing, John got on tiptoe to peer through one of the windows. “Oh! It’s just bathrooms!” He kept taking pictures anyway.

My favorite feature of the park was its proximity to a place called the West End Creamery. We drove past it at first, not sure if they were open for the season, but a glowing neon “Open” sign hailed us back. Tell me: is there any better way to wrap up a hike through purgatory than with chocolate peanut butter cookie dough ice cream in a waffle cone?

I didn’t think so.

One thought on “The Lost Man of Purgatory Chasm

  1. Weekend adventures and story
    Hi, Melissa
    I love your writing….both your journals and your stories. You create great images without overdoing the description. Of course, in your journals, we already have images of you and John… clarify some of the more humorous and ‘exotic’ aspects of your personalities.
    Love you


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