(also known as Mount Carmel
) of south-central Connecticut
, with a high point of , is rugged traprock
mountain located north of New Haven
. It is part of the narrow, linear Metacomet Ridge
that extends from Long Island Sound
near New Haven, north through the Connecticut River Valley
to the Vermont
border. A prominent landscape feature visible for miles, the Sleeping Giant receives its name from its anthropomorphic resemblance to a slumbering human figure as seen from both the north and south. The Giant is known for its expansive clifftop vistas, rugged topography, and microclimate
ecosystems. Most of the Giant is located within Sleeping Giant State Park
. The mountain is a popular recreation resource; over of hiking
trails traverse it including of the Quinnipiac Trail
. Quinnipiac University
is located at Mount Carmel's foot in Hamden.
The Sleeping Giant, long by wide, is located in Hamden
with its eastern edge falling into Wallingford
. The Giant's profile features distinct "head", "chin", "chest", "hip", "knee" and "feet" sections topographically represented by traprock outcrops and ridge crests. The highest point is the Left Hip, , followed by the Chest, , and the Left Knee and Right Leg, each, and so on. The Giant's Head, , is marked by a cliff. A stone observation tower located on the Left Hip, built by the Works Progress Administration
in the 1930s, offers 360° views of the surrounding Mill and Quinnipiac River
valleys. An old rock quarry, closed since 1933 and now part of the state park, has left scars on the Giant's Head.
The Metacomet Ridge extends west and south from Sleeping Giant as Rocky Top and West Rock Ridge
. The west side of Sleeping Giant drains into the Mill River thence to New Haven Harbor and Long Island Sound; the east side into the Quinnipiac River
, thence to New Haven Harbor and Long Island Sound.
Sleeping Giant, a fault-block
ridge that formed 200 million years ago during the Triassic
periods, is composed of traprock, also known as basalt
, an extrusive volcanic
rock. Basalt is a dark colored rock, but the iron within it weathers to a rusty brown when exposed to the air, lending the ledges a distinct reddish appearance. Basalt frequently breaks into octagonal and pentagonal columns, creating a unique "postpile" appearance. Huge slopes made of fractured basalt scree
are visible beneath many of the ledges of Sleeping Giant. The basalt cliffs are the product of several massive lava
flows hundreds of feet deep that welled up in faults created by the rifting
apart of North America
. These basalt floods of lava happened over a period 20 million years. Erosion occurring between the eruptions deposited deep layers of sediment between the lava flows, which eventually lithified into sedimentary rock
. The resulting "layer cake" of basalt and sedimentary sheets eventually faulted
and tilted upward. Subsequent erosion wore away the weaker sedimentary layers a faster rate than the basalt layers, leaving the abruptly tilted edges of the basalt sheets exposed, creating the distinct linear ridge and dramatic cliff faces visible today. One way to imagine this is to picture a layer cake tilted slightly up with some of the frosting (the sedimentary layer) removed in between.
Sleeping Giant hosts a combination of microclimates
unusual in New England
. Dry, hot upper ridges support oak savannas
, often dominated by chestnut oak
and a variety of understory grasses and ferns. Eastern red cedar
, a dry-loving species, clings to the barren edges of cliffs. Lower eastern slopes tend to support oak-hickory forest
species common in the surrounding lowlands. Narrow ravines crowded with eastern hemlock
block sunlight, creating damp, cooler growing conditions with associated cooler climate plant species. Talus slopes are especially rich in nutrients and support a number of calcium-loving plants uncommon in eastern Connecticut. Because the ridge generates such varied terrain, it is the home of several plant and animal species that are state-listed or globally rare.
Sleeping Giant is also an important seasonal raptor migration path.
According to Native Americans of the Quinnipiac Tribe, the giant stone spirit Hobbomock (or Hobomock), a prominent wicked figure in many stories (see Pocumtuck Ridge and Quinnipiac), became enraged about the mistreatment of his people and stamped his foot down in anger, diverting the course of the Connecticut River (where the river suddenly swings east in Middletown, Connecticut after several hundred miles of running due south). To prevent him from wreaking such havoc in the future, the good spirit Keitan cast a spell on Hobbomock to sleep forever as the prominent man-like form of the Sleeping Giant.
During the mid-1800s, spurred by the painters of the Hudson River School and transcendentalist philosophers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, an interest in mountains as a respite from industrialization and urbanization took hold in New England. Summer cottages were built on the Sleeping Giant and many other locations on the Metacomet Ridge. In 1888, John H. Dickerman built a carriage road on the Giant and opened what he called Blue Hills Park. He held picnics with ice cream on the ledges for local residents.
Conservation of the Giant began in 1924 with the creation of the Sleeping Giant Park Association (SGPA) by a group of local residents concerned with ongoing traprock quarrying on the Giant's head. A cottage owner, Judge Willis Cook, had leased his property to the Mount Carmel Traprock Company for the purpose of quarrying traprock for building materials. The blasting away of what was a beloved landscape feature resulted in public outrage, well reported by local newspapers at the time. Under the leadership of James W. Toumey, a Yale University forestry professor, the SGPA undertook a ten year struggle with the traprock operation. The property was purchased by the SGPA in 1933, during the Great Depression, for $30,000; the money was raised through private donations and the property became the Sleeping Giant State Park. A complete history of the Giant has been published in Nancy Davis Sachse's book Born Among the Hills – The Sleeping Giant Story.
The Sleeping Giant Tower was built at the top in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 as part of the Connecticut State Park and Forest Depression-Era Federal Work Relief Programs Structures.
Sleeping Giant is a popular outdoor recreation destination among residents and visitors of the greater New Haven
region. The clifftops offer long views of much of New Haven County
and some of Hartford County
over more than 270 degrees of the compass, and (atmospheric conditions permitting) across Long Island Sound to the Shoreham
area on Long Island
Sleeping Giant is open until sunset year-round; parking inside the main entrance, on weekends or holidays during roughly the summer costs $4 to $10 for most who have not bought the $50 statewide annual pass, but other parking is nearby outside the park, or at trailheads further east or north. Activities permitted on the Giant include hiking, snowshoeing, picnicking, bird watching, and other passive pursuits. Trails specifically designed for horseback riding and cross-country skiing are located on the lower reaches of the Giant, and fishing is allowed in the abutting Mill River. Rock climbing, closed for several decades on the Giant because of accidents, was permitted as of 2007; the Ragged Mountain Foundation, a non-profit rock climbing group, advises climbers to "please observe [state] park regulations. Youth camping only is allowed on the Giant (by permit). Seasonal facilities include restrooms, a picnic shelter, and picnic tables. The Quinnipiac Trail—the oldest trail in the blue blazed trail system managed by the Connecticut Forest and Park Association—traverses the length of the Giant from the Quinnipiac River west over the Giant's high points to the Mill River then continues north over West Rock Ridge and Mount Sanford.
Most, but not all, of the Sleeping Giant has been conserved. The trails and facilities on Sleeping Giant are collaboratively maintained by the Sleeping Giant Park Association and the State of Connecticut, with the bulk of the trail maintenance done by the association. Sleeping Giant State Park encompasses 1500 acres; the SGPA remains active in securing additional parcels to add to the property. The SGPA has also been instrumental in defeating attempts to log the Giant, build communications towers on its summits, and close the state park altogether. SPGA runs a regular recreational and interpretive hikes on the Giant and volunteer trail maintenance programs. The Connecticut Forest and Park Association also has a working investment in the conservation of the Giant and trail building on it.
In 1948, the children's author Eleanor Estes
published the collection "Sleeping Giant and Other Stories". In the title story, the Sleeping Giant decides to get up and leave.
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