Lincoln Woods State Park

Lincoln Woods is a favorite of mine. It has an abundance of giant erratics and interesting rock formations, an abundance of Indian stones, the woods aren’t clogged with undergrowth (if you venture off-trail), it has ample space for a long walk, it’s near Providence, and parking is easy. Below is a 4-mile circle in Lincoln Woods (I followed some stone rows, hence my route was 5 miles, but if you skip these detours, it’s 3-4 miles).

If you walk the above route in a clockwise direction, you’ll find that the trail is smoother, flatter, and easier to follow in the second half of the route (I put a blue pin where the trail becomes smoother). On the other hand, most of the interesting stone-work is in the first half of the route. Some people may feel that the above route is too heavily wooded, they might prefer some open areas. Rock-climbers and mountain-bikers have a particular fondness for Lincoln Woods, and enjoy its boulders, cliffs, and challenging terrain. Ticks might be a problem; there’s some grass on the trail.

For many years, I went to Lincoln Woods to take the 3-mile walk around the big pond; this walk is on paved roads. I didn’t realize that there’s another 3-mile option in the nearby woods. An app like All Trails can reveal good routes, even in places that you’ve visited many times.

Ken Weber wrote about RhodeIsland trails before the advent of cell phones and All Trails, so he thought the trails at Lincoln Woods were confusing. He recommends going around the big pond. He has a point: the trails in the woods aren’t well marked, and since there’s a profusion of them, one often doesn’t know which trail to take. So you’ll need to keep looking at your cell phone, until you learn a route. If you like to walk with trekking poles, I suggest you bring only one pole, so you have a free hand for your cell phone.

Below is a “wedged boulder,” the first stone that caught my eye at Lincoln Woods. Could it have been dropped into the opening by a glacier? Yes, but I think it’s more likely that Native Americans put it where it is now. On my map, I marked its location with an orange pin.

Here’s another medium-sized boulder that seems to have been placed/balanced/wedged (I marked its location with a brown pin):

Below is a large boulder that has come to rest on other large stones. The boulder has probably split into two boulders; another, smaller boulder is on the right of the picture.

The split boulder is probably natural, the smaller boulder on the right is propped. The split boulders form a niche, a small cave; the cave is probably too small for a person, but just right for a coyote or fox.

Below is a giant boulder that seems to have been propped to give it a manitou shape, an upward-pointing shape. Some boulders at Lincoln Woods have been defaced by graffiti, but the white marks on this boulder might be the chalk used by climbers. I marked its location with a star icon (I ran out of colors!).

Below is the same boulder, showing the stones that have been used to prop it up.

Below is a large, propped boulder. I marked its location with a hiker icon. It’s probably not what All Trails calls “Perched Boulder,” though it’s near “Perched Boulder.”

Below is a large erratic. It’s angular shape contrasts with the smooth, rounded shape of the bedrock beneath. I marked its location with a biker icon. It’s probably the boulder that All Trails calls “Perched Boulder.” The small “perching stones” under this boulder may escape notice at first glance.

Below is the same boulder from the other side, with a circle around one of the small perching stones.

Below is a boulder that All Trails calls “Iron Boulder.” It’s actually two boulders — or rather, one boulder that split into two. The “split sides” are unusually flat, hence the name Iron Boulder. I marked its location with a deer icon.

Below is a boulder that All Trails calls “Spaceship Boulder.” It has been propped up, perhaps to give it a manitou shape. I marked its location with an airplane icon.

Below is a large, flat stone propped-up in a stone row. The shape of this propped stone is vaguely manitou (vaguely upward-pointing).

The above stone shows how Native Americans made stone rows, and how white settlers didn’t make stone walls. Below is a well-known pedestal boulder. I marked its location with a yellow pin.

All Trails refers to this as “Pedestal Boulder” (All Trails also mentions a “Perched Boulder” about 1,000 feet south of this Pedestal Boulder). Mary Gage calls it a “full pedestal,” but also says “boulder appears to be on bedrock.” The NEARA newsletter (see below) has a photo of it:

Notice that the NEARA caption mentions “a circle of 7 standing stones” near the pedestal boulder, and says the circle has been “largely destroyed by road building.” I can find no trace of these 7 standing stones. I did notice, however, that the “official map” of Lincoln Woods speaks of a “Druid Circle” at this spot.1

What’s the difference between a “pedestal boulder” and a “perched boulder”? If there’s just one rock propping-up a boulder, it wouldn’t qualify as a “pedestal boulder,” but it could be called a “perched boulder.” But let’s not worry about these definitions, let’s just say that Native Americans liked to prop-up or support large boulders with smaller stones. Why did they do this? Perhaps because it’s very difficult, just as people climb Mt. Everest because it’s very difficult. Or perhaps Native Americans wanted to leave their signature on the landscape, so they felt more at home on the land.

Notice that the NEARA caption says the boulder is 12 feet high. The number of cubic feet in the boulder is around 1,500 and granite weighs 175 pounds per cubic foot (this rock may not be granite, but I’m only trying to get an approximate idea of the boulder’s weight). So the total weight of the boulder is around 250,000 pounds. So it’s interesting to speculate on how the Indians would have managed to prop it up.

Even much smaller boulders are sometimes propped up. Here’s an example (I marked its location with a grey pin):

Below is the same picture with a circle around the “propping stone.”

So there are many propped boulders in Lincoln Woods, ranging in size from small to very large.

Below is a large boulder, a medium-sized boulder, and a small boulder, arranged to create what painters would call a “composition” (I’ve marked the location with a purple pin).

Below is the same picture, with lines drawn to show the composition, and an N placed at a niche. When I was at Lincoln Woods, and saw these boulders, I didn’t notice the composition, I only noticed it later, when looking at the photo.

In the above picture, there are three “composition stones,” which I’ve marked with three lines. In my view, the two larger “composition stones” were made by nature, and a NativeAmerican “artist” noticed the alignment, and decided to add a third, smaller “composition stone.” This third stone props up a small boulder, and creates a niche (which I’ve marked with an N). The niche may be difficult to see from this angle, so let’s look at it from a different angle:

Below is the same picture, with an N marking the niche.

There may be a 4th element in the composition, made up of the top stone in the niche. This top stone is easy to see when you’re there, difficult to see in a photo. In the photo below, I highlighted this 4th element with a red line.

The photo below shows the top stone more clearly, and shows how it aligns with the large boulder behind it.

In case you don’t see the alignment, here’s the same picture with lines.

When I re-visited the “boulder composition,” I noticed even more elements. In the photo below, note the two smaller stones on the left.

Below is the same picture, with lines marking the smaller stones:

Is this a unique example of a “stone composition”? Or are there other such compositions in NewEngland woods? In my notes on Acton, Massachusetts, I showed a stone pile:

At first glance, this might seem like an ordinary pile of stones, but then you realize that the stones point in a particular way, as I show in the image below:

So the stones have a subtle alignment, a “composition.” Such compositions can be made with small stones or large boulders.

Let’s look at a screenshot from a video made by Mary Gage.

In the above image, the stones are aligned, they form a composition. So stone compositions were often made by Native Americans, they aren’t unusual.

The stones below seem to be a messy, random jumble, the opposite of a composition. On closer inspection, however, they have some of the characteristics of Indian workmanship. I would call them a stone pile within a stone row.

Stone rows often have manitou stones and niches. Below is the same picture with an M on a manitou stone, and an N on a niche.

The stones in the picture below are probably intended as a “launch-pad” for mountain bikes (I marked the location of this picture with a red pin).

One of the most spectacular stone structures at Lincoln Woods is this pair of manitou stones. They’ve been carefully propped to create the manitou shape (upward-pointing shape). I marked the location with a camera icon. If you follow my route in a clockwise direction, these boulders would be near the end of the walk.

Nearby is this standing stone (marked with bed icon). Note that the standing stone, like the two propped boulders above, has a manitou shape (upward-pointing shape).


Footnotes
1. NEARA stands for New England Antiquities Research Association. Their website is neara.org. Their newsletter often deals with Indian stone structures, and they take field trips to Indian stones. You can join NEARA for $25/year.

The photo of the pedestal boulder is in the NEARA newsletter, Vol. 14.2, Fall 1979, p. 36. Click here for the digital version (it’s behind a paywall). back