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Head to the Western Berkshires Where Tourists Have Been Seeking Balance Since the 1800s!

One of the great things about being a distracted wanderer is that I have a great excuse to wander off of the beaten path from time to time and seek out places that may qualify as being a bit "odd" or perhaps a "curiosity" as they aren't places that a lot of people make a point to traveling to however, they make wonderful "side dishes" to whatever your "main entrée" attraction may be if you've got the time to add them to your own wanderings.

In this post, I'm going to tell you about one of those "side dishes" that you can find in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts that you can visit in a short amount of time without putting too big of a dent into whatever your main itinerary is and then be back on the road to wherever else you may be wandering to before you can say, "Well I'm glad we stopped there, that was pretty cool!"

Located in the northeast corner of Pittsfield State Park and admittedly a little tricky to find is a naturally-formed curiosity that has been popular with tourists since the 1800s when - for some reason or another - they called it "Rolling Rock" which makes no sense at all as this thing hasn't rolled anywhere since the last glacier came through New England about 12,000 years ago-- plus or minus a couple of thousand years!

Image Credit
Balance Rock - as it is more accurately called - is geographically located in the town of Lanesborough but is technically owned by the city of Pittsfield.  Back in 1910, Kelton Miller, the once-upon-a-time mayor of Pittsfield as well as founder and publisher of the Berkshire Eagle in 1894, formed a group called the Balance Rock Trust made up of 26 public-spirited citizens of Pittsfield with the agenda "to preserve Balance Rock and the land in connection therewith, as a public park, as a place for the study and experiments in forestry, and as a resort for sightseers and students of nature, and for other public purposes." Once they had acquired the property, in 1916 it was conveyed to the town of Pittsfield and it eventually became part of the Pittsfield State Forest which is maintained by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management’s (DEM) Division of Forests and Parks on behalf of the citizens of the Commonwealth. If you really want to get technical then I guess that makes Balance Rock the Masschusetts' property and not any town's but suffice it to say that to get to it, you have to go Lanesborough!

Image Credit: The Melville Trail
Back in the day, early tourists could drive right on up to the formation but now-a-days if you go to visit Balance Rock which is a remnant of the last glacial era that rolled ... very slowly ... through New England, you have to drive up a pretty beat-to-heck road through a rather thick forest to get to it. When you finally arrive at the parking lot at the end of the road - with hopefully your shocks intact! - if it happens to be the time of year when bugs thrive, be sure to bring along some mosquito repellant and apply it liberally while you're visiting the rock that the park is named for as - trust me - they have either appointed themselves guardians of the giant 30-foot long by 15-foot wide triangular limestone boulder which is poised on its tip on top of another 3-foot rock or they have figured out that it's a good place to wait for some unsuspecting tourists to come along and then dine heartily!

Balance Rock in the Berkshires

As you can see from the photo below, Balance Rock isn't the only big boulder that was left behind by those melting glaciers long, long ago but it's definitely the only one that was left teetering precariously in a position that doesn't look like it should be even remotely possible; however, it is and has been for more years than there have been tourists going to take a look at it!

Balance Rock, Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Just to give you a bit of a perspective as to how big this 165-ton monolith is, if you look to the lower right hand side of the rock in the photo below you can see my distracted sidekick Paula braving the mosquitos to take a few close shots of the rock and the graffiti that covers it. At this point I was already making my retreat to the car having donated more than enough A+ goodness to the throngs of skeeters in the area but I did manage to get a few decent photos before they chased me away!

Paula taking a photo of Balance Rock

As a rule I probably would have been a bit appalled at all of the graffiti that covers the rock but as it seems to be a tradition of sorts that has gone on for probably as long as there has been paint, I guess I can't really carp too much about it.  Perhaps it's some sort of rite of passage in that area to venture out into the forest and leave your mark on Balance Rock and as there's photographic proof that it's been going on for quite some time displayed right on their own homepage, I'm guessing the folks of Lanesborough are fine with it! Oh but they don't own the rock anymore, do they?  I totally forgot about that!

Image Credit:  Lanesborough, MA History and Attractions
Balance Rock from the back

Balance Rock balancing on a rock!

The side of Balance Rock

Though there is nothing in the area to currently announce it as such, Balance Rock is one of the eight stops on the "Melville Trail" as apparently the author of Moby Dick came by to visit the rock quite a few times during his years living in Pittsfield.  It appears that he was so interested in Balance Rock that Melville included it in his critically and financially disastrous 1852 novel titled Pierre: or, The Ambiguities in which the title character crawls under the rock which he refers to as his own personal "Memnon Stone" - in reference to the Colossi of Memnon. Though Melville never outright identifies Pierre's stone as Balance Rock it's pretty easy to surmise that has to be it based on the description that he gives on page 178 of his very bizarre book:

Front of Balance Rock in Pittsfield, MA

Had I not been getting bit to pieces by the small winged cannibals that guarded the rock, I might have had an intrepid enough heart to try crawling beneath Balance Rock to get a few photos (though with my luck, it would have chosen that one moment in history to become unbalanced!) but as I chose to flee to the safety of the car instead, the best I can do is offer you the photos above which, as you can see, clearly show that there's not too much clearance between rock and ground though there is indeed some! I've read that people have tried jumping on it and such over the years to see if they could get it to move but so far, Balance Rock has maintained its balance and not budged!  Oh, and as for those initials of "LO" on the small rock to the front left of Balance Rock, just allow me to assure you that even though I do have those very initials, they are not mine and I did not leave them there - honest!

If you wish to visit Balance Rock yourself and perhaps embrace your own "intrepid heart" should you find yourself in the Lanesborough/Pittsfield area, the park is located at [1-31] Balance Rock Road which is best accessed from Route 7 to Pontoosuc Avenue which becomes Pecks Road then becomes Balance Rock Road. If you get to Kowhcuk Drive you've gone too far so turn around and look for the small Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation sign which is set back from the road a little bit and reads "Balance Rock State Park."  If you're a hiker, there are numerous trails also in the area that you might find enjoyable - just watch out for the bugs and the bears!

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