Where in the Blue Blazes Have You Been?

So, what do you do when the thermometer says 18 and the weatherman is crying, “Lake Effect Snow Warning!”  I go hiking, of course!  My friend Terry and I took the dogs to the Red House entrance at Allegany State Park yesterday.  Just inside the entrance, we scooted off to the right up Bay State Road.  When you get past the village of Red House, this road is closed in winter (read “used by snowmobiles and people with 4-wheel drive trucks”).  We drove up to the bridge, parked, and started walking.  After hiking about a mile, the snow started.  There was already a bit of snow on the ground in the park:

Lake Effect - Finally

The mile of hiking along the road to this open field is through woods, mostly, with a beaver dam or two off to the right.  Once you get to this field, there is a road that leads up a very steep hill and connects to the Eastwood Meadows trail (#17 on the official park trail map).  We hiked partway up this hill, then stopped to rest.  When we turned we saw one of the most beautiful vistas of the rolling Allegany hills I’ve about ever seen.  Unfortunately… I was feeling too winded and lazy to get my camera out of my backpack knowing more of the hill was ahead of us.  Plus, I figured we would head down this mountain later and I could snap a photo then…  Wrong!  We came back a different route…

Speaking of vistas, just so you know…  The steepest part of the road up to trail #17 goes through a stand of fairly young trees.  The part on the official trail map that says you will have an incredible view is a lie… because the trees now block that view.  Darn that Nature… always changing on you!

Terry - Coffee Break TimeAt the top of the hill, we decided it was coffee break time.  Here’s Terry, reaching in his backpack for the thermos.  Notice the perfectly lovely tree against which he is leaning.

As we sipped coffee and rested, we kept hearing loud creaking and cracking.  Here’s why:

Creakin' Crackin' Branches


I suspect that right branch, all rotted and cracked, will not be there the next time I hike this trail…  I’m glad it didn’t come crashing down while we rested.  It might have broken my camera, or Terry’s thermos…

Subtle Shadows

IMG_0201The official hiking trails at Allegany are marked with blue blazes and/or blue hiker tags.  Once when we momentarily lost sight of the blue blazes, Terry asked, “Where in the blue blazes are we?”  which prompted us to wonder about the origin of that phrase.

The Free Dictionary just says that if you use “blazes” in a question like that, it shows surprise or anger.  It also says if someone does something “like blue blazes” they do it a lot.  Apparently we are not the only ones who wondered if it came from a hiker:  <Click here>.

The best explanation, however, is at Word-Detective dot com!

Dear Word Detective: While on a hike the other day, I began to wonder whether there was any connection between the “blazes” used to mark hiking trails (which are sometime blue) and the term “blue blazes” as used in the expression “Where in the blue blazes have you been?” I stopped wondering only when I found I had ignored the blazes for too long and wandered off the trail. Perhaps you could steer me in the right direction. It seems the two “blazes” should be connected, which based on the columns of yours I’ve read almost certainly means they are not. — Steve Bromley, via the internet.

Yeah, that’s me, the Grinch Who Stole Intuitive Insights. Actually, my motto is “Not Necessarily” rather than “Probably Not,” and in this case there may well be a connection.

There are three kinds of “blaze” in English. The “fire” sense of “blaze” comes from the very old Germanic word “blason,” meaning “torch,” and was known in English by 1000 A.D., although it was spelled “blase” for several hundred years. “Blazes” as a slang expression derives from this sense and originally referred to the flames of Hell. The “blue” in “blue blazes” is just an alliterative intensifier and has no real meaning. Thus, “Where in blue blazes have you been?” is just a euphemistic way of saying “Where the hell….”

This enormous tree had a blue paint blaze, rather than a metal sign... I do not have a blue blaze on my shoulder.  That is my backpack.  Aren't Mozart and Lolli cute?The second sense of “blaze” comes from an old Dutch word “blasen,” meaning “to blow,” and is, in fact, based on the same Indo-European root as “blow.” This sense of “blaze” is now obsolete, but until the 19th century it meant “to trumpet,” either literally by blowing a trumpet or bugle, or figuratively, by loudly proclaiming or boasting.

Meanwhile, back in the woods, we have the third sense of “blaze,” which comes from the Old Norse word “blesi,” meaning a spot or patch of white on the face of a horse or other animal. To “blaze” a trail originally meant to strip a patch of bark from trees along one’s route, exposing the lighter wood underneath and thus marking the trail for those who follow. It is possible, since the underlying sense of this “blaze” is “bright or shining,” that it is related to the “fire” sense of blaze, which would make “blue blazes” a distant cousin of “blazing a trail.”

(Are you still reading this?)

Not a Coyote... It's Mozart!After our coffee break, we took the downhill side of loop #17 back toward the trailhead.  Not on the official park map there is a horse/snowmobile trail that leads down to Lockto Hollow and to Bay State Road.  We took that back to the truck.

It was a very beautiful walk through a variety of habitats.  Our favorite was where we found Very Old Trees!  Tom, if you’re still reading, where is the Old Growth part that you take people to?  Were we in it?

Also… Dear Allegany State Park:  I think it is time to make new trail maps.  Love, Jennifer

10 thoughts on “Where in the Blue Blazes Have You Been?

  1. You are close to the old growth forest!! Need to hike down the skiing hills to the bottom! Regarding the markers, are the reflector blazes still there? I just put 300 new blazes up this fall.

  2. It was -14C here in Ontario this afternoon, but we hiked 45 minutes in the bush. At least we were sheltered from the wind and I was actually hot at the the end of the brisk walk. We picked a trail with lots of “blazes” as the usual landmarks are somewhat obscured by the snow.

  3. One of my favorite trails is marked with blue plastic diamonds… but only for the first mile, where they are hardly needed. After another mile, there are some 60 year old real tree blazes though.

  4. There’s a book called “Blue: The history of a color.” Author writes about the associations with things like “blue devils” and “the blues.” I wonder whether there’s a connection in “blue blazes.”

    Love your photos. I look at them to get away from the city.

  5. I wonder if side trails and others were originally blazed with blue because of the “blue blazes” phrase. In other words, was that an original in-joke with early trail blazers since the phrase apparently pre-dates blue blazes on trails.

    Carolyn H.

  6. Can I add another blaze to your fascinating list, I was under the impression, (and I could be mistaken) that blue blazes was somehow heraldic in origin?? I know that there is some reference to blazes and blazon in heraldry… anyway I thought it was a fascinating rant!!

  7. I’ve hiked this, too. Why, in blue blazes, did I bother? No vista, little trees, stuck in the woods. My kids gripped the whole time.

    Bye the whey, I spent the day skiing in fresh powder. Very unusual for WNY, but absolutely heavenly.

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