August 2015 – Montpelier, Vermont

For our week in the Green Mountains of Vermont, we choose a campground about 40 miles south of Montpelier.  From here we could access the two National Parks in the area, as well as, Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains.  The trip west from New Hampshire was slow as it was all mountain roads.  The truck handled the pull well, although I am still concerned about the noise it makes when the turbo kicks in.  The garage in Bangor said it was all working correctly, but it is making noise that we have not heard before.  Whether this is because we are in the mountains or something is not right is beyond me.  It seems to have enough power for the task.  The most interesting part of the trip was when we got to within a mile of the campground on Interstate 89.  The exit was blocked so they could paint the lines and we had to go another 10 miles to the next exit.  We got turned around and traveled the 10 miles back to our exit only to be stopped on the Vermont 66 with road construction as they were repaving the highway.  After waiting over 20 minutes we were finally allowed to continue on the one-lane traffic to within 100 feet of the campground down a side road.  There was no way we could make the turn onto the side road with the paving equipment in the way, so we had to continue on down the highway.  After winding down a steep grade the GPS unit found a place we could loop around to head back to the campground.  It was nothing more than a U-shaped short road that was perfect for turning around, so we stopped so we could both go the bathroom.  There is certainly some advantage to hauling a bathroom around with you!  Once we climbed back up the hill we found the paving equipment had now moved enough so we could make the turn and we finally got to the campground.  It took around 45 minutes to make this last mile!!  The Lake Champagne Campgrounds had a nice pull through site for us which gave a great view of the Green Mountains across the valley.  We had come from a campsite nestled in the trees in New Hampshire to a grassy open campsite with a great view in Vermont.  I loved them both!!  The only disadvantage to this campsite was the walk to the bathrooms, which was down a steep hill to their private Lake Champagne, which is a swimming hole for the campgrounds.  While the lake was very nice and the restrooms very clean and modern, the hike back up the hill was not pleasant every morning.  This was also the location for the laundry facilities so Kal got to spend some extended time there.  For some reason the entrance into the washers and dryers was through the men’s restroom.  Thankfully, the bathroom was separated into a changing area for those using the lake with another door into the restroom itself.  Still, it was a strange arrangement.

Campsite

On Tuesday, it rained most of the day, so Kal got the laundry done and I got caught up on this blog.  Can’t see much of the view when it is raining and foggy, but we both enjoyed the peace and quiet.  It did clear off by the evening, so we got to look at the stars.  We are finally far enough away from city lights with no trees blocking the view and got a terrific view of the night sky with no moon.  We both could finally see the Milky Way, which we have both been looking for since we got to Maine.  This was a sight neither of us had seen since we were growing up in Kansas.

We had two National Parks to visit in the area, so on Wednesday we headed southeast, back into New Hampshire, to visit the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site.  If you are into art you are probably aware of Saint-Gaudens and the Cornish community in New Hampshire.  Augustus Saint-Gaudens was one of the most famous American sculptors in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, most notably for bronze Civil War memorials.  Some of his most famous works are the Farragut Memorial in Madison Square Park, the Shaw Memorial on the Boston Commons, the General Logan statue in Chicago, the General Sherman Memorial in Central Park, the Seated Lincoln statue in Chicago.  He also designed the $20 double eagle gold coin that was minted from 1905-1907.  His home near Cornish, New Hampshire, was his summer home, which he called Aspet, until he was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1905 and moved to Cornish year round.  Saint-Gaudens at heart was a teacher and employed a large group of artisans and students over the years who worked at the large studios he built on the property.  Today there are over 100 works of art produced by Saint-Gaudens and his workers which includes a second casting of his most famous pieces.  So you can either travel all over the country to view his works or simply come to Cornish where you can view them in a peaceful garden settings instead of noisy downtown areas.  We took advantage of a tour of Aspet and since we were the only ones on the 10:00 tour we had our guide to ourselves.  Originally the home was a Federal style inn, that Saint-Gaudens spent a lot of time and money modifying over the years.  They put in an interesting central spiral staircase with a small landing half-way up that was used as the office for his wife, Augusta, who ran the estate and was a fine painter on her own.  We also took advantage of a tour of the grounds which provided some interesting details about the many works to be found there.  For instance, while the bronze statue of Admiral Farragut is a second casting, the base is the original stone foundation.  It was moved to Cornish in order to protect it from the elements as it was carved in blue-stone that turned out to be too soft to hold up for long.  In addition, the Shaw Memorial is the fourth iteration of the memorial on the Boston Commons, as he was not satisfied with the original and continued to work on it.  Therefore, there are some definite differences that our tour guide pointed out.

GregAtFarragut GregAtShaw

After eating lunch we started to take a short hike down the Ravine Trail and stopped off at the Ravine Studio, which is a small studio where they invite guest artists.  While we were there the artist was in the final process of designing a medallion of Lincoln to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the site next year.  At this stage the work was in clay and he was positioning a number of very small oak leaves around the central figure of Lincoln.  We had a very interesting discussion about art and traveling before we made our exit to the nature trail.  The trail goes along Blow-Me-Up Brook to the swimming hole they built with a small dam.  The name of the brook is actually a play-on-words since it flows into Blow-Me-Down Brook which carries the same name as the farm next to the property, that is also part of the Historic Site today.

GregAtMemorial

On Thursday we spent another day in the campground with rain again in the afternoon.

The weather on Friday promised to be better, at least in the morning, so we headed south once more to the only National Park in Vermont, the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Site at Woodstock, Vermont.  These are the three owners of the property and it commemorates the beginning of the Conservation Movement that led to the Environmentalist Movement of today.  The first owner, George Perkins Marsh grew up on the small farm of his father during the hey-day of logging.  After the trees were clearcut from the mountain sides, much of the cleared land was then used for sheep ranches.  In fact, this area was the leading producer of wool in the country for about 50 years.  Marsh saw first hand the impact of large scale logging and sheep with the resulting erosion, loss of topsoil, and massive floods that ended the fishing industry as well.   As the forests were cut, the local population lost their source of income since the mountains were not suitable for farming and began to move out of the area.  George Marsh was well educated getting degrees from Dartmouth College and practicing law in Burlington.  He eventually became a US Senator from Vermont and ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in Turkey.  While there he traveled extensively in Turkey and saw the long term impact of continuous land use on what was once the fertile valleys of the Middle East.  Later he became the minister in Italy where he wrote the book “Man and Nature” which expanded on his life-long observations of the impact man has on the environment and the need for planned conservation.  He never returned to his boyhood home in Vermont and while in Italy his brother sold the property to Frederick Billings.  By this point there was little left of beauty in the area and the local economy was in dire straits.  Billings had also grown up in northern Vermont and was well educated with degrees from the University of Vermont.  In 1848 he joined the gold rush in California and made his fortune as one of the first lawyers dealing with land claims of the miners.  Upon returning to Vermont he wanted to improve the conditions in his home state and bought Marsh’s homestead with plans to revitalize the land and local economy.  Being familiar with the book Marsh wrote, he adopted the best sustainable farming practices at the time and brought in prized Jersey cows from England to create a state-of-the art dairy farm.  Along with conservation methods for sustainable farming practices he created a model farm that was copied throughout the area.  He also took on the task of reforesting Mount Tom using experimental methods of natural regeneration and planting.  Since the practice of sustainable forestry was not yet began in America, he borrowed practices from Europe and applied them on his property.  There were no nurseries in North America, so his plantings were initially using seedlings shipped from Europe.  Consequently the oldest planted stands are Norway spruce, Scots pine and European larch.  Later he also planted stands of white pine, red pine, sugar maple, and beech.  To continue his legacy, he requested his children to keep the property intact and continue to care for it after his death.  Through two generations they continued to improve on his practices when his granddaughter, Mary French, married Laurance Rockefeller.  Laurance was the son of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and, like his father, had a great love of philanthropy and conservation.  For many years Laurance and Mary were involved in conservation efforts around the country and the establishment or expansion of many National Parks, of which their summer home in Woodstock, Vermont, became one small example.  Today the Billings Farm is operated by a non-profit organization that has a nice museum and tours of the farm, which is located just across the highway from the National Historic Site.  We opted not to tour the farm as I was more interested in the homestead and forestry practices.  We did sign up for a tour of the house which has a number of very interesting features.  The most striking are the number of large oil paintings of western landscapes, including Yosemite.  You can also see that the idea of conservation extended into the house through the reuse of older furniture to make new pieces.  For instance, when they installed bay windows in the library they reused the bookshelves and made cabinets out of them.  The Rockefellers did not make very many changes to the house, including the furnishings, except for the addition of bathrooms in each of the upstairs bathrooms.  While our tour guide was very knowledgeable and talked about a number of the interesting features, it was great that we were joined by a daughter of the sister of Mary French who told a lot of great stories of spending summer vacations in the house with “Granny”.

KalInGarden GardensAndHouse

After lunch ate in the parking lot, we took off to explore Mount Tom.  As part of the reforestation of Mount Tom, Billings created a large network of carriage roads and trails to provide access to the forests for family, guest, and friends.  They owned a fleet of carriages of all types, including two-wheel sulkies, canopied surreys, and two enormous bob sleighs.  These are displayed in the carriage barn at the beginning of the carriage roads.  I had hoped that we would be able to explore some of the older planted stands of Norway spruce, Scots pine or European Larch, but unfortunately, they were all located some distance from the main carriage road that wound up through natural regenerated stands of mixed northern hardwoods to The Progue, a natural mountain pond that was enlarged by Billings to provide irrigation and power (using turbines).  The carriage road up to The Progue was wide and very well maintained making for easy walking, however, the first half mile was pretty steep, at least for us.  The entire trail was 1.7 miles long and all uphill, although the grade was much more manageable once we got beyond the first 0.5 miles.  We did make it to The Progue, but were both ready to give up any of the side trails and head back to the car.  While strenuous, the walk was peaceful and the forests are Mount Tom are beautiful.  I should state that this National Historic Site is also unique for one other reason.  It is the only National Park that has an active forest management program, as stipulated by Laurance Rockefeller, so you can see evidence of selective cutting as you walk the carriage road.

KalOnCarriageRoad

I had plans to explore Lake Champlain on Saturday, but it was obvious as soon as I got up that Kal was not really interested after the strenuous hike the day before. In addition, we had cable TV which included NBS Sports and it was the opening weekend of EPL football.  She was reluctant to miss-out on the opportunity to watch some soccer since we had missed nearly the entire previous season, so we decided to just stay in the campgrounds for the day.

Therefore, on Sunday, we went to explore Lake Champlain, or at least one small part of it since it is over 130 miles long.  We drove over to Chimney Point State Historic Site on the shore of Lake Champlain in Vermont.  The trip over was a lot of fun as the GPS took us on roads that were not state highways and went over a couple of passes in the Green Mountains.  When we descended into the Lake Champlain Valley it was a shock to see an essentially flat landscape that was still 20 miles from the shores of the lake.  In fact, the Lake is actually situated within some pretty sizeable hills that rise up out of the valley.  We knew that Chimney Point State Historic Site was not very large and that it was the site of an old French fort built prior to the French and Indian War.  In fact, what was found was less than we expected.  The site consists of an old Inn that dates back to the Revolutionary War or a bit later (it is controversial) that houses a very nice, but small, museum with artifacts found at the site from Native American cultures that date back thousands of years, up through trading with the French trappers and the fort built by the French in 1731.  Most of the artifacts were found during the required survey that was conducted before replacing the bridge over to Crown Point, New York in 2011.  They are not exactly sure where the original fort was located as it was only a wooden fort that was used for three years before construction of a more permanent fort across the Lake at Crown Point.

Porch

After eating lunch we decided that we would have to cross the Lake over to Crown Point and check out the Crown Point State Historic Site in New York.  This site was more what we had expected, in fact, it was twice as much because there are the remains of two forts, Fort St Federick built by the French from 1734-1737 and the Fort at Crown Point built by the English in 1759.  Through a very good film presentation in the museum we learned a lot about the importance of this location.  In colonial times the land route from Montreal to New York came down the St. Laurence River to Lake Champlain.  At the south end of the Lake they would portage around the falls to Lake George and from the south end of Lake George portage again to the Hudson River.  At the time this land was all wilderness in contention between the Wabanki Confederacy allied with the French and the Iroquois Nation allied with the English.  Through three wars the two countries sought to limit access and control this important route leading up to the French and Indian War in 1754-1760.  By this time New France had established two forts to control Lake Champlain, Fort St Frederick at Crown Point and Fort Carillon further south at the portage to Lake George.  In 1756 and 1757 the English mounted expeditions to capture these forts but never made it even to Fort Carillon.  However, in 1758 an English force of 12,000 men attempted a frontal assault on Fort Carillon only to be defeated by a much smaller French force of about 5000 men.  The following year, the English again mounted an expedition, this time with 18,000 soldiers, and the French abandoned both Fort Carillon and Fort St. Frederick to retreat to Canada.  Fort Carillon became Fort Ticonderoga, but Fort St. Frederick was not rebuilt after being essential blown up by the French.  Instead, the British began the construction of the largest fort in North America, initially naming it Fort Amherst before renaming it the Fort at Crown Point.  The fort was never completed by the end of the French and Indian War in 1760 and by the time of the Revolutionary War was manned by just a skeletal force.  The Green Mountain Boys under Captain Warner were able to easily capture the fort in 1775 supplying 29 of the cannon that General Knox moved overland by sleds in the winter of 1776 to surprise the British occupying Boston.  The ruins of both forts can be explored.  There is not much remaining of Fort St. Frederick except for some of the walls, the moat, and a pile of stone that was part of the eight sided citadel. This large three story building occupying the north corner inside the fort was a unique feature of this fort that I had never seen before.  Unfortunately, there is nothing remaining except for some sketches.  They have built a model of the fort in the museum that only serves to heighten the mystery of its purpose.  In contrast, the ruins of Crown Point are massive.  It is over twice the size of any other forts from the time period I have seen and the amount of work necessary to blast the dry moat around the fort and building the scarp and counter-scarp from this rock is impressive.  It was also an experience to stand at the bottom of the moat and look up at the remaining walls trying to imagine the wooden walls that would have extended four times the current height!!  The remains of the officer quarters and barracks are also interesting, but it was difficult to envision what they would have looked like at the time.  We also crossed the highway to take a quick look at a stone redoubt, one of four, that were built as outer defenses.  Although small, it was also an impressive rock foundation blasted out of the limestone foundation.  If you like old historical forts, you should definitely take the time to visit these.

GregAtFortRuins KalAtFortRuins

August 2015 – Littleton, New Hampshire

Since the Civil War, the White Mountains of New Hampshire have been a major tourist destination.  By the turn of the century it attracted wealthy visitors from all the major cities in New England and today it continues to attract visitors from all over the world.  While there was a long period of luxury hotels in the area, most of these are now long gone, but there are a large number of hotels and campgrounds for today’s visitors.  Our trip to the White Mountains from Maine was along US 2 which winds it way through the valleys and had surprisingly few steep ascents or descents.  Even though the highway was for the most part in good condition, the many curves and small towns kept our speed below 50 for the most part, but the drive was scenic.  We pulled into Apple Hill Campground in Bethlehem, New Hampshire soon after lunch and got set up.  Apple Hill is an old campground run by a family that live on the property in the house on the highway.  It has more the feel of a state park, rather than a commercial RV park, which we liked.  There were a lot of trees with the pull through sites cut through then and it was easy to get into the site with our rig.  The bathrooms are old and rustic, although they did put in an effort to keep them clean, and the washing machines had been placed on the porch which exposed them to the weather.  Consequently they were showing a lot of rust and we weren’t sure they even worked.  There are also a lot of seasonal RVs around the fringes that were old and in some cases looked abandoned.  However, our site was nice and we were well satisfied.

Campsite

Except for knowing that the White Mountains were a tourist attraction, especially Mount Washington which is the tallest mountain in New England, we did not know what we were going to do for the week.  So we stopped into the office to talk with the owner about some good hiking trails.  Along with Franconia State Park, that he assumed we already knew about, he really liked the trails in Crawford Notch State Park and the scenic drive that forms a loop through the White Mountains.  He suggested a couple of good trails that were not too difficult or long starting with the trail up to the summit of Mount Willard where there were some spectacular views.  The trail is less than 2 miles and one that he liked to take his five year old son.  This sounded like a good place to start, so after stopping off to check on the COG railway up Mount Washington that we would take later in the week, we proceeded to the parking area at the Crawford Notch Depot.  As we were to find out, all of the hiking trails in the state parks and the White Mountain National Forest are heavily used by hikers, even during the middle of the week.  We passed many hikers coming down the trail and were passed by quite a few going up the trail.  The trail started out with an easy climb over a couple of small streams and alongside a mountain brook where there were a couple of nice spots to watch the water tumbling over the rocks.  However, after about a quarter of a mile, the trail got serious.  I don’t doubt the park manager brought his five year old on this trail, since we saw a number of families with children of all ages, however, it was proving to be too steep for our 60 year old knees and hips.  After another mile of walking up the side of the stream where it became steep enough in a couple of places to need our hands to climb, we were not sure we would reach the summit.  Once the trail diverged from the stream to begin its circle to the top with no easing of the grade, we knew we were beat.  Under the belief that we would be able to make this 1.7 mile hike before lunch, we both realized we were in trouble.  Kal had some snacks in her camera vest which we shared along with some water I had brought and took a long rest.  However, after another 50 feet up the trail, Kal simply gave out and we turned around and went back downhill to the truck.  On the way down I was amazed how steep the trail was and was impressed we had done as well as we did.  It is obvious that we are not or ever were mountain climbers and we would have to think twice about taking trails that a five year old enjoys doing!!  In any case, it was still a nice time in the woods.  By now it was after 2:00 in the afternoon, so we decided to make an early dinner and stopped in a local restaurant for lunch/dinner.  I enjoyed a local brown ale called Pigs Ear that was very good and felt recovered after our long (at least for us) hike.

KalOnWillardTrail KalRestingOnWillardTrail

Wednesday was stormy, especially in the afternoon and evening, so we stayed in the campgrounds.  Kal took the laundry to a laundromat in town and I cleaned the RV.

We had an early start on Thursday since we had made reservations for the 9:30 trip up Mount Washington on the Cog Railway.  Since it was a half hour drive and they wanted you there 45 minutes ahead, we had to quickly get up and out that morning.  Unfortunately, the clouds from the day before were still lingering around, especially around Mount Washington and we were both regretting that we opted to wait until Thursday instead of taking the trip on Tuesday when we could see the top of the mountain.  This morning the top was shrouded in clouds and there did not look there was much chance for any clearing before we ascended the mountain.  After getting our tickets and spending about 20 minutes in their nice museum about the history we boarded our train.  Before describing our trip, I should mention a couple of things about this Cog Railway.  It is the oldest Cog Railway in the US and the second steepest in the world.  At one point along Jacob’s Ladder, the grade is over 37% which is difficult to stand on, much less push a rail car up.  The engines sit behind the single passenger car and pushes the car up the mountain.  On the way down the engines provide a break to the passenger car, which also has its own independent breaking system, and the two are not physically connected!  This is for safety reasons since it anything goes wrong with the engine, it will not pull the passenger car with it.  It is known as a Cog Railway, since the propulsion is not from the wheels pushing against the rails, which would not work on these grades which average 25%.  Instead there is a cog in between the two rails that looks nothing more than the chain of a bicycle laid on the ground.  The engine and passenger cars have sprockets that fit into the cogs and pushing against these cogs is how the train climbs up the mountain.  The train moves at only 3 mph to it took over an hour to make the trip.  It should also be noted that the seats in the passenger car are tilted as well so for the most part you feel like you are traveling up a very slow elevator.  It does give a strange view of the trees, water tower, and half way house, that look like they are sitting at an extreme angle!  Unfortunately the view going up the mountain was not what it could have been as we were into the clouds by the time the train had ascended to the point the trees were short enough to see over them.

BiodieselEngineViewOutTheWindowViewComingDown

Mount Washington is 6288 feet and literally creates its own weather and it did a great job demonstrating this fact.  While at the base it was in the low 70s with threatening clouds, at the summit it was in the low 40s with winds over 50 mph and 70 mph gusts giving a wind chill factor in the low 20s.  The blowing mist or fog made the visibility less than 50 feet!  So while we saw panoramic pictures of the view you could see from the summit, extending 130 miles in all directions including the Atlantic Ocean, all we could see was fog.  Even the Tip-Top House, the first “hotel” on the mountain, which is only 100 feet from the Visitor Center, was not visible.  I did brave the winds up to the Tip-Top House which is now a small museum.  It is a stone structure which is the only reason it has survived and is little more than a bunkhouse with a bank of eight bunks along with a dining room and kitchen.  Mount Washington is toted as having the worst weather in the world and after seeing the museum devoted to the winters on the mountain, I can believe it.  The weather observatory, that is manned all year, had recorded the second highest wind speeds on earth in April, 1934 of 231 mph!!!  It was still an amazing experience, although I wished we would have researched it a bit more and brought more than a light jacket.  We had less than an hour at the summit, which was more than enough since you could not see anything anyway, and another hour trip back down the mountain on the railway.  I should mention that you can also drive up to the summit from the other side of the mountain, which we had considered doing.  After our experience, we are both very glad we did not.  Besides the ride up the Cog Railway was a lot more fun than trying to drive a mountain road in that weather.

GregAtSummitt KalAtSummitt

On Friday it was back to Crawford Notch State Park for some more hikes, hopefully not as strenuous as the hike up Mt. Willey.  We began at the site of the Willard House, about mid-way through the notch.  Although the Willey House burned down years ago, it is the site of the small hotel the Samuel Willey opened in 1825.  A year later a torrential rainstorm caused a landslide that killed the entire family although the house was undamaged since the slide split and went on either side of it.  It is not known for sure why the family left the house, but it is conjectured that they were attempting to escape the flood waters from the Saco River.  Today there is a marker to the family, a gift shop, and a small pond.  We hiked the short trail at the pond and extended it along the Saco River.  There is not much water in the river during August, but we saw a number of places that beavers had started creating some dams.  The walk was very easy and level along the river and made for a nice morning hike before lunch at the pond.

KalAlongSacoRiver WilleyHousePond

After lunch we traveled about a mile further into the notch to the parking area for the Ripley Falls.  This was suppose to be a moderate hike of about a half mile to the falls.  The trail started out pretty steep once it crossed the railroad tracks but after less than a quarter of a mile it leveled off along a ridge to the falls.  In comparison, this was a moderate hike and much more to our liking.  Ripley Falls sure made the hike worthwhile as it is a 100 foot series of cascades where the stream quickly descends the hill to a small pool at the base.  The mountain stream below the falls was also worth spending some time at as well.  Once again the trail was well traveled with over 20 people at the falls while we visited.

GregAtRipleyFalls KalAtRipleyFalls

Saturday was our day for the scenic drive looping through the White Mountains.  The trip began by going all the way through the Crawford Notch to Bartlett where we took the Bear Notch Road south.  This road is a US Forest Service road that is closed during the winter and provided some great views across the valley.  Our trip then continued west along the Kancamagus highway (State Road 112) to the pass of the same name.  Along the way we came across a USFS Historic Site, the Russell-Colbath Homestead.  This homestead is the last surviving home of the Passaconaway Village that was a prosperous town in the 1850s when the valley was being logged by the Swift River Lumber Company.  Trees would be cut and stacked in the summer and then skidded out by horse drawn sleds in the winter to be loaded on the train.  There were also a number of small sawmills in the area.  The Forest Service has restored the homestead and turned it into a museum that is open on the weekends.  We met a descendent of the family in the house who told a number of stories about the family and small community.  Most of the furnishings in the house are original, although some are reproductions, and there are many artifacts from the time period.  For instance, I saw a unique set of scissors that would be used to trim the wicks on the lamps that included a small metal box to catch the cut wick.  There is also a short trail that leads down to the Swift River where you can still see the moorings of the railroad bridge that crossed the river.  The Forest Service has put up a number of interpretive signs that give the history of logging in the area which started back in colonial times with the cutting of large white pine for ship masts.

Homestead KalAtBigWhitePine

After lunch at the homestead, we continued our drive up to the Kancamagus Pass which is around 4000 feet and is high enough to get into the spruce-fir forest.  There are a number of very nice pull outs to enjoy the scenic views on both sides of the pass.  Once we got to the Interstate 93 we choose to go north on US 3 instead, which led us directly to the Visitor Center in Franconia Notch State Park.  Even though the Apple Hill manager assumed we knew about this park, we did not have a clue, so we were surprised to find this large Visitor Center and huge parking lot packed with cars.  It was already mid-afternoon, so we decided to find out what it was all about and return on Sunday.  Come to find out this state park is considered to be the crown jewel of New Hampshire state parks that extends for 8 miles up the Franconia Notch.  Unlike the trails in Crawford Notch, the trail from the Visitor Center up to Flume Gorge cost money and they control the access to the trail.  Therefore we picked up information and headed back to the campground for the rest of the afternoon.

KalAtPass MountainVista

Whereas, we have learned to like taking it easy on Sundays as it is our last day in the campgrounds, however, this time we had a destination that we were excited to check out.  After reading the material we got on Saturday, we knew we wanted to start with the Flume Gorge hike, taking in the tramway to the summit of Cannon Mountain, and the Old Man of the Mountain State Historic Site.  It was going to be a full day, so we got an early start and arrived at the Visitor Center by 9:30, 30 minutes after they opened.  We were some of the first to arrive so parking was no problem and we had the trail pretty much to ourselves.  We decided to take their van up the first quarter mile of the trail, both for the sake of time and to save our knees the uphill climb, which did not look very bad.  On the ride up you cross through the Pemigewasset Covered Bridge, which is one of the oldest in the state and the driver was kind enough to stop and let us take a couple of pictures before proceeding to Boulder Cabin.  This cabin is now a museum for visitors to provide a little history about Flume Gorge and information about the wildlife and plants you will see along the trail.  After leaving the cabin it is a short uphill walk to Table Rock where Flume Creek has polished a large slab of granite rock as it sluices over it.  Quite impressive, but also quite slippery (or so the signs said)!!  A short distance beyond Table Rock is the beginning of the Flume Gorge, which is a natural gorge extending 800 feet with 70-90 foot sheer granite walls that are 12-20 feet apart.  They have built a wooden walkway with steps so you can travel right up the gorge alongside the creek.  It is an absolutely amazing trail up through the gorge and one that has been enjoyed for over 150 years by tourists from around the world.  Prior to 1883 there was a huge egg-shaped boulder (10X12 feet) wedged above the creek that people would actually stand on.  They have pictures of this boulder in Boulder Cabin.  In 1883 a heavy rainstorm caused logs and other debris to lodge against the rock, effectively damming the creek.  After a few days the water pressure was too much and the rock was pushed out never to be found.  It’s unfortunate that the rock is no longer there, however, this same event deepened the gorge and diverted the water entering the gorge so it now begins with a 45 foot waterfall known as Avalanche Falls.  So you gain some and you loose some.

KalAtTableRockFlumeGorgeBottom

Once you get to the top of the Gorge you have two choices.  You can either return along a rim trail back to Boulder Cabin or you can continue on the trail the loops for another 1.3 miles before returning to the Visitor Center.  Since the trail is mostly downhill, we had no problem with the distance and I am glad we continued on.  The trail is actually a gravel carriage road and descends through the forest with many of the plants identified along the trail with small signs at ground level.  You do have to watch for them, but they were very informative.  At about 0.5 miles you come to Liberty Gorge, which is a much smaller, but pretty gorge, where a stream cascades down the hillside.  At 0.7 miles you come to The Pool and Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge, which should not be missed!!  The Pool is a large glacial basin at the base of a set of cascades on the Pemigewasset River.  This pool is 40 feet deep and 150 feet in diameter and looks to be a perfect circle.  Very beautiful from above.  You cross the river on the Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge, which was built of rough hewn boards from the Sentinel Pine that grew along the river above the pool.  The Sentinel Pine was another landmark of the area as it was over 60 inches in diameter and over 175 feet tall white pine that had been marked by the British to be cut for a ship mast.  At the time it blew over during the hurricane in 1938, it was one of the largest white pines in the state.  Since it fell over the river they decided to use the trunk as the base for a bridge, cutting up the rest of the tree to provide the building materials.  You can still see the trunk of the tree underneath the bridge, although they have added additional steel supports to help stabilize it.  There is also a cave known as Wolf Den that you can crawl through to exit further up the hillside.  As it involved tight spaces and a lot of crawling over rocks we decided not to partake!  The rest of the trail descends down through a large glacial boulder field with some truly impressive specimens of the debris left by the glaciers 150,000 years ago.

GregOnCarriageRoad PoolAndBridge

After lunch we drove six miles north in the park to the Cannon Mountain Tramway.  I should note that most of the access to this park is only by the Interstate,  There are no other roads through the notch.  In addition, the Interstate is narrowed to a 2 lane divided road with speeds of 45 mph through the notch, making it one of only two substandard interstates in the country.  You might think this was due to the width of the notch, but that is certainly not the case as there is plenty of room for a 4 lane highway.  It was done as a compromise at the time in order to try and protect the Old Man of the Mountain from the vibrations of road construction and subsequent traffic.  As with most tramways, the one ascending Cannon Mountain is the summer version of a winter ski lift for the many ski slopes on the Mountain.  During the winter this is the second most popular skiing locations in the White Mountains.  The ride up to the summit only takes 8 minutes, but it is certainly the best, smoothest, and fastest way to climb 2500 feet up the side of a mountain.  Once again, our choice of days was not the best, as clouds had moved in by the afternoon and visibility at summit was not as good as it could have been.  Thankfully the summit itself was not in the clouds, so we did get some great vistas of the surrounding valleys and mountains.  There is a short walking trail around the summit that provides access to some dangerous ledges where you can get some great views.  There is also an observation tower that gets you way above the tree tops to see in all directions.  After the walk around the summit we headed to the bar and sampled their Cannon Ale, which is brewed locally especially for their use on the mountain.  While I prefer a brown or red ale, this pale ale was not bad and the view we had out the window made it worthwhile.

CannonTramway CannonView1 GregOnCannon

After we descended back to the parking lot we drove the short distance to the Old Man in the Mountain State Historic Site at the base of Cannon Mountain along Profile Lake.  Along with a small museum, there is a short walk along the banks of Profile Lake to where you can view this unique landmark.  If you have ever seen a New Hampshire license plate or the state emblem, then you know something about it.  The Old Man in the Mountain was a granite outcropping consisting of five horizontal slabs cantilevered out over the side of Cannon Mountain that took on the likeness of an old man when viewed from the proper angle.  It was even visible from the interstate as you drove past.  I say “was” because in 2003 it came crashing down after years of trying to stabilize it.  Today there is a memorial at the site where they have constructed some steel poles.  When you stand the correct distance from the pole based on your height and sight up along the top of the pole, the ends of the poles will add the missing pieces.  Very cool.

WhatsLeft

From there we looped back into the park for one final location we had read about, The Basin.  This is a short walk along a stream that divides into two forks with a bridge crossing over to the island.  The right fork descends through a neat cascade where it has eroded a channel through the granite that takes the stream on a wild ride in a circular path.  The granite has been worn so smooth that it looks like a Disney attraction made of cement!  The other fork though is where the money is.  It quickly cascades into the side of a large granite basin which has been smoothed over time to form a perfect hemisphere with the water entering along a circular path into the bowl.  Very beautiful and unique.  So ended a very eventful day in New Hampshire where we obtained a great appreciation for the beauties and rarities this place has to offer.  I am very glad we made this trip and spent at least a week in the area.

BasinLower

July 2015 – Bethel Maine

Since we had to pick up the truck from the shop on Wednesday morning, we got a late start on our trip to western Maine.  The trip too nearly three hours as it was mostly on US 2 going west, going up and down some hills, although most of the trip was through some wide valleys and were relatively flat.  The truck performed well until near the end of the trip when the turbo started making the same racket as before, although not as loud.  We hope this is normal, since this is our first opportunity to pull the RV up some serious hills that really needed the turbo.  When we got to the Bethel Outdoor Adventure and Campgrounds near Bethel, Maine, it was obvious we were in for a different experience.  The major business is the rental of canoes, kayaks, and tubes for trips on the river, the campground is almost an afterthought. The sites are minimal, yet adequate with sufficient room between the sites so you don’t feel cramped, but no more.  They do have picnic tables and a fire ring, but the best feature is they are all pull-through which made it very easy to park the RV.  The sites are level which made the setup very easy.  The restroom/shower facilities are old and need a lot of work, especially since they are also used by all the customers either renting kayaks, etc or paying for transportation of their boats to the landings upriver.  They do clean them everyday at least, but that is about it.  There are no other facilities, such as laundry, swimming pools, etc, but then we can live without them, especially for the 5 nights we have left on our week.

Campsite

On Thursday, Kal needed time to relax away from the phone and computer and a relaxing float down the river was just perfect.  During the week, business is slow on the river, however, by Saturday there were people parked everywhere and the campsite was over half full.  They take people out every hour on the hour, so we got a trip starting at 10:00 in the morning.  We elected to take the 10 mile trip down the Androscoggin River from the Gilead Landing to the take out at the campgrounds.  For the first 6 miles of the trip, which took 2.5 hours, we were the only kayaks on the river.  Since the river moves at a good clip, between 3 and 5 miles per hour, we had to do very little except sit back and relax.  There are a couple of minor ripples along the river which we easily navigated, stopping a couple of times on the many islands in the river.  The scenery along the river was spectacular, with most of it being simply forests and very few houses until we got near Bethel.  With the mountains in the background it was a great experience!  It was well worth the money we spent.  Even though we let the river do 90% of the work, we were still tired after 4.5 hours on the river and were glad to see the takeout knowing we only had a short walk back to the RV.

GregOnRiver KalOnRiver LunchBreak

We were both a little tired the next day, so we decided to stay in the campgrounds and enjoy a relaxing day.  I got caught up on this blog and Kal did some serious knitting in the afternoon.  I really feel sorry for all our friends dealing with this summer’s weather.  We cringe every time the weather is talked about on the news with the near record heat in the south, torrential rains in Florida, and heat all along the east coast.  I would strongly recommend spending the summer in Maine, where we complain if the temperature gets above the mid 80s.  On Friday, we had sunny weather, low humidity, and temperatures that topped out at 80.  It was a great day to just enjoy the weather.

On Saturday, we were ready to get out of the campgrounds, especially with all the people coming in between 8-9 in the morning to get on the river.  As I mentioned previously, the campground is now over half full and the cars have packed their parking lot and spilled over into the campground.  I am sure glad we made our trip earlier in the week as the river was going to be crowded today.  Instead we traveled about 15 miles north to Grafton Notch State Park.  This is a 3,000 acre park situated in a U-shaped valley cut by the glaciers in between two picturesque mountains.  There are many granite escarpments on the sides of the mountains and Bear Creek has cut an impressive 40 deep gorge through the notch.  Maine highway 26 cuts through the center of the park providing good access to the hiking trails.  There are some difficult hiking trails including 12 miles of the Appalachian Trial, but these are not for us!!  Instead we picked out the easy trails they have available, however, these were all very short being only 0.1 to 0.25 miles long.  We started out at Screw Augur Falls which is a very nice set of stepfalls that is located right at the parking lot.  Access to these small falls was very easy.  From there we proceeded up to Mother Walker Falls, which is another short trail along a 40 foot deep gorge that is 980 feet long.  Unfortunately, by the first of August there was very little water in the creek and although you could hear it at times, it was completely hidden by the rocks that have split from the mountain and nearly fill the gorge.  The best part of this trail was working yourself around the large rocks on the north end where you can see the small creek coming out from under the large rocks where it ran “underground” for about 100 feet.   Finally, we drove on north to the Moose Cave trail, that is only 0.25 miles, once again along a steep gorge.  They have done a great job with the trail with easy steps, boardwalks, and rails to climb down the gorge to the entrance to Moose Cave.  This cave is nothing more than a couple of very large rocks that span the gorge with the creek flowing through about 20 feet down a sheer face of granite inside the “cave”  You do have to be careful not to fall into the cave like the moose that fell in leading to the name of the cave.  These hikes were all very short, so unless we wanted to do some of the challenging trails (which we didn’t), there was not much more to do.  So we headed back to the Screw Augur Falls and had a very pleasant lunch at a picnic table alongside the mountain stream where Kal nearly fell asleep watching the water.  We returned to the RV where I was able to keep caught up with this blog.

GregLookingForWater KalWithGlacialRocks ScrewAugurFalls1

Sunday was spent in the campgrounds working on updating my pins of campgrounds on GoogleEarth and enjoying a quiet beautiful last day in Maine.  We both agree that we would return to Maine in the future as it is a great place to spend the summer.  With the coastline to the south and hills in the central region that is a lot to see and do and we have greatly enjoyed it all.  We still have the northern part of Maine and Canada to the north to explore, so we may be back in this area again next summer.