Revisiting the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Part 1

The Old Man of the Mountain fell apart in 2003, a victim of thousands of years of weather and an ultimately unsuccessful patch job. This rocky profile on the side of Cannon Mt  inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, The Great Stone Face. Less popular but still intact and still amazing to look at, Indian Head has now become the rock to see. It juts out on the south face of Mt Pemigewasset in Lincoln, NH. These facial profiles are thousands of years old and both were notable tourist draws when my parents took my brother and me to the White Mountains on summer vacation in

Indian Head still near Lincoln, NH. Some might see a vague resemblance to my dad!

the early 1960s. That was a magical fortnight. We visited caves and chasms, picnicked along river banks, climbed hills, rode cable cars up mountains, caught frogs at the motel pond at night. I soaked it all up. My brother’s most indelible memory is probably getting to eat pancakes every morning for breakfast, something I only managed for part of the trip.

Recently, I booked two nights in Concord, NH  for a spur-of-the-moment getaway. I would spend some time seeing my old stomping grounds near Concord, cruise around my alma mater in Durham (rah rah, UNH!), then stroll around Portsmouth, a small harbor city with a long-established arts tradition that gives it a unique character and a new incarnation as a foodie destination as well. Plus, I’ve always loved the tugboats. To finish up, I’d do a little shopping at the outlets over the bridge from Portsmouth in Kittery, Maine. I’ve made this sort of trip in one form or another a couple of times over the years, usually when I find myself wanting to get away but not wanting to bother researching somewhere new or costly.

What time is it in Concord, NH?

Once settled in my hotel room, I spread out brochures and maps looking for something different to do. The information for the White Mountains destinations begged for closer scrutiny. More remarkably, the map said Concord and Woodstock were only 60 miles apart. Why did I think the White Mts were so far north that getting there might take half the day? No idea. Maybe I was remembering the trek from Long Island all those years ago, when riding in the back seat of a car with no a/c triggered a queasy stomach and made even a short trip seem eternal.

Within half an hour, my mind was made up. The original, vague plan took a sharp and definite turn. I would drive north to the mountains to see an area I hadn’t seen in almost 50 years.

I took the “long way ’round the barn” to get there. Not long after leaving Concord, I turned off the highway and headed east to the Lakes Region. There are a good half-dozen large lakes and a bunch of smaller ones attracting thousands of visitors, especially in summer, from other parts of NH, New England and beyond. Winnipesaukee is the largest, so I drove that way.

Lake Winnipesaukee, NH. Note small gauge rail track in foreground for scenic train rides

I lived in NH for ten years, in and around Concord, but the Lakes Region remained unexplored territory; I’ve never been much of a beach person. For those who are, the beaches and surrounding areas are filled with second homes, lakeside cottages and guest houses, game arcades, snack and gift and rental shops as well as fancier restaurants and hotels.

After stopping to soak up the atmosphere and take a few photos, I hit the road north again. Along the way, I had to stop at the self service car wash, not because my car was dirty but so I could check out the dog wash. You might think it’s just a cute gimmick until you realize that dogs get into all sorts of stuff on vacation and might really need a good hosing off. The coin-operated dog wash is equipped with a ramp to help dogs get up into the tub, a hose, a vacuum and a blow dryer, all under an awning to keep pooch and pamperer out of the sun. Brilliant.

Dog wash near Laconia NH

Dog wash near Laconia NH

A pleasant if unexpected feature of the highway was the complete lack of billboards. The only signs were the official ones for each exit. Amazing, but it seemed more difficult to gauge progress, not being told on a regular basis how far it was to Clark’s Trained Bears and Trading Post! Trees turned the highway into a deep, wide, green canyon. Unfortunately, some terrific vistas were less so because the trees were so tall and thick they obscured some of the panorama.

The day was bright with clear skies or puffy fair weather clouds which made for some perfect pictures when the trees weren’t in the way.

first glimpse of the White Mts

First stop, after several stops for panoramic photos and one for snacks, was Lost River. This geological jumble is a network of named caves – mostly kid-sized spaces – strewn among piles of glacial boulders, connected by a maze of wooden walkways and steps. The first part of the trail descended into the ravine. The trail began with steps that led to a landing, then more steps, then another landing and on and on. Every so often, there was a bump-out with a wooden bench for anyone needing a rest. Other bump-outs provided viewing spots for especially photogenic features (and another chance to rest).

According to the ticket seller, the path had been expanded a couple of times since my last visit. The website (above) says the most recent upgrade was just this year. Perfect timing, then.

Descent into Lost River Gorge

The entire route covers three-quarters of a mile and it took me about an hour and a half to complete. There were only one or two caves I could get into. The rest were either too small for me to enter, especially while carrying a bag and camera or the entrance required me to double up and crouch so low I was concerned I might not

Mind your head!  Duck waaaay under the rocks to go into the cave

stand up straight again. And, as anyone who’s ever been to Lost River knows, anyone above the age of about ten is probably too big to fit into the Lemon Squeezer. A wooden gate pre-measures size so no one gets stuck in the cave. I still can’t recall if the gate was there in the early 1960s or the guide just eyeballed kids before letting them/us through. I’m guessing the latter. Climbing out of the gorge was gradual, with long stretches of stairs that zigged and zagged up and up, in and out of the trees; they looked like the magical stairs at Hogwarts!

Waterfall among rocks

Same waterfall, opposite view

Back at the gift shop, threading my way through a scrum of chattering camp kids on a field trip, I got a few polished stones and postcards then headed for the next destination – The Flume. That’s Part 2.

This entry was posted in All Suzanne's travel essays, All Suzanne's travels, US travel and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Revisiting the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Part 1

  1. John Becker says:

    Great Post. Really enjoyed reading it!

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