Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Week in New Hampshire

Today is July 28th and it is currently about 2:30 PM. I'm sitting under the awning of the motorhome in the pouring rain. We have had a nonstop deluge since about eight o'clock this morning. It is actually rather pleasant, which surprises me. The rain keeps the mosquitoes down and the awning keeps this little 8 x 15' patch of ground reasonably dry. The sound of the rain is quite soothing and since no one else is foolish enough to sit in the rain, I have my little patch of semi-dry ground all to myself.

Vicki at her deepest submergence
We left Vermont on the 22nd and drove to Shelburne, New Hampshire which is a tiny, wide spot in the road about 5 miles from Gorham, which is the nearest town big enough that you might actually find it on a map if you took the trouble to go looking. This is in northern New Hampshire, an area they like to refer to as "the Great North Woods". It turns out that New Hampshire is essentially exactly like Vermont except that it is upside down and the mountains are white instead of green. The area within a 100 mile radius of us is just vast tracts of forest land.

We are staying in a motorhome park called Timberland Campground. The camping sites are gravel but quite solidly packed so we are not sinking into the mud as we have at some of our previous stops. It is heavily wooded and we are nestled in amongst the trees. The only downside here is the water pressure is only about 25-30 PSI, which is really inadequate for a decent shower, so we have to run the water pump to punch up the flow and every couple of days I spend 20 min. refilling the water tank.

Floating in Emerald Pool
When we signed in, they gave us a list of waterfalls and swimming holes in the area and we more or less immediately tracked one down called Emerald Pool in the White Mountain National Forest. There was a pullout along the side of the highway and a disturbingly steep 30 yard "trail" down the side of a cliff that we and the puppies navigated with only minor injuries. At the bottom was a small cascade with a pool about 15 feet deep in the center. The trick of swimming in a rock lined stream bed is the transition from dry land. Walking along the dry rocks at the River's edge is no problem. Swimming in the water is no problem. But the rocks along the edge of the water are unstable, slick as snot and it is almost impossible to see through the water reflections to figure out exactly where you are putting your feet. I was pretty sure I was going to twist an ankle or shatter a shin bone. Fortunately, I was able to make it the first few feet with no major injuries. Once you get out to about knee depth you can just flop forward onto your belly and dog paddle out to deeper water.

The water was moderately cold but we have certainly swum in colder, for example at the Great Lakes last year, so I got in and got used to it fairly quickly. Vicki got wet up to her belly button and then chickened out and headed back for shore. Wuss.  The schnoodles were content to sit on the rocks and watch, but Julian went splashing into the water and Christopher spent a half hour trying to manage him. He did not want to go in beyond shoulder level and when we dragged him out further we found out why. He is allegedly half Labrador but for a retriever he is the crappiest swimmer I have ever seen. He desperately wanted to chase a frisbee out into the pool but he would get into water about as deep as his chest, then turn around and retreat. He eventually decided to stay on shore with Vicki which gave Christopher a chance to do a little swimming. There was a large rock on the far side of the pool you could climb up and use as a diving platform, which Christopher tried out but I decided not to press my luck. I have a waterproof camera that I bought several years ago but I use it so infrequently that I didn't know how to set it for action shots… so, what the hell, here is a picture of a blur jumping off of a rock into the water.

We transitioned out of the water again (in my case by crawling on my belly like a reptile), put on our mountaineering gear and scaled the trail back up to the road. Literally within seconds of getting back in the car it started pouring rain, which it kept up for about an hour.

Chris and friend at Frenchman's Hole
By the next day it had largely cleared up and we went out looking for more waterfalls. We are only about 5 miles from Maine, so we snuck over the border to Bethel and headed north looking for Frenchman's Hole. This involved turning off the main highway and going a couple miles this way and then a couple miles that way, then 3 miles until the pavement runs out then 2 miles on the unpaved road then turn left across two unmarked bridges, then look for the pullout on the left. The fact that we found it at all was pretty surprising. The trail from the road took you to the top of a waterfall. You could jump into the pool below, but the only way back to the top was to climb a rope someone had thoughtfully tied around the tree. For me, that meant it
Only swimmer at Frenchman's Hole
would be a one-way trip, so I stayed and swam in a shallower pool at the top of the waterfall. This was only about 4 feet deep and Vicki and Christopher could not be bothered. I enjoyed myself anyway.

We climbed back into the car and continued up US Highway 26 to Grafton State Park, the home of Screw Auger Falls. This is a really beautiful area that was carved out by the glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age and there are apparently a whole series of waterfalls, but we only went to the ones that were easiest to walk to. You can appreciate natural beauty and be lazy at the same time.
Screw Auger Falls

Osprey nest seen along the Moose Tour
That night we had tickets for the Gorham Moose Tour. They take you out in a mini-bus to go look for moose which are a big thing in the Great North Woods. The moose population is declining at a disturbing rate so it is unclear how much longer you will be able to see these gigantic creatures. The lady who drove our moose bus has been doing this for 17 years and says she is usually successful because she just will not turn around and come back until you see at least one moose. She is apparently more than a little moose obsessed. She goes out "moosing" on her own several times a week AFTER she finishes doing the Moose Tour or gets up at 4 AM to do a little early morning moosing before sun up. Christopher was astonished to learn that there is more than one four o'clock in a 24-hour period.

Umbabog Lake
We took off from Gorham at 7 PM and headed north on Highway 16 through Berlin and wound up driving all the way to Umbagog Lake, some 50 miles north, in search of the uncooperative beasts. In all that distance, all we saw was the hindquarters of one stinking moose as it disappeared into the trees. Every few minutes the crazy moose lady behind the wheel would tell another story about the great moose viewing she did last week or last month or in her backyard a couple of years ago. As the hour grew later and later each story got just a little bit more desperate.

Finally she gave up and turned the bus back around towards Gorham and, at last, some moose started showing up. This is partially because  it was
Moose in the dark
pitch dark and by Jack Lighting the sides of the road you could spot the reflections in their eyes, so they were easier to find but harder to really see. Crazy Moose Lady was actually pretty good at locating them and getting a spotlight onto them so you could get a brief look. And moose don't immediately dart off the way a deer might. Ever since we wiped out all the wolves, they have no natural predators, so they just sauntered along doing apparently whatever they would have done if we weren't there. We saw a couple mother/calf pairs cross the road just in front of us.  Auto -moose collisions are a fairly major problem around here. 

Unfortunately I did not bring along my big flash, so I just had the tiny flash on top of the camera to grab a couple of moose pictures out through the bus door.  The seats on the bus were only about half as wide as my personal seat, so the Moose Tour was not very comfortable and by the time we finally got back to Gorham at about 11 o'clock I was seriously thinking this was more Moose Tour than I was really interested in.

On the road up Mt. Washington
The next morning Christopher claimed to feel a little under the weather so Vicki and I went touring without him. We went to the top of Mount Washington which is the tallest mountain in New England at a towering 6800 feet. They bill it as having the "worst weather in the world" which I suspect would be questioned by the researchers in Antarctica. It does, however, indisputably hold the record for the highest recorded wind speed of 231 mph recorded at the summit in 1934. This is kind of surprising given that the altitude is about the same as that of Big Bear Lake in Southern California, but it is also 1000 miles further north, which I'm sure makes a significant difference. Due to the high winds and cold northern winters, the tree line is at only about 5000 feet and the top of Mount Washington is barren rock.

Tip-Top House on Mt. Washington
There is a trail to the top of Mount Washington which is an offshoot of the Appalachian Trail and numerous hikers travel to the summit by foot everyday in the summer. We did not take the trail to the top. There is also a cogwheel train, similar to the ones at Pikes Peak but here they only go half as far and charge twice as much as in Colorado, so we decided not to take the cogwheel train either. The road to the top is another privately owned toll road, so we didn't get off scott free.  It is steep and winding and you have to drive the entire 8 miles in first gear. We were not in a hurry and the scenery was pleasant enough although it was quite hazy again and less than ideal for photographs.

Wooden building chained to the rock
At the summit there are a handful of buildings including an old rock building that has been there for over a century. There's also a newer building run by the state at includes restrooms and a snack bar. The old wooden observation building where they took the 1934 wind measurements is still there as well. It is the only time I have ever seen a building literally chained to the ground to keep it from blowing away. While we were there the temperature was about 40° and the wind speed about 40 miles an hour which made it feel right chilly and we pretty quickly retreated back down the mountainside. Vicki has a thing about heights and the narrow road with no guard rails had her heart galloping so although she drove up the mountain she refused to drive down. I actually found no problem going down except that we were immediately preceded by two motorcyclists who were even queasier than Vic and proceeded most of the way down the hill at about 5 mph. Oh well, we weren't in any particular hurry.
Slow motorcycles

We continued on down Highway 16 to Conway, which is a heavily touristified town at the southern border of White Mountain National Forest, then turned east on the Kancamagus Hwy, eventually making a loop back to Gorham.  The Kancamagus Hwy is supposed to be famously beautiful in the fall but in July is just another road with dense green forest on either side. There are some camping areas, but almost no day use areas. We eventually found a picnic table alongside the highway to eat our lunch. Other than that, there was not much to do except drive. There were a fair number of hiking trails along the road and at each one the parking lot was packed and cars were parked along the roadside for 100 yards on either side of the trail head.  Way more hiking traffic than I am use to.

Albino Moose

Mounted trophy
Saturday we made a northern loop from Gorham up to Dixville Notch and then back down to Lancaster. Christopher was feeling better and did all the driving. This drive turned out actually to be much more scenic than
the loop through the White Mountains. We stopped in Errol to see the L.L. Cote outfitting store whose motto is "if we don't have it, you don't need it". They have a fairly large collection of mounted heads and stuffed animals including a more or less albino moose which apparently gets a good deal of comment. They had a large collection of firearms of which Christopher wanted one each but we held ourselves back. He did get a couple of items of clothing and some flip flops, so he is now ready for the backwoods.
LL Coat Outfitters
Lunch on the road
At Dixville Notch we found a small state park with picnic tables where we ate our sandwiches and bananas, then took the half-mile trail up to a fairly nice waterfall. Christopher and Julian made the death-defying climb up to the top of the falls while I stayed back to record the event for posterity. It was a pleasant hike and made a nice break in the middle of the trip.

Back at Colchester we had arranged to have our mail delivered. Ours arrived with no problem but Christopher's mail had not gotten to the campground by our departure date. He had apparently ordered a watch to be delivered to the mail forwarding service in South Dakota and then it got forwarded with his regular mail which made it a bigger parcel and slowed down the delivery (as near as we can figure it out). So he spent the day yesterday driving back to Lake Champlain to retrieve his mail and said watch while we spent the day in the motorhome without him. I spent most of the day mining and building castles in a computer game called Minecraft that Christopher has gotten me roped into. Vicki wasted most of her day cleaning.  Ewww!  It rained off and on during the day so we were just as happy not to be out touring

A watch and a half
So here is the watch the Christopher spent five hours driving to retrieve. It has a large analog watch face to tell you what time it is where you are currently at and another, smaller analog watch face to tell you what time it is someplace else.  It weighs about 4 lbs.  It has half a dozen buttons and knobs scattered around the rim, five of which I'm sure Christopher has no idea what they are for. And it has a tiny little compass. Given that it is encased in ferrous metal, I have my doubts about the compass' accuracy but Christopher seems to be inordinately proud of it. Oh, he also got a cooling fan for his laptop which at least seems somewhat practical.

That brings us to today. It was supposed to start clearing up but apparently the weather service change their mind at the last minute and called for ceaseless rain instead. And that is why I am sitting under my awning blogging this afternoon.  I am smoking a pork shoulder for dinner which allows me to moan and groan about having to spend all day cooking when in reality I'm just sitting on my ass.  Sweet.  Tomorrow we pack up and head for Maine and unending lobster. I can hardly wait.

Kayakers on the Androscoggin River

Intrepid hikers at Dixville Notch
The falls at Dixville Notch

1 comment:

  1. I just want you know - I love your waterfall pictures. There is just something about a waterfall that fascinates me. But I really think you are crazy for swimming in that COLD water. Hope your weather improves for those lobster dinners.