This spring our plan was to complete our goal to camp in all 50 states. That is what brought us to New Hampshire and Franconia Notch State Park. Franconia Notch is a scenic mountain pass, traversed by a parkway winding between the high peaks of the Kinsman and Franconia mountain ranges. As a teenager I camped in Franconia Notch State Park with my family. At that time we were able to see a geological feature known as the Old Man of the Mountain. This granite formation has been here for centuries, and is featured on the New Hampshire quarter. Over the decades, there was increasing erosion and decay of the formation and in the summer of 1958 the state emplaced four steel rods with huge turnbuckles, weighing up to 700 pounds, to hold the forehead in place. They sealed cracks with fiberglass to keep water from seeping into the granite and prevent further erosion. Unfortunately on May 3, 2003, it all failed. Apparently the granite that supported the chin had been weakened by decades of water reacting with the feldspar potash and the chin fell from the mountain. Once the chin fell away, the remainder of the face was unsupported and it collapsed within seconds – The Old Man of the Mountain was gone.
Since my trip as a teenager, the park opened up an RV park near Cannon Mountain. The sites are at the end of the parking lot for the Echo Lake beach. This may not sound pleasant, but it made them real easy to back into. There are pine trees between every site, and the sites back up to a grassy slope with Cannon Mountain in the background, a great view. I don’t know what it is like in the summer, but this early in the year, there was hardly anyone in the lot.
As soon as we were set up we drove to the Visitor Center to get general information on the park and information on hiking in the area. We only had part of the afternoon left and we decided to take a short hike at a site called the Basin. Here a mountain brook had eroded the rock face and formed a rock bowl, or basin. It is amazing to see what water can do to solid rock, over the centuries it continually and relentlessly wore away at the rock, the power is irresistible.
The weather was clear the next morning and we hiked up to the Artist’s Bluff where we had a spectacular view of the Franconia Notch, Echo Lake, and our campground. From there we continued to the higher peak of Bald Mountain. The trail was well marked, but not for the faint-hearted. At times it was more like rock climbing than hiking, but that only added a bit of spice to the experience.
After we cleaned up we decided to give ourselves a special treat and drove to Patty’s Pancake Parlor for lunch. Obviously their specialty is pancakes. They offer different flour and add-ins, such as chocolate chips and blueberries. Because each guest can order multiple combinations, the servers prepare the pancakes themselves. In short, the food was good, the prices reasonable, and the service was great. I recommend Patty’s Pancake Parlor to anyone visiting Franconia Notch.
It looked like that day was going to have the best weather so we decided to hike the Flume gorge that afternoon. Other than the Old Man of the Mountain, the most significant geologic feature is the Flume. The Flume is a natural gorge with spectacular waterfalls, vistas, and covered bridges. The trail is paved for the first part, but then you go uphill along a walkway/stairs that allows you to look down into the flume. The way the water has cut into the mountain in such a sharp gorge is impressive. At spots you can see where dark volcanic lava has filled in the cracks formed in the lighter shade of granite. The covered bridges added something special to the hike.
The next morning we awoke to somewhat clear skies. Partly cloudy is turning into the new clear. Is this rain ever going to stop? We took advantage of the good weather, packed a lunch and drove to the trailhead for the Falling Waters Trail. This trail goes to the top of the ridge where it meets the Appalachian Trail at a spot called the Haystack. We set out, planning to make it to the Haystack. The trail started our easy enough, but soon we were climbing. On our way to the top, we had to traverse four “wet” crossings. This is where the Walker Brook and Dry Brook crossed the trail and there was no bridge on the trail. These crossings definitely added some excitement to the hike, and we had a few challenges on a couple of them.
As we climbed the scenery of the brooks tumbling down the mountain was magnificent. As opposed to the Flume where we were restricted to walkways and trails, here we could go wherever we wanted. We thought some of the parts of the trail to Artist’s Bluff were tough, but climbing over the rocks and boulders on the Fallen Waters Trail made those look mild. After the fourth water crossing we took a break and chatted with other hikers as they passed us. Finally we decided that it was time to turn around. I checked my GPS and determined that we had climbed 1130 feet since we left the trailhead, no wonder we were feeling it! You would think it would be easier going back down, but that was not the case. As we descended we had to traverse the climbs we had made over those rocks and boulders. We had to be careful as more climbers get hurt going down than going up.
Earlier, at the visitor center, we had seen information on a program where you could purchase a card for $25 that would cover the cost of your rescue if you got into trouble. As we started out on the Fallen Waters Trail we saw a sign that clearly stated if you are not properly prepared or act recklessly and had to be rescued, you would pay the cost of that rescue. I joked about paying $25 in case you are stupid, but as we discussed it we changed our minds. If you’re a local and are on the trails a lot it would be fairly easy to make a mistake and get hurt to the extent that you had to be rescued, and $25 wasn’t a bad insurance policy.
We made a couple more stops on our way back to the trailer and one was Boise Rock. In the 1800s a teamster named Thomas Boise was caught in a blizzard and took shelter under this rock. To survive he had to kill and skin his horse, and wrap himself in the hide. When his rescuers found him the next day, the horse’s hide was frozen around his body and they had to cut it off of him with axes, but he survived the blizzard because of it.
Our final stop was at the Old Man of the Mountain Profile Plaza. Here we were able to see in detail how people had attempted to preserve the Old Man’s face on the mountain and how nature took her course in spite of their efforts. One of the best features of the Plaza are the metal stands they have built to replicate the profile that used to be the Old Man of the Mountain. When you stand on the designated footprints for your height, you can look at this metal arm and see this replica of what used to be the profile of the Old Man of the Mountain. How special to allow people who have heard of this to still be able to see what is no longer there!
Next to the Old Man of the Mountain Profiler Plaza is the New England Ski Museum. Downhill skiing got its start in the United States in this area. In fact, the first Ski School in the USA is in a small village nearby. This museum is dedicated to that history of skiing. The museum is small, well done, and free to all. When we visited it, they had a special exhibit on the 10th Mountain Division that was formed in World War II at the urging of skiers and mountaineers from this area.
The next morning we had the “enjoyment” of packing and hooking up in the rain. Next stop, Burlington, VT.