Friday, October 15, 2010

Travels with Gary #6 - More Leaf Peeping

It was 42 degrees and clear as we pulled out of North Conway at 6:45 AM - on this Saturday morning of a three day holiday weekend, at the height of the fall foliage, we wanted to get an early start before the crowds descended on the Kancamagus Highway (named for Kancamagus a native Abenaki Indian Chief in the late 1600s). Our reward was a stunning sunrise and an almost empty road.

The Kancamagus Highway Scenic Drive through the White Mountain National Forest is considered one of the most beautiful routes in the whole country. Coming from Oregon with our numerous scenic roads, you might consider us hard to impress, but this drive was one of the most pleasant and spectacular we have ever experienced. While there were grand vistas, it was the intimate views of the Swift River in the early morning light that made the biggest impression. Gary thought the fresh sound of the water bubbling over the rocks was like the voice of God.

Campgrounds, picnic areas, and trailheads were abundant. A hike to Sabbaday Falls followed a brook through a forest turned golden by the sun shining through the yellow leaves. At the top, the falls shoots through a series of three drops that turn at 90 degrees and then funnel the water down a twenty five foot cliff into a deep pool at the bottom.

Back in the parking lot, we were met with the first tour bus of the day.

A busy overlook near 2,860 foot Kancamagus Pass offered excellent views of the landscape. We learned that the evergreens were heavily logged in the 19th century resulting in a more dominant deciduous forest.

As we descended from the pass around hairpin curves, we noticed on west side there were more balsam fir and red spruce sprinkled among the birch.

Just past Lincoln, we turned north onto Interstate 93 heading toward Franconia State Park. The early start continued to pay off when we reached the parking lot of a major attraction in the park called The Flume Gorge. It was easy to find a parking spot close to the entrance and there was no line when we bought tickets at the visitor's center.

The 2 mile Flume Gorge loop trail first took us past the Great Boulder and then up an incline to Table Rock where over time the waters of Flume Brook have worn away the rock creating a wavy surface. Soon after, we arrived at the Flume which is a gorge extending 800 feet in length, 70 to 90 feet in height and 12 to 20 feet in width. A boardwalk allowed us to walk above the rushing water, an experience I will never forget. At the top, Avalanche Falls drops 45 feet into Flume Brook below.

Beyond the falls, the trail continues through a forest with many trees growing out of solid rock. The trees contort themselves into odd shapes to find soft ground and moisture.

The trail passes over the Pemigewasset River on a bridge supported by the centuries old Sentinel Pine. The tree fell in a 1938 hurricane.

When we returned to the visitor's center, the ticket line circled all the way around the large room. In the packed parking lot, two sets of visitors fought over our parking spot when we pulled out. We were happy to be on our way again.

At the little town of Franconia we left the highway again to look for Polly's Pancake Parlor the only business located in Sugar Hill. No luck at Poly's due to a two hour wait. It wasn't a complete loss -  a pretty yellow trimmed church and a tree-lined country road were worth the drive.

We also found a fair example of the hundreds of New England houses we had been seeing since entering Maine. The typical large 2 or 3 story house at the front was usually white with green or black shutters, a long lower building connected the house to a barn at the back, often painted red. This design must have evolved as a way to deal with the cold winters.

Back in Franconia, we found a deli for lunch and returned to Interstate 93 to drive to St. Johnsbury, Vermont. We ended up staying in St. Johnsbury somewhat by accident because it was the only place in the area we could find a room for Saturday night. What a happy accident. Not only was Main Street lined with impressive churches and Victorian houses, one of the most unusual libraries, the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, is also located there.

St. Johnsbury was home to the Fairbanks family well known for inventing the platform scale (a design you may have noticed at your doctor's office). The successful Fairbanks family, dedicated to philanthropy, started a school, built a natural history museum, and created the Athenaeum in the late 1800s.

The Athenaeum not only houses a library, it also contains an art gallery filled with nineteenth century European and American paintings focusing on landscapes in the Hudson River style. The crowning jewel is "The Domes of the Yosemite" painted in 1867 by Albert Bierstadt. The almost 10 by 15 foot painting, displayed in an elaborate walnut and gold frame, is the centerpiece of the art gallery. Unfortunately, the gallery was closed and except for a few displayed in the library, the paintings were either stored or covered to protect them from repair work on the skylight. We were disappointed, but content with a view of the blue tarp covered Bierstadt through the glass of the double entry doors as well as an informative tour of the library by an enthusiastic docent.

Dinner at Anthony's Diner and a soak in the hotel hot tub brought another exceptional day to an end.

1 comment:

  1. You captured it the way it should be :)