Oct 10, 2008
|Another geological wonder - Friday, October 10
Our destination today was the Vermont border, but first we wanted to see Franconia Notch State Park and it’s famous Flume Gorge. The Flume and park were so compelling that we spent the whole day there, and by nightfall we were still not far down the road to Vermont. But the New England states are small and we should make it tomorrow.
Franconia Notch State Park is a long narrow park that is bisected by routes 3 and I-93, which has been named the Franconia Notch Parkway through this section of the state. We followed route 3 to the Visitor Center where we joined a lot of other people who had come to see it too. This is one of the biggest weekends of the year for New Hampshire, when it is invaded by Bostonians who consider it their backyard playground.
A note about the people here:
The difference between Canada and the eastern U.S. could not be more distinct than in the attitude of people you meet on the street or on a walk in the park. In Canada everyone you meet looks you in the eye. They invariably nod and say ‘G’day’ (which is Canadian for ‘Hello’) and nine times out of ten this is accompanied by a friendly smile. Here it feels like we’re back in Jersey, where people look down or look away and almost no one looks you in the eye or greets you in any way. If you initiate contact by saying ‘hello’ to them a lot of them look nervous and uncertain how to respond. They give you this “What the hell does he want?” look, and mumble something unintelligible before scurrying on their way. This is not to say people in New Jersey are unfriendly - we met some wonderful people in New Jersey. They just have a different culture and it’s definitely not as open or outgoing.
At the Franconia Notch Visitor Center we watched an excellent video, that included a good commentary on New Hampshire’s famous Old Man in the Mountain. The ‘Old Man’ was a granite outcropping left centuries ago by a receding glacier. The rocks that made up the face like profile seemed to defy gravity, and the feature became synonymous with the State of New Hampshire. It became their unofficial logo and it is seen everywhere, in their literature, on stamps and on their state highway road signs. People came from all over the world to see it - at least until 2003. Then one night it tumbled to the valley floor, and when New Hampshirites woke the next morning the Old Man in the Mountain was gone.
The loss generated much anguish locally, but in truth the rocks should have tumbled long ago. For decades they were held together artificially by cables and turnbuckles that finally just could not hold them any longer. Visitors still come, but now they come to see where the Old Man was. The mountain is up the canyon, and we saw it later at the end of the day.
We paid the $44 fee for the privilege of walking the Flume trail and riding the aerial tram at Cannon Mountain, and we took off on the two mile hike to see the gorge. If the fee seems high it is because New Hampshire has no sales tax or state income tax. All of their revenue is generated by property taxes and a system of fees. The trail was a good one, and the walk was one for the memory books.
The Flume is a gorge cut deeply into the pink Conway granite of the park, by Flume Brook. The granite was formed millions of years ago beneath the surface of the earth. During it’s formation, molten basalt was forced into vertical cracks that formed in the granite as it cooled. Once the formation was forced to the surface, water and ice began to eat away the softer basalt, carving a gorge that is 80 feet deep in places. Flume Brook continues to flow through the gorge, and it is still working on both the basalt and the granite every day of the year. As the video said, the gorge is changing daily, and it will never again look the same as it does today.
The state has built a boardwalk to give visitors access to this beautiful place, and without it you could never see it because the gorge is too narrow and deep to be walked. In places the boardwalk clings precariously to the walls of the cliff, and below it the brook water rushes noisily over the rocks. Ferns grow in the shade here, and above you trees stretch high to find the sunlight. There are many visitors, and the boardwalk is crowded with people from all over the world. Hiking the trail you hear many languages spoken.
We followed the trail on it’s loop back to the Visitor Center, and there we had a good lunch before heading up the canyon to Cannon Mountain. That is the place where the Old Man in the Mountain once stood, and there is also a tram that takes you to the top of this long time New Hampshire ski mountain. We took the tram, and spent an hour or more walking the rim trail at the top, and climbing to the top of the observation tower. There was 80 mile visibility today, and we could see all the way to the mountains of Quebec.
At the bottom of the mountain there is a free Ski Museum which we found quite interesting. We topped our visit off with cones of Black Bear ice cream which is absolutely delicious. It is raspberry vanilla with chunks of raspberry filled chocolate in it. From the tram we walked down to the Old Man viewing platform, a quarter mile walk in the setting sun. There was really nothing to see but a blank cliff, but two fly fishermen and the work of many local beavers made the walk quite interesting anyway.
We got to our campground in a town called ‘Bath’ just before dark, and we hooked up and settled in with cable and WiFi to keep us company. It was very cold, and before the night was over it got down to 33.6 degrees. Time to start heading south once we’re clear of Vermont. The closing campground situation may speed that migration too. The next few days will tell.