New Hampshire Part I: White Mountains

We learned that campgrounds in New England are only open from May through October each year. Since schools don’t let out until the middle of June, it turns out that the Fourth of July holiday is HUGE. Independence Day is kind of like the official beginning of summer in the Northeast. Where we come from, people are already sick of summer by July 4th, so it took us a bit of time to wrap our heads around this scheduling shift. This is notable because our neighbors at the first campground in Vermont warned us it was going to be hard to find reservations anywhere over the fourth if we didn’t already have something booked (which we didn’t).

As I started calling around to book reservations after Fairfax, it was evident that Ken and Helen knew what they were talking about. No one had room for us.  Everyone was full. I started working on Plan B. Most big box stores like Wal-mart, Home Depot or Lowe’s don’t mind if travelers park an RV in their parking lot for a brief overnight stay. I started reasoning with Mike that we could just start down the path to Maine, stop at a convenient spot, and celebrate the fourth in a concrete parking space. I was trying to convince him it would be fun to set up camp, light a fire in our portable pit, and grill a patriotic dinner while enjoying an all- American view of Wal-mart’s entrance. He suggested I keep calling some other options first.

I finally stumbled upon a place in Eastern New Hampshire that could take us for three nights, but we would have to leave on Saturday, June 29. We decided to reserve a spot at the Timberland Camping Area while it was available, and then keep looking for our next place to visit in Maine. It seems like rain has been a constant factor on this trip, and this travel day was no different. Thunderstorms were forecasted to fire up around the noon hour, so we got up early and left Fairfax by 9:30 am. We usually don’t get away until 11:00 on travel days, so we were doing great!

It did rain on us for most of the drive through Vermont and New Hampshire, but it was light drizzle and nothing dangerous. We got to our new camp around 1:00 in the afternoon and promptly discovered that the mosquitoes in New Hampshire are awful. As Mike was unhooking the car from the tow gear, he warned me that he had stumbled into a swarm of them. Not really… a swarm would be temporary, and these critters were not going anywhere. The bloodsuckers were thick, big, and thirsty. This campground was much larger than our last stop, so we were excited to be able to take the dogs on a proper walk. After we hooked up our water, sewer, and electricity we put the dogs on their leashes and headed out on foot to explore our new neighborhood. That lasted about 10 minutes. Even Cessna was swatting at her face. Time to turn around and head back indoors.

We had arrived uncharacteristically early and didn’t want to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening staring at each other or the television. A campfire was out of the question because those are generally located in the open air – where the mosquitos lived. It was too soon in the day for martinis. We decided to head out in the car and see what was in the next town of Gorham. Mike has a thing about paying a fee at the ATM machine when he withdraws cash. He’s got an app on his phone that helps us locate machines that offer reciprocal services with our credit union and allow us to get cash with no fees. The closest one to us on this day was north in Milan. The plan was to make a quick stop for money and then find a place where we could have an early dinner. Forty-five minutes later we were still searching for the country store with the magical ATM machine. After we finally located the establishment and got our “free” money, we enjoyed a spirited debate on the way back to Gorham. My point of view: the hour and one half of time, coupled with the amount of gas we used driving, cost us more than what we saved in fees. His point of view: nothing is better than saving money, and no fee means saving money. It was late enough in the day for a drink now. We found a locally owned pizza place in the center of town. After feasting on delicious house-made pizza with fresh salads while everyone watched the Red Sox against the Rockies on the flat screen televisions, we called it a day.

We only had two full days on this stop and our second day featured the best weather forecast. If we were going to get out and about, this was the day to do it. The little town of Gorham is just on the edge of the White Mountain National Forest, and literally on the path of the Appalachian Trail. No wonder I kept seeing dirty people walking along the highway with giant back-packs and walking sticks in both hands. The White Mountain National Forest is one of the most heavily used National Forests in the country. Visitors can focus on exploring the history of the area, the covered bridges in the area, the waterfalls in the area, or the multitude of trains that wind through the landscape. We wanted to take the dogs on a hike for some exercise, so we honed in on the Waterfall Trail. This forest boasts more than 100 waterfalls. We set our sights on three of them and loaded the family into the car.

Each of the waterfalls we selected were an easy drive from our campground as we headed south on Hwy 16 out of Gorham. The first stop was Glen Ellis Falls, situated only about .3 of a mile off the highway. We parked the car, followed a path that started with a tunnel under the highway, and let the dogs drag us down a long series of stone stairs.  We could hear the powerful rush of water as we descended, but the majestic view was not revealed until we got to the bottom and peaked our heads around a giant wall of boulders. What we saw was a 64’ waterfall that drops over the headwall of an ancient glacial valley. It was an invigorating sight. We snapped a few photos and then headed back up.

Back in the car, we made our way to the next stop. This time our target was the Crystal Cascade near the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. Pinkham Notch has been a hub for skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking the Presidential Range of the White Mountains since the 1920’s.  The AMC Joe Dodge Lodge and the Visitor Center are located at the base of Mount Washington on the Appalachian Trail. AMC stands for Appalachian Mountain Club. Hikers stay here for a respite during their trek. Here they can relax with a bed, a shower, and a hot meal. After exploring the Visitor Center and watching some of the hikers come and go, we took another 15- minute hike along Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail. At the end we found the falls that drop about 100 feet in two uneven segments. As we followed the trail back to our car, I contemplated taking 6 months of our life to “do the Appalachian Trail”. I’ll admit I was intrigued by the notion of this adventure. Should we put this on our bucket list and think about it after the “Lower 48 in 48” tour? The biggest obstacle to that commitment, in my opinion, would be the lack of showers and other luxuries I would have to forego for so long. No razors, no shampoo, no manicures or facials for 6 months. My solution: read a book about it instead.

Our final stop on the mini waterfall tour was Thompson Falls at Wildcat Mountain. Wildcat Mountain is a ski area in the forest. In the summer the slopes are covered with green grass. Visitors can explore the base by playing Frisbee golf, riding the gondola to the top, zip-lining, or hiking to the falls. This time our hike took us along a narrow foot-path through thick woods for about 45 minutes. This trip was muddy but beautiful. As soon as we came to a break in the dense trees, the “giant clam shaped ledge” was staring us in the face. The only other people we saw there were three park service workers trying to fill in some of the mud holes with small rocks from the pool below. They told us we could let the dogs swim there… but Piper and Cessna didn’t get that golden retriever gene, so we snapped a few more photos and headed back to the trail. We considered riding the gondola to the top after we got back to the base lodge, but the top of the mountain was covered in clouds. We wouldn’t have been able to see anything from up there anyway, so we drove to Wal-mart and did our weekly grocery shopping instead. An activity that was much less exciting, but far more productive.

It rained continuously on our last full day at Timberland Campground. I passed the time by writing in my blog. Mike watched TV and did a crossword puzzle. The weather made us so lazy; I didn’t even want to take the trouble to make dinner. We picked up Subway instead. We planned to return and explore more of The Granite State later in our trip. For now we had our eyes toward Maine for July. Bar Harbor was next on the list and check-out time was 11:00 in the morning.

 

It may be because I loved watching Lily Tomlin do her act on TV when I was a kid... but I can never resist getting my picture taken in a giant chair when I see one.

It may be because I loved watching Lily Tomlin do her act on TV when I was a kid… but I can never resist getting my picture taken in a giant chair when I see one.

A view from our hike in the White Mountains.

A view from our hike in the White Mountains.

Thompson Falls at Wildcat Mountain.

Thompson Falls at Wildcat Mountain.

 

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