Little Big State

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(Insert standard apologies for not blogging recently and empty promises to blog more in the future).  Good, now that’s out of the way …

Knowing that I have seen my share of the US the last couple months, let me challenge you:  Let’s say that on a given day I drove in a certian state, and the drive that day I only covered a third of the state’s length (maybe a little more, but not much), but still made about 250 total miles.  I took state highways mostly, which is mainly why I was on the road for about 7 hours, but was on an interstate for a while too.  The roads wound around a bit; but I can’t get across to you enough that I really did not see much of the total of the state … and I still drove 250 miles.  Saying all of that … Would you believe that I am talking about New Hampshire?  Yeah that tiny one up by Vermont and Maine. Honestly, in my opinion New Hampshire is the most underrated state in the country (not the best mind you, but the most underrated).

While interrupted here and there, I am spending a majority of my time in July & August in New Hampshire – visiting a plant in Laconia, NH and spending my nights at a hotel in Concord 30 minutes away.  Because the hotel had such a good long term rate that it was cheaper to stay up over the weekend, I had a day to explore the state.

I’ve already spent some time around Laconia.  They call that area the ‘Lakes Region’, so named for the four large lakes cutting across the country including Lake Winnipesaukee and it’s 255 islands and 288 miles of shoreline..  Driving on the roads in this area are an adventure.  You can tell that you are on what was the old colonial farmer paths now widened, paved, and not at all straighten.  It is so common that you have to go in the wrong direction to get where you need to go, the state motto might as well be “You Can’t Get There From Here”.

My drive brought me towards the White Mountains.  The gateway to the area on the Eastern side is North Conway (or Conway, I think there was a West Conway too that I drove through, they all kinda ran together).  Every other block had an ice cream stand, a small hotel, or a quaint shopping store.  For those of you back in Wisconsin, it was very similar in feel to Wisconsin Dells – including the amusement park (Storyland) and the threat of water parks.

My destination is a legend of the East Coast — The Mt Washington Auto Road.

Mount Washington is the highest peak in New England at 6,288 feet, and is the most prominent point east of the Mississippi.  I’ve known it as the highest point on the Appalachian Trail as it crosses the peak after a few miles of alpine paths above the treeline.  Mount Washington is also notorious for it’s weather – considered to be the most erratic in the world.  In 1934 from shed that was chained to the ground, weather observers measured a wind gust of 231 mph, a record that stood until 1996 and still stands as the fastest non-tornadic non-cyclonic non-hurricane in recorded history.  They see 250 inches of snow at some points, none at another.  The top could see snow while the bottom is dry, or it could be raining in the valleys and the skies are crystal clear at the summit.

Pitched as the oldest man-made attraction in the US, the Mt Washington Auto Road is an 8 mile long toll road that starts at around 1500ft elevation and climbs to the summit and observatory at the peak.  It takes up to an 11% gradient to get up and is known to chew up break pads and transmissions in the process.  Today, like most days, the summit was clouded over – which made for some harrowing points on the drive where you know there was a cliff to one side of you but the clouds/fog was so thick you couldn’t see much past your hood.  Of course, my four legged co-pilot took this time as an opportunity to go stupid in the car, headbutting daddy’s elbow just as cars passed and constantly running around the backseat, and crop dusting the cabin.  It isn’t the only way up, the famous Mt Washington Cog Rail – a train that grips a rail through a cog system to drive itself up the hill – runs up the mountain from the other side (I threatened to send the pup down that way.  He just wagged his tail and farted).

Mt Washington, as well as the other ‘Presidents’ (Mt Adams, Mt Jefferson, Mt Pierce, etc) make up the White Mountains, a range that crosses and covers most of Northern New Hampshire.  They stand out for hundreds of miles around, and are covered with green hardwood trees where the white granite rocks don’t jut out.  And parts of the range have the white granite jutting out everywhere.  The most famous jutting rock is no longer there but is still quite famous.

The ‘Old Man of the Mountain’ was a set of five granite ledges that when combined looked like a guy’s face.  For those of you who collected the old state quarters (especially when it seemed all you could find was the first ones that came out), New Hampshire had him on the back of thiers.  But, like what rocks will do over time, it started to crack and fall apart.  Then in the middle of a May night in 2000, it fell.  What’s left … well … kinda sucks.  But still to this day his profile is memorialized, not just on quarters but in the shape of their state highway sighs.

From there was the run back to Concord down I-93, including one of those rarities – a section of a US interstate that is only 2 lanes.

I’m back and ready to hang out with the pup in the hotel, which is enough for us.  Just hope he is done being gassy.

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