Re-visiting the White Mountains

... no traffic, no snow, no crowds -- just sunshine and cookies

from Don Norris

The East Branch of the Pemigawasett, near the Kancamagus crossing.

We couldn't wait for summer. Lorry and I just had to get away for a break. And so, in spite of the fact that we've been there, done that at least two dozen times in the past 80 years, we took three days to drive up to North Conway.

Once we got past Manchester, there was scarce traffic. Once we got past Concord, there was virtually no body. We had the highway to ourselves. And once we reached Plymouth, the REAL scenery began. Mountains rose up, the sun replaced the sprinkles, white clouds capped the heights -- and it was like being all alone in one of the most beautiful spots in the forty-eight -- maybe even the whole fifty.

An overlook, some 15 miles east of Lincoln.

And once we reached the mountains, the sun broke through, and it was better than Springtime In The Rockies. We visited little towns along the way, abandoning the superhighway for old Route 3-A, passed through little villages, crossed the Pemigawasset several times just to see what was there, and climbed into the White Mountains on the Kancamagus Highway -- some 45 miles of up-and-down, round-and-around, beautiful scenes everywhere.

We stopped once to pick up a sapling to carve another walking stick, then paused at the several overlooks for photos, but declined jumping into the fast-flowing Swift River at Lower Falls -- water was too fast, too chilly to go swimming that late afternoon -- but it is a wondrous spot to swim among the rocks -- just watch out for the roaring current on the far side.

Another look a the East Branch.

At Albany Bridge, straddling the Swift  -- was a beautiful example of historic covered bridges, and we crossed the river to a little-known backroad on the north side -- virtually alone for five miles, which took us to West Side Road to avoid the traffic around Conway. It was only five miles up the Saco River to another covered bridge in North Conway. Just beautiful scenery.

Elegance and fine dining at the Stonehenge.

We had reservations (two nights) at the Stonehurst Inn -- a classic family mansion built around 1880, secluded on a high knoll just north of North Conway. Really classy, and the fee included both dinner and breakfast with choice of the menu -- really great food, and a good bar. We ate so much for diner that we had little room for breakfast.

Casual cruising down the Pemi, above Plymouth

Most of our second day in North Conway was spent in the hundreds of shops -- some dating back a hundred years, others (like Walmart) brand new. There were bargains galore: I bought six picture frames ($30 each in Boston) for $1.99 each at Christmas Tree Inn. I also bought (at Walmart) a new GPS portable unit to replace my old one -- I like to know where I am when we drive through the mountains. Same price at Walmarts at home, but we saved the sales tax.

Covered bridges abound in New Hampshire.

The highlight of the trip was the ride up through Crawford Notch. It is an easy climb (in the car), with half a dozen small side-roads to spectacular waterfalls, through Intervale, Glen and Barlett, by such hidden places as Harts Location and Hadleys Purchase, and through Crawford Notch itself. There are pull-off places all along the road.

The Presidential Range will be off to the right, along with towering Mount Washington. Once past the notch, you can take a side road up to the Mount Washington Railroad, which huffs and puffs its way up the southwest side to the six-thousand-foot peak.

Canon Mountain -- one can take the lift to the top.

Our route took us to Bethlehem and Franconia, where we got an unusual view of the ski area at Canon Mountain -- where I learned to ski so many years ago. It looks easy from this view, but it is one of the steepest, most difficult mountains in New England. My first skis were army surplus, made of wood, seven-feet-six long, and with bindings that worked with just about any boot. I made some spectacular crashes on that mountain, but I'd love to try it again -- at 82.

The trip takes about two hours to get to the west end of the Kancamagus Highway, near Lincoln, and then another 50 miles over the mountains to Conway. North Conway is a brief 10 miles north.

Our trip took the first day going up -- because we made so many stops, a second day exploring the area, and a little longer trip to return to Melrose via Crawford notch. It was a good time.

July 5, 2013

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