Recently I was in the White Mountains of New Hampshire for a week. Partly for vacation and partly to scout out potential excursions for Element Mountain. I had been to the White Mountains before and even near to where I recently traveled, but never with the depth of this trip. Beings that Element Mountain is located in the northern Green Mountains of Vermont, the drive to the White Mountains is just over two hours and quite easy to get to.
The White Mountains are part of the Appalachian Range that spans from northern Georgia all the way up to northern Maine. The Appalachian Trail traverses the White Mountains in various sections on its way south or north, depending upon one’s direction of travel. I was specifically visiting the Franconian Range and Kinsman Range, both sections of the White Mountains and the Appalachian Range.
Though it is a mystery just how the White Mountains got their name, it is no mystery as to why the Appalachian Mountains are named such. Of course it is not common knowledge and so far as I know, is not taught in most schools outside of Florida. Why would the history of the name be taught in Florida you might ask, when the Appalachian Mountains end, or begin in northern Georgia and thus never touch Florida? To answer that we need to go back to the 1500’s.
There is a small area containing towns near Tallahassee that had been constructed by the Spanish during the 1500’s. The towns were designed in the typical “mission” style of Spanish culture. Archeologists call the towns “Apalachee”. But why? History explains that there was a very advanced Native American tribe who called themselves “Apalachee” that lived in the region of northern Georgia and into North Carolina. The supposed first Europeans to encounter them were the French around the 1560’s. A Frenchman by the name of René Goulaine de Laudonnière led a band of people north from the Florida region. I believe they were Protestants seeking gold, if memory serves. It is also said that the Apalachee led the band of people into the mountains of northern Georgia and southern North Carolina (present day southern Appalachians) where they showed them locations to find both gold and silver. René Goulaine de Laudonnière in return named the southern mountain range “Les Montes Apalachien” to bestow honor to the tribe. Well it was not long after when the severely imbalanced Spanish Conquistadores moved north out of Florida and did what they did best, waged war and annihilated the French.
Back to the name. Since archeologists cannot yet ascertain who exactly build the ancient structures around Tallahassee and over into Alabama, they call the sites “Apalachee” after a known tribe thought to also have inhabited northern Florida as well as northern Georgia and southern North Carolina. So what does Apalachee mean? We know it was the name of a tribe, but what does the name actually mean? Looking at the language of the tribal people of that region, Lower Creek, Hitchiti, Oconee, Sawoki, Miccosukee, Chiaha and Apalachicola we find the word “Apalachi” which translates to “people who bring the light”, or carry the torch. The name Appalachian came out of Apalachee and so became the name of the most prominent and well known mountain range east of the Mississippi. The Appalachians are the torch carriers, the bringers of light, and how fitting beings they are near to the first of Turtle Island to see the new day’s light of the sunrise.
Like many sections of the Appalachians, the White Mountains gained their own unique sub-name. The compartmentalization of names is quite amazing. We have the Appalachian Range of which the White Mountains are part of. But in the White Mountains we also find the Kinsman Range, Sandwich Range, Franconian Range, Carte-Moriah Range and Mahoosuc Range in the far eastern section of the state. All those names and all the ranges they describe are all the same grand mountain range – the Appalachians.
No matter where the sub-names came from, they are certainly a magnificent stretch of the Appalachians. I have been to every stretch of the Appalachian range, from the southernmost skinny peaks of northern Georgia, the great Smokey’s of North Carolina and Tennessee, the blue hazed Shenandoah’s of Virginia, Greenbrier in Maryland, it’s long and wondrous expanse at it travels across Pennsylvania to exit by the Delaware Water Gap, Highpoint State Park New Jersey, crossing the Hudson River in New York, through the lush Housatonic River valley of Connecticut, over the Berkshires and Taconic Range in Massachusetts, upward into the Green Mountains of wild Vermont, over into the high White’s of New Hampshire, all the way up to the barren expanse of the monolith Mt Katahdin in northern Maine. I love them all. Each possesses something unique and lovely, deep and powerful to its special section of the Appalachian range. The White Mountains are no different.
The Lost River Gorge is quite the amazing place. I found its energy to be quite powerful and very deep, something that moves the very core of you and makes you want to stay. The place is basically a labyrinth of ancient boulder caves that stretch through a narrow gorge in the mountains. The caves themselves are quite interesting and though they are boulder caves, there is plenty of pitch blackness and down and dirty crawling. I think what makes them so unique is the river that thunders down through the gorge and even through some of the caves! The river has not only carved some of the boulders into great smooth basins, but also it brings a life to the gorge that truly exhilarates the spirit.
In a few of the caves there are planks creating a primitive boardwalk that leads you through the narrow and sometimes downright skinny corridors. The reason for the planks is that under you, in the dark, the river is rushing with great force and even plummeting into deeper recesses of the underground labyrinth. Quite impressive! The surround forest is your typical northeast mixed hardwood and boulder strewn patchwork from the last ice age when mile thick ice sheets receded and left their long lasting marks upon the land. The energy is surprisingly clean, primitive, wild and fresh with the sheer amount of visitors that wander and crawl through there. I would love to go back there when nobody was around, or perhaps just a handful of people that went with me who had the same ideas of taking one’s time and really spending the day connecting more fully with the place.
The town of Lincoln is a nice enough place, but not my kind of town for living. Well no town is my kind of town for living, but Lincoln has a feel to it that is year-round touristy with an underlying energy of depression. Though not a big place, it has a great many people wandering through it due to all the tourist attractions in the area. Lots of hiking trails and mountains to walk up, ski resorts for the winter crowd that also contain summer activities, the Kancamagus scenic byway through the White Mountains from Lincoln to Conway, rivers with guided and self guided float and boat trips, small lakes for fishing and swimming, tons of shopping in North Conway and even New Hampshire’s famed Whale’s Tail Water Park. All situated in less than an hour’s drive from each other. Even though the place contains all those things to do, the underlying energy is slightly depressed and I think it in-part has to do with the never ending flow of tourists on a year-round basis. The area no doubt has its own unique energy, but with the sheer amount of people coming in from all around the world, though when we were there they were mostly from New York Quebec and Massachusetts, their energy masks the areas true energy. What is left is the hustle and bustle of a great deal of city type energy with people rushing from one place to the next. Strong accents abound from the neighboring city states and they seem to carry with them the speed and loudness of the city energy. Certainly not everyone visiting from the big cities of New York and Boston were loud and fast, but the majority.
The prices are elevated for just about everything because of the amount of tourism, though from my experience most of what was found was of good quality. Since there does not appear to be much in the way of employment in the region beyond tourism, that also seemed to play on the depressed energy of the town areas. Even so, the general area is quite beautiful and fun to visit with lots to offer for anyone who enjoys the outdoors.
Conway and North Conway are just a mobbed couple of towns jammed packed with stores of all kinds! They are a few miles of nothing but stores, stores, stores. If you seek a specific store, you will find it there I am sure, everything from outlet stores to outdoor gear stores, a jerky store, rock shop, kitchen stores and countless others await your wallet and bank account.
The Kancamagus byway is a beautiful road indeed with numerous scenic overlooks and trailheads scattered along its 32 miles. It was named for the last Sachem of the Penacook Confederacy Native American tribe. Kancamagus means “Fearless One”. Though the speed limit is only 45 to 50 on most of the road, you are sure to have someone tailgating you. I know, it is crazy, but with all the incredible scenery to take in along the drive, each time I drove that road I had a New York or Massachusetts license plate vehicle tailgating me because they just could not get to the next overlook fast enough! OK then. If they want to speed and tailgate, why leave the urban areas where they live in the first place?
Though I have been told that the Kancamagus byway literally blows anything in Vermont right out of the water, I have to disagree. I understand it is all personal perspective of course. Personally I have found many areas of Vermont to equally compare to the wonders of the Kancamagus drive. They may not be as long of stretches, but in my opinion they are certainly here. One difference is the layout of the mountains. In New Hampshire the mountains are not so much aligned in long ridges, but rather individual peaks dotted throughout the landscape. The valleys are lower and so many of the peaks, even the ones lower than the Green Mountains of Vermont, seem higher. In Vermont the mountains generally run north-south in ridge formations with miles of surrounding foothills. Actually I find New Hampshire’s White Mountains and Vermont to be very equal in the environmental beauty. I do not choose one to be better than the other. I do however enjoy the energy of Vermont much better than the energy of the White Mountains and their towns. Overall I find Vermont to be more relaxed, progressive in healthy ways and open to and for opportunity. I have not found that in New Hampshire in all the times I have visited there, though I am sure areas of that energy do exist in the state, I have not come upon them yet.
Land of falling waters would be a great name for the Franconian region of the White Mountains! Everywhere I went I found waterfall after waterfall, cascade after cascade just tumbling down through the mountains. The swift water careened over the pale pink/white granite slabs to create scenes similar to the ones near the end of the movie Last of the Mohicans. Those scenes were shot in the Chimney Rock region of North Carolina, but the same slab rock sloping over hills and mountainside gave way to gorgeous waterfalls and cascades. Having been to the Chimney Rock region I can say there are some similarities in land between there and the Franconian Region of New Hampshire. Basically in that area of the White Mountains you would be hard-pressed to find a trail without a waterfall!
One thing that did surprise me was on Loon Mountain. It is a ski resort that has summer hiking, a chair ride up and a small comfortable café at the top of the lift. We hiked to the top of North Peak, the highest peak on the mountain, and found ourselves eaten alive by both mosquitoes and blackflies. I thought that was rather unusual for that height and a sunny windy day. Once I began looking I found marshes and bogs all through the woods up there. No wonder it was bug heaven!
Attitash was the other ski resort area we went to. They have a mountain amusement section setup. It contains two great rides! The Mountain Coaster, a gravity fed, single car rollercoaster that speeds down the twisting, winding rail track to the bottom at 25 miles per hour. What a blast! The other great ride is the longest alpine slide in the country. After taking the chair lift to the top, you get your sled and set it on the slide. After you are given the green light you push off and away you go, down the twisting loopy slide through the forests to the bottom. You have control of your speed on both rides through manual hand brakes, so you can go as slow or as fast as you wish. You can also chose to ride on their few waterslides or jump off a tower onto a huge firefighter style rescue air pillow. What great mountain fun! It was also Father’s Day week so the discount was nice.
Whale’s Tail Water Park, well what can I say. I have been there three or four times in the last 7 or 8 years and it is a blast every time. The slides, pools and views, perfect.
Overall the region is well worth the trip. Just remember that if you go you should expect crowds, high energy city folk, and tailgaters and of course elevated prices. Nevertheless, the region holds some real gems so you can have a great time anyway! I plan to design some excursions for Element Mountain over to the White Mountain region in the future, so stay tuned and perhaps I will see you in the mountains for some adventure and great outdoor fun! This autumn I will head to Mt Washington and will be designing some excursion hikes up the monolith for next year. If you wish to see some of the many photos I shot through the region please feel free to visit the dedicated White Mountain Photo Page.