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Friday, May 31, 2013 : From Bangor to Plymouth

 

Compared to yesterday at Acadia National Park, today is supposed to be quieter, with a rather long drive to New Hampshire.

 

We nevertheless plan our itinerary to pass close to a few places worth a visit. You don't teach an old dog any new tricks.

 

This is where the part of the whole roadmap that we modified in April begins. Originally, we wanted to drive to Canada, to visit Québec, Montreal and Ottawa. But when we realized how many miles we had to drive and how little we would actually visit, we changed our minds. This gives us an extra day to spend in New Hampshire and its beautiful White Mountains, which we will see tomorrow. This late choice will prove a very smart one.

 

It turns out we can't have it all ...


Country Inn at the Mall, Bangor, ME

Country Inn at the Mall, our hotel in Bangor

 

This is our last glimpse of our hotel in Bangor, a place we really enjoyed.

 

We take Interstate 95 to Gray and, after a refill, we cross the southwestern part of Maine on secondary roads. Once again, we are immersed in this Deep America which I like so much !

 

We cross the Lakes Region, which spans the west of Maine and the south of New Hampshire. All the lakes are the product of glacial erosion and glaciers melting.

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Lac Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire

Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire

 

Early in the afternoon, we drive around Lake Winnipesaukee, a Native name that means "Beautiful water in a high place". The road follows the lakeside, sometimes drifting a little away from the shore to show us some beautiful higher viewpoints.

 

Rainfall being pretty common, the area is really green. Fortunately, today, no rain is threatening us.

 

We cross several charming holiday resort towns : Wolfeboro, Alton, Laconia, Meredith. The area seems highly coveted by wealthy residents from Boston and other cities, who own secondary houses here, including a few luxury ones.

 

When we arrive in Plymouth, it is much too early to go to our hotel. We follow US Route 3 toward the first hills of the White Mountains and Franconia Notch, a beautiful narrow valley. We stop at Franconia Notch State Park.

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Flume Gorge, Franconia Notch State Park

Flume Gorge, Franconia Notch State Park

 

Pemigewasset River (Pemi River, for close friends) crosses the whole Franconia Notch valley, about 20 miles from Echo Lake to Woodstock (not the one of the famous festival !). We are going to visit the Flume Gorge, a very narrow gorge of the Flume Brook, a tributary of the Pemigewasset, highly spectacular, a delight for the eyes. Although I previously came to New Hampshire, I had never heard of this gorge. Marie found it while we were preparing our trip.

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Stagecoach at Franconia Notch State Park

Stagecoach at Franconia Notch State Park

 

In the lobby of the visitor center, this beautifully restored stagecoach reminds us that, although the region has been visited by tourists for a while (the Flume Gorge was discovered in 1808), there were times when US Route 3 and Interstate 93 did not yet exist, and the trip to come here was long and dangerous.

 

After purchasing our tickets, we begin the visit with a very well maintained path. This time, there is a flyer available in French. As almost everywhere else, we are not exactly bothered by other visitors.

 

Near the river, and with the ambiant heat, humidity immediately seizes us. Air is so thick we could almost touch it. Nevertheless, under the shade of the tall trees, the visit is a real pleasure.

 

Humidity has another unfortunate consequence, at least for Marie : a proliferation of all sorts of insects.

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Glacial boulder, Franconia Notch State Park

Glacial boulder, Franconia Notch State Park

 

When glaciers melted a few millenia ago, they left a lot of garbage behind them. This 300-ton boulder is just one trace. We will see many more along our way.

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Covered bridge on the Pemigewasset River, Franconia Notch State Park

Covered bridge on the Pemigewasset River

 

This is our first covered bridge. It is not to shelter the user that these bridges have been built with a roof, but rather to protect the most sensitive parts of the structure, all made of wood, from snow and ice.

 

Of course, as soon as technical progress allowed building bridges with something else than wood, covers became useless. Those traditional bridges are, in their own way, the last visible remnants of a foregone era.

 

All regions with a harsh climate have covered bridges. We will see more in New Hampshire, Vermont and Pennsylvania. There may be some as far away as Idaho. Some, including this one, are still used.

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Boulder Cabin, Flume Gorge, Franconia Notch State Park

Boulder Cabin

 

Not far away from the bridge is the Boulder Cabin. It is a single-floor house, all made of wood, used as an annex of the main visitor center, with presentations about the history of the gorge and its vegetation. We spend a few minutes in this absolutely deserted place.

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Flume Brook, Franconia Notch State Park

Flume Brook, downstream from the gorge

 

We are now walking along the Flume Brook, slightly downstream from the gorge, which we will soon be seeing. From their elongated, round shapes, we can tell that the rocks have been crafted by many millenia of erosion.

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Flume Gorge, Franconia Notch State Park

Flume Gorge. Narrow, isn't it ?

 

We are now at the low end of the gorge itself, about 1,000 feet long, which we are going to walk very slowly, to better enjoy the show.

 

The path has given way to this wooden footbridge, which crosses the gorge from bottom to top. I am surprised by its excellent condition, considering how much water is sprayed at some places. I assume the carpenter has a lot of work each new spring !

 

As can be seen on the picture, the gorge is pretty narrow, between 4 and 10 feet. We are soon going to know why.

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Basalt dike embedded in the granite vein, Franconia Notch State Park

Basalt dike embedded in the granite vein

 

This picture shows the complex geology of the area. 200 million years ago, the granite was buried under deep layers of sediments. When it began to melt under the influence of Earth heat, it fractured, allowing the basalt underneath to push up and fill the cracks. Later on, erosion wore off the sediments, exposing the interleaved sheets of basalt and granite. Basalt, a bit softer, was eroded first, leaving granite in place. Water was then able to infiltrate the cracks and widen them, giving the present-day gorge.

 

At some places, like on the picture, some brownish traces show the last remnants of the basalt thrusts.

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Avalanche Falls, Flume Gorge, Franconia Notch State Park

Avalanche Falls, Flume Gorge

 

At the top of the gorge is a water fall, appropriately named Avalanche Falls, about 50 feet high. From there, Flume Brook water falls into the gorge we have just crossed.

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Bear Cave, Flume Gorge, Franconia Notch State Park

Bear Cave

 

A few steps above is Bear Cave. I assume that, if there was a real bear, access would be restricted. But no plantigrade was to be found, at least during our visit.

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Liberty Gorge, Franconia Notch State Park

Liberty Gorge

 

We walk another path down to Liberty Gorge, a cascade of another tributary of the Pemigewasset River. It is the end of spring, a time of plentiful water in streams.

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The Pool, Franconia Notch State Park

The Pool. Easy to remember !

 

The Liberty Gorge cascade flows into a large hole, about 120 feet wide and 40 feet deep, simply named The Pool. An overhanging path allows to see this pool from several sides.

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Sentinel Pine Bridge, Franconia Notch State Park

Sentinel Pine Bridge

 

Another covered bridge, Sentinel Pine Bridge, crosses Cascade Brook, just upstream from The Pool. On our right, we enjoy yet another view on the cascade, and on our left on The Pool.

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Wolf's Den, Franconia Notch State Park

Wolf's Den

 

Just at the exit of the bridge is the Wolf's Den, a narrow and damp cave. I venture inside almost to its end, a short but very slippery climb between rocks, covered with moss. I see just enough of it to be convinced that there is no more wolf here than there was any bear a moment ago.

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Tree rooted on a glacial boulder, Franconia Notch State Park

Tree rooted on a glacial boulder

 

We now have to walk down to the visitor center. Along the way, we can see many glacial boulders, left there after ice melt. This one is special : a tree managed to grow on it and, missing nutriments, it grew roots in all directions, until they reached a more fertile soil.

 

Once again, I am in deep admiration before nature's seemingly boundless resources, especially when mankind does not meddle with it.

 

After a little more than 2 miles on foot, our visit of the Flume Gorge is over. We snap a few pictures of license plates, then we drive up Franconia Notch.

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Echo Lake, Franconia Notch State Park

Echo Lake, view of Franconia Notch

 

At the top of the valley is Echo Lake. I can't tell whether there is an echo here, but that sounds doubtful, since the valley is no longer as narrow as it was. The nice weather gives us a gorgeous view of the valley we have just crossed.

 

Franconia Notch is so narrow that, at some places, there is not enough room for both US Route 3 and Interstate 93. They both use the same road, which has only one lane each way for a few miles.

 

We have some rest on the shore of the lake, very quiet in this late afternoon, then we drive down to Plymouth.

 

When we arrive at our hotel, we have second thoughts, remembering a questionable memory of three years ago. From the outside, the motel where we are supposed to spend two nights looks pretty basic.

 

It is a false impression. In reality, this motel has recently been thoroughly redecorated and is in excellent condition, with the exception of the office. Rooms are brand new, bathrooms are very nice and absolutely clean, and the internet uplink is ten times as fast as anything we have seen so far.

 

I spend some time chatting with the owner, an ambitious young man of Indian origin, who settled in the United States with his family a long time ago. He tells me about his life. If he reads this, I once again extend him my grateful thanks for his friendliness.

 

Later, we have dinner in downtown Plymouth, in a pizzeria recommended by our hotel manager. Here too, young people have recently taken over the business, and the service looks a bit clumsy. But food is rather decent, we are on vacation, so we decide to give them some time to learn their craft.

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