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Sunday, June 2, 2013 : From Plymouth to Saratoga Springs

 

This day, we have no scheduled commitment. We have the full day before us to drive to Saratoga Springs, crossing part of New Hampshire, Vermont and the eastern part of New York State.

 

We nevertheless have an idea of what we want to see : Lost River Gorge (a roadmap modification we did last night !), covered bridges (there are many, scattered all over the area), a few beautiful landscapes and a tasty surprise.

 

The entrance of Lost River Gorge, New Hampshire

The entrance of Lost River Gorge

 

Lost River Gorge is, as its name implies, a narrow gorge into which a river got lost under big boulders left over when glaciers melt away millenia ago.

 

The visit includes a walk at the bottom of the gorge, with caves along the way to visit as attractions. It is moderately physical and entertaining, as much for the sport as for the unusual background.

 

Lost River Gorge is in Kinsman Notch, a few miles after Woodstock (still not the one of the festival), on Route NH-112, that extends Kancamagus Highway to the Vermont border.

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The old visitor center at Lost River Gorge, New Hampshire

Lost River Gorge, the old visitor center

 

Just after the entrance, we see this old visitor center, now disused, but with so much more charm than the present one, a practical but bland one-story building. Of course, we can imagine that a simple log cabin was not large enough to accomodate the big summer crowds.

 

Outside the new visitor center are big water basins, where visitors can play rookie gold prospectors sifting the content of the sandbags they have just bought inside. We decide to skip what we consider a blatant tourist trap, hardly able to entertain second-graders.

 

After purchasing our tickets, we exit on the other side of the visitor center, on a nice shaded path.

 

As everywhere else, we enjoy our off-season vacation. The place is really quiet.

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Patriotism ? No, nature protection !

Patriotism ? No, nature protection !

 

The first part of the path crosses a carefully maintained forest. Many local species of plants and trees have been preserved. The small flag on the picture does not indicate some blatant patriotism, but is merely destined to mark a place where a frail sapling has just been replanted.

 

The path goes down, slightly away from the gorge, meeting it at its low end. Its last part is made of wooden stairs, each with a bright yellow stripe on the edge, in an obvious attempt at enhancing visitor's security. A highly welcome permanent consideration for the slightest detail seems to guide our American friends.

 

On the small map we were given at the visitor center, we can see about 20 points of interest, including about a dozen caves that we may want to cross.

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The lower exit of Lost River Gorge

The lower exit of Lost River Gorge

 

We have now reached the lower end of the gorge. The second part of the visit goes up along the river, pretty close to the bottom of the gorge, on wooden footbridges like the one shown on the  picture. We can stay on the footbridge or cross the caves, it's up to us.

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Lost River Gorge, Fenris the Wolf's head

Lost River Gorge, Fenris the Wolf's head

 

One of the first points of interest is this strange pile of rocks, figuring the head of a wolf. Fenris, the giant wolf of the Scandinavian mythology, son of Loki, protects the gorge. It is said that sometimes, at night, his screams of agony can be heard. But it may as well be an effect of the wind.

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Lost River in the midst of rocks

Lost River in the midst of rocks

 

The Lost River really deserves its name. As can be seen on the picture, it flows between the rocks, above or below whenever necessary. Nice little falls like this one, Paradise Falls, cut the gorge at several places.

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Lost River Gorge, entering a cave

Entering a cave is often straightforward ...

 

The path is lined with about a dozen caves. Two of them are closed, after the heavy rains of the last few days have raised the water level too high, but all others are accessible.

 

Each cave entrance has a sign describing the passage and its difficulties. Visitors can then choose to visit this cave, but skip that one, it is à la carte. Just for fun, I visit every open cave.

 

Most often, the beginning is rather easy, with difficulties increasing gradually. One of the caves, the Lemon Squeezer, a very appropriate name, is entered by passing between two planks. If you can pass between the planks, you can visit the cave without any risk of being stuck.

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Lost River Gorge, exiting a cave

... exiting it may not be that easy !

 

Exits are often way less easy, but the visitor has been warned. Sometimes, there is just enough room to squeeze yourself thru.

 

Inside each cave, there is barely enough light not to bump your head into the rock. Passages are often rather short, narrow, low, and pretty damp.

 

At the end of the day, with no real danger, we have a lot of fun in those caves !

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Lost River Gorge, Cleopatra's Needle

Cleopatra's Needle

 

The shape of this sharp rock in the background made its name, Cleopatra's Needle. Its seemingly precise silhouette was in fact randomly carved by erosion and frost.

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Lost River Gorge, it's been raining, water level is high in some caves

It's been raining. In some caves, water level is high

 

In some caves closest to the Lost River, water level has risen a little. This picture shows the water flowing at the back of the cave.

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Lost River Gorge, Vernal Pool

Vernal Pool, almost at the top end of the gorge

 

A little higher, the path drifts away from the river for a while. We are at Vernal Pool, a little green pool left after glaciers melt away. Trees nicely reflect against the surface of the pool.

 

This whole part is planted with protected species.

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Lost River Gorge, covered bridge

Covered bridge above Lost River

 

After the end of the gorge itself, this covered bridge leads to the second part of the visit, the Nature Garden. It is a sort of park in the middle of the forest, with signs describing the various protected species that have been replanted there. Complete ecosystems have been reconstituted.

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Lost River Gorge, the Nature Garden

The Nature Garden, a local biodiversity reserve

 

We are really impressed by the biodiversity of the Nature Garden, but what strikes us most is the high fragility of all those ecosystems. Little would be needed to destroy those jewels forever.

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Lost River Gorge, sky is getting cloudy

It's getting cloudy above Lost River Gorge

 

We have reached the last step of the visit, a higher point of view on Kinsman Notch, the narrow valley that the Lost River crosses. Between the trees, we can see that the sky is getting cloudy. This is not exactly good news for the rest of the day.

 

Our visit of Lost River Gorge is over. After a few pictures of license plates, we take the road again to the West, looking for covered bridges.

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Covered bridge in Swiftwater, New Hampshire

Swiftwater covered bridge, still in use

 

Well served by a highly detailed map, it does not take us long to find our first covered bridge, at Swiftwater, dating back to 1849. As shown on the picture, it is still in use. It has only one lane.

 

Let's remember that those bridges have been covered not to protect the user, but the very fragile wooden structures that would otherwise be exposed to the sometimes harsh weather of the region.

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Inside the covered bridge at Haverhill-Bath, New Hampshire

Inside Haverhill-Bath covered bridge

 

We will soon leave New Hampshire. A few miles before crossing the Connecticut River into Vermont, we stop at Haverhill-Bath covered bridge. This one is no longer really in use. It has been replaced long ago by a modern concrete bridge. We may nevertheless cross it on foot.

 

I spend a little time watching the trussed arches that can be pretty well seen on the picture. I better understand the necessity of covering bridges, to best protect the internal structures.

 

We then cross the Connecticut River into Vermont. I have vague memories of passing here the other way when I was living in Montreal.

 

A few miles before Montpelier  (unlike the French city with the same name, it has only one L), the state capital, we get a fill-up. At this very moment, the celestial gates suddenly open. The storm lasts a while. It is still raining when we take Interstate 89 for a few miles.

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Entrance of Ben and Jerry's factory, Waterbury, Vermont

Entrance of Ben and Jerry's factory, Waterbury, Vermont

 

We leave Interstate 89 at Waterbury for a stop at Ben and Jerry's, the world headquarters of the famous ice-cream brand. All signs bear the image of the cute little cow, which can be found in multiple forms. At the shop, we even purchase a USB key with the famous logo.

 

We also purchase maple syrup. Along with QuébecNew Hampshire and Vermont are major producers.

 

Outside the factory, we visit the restrooms. Of course, the doors also display the cute little bovine, male or female.

 

We then take Interstate 89 again to Burlington, on the East shore of Lake Champlain. On the other side of the lake is Plattsburgh, in New York State and, a few dozen miles to the North, the Canadian border, the province of Québec and the city of Montreal, about two hours away by car.

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Covered bridge at Shelburne, Vermont

Covered bridge at Shelburne, Vermont

 

Just south of Burlington, we make a stop at Shelburne, where we see another covered bridge, close to the road. As shown on the picture, this bridge is no longer used. It is nevertheless beautifully preserved.

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Lake Champlain near Burlington, Vermont

Lake Champlain near Burlington, Vermont

 

We drive toward the Southwest, more or less along the shore of Lake Champlain. We are now on secondary roads. We make a short stop at McNeil Cove, where one of the ferries crossing the lake lands. Then we cross the lake on a bridge and we enter New York State.

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Typical midwest red barn and grain silo

Typical midwest red barn and grain silo

 

Still on secondary roads, we take our time. We see several typical Midwest farms, with the grain silo and the red barn with its characteristic shape.

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Lake George, upstate New York

Lake George, upstate New York

 

A little further, we follow the shore of Lake George on its full length, on a road that would certainly be very nice with some sunshine. We make a few photo stops on our way.

 

Later, a car suddenly brakes right in front of us. It almost crushed a big turtle, who had the silly idea of attempting to cross the road just at that second. We see the animal, unharmed, disappear in the vegetation as fast as it can.

 

We then take Interstate 87 to Saratoga Springs. Our motel, quite basic, is downtown. We will stay here just one night.

 

After a walk in downtown Saratoga Springs, we have dinner in a rather upscale restaurant, the Crown Grill. Our waiter blatantly incites us to overspend, an oddity in the United States. Although the food is really good, we are slightly caught off guard by this pretty unusual attitude. Saratoga Springs may be the regional capital of horse racing and draw a lot of money, it is no reason for screwing us.

 

We go to bed early. Tomorrow, we have to get up at dawn. We have an appointment with one of the wonders of the world.

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