So much to explore just outside the front door

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I didn’t take a vacation this year. I did not visit any exotic places or have bragging rights to a foreign country. I did not have to be concerned about the value of the euro or whether my luggage could survive another trip through baggage claim. And you know what? That’s ok.

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I subscribe to quite a few blogs that deal with travel … I admire those that can finagle trips for whatever reason, whether it’s as a student or as a retiree. I still intend to get to Venice and Cinque Terre and Salzburg. In the meantime I have come to realize that where I am at is pretty special; as one friend pointed out, I live in a place that many would fork over their hard-earned dollars for a two-week vacation. Now that I think of it, I did this for years. Why am I not appreciating this?

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Sure, maybe the grass is greener in Rome. Or Sarlat. Or Banff. But hey, maybe the Canadians are thinking that Wolfeboro, New Hampshire is the place to be! I guess my point here – to myself as much as anyone else – is that we all live in an interesting place. Appreciate it, celebrate it, extol its virtues. There’s so much to explore just outside your front door!

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Giving thanks in unexpected places

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The calendar may say it’s Black Friday, but here in New Hampshire it’s White Friday. Wednesday night a storm moved up the east coast and dumped a foot of heavy wet snow across the state; as a result, a whole lot of people did not get their Thanksgiving turkey yesterday. 200,000 people were without power, down to about 80,000 today. This type of snow (known in Washington State as “Cascade cement”) can cause a lot of damage, leaving in its wake downed tree branches and power lines; yesterday morning my poor lilac tree looked like an inverted U. And it isn’t even winter yet.

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So this Thanksgiving I thought about some of the little things we take for granted – like electricity, hot showers and shopping on Amazon. Of course I’m thankful for the more obvious things too; but the morning news, that first cup of coffee, and being able to email my mom rank right up there. (Yeah, I would have made a lousy pioneer.)

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Black Friday has come and gone but it looks like maybe the snow is here to stay. It’s strange how something so beautiful can also be so treacherous. Blame it on technology, or the millennium, or anything you want, but this year I am doubly thankful for my family, my friends, and my internet access. For me, at least, they are all interconnected.

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November

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November is when things start to wind down here … shorter days, colder nights, fewer leaves. The summer people have gone and everything is stripped-down bare. The stark trees – our beautiful leaves gone now until May – offer wider views but little color; the focus shifts to the wonderful architecture of New England and whatever is left on the ground from autumn.

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These photos were taken in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. If you’ve never been to this small city, add it to your bucket list. This is a treasure trove of history with museums, historic architecture, and maritime lore. Portsmouth is completely walkable; put on your walking shoes and visit Prescott Park and the waterfront – the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is just across the way, where you can sometimes see submarines at the dock (I have a thing for submarines). Strawbery Banke is here too, where 40+ buildings have been assembled to depict life here from 1695 to 1950, complete with interpreters (this is wonderful!). You can climb aboard the USS Albacore, a retired Navy submarine now on dry land that offers tours. Take a harbor tour and learn about nearly 400 years of local history.

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A little further down the road you can find Fort Constitution, one of seven forts built to protect Portsmouth Harbor; Wentworth-by-the-Sea, one of the grand hotels of New Hampshire built in 1874 and saved from the wrecking ball a few years ago; and many pull-offs on the side of the road that lead to beaches with views of the Isles of Shoals. I bring visitors here for the shopping and the restaurants but the truth is there is so much more and you cannot see everything in one day.

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So … enjoy the photos and celebrate the simplicity of November. Before the snow flies, the blunt beauty of the season is what sustains us.

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The rail trail

Photo Oct 13, 10 20 47 AM (Large)Determined not to miss autumn this year (it goes by so quickly!) I went for a short drive to look at leaves, staying within fifteen minutes of my house. I was content just to drive until inspiration struck … and I parked in town and went for a walk.

The Bridge Falls Path – the former route of the Wolfeboro Railroad, born at the end of the Civil War – is one of this area’s best-kept secrets. It starts behind the old train depot in town (now the Chamber of Commerce) and travels for about a half mile along Back Bay to Wolfeboro Falls. It is short, scenic, and well-used … a great place to stretch your legs on your lunch hour, or just clear your head. Bicyclists, dog-walkers, photographers, casual visitors like me … they’re all here.

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Vacationers have been escaping to Wolfeboro since passenger rail service began in 1872. By the early 1900s, seven train stations dotted the 12-mile corridor east to Sanbornville.

The path connects with the Cotton Valley Trail, which continues to follow the abandoned railbed of the Wolfeboro Railroad. This trail travels across three lakes via causeways, several trestles, and winds through the woods and fields of the Cotton Valley – past historic rail stations and beach access. Here the rails are still in place; the trail itself is alongside the tracks and at times even runs between the rails.

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Walking this trail on an autumn day is nothing less than stunning … I came mainly to cross the 1200-foot-long Crescent Lake causeway. With water on both sides and clear blue sky above – to say nothing of the gorgeous fall foliage – it was begging to be photographed.

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Here and there I found access down to the water … little more than a steep path, but rewarding for the more intimate views. In fact, one spot seemed so perfect I made a note to come back next July – secluded and cool, it was the perfect getaway from summer heat and humidity! Although I’m guessing I am not the first one to think of this …

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The Cotton Valley Trail continues past an old resort and on through the woods; it ends in Sanbornville, once the headquarters of B&M Northern Division that ran between 1870 and 1986. Though I didn’t go nearly this far, it would be a wonderful place to explore.

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If you come to Wolfeboro, by all means see Lake Winnipesaukee. But if you’re looking for another jewel in the crown that tops the Lakes Region, consider the Bridge Falls Path/Cotton Valley Trail. Here history, scenery and a little sense of exploration all come together to make an afternoon walk something pretty special.

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The last big weekend

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If you aren’t from around here you might wonder what the big deal is. Columbus Day? What’s that? Why all the fairs, festivals, and events and why is this such an anticipated three-day weekend? Why is this the third busiest travel weekend of the year in New Hampshire, and why are we expecting 645,000 people to boost the state coffers by millions?

Leaves. Lots of colored leaves.

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The traffic report Friday night was dismal – it was a slow crawl up from Massachusetts. It’s the last long weekend to enjoy the lake, or the camp, or the seacoast before winter; people are closing up their summer places and saying goodbye until spring. As if to render a proper sendoff, Mother Nature has cranked up the volume and supplied us with a long string of gorgeous autumn days that include chilly mornings, sunny afternoons, and a profusion of colorful trees.

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IMG_2614 (Large)Another leaf-peeping trip seemed like the thing to do today … foliage color is at its peak and it does not last long. Purposely avoiding the crowds, we set out for the dirt roads in the North Sandwich area – places that no fall foliage tour bus has ever been. Definitely off the beaten path, we took a little trip back in time … a valley floor lined with farmhouses – some dating back to the 1700s, over a covered bridge, through tunnels of brightly colored maples, and high up along ridges that offered wonderful views.

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IMG_2593 (Large)We found old cemeteries, a Quaker meetinghouse that is on the National Register, beautifully proportioned antique Capes, old farmhouses and barns, and we had lunch at the North Sandwich General Store. It’s a combination general store/antique shop/post office, with tables in the back to sit and chat with a cup of coffee amid the vintage snowshoes and canned tomatoes. It was perfect.

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Photo Oct 11, 1 11 46 PM (Large)Photo Oct 11, 2 37 16 PM (Large)IMG_2575 (Large)We ended up in the pretty little town of Tamworth, which I haven’t explored much (but I should). There were great views of the church as we came down the hill into town. The strangest find of the day was an obelisk set on top of a huge boulder next to the road, a set of stone steps leading to the top. Known as Ordination Rock, it was where Samuel Hidden was ordained as Tamworth’s first minister in 1792 (I read on the obelisk). He must have been successful, as the monument was also inscribed, “He came into the Wilderness and left it a Fruitful field.”

Only in New England.

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Photo Oct 11, 3 45 24 PM (Large)Happy Columbus Day – named after an explorer, it seemed only fitting to do a little exploring ourselves. Although many others may be doing the same this weekend in New Hampshire, around the Sandwich Fair or along the Kanc, I’m guessing we’re the only ones who visited tiny Weed’s Mills Cemetery. In backroading terms, this was a very good day.

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Backroading

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Today, I thought, was a perfect day to go look at some leaves. While the autumn color isn’t in high gear just yet, it’s pretty enough out there that a Sunday drive was calling my name. Today I wanted to SEE October.

So around 9:00 I grabbed the car keys and mentally went through the list of must-haves for a backroading trip: Sunglasses? Check. Spare camera lens? Check. A general idea of where I was going? Check. I headed out the door and pointed the car north.

A half mile down the road I realized I’d forgotten the camera.

Details.

IMG_2557 (Large)My intention today was to find the Chinook Trail in the town of Wonalancet. The Chinook is a rare breed of sled dog developed here in the early 20th century; last year was the first time it appeared at the Westminster Dog Show. In the 1930s Kate and Arthur Walden purchased a house here and started the Chinook Kennels. Arthur had introduced sled dogs to the area after spending 7 years in Alaska with dog teams during the gold rush. He was also in charge of dogs for Admiral Byrd’s first trip to the South Pole in the late 20s.

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Wanting to create a new breed of sled dog that had tremendous power, endurance, speed, and a gentle nature, Walden bred a descendant of Admiral Peary’s famous lead dog, Polaris, to a mastiff-type dog. Three pups were born; one was named Chinook (that’s him on the road sign) and he grew to become the world’s most famous dog of his time.

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The Chinooks became something of a tourist attraction, and visitors would come for the opportunity of riding behind a real dog team. Indeed, the team was so superbly trained, legend has it that one of Walden’s favorite tricks was to send Chinook, his teammates, and a driverless sled out into an open field across from his farm and put them through their paces by issuing “gee” and “haw” commands by megaphone from the porch of his home.

There are historical markers along the way, and several right at the entrance to the Chinook Kennels (which is now private). One of the markers reads, in part, “These kennels produced sled dogs for exploration, racing, and showing. For almost 50 years Chinook Kennels exerted a profound influence upon the Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky breeds, and many champions were born here. Dog teams were sent on the Byrd Antarctic Expeditions and to the Army’s Search and Rescue unit.”

But wait, there’s more.

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As I wandered through the towns of Wonalancet, Tamworth, and Sandwich I also came across a marker for a covered bridge. Who doesn’t love covered bridges? This one was down a narrow, bumpy road and I was delighted to find a beautiful old bridge unspoiled by anything even remotely touristy. In fact, I really had no idea where I was. The marker next to it said this was the Swift River, and the bridge is named for James Holman Durgin (1815 – 1873), who ran a grist mill near it, drove a stage from Sandwich to Farmington, and was a link in the underground slave railroad from Sandwich to Conway. I walked across the bridge and admired the wooden trusses and construction, then climbed down the hillside to the river (which was not very swift). Then, just because I could, I drove across it and back again. It’s the little things that make my day.

Photo Oct 05, 10 15 24 AM (Large)Other stops along the way were equally as interesting. I found the Sandwich Creamery, which makes its own cheeses and ice cream and sells them in a charming little shop way out in the middle of nowhere and operated completely on the honor system. I also stopped at the Wonalancet church and walked its grounds … there is a pretty little stream behind it with picnic tables and benches set on the grass to enjoy the sounds and views; I could have stayed there all day. I found the marker for the Walden graves.

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Last but not least, I discovered a dirt road that traveled high up on a ridge with gorgeous mountain views. Houses were few, but the ones that were there were beautifully proportioned, well-taken-care-of old Capes.

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Stone walls, fields, pine needle showers, granite and maple – what does it add up to? Just another day in beautiful, uncomplicated, historical, autumn-soaked New Hampshire.

Sunday drive

 

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Eager to get out of the house this past weekend – with gorgeous, near-perfect fall weather – the decision was made to find a place we’d heard about several months ago. Not far from where I live, in fact just in the next town over, it supposedly featured some Victorian homes. “You should take a drive up there,” we were told in March, “It’s nice.” But with March weather and road conditions being what they were, we opted to wait for warmer months.

So we threw the cameras and a good map in the car and set off to find Roland Park. In my mind I had pictured something like Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, or Bayside in Maine. According to the map, the road to Roland Park went from rural to middle-of-nowhere, and dead-ended at a place called Dan Hole Pond. Over the years I’d heard what a beautiful lake this was: pristine, crystal clear water, very secluded, not easy to find. I’m still researching where its odd name may have come from.

It wasn’t long before the nice paved roads turned to dirt. We made a few wrong turns and ended up on one that announced that it was strictly private; very narrow with woods and big rocks all around, we kept going until we were sure we had made a wrong turn. Backtracking, we finally came across the pond – with the sunshine sparkling like diamonds on its surface – and we stopped to stretch our legs. It seemed we had Dan Hole Pond, high up in the Ossipee Mountains, all to ourselves.

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Now on the right track, we drove on (and up!) to find a tiny hamlet of old houses with sweeping views across the pond. In no way did this resemble the church camps I had pictured, though … these were BIG houses on large lots of land. We kept climbing, oohing and aahing at the houses and the scenery, and eventually we came across a spot that had views clear to Mount Washington. Many of the houses seemed empty and we walked into someone’s yard to get a photo. Surely they wouldn’t mind sharing that view!

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How in the world did anyone find this place, and why build these huge homes? They all seemed about the same vintage, and almost all of them looked updated and well-kept. The only sounds we could hear were the breeze and the birds; there were few signs of life anywhere. It seemed to be a place that was full of history, just below the surface, if only you took the time to look.

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So, later, I DID look. Roland Park, I read, is a community nearly forgotten for a century. It was officially born in 1894 when nine businessmen from Malden, Massachusetts, arrived on the noon train from Boston. Staying at a local inn, by the time they left they had fallen in love with the area and formed the Roland Park Land Company. (It’s believed that one of their wives named the area because it was “rolling.” That seems a stretch, but who knows.) In 1895 the first of the many “cottages” was built.

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The men of the Land Company laid out lots on 100 acres, and many of their friends came to visit and built summer homes. Eventually the colony boasted 26 houses; in just a few years the tax value of Roland Park increased 46 fold. Fire destroyed some cottages over the years, but many families have been here for generations. Summer life here was idyllic – hunting, fishing, hiking, boating and canoeing, croquet and tennis, picking washtubs full of blueberries. At the turn of the century the train trip from Boston to Center Ossipee took about four hours, and then the trip to Roland Park could take another two hours depending on the road conditions and the amount of baggage in the buckboard. (After reading this part I was a little embarrassed at our idea of being adventurous in an air-conditioned, Bluetooth-enabled, four-wheel-drive car.) The woods have taken over pastures and fields, but the beauty of this area remains. The strong sense of community balanced with a survivalist’s spirit still predominates.

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I suppose our finding Roland Park was nothing compared to those nine men from Massachusetts in 1894. At that point in time it must have seemed like the ends of the earth, and even today it is not easy to get to. We found another dirt road (with a sign warning that it was not maintained in the winter) and bumped along until we reached civilization again. Though the world has shrunk in the last hundred years, it’s good to know that places like this still exist – off the beaten path, a little wild, mostly unknown. Most people probably have never heard of Roland Park, and don’t care … and maybe that’s just the way they want it.

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