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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K’port

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Labor Day … the end of summer, beginning of the school year, kickoff to autumn, the long slide to winter …….

We can just stop there. We all know what’s coming.

So let’s forget all that, and instead spend a summer day in beautiful Kennebunkport, Maine. I know what you’re thinking: tourist trap. The Bush compound. An overabundance of tee-shirt shops.

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Yes, there is all that. But Kennebunkport has a long history, and while I won’t attempt to recount that here I will point out that the town came to be in 1653 under the name Cape Porpoise. Its inhabitants were driven off by the first Indian wars and returned to reorganize in 1718 under the name Arundel. In 1820 the name was changed to Kennebunkport, which was likely derived from an Indian word. In the early 1600s timber was harvested and a thriving shipbuilding industry grew; but as trade increased and larger ships became necessary the shallow Kennebunk River was unable to accommodate them. As in nearby Ogunquit, by the late 1800s tourists were coming via the railroad to enjoy seaside villages and the rest, as they say, is history.

The seaside communities known as “the Kennebunks” now include Arundel and Cape Porpoise, Maine.

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Lucky me, this town – and the Maine coast – is only a pretty hour’s drive from my house. If it were up to me, I’d be here once a week. Yes, in the summertime the crowds and traffic can be a nightmare – there is just one narrow road into town – but on this day we were blessed with surprisingly few other visitors. I found a parking place on one of the village streets, the perfect place to start to get to know K’port … right in the middle of all its glorious architecture.

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Colonial, Greek Revival, Federal … the grand homes here line the streets. I could spend hours here with my camera and never even make it to Dock Square. But we bypassed the photo ops and made our way to the charming center of town, giving in to the profusion of flowers, beachy décor, tourist whatnot and shops vying for our attention.

This is a wonderful place to wander. It isn’t big. Everything smells of salt air. There are pretty details around each corner. The sea glass jewelry was just begging me to fork over some dollars. At the end of the day all I bought was a lighthouse charm of sorts that will probably hang from a purse; it was six bucks. I’m a cheap date.

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But you can spend lots of money here if you want to. There are gorgeous old inns, five-star restaurants, and handmade clothing and crafts. I remember years ago visiting here with my parents and I saw a pink sweater in a window calling my name. The tag on it said it was $200. My dad said he would buy it for me, but I couldn’t do it. Would I remember this moment so clearly if he had bought it for me? I don’t know. The gesture was enough. My mom found a bracelet that she loved with a price tag that stopped her, but later she regretted not buying it. I still look for the darn thing – or something similar – every time I get over here.

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Kennebunkport worked its magic on us and we drove home in the dark, with salt in our tangled hair and on our skin. I have a thing for anything sea-related, and my friend – who had never been to Maine – seemed happy enough with the experience. We’d visited a beach at Cape Porpoise and a French bakery in K’port, coffee and art galleries in Dock Square. I came home with photos and a six-dollar souvenir, and new memories with a good friend in a good town in a great little corner of Maine. Bring on the Autumn.

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Twelve thoughts

P1160660 (Large)“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”   [Ansel Adams]

P1150187 (Large)“The camera’s only job is to get out of the way of making photographs.”
[Ken Rockwell, Your Camera Does Not Matter]

P1010473 (Large)“The goal is not to change your subjects, but for the subject to change the photographer.”  [author unknown]

P1060902 (Large)“The photograph itself doesn’t interest me. I want only to capture a minute part of reality.”   [Henri Cartier-Bresson]

Photo Sep 22, 4 55 12 PM (Large)“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”
[Ansel Adams]

P1080513 (Large)“Photography is all about secrets. The secrets we all have and will never tell.”
[Kim Edwards, The Memory Keeper's Daughter] (I liked this book!)

P1010852 (Large)“Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.”   [Ansel Adams]

Smoky (Large)“I shutter to think how many people are underexposed and lacking depth in this field.”   [Rick Steves]

P1160105 (Large)“I think a photography class should be a requirement in all educational programs because it makes you see the world rather than just look at it.”
[author unknown]

P1160107 (Large)“A lot of photographers think that if they buy a better camera they’ll be able to take better photographs. A better camera won’t do a thing for you if you don’t have anything in your head or in your heart.”   [Arnold Newman]

P1070007 (Large)“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”   [Elliott Erwitt]

P1160056_ (Large)“Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.”
[Peter Adams]

A walk in the woods

Photo Aug 20, 4 05 31 PM (Large)Though at first glance this may sound like a reference to the Bill Bryson book about hiking the Appalachian Trail (and if you haven’t read it, you should), it isn’t. I have never done a formal hike in my life, and while I’m pretty sure I have the stamina I do not have the footwear. That aside, a friend and I tackled a local hike today. Since I’m not quite sure what defines a “hike”, I choose to simply call this a walk in the woods.

Photo Aug 20, 3 48 41 PM__ (Large)It was a couple miles around this small pond. The afternoon was nearing 80 degrees, but under the trees it was cooler. The trail began in a wet area and continued on through pine, maple, beech and oak trees; we sidestepped the muddy areas and navigated mossy rocks along the path.

Anyone know what this strange little plant is?

Anyone know what this strange little plant is?

Emerging from the oak leaves and acorns is an Indian Pipe plant, which does not contain chlorophyll. It is a parasite and is not dependent on sunlight to grow.

Emerging from the oak leaves is an Indian Pipe plant, which does not contain chlorophyll. It is a parasite and is not dependent on sunlight to grow.

I had trouble with the multitasking – paying attention to the trail, marked by blue blazes on trees, and looking for the details along the way: strange little flowers and funguses, delicately patterned moss, mushrooms of all shapes, sizes and colors. The trail was alternately easy and challenging – in some places it went straight up, in others places it crossed small streams via stones. I kept forgetting to look for the blue blazes. Sometimes the trail opened up to the pond, which offered a mirror image with clouds reflected in the water. The only sounds you could hear were birds and the rustle of the breeze.

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Photo Aug 20, 3 55 36 PM (Large)Eventually the landscape changed and we came upon a beaver dam. Evidence of beaver activity was all around, and there was a small wooden bridge across the marsh (it bounced a bit when you walked across it, but still seemed sturdy enough…) We found blueberry bushes and watched an animal swimming across the pond – maybe a beaver but more likely a muskrat. The terrain was alternately open, pine-needle forest and thick undergrowth on both sides. None of it was difficult to navigate.

Beaver calling card!

Beaver calling card!

Photo Aug 20, 4 21 01 PM (Large)The terrain changed again on this side of the pond; we came upon an area that, compared to the rest of the walk, looked like an alien landscape. Glacial erratics – boulders to you and me – were deposited here centuries ago and still remain. Some were the size of cars! They were everywhere, spilling down the hill toward the water, and the trail meandered around and through them. (This IS the granite state, after all.) We even saw some pink granite, usually reserved for the Maine coast, and we wondered how many little critters found homes under the overhangs in the winter.

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Lichen decorating the sides of the boulders

Lichen decorating the sides of the boulders

The landscape changed again and the trail hugged the shore. We saw woodpeckers in the trees and crossed bridges made of flat stones. More mushrooms. Views of the pond with sparkles on the water that looked like stars. A tree that had fallen into the pond with its bare branches sticking up reminded me of ship carcasses I’d seen on the Maine coast. When we finally came to a small sandy beach, which was the end point of the hike, I was a little disappointed. I guess I wanted to keep discovering.

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Photo Aug 20, 5 19 12 PM (Large)So while this was nowhere near the caliber of the Appalachian Trail, it was a fine afternoon in a rural spot in New Hampshire. I think even Bill Bryson would approve.