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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.