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Flag of United States  , New Hampshire
Saturday, September 25, 2010

We left Maine September 22nd; just as a few trees were starting to show some color. According to a New England website, Upper New Hampshire and Upper Vermont usually are in their peak color periods during the last week of September, so we decided to give them a shot.  We headed southwest to North Conway, New Hampshire, a small town just a bit south of Mount Washington.  Our drive over was once again on those back roads that I love, and we had a sunny cool day for the trip.  The day was a an example of why we like fall so much, with the trees just starting to turn and the brilliant blue sky that seems only to occur in the fall.  While we didn't see much color yet, it was a gorgeous day.  Unfortunately, it would be the last such day of the trip.

Our plan for Friday, the 24th, was to circumnavigate Mt. Washington.  Friday morning dawned (I think, it was hard to tell whether the sun was up or not) a cold, cloudy, foggy, windy day.  We went ahead with the drive anyway, hoping the weather would clear.  The route we took was just beautiful most of the time, and we had very little traffic to contend with (that was probably due to the weather).  I’m going to provide most of the highway numbers and towns as I think it’s a great day trip for anyone thinking about a "fall color trip."  It’s just over 175 miles long, and it took us about 5 hours to complete it with stops along the way.

We left North Conway heading north on NH Route 16, which runs just east of Mt. Washington.  We stopped at the Mount Washington visitor center to see about some hiking, but ultimately decided against it for a couple of reasons.  The people around there take their hiking seriously, and rightfully so.  Mount Washington has some of the most extreme weather in the U.S.  Until just recently, it held the record for the highest recorded wind gust at the earth’s surface of 231 mph (see the Wikipedia entry for more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Washington_(New_Hampshire).  We watched people getting ready for hikes and they had some fairly serious equipment.  Since we really had little hiking equipment, the weather was questionable, and we were only 1/2 hour into the drive, we decided against hiking there.  We also chose not to drive to the top of Mt. Washington, as there was nothing to see but clouds (and I get the heebie-jeebies driving on narrow mountain roads with no guard rails).

We continued north on NH Rte. 16 through Gorham and Berlin all the way up to Errol, about 66 miles.  There are many locations that beg to have pictures taken if you can find a place to safely stop along the route.  At Errol there’s a combination gas station, general store, and outdoor store right at the T-junction with NH Rte. 26 that’s worth a stop.  It has a little bit of everything for the outdoors, from motor oil for your ATV to a two person pontoon boat for those times when you want an intimate party boat. 

 We turned west onto NH Rte. 26 in Errol, heading towards Colebrook.  Shortly after turning on Rte. 26 we stopped at a little picnic area to have lunch.  It happened to have a lovely little waterfall and many picture opportunities.  While it was too soggy to eat at a picnic table, we did get some lovely pictures.

It was along this route that we had one of the most interesting roads of the trip with many curves and drops, and one especially that caught me by surprise.  Since I wasn’t driving at this point, I wasn’t paying particular attention to the road.  I was trying to get one of those moody atmospheric shots of the fall colors in the fog, and when I turned around we were just reaching the top of a hill where all you could see in front of you was empty sky. It then had a particularly steep descent on the other side that from my reaction had to be about a 60 slope. My dear wife, sweetie that she is, had to finally pull over from laughing so hard.  I thought my reaction was perfectly normal for someone whose first thought upon seeing the drop was “WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!”  Needless to say, we did survive, and Janet was still giggling about it two days later. (Another note here from Janet: Actually, I can still get out of control laughing about his reaction. J )

Route 26 took us across the state to Colebrook on the New Hampshire and Vermont border.  At Colebrook we turned south onto US Route 3 and started back towards North Conway.  This part of the route (which parallels the Connecticut River for much of the way) wasn’t nearly as picturesque as the first part of the drive.  We had moved out of the woods and onto a river plain.  Naturally, it was also when the skies cleared somewhat and the sun came out.  We stayed on Rte. 3 for most of the rest of the trip, through North Stratford, Lancaster, Whitefield, and ending up in Twin Mountain.  (A variation of the route could be taken at North Stratford.  Cross over the Connecticut River to the Vermont side and take Vermont Route 102, staying a little closer to the river.  Cross back over the river to the New Hampshire side at Lancaster and rejoin Rte. 3.)

We turned east onto US Route 302 in Twin Mountain and followed it all the way back to North Conway.  We were back in the White Mountains and in the national forest again, and had some wonderful picture opportunities.  About 20 minutes before reaching North Conway the highway goes by the Mt. Washington Hotel (now called the Omni Mt. Washington Resort).  It reminded us of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

While the day was somewhat of bust in terms of the weather for fall colors, we did see some beautiful colors and can only imagine what it might have been in the bright sunshine of the day before.  We still had a chance though, as the following day was to be sunny.  Even though we were heading towards Vermont that day, we decided to retrace part of the route in order to see if we could get some better pictures of Mt. Washington.

The morning we headed to Vermont was sunny, but also very
warm – up in the mid to upper 70’s going up to the 80’s.  The skies were hazy and so were the mountains.  Instead of the crisp clear air of
autumn, we ended up with the hazy skies of late summer.  We still went up via Mt. Washington
visitors center, and we did manage to see the top of Mt. Washington – we just
don’t know which peak was the actual Mt. Washington.  Since we could see three different ones though, one of them
had to be Mt. Washington.  One
thing that struck both of us was how high both the White Mountains of New
Hampshire and the Green Mountains of Vermont appear.  Compared to the mountains in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the
Carolinas, these seem much more like the Rockies.  Then it dawned on us. 
These peaks weren’t starting at 5000+ feet and then going up, they
usually started at 100+ feet.  So a
6,000-foot peak in the White Mountains is the equivalent of an 11,000-foot peak
in the Rockies.  Because the White
and Green Mountains start at a much lower altitude, more of the peaks are
completely covered by trees, giving them their softer rounder look.  The peaks around Mt. Washington at
their highest weren’t covered by trees, and looked much more mountainous than
some of the surrounding peaks that were covered.
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