Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Live Free or Die

I've traveled to all 50 United States, and New Hampshire almost certainly has the most memorable motto with "Live Free or Die". All states have a motto, not typically what is printed on the license plate, but rather an official word or phrase which describes the overall motivation or intention of the state. California's is "Eureka" (Greek for "I've found it"), Washington's is "Al-ki" (Chinook for "by and by"), and Wisconsin's is simply "Forward". But New Hampshire's is more like a command... followed by a threat. Which doesn't exactly put you into R&R mode. And the nickname "The Granite State" is really only slightly better. Fortunately, their tourism department came up with the slogan "You're Going to Love it Here," which will have to do. It is certainly accurate, as anyone who has ever traveled to NH can attest.

I am staying in the town of Bartlett, NH, which is surrounded by the White Mountain National Forest. In addition to having over 784,000 acres of forest, it is home to its namesake: the White Mountains. Hey did you ever see that TV show "The West Wing," where Martin Sheen played Josiah Bartlett, a president of the United States who hailed from New Hampshire? Well the show was obviously a fiction - anyone who fathered Charlie Sheen cannot be president - but there really was a Josiah Bartlett from New Hampshire, and this town bears his name to this day. Bartlett was one of three New Hampshire signatories of the Declaration of Independence, and was the second person to actually sign his name to the famous document. Unfortunately, the guy before him was John Hancock, which didn't leave a whole lot of room for old Josiah (or anyone else's) name, but it's there alright.

But the mountains, forest, and great outdoors are the stars of the show around here. The White Mountains are home to over 48 peaks above 4,000 feet, including Mt. Washington, the tallest mountain in the northeastern U.S. at 6,288 feet. Mt. Washington is home to savagely unpredictable weather, and long held the record for the highest wind speed ever clocked on earth at 231 mph. A higher wind measurement was observed during a typhoon in Australia in 1996 (253 mph). But unlike on Mt. Washington, it was an unmanned weather station. That's right, Mt. Washington actually had people on top of it when the winds hit the other side of 230 mph. A team of three men huddled in a tiny shack on that fateful day in 1934, and one of them - Sal Pagliuca - even ventured outside to chip ice off of the instrumentation. Are you kidding me?! The other two men reportedly tied a rope around his waist and hauled him back in. So you can understand why New Hampshirites continue to claim it is the "highest wind speed ever clocked on earth, by man".

Another famous feature of the White Mountains is the "Old Man of the Mountain". If you have ever seen the New Hampshire license plate or state quarter, then you know it was a granite outcropping that, when viewed in profile, looked like a craggy old man, not unlike myself. I say "was" and "looked" because some time between midnight and 2:00 AM on the morning of May 23, 2003, the entire formation collapsed and tumbled into the lake below. New Hampshirites - that's really what they are called (I looked it up) - once again were forced to reconcile the loss of a famous feature on their beloved White Mountains. And this one's not coming back. The wind may blow over 253 mph up there one day, but the old man is gone for good.

But there is so much still to enjoy, that you'll probably need to visit more than once. Just a few top area attractions are Cannon Aerial Tramway - an 80-passenger aerial tram that travels above the tree line to a 4,200-foot summit for outstanding views of the White Mountains, walking paths, observation deck, lake swimming and boating, and much more; Flume Gorge - a spectacular natural chasm dotted with covered bridges, amazing waterfalls, scenic pool, and incredible mountain views; Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves - a lantern-lit step back in time featuring waterfalls, gigantic boulder formations, amazing views, caves, fossils, gemstones, and intriguing history; and the Mt. Washington Cog Railway - the world's first mountain-climbing cog railway—built in 1869. A cog railway has gears, or cogs, between the two rails which engage corresponding cogs on the underside of the train's engine. This 19th century technology enabled trains to climb grades that would otherwise have thrown them from their tracks. Today you can ride this very same 37% gradient (not kidding), incorporating modern technologies like biodiesel locomotives and solar-powered track switches. If you love old trains - and why wouldn't you - also be sure to check out the Conway Scenic Railroad and the Hobo Railroad.

My timeshare rental at Attitash Mountain Village features indoor and outdoor pools and jacuzzis, workout facility, tennis courts, hiking and cross-country trails, canoeing, and fishing in the nearby Saco River. And its location directly across the street from Attitash/Bear Peak provides excellent downhill skiing or snowboarding in the winter months, which are numerous. RedWeek.com members rate it as 4-stars, and have written numerous insightful reviews.

Well, I am off to nearby Lincoln, NH, and the site of the famous "Hill Abduction". Never heard of it? On the night of September 19, 1961, Betty and Barney Hill were returning to their home in Portsmouth, NH, after a vacation in Niagara Falls. Mrs. Hill spotted something flying erratically in the night sky and asked her husband to pull over so that they might get a better look. Mr. Hill got out of the car just in time to observe - you guessed it - a UFO manned by 8 to 10 "humanoid creatures" descending upon them. He managed to scramble back to the car and drive a few hundred feet before falling under some force neither of them could explain. They came to about 35 miles away with little recollection of what had just happened, and with what has come to be called "lost time". This was the first of what are now called "alien abductions". Lots of crackpots have since claimed they were detained by space invaders, but these two were the original crackpots, and they even have their own state historical roadside marker to prove it.

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