All Aboard Mondate

His birthday present several weeks ago was a Cat’s Meow replica of the North Conway Scenic Railroad (from my collection) and a note: October 21, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm. Be there!!

This morning I drove him there. No, I wasn’t the engineer of the train, but rather the conductor of his entertainment schedule.

Our chosen car, the Dorthea Mae, was built in the mid-1950s for transcontinental service in the United States and turned out to be the perfect choice for this adventure. We’ve ridden the Conway Scenic train before–several times when our sons were young and we took the one hour ride from North Conway to Conway, New Hampshire, and once for an anniversary celebration as we enjoyed dinner on the Bartlett Route. But for all the times we’ve driven along Route 302 through Crawford Notch and looked at the scary trestles hugging the mountains, we always said we’d love to take the longer ride. Well today, that became a reality.

Group by group, riders were welcomed to climb on and find their assigned seats. Ours was located opposite a delightful and chatty couple from Iowa, MaryPat and Ron.

For us, part of the fun was recognizing familiar spots along the rail, including a rail crossing on Route 302 by a historic barn.

Through the village of Bartlett we travelled along rails originally laid down in the 1870s for what was once the Maine Central Railroad’s famed Mountain Division Trail.

The church to the left is the Union Congregational Church on Albany Avenue, and to the right the Odd Fellows Hall, a historic fraternal society.

Early on we crossed trestles over several rivers where shadows, angles, curves, and foliage delighted our eyes.

As we headed toward Crawford Notch, again it was the same, only different, with ever the click-clack of motion providing a new vista that captured our awe.

History presented itself over and over again, with old rail ties and power poles dotting the landscape–obscured for a wee bit longer by the golden hues of the forest.

Knowing that today was the only date available when I’d booked the trip, and in fact, that we got the last two seats on the Dorothea Mae, we wondered how much color we might see given that we were traveling north. It was past peak, but still . . . one Red Maple stood out amongst the yellowy-orange-bronzes of the landscape.

There was also some white to view–not only the few clouds, but the summit of Mount Washington with a recent coating of snow and rime ice.

The ridgeline of Mount Webster, forming the eastern side of the U-shaped glacial valley which forms Crawford Notch, stood crisp and clear as we headed north.

The mountain was named for Daniel Webster, a statesman and orator born in Salisbury, New Hampshire, which is present day Franklin where I began my former teaching career in 1980.

From our seat on the train, looking south, Mount Webster was on the left, Route 302 between, and Mount Willey on the right forming the western side of the U.

By Mount Willard, we heard the story of the section house that stood here in the 1900s.

Willey Brook Bridge is Crawford Notch, New Hampshire https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-a2cf-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99 Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundation

Our narrator, Denise, spoke of the Mt Willard Section House built in 1887 for section foreman James E. Mitchell, his family, and crew who maintained Section 139 of the railroad. Loring Evans became foreman of Section 139 in 1903. He was killed ten years later in a railroading accident at Crawford’s yard, but his wife, Hattie, raised their four children and despite all odds ran the Section House until 1942. It was Hattie’s job to house and feed the men who worked on the shortest yet most treacherous stretch of the rail.

A memorial garden still honors her work.

Below Mount Jackson, across the way, two waterfalls graced the scene. Typically, we’ve viewed them one at a time, but from the train, both Flume and Silver Cascades were visible as water raced down the mountain’s face.

This being Silver, but both looked like traces of chalk from our position.

Two hours after our journey began, we arrived at Crawford’s Depot.

Disembarking, and with an hour to ourselves, my guy and I ate a picnic lunch that included chicken salad sandwiches enhanced with home-made cranberry-orange relish, and then we crossed the road to walk the .4-mile trail around Saco Lake, the origin of Saco River.

Beside it a few Dandelions flowered. And my guy questioned me. “You’re taking a photo of a Dandelion?” Yup. Never Call it just a Dandelion is the title of a most delightful and informative book. And sooo true. Notice how each ray is notched with five teeth representing a petal and forms a single floret. Completely open as this one was, the bloom was a composite of numerous florets. And can you see the stigmas? Curled and split in two? “Yes, I am taking a picture of a Dandelion because it deserves to be honored. And not pulled from the lawn. Just sayin’. ”

Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba var. latifolia) also posed, its fruit’s five-parted capsules each containing two to four small seeds. It was the color that made me smile on this fall day.

Upon a small bridge where Elephant Head Brook flows into Saco Lake, most people paused and then turned for so wet was the trail. But you know who kept going. Despite wearing sneakers rather than our hiking boots, we found our way and soon moved beyond the wet trail.

We laughed when we discovered a wooden boardwalk in a drier section.

Others had also ventured here and called it home, although based on the lack of new wood, we suspected the beavers had left the lodge. Perhaps they’d moved across the street to the AMC’s Highland Center.

Upon granite that defined the outer side of sections of the trail, Rock Tripe lichens grew, some turning green as they photosynthesized when I poured water upon them.

Always one of my favorite views is the discovery of Toadskin Lichen beside the Rock Tripe, both umbilicate forms.

Back to Route 302, asters showed their displays of seeds awaiting dispersal and those older empty nesters forecasting their winter form in a flower-like composition all their own.

Just prior to 2:00pm, we reboarded the train for the journey south.

For the return trip, we’d switched seats with those who sat on the western side of the train for the journey north and so got to spy the Willey foundation. Local lore has it that in 1793, Samuel Willey took his wife, five children and two hired men to live in a small, remote house in the mountains. That year, he and the hired men built a house.

As our narrator said, “In June of 1826, a heavy rain terrified the Willey family when it caused a landslide across the Saco River. Sam decided to build a stone shelter above the house where he thought the family could find safety in case of another landslide. On August 28, 1826, a violent rainstorm caused a mudslide. The Willeys and hired men took refuge in the shelter. The landslide killed all nine of them, but the house they’d fled stood still.” Apparently, a ledge above the house spared it from destruction.

We loved the historical aspects of the trip, as well as the scenery, short hike, and good company.

At the end of the day, we were all smiles for this All Aboard Mondate.

Hiking to the Vanishing Point

My friend, Ann, and I spent today focused on points close to us, while those in the distance also drew our attention.

h-trail sign

Our chosen trail to accomplish such, Mt. Willard in Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire. We began on the Avalon Trail and then turned onto the Mt. Willard Trail. I kept thinking I’d last travelled this way in the early spring, but now realize it was last November that my guy and I ventured forth on a Top Notch Mondate.

h-paper birch bark

Ann had in her mind that there were several varieties of birch trees along the way. We did marvel at pastel colors revealed by the paper birch.

h-yellow birch bark

And the golden ribbony peeling of the yellow birch. But those were the only two birch species we saw over and over again. It had been a while since she’d last hiked here so the forest had changed.

h-rocky trail (1)

The trail has also changed. Somewhere stuck in my memory (despite the fact that I hiked here ten months ago) is a fairly flat, graveled carriage path. Um . . . I truly think that was the case years ago, but perhaps funding means it’s no longer maintained like it once was and stormwater has washed the trail out.

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The carriage road was built in 1845 by Thomas Crawford, owner and host of the Notch House in Crawford Notch. Daniel Webster and Henry David Thoreau reportedly slept there. Crawford wanted to provide his guests with an easy excursion to the summit of the mountain. Old culverts and stone diversions still mark the way.

h-hobble leaf and bud 1

One of the most predominant plants from beginning to end is the hobblebush shrub, so named because its horizontal growth pattern trips hikers, causing them to hobble through the woods. This shrub wows us in any season and right now it’s displaying its late summer colors.

h-hobble berries

On a few, we even found some fruit. I especially loved the new buds posed together like praying hands beneath the berries.

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And leaf displays that led to vanishing points.

h-water funnels

We chuckled to ourselves as others passed by, sweating in their efforts to reach the summit quickly. Our purpose–a slow and steady climb filled with opportunities to notice, like the funnels of water that dripped from rock to rock.

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One of our favorite stops–Centennial Pool, where water mesmerized us as it cascaded over moss-covered rocks.

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And a chipmunk darted about, surprising us with its close proximity–until we looked up and saw a couple with a dog. Perhaps we looked like we’d offer a safe haven.

h-narrow beech fern

We spent a lot of time wallowing in ferns because Ann has developed a keen interest in them this year. One of our fun finds was the narrow or northern beech fern, which portrayed its natural habit of dripping downward. We loved that we could ID this one by beginning with its winged attachment to the rachis or center stem.

h-artist's conk

Fungi also drew our attention. The mountain had been in the clouds as we approached, so it was no wonder that dew drops decorated this artist’s conk.

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Among our fungi sightings–a false tinder conk.

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And among my favorites–a fairy ring.

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Though the flowers were few, we did spy some purple asters.

h-paper art

And then there were sculptures that caught our attention, like this paper birch artwork framed by moss-covered trees.

h-birch art yellow

And a yellow birch offering its own message to the universe.

h-mossy roots

Some tree roots also begged to be noticed. So we did as we acknowledged the resident faeries.

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At last we found my carriage road. Or at least something that slightly resembled it.

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And then the tunnel.

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And a glimpse of the world beyond.

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Within seconds, without a drum roll, the jaw-dropping view of the Notch enveloped our focus.

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As we ate lunch, another human-savvy critter came closer than is the norm–a red squirrel. We think he coveted Ann’s lunch–a peanut butter and blueberry sandwich with whole blueberries. Who wouldn’t?

h-mtn ash display

Mountain summits in these parts often feature Mountain Ash trees. Today, I paid attention to the pattern, including the six finger splay of its leaflet.

h-mtn ash twigs

And I couldn’t resist the contrast of color it offered against the mountain backdrop.

h-mtn ash leaf

Though we didn’t see any Mountain Ash berries, each individual leaf presented its own point of view.

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At the beginning of our hike and again at the summit, we kept hearing a helicopter. Mount Washington was obscured by cloud cover, but with her binoculars, Ann observed a helicopter with a litter. It seemed to follow the same route again and again.

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Our hope was that it was practice over mission. We had no idea of the purpose.

h-maple tree? (1)

At last we hiked down. One of the best parts about following the same path is that new stories await–when you can take the time to look up. And our pièce de résistance–an old snag. A beautiful old snag. Notice its vertical lines intersected by horizontal lines. We spent a long time studying and caressing this natural sculpture.

h-Sharp-scaly Pholiota (Pholiota squarrosoides) (1)

Though it appeared to be dead, life reigned.

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I know my mentors will correct me if I’m wrong, but I do believe this is Pholiota squarrosa, commonly known as the shaggy scalycap, the shaggy Pholiota, or the scaly Pholiota. Whatever you want to call it, it seemed to have its own vanishing point.

h-train tracks (1)

Much the same was true for the train tracks we crossed that head north toward Breton Woods.

h-train tracks south (1)

And those that lead south from Crawford’s Notch.

Thanks to Ann for today’s hike into the vanishing point, a disappearance into the woods for a visual exploration.

Top Notch Mondate

Every Monday spent with my guy is top notch, but this one will stand out above others.

Mt Willard

Our destination–Mount Willard in Crawford Notch. Yup, scaling up that sheer rock face was in our future. We were headed to the top of the Notch.

trail sign

We chose this trail because it is rather easy and quick, yet offers a fabulous view.

Pool

Somehow before reaching Centennial Pool, I did a face plant. (Don’t tell my sister). This time it was a rock that dislodged under my foot. Yeegads, it’s been a rough couple of days, but all is well.

pool falls

Watching water fall is like watching flames leap in a campfire–mesmerizing.

pool 2

And refreshing–as in downright chilly.

snow

Here and there, we found patches of snow. While one woman we met on the trail wasn’t thrilled about it, we rejoiced.

well-trodden path

The path up Mount Willard is well trodden. In fact, it’s an old horse-drawn logging road.

rocky path

Though muddy in spots, for the most part, it’s rocky–requiring an attentive perspective.

in the groove

Like the moss growing in this cut log, we’ve developed a groove over the years that allows us to walk and talk or just walk. I love that we allow each other that space and time to think as we take it all in. To be in our own big worlds.

light at the end of the tunnel

At the start, the trail passes through a hardwood forest mix of beech, birch and oak. And then the community switches to the softwood neighborhood–hemlock and spruce–it takes on that Christmas fragrance.

reaching summit 2

The prize awaits at the end of the tunnel,

prayersprayer 2

where prayers reach far and wide as they blow in the wind.

summit 2

A picture perfect view of Crawford Notch–who can ask for anything more? Route 302 directly below (hard to believe that this very road passes by our home) and the railroad tracks carved into the side of Mount Willey on our right.

lunch rock

It was quite warm as we sat on lunch rock and enjoyed the usual–PB&J (with butter for me!)

Mount Webster ridge

Below us stretched the U-shaped glacial valley, formed to the left by Mount Webster. I’m forever in awe of such settings, where one can only imagine the forces that have shaped this landscape.

erosion

falling rock

And continue to shape it, as evidenced by the mountainside erosion and landslides.

spruce on edge

Though the spruce and firs do their best to hold all in check, nature happens.

MW 4

A few steps to our left and a look over our shoulders–Mount Washington.

RR station

Somehow the descent passed quickly and we reached the Crawford Notch Depot in record time. But . . . we missed the train–by a month or so. Good thing our truck was still in the parking lot.

Mt W and R

Since we were so close, we drove up to Bretton Woods for a rear view (as in backside, not rare) of the Great Mountain. Two clear days in a row–a treat.

Tuckerman's Pale Ale

To celebrate, we treated ourselves to a glass of Tuckerman’s Pale Ale.

BE 1 BE 2BE 3BE 4BE 5

And in return, we were treated to this view as we drove across the Moose Pond Causeway on Route 302.

Most definitely a Top Notch Mondate.