Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Real New England

Paul and I spent this past weekend in New Hampshire, at the eastern end of the White Mountain National Forest. It was, simply put, amazing. I can't believe we've lived in Connecticut for so many years and not explored the states to our north until now. And I have to say, for all that Connecticut is technically part of New England, everything in New Hampshire felt just so much more New England-y than what we have in Southern Connecticut. The fall weather was lovely and crisp, we drove through cute towns and farms and forests and mountains, and we saw gorgeous scenery everywhere we looked. Of course, the magnificent fall foliage had a lot to do with that!

We did a lot of things during our brief trip, but the nature-related highlight was our visit to Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeastern U.S. at 6288 feet. We drove up the Mount Washington Auto Road, braving the narrow turns with no guard rails. The somewhat harrowing drive was 100% worth it, both for the things we saw on the way and the amazing views when we got to the top.

We got out of the car to walk around a few times during the drive, and the change in environment as we went up in elevation was amazing. At around the 2000-3000 foot level, the abundant clusters of Mountain Ash berries were extremely dramatic:

So many berries!

A few small birds were flitting around in this area, including this female Purple Finch (a bird I don't get to see very often in Connecticut):

Another couple thousand feet up and we were nearing the tree line. This might have been my favorite environment on the mountain, just because every plant here was so warped and weird. These fully-grown trees must have lived through some astonishingly harsh conditions to end up so small (about my height) and crooked; they look now like they're constantly being pushed by the wind, although there was hardly a breeze on the day we were there:

(We did learn that the Mount Washington observatory held the record until recently for highest wind speed on Earth. Poor trees!)

There were lots of little birds foraging in these small trees, too, but they mostly stayed under cover, so that the miniature forest seemed to be constantly chirping. As far as I could tell, most of these birds were Yellow-rumped Warblers and Dark-eyed Juncos. Hello, Junco on your tiny tree perch:

I just love how barren this whole area looked, especially compared to the lush, colorful, berry-laden forests on the lower mountain slopes:

And I am totally fascinated by these trees:

I described this place as "barren", but there were actually things growing all over. These things were just amazingly tiny. There were carpets of strawberry plants with multicolored leaves no bigger than my fingernail:

Edit: Huge thanks to Jackie for pointing out that these plants are actually most likely Three-toothed Cinquefoil (Sibbaldiopsis tridentata), a plant which thrives in alpine regions. I should've known better than to jump to conclusions about plant IDs in such an unfamiliar place as near the top of a mountain!

And bone-bleached woody plant stalks among the most perfect little rock gardens:

I don't know what kind of plant this is, but it looks like it should be tree-sized in any other environment, instead of the creeping, foot-wide (delicate, beautiful) thing it is here:

Even the rocks were green with big bright patches of lichen:

Finally, we reached Mount Washington's peak, and there were no more trees, not even tiny ones. Instead, there were rocks and lichen and clumps of brown grass, and astonishing views from the top of the world in every direction:

These mountains look like huge creatures to me, with their green-ridged backs:

So yeah, this was an awesome experience, and unlike anything I've seen before. (Although Paul and I have noticed that we tend to end up in high places on all of our trips together. We suspect that we have goat instincts.)

We made it back down the mountain safely and got to explore other wonderful things as well. In our other wanderings, we thought we might've found a Moose print on the edge of a muddy pond, and there were also the (possibly) Coyotes howling at night while we were getting ready for sleep. I would've loved to stay longer and see what other wildlife might show up, but our brief visit was awesome nonetheless.

At the end of our trip, we took a brief detour into Maine, which, as it turns out, is also beautiful:

Thanks for the lovely vacation, New England. Hopefully we'll get to visit again sometime soon!


  1. Oh, what a beautiful trip! Thanks for taking us with you. I hope to get up Mt. Washington next summer with some botanists familiar with alpine plants. One alpine plant I do know is Three-toothed Cinquefoil (Sibbaldiopsis tridentata), which is probably what your "strawberry" photo is. It has three teeth at the tip of each leaf and thrives in the harsh mountaintop conditions. It looks kind of like strawberry. Both are in the Rose Family.

    1. I can only imagine the treasures you and your botanist friends will find on Mt. Washington! And thank you for telling me about the Three-toothed Cinquefoil! Here in my normal (non-alpine) wanderings, I think three leaflets = strawberry, and five leaflets = cinquefoil, and I assumed my generalization would hold on the top of a mountain. Now I know! :)