In the heart of New Hampshire, a few miles south of the Old Man of the Mountain in Franconia Notch State Park lies a natural travel wonder carved out of rock over millennia. A superb three kilometre (two miles) walk traverses covered bridges, glacial rocks, tumbling waterfalls and a staggering narrow passage called Flume Gorge. In fall, the reds, bronzes and yellows of the surrounding trees provides a dazzling backdrop to nature’s work. One youthful tree demonstrates the fight for life as it seemingly grows out of a rock, its eager roots exploiting small flaws in the rock face to soak nutrition from the soils below.
The walk starts crossing a 200 year old covered bridge, one of the oldest in the country. Protected from the elements with a roof, covered bridges extended the life of typical wooden bridges tenfold in areas of savage winters and provided better footing for people and stock animals during the icy months. Today they appear as a footnote in history littering the New England states with a feeling of yesteryear.
Following a dirt path, you soon arrive at the walk’s highlight. Named after artificial waterways used by loggers to transport heavy tree trunks from mountainous areas, natural Flume Gorge extends for a length of 250 metres and narrows to around five metres – the towering walls encroaching till you feel like you can touch both sides at once. A narrow boardwalk with stairs clings to the sheer rock wall only metres above the dark gushing waters which have eroded through the granite bedrock. You can feel the passage of time as you look up to witness the rock walls stretch over 80 metres skyward, permanently covered in a rich mat of mosses, ferns and flowers from the scant light which penetrates the gorge’s depths.
Exactly two hundred years ago this year (1808), this gorge was discovered by a 93 year old woman named Aunt Jess who stumbled across the gorge while fishing. It is difficult to imagine such an elderly woman strolling this rocky and uneven country and being the first to sight such a stunning offering of nature.
Walking upstream, Avalanche Falls creates a huge din as it cascades towards the gorge. Further on, past further falls, a second covered bridge sits above a peaceful pool constructed primarily from a centuries old Sentinel Pine which fell in a hurricane. This statuesque tree was estimated to be over 50 metres high and almost five metres in circumference.
Through further woodland paths, dripping in vibrant autumnal shades, the loop path circles back around to the starting point. Take a gentle hour and a half to contemplate a meandering stream shaping nature’s path through this little natural treasure trove deep in the heart of New England.
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