Second in a series of posts about a fall colors trip
During breakfast on our second day in New Hampshire we learned that some wet weather was expected to roll in during the afternoon.
If far northern peoples can formulate so many words for snow and the conditions in which it is observed (falling, on the ground, slushy, etc.), why have the coastal peoples not come up with better words with which to describe precipitation? On our second day in the Northeast, we were certainly in a position to speak to the variety of ways that clouds can dump their ballast.
Our enthusiastic plan to hike to Lonesome Lake (and hopefully beyond) in Franconia State Park was soon abandoned when we saw the low clouds hanging just inches above Echo Lake, adjacent to the trailhead at the Lafayette Camp Ground. We decided to kill some time in Woodstock, the closest town.
Woodstock is one of the more famous towns in the region – just not this Woodstock. The famous one is in Vermont. We had the town almost to ourselves as we wandered through the dozen or so shops that line the town’s main street: Fadden’s General Store (est. 1896) and Sugar House Museum; Gifts from the Fields, Farms and Forests (guess that about covers it); and the Cascade Coffeehouse, which was serving liquid apple pie – a variation on hot apple cider (smelled delicious).
Since the point of the hike to Lonesome Lake — the beautiful view of the Franconia Notch – was nullified by the continuing misty conditions, our best option seemed to be the Falling Waters Trail, with its three cascades.
As much as we might have enjoyed a panorama view of fall colors, the fog lent the forest a surreal, magical quality. It also had a dampening effect on most visitors, leaving us to explore mostly in solitude. Most of the time I hike for exercise, pushing along at a pace of a 14 minute mile. But on an outing like this one, I constantly stop, sometimes to take pictures, but many times just to notice the images created by textures, colors and juxtapositions: fungus on stumps, leaves on still pools, fallen trees leaning against one another.
Soon after taking the right hand fork a few hundred feet beyond the trailhead, we crossed Walker Brook where a thin current of water raced between ochre-colored flat boulders. The first waterfall, which we encountered after a mile on the trail, looks like an amphitheater over which the curiously named Dry Brook bumped downward for 20 feet, landing in a horseshoe-shaped spray. Jon and I continued a few hundred feet higher to the second plunge, the 60 foot Swiftwater Falls, where the trail crosses the river.
I suffer from a common hiker’s malady, that compulsion to see what’s around the next bend or over the next ridge until one arrives at a destination. Knowing that there was a third waterfall, I couldn’t stand not seeing it. Cloudland Falls was only another half mile, but the trail became steeper and quite a bit rockier. Climbing up the steep granite steps that parallel the 80 foot cascade, I had the waterfall to myself. (Future trail note: it is possible to turn this short hike into a longer one by continuing to the Franconia Ridge trail, but one should be prepared for some boulder climbing and possibly slippery conditions. I did slip on the wet leaves that coated the smooth granite boulders on the return trip, but fortunately walked away with just a couple of small bruises.)
Damp but refreshed by our short sojourn in nature, we returned to the inn as the inclement weather arrived with a vengeance. A severe storm advisory warned of gale force winds, thunderstorms and possible power outages. Ominous clouds raced over the adjacent hill from the south and rain sheeted down at a steep angle. The lights remained on at the inn, thanks to a generator that kicked in, but the entire region was dark.
Fortunately, we already had reservations at Bailiwick’s in Littleton. The power outage sent people throughout the region scurrying for dinner. Tucked in to the basement of a historic inn, the restaurant has the feel of a speakeasy: low slung ceilings, timber posts, crowded bar and low lighting. My pork with hot-in-the-city rub and Jon’s wild salmon were both excellent, and our bottle of Paraduxx was reasonably priced. (Bailiwick’s also operates a sister restaurant in St. Johnsbury, VT, less than an hour west.)