Exploring New Hampshire: The Worst Tour Followed by a Great Tour

Sitting in a large van with a group of people, I tried to enjoy a four hour tour along country roads in the dark staring at the side of the road. As we drove, our driver and guide shined spotlights out the window into the woods hoping to catch a glimpse of our elusive target. We were on a moose hunt with hopes to catch several sightings during this nocturnal journey. As the evening wore on and my eyes blurred, the hope of a sighting faded. Eventually, a female moose was spotted by some (not me) for a few seconds before running into the trees. This was followed by a second sighting where we caught the back end of a male moose before it hit tree cover. The best view was our last stop where a female with her young stood for a few minutes allowing everyone to get a peek. Sound fun? Not really. It was long, boring and the moose hard to see in the dark, even with spotlights. Plus, one of the participants monopolized the guide with comments and questions, talking continually the entire trip.

The Gorham Moose Tour Company is one of the few that has permission from the state to use spotlights which are normally illegal. Moose are more active during the early evening making sightings more possible. As the sign above shows, moose on the road are a concern where collisions happen on a regular basis. We saw this sign frequently as we drove around the northern part of the state. Besides the threat of cars, something else is killing off moose in large numbers here – winter ticks. These ticks appear on moose in the fall and feed on them through the winter with calves the most likely to die as thousands of ticks can infest a single animal. It was sad information to learn.

View of Mount Washington from Visitor Center

A ride up Mount Washington was a must do for me while visiting the White Mountains. This is the highest mountain not only in New Hampshire but in all New England. It is famous for having some of the most extreme weather in the world. There are four ways to get up the 6,288 foot peak – by private car, tour van, cog railway or strenuous hike. Driving your own vehicle comes with some restrictions on the privately owned road as not all vehicles are allowed. I chose to take a tour which provided narration and a chance to relax and enjoy the scenery. The road climbs 4,600 feet in eight miles at an average grade of 12%. In the photo above, the peak is not the highest looking one but is the one to the left in back. The road to the peak can be seen in the righthand corner.

Historic U.S. Forest Sign

It was an enormous task to build the road which opened in 1861. The nearest source for supplies was eight miles away. Black powder was used as an explosive as dynamite was unknown at the time. Blasting holes had to be drilled by hand and tons of gravel and rock also had to removed by hand. Horse drawn carriage was the first to ascend, but in 1899 the first car made it up. This was a steam powered vehicle known as a “Locomobile” driven by F.O. Stanley and his wife Flora of Stanley Steamer fame. The trip took them two hours and ten minutes on a rutted, rocky road, much less than the six hours it took a horse drawn carriage or wagon. Below is a photo of the Locomobile.

Locomobile, first car up Mount Washington

In 1902 the first two gas powered cars reached the summit. In 2017, a record was made when a Subaru driver drove the road in five minutes and 44 seconds. It took us about 30 minutes to reach the top. Along the way we passed through four different ecological zones: 1) Hardwood forests, 2) Spruce and fir forests, 3) Balsam firs stunted by heavy winds and 4) Alpine with no trees and low growing plants.

Mount Washington Road

The road is narrow and winding with a one mile long section unpaved. With cars passing it became tight and with no shoulder or road barrier at times it seemed like accidents could be frequent here. But our guide told us that accidents are actually quite rare.

Mount Washington Summit Sign

Above is a photo of me at the summit sign with the visitor center and museum behind. Having good views from the mountain can be iffy due to frequent clouds and inclement weather. I kept track of the weather forecast on the mountain before choosing a good day and time to come. Located on the mountain is the observatory and weather station which is manned year around. It was here that the highest wind speed record at 231 miles per hour was recorded on April 12, 1934.

Mount Washington Weather Station

The summit is known as the “World’s Worst Weather” with hurricane force winds, lots of precipitation and very cold temps. An example of this is in 2004 when the temperature registered -43.6 degrees, winds at 87.5 mph with a wind chill factor of -102.59. The primary summit building is designed to withstand 300 mph winds and other structures are actually chained to the mountain.

Located on the mountain is the rock building that once housed the “Tip-Top House,” a former hotel. Built in 1853, it is the oldest surviving building in the summit area.

Tip-Top House

The Mount Washington Cog Railway has been running for 150 years beginning in 1869. It is the world’s first mountain climbing cog railway train. At one time more people came up the mountain on the train than they did by the road although that changed as automobiles became more popular. The train is accessed from the west side of the mountain, a different location than the beginning of the road. In the photo below the train can be seen in the distance inching up the mountain. If we had stayed longer, I would have liked to take the train up too on a different day. It would have been fun to experience it both ways.

Driving back down the mountain requires taking it easy on the brakes which the sign in the photo below emphasizes. This was a great tour to a fascinating historic location. I hope you enjoyed coming along!

2 thoughts on “Exploring New Hampshire: The Worst Tour Followed by a Great Tour”

  1. Very fascinating. I wonder what makes the wind so severe as the summit isn’t terribly high? Quite interesting, it would be something to feel the power of wind of that magnitude. Also unreal that people had to build buildings and roads in weather like that. Bummer about the Moose safari. I remember paying big bucks to go on a whale watching trip, we didn’t see a single whale, only bird colonies on bird poop covered rocks. The captain tried to make it up to us by singing old see faring songs which only made us think they knew we weren’t going to be seeing any whales that day. Feel like those sort of things are hit or miss! Did it have good reviews?

    1. Hi Matt, thanks for your comment! Actually the moose tour had pretty good reviews, although some people thought it was a little boring. It was SO hard to sit that long in the tour van and not really be able to see much in the dark. I realize though, that the tour company was trying to provide the opportunity to see the moose, which would be so difficult without their help. Just not worth it for me in the end. Too bad about your whale trip which did not produce whales! It is discouraging to spend time doing something that doesn’t meet expectations. Since I love boating, I usually enjoy any excursion on the water, even without the wildlife! I agree that Mount Washington is not very high for having such extreme weather. (Especially since we are used to the Sierras where you can drive to passes that are in the 9,000 foot range). Somehow a combination of factors produces severe weather on that mountain which makes for a fascinating visit to learn all about it!

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