Imagine a clear stream. Tall boulders to sun on and sit on like a mermaid. Fish nibbling at your legs. Larger fish swim by, with dull colored bodies but flashes of color on their fins. Pools deep enough to tread water and other, shallower spots to just sit and soak.
The Lilly Bluff area is most famous as a destination for rock climbers. But for me and my family, no summer would be complete without a swim there, hanging out on a slanting boulder, then splitting up with Dad doing his plant survey along the banks and the rest of us exploring the river by swimming it. There are plenty of trails to get warmed up with and as stated above the rock climbing will get you nice and hot to enjoy some natural Tennessee water.
The area is pretty well known, indeed it even has restrooms. But if you feel like it’s hard finding a spot to yourself, keep moving along the bank and you’ll find your own boulder.
You can sometimes see just the skipping of a frog-sized shape. Other times though you can find their big-eyed faces peaking up out of the water or the leaves. I count myself lucky when I catch them like that.
Yvonne stayed silent, wanting to conteplate nature in a respectful, worshipful way. Silent too, I crept slowly and silently too, but my approach was that of a hunter. I wanted to capture the big-eyed stair, the dull back, the bright green under them.
In my experience frogs are either still or hop or swim out of the way. Rarely have I ever seen one just leisurely stroll.
But I must have been doing something right. Only after quite a few pictures did this one jump out of the way.
Green frogs are not always green or in this case, not always all across their bodies. The main thing that separates them from bullfrogs is the fold that extends down their backs. They also lack the square or round spots of pickerel or leopard frogs. If all that came off as gibberish to you, and to you they’re all frogs, that was the same for me until I read up on these hopping adorables in The Amphibians of Tennessee, a book I recommend.
Their mating call, which they make at age two onward when seeking mates sounds like a banjo and you can hear it for half a mile.
I spotted this and another frog recently at the University of Tennessee Arboretum in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The Arboretum is not, precisely, wilderness, but rather spot with various experimental and exhibit areas, among them “small wetlands” which are shallow ponds. These are the best spots, as you can imagine, for frogs.
Purple flowers bloom, pools with lilies sit quietly, and if you keep walking far enough, you’ll see little frogs jumping from your path everywhere. Ducks swim by. Just the kind of place that makes you want to take a moment, reflect …
And scratch like crazy from all the mosquito bites. I imagine for a lot of people what they’ll be contemplating is … how soon they can leave.
All joking aside, Yvonne and I enjoyed coming to Quincy Bog Natural Area, near Rumney NH, by evening. It’s a short trail and you might even learn some plant names by the helpful signs placed near ferns. While we did not see beavers, we did see what appeared their dam. With a little insect repellent, which we did not have, you should be fine. And truth be told I can handle a few bites in the name of natural beauty.
Rather than reading about Quincy Bog, enjoy it for yourself! This video isn’t by me, but Peter Bloch really does a good job.
Trail maps are available here althoug we did fine looping around the pond without one.
Artist’s Bluff, particularly the less than .5 miles just the bluff, is not that far a walk but it has everything: grayish cliffs! Mountains of green trees! A bright blue lake! And that most scenic of things, an interstate!
It’s another odd thing writing about hikes and National Parks. There are people like Bill Bryson in “A Walk in the Woods” who whine about being out in the woods too far away from any farms or villages — unlike in Europe — and want some human habitation for perspective. And then there’s people like Edward Abbey who demand that not a single car touch their perfect parks.
And then in the middle there’s me, an admirer of both writers, who just sits back and looks at that little shoelace of pavement I-93 with its hot wheels cars and trucks. They go by in the shadow of the mountains around them, dwarfed by the mountains that drew artists lugging their canvasses here almost a century ago. Neither they nor the ski slopes really steal from the area’s natural beauty that have brought people here for centuries.
Ladies in their frilly dresses climbed here. That’s at least what my guidebook told me, although imagining them on such a steep and rocky trail seems nonsensical. But even back then artists appreciated these views. Here’s a few comparisons of then and now.
Many people, people who are not trying to cram this hike in near sundown like I was, go on to Bald Mountain or stop at the bluff on their way down. Also, the nearby Echo Lake is a good way to cool off, again, if you’re visiting at a different time of day. For me though I have no regrets. Artist’s Bluff is a place to enjoy at your own pace.
“This pothole is perhaps the most remarkable of its kind in New England,”
-Henry David Thoreau in one of his less memorable sentences, describing quite a memorable place.
Thoreau’s always this overwhelming presence for all of us who write about nature. Especially the ones of us, like me, who aren’t him.
Thanks to Thoreau, a nature writer can’t confess to watching Marvel movies, or enjoying the cheesy ooze of a Taco Bell burrito, or admit that the song in his head he hikes to isn’t his own different drummer but a Justin Bieber EDM track.
We’re supposed to pretend we’re above it all, even if we’re really aren’t.
It is with this in mind that I confess I spent much of my time on the Basin Trail trying to “suck the marrow” to use Thoreau’s creepy phrase from Walden, out of the place in the most un-Thoreau way possible: by trying to see what it would look like captured on my phone, obsessing over the shots I could get, I had to force myself away from that thing and just enjoy the scenery for myself a few times. At least none of them were selfies. I hate my own face in photos, mostly.
But odds are you want to read about the trail itself, not about people with stupid-looking facial hair. And thankfully my pictures will probably help you see some of its highlights. It’s just 1.6 miles round trip, although it does involve climbing a hill. But the most famous part’s down at the bottom.
The basin itself, what my New England Grammy calls “Where the Old Man of the Mountain washes his Feet” comes near the beginning of the walk, and while it’s not big as far as rock or water formations go, it’s charm comes from how melting glacers and whirring sand and rocks shaped the rock into a smooth curving surface.
“A luxurious bath fit for the ablutions of a goddess,” is how another 19th century writer, Samuel Eastman described it. A rail stops any visiting goddesses from actually jumping in though.
While less noted in signs, the whole area around the basin does have some shallower pools to play around in. The real highlight for me though was further up the trail, and harder to really show in photos.
While the trail stays in the shade, it has plenty of places to get out and be on a long slab of rock with a flowing stream down it, reaching down the mountainside. The water sprays out over rocks and smoothly glides through channels. Families come out here to picnic and splash about and rightly so. Pictures don’t really do it justice though. Which is why I kept trying. The sheer size of the smooth rock, like a wide river itself is what we enjoyed exploring, sliding down its rocks, climbing along streams, hiding in little rock formations. And that size is exactly what these pictures can’t show.
The shaded path has its charms too though, particularly chipmunks.
Kinsman falls was near the end of our rooty path and unlike my guidebook “AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains” would indicate, the route to it was indeed marked.
There are waterfalls that make you feel like just a tiny drop. Then there are intimate fountains like Kinsman Falls that aren’t roaring so much as quiet escapes with deep, clear pools below. And Kinsman Falls was indeed an escape for us. Unlike the rest of the Basin Cascade Trail we were alone there.
The mountains of Franconia Notch show off their granite slabs to visitors below and to climbers of its mountains.
They turn red at sunlight.
You can see them from the interstate, pull off and visit them from along a bike trail, swim in a lake below them, ski them in winter, hike them or rock climb them regardless, Franconia Notch State Park has something for many different tastes. Of course, most famously, people often view Franconia notch from above on the Appalachian Trail from Mount LaFayette.
As we were trying to speed run New Hampshire, we focused on two short hikes: The Basin and Artist’s Bluff. I will post them later. For now though, enjoy these images taken on and near the park’s bike trail which we used as a route to travel through some of park.
They aren’t representative. Much of the bike trail is wooded rather than wide open and it’s never far from the interstate. Still it’s a way to avoid interstate traffic and parking issues to get out and enjoy the park, walking to all of its trails.
Plus, it had one or two fresh raspberries still left which were certainly delicious.
“We humans are a self centered race. We see ourselves in everything. We assign identities and emotions where none exist. And we remake our world in our own image.” -Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics.
But the one place you don’t see him: On the actual mountain.
The devotion people have to this set of ledges, a natural formation resembling a face, first recorded in 1805 is touching, in its own way. It’s not large when viewed from below and only visible from a certain angle. But it looked human. And to visitors that was what mattered.
Thanks to writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Daniel Webster though, who both wrote about it, and the natural desire to identify with things that look like us, people loved that face as though it was an actual person. In 1958 people tried to hold it up with steel rods and turnbuckles.
But in 2003 after years of being stuck on a mountain and unable to live free, the old man died. I had looked at him many times. But now I can’t.
The ledges crumbled, as ledges tend to do, despite many efforts to preserve the monument. Much of the country didn’t notice. After all, the Iraq war was starting that same year.
But people loved the old man and, they couldn’t just let it go unmarked. Indeed you can still see The Old Man, but not as a rock. Instead, it’s a shape on a metal post, visible up there through a trick in perspective at Profile Plaza, as shown in these photos I took on site.
Some people may wonder what all the fuss is about. But even without the Old man, the other less humanoid cliffs and mountains surrounding the area, visible nearby on the Franconia Notch Bike Path are magnificent. More on that later.