Natural Wonders of the North
Exploring Northern New Hampshire from North Woodstock
Just a couple of minutes from I-93 in the center of North Woodstock, the Woodstock Inn is easy to reach on a Friday evening, with plenty of time for dinner at The Woodstock Station, located in the original North Woodstock train depot. We split a Boxcar of Shrimp to nibble on over the first of our Brew Samplers from the inn's brewery. This flight of brews included five three-ounce pours of our choice from the long list on tap. Along with White Mountain Weasel Wheat and Old Man Oatmeal stout, we sampled their seasonal Autumn Brew as we enjoyed pan-seared rainbow trout in citrus-garlic butter and pulled pork braised in Loon Golden Ale.
Several fine old buildings in North Woodstock's little downtown cluster around the main inn, and we stayed in Cascade Lodge. Decorated as a classic old Adirondack-style lodge, it is furnished entirely in beautiful hand-crafted rustic furniture. In the common room big cushy sofas face a huge river-stone fireplace with a birch mantel. In our room, the king-size bed was made of peeled birch logs and the accessories are museum-quality Arts and Crafts reproductions. Nothing rustic about the comfort level, through – the room had a heated bathroom floor and whirlpool tub.
We ordered our included breakfast from what must be the most complete breakfast menu in the White Mountains, while browsing its several pages of entrees we munched on their famous sticky buns. We narrowed it to the dozen tempting varieties of Eggs Benedict and finally settled on Eggs Rosemary – poached eggs, artichokes, shiitake mushrooms, asparagus and roasted red peppers sautéed with basil pesto and topped with fresh cilantro hollandaise – and one of the simplest, a classic made with Canadian bacon.
To learn more about local happenings, after breakfast we made a short detour to the White Mountain Attractions Association, right at the I-93 exit, and looked through their exhibits on the old hotels, lumbering and the region's flora and fauna. From there we followed Route 112 west to Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves, a glacial formation where we saw first-hand how time, wind, water and weather can change the world. As the mile-deep ice melted into streams, they eroded the solid rock below them, especially when they rushed through cracks. One of these became Lost River, where today giant boulders nearly fill a steeply dropping gorge, forming caves and tunnels that almost swallow the river between cascades and waterfalls. The Giant Pothole, formed by swirling water below a glacial falls, is among the deepest known in the United States, at more than 60 feet. Although claustrophobia stopped me short of wriggling through the Lemon Squeezer (I did it once, and that was enough), we did scramble through the narrow spaces between the boulders and explore the rest of the caves. This wasn't my first visit to lost River, but each time I find something new to marvel at. On the way beck to north Woodstock, we stopped at the smaller – but still impressive – Agassiz Basin, carved by Moosilauke Brook where it runs alongside Route 112, shortly after leaving the National Forest.
All that climbing through lost River wore off the big breakfast, so we stopped for lunch at Peg's, where we had BLTs on toast, made with sweet juicy tomatoes and plenty of smoky bacon. It's on Route 3, which is also North Woodstock's Main Street, right next door to Fadden's General Store, a pleasant cross between store and museum where we bought a jug of maple syrup from Fadden's own maple grove.
We debated whether to drive up to the top of the Kancamagus Pass or to the head of Franconia Notch for some wide-open mountain view of the turning foliage, and the latter won out. The farther north and the higher we climbed, the more the foliage had turned, making a spectacular splattering of red, orange and yellow across the green mountainsides.
We combined our evening's entertainment with dinner, reserving a table on the Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train. The train's route follows the Pemigewasset River, and although there are no broad mountain vistas, there are plenty of long river views alternating with open woodlands. Most of these, along with the forests along the riverbanks, are hardwoods, a lot of them maples already beginning their autumn show. As the views changed, so did courses, and the dinner itself was attention-worthy. The giant scallops were cooked to the exact moment when their interior was moist and silky. The pork tenderloin was equally well prepared, in a wine sauce. As daylight faded into dusk, a light rain began, polishing each leaf so it glittered in the lights that illuminate the trees as the train passes.
We got a late start after our busy day yesterday, so today's breakfast turned into brunch. After the sticky buns we launched into a Camden Omelet (lobster, mushrooms, port, cream and seasonings, sprinkled with grated Parmesan) and a classic Huevos Rancheros made with their own salsa.
Sunday AfternoonWe'd been to Clark's Trading Post with the girls, but decided to revisit it on this weekend-for-two so we could spend more time in some of the museum exhibits that leave the kids glassy-eyed when compared with bears, eating ice cream and train rides through Wolfman's woods. These displays explore White Mountain history and local lore, and include fascinating collections of old time gadgets and vintage fire-fighting equipment. Of course, we did see the bear show, which always impresses us with how much fun the bears seem to be having. After a Segway ride, we stopped at the ice cream parlor for make-it-yourself sundaes to sustain us on the drive home.