When I was still quite new to New Hampshire, my family gathered up here for a visit and a quick reunion. We spent most of the time just hanging out together, but when they were preparing to leave I insisted that I show them something memorable about the state.
With only one shot at creating a memory, I suggested we visit the state’s most famous attraction: The Old Man of the Mountain.
Driving north from Concord in a three-car caravan, we barely made it to the Tilton exit before the skies grew cloudy, mist enveloped the car and the vistas along the way up I-93 turned gray. By the time we passed Plymouth and were heading into the mountains I had gained a new respect for how tall our state actually is. Franconia had looked so close on the map.
We finally pulled in to the Old Man viewing area and tumbled out of the cars. I pointed up at the beloved profile of the Great Stone Face, which was visible through the mist. It looked pretty small. “Ta daa,” I said.
My younger brother and his wife, my sister and her kids, and my 70-something-year-old father all gazed up wearing exactly the same expression, a car-weary and bemused gaze that declared: “We came all this way to see that?”
Certainly there were better ways to be introduced to the Old Man, but that’s what they got, and they’ve never let me forget it. I’ve even seen the video that my little brother shot in his rental car, where he’d point the camera at the bleak horizon and say, “Are we there yet?”
Last year, when the Old Man finally surrendered to the gravity of his situation, I had the bittersweet pleasure of calling up my sister and reminding her that, if we hadn’t taken that long drive into the misty mountains so long ago, she and her kids would never have seen the Great Stone Face.
Still, if I had only known then what I know now. Today I can list a dozen memorable New Hampshire experiences that we cruised past in that familial quest. I’ve sampled many of the great restaurants that we could have enjoyed for a break along the way. And I’ve got a good short list of alternate spots for those seeking the quintessential New Hampshire. But after a decade of stopping, looking and listening to the towns, cities, notches, grants, purchases and locations of this state, the thing that amazes me most is how much there still is that I don’t know.
My family is coming back for another reunion late this summer and I have a decision to make. Do I show them around the places that are now familiar to me and impress them with how seasoned I’ve become, or do I lead the caravan back off into the undiscovered country and take a chance on finding something we might never see again?
Heck. They’ll be here for a week. I’ll do both. NH