I loved New Hampshire. As soon as I peeled off I-91 to finally enter the state, I knew I was in for something special. I never realized I-91 stayed within Vermont even though the border to New Hampshire was literally only yards away, and yet I hadn’t officially crossed over until the day was nearly spent. As twilight approached, the mountains loomed higher and larger than I’ve ever seen before, while wisps of snow twirled around on the roads and danced in the wind.
I was now on Route 302, criss-crossing the White Mountain region in nearly pitch blackness as I made my way towards Jackson. I was worried about the road conditions but I sailed right on through without any issues, and after about an hour of mountain driving I arrived and checked into the resort with the temps at a balmy 2 degrees. Eeeesh.
Although oddly enough, it actually felt warmer here than it did back in New York earlier, where it was still in the 20s. Strange. but anyhoo, I settled into the condo, then promptly headed out again to explore Jackson.
Jackson itself has a business district that starts with a covered bridge, leading you into a loop around town where many bed and breakfast inns resided. Quite a few of them also had dining available to the public as well, but tonight I would indulge in the feasts offered by the local Shannon Door Pub, which was renowned for their good pizza. Of course, I being the disgusting New York snob that I was, scoffed at this claim and set out to prove them wrong. :-D
It was music night at the pub, the mellow sounds of a harmonica and guitar permeating the air as I sat and listened while waiting for my takeout. I wanted to stay, but I felt enormously out of place, being by myself and not knowing anyone here, so I was content to order the pub food and discreetly exit stage right, back to the resort and in front of my fireplace. I wish I could have stayed though.
As soon as I returned back at the ranch, I rearranged the furniture and sat down to have a taste of the pizza, and oh… my goodness. Somebody up here actually knows how to make pizza! I’m stunned! It didn’t have that New Yaaawky taste to it, but it was chewy, slightly spicy and very delicious. They only offer one size from what I could tell, a personal size about 12-14 inches in diameter, but I devoured the whole thing in no time.
Yep, New Hampshire was getting off to a great start. When the locals can please my taste buds with their pizza, you know the times are gonna be good.
After my pizza feast, I turned in for the night and woke up the next morning to a frigid icebox. My goodness. It was too cold to go geocaching, but perfect for indoor shopping, so I decided to use the occasion to get some tax-free shopping out of the way until the weather got warmer. I had breakfast at a place called Peach’s, which I found by sheer happenstance, and amazingly enough also turned out to be the number one rated breakfast place on TripAdvisor too.
I didn’t find the food exceptionally good though, but the mood and atmosphere of the restaurant was awesome. It was an ancient building that was as cozy and inviting as a bed and breakfast inn. You can sit in the back by the windows to enjoy a view of the forest next door, which I promptly did and treated myself to pancakes and eggs. The waitress was very cute too, but I couldn’t follow her speech pattern well enough to take a leap and ask her out. Sigh. I hate being hearing impaired sometimes. Although I’m sure she would have said no anyway and was just being friendly (I’m good at reading body language ya know.)
After pancakes I hit the outlets in North Conway, making sure to cover every store that was there. I expected the prices to be higher since there were no taxes, but I was surprised to see the prices were pretty much similar to back home. I ended up buying a Banana Republic scarf (originally priced at $40) for only $23, and a few other trinkets here and there for Christmas gifts. After the outlets I hit up a few other stores as well, including the nearby Christmas Loft, a retail store that reminded me of Yankee Candle with all the Christmas items they had on display, including a wintry village you could walk through while browsing for things to buy. Neat stuff!
With the shopping finally done, I drove around Jackson for a while to figure out where to stop in for dinner, and finally decided on the Red Fox, a bar and grille restaurant similar to an Applebee’s or TGI Friday’s. They had three dining areas to choose from, so I chose the lounge and was brought to a nice corner booth that was furthest away from the bar. There was hardly anyone here since the restaurant had just opened, so I had arrived at just the right time. I ordered nachos for appetizers and a meatloaf sandwich. Just about everything is cooked over a woodfire grill, although I wasn’t aware of why this was such a selling point until my waitress brought the nachos:
Oh my goodness gracious. Nachos that roasted on an open fire. And my word, they were the BEST nachos I have EVER had. Then came the meatloaf sandwich and I was in sheer heaven. Honestly, I never knew meatloaf or nachos could taste this good. This was definitely no Applebee’s.
Deep in the mountains, with single digit temps the norm, a cozy bar and grill, awesome food, and Christmas lights and decorations twinkling everywhere. There was truly no place I’d rather be. Most people prefer the summer, but I was definitely a winter man. As dark and cold as this time of year might be, it was also a time of twinkling lights, warm fireplaces, hot cocoa, and a landscape blanketed in snow. Forget palm trees and beaches. THIS is where I felt most at peace.
Eventually I had to drag myself away from the Red Fox, so I brown bagged what I didn’t finish and headed back to the resort. Night turned to morning again, the weather now much warmer, but not before leaving a light dusting of snow on the ground. Perfect weather for geocaching and a lazy drive around the mountains.
This time I had breakfast at a place called Glen Junction, another restaurant I picked completely at random. Their special today was pumpkin pancakes, so I treated myself to a stack and some home fries on the side. I barely had time to settle in after my order when the pancakes arrived. Already? Seriously, this was the third time in a row now where the food arrived stupidly fast. I could not believe how quick the service was around here.
And my God, the PANCAKES:
And I thought the pancakes I had back in Nashville were good. Nope, this stack of pure AWESOME eats it for breakfast (no pun intended.) At the risk of repeating myself, THE BEST pancakes I’ve ever had. It was topped in maple cream, then whip cream, with each bite the equivalent of a sugar-induced rave party going on inside your mouth. It took every ounce of restraint to keep myself from ordering two more dishes. Ay yi yi.
After inhaling everything on the plate, I sat back to digest a bit and watch the cute trains inside the restaurant as they quietly circled the room, Christmas decorations once again lavishly placed everywhere. I could have stayed in all day and relaxed, but I had a mountain to explore, so I gathered up my stuff and headed out, due north on Route 16 towards Mount Washington. As I drove I began to understand why this region was known as the White Mountains too. Typically most of the mountain tops are your standard gray or green (depending on how much tree covering there is), but there were one or two here that are completely covered in bright white snow. I had never seen anything like it.
I picked up a few geocaches along Route 16, until I arrived at the popular auto road for Mount Washington. Unfortunately it was closed for the season, and not even the Snow Coach tours were open. Ack.
I was disappointed, but the views here were so magnificent that you could park just about anywhere and still enjoy watching the mountains and the snow put on a spectacular show. The Adirondacks were beginning to pale in comparison to what I was seeing here. I always thought I had to visit the Rockies to see mountains like this, but the White Mountain Forest region were as steep and majestic as you could possibly ask for here in New England.
I decided to keep going and do a complete loop around the White Mountains. I passed through Gorham, then turned left onto Route 2 and drove leisurely to Bethlehem. From there I entered I-93 and went south to Franconia and eventually Franconia Notch State Park. This was the site of the where the famous Old Man of The Mountain once used to be, before the rocks finally crumbled in 2003. Even without the famous landmark, the views here were spectacular, so much that I constantly stopped at turnoffs and circled back and forth just to take it all in.
I’ve never skied before, but coming here and seeing all this now sparked a desire for me to give it a try in the near future. That and of course snowmobiling, which I would have done on this trip, but there just wasn’t enough snow yet to cover the trails. The upside though is that it gives me a reason to come back here in February.
After an hour or two of mountain peeping, I finally got back on the interstate and continued south to Lincoln. I had passed quite a few small towns in New Hampshire by now, but for some reason I liked Lincoln the best. Something about this particular town that offered just enough of civilization before getting TOO commercial, unlike North Conway. While stopping at a Mickie-Ds, I discovered a train just sitting there next to the parking lot near the Hobo Railroad:
From Lincoln I turned east again onto Route 112, which cuts through the White Mountains back to Conway. Plenty of turnoffs, parks and hiking trails could be found along the way, and because it was early in the season I practically had the roads to myself. I thought the Blue Ridge Parkway was nice, but Route 112 and 302 made the Blue Ridge look like a drive through Calcutta. It all seemed so mellow and serene, and the cars I did see would lazily move about, yet never so slow that I was on top of somebody’s bumper. It was bar none one of the most relaxing mountain drives I’ve ever taken.
All in all I drove about 120 miles, and I could have easily done it again, but by this time it had gotten dark again, and I was ready for another good dose of mountain food. It was time… for BBQ.
I stopped at the Hill’s Top BBQ just south of Jackson, walked in and was instantly greeted as if I were a long lost relative. The restaurant was cozy and lush with Christmas decor, each table having no less than 6 different bottles of sauce to choose from. Yep, I tried them all too. I had a platter of chicken tenders, wings, fries, pulled pork and potato salad, and Lord it was SO good.
After gouging myself in wings, I sat back and reflected on just how different things were here compared to home. I couldn’t get service this fast at a drive-thru, let alone a full fledged restaurant. And the people were extraordinarily friendly, so much that I found it almost unnerving. Even when I stopped for ice cream at a Dairy Queen, the DQ girl who took my order was ridiculously friendly.
“How are you today, sir?” She greeted me in an almost singsong voice. “Are you all bundled up and warm tonight?”
“Umm… Yeah… I’m doing good here…” I had to suppress my Brooklyn inclination to tell her, “WHATAYOUTHINK??” before grabbing my blizzard sundae and tossing change at her.
Yep, this New Yawker flatlander definitely isn’t used to this level of friendliness. You know, where people actually enjoy treating each other like human beings. :-D
After BBQ and another cozy evening by the fireplace, I would spend one more day here before returning home. I found just enough time in the morning to visit Jackson again while it was still snowing, driving through some of the residential areas and taking snapshots of some of the beautiful scenery here.
It’s funny, New Hampshire was never on my radar before, but after the past few days I’m kicking myself for not having visited here sooner. It was so tough to leave, but I promised myself I would return again this February, if only to go snowmobiling for a day.
On the way back home I took a little time to visit Concord and Manchester, nice little cities from what I could tell, but it occurred to me that without the mountains, this part of the state just didn’t do as much for me as Jackson and North Conway did. I arrived at New London in Connecticut and took the ferry back to Long Island. Flat, crowded, boring, hostile Long Island. Sigh.
I may be a resident of a flat and ugly island, but in my heart I will always be a man of the mountains.
Flickr Stream of Photos Taken During This Time Span