Thursday, November 4, 2010


In the mood for a valley hardwood ramble, I headed to Crawford Notch and the trailhead for the Dry River Trail. The primary objective was to check out the old growth hardwood forest along the southern section of the Saco River Trail. This is described in an article, "Among the Notches," written by renowned New England ecologist Tom Wessels. It will be published in the forthcoming anthology, Beyond the Notches: Stories of Place in New Hampshire's North Country, due to be published in Spring 2011. One of the co-editors of this book is my good friend Mike Dickerman. The article can be read online here.

The Dry River Trail follows an old road in from Route 302.

Some of those old trees can be seen along the first half-mile of Dry River Trail.

A half-mile in, the Saco River Trail heads off to the L and wanders 2.4 mi. NW along the floor of the Notch to meet the Sam Willey Trail near the Willey House site. The Saco River Trail was opened about 10 years ago under the direction of Crawford Notch State Park manager John Dickerman (Mike's brother). It's an easy and delightful walk at any time of year.

The hardwoods rule along most of the Saco River Trail. In his article, Tom Wessels notes that there is more than 300 acres of old growth in this area. He estimates that some of the trees here are 300 years old.

Wessels makes note of this large old yellow birch with a prominent burl. It's on the L side of the trail about 1/4 mile from the Dry River Trail.

There are some good-sized beeches, such as the old bear tree on the R in this photo.

Most prominent in this stand are the big old sugar maples, with their deeply furrowed bark. This one is right next to the trail.

About 0.8 mi. from the Dry River Trail, the Saco River Trail skirts a large beaver swamp. I made a short off-trail excursion through open woods to the eastern end for a view of the S end of Mt. Webster (R) and cloud-capped Mt. Willey (L).

Many saplings and small trees have been gnawed by the beavers.

Along the trail near the swamp is this unusual fractured boulder. Perhaps this is volcanic rock?

In another 0.4 mi. the trail crosses Webster Brook; this was my planned turnaround point. This stream flows down from a deep, wild ravine on the SE side of Mt. Webster.

On the way back I visited the W edge of the beaver swamp. Here there was a view of the rocky nubble of Mt. Crawford (R) and a spur ridge of Stairs Mountain (L).

An array of tall maples behind the W shore.

I found a nice dry seat in the woods by the NW corner of the swamp.

Continuing on, I returned to the E edge of the swamp, where snow-caked Mt. Willey was now revealed.

Before heading home, I made a short side excursion up the Dry River Trail. In his article, Tom Wessels points out the contrast of the relatively young birch forest lining the old logging railroad grade here with the old growth hardwoods back at the Saco River Trail junction.

The sides of the valley quickly close in on this trail as you enter the Presidential Range-Dry River Wilderness. The Dry River valley has a wild, almost spooky aura, unlike any other place in the Whites. Perhaps it goes back to Hawthorne's story of the Great Carbuncle, which had this basin as its setting. It's also attributable to the deep, sharply cut valley - a wooded canyon, really - that the trail runs through for the first few miles.

Where the trail turns L away from the river, 0.9 mi. from Rt. 302, I made my way a short distance downstream to a sitting rock at the edge of the Dry River Pool - a scenic spot lined with sloping ledges.

Looking upstream from the pool.

A little farther downstream was a wonderful sitting rock, perfect for a short snooze in the November sun.

Next to this perch was a strikingly patterned slab of gneiss.

On the way out I walked the Dry River Connector, which follows the old railroad grade to the Dry River Campground.

From the campground, which has nice, well-spaced sites, I made a short bushwhack back to my car at the start of the Dry River Trail, completing a leisurely afternoon ramble on the floor of the Notch.

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