Granite State attractions
Day tripping away from Laconia
Once upon a time Laconia Motorcycle Week was a weeklong party, but the times they are a’ changing. Surely a day, maybe two, can be spent at the New Hampshire Speedway enjoying vintage racing, sidehacks and Superbike competition in Loudon. Rain or shine, most of Wednesday is spent watching competitors tackle the hill climb. Naturally a full day, preferably the hottest weekend day, is spent checking out the scene at Weirs. Another day can be split between picking up essentials at Laconia H-D, grabbing a turkey lunch at Hart’s, and test riding that machine you dream of owning at the Fun Spot. Even with sloppy math this still comes up short of a full week. If you’ve been to Motorcycle Week more times than you can count on one hand, you just might want to get out of town and see what else the Granite State has to offer.
Where the wind blows free: Ride to the summit of Mount Washington
The first man-made tourist attraction in North America was the carriage road built to the summit of New England’s highest point in 1861. The 7.6-mile road climbs to 6,145 feet, which is just 143 feet short of the actual summit. Don’t turn your back on this mountain; it has some of the most extreme weather on the planet. In fact, the highest winds ever experienced by man (231 mph) occurred here on April 12, 1934 and 50 degrees with the wind chill is considered to be a nice day. Wooden buildings on the summit are anchored to the rocks by chains as thick as your wrists. The road has an average grade of 11.6 percent, which is why the oldest auto hill climb, the toughest bicycle race and one of the most brutal competitions for runners in the world all take place here. However, the view is exceptional and there’s no other road like it east of the Rocky Mountains.
Located on Route 16 in Pinkham Notch. www.mtwashingtonautoroad.com, 603.466.3988.
Admission $15 motorcycle and operator; $8 passenger
The gold standard: Stay at the Mount Washington Hotel
When Joseph Stickney built the hotel in 1902 it was state of the art; one of the first in the world to have indoor plumbing, one of the first with a sprinkler system and Thomas Edison installed the electrical system that had its own generator. In 1944 world leaders arrived for the Bretton Woods Monetary and Financial Conference and this is where they set the international gold standard, established the World Bank and created the International Monetary Fund. Now managed as the Omni Mount Washington Resort, the hotel has been meticulously restored. A drink on the grand veranda while sitting in wicker chairs looking up at the towering mountain is a treat, the dining room is first class (jackets required) and the ambiance will take you back to the Gilded Age.
Located on Route 302 at the northern end of Crawford Notch. www.omnihotels.com, 603.278.1000
Not just another cog in the machine: Take a train ride
Running from Bretton Woods to the summit of Mount Washington is one of the world’s greatest train excursions—the Cog Railway. On the cog railway, the locomotive turns a cog (a.k.a. gear or pinion) that engages a 2.8-mile long rack running between steel rails. This rack-and-pinion railroad was invented to overcome grades that reach 37.4 percent during the 2.7-mile ascent. Completed in 1869, it became an overnight sensation, the first of its kind in the world. The steam locomotive runs at 8:30 a.m. and, at other times, it might be a new bio-diesel engine.
Located at the end of Base Road, six miles from Route 302 in Bretton Woods. www.thecog.com, 800.922.8825. Tickets are $62.
A head above the rest: Castle in the Clouds
Perched high on Lee’s Mountain with a stupendous view of Lake Winnipesaukee is the unique estate called “Lucknow.” Built in the Arts & Crafts style in 1914 by Tom Plant, this 16-room mansion is completely original, including fixtures and furnishings. Constructed by the finest craftsmen in New England and with furniture custom-made in Boston, this unique home was also state of the art. It had central vacuuming, spa-like circular needle-spray showers, a brine refrigerator, a self-cleaning oven and an Aeolian “player” pipe organ in the hall. The octagonal dining room features hand-painted windows and ceiling; the kitchen a jigsaw puzzle floor. There’s even a secret room off from the library. The Carriage House Café is an excellent place for lunch—and you can’t beat the view. Tom Plant was only five feet tall. Was this why he built his house at such a high elevation?
Located on Route 171 in Moultonborough. www.castleintheclouds.org, 603.476.5900. Admission $15.
Full Steam Ahead: The M/V Mount Washington
There have only been two ships to sail on Lake Winnipesaukee bearing the Mount Washington name since 1872. The current one started life on Lake Champlain in 1888, but when the first vessel perished in a dockside fire, the Chateauguay was purchased in Vermont. Even with all the systems upgrades, which included cutting the ship in half and adding 25 feet to the hull in 1982, the M/V Mount Washington remains a vestige of an earlier era when steamships plied the waters of New England lakes. Day cruises, sunset cruises, dinner cruises, and my favorite, the Sunday Champagne Brunch Cruise, are offered. You don’t understand the Lakes Region unless you’ve cruised aboard its iconic ship.
Located at Weirs Beach. www.cruisenh.com 603.366.5531. Tickets $39—more for special cruises. (Note: During Motorcycle Week, the only cruise available is a special MC Week cruise on Monday afternoon.)
Shepard’s ride: Find the Redstone rocket in Warren
Designed by Weinher von Braun as a surface-to-surface missile, the Redstone was first launched from Cape Canaveral in 1954 and used to place New Hampshire astronaut Alan Shepard into sub-orbital flight in 1961 (the first American in space). This one was transported from the Redstone Arsenal in 1971. Warren is the only town in the United States with its own rocket. Imagine Cold War spy satellite photos showing a ballistic missile poised on a small village green.
Located on Route 25/Route 118 in Warren.
Shake it up: Lower Shaker Village and Canterbury Shaker Village
Founded in England as the United Society of Believers, the “Shakers” came to the United States in 1774. They established a village in Canterbury in 1792 and another in Enfield on Mascoma Lake in 1793. By the mid-18th century the Canterbury settlement had 300 people and 100 buildings on 3,000 acres. This is the most intact of the 19 Shaker communities established in the U.S. and has the only surviving first-generation meetinghouse. Enfield Village has the Great Stone Dwelling House, the most monumental Shaker building ever constructed. Although internationally famous for their furniture, the Shakers were entrepreneurs, inventors and took advantage of technology. They practiced equality of the sexes, communal ownership of property, pacifism and celibacy. The last explains why the Shakers are no more.
The Canterbury Shaker Village is located just west of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Shaker Road, www.shakers.org, 603.783.9511. Admission is $17. The Lower Shaker Village is on Route 4A in Enfield. www.shakermuseum.org, 603.632.4346. Admission is $8.50
Bridge over sometimes-troubled water: Cross the longest wooden covered bridge in the U.S
At just over 449 feet long, this is the second longest wooden covered bridge in North America and the longest two-span covered bridge in the world. Crossing the Connecticut River from Cornish, New Hampshire, to Windsor, Vermont, it is the third one that has been built here since 1796—and the river almost claimed it in 1977. Built in 1866 and still used on a daily basis for vehicle traffic, this Town lattice-style bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and, not surprisingly, as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Make a crossing. I guarantee you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Located at New Hampshire Route 12A and Bridge Street in Windsor, Vermont.
Double eagle: Visit Augustus Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site
You might have seen his sculptures: “Standing Washington” in Lincoln Park; David Farragut Memorial in Madison Square Park; “The Puritan” in Springfield, Massachusetts; the Sherman Memorial in Central Park; and the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial in Boston Common. Still, Augustus Saint-Gaudens is best known for the $20 gold coin, the double eagle that bears his name. His home and studio, Aspet, was the center of the “Cornish Colony” and the American Renaissance. Today it is a National Historic Site operated by the National Park Service.
Located on Route 12A in Plainfield. www.sgnhs.org, 603.675.2175. Admission is $5.
Cruisin’ below sonar: Climb aboard a submarine
Warships have been constructed in Portsmouth Harbor since 1690 and the harbor became the first U.S. naval shipyard in 1800. During World War I it began building submarines and after World War II became the Navy’s center for submarine design and development. The USS Albacore (AGSS-569) was built as the experiment test platform for new concepts. It was the first modern sub with the round, teardrop-shaped hull and the first to have a single propeller. Operated from 1953 to 1972, the Albacore is now a museum and National Historic Landmark that is open for inspection. If you’re lucky you might even see a modern nuclear submarine coming into the harbor for a refit.
Located on Market Street just east of Exit 7 off I-95 and next to the U.S. Route 1 Bypass. www.ussalbacore.org, 603.436.3680.