By Kathi Caldwell-Hopper
Although I am not a motorcyclist, like many bikers, I like to take to the roads in search of fun, unusual places to explore. Each year, come June and Laconia Motorcycle Week, I like to share some of the places I discovered.
You don’t need to own/ride a motorcycle to find these places, which are a lot of fun to visit; rest assured the places I am writing about can be reached by either car or motorcycle. They make for interesting out-of-the-way treks when bikers are looking to spend a day away from the race action and explore the hidden parts of the Lakes Region that might otherwise be overlooked.
The places mentioned here are some of my favorites listed in no particular order. I happened to discover them on various treks; consult a map or GPS if you are unsure of routes.
Who says motorcyclists can’t enjoy artwork? You might even want to take a new work of art home with you after a stay in the Lakes Region. If so, drive on Rt. 3 from Laconia to the Tanger Outlet at 120 Laconia Road Suite 132 in Tilton and stop at the Laconia Art Association’s gallery. It is chock-full of wonderful work by Lakes Region artists. Many of the paintings and other artwork depict Lakes Region scenes, and would make great additions to an art collection. The gallery is open Thursday through Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm; call 603-998-0029 or visit www.lraanh.org.
Heading back to Laconia, a stop at the historic Belknap Mill in the downtown area is a treat. The Mill, built in 1823, is the oldest unaltered brick textile mill building in the country. It long ago ceased operation as a mill, but a Wheel House area retains the huge old wheels that once powered the Mill. The Wheel House is full of information and displays of how the Mill once operated. Knitting machines stand as a testament to the days when mill workers populated the old mill building. The Mill’s Riverside Art Gallery has changing exhibits, which are free to attend and the public is welcome. The Belknap Mill is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm and on Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm. Located at 25 Beacon Street East, there is plenty of free parking just steps from the Mill. Call 603-524-8813 or visit www.belknapmill.org.
A lot of people love to fish, but how many of us know where the trout and other fish we catch might come from? If you want to visit a pretty area on a rural road, head to New Durham from Alton. The Powder Mill Fish Hatchery is a fascinating place with lots of long, narrow water-filled breeding tanks where teeny fish become full-grown specimens, eventually released into the many rivers of the state.
At the Alton Traffic Circle, take a left onto New Durham Road (there’s a McDonald’s at the start of the road and you can’t miss the turn). This scenic road with its many pastures, cows, farms and step-back-in-time feeling is among my favorites. Before heading to the Fish Hatchery, I suggest a quick ride by the New Durham Meeting House on Old Bay Road. It isn’t all that far from the village area, and it is quite a pretty drive in the summertime.
The Meeting House has a simple, clean architectural style and you can imagine many men, women and children who attended meetings, socials and church services at this place long ago. The building is pure New England architecture at its finest – no gingerbread trim or fancy windows or pathways to clutter up the simplicity of the place.
When I visited, I noticed a little sign on the corner of the building that stated: “The New Durham Meeting House & Stone Pound were entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 by the United States Department of the Interior. Built by early settlers in 1772 the Meeting House combined town offices and a house of worship. It is located on a six-acre lot set aside for public use that includes an animal pound (1809), the oldest town cemetery and the militia training grounds.” History hangs heavy in the air, but not in a spooky way. Rather, it is a peaceful, welcoming place. (Be aware it is likely to be closed but you can see the exterior of a true old-time New England meetinghouse.)
Back on Old Bay Road, drive to the center of New Durham and you will soon take a right-hand turn to Merrymeeting Road and the Powder Mill Fish Hatchery. The road is scenic, and after a few miles you will see a wooden sign, stained a dark brown, with letters carved into the surface. The sign reads “Powder Mill Hatchery” and the area is the property of the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department, with visitors welcome from 8 am to 3:45 pm.
You can park and take a stroll to see the long outdoor pools stretching on and on, with raised areas where spectators can stand to get a better look. The 1940’s were a time of huge expansion for fish hatcheries and it was in 1946 that construction of the Powder Mill Hatchery commenced. You will learn a lot about the life cycle of a number of fish, which start their lives in tray incubators, stacked like drawers of a dresser. Once warmer weather arrives, the fish are moved outside where they live until they grow to stocking size.
Be sure and bring quarters so you can use the fish-feeding machine – insert a quarter and turn the knob for a handful of fish food. Or sit at the picnic table and enjoy an outdoor lunch surrounded by nature’s beauty. The Powder Mill Fish Hatchery is located at 288 Merrymeeting Road in New Durham. Admission is free, and the public is welcome. Call 603-859-2041 for further information or visit www.wildlife.state.nh.us.
I cannot think of a better place for motorcyclists to visit than the Newfound Lake area. There are waterfalls and short hiking trails and an abundance of scenic beauty. To reach the area, travel Route 104 from Meredith for about 15 miles to the downtown Bristol area. You will see signs for Newfound Lake. Take a left onto West Shore Road and get ready for a fun lakeside ride, but please drive slowly and watch for pedestrians. Follow the road as it skirts the lake and then turn right and continue on West Shore Road with signs for Wellington State Park. You can choose to pay an admission to visit Wellington, a NH state park where you will find hiking trails, a great beach with swimming and picnic tables. Or you can opt to continue on West Shore Road and again skirt Newfound Lake. You will soon come to the “ledges” area, and you will find yourself riding with a towering rock hill on one side…and Newfound Lake quite close to you on the other side!
This is a pretty ride taking you by older cottages and lots of lake views. Eventually the road comes to Hebron Village and you can stop and grab coffee or beverages and snacks at the Hebron Village Store or take in the scenic and tranquil beauty of the village green. If the tiny Hebron Library, near the village green, happens to be open, stop in to see a true New England village library. (I visited last summer and took advantage of their book sale, which was held in the entrance area. I scored some great book bargains and had a nice time browsing through the tiny library with its comfy chairs and shelves of books.) Call 603-744-7998.
One of my favorite off-the-main-road spots is Sculptured Rocks Natural Area near Hebron. Just follow the signs in the village area; Sculptured Rocks (part of the NH State Parks system) is a short trek down Sculptured Rocks Road. There is plenty of parking across the street from the rocks area.
I always bring my camera when visiting Sculptured Rocks. It’s a very unusual and pretty spot. Rock formations were created thousands of years ago by glaciers thrusting through the area. It is a wonderful place to visit and you will be amazed at the rock formations.
Head back to Bristol if you want to take a great little hike to find gorgeous views of the area. Take High Street (off Rt. 3A) by the Federated Church. Stay on this road until you come to a right for New Chester Mountain Road; take this road to the entrance and parking area for the Slim Baker Conservation Area. This place is a favorite of many people and hikers love to take the various paths and trails. Please park your bike in the parking area and do not take it beyond this spot.
The Slim Baker Area is a 135-acre tract of conserved land on Little Round Top Mountain in Bristol, set up in 1953 as a memorial to Everett “Slim” Baker, a dedicated and much-loved local conservation officer with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. Slim dreamed of setting up a “school for outdoor living” in the Newfound Lake area, and the Slim Baker Area is the fulfillment of that dream. The Slim Baker Area is maintained by the Slim Baker Foundation, and open year-round for hiking, snowshoeing, and camping. The gem of the property is undoubtedly Inspiration Point with its huge wooden cross, outdoor cathedral and rustic wooden benches.
Another Newfound-area memorable location is Profile Falls. To reach the area take Rt. 3A south toward Franklin. Profile Falls is just off Rt. 3A a few miles out of Bristol (take a left onto Profile Falls Road) and is a public area with a lot of free parking. You can take a path for a quick walk to see the beautiful Profile Falls (please be careful on the steep section of the trail as you near the Falls) or bring your lunch and spread out on a picnic table in the shady park area.
For those who want a real rural adventure…with a giant boulder at the end of the trek, a day trip motorcycle ride to Madison Boulder can’t be rivaled. To reach the amazing boulder, head from the Lakes Region to the village of Madison (I must warn you, it is a long – but fun – drive).
Once in Madison, take a left onto Route 113. You will be treated to beautiful views of the not-so-distant White Mountains. After driving a few miles, take a left onto Boulder Road. About a mile on this road, take a right-hand turn at a big sign that will let you know you have reached the Madison Boulder area. Take the road about 1/4 of a mile to a large parking area. You will soon see the mammoth rock up on a rise among tall pine trees.
“Amazing!” was my reaction the first time I saw this hulking rock. This is no ordinary boulder. I am used to seeing big rocks (who isn’t in the Granite State?), but I have never seen anything like the Madison Boulder. A wooden sign gives information about the boulder, which says it was a gift to the State of NH in 1946 in memory of James O. Gerry and A. Crosby Kennett.
The story of this giant rock goes like this: the Madison Boulder is thought to be the largest known erratic in New England, and among the largest in the world. The huge granite rock measures 83 feet in length, 23 feet in height above the ground, and 37 feet in width. It weighs upwards of 5,000 tons and part of the roughly rectangular block is buried, probably to a depth of 10 to 12 feet.
Historically, the 17-acre Madison Boulder site was acquired by the state of NH in 1946. In 1970, the Madison Boulder was designated a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior because the enormous erratic, "is an outstanding illustration of the power of an ice sheet to pluck out very large blocks of fractured bedrock and move them substantial distances."
Be sure to take some photos when you visit Madison Boulder because when you tell your friends back home about it, they may want proof of just how towering this old rock really is!
Speaking of towering, hulking stone objects, I would highly recommend a biker on a day trip adventure put the Tilton Arch on the list of places to visit. You can glimpse the Arch because it stands above the town of Tilton and resembles the Arc de Triomphe.
In downtown Tilton, take a left onto Summer Street. By following this road less than a 1/2 mile, you will see a modest sign directing travelers to take a right up a road to the Tilton Arch.
I’m always excited to see the Arch up close. There is a parking lot available to cars and other vehicles. Everything about the Tilton Arch is big and breathtaking. The Arch, which stands like a silent and proud giant, was made with artistic skill to last through the ages. Under the curve of the Arch a huge stone vault sits, and is a puzzle to many. Is someone entombed in the vault, or is it a symbol, like the many statues that adorn various public areas in Tilton?
History tells us that although reminiscent of the famous Arc in France, this local monument is in reality the work of the town's immensely wealthy resident, Charles Tilton. The Tilton Arch, looming 55 feet in height, is deceptive. It might be assumed that Mr. Tilton commissioned the Tilton Arch to be built as a copy of the Parisian monument. In truth the arch is a replica of the Arch of Titus, which was raised between Rome's Palantine Hill and the Coliseum in 79 A.D.
The tale goes that Charles Tilton could see the hill on which he would build his arch from the front porch of his mansion atop School Street Hill in Tilton. Because Charles hoped that Tilton and Northfield would merge, he built the Arch on Northfield soil in 1883 as his final resting-place. He hoped to be buried in a huge stone vault under the Arch, but this plan was never to be realized when residents of Northfield rejected the merger. (Charles felt strongly about his burial place being in the town of Tilton.)
Although the plans for his monument never materialized, there was no going back once the hulking Arch had been erected on the hilltop overlooking Tilton. Composed of hewn Concord granite, with a 40-foot width, the Arch has a block of Spanish marble between its two columns. A Numidian lion guards the block, and the pedestal and figure weigh an amazing 50 tons.
There are many unusual and fun places to visit in the area while you are here for Bike Week. Along with the planned motorcycle events, try to fit in some time to head out and meander around for a fish hatchery visit, a stop at the amazing Tilton Arch or the hulking Madison Boulder, to name but a few places. There is no doubt that you will have wonderful memories (and photos) to share when you get home.