LINCOLN, N.H. (AP) — At the Flume Gorge in the heart of the New Hampshire's White Mountain National Forest, vertical walls of darkened Conway granite stretch nine stories skyward and 800 feet (245 meters) long toward the base of Mount Liberty.
If there aren't too many people around, the only sound is the gurgling rush of the Flume Brook as it carries on its millennia-old job slowly carving its way into the gorge. Looking up, the canopy of American beeches, sugar maples, hemlocks and spruce shrouds the gorge in cool shade.
To get to the gorge, visitors leave the spacious visitor's center for a short warm-up that takes them past a 300-ton boulder and over the Pemigewasset River as it passes under a covered bridge that dates to 1886.
The gorge is reachable by a well-maintained, 2-mile (3.2 kilometer) loop of gravel and earthen footpaths, boardwalks and staircases. There's also a bus for visitors who want to get close to the sites but aren't up for a full hike. At the top of the relatively mild incline, the 45-foot (14-meter) Avalanche Falls rumbles into the gorge.
Entry fees are $16 per adult, $13 for each child between 6 and 12. Go midweek if possible: Weekends get crowded.
The self-guided tour includes frequent signposts with historical, scientific and cultural information. Visitors can learn about and walk across the Sentinel Pine Bridge, built from a massive pine that was one of the largest the state. When the hurricane of 1938 uprooted the massive pine, the state honored it by using it to build the bridge.
Trees, mosses, ferns and other flora are identified with plastic tags stuck into the forest floor, the way they might be at a nursery.
The Flume Gorge got its start some 200 million years ago as molten rock cooled far beneath the surface of the earth. Erosion gradually exposed the rock and as the pressure eased, horizontal cracks formed, water forced its way into the cracks and began to lay the groundwork for what is seen today. Glaciers capped the formation the last ice age and when the ice sheet started to recede, it carried away soil and weathered rocks and left behind glacial debris.
It lay unnoticed until 1808 when 93-year-old "Aunt" Jess Guernsey stumbled upon it while fishing. According to the New Hampshire Parks & Recreation Department, she had trouble convincing family members of its existence but eventually persuaded others to come see for themselves.
And while visitors still mourn the loss of the famed rock formation known as "Old Man of the Mountain," which tumbled down in 2003 not far from the gorge, there's another formation they can still enjoy: George Washington Lying in State. Near the end of the gorge's loop trail, a glance to the northeast reveals Mount Liberty which, to some, looks like the first president lying on his back.
If You Go:
THE FLUME GORGE: Located off Route 93 at 852 Daniel Webster Highway, Lincoln, New Hampshire, about 2 hours, 45 minutes north of Boston. Free parking and picnic areas. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily until Oct. 26; http://www.nhstateparks.org/explore/state-parks/flume-gorge.aspx or 603-745-8391.