Before any of you smart mouths sound off about the title of this piece being autobiographical, I will have you know I was not the oldest man on the mountain that day. Shortly, I will introduce you the nameless, wonderful, inspiring character who was. So, step back…and read on.

Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

The Old Man of the Mountain

Following a whirlwind tour of beautiful, wild, weird, wonderful, and woefully-liberal Vermont, we set our sights on parts Eastward. Our destination was the renowned Franconia Notch State Park. This is the location of the famed Old Man of the Mountain rock formation. A clip from an article in New England Today tells of its significance:

We’ve all seen him. He’s the classic state symbol of New Hampshire. He’s on the state quarter, license plates, and on multiple items in just about every tourist shop in the state. If you’re on a New Hampshire highway, his is the face telling you which one. But suddenly, on a fateful May night in 2003, the Old Man was no more. 

How many centuries had that odd rock formation approximating the profile of a scowling old man stood sentinel over the New Hampshire wilderness? Only God knows. God put him there. And God, for reasons known only to Him, took him down. More from the previously-cited article:

It was Friday, May 2, 2003, a cloudy day in Franconia Notch. The Old Man was completely obscured, hidden away in the fog. A few hikers who had been brave enough to venture into the mist heard a crumbling sound during the night, but didn’t think much of it. It never crossed their minds that the great stone face wouldn’t be there when the fog lifted. It wasn’t until morning, when two park rangers noticed Old Man’s absence, that it became clear what that noise had been.

For many, the loss was personal. Some felt like they’d lost a family member, others, an ever-watchful guardian. Dave Neilson was the Old Man’s caretaker, a job he’d inherited from his father. He planned to pass the title down to his son Tommy someday. Now, that would never happen.

To put this in context for fellow Texans: Imagine waking to hear the Alamo was no more. But this is worse, really, because The Old Man was not constructed by men with wood and stone. It was formed through the Millennia by the forces of Nature and the sculpting hand of Nature’s God. It was the identifying symbol of an entire state’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

To some, it was much more. I snapped a photograph of a quote attributed to American statesman and famed barrister Daniel Webster about the Old Man of the Mountain:

go here “Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades; shoemakers hang out a gigantic shoe; jewelers a monster watch, and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but in the mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men.”

There is something magnificent and soul-stirring in that quote. So much mocking and denying the hand of God among our leaders today, so much shying away from statements of faith in “God Almighty.” What if we still believed it? What if we believed God is indeed almighty? What if we believed in His ability and prerogative to make men and women? What if we recognized that, just as He swept that Old Man from the Mountain into a calamitous pile of rock and dust, he still promotes and demotes, lifts up and tears down whom He will and all to His good purpose, whether we understand it or not?

It is God alone who judges; he decides who will rise and who will fall.~Psalm 75:7 New Living Translation

The Old Man ON the Mountain

For our first venture into the state park, Donya and I took a tram to the top of Cannon Mountain. The ride takes you from an elevation of 1,900 to 4,000 feet. The ride was smooth and the view spectacular. We saw where the face of the Old Man once oversaw his vast domain. We saw another face, one that looked like George Washington. It was much smaller than the Old Man but still impressive.

Once at the top, I set out on a hike that took me to an offshoot of the incredible Appalachian Trail, around the top of Mount Cannon, to the very top, where I climbed a lookout tower, where this breathless hiker was treated to a breath-taking view.

When I returned, we were shortly ready to descend on the tram and continue our exploration. The Flume awaited and it promised to be an experience we would not soon forget.

An older gentleman was just ahead of us in the line to board the tram. The ticket-taker was asking for his ticket.

“I do not have one,” said the old man.

“How did you get up here?” queried the kind (and no whippersnapper himself) park employee.

“I hiked.”

“Oh! How old are you?”

“I am seventy-one.”

“That is impressive,” admits the employee. “I still have to have a ticket, though.”

Impressed by his bravery and prowess as a hiker, I was just about to step in and pay his way down the mountain when the old hiker reminded the employee that seniors ride free on weekdays.

“You’re right!” Exclaimed the relieved ticketmaster. “Welcome aboard, sir.”

I thought about how winded I had become on my little half-hour hike to the lookout tower and how this man, while a tad sweaty, looked no worse for wear.

I thought, “I want to be that guy when I am 71.”

Heck, I want to be that guy now.

On to the Flume

Donya had circled this on her list of places to see. It looked amazing. We expected it to be one of the true highlights of our vacation. We were not disappointed.

This from the New Hampshire State Parks site tells you all about Flume Gorge:

The Flume is a natural gorge extending 800 feet at the base of Mount Liberty. The walls of Conway granite rise to a height of 70 to 90 feet and are 12 to 20 feet apart. A trip into the Flume begins and ends at the Flume Visitor’s Center. Guests can choose to walk through just the Gorge or do a two mile loop. The walk includes uphill walking and lots of stairs. The boardwalk allows you to look closely at the growth of flowers, ferns and mosses found here.

Framed by a spectacular vista of Mount Liberty and Mount Flume, the Visitor Center houses the Flume ticket office, information center, cafeteria, gift shop, and the state park system’s historic Concord Coach. A 20-minute movie showcasing beautiful Franconia Notch State Park is available for viewing.

The Flume was discovered in 1808 by 93-year-old  “Aunt” Jess Guernsey when she accidently came upon it while fishing. She had trouble convincing her family of the marvelous discovery, but eventually persuaded others to come and see for themselves. At that time, a huge egg-shaped boulder hung suspended between the walls. The rock was 10 feet (3m) high and 12 feet (3.6m) long. A heavy rainstorm in June of 1883 started a landslide that swept the boulder from its place. It has never been found. The same storm deepened the gorge and formed Avalanche Falls.

Our day trip into the wilds of New Hampshire both awed and inspired us. We were reminded, our love for Norman Rockwell notwithstanding, that the greatest artist is God and the best canvas is Nature.

Stay tuned. Maine lobster and lighthouses are next.