Last night, the only thing I wanted to do was get in the car and drive back home to Florida. This happens to me occasionally when I travel long term. It may have been a touch of homesickness; more likely I just needed a rest, since I’ve been hitting the road pretty hard and staying up late to sort out photos and blog. So, I recognized my mood for what it was and slept on it.
This morning, following a good night’s sleep, I decided to hike to the bottom of the Quechee Gorge (Kwee-chee), billed as Vermont’s “Little Grand Canyon.” I started from the pond in the upper gorge, continued past the hydroelectric power plant and dam, and began the long trek down into the depths of the gorge.
Along the way I smiled and greeted everyone that I encountered. On several occasions I struck up conversations with my trailmates and we trekked together part of the way down, enjoying the golden foliage framing the path. At one point I walked past a couple and their dog; the husband was taking a photo of his wife seated on the rocks with her arms around the dog. I stopped and asked if they would like me to take the photo, so that all three of them could be in the picture. They were surprised by my offer and thanked me effusively. Such a little thing, I thought, and it made them so happy.
When I reached the bottom of the gorge I climbed down the river bank and picked my way over a field of jagged granite boulders to reach the river rapids. Everywhere, people were taking photos of their groups posed on the rocks, with the distant bridge over the gorge framing the shots. Again and again I offered my services so that everyone could be included. Again and again, people were surprised and delighted. Total strangers began talking to one another. I met people from India, Germany, Vermont, California, Minnesota, and New Jersey. A man from Lowell, Massachusetts, even invited me to stop by his coffee shop if I ever travel through Lowell.
One smile became two, then four, then dozens. Between the gorgeous scenery and the infectious smiles, my blues disappeared. I continued with my mission to bring a little ray of sunshine into people’s lives, snapping photos of a group of five young Indian men as I climbed out of the gorge and another of one last couple on the path to the parking lot.
It never fails that whenever I am depressed or unhappy, the very best thing I can do is get outside of myself by helping others. By the time I left Quechee Gorge I was re-energized, and instead of pointing my car toward Florida I headed north.
An hour later I turned off the Interstate and crossed over into New Hampshire. Strangely, the trees here are nearly barren; it is hard to believe that 60 miles could make that much of a difference. One of the people I met earlier in the day, upon hearing that I was on my way to Franconia Notch State Park, said I MUST see Lost River Gorge and Caves. It must have been a “gorge” kind of day, because I discovered that the Lost River was located along my intended route and I arrived well before closing time.
The Lost River is a different kind of gorge. Ten thousand years ago, a glacier covered this area. When it receded, the glacier blocked drainage through Lost River Valley, creating a chasm at least 50 feet deep. The melting water carried sand and small stones, acting like a giant sandblaster, carving and smoothing the sides of the gorge. Over the eons, the smooth rock walls lining the gorge fractured from the cycle of winter freezes and spring thaws. Huge chunks of the rock broke off along the joint lines and fell haphazardly into the gorge, creating a series of “caves.”
As I descended into this stony labyrinth via a series of wooden staircases and boardwalks, I looked at the enormous chunks of granite that have slid onto the floor of the gorge. I found myself trying to figure out which pieces fit into which hole in the canyon wall, as if piecing together a giant jigsaw puzzle. Soon, I encountered my first “cave,” a series of boulders that have fallen in such a way that an enclosed area was created. Some of the caves could be entered by ducking under a boulder, while others required me to crawl on my hands and knees or slither on my belly. In between caves the boardwalk led past frigid waterfalls, giant whirlpools, and unique rock formations that resemble a guillotine, a wolf’s head, and a variety of ships.
By the time I reached the end of the boardwalk, it was just past 5 p.m. and I decided to call it a day. For six hours today, I hiked, climbed, crawled, and slithered through two gorges and ten caves, and I am tired! I doubt I will have any trouble sleeping tonight.