The Flume

On May 3rd 2003, a major tourist attraction in northern New Hampshire known as the Old Man of the Mountain finally crumbled away in a landslide. This was not really an unexpected event as everyone knew that eventually the rocky ledges which created the profile would give way.

OldManBefore OldManAfter
Old Man Before Old Man After

The Old Man was a natural formation produced by several granite ledges that lined up to create the famous craggy profile only when viewed from the side. If you had looked at it directly ‘face on’, you would have only seen an odd jumble of rock ledges. However because the Old Man was composed of granite which contained feldspar, it was particularly vulnerable to weathering. Numerous efforts were made over the years to shore up the ledges of the profile, but the end was never really in doubt. Gravity finally overcame human ingenuity and the ‘face’ collapsed.

The outpouring of anguish, especially from local tourism boosters, may have puzzled out-of-staters. The fact is New Hampshire is a small state lacking the outstanding vistas that many western states can boast of, such as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming or the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii. The Old Man was the only spectacular attraction that drew large numbers of summer tourists into the area. With him gone, the feeling was that the tourists would vanish as well.

Well, actually they didn’t. They’re still coming. Even without the Old Man, there are many places in New Hampshire attractive to tourists. In the winter, there is downhill skiing, snow-boarding, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and snow shoeing. In the summer, there are lakes for boating or swimming, rivers to canoe on, camp grounds, hiking trails and dozens of small scale attractions that are family-friendly and just plain interesting to visit. One of these is the Flume.

Located at the southern end of Franconia Notch, the Flume is a narrow gorge about 800 feet in length and varies between 12 and 20 feet in width. While Native Americans were likely quite familiar with it, it was not ‘officially’ discovered until about 1808 by a remarkably spry 93 year old lady by the name of Jess Guernsey who was looking for a good place to fish (anglers take note: your hobby is conducive to longevity!) . Millions of years ago a huge blob of molten magma pushed up under the overlying rock though never breaking the surface. As it cooled slowly, vertical fractures formed into which basalt oozed and also cooled. Over the eons, weathering eventually exposed the granite and since the basalt dikes more easily eroded, this created the narrow gorge that is the Flume.

Like all natural formations, the Flume is constantly morphing under the influence of rain, frost and snow. When Jess first came across it, a huge boulder could be found wedged in the narrow gorge.

In June of 1883, a heavy rainstorm triggered a landslide which swept away the boulder and deepened the gorge, creating Avalanche Falls. While the boulder itself was never found again, the damage left by its passage has since healed over, leaving a beautiful series of small waterfalls, an excellent subject for videos and photographs.

Another point of interest is the Sentinel Pine Bridge, a pedestrian bridge constructed in 1939. The bridge is so named because originally a huge pine by that name, 90 feet tall and five feet in diameter, once grew in the area. The Great Hurricane of 1938 uprooted this venerable plant so the tree was cut up and used as the base for the foot bridge bearing its name. The trunk of the old pine is still visible if you walk across the bridge and up the trail a short distance and look back.

The Flume Gorge is open during the late spring and summer into October. A series of walkways allow visitors to stroll through the gorge itself as well as the surrounding woodlands. There are a few caveats; mainly it requires you be a reasonably good walker as the full loop through the area is about two miles, which can be hard on the elderly and the handicapped. Also pets are discouraged. The entry fee of $16 for adults and $13 for children over 6, may discourage those of limited funds, but the walk is well worth the effort and money.

It is possible to access the Flume during the winter though the wooden walkways going through the gorge are removed when the weather chills, so you are better off not trying it alone. However a view of the Flume during winter is truly spectacular and hardy souls not afraid to brave the cold and ice will appreciate its beauty.

In recent years movements have cropped up in reaction to the corporate effort to control every aspect of our lives. Slow Food arose in reaction to the industrialization of food production and its accompanying loss of quality. Slow Democracy is an effort to help citizens regain control of politics especially on the local level. Now we see efforts to create Slow Tourism. While this may be a bit of overkill, the idea of simplifying travel, reducing its expense, distance traveled, avoiding canned tours, is beginning to grow in popularity.

A visit to the Flume fits in very well with this. Take a stroll through this small but scenic gorge. Take an opportunity to see nature close up, instead of flashing by while you are driving down the freeway. If you’re ambitious enough, visit it in both summer and winter, and get a real feel for the ever changing face of the world you are a part of.