Immediately to the south of the Sandwich Range are some beautiful grassy intervales. Walking on the roads through these can be a pleasure, especially the morning after a substantial snowfall.
One morning in February after a snowfall, I visited two of these. First, I drove from Tamworth out to the tiny hamlet of Ferncroft, parked and walked around to get some pictures of snow covered trees next to the meandering Wonalancet Brook.
Then, I drove further west on Route 113A to the Whiteface Intervale Road and drove to the parking lot for the Flat Mountain Pond Trail. I walked the short way back out to the tar road, and walked further into the intervale, passing a great view of a snow covered Mount Whiteface. At the McCrillis cemetery, I turned around and walked back, covering maybe a half mile each way.
Short strolls to be sure. But a pleasure just the same.
When people drive to hikes on the south side of the Sandwich Range, starting out at either Ferncroft, Whiteface Intervale or Mead Base in Sandwich, they pass through beautiful flat meadows right at the base of the mountains. Not much is thought about these when your mind is gearing up for a hike up a mountain.
On that morning, the intervales were a winter wonderland. In Ferncroft, the hiker parking lot was not plowed yet, so I continued further to Squirrel Bridge on the left and parked next to the yellow house on the right.
I had previously learned that many years ago the farmer living in this house had written a journal and put the journal in a fish basket. Local author Marjorie Harkness recovered it and wrote “The Fish Basket Papers.”
I walked onto Squirrel Bridge, admiring the snow-covered trees and the flowing Wonalancet Brook beneath them. It was a late winter and the temps were mild. Soon, it would be the start of sugaring season.
Fred Lavigne, a self-employed logger and conservationist who has explored many mountains and valleys with a practiced eye, said he found a couple of old sugaring sites in Ferncroft, one up behind the yellow house that was possibly the sugaring site for the long gone Ferncroft Inn. Another he found on the Pasture Path, out towards Wonalancet.
Calling him after my walk, I asked him what he looks for in spotting an old sugaring site. Bricks, he said, and sometimes a sugaring pan. Sometimes, he said, you can spot a tap hole in an old maple that’s rotting, look in and see a square cut nail that was put there to hang the bucket.
The snow plow guy came out of a long driveway across from Squirrel Bridge. I could see he wasn’t quite finished where I was parked. It was time to go. The sun was out and shining off the snow. Driving out to Wonolancet, I headed west toward Whiteface Intervale.
Any hiker looking down from the top of Mount Whiteface can easily see the meadows of both Ferncroft and Whiteface Intervale directly below. Also, hidden behind the low peak of Mount Israel is the grassy fields at Mead Base.
It had never crossed my own mind up there to wonder how these flat places had come to be. But later, walking down the flat road of Whiteface Intervale begged the question, the contrast was so great between where I stepped and the mountain above.
So later, I called a geologist friend, and found a gold mine of information. Brian Fowler of Madison is a retired consulting engineering geologist. Many years ago in the 1970s, he was doing some work for the N.H. Highway Department. He was checking out likely locations to find sand and gravel for road construction.
“They had more power back then than they do now,” he said. “We dug test pits in some intervales, including near Mead Base. None of these locations came to pass as a source of sand and gravel, however.”
But the results were interesting. They dug 25 feet deep, and found that beneath the organic layers on top was stratified sand and gravel.
“This area had many shallow ponds immediately after the glacier” he said. “Between 12 and 15, 000 years ago, the glacier had melted to north of Mount Israel and Mount Whiteface. Runoff from the north washed sand out of till, and down to these sandy/gravelly ponds, where it settled evenly. Silt and clay that was more easily suspended in water was washed away, which is why there is none there now.”
He said that as the ponds dried up, there was a swampy period. Then, forest took over.
The soil profile from his tests pits revealed a foot of “modern soil” on top, from 200 years of farming. Beneath that, was a layer of rough peat with stick and roots. “This layer is from the swampy period which was 10 to 12,000 years ago,” he said. Beneath that was the sand and gravel deposited between 12 and 15,000 years ago.
Settlers came to the area in the late 1700s, cut the forest and farmed. Fowler said that the couple in the historical novel “Look To The Mountain” represented real settlers that came to these intervales south of the Sandwich Range.
I walked down the Whiteface Intervale Road past the view of the mountain and paused at the old cemetery. Powder snow covered the stones almost to the top. I just made out the name McCrillis on a white marble stone.
Henry McCrillis settled in the Whiteface Intervale with his family in 1780. Later, from their inn’s backdoor, adventurous tourists were led up Mount Whiteface on the McCrillis Trail, on the first guided hikes in the mountains.
Just a reminder. Monday, April 22, is Earth Day. It would be nice if we could all do more than a single act on that day for the planet like recycling, composting, replacing old light bulbs with LED bulbs, walk or bike instead of drive when you can, buy locally grown foods, ect. Then continue doing those things.
A few years ago, there was talk that Earth Day was out of date, that much more radical steps were needed. Thankfully the Green New Deal has entered our consciousness and will never leave.