Hunting for the Headwaters

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Ice slide on Wonalancet Steam

 

By Gordon DuBois

J

ust as Henry Schoolcraft searched for the headwaters of the Mississippi River in 1832, Dick, Tom and I, along with Reuben, were on a mission to discover the source of Wonalancet Brook. Henry Schoolcraft found Lake Itasca in Minnesota, the source of the Big Muddy. We were unsuccessful in our hunt for the beginning of the Wonalancet. Our mission was denied by the sheer walls of the Whiteface Bowl Natural Area, a stunning glacial cirque carved out from the side of Whiteface, Passaconway, and Wonalancet Mountains during the Pleistocene epoch. Why search for the source of a little known stream in New Hampshire? Because it lies in this beautiful wilderness that contains one the few remaining old growth forests in the White Mountains. Our search would take us through an area that is rarely traveled, where few have seen the cliffs of Whiteface rising above or trekked the floor of a valley that has never been logged or trammeled by man. We had the opportunity to experience what the first settlers in New Hampshire saw when they entered the New Hampshire wilderness. For the hiker who is looking for solitude or a saunter in an old growth forest the Bowl Natural Area should not be missed.

We began our mission of discovery by taking Dicey’s Mill Trail from the Ferncroft Parking Area off Rt. 113A in Wonalancet. The trails in this section of the Sandwich Range and the Sandwich Range Wilderness are maintained by the Wonalancet Outdoor Club. We followed Dicey’s Mill Trail for about 2 miles, before turning onto the Tom Wiggins Trail. The snow was crusted over from the recent warm weather and rains, so we didn’t need snow shoes, but preferred instead to wear light trail crampons. Within a few 100 yards we came to Wonalancet Brook, beginning our wilderness meander to find its source. Staying on the east side of the brook we entered an area that few choose to explore. Most hikers are not interested in old growth forests or the flora and trees that exist in this type of woodland. As we strode along the frozen snow, we entered a northern hardwood forest of large sugar maple, American beech and yellow birch. The understory was dominated by young spindly beech and plenty of hobblebush that frequently slapped us in the face or tried to trip us up. We stopped frequently to admire the gigantic trees, their gnarled limbs stretching resplendently skyward into the pale blue sky. 

This spectacular treasure of the Northern Forest was made possible by the dedicated work of innkeeper Kate Sleeper Walden and members of the Wonalancet Outdoor Club. Kate, who owned a 600 acre farm and inn, was also married to Arthur Walden, who raised and trained sled dogs. He became well known for his breeding of the Chinook, a powerful sled dog used by Admiral Perry in his quest to reach the South Pole. In 1914 fourteen members of the WOC met with members of the US Forest Service. The WOC advocated strongly to have the “Bowl”, as they called it, included in the creation of a section of the White Mountain National Forest. Their efforts were successful and in 1931 the Forest Service set aside 500 acres of the Bowl as a Natural Area. This was expanded in 1975 to 1,500 acres and designated as a Natural Research Area, set aside for research as it pertains to old growth forests. Studies indicate that some of the trees are 200-250 years old. 

We continued to follow the steam through the glades of the old forest, continually moving higher up into the valley where we began to encounter fingers of smaller streams flowing into the main branch of the Wonalancet. The snowpack at the higher elevation forced us to change over to snowshoes. We were post-holing in more than a foot of snow, making our trek slow and exhausting. Now with snowshoes strapped to our feet and televators extended we were able to easily glide over the snow. It was guesswork as to which brook would lead us to the original source. We came to a branch we thought was the main artery. Looking up we viewed the cliffs and ledges high above. The forest canopy turned from hardwood to balsam fir and red spruce. The summit of Whiteface and its connecting ridge to Passaconway stood clearly in view.  We began to gain elevation quickly as the trek turned into a stiff climb. The steep walls of the bowl rose before us, exposing the ice encrusted cliffs above.  Trudging upwards we were suddenly confronted by a ledge blocking our track. The icy outcrop was impossible to climb without technical climbing gear. We carefully weighed our options and decided to traverse across the face of the bowl to find another route to the cliffs above. 

The traverse was no easy matter with a pitch of about 25-35 degrees. Tom broke trail, Reuben found his own path and eventually we came to an open glade of beech and maple where we settled down for a relaxing lunch, the sun warming our hands and face. We were high above the floor of the valley, looking across at Whiteface and Wonalancet Mountains. After lunch we began climbing through the glade, up to a rock shelf that blocked our ascent. We were beginning to doubt we’d find the source of the Wonalancet, when I heard Tom and Dick yell, “Come on down off the cliff and look at the frozen water fall. We think the source is just above.” I scurried down the cliffs, securing my steps against tree trunks as I descended. Sure enough, a significant frozen waterfall lay just above Dick and Tom. I was tempted to climb the ice flow, but Tom reminded me that it was getting late in the afternoon and we still had a three hour hike out of the Bowl. At that moment I began planning a spring trip into the bowl to again search for the source of the Wonalancet. The spring flora will be in full bloom: Canada mayflower, wood sorrel, painted trillium, purple trillium, lady slipper, starflower, bluebead lily, hobblebush, yellow trout lily. I may also find a small patch of the rare and threatened plant squirrel corn. 

After viewing the frozen waterfall we began out trek back into the base of the bowl. As we made our way down and out we happened upon a small cave. Standing in front and listening carefully we heard the cries of some newly born critters. Reuben became excited sniffing around the opening and barking. I first thought of bear cubs which would have just been born. Dick suggested bobcat. Either way it was a rare event to stumble across this cave. In reviewing data from research done in the Bowl by the US Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station signs of bear have been present but there were no sighting or signs of other animals that would bare their young in a small cave. It was most likely a bear’s den, occupied by mama bear and her newly born cubs.

I’m counting the days until I can return to the Bowl and again search for the source of the Wonalancet Stream, high on the face of the Whiteface cirque, when there’s no ice and snow to impede the exploration. Even if I don’t find the source, a trip into the Whiteface Bowl Natural Area will be well worth the effort. If you are looking for solitude in the wilderness and a setting where few people have trodden, spend a day in this old growth forest. It’s a marvelous resource that’s been preserved through the diligent work of the US Forest Service, Kate Sleeper Walden and the Wonalancet Outdoor Club. 

If you would like more information go to: http://mountainwandering.blogspot.com/2013/06/exploring-in-bowl-53013-i-chose-fine.html, or https://www.fs.fed.us/nrs/pubs/gtr/gtr_ne189.pdf.

Gordon can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for comments or questions. He is offering a lecture slide program, Hiking into History, which features 6 notable hikes to historic sites representative of New Hampshire’s past. Contact Gordon if you would like more information about this program.

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Wonalancet Stream

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FROM THE FARM - Ready for the Super Bowl!

By CAROLE SOULE

Who says, "Go Pats," better than a cow? My cows are ready for the big game on Sunday – are you? The cattle are football fans but have never played the game. They do play other games like the "Twenty Yard Rush Through an Open Gate," or "He Who Gets the Most Hay Wins."

Did you know that cattle can be trained to obey voice commands?  I have a pair of 6-year-old oxen, Topper and Stash (short for Moo-Stash) who are trained to work in a yoke.  They pull sleds and logs, turning right or left with voice commands.  If they can be trained to voice commands I'm sure they could be trained to play a game. They might like to play football if they knew the ball was made from pigskin. Most of my cattle hate pigs so maybe we could teach them to chase the pigs (skin and all) down the field.

I've often thought about getting a big ball, a very big ball and teaching them to play soccer.  Just like polo ponies, the cows would carry riders using mallets to hit the ball.  The Scottish Highlanders could use their horns to bat the ball through the goal posts for extra points.

Of course if games were played in a pasture there would be a distraction, the grass. My grassfed cattle might take a time out to munch on the green stuff and miss a pass.  Astro turf would solve that problem.

For now the cattle will have sit on the Super Bowl sidelines this Sunday.  Let's hope it's a Mooovelous game.  Go Pats!

– Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm, in Loudon, where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local products. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Missy, an 8-year-old Scottish Highlander cow, gets ready for Sunday's Super Bowl. (Courtesy photo)

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The Downy Woodpecker

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Photo courtesy of Project FeederWatch

By STEVE WHITE, Columnist

One of the most common woodpeckers in all of North America is the downy woodpecker.  It is our smallest woodpecker and a frequent visitor at suet feeders and regular feeders that are filled with no-shell sunflower seeds.  Male and female “downies” look alike, with the female being all black and white and the male being similar except for a noticeable red patch on the back of his head.

Many novice backyard birders mistakenly believe that the downy woodpecker is the offspring or baby of the larger hairy woodpecker.  Each is an independent species.  Both have the same male/female markings.  The hairy, however, is twice the size of the smaller downy and the hairy beak is twice as long as that of the downy woodpecker.  If you ever have the privilege of seeing both species side by side, you will immediately notice these distinct characteristics.

The downy feeds on insects that live on the outer surface of tree bark.  It uses its small, chisel-like bill to chip away bits of wood to expose the insects.  It is hard to tell where a downy has been feeding, since so little wood is removed.  However, its bill is also used to excavate a nesting cavity. The downy excavates only in dead wood, never live trees. It uses the drumming technique to determine if the interior wood of any tree is hard or soft.  A soft core indicates a decaying tree, no matter how alive this tree may appear on the outside to human eyes.

It first makes an entrance hole about 1 ½ inches in diameter and excavates down for about 8-10 inches.  Both the male and female excavate the nest hole.

The downy woodpecker also uses its bill to rapidly drum on resonant trees.  This is done in spring and early summer by both the male and female and is a communication that helps define a breeding territory.  When a downy drums, no wood is pecked away, it is like a drummer playing with drumsticks on a wood block.

Pairs of downies usually stay together on their range throughout the year, except during the winter season when they are associated with mixed flocks of chickadees, nuthatches and titmice.  As you watch downy woodpeckers, look for specific behavior related to corresponding seasons as their relationship changes throughout the year.Enjoy your birds!

 Wild Bird Depot is located on Rt 11 in Gilford, NH.  Steve White is a contributing author in major publications, a guest lecturer at major conventions in Atlanta and St. Louis as well as the host of WEZS 1350AM radio show “Bird Calls” with Lakes Region Newsday @ 8:30AM.  Wild Bird Depot has donated over $5,000 to local rehabilitators and local nature centers since 1996. Be sure to check out our website www.wildbirddepot.com.  Like us on Facebook for great contests and prizes.

 

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Every Property Has a Story

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View point from North Peak, Whitten Woods, Asland

By Gordon DuBois

The cold crisp air of winter is a welcomed blessing from the hot, humid, sticky, buggy days of summer. As many of you curse the cold, snow, wind and ice, there are a few of us dyed-in-the-wool New Englanders who relish the winter season and look forward to all the outdoor activities that old man winter brings. For those “snow birds” who flee the north country as soon as the temperatures dip to 40 at night you must wonder why does anyone want to put up with freezing temperatures, plies of snow, ice covered drive ways, dead car batteries, whiteouts on the highway? The answer is simple: we love winter because it’s part of the fabric of who we are and where we choose to live.

Yesterday at 6:00 am I was preparing to meet some friends to drive to Gorham, NH and climb Mt. Moriah. As I was backing out of the driveway, my truck slid on ice, created by the recent torrential rains, and became buried in a snow bank. My truck was stuck. The hike was off. But I rethought my plans for the day, called a tow truck, and got pulled out of the snow bank. Reuben and I then headed off to hike in Page Pond Town Forest, exploring all the trails in this magnificent conservation area. 

I have been to Page Pond several times before, but never in winter and this was an opportune time to walk the trails, explore the abandoned quarry and photograph the shimmering glow of the ice covered waterfall of the old mill dam. The town forest is located off Rt. 25 in Meredith at the end of Quarry Rd, not far from Moulton’s Farm. The 567 acre town owned forest falls under the stewardship of the Meredith Conservation Commission. Located on the property is Page Pond, Page Brook, a watershed that drains most of the surrounding forest and wetlands, an abandoned quarry, an old mill dam, farm cellar holes, rusted out trucks, stone walls and the Leavitt family cemetery.  The well-marked trail system offers opportunities to walk through a beautiful, well maintained forest, as well as visiting historic landmarks. Maps are available at local businesses and on the Meredith Conservation Commission website.

Given the recent rains the snow has turned into an icy crust and has made footing precarious. I secured my Microspikes to my boots, slung on my pack and began the hike to Page Pond. After spending a few minutes at the pond we continued hiking over the rolling forest trail until we ventured upon the magnificent mill dam that has been beautifully preserved. The dam was part of a lumber mill complex built by Dudley Leavitt, an early settler in the Meredith Area. In 1836 Leavitt later sold the mill to John Page and over the years other owners took possession of the land and mill. The mill was powered by an undershoot water wheel. The dam itself is an impressive structure standing 18 feet high at the spillway, 96 feet long and 5 feet wine. 

We continued on the trail system, finding an expansive beaver pond, maple glades, ice covered streams, old wagon roads, stone walls and an abandoned quarry, which at one time was a local resource for building roads and rail beds. The so-called trap rock, an igneous rock containing high levels of magnesium and iron, was ideal for this purpose. The quarry operated during the early part of the 20th century and closed in 1945. Next to the abandoned quarry lies the remains of the “quarry store”, a treasure trove of abandoned machinery, cables, and vehicles once used to quarry and crush the rock.

A few days before this adventure to Page Pond Town Forest Reuben and I discovered another conservation area close to home, Whitten Woods. I was referred to this 414 acre property, located off Highland Street in Ashland, by a reader of the Sun. After receiving his email I acted on his suggestion.

 The property was named for the former owner and farmer, Reuben Whitten. In 1816 the Northeastern US fell under a thick cloud of volcanic ash from a volcano eruption in Indonesia, causing the “the year without summer”. In other parts of North America and Europe is was known as the “Starvation Year”. Killing frosts and snow in summer resulted in lost crops and little food to get people through winter.  Reuben’s farm was located high above Ashland on a south facing slope called Indian Hill. Due to the location of his farm he was one of a few farmers able to raise crops including over40 bushels of wheat which he and his wife Sally shared with their neighbors, saving them from starvation.

Reuben (not to be confused with Reuben Whitten) and I started our hike from the parking area on Highland St. Most of the property is networked by old woods roads and skidder paths, making the trails desirable for cross country skiing. All the trails are well marked with blazes and signage. We followed a wide road to the beginning of a climb to North Peak. The trail was steep and I was glad to be wearing snowshoes. Reuben is very fortunate as he has built in crampons, his claws.  From a clearing, not far from the summit we found a wide open vista of Squam Lake and the Squam Mountain Range.  Following the climb to the summit we bushwhacked around the slope in 3 feet of snow looking for other views. Deer and rabbit tracks blanketed the woods, along with coyote tracks that I think were tracking their prey. 

Back on the trail I eventually came to the south summit trailhead. When I reached the summit I found a picnic table and a register, along with outstanding views. The register had only a few names and dates which led me to believe not many people know about Whitten Woods and the spectacular summit views or else the register would be crowded with names. I was the only person on the trail during this sun filled day. I would guess that few people know or use this wonderful recreational resource sitting high above Ashland and Squam Lake. I would like to thank the reader of my column for suggesting this hike in Whitten Woods. The property is a collaborative effort of Ashland residents, the Ashland Conservation Commission, New England Forestry Foundation, the Squam Lakes Conservation Society and the Squam Lakes Association. Thanks to all of you for preserving this property and making it accessible for the public to enjoy and learn something about Reuben Whitten and the year without summer.

Gordon would like to hear from you, especially if you would like to recommend a trail for him and Reuben to explore. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

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Old Mill Dam, Page Pond Forest

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