Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Must Find Moose (and Squirrel?)

I have been coming to far northern New Hampshire for years. I stumbled upon this area quite by accident. I don’t know what I expected to find, but what I discovered was a country of beautiful landscapes and friendly people. It is a nearly pristine wilderness with far more trees, streams and lakes than people, and I have come to think of it as my “panic hole,” as Jim Harrison might call it - a place where I can go to escape the stress and anxieties associated with my everyday existence. It is a place of solitude, of peace and quiet. The locals call it “God’s Country” and after spending a great deal of time there I have come to agree with them.

I have just completed a road trip which took me through central New Hampshire and the White Mountains and finally brought me once again to my panic hole for a few days of wandering the back roads I have come to know and love so well. There was still enough light in the sky when I reached Tall Timber Lodge, on the northern shore of Back Lake, that I was able to continue north on US Route 3 - “Moose Alley” - the only major highway in this part of the state, as it winds its way through virgin forests to the Canadian border just over 20 miles away. Approaching dusk is a favorite time to spot a moose or two.

My decision to make best use of what daylight I had left paid off. I spotted two moose cows and a single juvenile feeding among the puckerbrush near the shore of Third Connecticut Lake just a mile or so shy of the Canadian border. They had emerged out of the woods to feed and to seek respite from the biting insects. I pulled off the road and watched them for over a half hour, until they reentered the woods around the same time it got too dark to see them well.

I spent the next couple of days exploring the many places where I have seen moose in the past, driving numerous miles along the network of logging tote road while checking out other haunts in the marshy wetlands of the Indian Stream valley and the headwaters of the Connecticut River that moose often favor. Although I did not spot any moose, I did spy several whitetail deer and a pair of red foxes not to mention a potpourri of bird species. Squirrels and chipmunk scurried across the road as I slowly passed by. I also wandered along the East Inlet of the Connecticut River above Second Connecticut Lake in the far northern reaches of New Hampshire where it abuts Maine and the Province of Québec. I never encountered another living soul along these narrowing roads full of potholes and washouts. You can’t get more on the edge of America than this. I was rewarded for my effort; several adult moose were feeding along a stream bed and they paid me no heed as I watched them in the growing dusk. God’s Country? Yes indeed!

The evening before my departure I was sitting in the lobby of Tall Timber Lodge waiting for my table in the lodge’s Rainbow Grille, chatting with the gal behind the desk and telling her about my explorations and sightings. She asked if I would be interested in accompanying a film crew from the Travel Channel who was planning to go out the next day and travel some of the same areas I had in search of moose. They hoped to get enough film footage for a planned episode for the Travel Channel’s new series “America’s Wildest Roads.” This was an invitation too good to pass up.

Very early the following morning I rendezvoused with the Boston-based film crew - a producer, cameraman and sound engineer who were staying at a nearby lodge - and a young local guide who hoped to put us on some moose. Although it was too early to grab breakfast at Tall Timber Lodge, where I was staying, the good folks there made sure I had a thermos of coffee and a bag of bagels. I was good to go.

Once the gear was stowed away our small bus was heading up US Route 3 - Moose Alley. Hardly a “wild road” by any stretch of the imagination, although it does run through mostly unsettled terrain between the crossroads village of Pittsburg and Canada, Route 3 is a well-maintained federal highway. But you often see moose and hence the name. Our guide assured us we had ideal conditions to spot moose - temperatures in the 60s and overcast skies. I shared the locations where I had spotted moose over the previous days yet we never quite made it to any of them, always turning around just a couple miles shy of my coordinates. The driver seemed concerned that we should not get too close to the Canadian border since no one had their passport with them (I did; I always carry my passport when I travel up here). I am not sure what he thought might happen, and I assured him passports were not necessary unless we actually crossed the border. Nevertheless, he gave our northern neighbors a wide berth and unfortunately we missed some prime moose habitat. We also passed on the East Inlet road although the driver told us it passed through some beautiful moose habitat. I could attest to that fact, but it was left unexplored that day.

We did get off on a tote road that took us up into some higher terrain on the slopes of Magalloway Mountain. This is also some very “moosey” habitat and we saw signs of recent moose activity everywhere we went. There were plenty of moose tracks in the muddy wallows along the road and extensive evidence of recent feeding on the lower branches of the abundant spruce trees and the roadside alder thickets. Lots of signs, but not a single moose in the five plus hours we trekked through the wilderness of far northern New Hampshire. We did see two whitetail deer and lots of chipmunks and squirrels, but this was not the stuff of an exciting episode of “America’s Wildest Roads.” I sensed the film crew’s disappointment when we eventually arrived back at their lodge. I signed a release form in case they use any footage in which I appear, but I seriously doubt that will happen. Hollywood will have to wait.

Was I disappointed? Of course, I always like to spot a moose. But for me, simply traveling through God’s Country is enough for me. It is still some of the most beautiful landscapes you will find anywhere. It is the reason I keep coming back.

No comments:

Post a Comment