Saturday, August 4, 2012

Driving the Mt. Washington Auto Road


"It belongs to the mountain." There are many things I will remember about the day I drove myself and my three grandchildren up the Auto Road to the Mt. Washington summit. But the most memorable is that statement made by my 5-year old grandson.

I always wanted to drive up the Auto Road and show my 3 oldest grandchildren (ages 7, 5 and 2½ yrs) the views from the summit. My husband was out of town on a golfing trip with his buddies so I took that opportunity to make the drive. Plus, the tollbooth fee at the Auto Road of $37 is a lot better than the Cog's $110 price tag.

I had my daughter pack cold weather clothing for the grandkids, just in case. I checked the weather report on the Mt. Washington Observatory website the night before and on the morning of the drive. The rains would hold off and so I packed my pickup and loaded the kids in. As we pulled out of our driveway, I yelled, "Mt. Washington, here we come!" All three giggled in excitement.

With two (bathroom) stops along the way, it took me 4 hours to get to the tollbooth at the base of the Auto Road.  The Auto Road is approximately 7.6 miles long and extends from the New Hampshire Route 16 in Pinkham Notch to the summit. It's next to the Great Glen Trails and across the street from the Glen House. Temps at the bottom were 85 degrees and humid, but the sign for the summit temps listed were 60 degrees. After paying our fee I was handed a packet which contained a "My car climbed Mt. Washington" bumper sticker as well as a certificate and a CD audio tour. You can listen to the tour online on the http://mtwashingtonautoroad.com/ website. There is also a sign at the base warning of the steep, narrow road without guardrails. This is NOT a leisurely ride, folks! You should definitely take heed if you are afraid of heights!

After leaving the tollbooth, right away the start of the road is narrow and the grade increases. There are brown and white mile markers at every mile and water available for overheated "radiators only". There are also many turn-outs to use to let faster vehicles pass or to stop and let your brakes cool. The packet and CD that is given to customers at the tollbooth has driving information as well; speed limit is 20 mph, ascending vehicles have the right of way, don't pick up extra passengers, take all curves well on your side of the road, wear your seatbelts, turn the AC off, etc. And vehicles should be in the lowest gear on both the ascent and descent to prevent engine overheating and to use the transmission as a brake.

The views were STUNNING but I couldn't take my eyes off the road for very long so I ended up pointing out everything to the grandkids on the way up - they were blown away with the views above treeline. The road is indeed steep and narrow. And there is a mile (between 5 and 6) of unpaved road. It looked like packed dirt but I switched my truck into 4 wheel drive, just in case.

At the summit, even with folks leaving, parking was limited. We spent an hour and a half at the summit checking  out the Observation deck, the restaurant, the Museum, the Tip Top House, and all three gift shops. At the gift shop in the Old Stage House I bought Auto Road water bottles, and The Cat In The Clouds book for the grandkids. And a wooden, "Hikers Only" sign for myself.  We stood in line along with hikers and the other riders to get the summit photo. The Cog train arrived and we watched them load and leave.

There was a bit of drama on the way down. The couple in the Honda sedan in front of me couldn't get by the white pickup truck coming up the road. The wife got out and stood in front of my truck while he backed up to make room for the white pickup to pass. But he didn't back up close enough to the edge and the white pickup still couldn't pass.  The tour van behind me was driven by a woman and she got out to tell the guy that the road was wide enough for two vehicles to pass. But he still didn't budge, I think he was freaked. Finally the driver of the white pickup backed up and we were all able to pass. It was hilarious to watch the wife running to catch up to the car - it's not every day you get to see someone running down the Mt. Washington Auto Road in their flip flops! LOL!

The CD audio tour is nifty to have, my grandkids enjoyed listening to it on our way up as well as on our way down from the summit. For me, driving the Auto Road was scary fun....a thrill I'll never forget! I noticed something too and this is just an observation....aside from the tour van driver, I was the only female driver. I noticed that the vehicles and motorcycles on the Auto Road were driven by men.

On our drive back home my grandkids and I spoke about what we enjoyed the most of our day. I also commented about seeing a woman carrying off a rock as she was making her way down from the summit pile. My grandson commented that he had seen her too and thought she was taking it for her rock collection. I replied that she shouldn't be taking it as it didn't belong to her. "That's right, she shouldn't take it" my grandson said, "it belongs to the mountain!"

At the base of The Auto Road





 The Museum (4)







 The Cog Railway (3)








 Hikers along the Nelson Crag Trail
 Views of the Presidential's!



Links of interest:
Mt. Washington Observatory

Mt. Washington State Park

Mt. Washington Auto Road

Mt. Washington Cog Railway

Pinkhan Notch