Notch's Natural Wonders

The Basin

This large pothole in the Pemigewasset River, 30 feet in diameter and 15 feet deep, had its beginning some 25,000 years ago as the Ice Age came to a close. Water flowing from the melting glacier that filled Franconia Notch eroded the solid granite bedrock. During the thousands of years that followed sand and stones were whirled around by the force of the river causing a boring action that left the sidewalls smooth. The rock formation seen in the stream bed at the outlet has been known for generations as "The Old Man's Foot".

The great American naturalist, Henry David Thoreau (1817-62), on his first trip to the White Mountains in September of 1839 stood here, as you do, and watched the water cascade into the granite bowl and whirlpool around its walls. He would later write in his Journal, "this pothole is perhaps the most remarkable curiosity of its kind in New England."

Samuel Eastman in his 1858 White Mountain Guide called this spot "One of the beautiful haunts of Nature, a luxurious and delicious bath fit for the ablutions of a goddess."

The Basin can be accessed from the northbound and southbound directions. There are picnic tables and walking paths, as well as hiking trails. 

Pemigewasset River

Pemigewasset is an Abenaki Indian word meaning swift. Flowing out of Profile Lake, at an elevation of 1900 feet, the river drains Franconia Notch and is fed by many small streams that fall from the steep mountain sides that line this valley. Sixty miles to the south the watercourse becomes the Merrimack, a river that played an important role in the industrial development of New England. From its source to where it enters the Atlantic Ocean at Newburyport, Massachusetts, a distance of 185 miles, this river system drains some 5000 square miles.

Called the "Pemi" this cold, clear, boulder-strewn stream is home to the Eastern Brook Trout, better known as the "Squaretail", and in the spring, when Mother Nature releases the mountains from the grip of winter, becomes a roaring torrent brawling its way toward the sea.

Eastern Brook Trout

The fish you see in the Basin pool and Pemigewasset River might be Eastern Brook Trout (SALVELINUS FONTINALlS), sometimes called Speckled or Native Trout, but best known as Squaretails. Found throughout New Hampshire they thrive in the clear, cold waters of the northern part of the state, and have since "Colonial Times" been a favorite specie with local fishermen.

Boise Rock

This great glacial erratic has been a part of the history and folklore of Franconia Notch for generations. Thomas Boise, a noted teamster of this region was sledding through the notch in midwinter, soon after the first road was built. Overtaken by a fierce snowstorm he was unable to continue on. Realizing he must take drastic action to survive, he killed and skinned his horse. Crawling under the overhang of this rock, he wrapped himself in the hide and spent the night. Men sent out the next day to search for him found Tom still alive but encased in the frozen hide that had to be cut away with axes in order to release him. 

Near the boulder is a cool spring, picnic tables, and an exceptional view of Cannon Cliffs. Boise Rock is only accessible from the northbound side of the highway.

Basin Woods

Here you see a forest environment typical of what is found throughout the lower elevations of Franconia Notch. Beech, yellow birch and maple are dominant, with some softwoods mixed in. Several species of smaller plants and wildflowers cover the forest floor.

This is not a virgin forest, for long ago the woodsman's axe was first heard. By 1900 most of the old growth forest in the Notch, as in most of New England, had been cut and hauled to the sawmill.

If you look around, however, you will see an occasional tree, like the big hemlock to your right and the giant yellow birch off the path to your left, that represent the type of forest growth early visitors to the Basin saw. These two trees, and others found throughout this valley, escaped the lumberman's axe and stand today as living memorials to the once great forest of Franconia Notch.

Eagle Cliff

Eagle Cliff rises 1,500 feet above the valley floor. This shoulder of Mt. Lafayette is part of the eastern wall of Franconia Notch. The cliff derives its name from the Golden Eagles that once nested among the crags. Guests of the first Profile House, built in 1853 and located just north of this spot, told of "watching the birds circling around its summits, and looking down, as though with lordly disdain, upon the gazing crowds below, who have invaded their solitude". One writer had this to say, "No prouder position could be chosen for a habitation by this noble bird." The last nesting eagles were reported in the 1890's.

By the turn of the century, the Peregrine Falcon was reported nesting on the cliff. Sporadic nesting activity continued into the early 1950's when a serious decline in peregrine populations took place. Eagle Cliff again became a nesting site in 1981 when a pair occupied an eyrie and fledged two young falcons. Each year since then, peregrines have been observed on the cliff, sometimes interacting with the ravens that also nest here.

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