Tarry Ho Campground, Twin Mountain NH – Labor Day 07
Tue, 06/26/2007 - 20:20
A few friends and I decided to go camping up north this Labor Day weekend to relax, drink a couple pints, and take in some mountain air. After a little consideration, research online, and a recommendation from a friend, we decided on the Tarry Ho campground located in Twin Mountain, NH.
My fiance and I had recently bought some new gear (including a bigger tent because our last one barely fit our 20inch thick queen size air mattress) packed the coolers, stopped at the packy, and were all charged up for this weekend. There were nine of us total heading up, with drives ranging from 2.5 to 4 hours in length. During the week, a few of us had talked among ourselves and it was obvious that we all needed this break.
The vacation was planned for Friday through Monday, and the campsites were already reserved and paid for. After looking at the Tarry Ho website and talking with someone on the phone, we had settled on two adjacent sites positioned along the Ammonoosuc River. The website mentions that campers can actually tube down the river right from the campground, so a couple people on our crew were bringing tubes. I was all jazzed, White Mountains here we come!
The car loaded to the brim, and with ice coffee in hand, we left Friday afternoon and headed up Route 93 North into New Hampshire. Traffic was a little rough in pockets, but once we got up past Concord it thinned out. Usually on long drives like this I like to bring a selection of CD’s to pop in and zone out to. This time, in the spirit of the weekend, we brought the audiobook “A Walk in the Woods,” by Bill Bryson. This hilarious tale of two out of shape middle-aged guys hiking the Appalachian Trail is brilliant, and entertaining as hell. It was clearly getting me in the mood to enjoy some nature and camp under the stars. I can’t stress enough how much of an outdoorsy person I am. Because I work in an office, and don’t generally get to do these things very much anymore, the entire drive I was grinning like a madman. I was thrilled to just be out.
Once we got into the White Mountain Nation Forrest the scenery was absolutely spectacular. I’ve been up here many, many times before but it never gets old to me. I kept swerving around the road as I bent over the wheel to look up at a ridge line, or take a picture of a cliff face we drove past. We made it to the Franconia Notch State Park in about two hours, jumped on route 3 and got to the campground about fifteen minutes later. Our car was the first from our group to arrive.
The Tarry Ho website mentions that the campground is located on 302 in Twin Mountain, and let me tell you this is extremely accurate. We pulled into the campground entrance and went over to the check-in office, which was only about a hundred feet or so from the traffic of 302. We met a gentleman at the office and checked in. He handed us a copy of the campsite “rules” and gave us directions to our sites. “Just drive down that road and the sites will be on the left by the river.” What he should have said is, “Walk down the road about a hundred fifty feet, and your sites are on the left.” We climbed back in the car and found our tent site. Anxiously we got out and looked around at what was to be our White Mountains escape for the next three days.
The tent site was roomy, level, and aside from the lingering smell of dog crap, not too bad. We had requested two sites on the river, and that’s what we got. But, I guess I was hoping we would have had some way to actually get to the river from the site. Standing at the edge of the clearing, and looking at the river, you are about ten feet or so up a steep thorn covered slope from the water. There was a very rough path, but it was so steep and overgrown that if anyone was to try and get down it to the water, it would probably have been a fairly quick and exciting trip that would most likely have ended poorly.
As we surveyed our surroundings it became apparent that this campsite, however nice in some respects, was not at all what we were hoping for. I had envisioned a nice wooded lot, located on a river in the natural wilderness of the White Mountains. You know, something you would see in a commercial for jeans, or beer, or for a jeep or something. Our tent site was no more than twenty feet from the main campsite road, and no more than thirty-five feet from both a row of RV’s and the campground’s “recreation yard”.
A little disappointed, I read the printout of the campsite rules as I stood there. A couple of items stood out.
- All fires must be out at 11pm
- No fires during the day between the hours of 9am and 5pm.
- Remove all trash from your site each day. This item had the word “Bears” bold and in red next it.
Ok, granted the arrival at the campground was a little bit of a buzz-kill, and I may have been a little cranky at this point, but I translated the above into:
- You will go to bed at 11pm
- You cannot cook any food over the fire for lunch, or get warm if you go in the river, or even enjoy a campfire (while you camp) until after 5pm
- Remove trash due to bears? Are you kidding? This campground is like a quarter mile from a busy intersection and rings with the traffic of 302, no more than a few hundred feet away. You’d be more likely to see a bear at Wal-Mart. Yes, technically there could be a bear in the area, but technically there could also be a bear in the town where I live. In fact there was one in the next town over a year or so ago. I took this “Bear Warning” as the sort of thing you write in order to attract people to your campsite who may be looking for an experience camping in the wilderness of the whites.
I walked up to the office, and without being willfully belligerent, tried to convey that I was a little concerned that we had spent all this money to come to the White’s and camp, and now we are at a campsite that is not quite what we had envisioned. For the most part the man I talked with was kind and explained that the fire rules are state laws. Without actually saying so, he hinted that we were not necessarily under a microscope while we stayed. I told him we were hoping for a little more secluded campground, but quickly backed off when it became apparent that we had already inked ourselves in. I bought some wood and headed back to the campsite.
We put up our tent and gear, parked the car in a fashion that at least blocked some of the tent site from the view of everyone else in the campground, and cracked a pint. Now all set up, we sat back and waited for the others to arrive. Another pint poured, fire lit, I was camping.
The crew began to trickle in after dark and set up. All were happy to be there, but all were a little surprised and semi-disappointed at the layout of the campground. No one wanted to say anything to ruin the mood, but I noticed people looking around and making little comments to each other about the noise of the highway or the rows of RVs next to us. With everyone now there and set up, and the fire all stoked, we continued pouring pints, and enjoyed the first night.
Just as I was beginning to warm up to the campground, I lost it a little the first night as I lay awake in the tent. Once the activity of the evening died down, the sound of route 302 became much more apparent. There were trucks rolling by doing “engine breaks” into the night, waking me up as I was about fall asleep. I kept thinking that I could have had this type of peaceful rest in my back yard, for much less money. Also, I’m not sure what the hours of the campground are, but there were cars, trucks, motorcycles, and RV’s coming and going all night it seemed. As I mentioned, the main campground road in was like fifteen feet from my tent. I heard every vehicle come and go – EVERY vehicle.
The next day I woke up, made a cup of coffee, and was pleasantly surprised to find a couple of the peeps had already mustered up the necessary motivation to begin preparing breakfast. I indulged myself on pancakes, bacon, and sausage. Helllzzz yyyeah!!
It was about 8:30 when we ate, so we only had 30 mins of fire left before we had to put it out for the day. Uhg. I would have said screw it, but the evening before we had seem the check-in guy was driving around in a golf cart, presumably checking the sites.
Around noon we drove up route 302 to the Arethusa Falls trailhead, parked, put on our beer-laden backpacks, and hiked up to the falls. This details of this hike is a topic for another post, but I will just say that if you have never been to Arethusa Falls, you are really missing out. The hike is fairly mild and like an hour each way. Arethusa Falls is awesome.
After the hike, and quick detour to the store for some supplies and beverages, we ended up back at the campground around 5:00′sh and settled in. I think by this point we were pretty much over the fact that our campsite was not the secluded White Mountain retreat that we were hoping for, and truthfully it was a liberating thing to accept. There was only one thing left to do – play drinking games, have a fire, and play some guitar.
The night set in and the air chilled, and it was actually pretty fun and with the sun down and our cars blocking the rest of campground, it almost seemed like we were in the woods. We all sat around the fire, tossed on logs, drank beers, and sang songs – much to the chagrin of the rest of the campground. Actually no one complained. We even had people from adjacent sites yelling out requests and had a couple pop over to join. I must have played for four and a half hours, and being out of shape as far guitar goes, my hand was raw as hell. I really didn’t notice until I woke up the next morning, the beers must have helped.
Once I set off to bed, that night was much the same as the previous. I was periodically amazed at how loud the traffic can get when all else is quiet. Every so often a big truck would fly by, or a motor cycle rider would feel the need to test the very laws of physics and gun it past the campground until the winding roar sounded like the engine was going blow up. I should mention that I did sleep better on that night than the previous. During the previous night I came to painful realization of how incredibly ill prepared I was for the cold temps. I had been wrapped up in all my blankets, but still shivered like crazy most of the night. As mentioned above, we stopped at a store for supplies during the day. One of those supplies, a 30-degree mummy-style sleeping bag, was my savior on this night. Seeing that it was even colder than the night before, I can’t say I’ve ever made a purchase I was happier with. I lie there, warm from both beer and sleeping bag, and fell asleep to the soothing sounds of passing traffic.
Sunday morning we woke up, made coffee, and laughed about the condition of the campsite. Secretly I wondered when the owners were going to come over and “talk to us”. Given how sore my hands were from the hours of playing my acoustic, and the drilling I felt in my brain, it was obvious that the previous night was pretty successful. Judging by the way people started stumbling out of their respected tents, yawing and grunting, I’d gathered that they all felt like I did. It’s funny, the older you get, the easier it is to feel like hell in the morning.
Sunday was ok. We decided to just hang out at the campground all day and do some tubing in the river. I downed a few cups of coffee, and with the help of some water and a bagel, actually began to feel better. We all know that a hangover is no excuse to not crack a beer when camping. Had I said, “Hey, I think I’m all set today” the verbal pounding from the already beer-drinking crew would have been unbearable.
We gathered up our tubes, packed a cooler, and attempted to scale the cliff from the campsite to the river. Of the two sites we occupied, one clearly had better river access so we all carefully slid down the muddy slope to the water. I had been waiting for this and it was clear by the energy in the group that we were all fired up again. We had beers, tubing, and sun all in one day. What could be better?
Well, as you probably can imagine, the plan quickly came to a grinding halt. The water in the river was like five inches deep, and freezing cold. Even if we wanted to tube, it was a technical impossibility – we could not even float. If you sat on a tube, it just sat on the rocky bottom. I’d bet we would have had better luck driving my Focus down the river. We looked around, surveyed the situation and decided in an instant that we were not going to be defeated. Ok, we can’t tube like we wanted to, but we can still sit on the tubes and drink a few beers while we get out feet wet. I mean after all, we were already in the water with a floating cooler full of ice-cold brews. Tubing, or not, it was still a good time. We sat down there for a good portion of the afternoon. I should mention that after a few pints, the climb back up the banking was fun as hell.
Sunday afternoon continued on and was actually not too bad. We all tried to relax and just mull around campsite. I went off on my own and walked around the campground a little. Although I prefer to camp in the woods, I must say it was interesting, and mildly entertaining, being a 40 second walk to a shower, bathroom, pool, route 302, and oh hell – just about any destination within the campground. Speaking of the bathrooms, I also must say that I was fascinated at just how small the Tarry Ho bathroom stalls where. I may be a tall guy, but would it really have broken the bank to add maybe ten more inches between the throne and the stall door? Taking a shower presented similar challenges. The shower stall was so small that I literally could barely wash my feet. I simply could not have bent over far enough to reach.
Sunday night we all fizzled out fairly early. I guess I saw that coming. We had all sat in the sun all day, ate big meals, and drank beers. To think we were going to keep it going through the night was a little unrealistic. I went to my tent around 10pm and I think most people did the same shortly after.
Monday morning we woke early and broke down camp. I don’t want to say that I was anxious to leave, but I knew we had a long drive ahead of us and the thought of a real shower was enough to get me fired up. The sounds of snuffling and grunts began to grow around us as everyone started to come to. I could tell I was not the only person who was ready to leave; everyone seemed to get right to the task of cleaning, breaking down tents, and loading cars.
We sipped our last cup of coffee and confirmed that everything was in the car. It always amazes me just how much crap we bring when we camp, and no less does it amaze me that it all fits in the car like it does. Offering up our good-byes and the normal promises that “we will call the next couple of days” we climbed in the car and headed out. I had fun, but was more than ready to go home and plan the next camping trip. It’s just a hunch, but I reckon we may go somewhere else next time.. again, just a hunch.