The Hippo


May 30, 2020








A smiling High 5 Ballooning hot air balloon hovers over a New Hampshire lake in autumn. Courtesy photo.

Find a hot air balloon ride near you

Liberty Flights
196 Federal Hill Road, Milford
(603) 930-8207 
Derry Hot Air Balloon Rides
6 Martin St., Derry
(603) 505-4704 
Derry Hot Air Balloons
35 Manchester Road, Derry
A & a Balloon Rides
78 Warner Hill Road, Derry
What’s Up Ballooning
Hop aboard one of New Hampshire’s scenic railroads
Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad
154 Main St., Meredith
Hobo Railroad
64 Railroad St., Lincoln
Conway Scenic Railroad
38 Norcross Circle, North Conway 
Mt. Washington Cog Railway
Base Station Road, Bretton Woods
Clark’s Trading Post
110 Daniel Webster Highway, Lincoln
Nature by rail 
As passengers relax and take in the views, the conductors on the state’s scenic railway direct their attention to landmarks and natural features, filling them in on interesting historical tidbits. 
In 2012, the Hobo Railroad started pairing up with the Squam Lake Natural Science Center to offer special, nature-centric train rides. 
The tour is called Nature by Rail, offered five times a summer on Saturdays, and it earned the 2014 NH Magazine award for Best Business Partnership for the recreational category. 
The ride, which runs three times a day, comes at no extra cost. During trips, naturalists from the Science Center board the trains and give riders the downlow on plants and animals living and growing right around the train. 
“The naturalists are really using the landscape,” said Amanda Gillen, marketing and visitor services manager for Squam Lake Natural Science Center. “They are going by on the train ride and talking about the reasons for things — explaining how acorns serve a purpose or how beavers build a dam [or] the reasons they’re seeing that is that there is x, w, and z animals [living] there.”
At the station, the Natural  Science Center puts on shows with live animals — anything from a falcon, raptor or grey horned owl to mammals like a skunk, mink, woodchuck or beaver. Then there are the reptiles like turtles and snakes. 
“What we wanted to do was bring more the natural aspects so people could understand more what they were seeing outside the train,” Gillan said. 
This year, the nature ride is available three times a day on July 26, Aug. 2, Aug. 9 and Aug. 23. with departures 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3p.m. For more information, visit
Cruises and Charters
Isles of Shoals Steamship Company
315 Market St., Portsmouth
Portsmouth Harbor Cruises
64 Ceres St., Portsmouth
M V Kearsarge Restaurant Ship
1 Lake Ave., Sunapee
Smile Of The Great Spirit Dinner Cruise
312 Daniel Webster Highway, Meredith
Al Gauron Deep Sea Fishing & Whale Watching
1 Ocean Blvd., Hampton Beach
Golden Pond Boat Tours
Route 113, Holderness
Granite State Whale Watch
1870 Ocean Blvd., Rye
M/S Mount Washington
211 Lakeside Ave., Laconia
Sail NH 
188 Bunker Hill Ave., Stratham 
MV Kearsarge
81 Main St., Sunapee, 
Winnipesaukee Belle
90 N. Main St., Wolfeboro
Squam Lake Cruise
3 Science Center Road, Holderness
The Ultimate Catch
147 Green Mountain Road, Effington
Sunrise Adventure Charters
47 Meetinghouse Road, Merrimack
South End Charter Company
1870 Ocean Blvd., Rye
Gundalow Company
60 Marcy St., Portsmouth
Atlantic Whale Watch and Deep Sea Fishing
1870 Ocean Blvd., Rye
Sail away 
Take a private charter excursion 
A cool breeze, a gentle mist coming off the water, wind catching the sails. Privacy as you shoot across the sea. Throughout the summer Captain Rick Philbrick, a 40-year veteran sailor, spends a lot of his time off New Hampshire’s coast, sailing around Rye harbor and the Isles of Shoals. 
And you can join him. 
Private charter sailing is a leisurely and exciting alternative to larger cruises. 
“It’s much more personalized,” said Philbrick, who owns Sail NH. “It’s their boat for the day. If they want to go to the Shoals or sail to port and back we do that. They can bring their own food and drink, and can go to out and swim.” 
Philbrick takes private parties on his 32-foot sailboat that has two cabins and cooking facilities on board. Guests don’t have to worry about schedules or vying for the best spots to see the sites.
Besides the privacy, a nice thing about private sailing is how eco-friendly it is, Philbrick said. Everything is wind-powered so a carbon footprint is virtually nonexistent. 
At $300 for a half day and $400 for a full day of sailing, private charters may not be the most frugal way to float, but they are perfect for special occasions, like an anniversary, birthday or wedding.
“We have had wedding proposals and lots of anniversaries,” Philbrick said. “And quite a few people who have sailed in the past when they were younger but don’t have a boat now.”
He also offers sailing lessons to people who want to learn the skills themselves. Lessons start with three- to four-hour private classes. 
Students are evaluated on their skill level and taught everything from sailboat handling to navigation and using safety equipment. Then students are often hooked up with people at a similar skill level to save on costs. 
“There’s a lot to learn. The ocean offers a lot of challenges, but we can get you handling a boat the first day,” Philbrick said. 


See the wonders of NH
How to get there by boat, train and balloon


On the Sunday of Fourth of July weekend, North Conway was a bustling place.  
By the early afternoon, the last clouds of Hurricane Andrew had pulled away overhead and crowds of locals and out-of-staters were strolling around, popping in and out of shops and restaurants.
The traffic on Route 16, the street that cuts directly through the center of town, was at a standstill in both directions. Cars inched, stopped, inched, stopped to let some pedestrians cross, then tried to make a little headway.
It had been like that all weekend. 
A couple hundred feet away, though, a shiny red engine pulled train cars up to the Conway Scenic Railroad station. It sounded a deep horn, momentarily blotting out the old-timey music that played from speakers in the train cars. Kids and adults, foreigners and locals waited to fill up the bench seats of the train’s open-air and enclosed cars. 
In a couple more minutes the train was chugging through fields and forests, past a distant mountainous landscape. The conductor talked about the lay of the land — the mountains, the once-thriving lumber industry, the Saco River, and a historic school — and passengers took photos. 
It’s a relaxing trip, a fun trip not punctuated with stop-and-go traffic or the robotic voice of a GPS. 
“If you’ve driven on Route 16, you know what the traffic is like,” the conductor said. 
But there was no traffic on the track, and the scenery can’t be viewed this way by driving in a car. 
There are all sorts of ways to see New Hampshire scenically. Hot air balloon rides offer a leisurely, whimsical look at the state from above the treeline, while historic cruise boats and smaller sailboats get into the corners of lakes and expanses of ocean hidden from the road. Trains chug through tough mountain ranges or tucked-away forests. 
This summer, leave your car in a parking lot and experience scenic New Hampshire from a new perspective. Car rides are nice, but these excursions offer unique, picturesque and historical journeys through the Granite State. 
Blown Away
See New Hampshire from a hot air balloon 
As the first rays of morning sun streak through the sky, the state’s hot air balloon pilots have long been out of bed. They are out in fields starting up the burners, which inflate the massive stretches of colored fabric. 
The hot air balloons, which can mostly be found in southern New Hampshire, take passengers into the sky at sunrise or sunset, when the wind is most calm. Even so, said Tony Sica, owner of High 5 Ballooning, quite a few passengers have pre-flight jitters. They say they have a fear of heights, but it’s really a fear of falling. 
Getting over that fear, passengers find, is easier than they expect. Once they are drifting above a forested landscape with a view that’s unachievable by any other mode of transportation, “It’s absolutely gorgeous,” Sica said.  
Technically speaking
The science of a hot air balloon is fairly simple, said Eric Nickerson, owner of Liberty Flights in Milford. 
He burns about 25 gallons of propane fuel an hour — enough for five years’ worth of barbecuing. That fuel is used to heat tens of thousands of cubic feet of air, which expands when it warms and weighs less than the air around it. 
Once it’s up, the balloon floats only downwind, and there’s no way to steer it. A crew of people called chasers follows along on the road. At different altitudes the wind changes directions, so balloons can get into and follow the air streams. 
“It’s like water flowing in the stream,” Nickerson said. “If water hits a rock, it accelerates when it flows around it, and when it goes over the top it eddies on the back side. Wind does same with hills. So I can get into that air movement and go right or left.”
Pilots can also steer by moving through dark and light — shadows and sunny areas. In light, the air warms up and rises, while air in the dark sinks.  
“There will be a crosswind from dark to light, and I can get pulled along by that,” Nickerson said. “I can get pulled into a cold wind and go down into a valley.”
Hot air options
People can fly in small private balloons or take a ride in a group. Nickerson offers one-hour private flights for up to four people, but typically he flies only two or three people at a time. 
“Most pilots here in New Hampshire are doing private flights,” Nickerson said. “What I’m doing is more like a limo versus a bus. For most people this is a bucket list item, and you can do it in a bus or limo, it’s up to you.”
Sica says larger groups tend to be the most lively and fun.
“We have a balloon that can carry two people, but private flights are just boring,” he said. “We want four in the small basket and eight in the large basket. And then we try to fly for an hour and expose passengers to different types of flying — low in the beginning to get them comfortable with the idea. Then once they realize this works, up to 2,000 feet.”
As Sica’s passengers soar higher, he plays flight-appropriate songs like “Wind Beneath My Wings.” 
At 500 feet, passengers have a clear view of Boston. At 600 feet, they see the ocean, and at 1,000 feet, Mount Washington comes into view. 
Some of the best flying, the pilots say, is low flying over the forest, where passengers are close enough to reach out and pick pine cones off the trees. They see things they’ve never noticed before. 
Nickerson’s passengers often ask him about the rock walls that cut through New Hampshire forests and marshes like the seams of a patchwork quilt. He tells them that decades ago, the walls divided farmland. 
“I bring them right to treetop level and we skim across ... looking at animals on the ground, talking to people, looking at the wildlife you would never see,” Nickerson said. “At 2,000, 3,000 feet it all looks the same, but at treetop level or stopping on top of a lake, those are fun things. It’s an experience they will never forget.”
The romantic and magical landscape attracts its fair share of special-occasion celebrants. Both Sica and Nickerson have piloted special flights for marriage proposals. Sica has piloted 183 proposals and five high-altitude marriages. 
When it happens in Nickerson’s balloon he tries to stay out of the picture, he said. 
Unique NH
Granite State pilots must be extra careful when flying because the state is about 88 percent woods, making it the most forested of the 48 contiguous states. That means landings are carefully planned and pilots take extra precaution not to fly when it’s windy and risk blowing the balloons onto a dangerous course. 
“You get really good at landing,” Sica said. “It’s all about safety. You have to be willing to put your safety before your wallet. The other night, I had six people to take up. Then the wind shifted and picked up so we knocked the balloon down and sent them home.”
Chug On
Travel by train for views to remember
Paul Hallett, operations manager for the Conway Scenic Railroad in North Conway, grew up surrounded by trains and train-lovers.
Hallett’s father was a collector who built tracks that snaked around the cellar, traveling through holes in the walls and reappearing in other parts of the house. His father and uncles worked in railroad, and his mother was a freight claims clerk for the Boston-Maine Railway. At age 16, Hallett got his first job working for the Edaville Railroad in Maine, and the rest has been history.
But you don’t have to have Hallett’s background to go loco for locomotives. 
“There’s just something about trains. It’s part of the American psyche. We like the idea of train travel. Not too many of us do it, but we like the idea,” he said. “If I’m lying in bed at night and hear the train off in the distance, if gives me a warm, coming-home feeling.”
New Hampshire is home to five scenic railroads: The Conway Scenic Railroad in North Conway, the Mount Washington Cog Railway, Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad at Weirs Beach, Hobo Railroad in Lincoln, and the Clark’s Trading Post White Mountain Central Railroad in Lincoln. 
In warm-weather months they attract visitors from all over the world, and each location offers something unique. 
The Hobo Railroad follows the twists of the Pemigewasset River and offers Santa train rides in the winter. The Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad boasts picturesque views along the lake. At Clark’s Trading post, visitors ride a wood-burning, steam-powered locomotive though “Wolfman territory,” where Rabble Rousin’ Wolfman keeps guests on the edges of their seats with his antics. The Mount Washington Cog Railway and the Conway Scenic Railroad offer riders perspectives of mountainous landscapes they can’t see from the car.
Way back when
Before it was bought as a tourist attraction in 1965, the tracks on which the Conway Scenic Railroad trains run were part of the Boston and Maine Railroad line. Rides start at an original B&M Victorian station from 1874.
“People who come literally feel like they have stepped back in time,” said Susan Logan, marketing manager for Conway Scenic Railroad. “It screams New England; it’s just beautiful. And to see multiple generations of families coming here — we have grandparents now coming here who came as teenagers with their grandparents.”
The Conway trains date back to the 1920s and run on three different routes — two through the valley and straight up Crawford Notch. The Notch train is the most popular Conway Scenic route by far. Its tracks were laid in the 1870s, as part of the Maine Central Railroad’s famous mountain division line. It snakes around bluffs and steep ravines, and over two bridges, the Frankenstein Trestle and Willey Brook Bridge.
“They were building a railroad to New York State and needed a way to get to the west, so they needed a path through the mountains,” Hallett said. “Crawford Notch was there, and as a result you have great scenery.”
The route offers views that would make anyone traveling by car on the highway envious.
“In the Notch, when you are reaching those heights, you look down and see Route 302 and the cars look like little bugs traveling. You are seeing an elevated view. In the cars, you look up. In the train, you look through,” said Logan.
Built for tourism
Unlike the tracks for the Conway Scenic Railroad, the Mount Washington Cog Railway was built specifically for tourism. It was the dream and vision of Sylvester Marsh, a native of Campton who made his fortune in Chicago’s meatpacking industry.
As the story goes, Marsh was an avid hiker but when he grew older the trek up Mt. Washington was too much for him.
“He got caught in bad weather and and said there has to be a better way, and he came up with this railway idea,” said Rebecca Metcalf, assistant marketing director for the railway.
He took his vision to the New Hampshire Legislature, but it wasn’t well received. They asked, “Why don’t you build a railroad to the moon while you’re at it?”
Marsh built it anyway, and upon its completion the Mount Washington Cog Railway became the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway. The nickname “railway to the moon” stuck.
During the ride, brakemen give educational talks about the railroad’s and mountain’s history as sightseers take in views of the opposite side of the mountain than the auto road. 
“Driving up, a lot of people are so consumed with trying to see what they are driving into that they don’t look around that much,” said Wayne Presby, co-owner and president of the railway. “So [on the train] you’ve got a lot of time to look around. On a nice day the views are incredible. ... You see seven states and Canada. You can look across Maine and see the ocean.”
Logging and the Big Lake
The Hobo Railroad and The Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad are owned by Brenda and Edward Clark. They bought a 22-mile section of a Plymouth-to-Lincoln railroad that had been used for both tourism and logging since the late 1880s after departing from the family business, Clark’s Trading Post. Years later, the couple was invited to bid on a lease for state-owned track from Plymouth to Tilton. They acquired 47 more miles of track and formed the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad in 1992. 
On the 120-minute, 15-mile round-trip Hobo Railroad ride, guests are taken through naturally wooded areas along the Pemigewasset River. The track crosses the river half a dozen times as the route conductor shares history, pointing out where hotels used to stand and talking about the area’s paper and logging industry. 
“It’s a slow, relaxing, enjoyable ride in these restored vintage train cars,” said Director of Marketing and Business Development Paul Giblin. “It’s a nice way to unplug.”
Riders can pick up a Hobo picnic lunch on trains departing at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., and hang out with Hobo Buddy the Clown and sometimes his wife Harmony on weekday tours. The fun-loving duo makes balloon animals for the kids. 
The Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad offers a two-hour excursion around the lake. It travels south along  the western shore from Meredith to Weirs Beach, pauses briefly so people can board, and continues to Lakeport. 
“We never lose sight of the lake the whole time, but we travel through a number of backyards and vacation homes. People get to see all the beautiful homes,” Giblin said. 
Eco-friendly improvements 
Some of the state’s scenic railroad companies have one or two engines that aren’t powered by diesel. The Conway Scenic Railroad runs one coal-fired steam locomotive along with its five diesel engines, and Clark’s runs a wood-burning, steam-powered climax locomotive. 
But more local train companies have switched over to diesel fuel. Since 2008, the owners of the Cog Railway have been getting down to business building a greener fleet of engines. 
When Presby brought up the idea of changing most of the locomotives from steam power to diesel, his co-owner wasn’t too keen on the idea because he was interested in maintaining the antiquity and authenticity of the ride, Presby said. 
“But I kept pushing for it, and it has proven to be one of our biggest accomplishments,” he said. 
Coal produces lots of smoke, and the engines are more difficult to run than diesel — the technology is simple but not particularly reliable. After the company designed and tested its first diesel locomotive, it put it on the tracks to test public reception. 
“We found out most people didn’t care whether it was steam or diesel and in a lot of cases they liked diesel better,” Presby said. “It’s cleaner and faster. … So we built more of those and just finished the fifth one last year.”
The old steam trains used a ton of coal every trip, as well as 1,000 gallons of water, while the diesel trains require only about 15 gallons of fuel. 
It’s not just train updates that won The Mount Washington Cog Railway New Hampshire Business Magazine’s 2010 Lean and Green Award. It has also made massive improvements to the tracks, which have led to more efficient, faster trips. 
The company replaced huge amounts of timber on the tracks (which is all wooden treacle work, and none of it is on the ground), more than 14,400 feet of the center rail that the cog gear fits into, and over the years, after traveling all over the world visiting other cog railroads, designed brand new switches that are stronger and easier to operate than the former ones from 1941. One of the new switches allows trains to pass one another. 
The older switches required nine pieces that had to be moved by hand in order to facilitate the passing of the train. It took a lot of time and meant trains were idling, burning fuel. Those changes cut the round-trip ride down from three hours to two. 
“Now we are working on another switch at the summit and another track section so trains can pass at another summit,” Presby said. “All the switches are solar- and battery-powered. … You just press a button and [the switch] changes.”
With the development of more new switches Presby expects that in the future, trains will be sent out every 45 minutes and people will be able to book the times they want to go up and down, so they can stay as long as they want on the top instead of having a fixed boarding time to return. 
Ahoy, Matey!
More to see, by lake or by sea 
What won’t you get to see as you travel by car around Lake Winnipesaukee? 
Plenty, according to Jim Morash, captain and owner of Mount Washington Cruises. 
And he should know. 
Morash started with the company as a deckhand as a boat-dazzled 20-year-old college student. The work, for him, was a labor of love. After he graduated from college, he became part of the administration, worked on marketing and sales, and then worked his way up through the company’s three boats to become pilot of the flagship of the fleet, The Mount Washington, in 1991. In 1998, Morash became the company’s captain and general manager. 
“[What’s unique is] simple,” Morash said. “You’re seeing the lake from a different vantage point. At one point on the lake you see all three mountain ranges that encompass the lake. A lot of people can’t conceive how big the lake is unless they are on it, and see it can sustain a 230-foot ship. There’s not a spot on the land, except maybe Castle in the Clouds or Mount Major, where you can truly appreciate the scenery.”
Living history on the lake 
The Mount Washington fleet is an icon for the state because of its rich history, and Morash takes pride in being a steward of that.
People who grew up on the lake and spent their whole lives in the area still ride on the boats. Kids who went to summer camp around the lake come back and remember the M/V Sophie delivering the mail. They like to go out on the boat as adults and reminisce about the their days as young campers, Morash said. 
The fleet’s three vessels each have their stories, but it all started with the M/S Mount Washington. The 178-foot boat was built by the Boston and Maine Railroad Company and launched in Alton Bay in 1872. 
Back then, its only purpose was transporting people and cargo from one side of the lake to the other. It became known as the Queen of the Lake because it was the fastest of the many steamships operating there. 
As the popularity of cars rose and people no longer traveled by railroad or boat, the “Old Mount” transitioned into a tourist attraction, but in 1939 a devastating Weirs Beach fire destroyed the vessel. The original Old Mount was replaced in 1940 with The Chateauguay, a 203-foot vessel that was built in 1880 and had sailed on Lake Champlain. Its hull was cut into 20 pieces and shipped by flatbed railroad from Shelburne, Vt., to Lakeport. 
“This particular boat, you won’t find another one like it,” Morash said. “It is long and narrow, and reminiscent of what you call the laker … they don’t make this anymore. The boats now are wider and closed in entirely, so it’s truly unique.” 
Another Mount Washington vessel, the M/V Sophie E is the oldest floating post office in America.  The 74-foot boat was brought to the lake in 1945 and took over the Lake Winnipesaukee mail room in 1965. It still stops at some of the lake’s islands to drop off mail as it gives sightseeing tours. 
“It’s one of the most popular cruises we have,” Morash said.
Water parties 
If the views draw people onto the state’s big cruise boats, so do the parties.
You’d have to order a party bus to get the combination of celebration and scenery they offer. Mount Washington Cruises has a whole lineup of sunset dinner dance parties. They each have different themes, like rock ’n’ roll and Summer Lobster Night. 
“We also have a night where we check out the stars and meteor showers,” Morash said. 
Heading south to the Atlantic Coast, The Isles of Shoals Steamship Co. hosts 21-plus party cruises on which guests get a taste of local music and enjoy drink specials as they tour the Piscataqua River and Portsmouth Harbor. These trips are themed too. 
Only on the ocean 
Will you be able to get up close and personal views of islands and whales from your car? No, you will not. But you’ve got options. 
One is the Isles of  Shoals Steamship Co., which took the name in 1986. Before that it was Viking Cruises, a ferry service that carried 100 passengers to the largest of the four New Hampshire Isles of Shoals, Star Island. 
Now the company offers day trips around the Island, sometimes stopping to let passengers tour it. As passengers cruise the ocean, they learn about the history of the islands and shoreline landmarks. 
“We’re right on the Piscataqua, so you get to see both Kittery and Portsmouth. You see three different lighthouses on the tour — the Portsmouth headlight, Whaleback lighthouse and White Island lighthouse,” said Christina Disanto, the company’s office manager. “You can see the Portsmouth Naval Prison and see the steeple of the Portsmouth Church throughout the ride.” 
If you think it’s only tourists who take advantage of the cruise, think again. The majority of riders take the trip many times. 
“A lot of people will talk about family connections, or they have lived in Portsmouth,” Disanto said. “We get a lot of repeat and return customers.” 
Whale tales 
Yes, you can see whales in New Hampshire. Granite State Whale Watch is owned and captained by Rye native Pete Reynolds. 
“Very rarely can you see a whale from a car,” he said. “It’s different every day, spending time with completely wild animals. I love just taking people out to see what’s rare and unusual on a global basis.”
Reynolds began boating at 6 years old when his parents took him on his first sail. He started working on the whale watch boat at age 14 and climbed his way up from selling hot dogs to captaining. Every time he takes passengers out on the 65-foot boat, he faces a new challenge of tracking down the whales. 
“It’s a little bit of skill and a lot of luck,” he said. “There’s a large feeding ground called Jeffrey’s Ledge. ... Sometimes we can predict it very well and other times it takes a while. There’s not one magic spot where they always are.”
Humpback, minke and finback whales are the most common in the area. And there’s a significant Atlantic White Spotted Dolphin population too. Every so often, sperm, blue and right whales make appearances too. 
As seen in the July 24, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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