Got a New Hampshire state quarter? Take a look at the back. That's the Old Man of the Mountain. Located on the side of Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch State Park, it's the symbol of the state of New Hampshire. And unfortunately, you can't see the real old man anymore. It fell down last year on May 3.
I was in New England in October 2002, and after spending an evening in Nashua before making my way to Vermont, I decided to drive up into the White Mountains. It was a crisp autumn morning with bright sunshine, and the scenery was beautiful, rich full colors surrounded by snow topped mountains. All along I-93 there were signs giving the distance until the Franconia Notch and the Old Man.
And it was worth the trip. There was a viewing area where you could get the best profile view of the old man, but there was also enough space to wander off on your own and see it from different views. By the time I had reached this area, some clouds had moved in, so half of the time the Old Man was in sunlight, and the other half dulled by overcast skies.
After spending about an hour in the area, the last thing I did was climb a short viewing tower so that I could take some pictures of the Old Man. The pictures I took did not do him justice. What strikes me to this day is how realistic this rock formation looked. It was so true to life that a large part of me cannot comprehend how it could have formed naturally.
On the day that the Old Man fell, I was traveling along the Mississippi River valley, where Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin meet. It was almost noon, and I was headed northwest on US Route 20. Just before Galena, there was a lookout area, an outstanding view of the bluffs that give way to the river. I pulled off the road into the parking lot and climbed a tower that gave me the best view of the valley. It was a day similar to the day I spent in New Hampshire weather wise, and I recall saying to myself that the view that I was being treated to was probably the best I had seen since my day with the Old Man.
Shortly after returning to my car and continuing my trip, I turned on NPR. It was noon, and I wanted to hear the news.
The lead story was that the Old Man of the Mountain had collapsed sometime during the night, "while New Hampshire slept."
Coincidence? Who knows.
Rest in piece(s), Old Man