America’s Stonehenge, alpacas, and leaf-peeping

On Monday, Julia and I set out for a leaf-peeping expedition to New Hampshire.

I had spent a while looking at various foliage-map and foliage-info websites, and we had determined that southeastern NH and northeastern MA were approximately at peak. And Julia remembered having heard about a place called America's Stonehenge that was in southeastern NH, about a 45-minute drive from Boston; I was a little dubious, but she pointed out that if nothing else, it would mean we could walk around in the woods and look at pretty leaves. So we set off.

The place turned out to be an odd combination of multiple kinds of things:

  • An archaeological site, studying stone structures built four thousand years ago.
  • A place for kind of New Agey mystical stuff about the biggish rocks that lined up with sunrise or sunset on various Significant days of the year. (Julia tried to explain to me why Nov 1 would've been astronomically/seasonally significant to locals 4000 years ago, but I still don't entirely get why that specific day in particular; I would've thought Nov 5 or so would've been more significant (to people who didn't have the Celtic connection), as halfway between equinox and solstice.) This was presumably where the “Stonehenge” sobriquet came from.
  • A place for ghost-hunting—they were advertising a forthcoming visit by Team ECTO.

So it was a mix of kind of kitschy tourist-trap attention-grabbing with sincere scientific study. All in autumnal New England woods. Oh, yes, and there were also alpacas.

(I feel like I should pause here to apologize to any AS people who end up reading this entry. I don't mean to cast aspersions on your site or your livelihood; my visit was interesting and worthwhile, and I think it's cool that you maintain the site. But I was personally more interested in the scientific and historical stuff than in the more mystical and paranormal aspects.)

As soon as we exited the info/tickets building, we came across two alpacas. We were struck by how non-real they looked. Huge anime eyes, unusually-proportioned bodies, shaggy mop-top hair, shaggy bell-bottom legs—we were pretty sure that they were in fact cartoon characters.

(Later, a proprietor told us that his son had wanted to get alpacas some years back, so they got a few of them, and now they have eight. No connection to the archaeological site, just a cool side benefit of visiting.)

The self-guided tour was nicely laid out: we were each given a leaflet with a map and numbered descriptions that corresponded to numbered signposts along the way, and the fences and roped-off areas were laid out in such a way as to guide us through the outskirts before leading us to the coolest and most intact bit in the middle of the site.

The leaflet had surprisingly high production values; I liked it, though I was amused at its tendency to sensationalize a bit (by giving things evocative names in quotation marks, like “Sacrificial Table”) while simultaneously backing off from making any definite statements, saying things like “its purpose is unknown” about almost every item.

The stone structures were interesting. They were built 4000 years ago, but I think occupied by other groups later, and then in the 1800s a guy named Pattee moved in and added buildings; and then later there was a group that came in and took a bunch of the stone away for use elsewhere.

One thing I found especially interesting, though it wasn't in the leaflet so we didn't find out about it ’til we went back to the gift shop and information center after our walk, was that Pattee was an abolitionist who ran a station on the Underground Railroad. Nifty!

Another thing we would've liked to have seen more discussion of is the people who lived there. Apparently there's some doubt about who exactly built the place, but it seems likely to me that Native Americans lived there at some point during the nearly 4000 years before Pattee showed up; but aside from the wigwam near the start of the path, there was very little mention of any such people.

Anyway, after we'd gone through the main site, we walked along the outer ring path around it and looked at pretty leaves. At one point I realized that we were, in fact, in a yellow wood; not long after that, we came across a point where two paths diverged. We had an advantage over Frost in that we had no need to be one traveler (because there were two of us), but still, long we stood, taking photos of each of us looking uncertain at which way to go. Then we took the path more traveled by, ’cause that one seemed more likely to get us out of the woods safely. (Also, the leaflet asked us to stay on the main path.)

After a stop in the gift shop (I bought a cute stuffed alpaca, and some little stone turtles from Peru), we drove out toward the coast. Spent a little while wandering around a bit of Exeter (home of Phillips Exeter Academy), taking photos of pretty leaves; then back to Boston.

I've posted a bunch of photos; none of them are really spectacular, and I didn't really get any good ones of the stone stuff, but they may give a sense of what the leaves were like, at least. And the alpacas.

2 Responses to “America’s Stonehenge, alpacas, and leaf-peeping”

  1. Sumana Harihareswara

    I smiled broadly at your yellow wood references. Thank you. And I’m glad you & Julia had such a good time!

  2. jere7my

    I visited “America’s Stonehenge” a few times, when it was still called Mystery Hill (pre-1982). The historical consensus is that the site isn’t any older than the 18th century, and the 4000-year-old origin story the result of a hoax. You can still find plenty of people willing to say it was built by pre-Columbian Celts, including the proprietors, but I would file that explanation under New Age pseudoscience.


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