New England has more than its share of natural wonders, most of which are well known tourist attractions. But New Hampshire has one that very few people know about. Sculptured Rocks Geologic Site is a gorge of granite that was sculpted into fantastic shapes by waterfalls melting from glaciers.
Rock and water: a contest of strength
About 12,000 years ago a great ice sheet covered the land of New Hampshire as much as a mile and a half deep in places. As it moved across the land it gathered debris, and when it started to melt, water backed up behind the walls of ice and glacial debris that fell as it melted. In places granite cliffs and immense blocks of granite that had been split from the mountains blocked the way. The immense lakes that formed behind those natural dams eventually began to find their way through the barriers. The freezing and thawing of water cracked rock. Water filed with sand and rock began pouring through the cracks, and the rivers began carving the rock.
The Cockermouth River
In the town of Groton, not far from the north end of Newfound Lake, the Cockermouth River winds its way down from the highlands, rushing through one of these gorges carved by glacial melting.
When the river was much larger, and the rock barrier much higher, billions of gallons of water flowed over the edges and through cracks creating passages and potholes, large and small bowl-like depressions in the underlying rock. In a process that took thousands of years, rocks and sand trapped in these bowls were constantly whirled around, scouring larger and larger potholes. Eventually the sides of the huge bowls broke, creating huge stone sculptures with curving sides.
The stream still passes through the canyon, continuing the work of sculpting the rock walls. Not as large, or as powerful as the original stream, the Cockermouth still roars as its water are forced into a narrow channel, swirling in whirlpools as it is trapped and squeezed through narrow passages. The old rock still controls the path of the water, forcing it into granite cauldrons where it circles, still dragging sand and rocks around, widening the newer potholes and forcing new channels.
A natural site, not a staffed park
The attraction of Sculptured Rocks Geologic Site lies in its natural beauty and not in any man-made object. Aside from a rough dirt trail (which can be muddy in wet weather) there are no facilities here. There are no picnic tables, no toilets, no park rangers. In you bring a picnic lunch to eat on the rocks, please carry all waste out with you.
In places the rock cliffs that form the sides of the canyon are 20-30 feet above the swirling and rushing waters at their base. You may also find a couple fishermen dangling their lines in the oxygen-rich waters. Be sure that all members of you party have good shoes that grip wet rock well. A fall from a sidewall could be fatal or cause serious injury. St the downstream end of the cascade there is a pool of very cold water, a great place for cooling off on a summer day.
Also in the area
While you are there, take a drive around Newfound Lake, a beautiful large body of water set in a bowl of lush green hillsides. The Fudge Mill in Bristol is a good option for lunch or for ice cream if the day it hot. Another place to visit is the Newfound Audubon Center in Hebron (right off Route 3A). It has a nature center and access to the lake. It is also joined with the Hebron Marsh Sanctuary (at the mouth of the Cockermouth as it enters Newfound Lake) and the Bear Mountain Sanctuary. Wellington State Park, at the south end of the lake has a nice beach, with a pavilion and snack bar as well as access to the lake and hiking trails.
Getting to Sculptured Rocks
From I-93 take exit 23 and Route 104 west to Bristol. In Bristol, follow Route 3A north along the east shore of Newfound Lake. At the north end of the lake look on the left for North Shore Road, marked to Groton. (It’s just about opposite Six Chimneys and a Dream B&B). At Hebron Village (a beautiful little town) North Shore Road becomes Groton Road, and at the center of Groton (there is an intersection and not much else) go straight ahead onto Sculptured Rocks Road. The site is on the right and parking on the left. On the way back take West Shore Road at Groton to Wellington State Park.