The day began bright and sunny, with large puffy, clouds racing across the sky, driven by the strong winds. A high pressure front had moved in after a series of heavy storms had battered the adjacent High Peaks the previous day. The foul weather had all of the local rivers and streams running high with runoff.
As I passed through Keene, the East Branch of the Ausable was roaring, but the waters were relatively clear. I though it was unusual as the West Branch flow had the appearance of chocolate milk when I had crossed over it in Lake Placid fifteen minutes earlier.
As I approached Elizabethtown, driving along Rt. 9N, all the little streams were flowing with a frothy tumble, and yet The Branch, a beautiful little stream that begins on the shoulders of Hurricane Mountain, was as clear freshly cleaned window.
In Elizabethtown, where the Boquet River was nearly bursting over it’s banks, the flow was likewise unusually clear for such a seemingly heavy runoff.
I had traveled to Elizabethtown with the intention of visiting a the local streams, and casting a few flies, but it was painfully obvious that although the will was strong, the way was impossible. Fishing in such conditions is fruitless, as it’s nearly impossible to keep a fly on the water long enough for a fish to see it.
As a result, I chose the next best option, which was to enjoy the remainder of the sunny day while enjoying the roar of a waterfall or two.
When it comes to waterfalls, Essex County is the place to go, as it has more waterfalls within it’s boundaries than any other county in the state. It is understandable, as the county is also home to the tallest mountains in the state, and we all know water flows downhill.
My first stop was at US Falls, a popular swimming hole on the outskirts of Elizabethtown, where the tumbling Branch is squeezed through a smooth bedrock gorge to create a series of spectacular waterfalls.
The location features the remains of several old dams that once harnessed the river’s flow to power a tannery, a mill and an electric generating station. Today, all that remains is a battered old dam, a grist stone, and numerous concrete bases that once cradled a spillway and delivered the flow to a cinderblock powerhouse.
After basking for awhile at the base of the soaring falls, and marveling at the passing rainbows that continued to show in the mist of the thunderous flow; I decided to head south in the direction of the upper sections of the Boquet River near the location of the infamous ‘Malfunction Junction’, aka The Crazy Eights where Route 9 and Route 73 converge and diverge.
Located a short distance from the intersection of these two main routes is the junction of the North Fork and the South Fork of the Bouquet River which flow precipitously out of Dix Range.
There are easy to follow foot trails located along the banks of both branches, as well as a number of vehicle accessible campsites along the river banks.
The forests nearby the riverbed feature a combination of old growth white pine, cedar and hemlock which offer a sharp contrast to the surrounding hills which are covered with wide open hardwoods composed primarily of birch and aspen. The open hardwoods are a remnant of the great fires that swept through the region in the late 1800’s.
Although the trees are currently leafing out, the hillsides remain mostly wide open as do the riverbanks which have been scoured repeatedly in recent years as a result of historic high water events.
Short of taking a trout or two on the fly, there is likely nothing I enjoy more than simply walking along a river corridor. Although I’ve paddled and fished most of the local waters numerous times, I always seem to stumble upon something new, unique or interesting whenever I travel the riverbanks rather than the riverbed. When I’m wading the rivers, I concentrate on the fish, while on the riverbanks my full attention is centered on the land.
Often it’s just a well worn foot trail, the last vestiges of a former roadway, the abutment of a bridge or a long lost, rusted old, road sign. It is easy to forget that our current roadways were often rerouted over the years, and many of the once popular overlooks are no longer visited. This is especially true along Route 73, where there remains ample evidence of sections of the old route.
Although vegetation has reclaimed many of the old banks, it is easy to find the former overlooks, many of which remain littered with the disagreed bottles, tires, wheels and vehicles of 19th and 20th century travelers.
In fact, the route of the former Route 9 is still paved as follows through an old forest along the right bank of the South Fork of the Boquet, which is located just off Route 73. The old bridge abutments are still in place, located about a 100 yards downriver from the current bridge over the South Fork of the Boquet on Route 73.
Having completed my investigation of the tumultuous tumbling branches of the upper Boquet, I returned to Elizabethtown after enjoying a quick visit to Split Rock Falls.
At Split Rock, the combined flow of the two forks created a snapping, snarling, thunderous flow which had reduced the popular swimming hole’s three distinct pools into one long, white ribbon of froth and foam.
The power of the river was palatable and hypnotic. As I stood on the bank, high above the thunderous ribbon in the stream bed below, I could feel the ground shaking underfoot.
There was a thick mist was in the air, which created thousands of miniature rainbows on shafts of sunlight that trickled through the limbs of the towering white pines.
It was a surreal scene, and the pounding of the thunderous waters pounding could be felt underfoot. There was the incessant mist on my face, and the sparkle of a million droplets in the air and on the pines. The ground vibrated underfoot, even though it was insulated with a thick carpet of pine needles. The power of the rumbling water was consuming and hypnotic. I could feel it sucking me in as I stood on a ledge high above the flow, and I knbew it was time to go.
As I readied to depart, a trio of kayakers pulled off the road and into the small parking lot. They were wearing wet suits, and hurried to retrieve their squirt boats from the roof rack, before hustling down to the river.
“You’re not going to attempt that are you?”, I asked them, “You’ve got to nuts!”
“We’ve run it three times already, and we can probably get in another three trips before the sun goes down” one fellow replied. He quickly turned away and walked towards the river where his friends were already putting in. “I gotta go!”
I shook my head, and walked back to my car without looking back. Although I really wanted to stay and watch the scene, I was afraid it would spark some special sense of the past in me, when I too had taken off in a kayak on the very same river. Although I’m much older now, and possibly a fair bit wiser; I really didn’t want to let that genie out of the bottle again, because it was just too much fun!
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.