[ SUNDAY TRAVEL ]
Santas gotJEFFERSON, NH >> With Christmas a few months away, the rush is on for plan-ahead types to stockpile gifts and wrap up party details. For everyone who finds Christmas a chore, there is another who can't get enough of the holiday, wishing it would last more than a day. These cheery souls will find Christmas is always in the air in New Hampshire. Maybe it's the tall pine trees, the Christmas tree farms and the cool mountain air.
a nice pad
Kids and adults can enjoy old
Saint Nick's theme park no
matter what time of year
White Mountain offers woodsy fun year-round
By Nancy Arcayna
Santa's Village, St. Nick's summer home away from the North Pole, is nestled amid the lush White Mountains in Jefferson. He sits on his rocker, on the porch in front of his quaint house.
The large fan, placed in front of Santa, helps to keep him cool in the humid temperatures. After all, he is accustomed to chillier surroundings. Children visit him from near and far to claim dibs on the toys they hope to see under the tree on Christmas day.
The smell of gingerbread fills the air as you stroll down the streets of the village, luring you to the bake shop's homemade gingerbread cookies that you can purchase and personally decorate. The street names along the way include: Ho Ho Boulevard, Jingle Bell Way and Jolly Lolly Lane. Christmas carols can be heard on every corner.
"My parents, Normand and Cecile Dubois, had a thriving dry-cleaning and men's clothing shop in Lancaster, N.H. They had toyed with the idea of starting a theme park, but many of the townspeople voiced their apprehension and discouragement," said Elaine Gainer, their daughter, who now takes care of the park.
The park was born when a young deer darted in front of Normand Dubois' car one afternoon.
"I was 3 years old, and my dad and I were riding on Route 2 in Jefferson. When I saw the fawn, I asked my dad, 'Is that Santa's reindeer?'"
Dad had a lot of faith and knew it was no accident that the parcel of land in which the fawn had come from was for sale. The 25 acres had a brook and was previously a Christmas tree farm."
The park opened in 1953, even before Disneyland made its debut. Their goal was to create a safe, fun place for families without the carnival atmosphere, said Gainer.
Although there are amusement rides, the park offers much more than that. Snowmen are as tall as trees and signs of Christmas are around every corner.
Reindeer roam about freely on Santa's farm. The friendly creatures love attention and especially enjoyed being fed by their admirers. "Their antlers feel like velvet," said 10-year-old Taylor Martin, a visitor from Vermont.
Unique festivities also fill the park. Visit the blacksmith at the Reindeer Shoe Shop and take home a "good luck ring" sized specially for you. And one mustn't forget to make a stop at Elf University to receive an official take-home diploma. All that is required is your attendance and signature.
Kids of all ages (including adults) enjoyed playing the "Elfabet" game where you search throughout the park for 26 elves (one elf for each letter of the alphabet). After receiving a stamp from each elf, everyone gets a prize.
The Polar Theater presents a Christmas play, "Toyland Treasures," where toys come to life and learn the meaning of Christmas. Nothing like that to get folks in the holiday spirit.
"We want to ensure that each guest is given a Christmas gift of joy in July," said Gainer.
The rides throughout the park have something for everyone. The Yule Log Flume and Rudy's Rapid Transit roller coaster, with drops and twists to thrill, are for the more adventurous types. Santa's Skyway Sleigh offers an opportunity to check out the sights as you fly slowly around the park. "The sleigh is 38 feet from the ground at its highest point," said Gainer.
Santa's Red Hot Fire Racers -- life boats that rush down a gushing stream of water, the Great Humbug Adventure and Santa's Smackers (bumper cars) are good choices for kids of all ages. And Santa's Express Train is another mellow way to explore the park.
Those who want to go high in the sky and soak in some scenery can hop on the 50-foot ferris wheel.
"My favorite ride was the Great Humbug Adventure. You get to shoot the humbugs while driving in the dark," said 8-year-old Nicole Jacques of Florida. Two laser guns are attached to each car so the riders can compete to see who can rid the planet of the most humbugs. After all, there is definitely an overabundance of grinches during the holiday season.
COURTESY OF SANTA'S VILLAGE
During summer vacation, Kevin and Mandie Dupree
help keep the grounds at Santa's Village.
Kevin and Mandie Dupree enjoy the best of both worlds. The young couple lives in Hawaii and attends Brigham Young University-Hawaii. But, during their vacation, they journey back east to care for the grounds at Santa's Summer Home in New Hampshire.
An isle couple enjoys life working
part-time as Santa's little helpers
Kevin, 23 and Mandie, 21 were married a year ago and decided to move to Hawaii. "We will be in Hawaii for the next couple of years finishing up our degrees," said Kevin.
Mandie was born and raised in New Hampshire, so visiting the mountains is not uncommon. "I love both the summer and Christmas so it is nice to have them combined. But growing up on the mainland I was used to having snow at Christmas," said Mandie.
Mandie also enjoys the atmosphere at Santa's Village. "It is great to have the Christmas spirit all year round," she said.
"We have always worked in landscaping, even in Hawaii, so they offered both of us a job for the summer," said Kevin.
The lush mountains set the backdrop of the 25-acre park, which is adorned with an abundance of trees, bushes, flowers and ponds.
"We grow over 20,000 plants in a greenhouse and are in charge of planting them throughout the park," said Mandie. "I enjoy being creative with design and reap the benefits of watching everything grow," she added.
"In Hawaii, we have a paradise, where everything grows and looks good. In New Hampshire, you have to make everything grow and look good. I like the challenge," said Kevin.
"We get to meet so many visitors from all over the world," said Mandie. Kevin added, "The best part of the job is seeing how the plants and flowers make people smile."
The White Mountain region of New Hampshire has an array of activities to enjoy throughout the summer months. During the winter months, skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, skating and sleigh rides are popular choices. The autumn offers fall foliage tours.
White Mountain offers
woodsy fun year-round
By Nancy Arcayna
But the summer offers a chance to experience the scenic sights and enjoy wildlife in a variety of settings. Most of the summer attractions are open from mid-April to October. Reservations are recommended.
Cog Railway: Ride an authentic coal-fired steam train, an experience often referred to as "the railway to the moon." A round-trip venture takes approximately 3 1/2 hours, which includes a visit to the top. Museums, a gift shop and an eatery are located at the base of the station.
>> Open: Daily, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Sept. 21; from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 22 to Oct. 8. Arrive 45 minutes prior to closing for the last train ride.
>> Where: Route 302, Bretton Woods
>> Admission: $44 adults; $30 children ages 6 to 12 (children under 6 are free but must sit in parent's lap); and $40 for seniors over 62
>> Call 800-922-8825 or visit www.thecog.com.
Flume Gorge: Enjoy a spectacular walk through a natural chasm with covered bridges, waterfalls, scenic pools and mountain views. The natural gorge extends 800 feet, with walls rising to 90 feet.
The gorge, located in Franconia Notch State Park, is home of the "Old Man in the Mountain Great Stone Face Profile." The natural rock formation measures 40 feet by 25 feet.
>> Open: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May to June and September to October; and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. July to August.
>> Where: Route 3, Franconia Notch State Park
>> Admission: $8 adults; $5 children ages 6 to 12; free for children under 5
>> Call: (603) 745-8391
Wildcat Gondola Skyrides: Ride aboard the fastest four-passenger chair lift in Maine and New Hampshire. The gondola's sky ride to the summit's observatory, with a 4,100-foot summit, offers a grand view of Mount Washington Valley. On a clear day, enjoy views of the Atlantic Ocean and Canada.
>> Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Memorial Day weekend to mid-October. Last gondola leaves at 4:45 p.m.
>> Where: Route 16, Pinkham Notch, Jackson
>> Admission: $9 adults; $4.50 children ages 6 to 12; children 5 and under are free. A family fun pack, which includes two adult and two children fares and a family picnic lunch, may be purchased for $39.95.
>> Call 800-255-6439 or visit www.skiwildcat.com.
Polar Caves Park: Explore the glacial boulder maze, discover rainbow cascades or feed friendly fallow deer. Continuous cave tours are offered, and exotic pheasants from around the world may be seen. The less adventurous types can take a look around the Maple Sugar Museum or enjoy a picnic in the pines.
>> Open: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 5 to Oct. 21 (weather permitting)
>> Where: Route 25, Plymouth
>> Admission: $10 adults; $6 children ages 6-12; free for children under 5
>> Call 800-273-1886 or visit www.polarcaves.com.
Mount Washington Auto Road: Journey to the summit of the northeast's highest peak, where one can view five states and even Canada. The Mount Washington Observatory Museum can be found atop the summit. Take a guided tour up the unique 8-mile road, or drive yourself and receive a free audio tour on cassette or CD.
>> Where: Route 16, Gorham
>> Admission: Toll, $15 for car and driver; plus $6 for additional adults; $4 children 5 to 12
>> Cost: Varies for guided tours
>> Call 603-466-3988.
Soaking in the scenery can be done while enjoying a number of outdoor activities. A picnic in the wooded areas or next to a lake provides a relaxing setting. Those looking for an adventure may opt to try a more sporty activity.
Hiking: When traveling through Franconia Notch or the Kancamangus Highway in the White Mountain region, hiking trails are abundant. Easy strolls or adventurous hikes can lead one to tranquil ponds gorges, spectacular bird's-eye views or waterfalls. Guided tours are available.
>> Call the Appalachian Mountain Club in Gorham at 603-466-2727, ext. 193.
Canoeing: A canoe trip down the scenic Saco River takes paddlers along a winding course with views of the Chocorua and Sandwich ranges and the Kearsarge Peaks.
>> Call Saco Valley Canoe Rentals at 800-447-2460 for equipment rentals and shuttle service or the Appalachian Mountain Club at 603-466-2727 for more information.
Biking: Miles of cross-country trails and logging roads are open to mountain bikers, plus there are many scenic roads for on-road biking.
>> Call the Bike Shop at 603-356-6089 for rentals.
>> Trail information may be found at www.geocities.com/nhbikes.
>> A map of 31 trails is available from the New Hampshire Mountain Bicycling Association, Box 103, Ashland, NH 03217, for $10.
>> For bike tours, call Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center at 603-466-2333.
Camping: Choose from rustic wilderness sites to full recreational facilities.
>> For information, call the White Mountains Visitor Center at 800-FIND MTS (346-3687).
>> Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park on route 132N in Ashland provides family fun, hayrides and a chance to hang out with Yogi, Cindy and Boo Boo Bear. Rates: $25 to $49. Call 603-968-9000 or visit www.jellystonenh.com.
Wildlife Watching: One of the exciting aspects of staying in the White Mountains is the opportunity to observe wildlife in their natural habitats. Several areas in the natural 800,000-acre forest offer good observation spots. The white-tailed deer (the New Hampshire state mammal), moose fox, black bears and even otters can be found lurking about. If you spot a moose or bear on your exploration, be sure to use caution and never approach the animal. Also note that if you are parking a vehicle on the forest land, a permit is needed. A $5 pass is good for up to 7 days; an annual pass may be purchased for $20.
>> For information, write to Forest Service Office, White Mountain National Forest, 719 Main St., Laconia, NH 03246; or call 603-528-8721.
>> The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department publishes a book that lists 72 places throughout the state to watch wildlife. Call 603-271-3421.
An abundance of attractions in the area provide enjoyment for kids of all ages.
Storyland: A wonderful children's theme park where fantasy and fairy tales come to life. Ride the pumpkin coach to Cinderella's castle; cruise in the Swan Queen to visit Prince Charming; take an adventure on a pirate ship; explore silver mines and more. And a ride on Dr. Geyer's Remarkable Raft Ride is a must. Throughout the park, children can listen to storybook classics while viewing the favorite animals, such as "The Three Little Pigs."
>> Open: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, June 18 to Labor Day; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Labor Day through Columbus Day
>> Route 16, Glen
>> Admission: $18; children under 4 are free. Includes unlimited rides, all shows and attractions all day. For the best value, go in after 3 p.m. and pay full admission to receive a free pass for any other day during the season.
>> Call 603-383-4186 or visit www.storylandnh.com.
Six Gun City: Soak in the "best of the West" by taking a ride in a stagecoach, watching a cowboy and frontier show or making a visit to the sleigh and carriage museum. The park also offers a variety of amusement rides and water slides.
>> Open: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends, May 26 to June 10; daily, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 16 to Sept. 3
>> Where: Route 2, Jefferson
>> Admission: $15.45, includes unlimited rides and shows; $10.95 seniors over 65; free for children under 4
>> Call 603-586-4592 or visit www.sixguncity.com.
Attitash Bear Peak: Visit the fields for horseback riding, enjoy the scenery by mountain biking or a chairlift ride, or just cruise down alpine water slides. Children ages 2 to 7 can enjoy Buddy Bear's Playpool.
>> Open: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 26 to June 10 and Sept. 8 to Oct. 8 ; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 16 to Sept. 3
>> Where: Route 302, Bracelet
>> Admission: $10 to $40; cost varies depending on activities.
>> Call 603-374-2368 or visit www.attitash.com.
Visitors can make reservations with many lodging establishments through the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce Web site at www.mtwashington.com. Another source that provides statewide information is the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development. Call 800-386-4666 or visit www.visitnh.gov. Dining and general travel information can also be found at this Web site.