New Hampshire Geology New Hampshire Bedrock Map

Neocene Period page 2
(1.8 million years ago - Present)
Formerly known as the Quarternary Period


Today, and throughout the last 180 million years,  weathering and erosion have been creating and destroying landforms all over our fair state and the rest of the New England region.  For instance, look at the classic U-shaped valley of Crawford Notch below, as viewed from Mt. Willard.  As the glacier filled and moved through what was originally a V-shaped river valley, it sculpted not only the bottom of the valley but the sides as well.

crawford notch

The Present

The Present, for our purposes, refers to the time since the last retreat of the glaciers about 10,000 years ago up through the moment you read this.    

Pick A Coastline....Any Coastline

Since the retreat of the glaciers, the climate started to warm and vegetation returned to New Hampshire.  At the site that is now Odiorne Point State Park, a forest of spruce and white pine trees flourished.  As the glaciers melted back all over the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, ocean levels started to rise around the globe.  Locally, this caused flooding of coastal areas, including the spruce and white pine forest of Odiorne Point, drowning the forest.  At one point, the ocean levels had risen so much, portions of Southeastern New Hampshire were under water - miles inland from the present coastline.  How do we know this?  There are remnants of muddy ocean tidal flats that date back thousands of years, complete with mussel and clam shells, miles inland from toady's coastline.

At the same time that ocean levels were rising, the land was rising, or rebounding, from the release of the massive weight of the ice sheet that depressed this portion of the North American Plate.  The land rebounded at a slower rate than the ocean, and may still be rebounding today.  As a result, portions of the drowned forest are now visible again today at low tide.

The Saga Of The Old Man

The Stats

For hundred perhaps thousands of years, Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch was home to a remarkable natural feature, The Old Man in the Mountain. The Old Man was first recorded by white man in 1805. It had probably been part of the mountain for hundreds or thousands of years before that. Sometime on the night of May 2, 2003 or the morning of May 3, 2003 the Old Man fell off the side on the mountain.  

The Old Man in the Mountain was a completely natural, extremely detailed, 46 foot high profile of a man's face perched on a cliffside 1,200 feet above Profile Lake.  It was composed of five sloping slabs of salmon colored Conway Granite that weighed over 7,200 tons.

Some Trivia

The first recorded observation of the Old Man was made by a two man surveying crew that stopped by Profile Lake in 1805.  The two men who "discovered" the Old Man came from Franconia and Woodstock.  

The two women working for the state who discovered that the Old Man was gone, also came from Franconia and Woodstock.

A Facelift

Each of the five granite slabs that made up the profile of the Old Man were overhung above the next block below.  The amazing thing about this arrangement is that it all balanced on the 'chin' block at the bottom.  

Efforts had been made since the turn of the 20th Century, to fasten the topmost 'forehead' block to the rest of Cannon Mountain.  (The rest of the blocks were too hazardous to approach and perform similar operations.)  The top block had been observed to be moving away from the mountain's edge and the stability of the Profile was known to be at risk, even then.

Turnbuckles were fastened and concrete mixtures were added to fill in cracks to keep the stone from slipping further and to block water from seeping in and freezing.  What couldn't be seen below the surface was the vast system of cracks of all sizes that let water in from behind.

All Good Things Must Come To An End

These slabs were remnants of broken rock that had fallen victim to the weathering process of the  freezing and thawing of water in the crevices of the granite, and the erosional effect of gravity on the cliffside.  When water freezes, it expands, acting like a lever prying the cracks wider.  When the cracks are wide enough, and the rocks happen to be hanging out from a cliff face, at some point, gravity takes over and the rocks tumble down to the valley below.  This process both created the Old Man's profile and destroyed it.

Is The Ice Age Over?

Many climatologists believe we are in the midst of a warm spell between periods of glaciation.  The jury is still out on this one, but the author of this web site has come across some pretty convincing evidence that this may be so, and that we might be heading back into a period of glaciation:

As the author of this site was literally typing this last segment of the web site, he observed someplace very warm froze over shortly before midnight on October 27, 2004 during a total lunar eclipse - after being behind the New York Yankees, three games to none in the American League Championship series, the Boston Red Sox won the next four games and went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in four straight games to win the World Series for the first time in over eighty years!

When A Tree Drowns In The Ocean, And No One Is Around, Does It Make A Splash?

Though it blends in well in the photo below (click on image for a larger view), this 4,000 + year old tree stump on the beach at Odiorne Point State Park is a remnant from a post glacial forest.  This forest formed along the New Hampshire coast, as it existed at that time, after the ice sheet retreated from the immediate area, but before it completely melted.  Visible only at low tide, it is a reminder of the way the landscape used to be.  That New Hampshire coast was miles further out at sea, and is no longer in existence due to the rise in ocean levels created by the melting of the glaciers.

 drowned tree

(Click on the image for a closer look.)|
Image credit: Daniel E. Reidy

The Old Man In His Prime

Sometime on the evening of May 2nd and 3rd, 2003, the bottom most of 5 slabs of overhanging Conway Granite, making up the profile of the Old Man of the Mountain, collapsed due to excessive chemical and physical weathering of the granite surface and interior.  It had actually been cloudy for several days preceding, but eyewitness accounts of "rumbling noises" coupled with possible seismic readings (recordings of the shaking of the ground), point to the likelihood of being the time of collapse, which turned out to be sometime after 10pm on May 2nd.  Again, there has been no hard evidence, or proof.  This is just the best guess.

old man before

(Click on the image for a closer look.)|
Image credit: Dan Reidy

The Old Man Has Fallen And Can't Get Up

Below is the same view of Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch as it looks today without the profile of the Old Man.  Compare it to the photo above and see if you can identify where the remaining jutting rocks from the picture below are in the photograph of the Old Man above.

old man after  

(Click on the image for a closer look.)|
Image credit: Dan Reidy

Below is a photo of a portion of the forehead block being visited by New Hampshire teachers attending a workshop commemorating the anniversary of the Old Man's collapse hosted by Plymouth State University and the New Hampshire Geological Survey.  (Check with Professor Warren Tomkiewicz, Ph.D. at PSU for info on next workshop:

group on forehead

(Click on the image for a closer look.)|
Image credit: David Wunsch, Ph.D. - State Geologist of New Hampshire

How did we know it was the forehead?  Look at the pictures below for a clue.

forehead block

(Click on the image for a closer look.)|
Image credit: Dan Reidy