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Framed by the White Mountains to the north and the Green Mountains to the west, New England’s gently rolling hills and valleys taper off to an irregular rockbound coastline edged with sandy beaches to the south. Vast woodlands coupled with an extensive river and stream system complete the picture. The region’s major mountain ranges are remnants of higher peaks that were formed 300 million to 500 million years ago. Much younger in geologic age, the numerous ponds, lakes, U-shaped valleys, and winding ridges owe their existence to the Laurentide ice sheet and associated glaciers that covered this portion of the North American continent until about 10,000 years ago.


Geographic Features

Appalachian Mountains

The Appalachians, extending about 1,600mi from Canada’s St. Lawrence Valley to Alabama, form the spine of New England. Several parallel ranges with a primarily north-south orientation make up the northeastern Appalachian system.

The White Mountains

These once heavily glaciated mountains, characterized by rocky, cone-shaped summits and U-shaped valleys, claim the highest peak in the northeastern US: Mt. Washington (6,288ft).

The Green Mountains

The most prominent peaks in Vermont form a north-south ridge through the center of the state. Composed of ancient metamorphic rocks, including Vermont’s rich marble deposits, this mountain chain extends into Massachusetts, where it is known as the Berkshires.

The Taconic range

Extending along the common border of New York and Massachusetts, and into southern Vermont, this range, comprised primarily of schist, includes Mt. Equinox in Vermont and Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts.

The Monadnocks

Several isolated mountains, called monadnocks, the remnants of ancient crystalline rock more resistant to erosion than the surrounding rock strata, dominate the countryside. Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire exemplifies this type of relief; its name has been adopted by geographers to describe similar formations found elsewhere. Other monadnocks include mounts Katahdin and Blue in Maine, mounts Cardigan and Kearsage in New Hampshire, and Mount Wachusetts in Massachusetts.

The Connecticut valley

New England is bisected by this 400mi-long, north-south incision carved by the Connecticut River. The valley follows a fault that is punctuated by several craggy basalt ridges (mounts Sugarloaf and Holyoke) rising above the valley floor in Massachusetts and north of New Haven, Connecticut.

The coast

In the north the coast is jagged and indented, with countless peninsulas and bays and hundreds of offshore islands. Melting glacier waters, together with a rising sea level, inundated this land, hiding most of the glacial landforms and creating a coastline of elongated bays and hundreds of offshore islands. South of Portland, Maine, the broad, flat coastal plain gives way to sandy beaches. The estuaries and lagoons of quiet water protected by barrier beaches have given rise to vast salt marshes that provide food and resting grounds for birds and waterfowl in the Atlantic Flyway. Farther south, enormous accumulations of sand cover the glacial moraines of Cape Cod and the islands, creating the landscape that typifies the Cape.


Climate

Mark Twain once observed that “there is a sumptuous variety about the New England weather, that compels admiration—and regret... In the spring I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.” This varied climate results from the fact that the region lies in a zone where cool, dry air from Canada meets warm, humid air from the southeast. Annual precipitation averages 42in, and the seasons are sharply defined.

Winter is cold, particularly in the north, where temperatures can range from –10°F to 10°F (–23°C to –12°C).

A pattern of hazy or foggy days alternating with showers and followed by clear weather characterizes the humid summer . Daytime temperatures peak at 90°F (32°C); evenings are cool along the coast, in the mountains and near the lakes. Autumn , with its sunny days and cool nights, is the season when “leaf lookers” inundate New England to view the spectacular fall foliage. A cool spell in late September is often followed by Indian summer , a milder period when the leaves take on their most brilliant color.

Northeasters, coastal storms accompanied by high tides, heavy rain (or snow in winter) and gale-force winds, can occur at any time of year, especially off the coast of Maine.


Vegetation

With more than 70 percent of the region’s surface covered by woodlands, New England’s landscape is appealing in the summer for its thick cover of green, and even more so in the fall for its blazing leaf colors. The forests consist of a combination of deciduous trees and evergreens. The most common deciduous trees are beech, birch, hickory, oak, and sugar or rock maple. Among the conifers, the white pine is found while hemlock, balsam fir and spruce forests abound in the north.

Fall foliage

Dramatic and unforgettable, the colorful New England foliage transforms the countryside into a palette of vivid golds (birches, poplars, gingkos), oranges (maples, hickories, mountain ash) and scarlets (red maples, red oaks, sassafras and dogwoods), framed by the dark points of spruce and fir trees. What makes the scene especially impressive are the flaming crimsons of the maple trees that cover New England. The Indian summer climate, with its crisp, clear sunny days followed by increasingly longer and colder nights, catalyzes the chemical reaction that halts the production of chlorophyll in the leaves, and causes the previously concealed pigments—yellowish carotene, brown tannin, and red anthocyanin—to appear.

Leaves begin to change color in the northern states in mid-September and continue to change until mid-October, and until late October farther south. However, the first two weeks in October remain the most glorious period, when bright color blankets the New England landscape. In all six states, information centers provide foliage reports by telephone .

Sugar maples

Capable of adapting to a cold climate and rocky soil, the sugar or rock maple is found throughout Vermont and New Hampshire. In early spring, when the sap begins to rise in the maple trees, farmers insert a tube, from which a bucket is suspended, into the trunk. The sap that collects in the bucket is transferred to an evaporator in a nearby wooden shed called a sugarhouse, where it is boiled down into syrup. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. Modern technology has simplified this process; now, plastic tubes lead directly from the tree to the sugarhouse.

Marshes and bogs

Because of its glacial origin, the soil in New England is often swampy. Vast marshlands, distinguished by tall grasses and reedy plants, line the region’s coast. Bogs, wetlands characterized by the high acid content of the soil, support plants such as sedges, heaths, orchids, Labrador tea, sphagnum moss and, in low-lying sandy areas, cranberries. Dead matter that accumulates in the bog is prevented from decaying because of the acidic environment, and over a period of time this material is transformed into peat. Gradually the surface of the bog may be covered with a thick, soggy mat of sphagnum moss. Peat deposits will support trees and shrubs, and eventually vegetation will fill in the bog, converting it into dry, forested land.

Wildflowers

By late spring the mantle of snow has almost disappeared and the flowers in the woods, along the roadside and in the fields and mountains burst into bloom. The magnificent rhododendron and laurel bushes lend pink accents to the dark green woods. During the summer the roadsides are alternately tinted with the orange of the flowering Turk’s-cap lily , the yellow of the tall-stemmed goldenrod , the pale blue of the multitude of tiny asters and the purplish hue of broad, swaying patches of lupine . Maine’s mountains and woods are filled with wild blueberries. Hundreds of species of more familiar wildflowers, including buttercups, daisies, sunflowers, Queen Anne’s lace, and lily-of-the-valley, adorn the fields and grassy meadows. In moist, marshy areas, look for the delicate lady’s slipper , a small pink or white member of the orchid family, and the greenish Jack-in-the-pulpit , so named because of the curved flap that gives the flower its appearance of a preacher in a pulpit.


Wildlife

There are virtually no forms of wildlife unique to New England, yet several species are typical of the region’s fauna.

The forests

The white-tailed deer , characterized by its white, bushy tail, inhabits the northern spruce and fir forests together with black bears and moose . The region’s largest mammal and the state animal of Maine, moose may be encountered in the middle of forest roads, along marsh lands and boggy areas. Outfitters in northern New Hampshire and Maine offer a variety of moose-watching excursions, including guided kayak, canoe, pontoon, seaplane, and bus trips. Greenville, Maine, near Moosehead Lake, hosts MooseMainea, a popular festival held each fall.

In ponds and streams, colonies of beavers toil, felling trees with their teeth to build dams. Their structures often create deep ponds or cause flooding in low-lying areas.

Among the other forest inhabitants are the masked raccoon , the porcupine with its protective bristly quills, the black-and-white-striped skunk , and the red squirrel . The chipmunk , a member of the squirrel family, is a small mammal that frequents settled areas as well as woodlands.

The coast

Seagulls and terns are ever-present along the coast, always searching for food on boats, on the beaches, in inlets and marshes and on the piers that line the waterfront. The great cormorants are larger in size and live principally on the rocky sea cliffs that they share with several species of seals.

Coastal marshes serve as the feeding and resting grounds for hundreds of species of birds. Located along the Atlantic Flyway, broad stretches of salt marshes, such as those west of Barnstable Harbor on Cape Cod, are frequented by large numbers of bird-watchers during the spring and fall migrations. Flocks of Canada geese, their graceful V-formation a familiar sight in the New England sky during migratory seasons, rest in these tranquil areas. Puffins have nesting and feeding grounds on northern Maine islands and bald eagles and hawks can be seen along the coastline.

New England waters are home to a variety of species of whale, dolphin and porpoises .Whales migrate here to their feeding grounds at Stellwagen Bank, a 19-by-5-mile underwater plateau between Gloucester and Provincetown, Massachusetts, that is the centerpiece of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The region has been called one of the best places in the world to see whales in the wild. Several whale watching cruises sail from major towns along the coast, including Boston, Gloucester, Provincetown, Plymouth, Newburyport and Salem, Massachusetts; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; and Ogunquit, Maine.

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