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Take a blue highway back into the past



Last modified: Monday, September 24, 2012
Route 66, the legendary American highway that originally ran from Chicago to Los Angeles, has been celebrated in movies, television shows and a 1946 song about getting "your kicks" that was covered by New Hampshire's own Aerosmith. The interstate system dried up traffic on Route 66 and roads like it. Many of the towns along it withered. But Route 66 has been rediscovered in the form of a "retro tour" designed to take travelers off the mind-numbing interstates and back on blue highways. The goal: to slow things down, celebrate history, stimulate the economies of towns bypassed a half-century ago and, with luck, save some of the iconic structures of the early years of the motel era.

To our knowledge, there has not been a song written about Route 3, the road that runs from Cambridge, Mass., up Concord's Main Street and north to Pittsburg and the Canadian border. But this less-celebrated route, especially from the point in the Lakes Region where traffic and time slow a bit, is definitely worth traveling.

With the help of Plymouth State University professor Mark Okrant, New Hampshire's Office of Travel and Tourism has created a Retro Tour for the northern leg of Route 3. It starts at the Tilt'n Diner in Tilton and ends at the Cabins at Lopstick overlooking First Connecticut Lake in Pittsburg. Sojourners who make it that far (and, these days, who have their passports with them) should cross the border and experience Magnetic Hill in Chartierville, Quebec.

The Route 3 Retro Tour website, which is listed under "cultural itineraries" on the travel and tourism website, takes a bit of work to find, so here's a shortcut: http://tinyurl.com/bulenao.

Perhaps in keeping with the whole retro nature of the enterprise, the site does not allow viewers to click on the internet addresses of the destinations listed. Viewers must instead note them and type them in themselves, but the effort is worth it. It will lead people in search of gorgeous scenery and a trip back into the past on an adventure.

Most of the motels and many of the attractions listed on the tour date back to the early ages of automobile travel. Rumney's Polar Caves, for example, opened in 1922; Clark's Trading Post in 1928; Funspot in Laconia in 1942; Storyland in Glen in 1954, and Six Gun City in Jefferson in 1957. The many stops listed on the tour complement the real attraction along Route 3, the gorgeous landscape and the opportunities for outdoor recreation that it offers.

Lodging on the tour harkens back to the golden age of the automobile, a time when gas was cheap and families packed into the car to explore America. They stayed in a different owner-occupied motel, cottage or cabin every night and ate breakfast in a different diner or roadside restaurant every morning. The tour offers travelers the chance to do that again and experience a down-home hospitality that's hard to find in chain hotels.

If promoted well, the Route 3 retro tour will help boost the economy in the struggling North Country and preserve not just the motels and attractions of yesteryear, but a leisurely and less expensive way of experiencing New Hampshire.

Leaf peepers have pretty-much booked up all available rooms along the Route 3 corridor and other parts of the state famous for the fall foliage display. But once they're gone, pack up some classics from the golden age of television to show the grandkids, some I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners perhaps, or Gunsmoke and The Fugitive to watch in the evening, gas up the car and drop back in time. We think you'll enjoy the trip.