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Radio Field Trips: Hiking to the coolest rocks in N.H. with the father-daughter duo behind a new hiking guide

Seven-year-old Uma and her dad Dan Szczesny show Rick Ganley the unusual rocks in their book, “NH Rocks That Rock.”

For the next Radio Field Trip, we’re hiking with Uma and Dan Szczesny, the authors of a new book that is flying off of local bookstores’ shelves.

NH Rocks That Rock” is a field guide to the 25 coolest boulders in the state, according to the Szczesnys. The father and daughter team are leading us to Sheep Rock, one of Uma’s favorite hikes in the book.

I met the two at the Head’s Pond Trail parking lot in Hooksett. It’s a cold, gray day, and seven-year-old Uma is bundled up in pink and purple layers head to toe. She’s taken the afternoon off from first grade to guide us on the hike.

Before we start out, Uma generously gives me one of her favorite rocks from her collection, a piece of fool’s gold. She has a large rock collection that she’s built from hikes and trips to rock shops, roughly “five thousand million hundred” rocks, she tells me.

The Head’s Pond Trail is a long, straight rail trail. Even though we’re not far from the busy road, it’s nice and quiet here, with trees lining the path.

When we visit, the trail is a sheet of ice, so us grownups are inching our way along on microspikes. Uma is fearless and she runs ahead so she can slide on the ice.

Dan and Uma, whose trails names are Buffalo and Little Bean, started making these hikes to interesting boulders a year ago as a pandemic project. Dan was homeschooling Uma for kindergarten, so they were looking for outdoor activities that weren’t too intense for a then-six-year-old.

They came across a hike in New Boston to Frog Rock, and the two enjoyed going out searching for the glacial erratic.

Szczesny said Uma asked if there were any other rocks named after animals or things.

“So we went home and did a little research,” he said, “and in New Hampshire there are like a thousand rocks named after people and things.”

“Like five billion gazillion,” Uma added.

The two created a list of about 150 of their favorite rocks and then narrowed it down to 25. They had three requirements: all the rocks had to be on public land, they had to be all over the state, and they needed to be accessible to anyone.

“The 4,000 Footers are simply not accessible to everybody. You know, the 52 With a View is not accessible to everybody. And we wanted to make a list that it didn't matter how old you were or if you are differently abled,”Szczesny said.

In “NH Rocks That Rock,” Szczesny records his time with Uma on the hikes. For each rock, he writes down a memory of the day they first went to the rock as well as a little history. Even if it’s an unofficial one.

“It’s folklore. Some of which we uncovered and some of it which we made up.”

The guide has garnered a big following since its release last year. The book’s Facebook group is now a place for members to post their progress in getting to the rocks on the list, as well as other boulders people see on their hikes.

Uma also designed a patch that hikers can receive when they reach at least 20 of the rocks on the list.

“We just want people to get out there and to be able to earn this patch and to visit different parts of the state,” Szczesny added.

After nearly a mile of walking, we spot the turn and see Sheep Rock ahead. It’s a large boulder in a field of rocks. Pine trees surround us, and a large pond is just yards away. The rock does almost look like a sheep, or a dog, lying with its head turned towards you.

It’s now time for Uma’s favorite part of the hikes: climbing the rock. But she’s a little tired and has a tough time climbing on the slippery rock, so Szczesny hoists her up to the top.

Aftering finishing the quest to Sheep Rock, I’m feeling inspired to keep scouting for these cool rocks, and maybe even earn Uma’s badge.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Jackie Harris is the Morning Edition Producer at NHPR. She first joined NHPR in 2021 as the Morning Edition Fellow.

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