The continental ice sheet once covered the entire state, scraping the mountains, eroding intervening upland areas, and rerouting water courses into precipitous streams and beautiful lakes. Across the north central part of the state the residual White Mountains of the Appalachian chain form ranges abruptly broken by passes (called notches). Between the Carter-Moriah Range and the Presidential Range in the east, the Ellis River drops 80 ft (24 m) through Pinkham Notch. West of the Presidential Range (which includes Mt. Washington, highest peak in New England at 6,288 ft/1,917 m), the cascading courses of the Ammonoosuc and Saco rivers divide it from the Franconia Mountains at Crawford Notch. To the southwest, in Franconia Notch, are Profile Lake (formerly watched over by the Old Man of the Mountain), the Basin, and the Flume, the waters of which flow into the Pemigewasset as it tumbles on its way to join the Merrimack. The northernmost gap, Dixville Notch, is surrounded by rocky pinnacles that look down upon a wild, fir-covered country abounding in lakes and streams.
South of the mountains the lake and upland area is frequently interrupted by isolated peaks called "monadnocks" from the original Great Monadnock near Jaffrey. The land surface declines westward to the broad valley of the Connecticut River, and the upper Connecticut valley (known as Coos country) is pleasantly pastoral. Practically every part of the state is within sight of, and identifies itself with, some peak. The climate varies greatly, and occasional high winds and violent storms roar through the narrow valleys. Annual precipitation is about 40 in. (102 cm), with snowfall mounting to 8 ft (2.4 m) in the mountain regions.
Concord is the capital and third largest city; the largest city is Manchester, followed by Nashua. The state's only port, Portsmouth, on the estuary of the Piscataqua River, also serves as a commercial center.
New Hampshire has 142 state parks and forests, and the White Mountains National Forest, which extends into Maine, has c.724,000 acres (293,000 hectares) in New Hampshire. The state's scenic beauty and serenity have long inspired writers and artists. Hawthorne, Whittier, and Longfellow summered in New Hampshire. Augustus Saint-Gaudens sculpted many of his finest works at the artist's colony at Cornish, and the MacDowell Colony at Peterborough is a summer haven for musicians, artists, and writers. The state is most intimately connected with the works of Robert Frost; Frost himself once said that there was not one of his poems "but has something in it of New Hampshire."
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