Iconic New Hampshire landmark lost 20 years ago gets new life in 3D model

The "Old Man of the Mountain" was an iconic symbol – and part of the state emblem – that was naturally carved out of a granite cliff in the Granite State’s Franconia Notch State Park.

FRANCONIA, N.H. – A new, interactive 3D model gives users a chance to virtually explore the long-gone but still beloved "Old Man of the Mountain" rock feature in New Hampshire.

As its name implies, the landmark resembled the face of a man jutting out of the mountain.

The Old Man of the Mountain was an iconic symbol – and even part of the state emblem – that was naturally carved out of a granite cliff in the Granite State’s Franconia Notch State Park.

How the Old Man was lost and then recreated

Formed by thousands of years of weathering and geologic processes, the rock feature collapsed 20 years ago on May 3, 2003.

"The Old Man of the Mountain may have weighed nearly 2,000 tons when it collapsed," said Matthew Maclay, an earth sciences graduate student at Dartmouth University. 

He noted that 3-inch turnbuckles were bolted into the rock formation to support it, but after centuries of degradation, the supports gave way. 

While the "Old Man" has long been gone, it can now be viewed virtually in an interactive 3D model created by Maclay and his team.

According to Dartmouth University, the team performed aerial surveys of Cannon Cliff using a drone. They then reconstructed the now-lost profile using original film negatives of the Old Man and surrounding areas shot between 1958 and 1976.


Maclay then processed the imagery to create a 3D model of Cannon Cliff, the cliff that once hosted the landmark, both with and without the rock feature.

How weather caused the Old Man to fall

In addition to giving users the chance to see the Old Man once again, the interactive gives them a peek at the factors that contributed to his demise.

Bedrock weathering and rockfall have taken place in the area since the last ice sheet retreated about 12,000 years ago, Maclay said.

Today, the weather and geologic conditions of Cannon Cliff can be monitored due to the new 3D model.

As part of the ongoing project, Dartmouth University said the researchers installed 24 sensors that record the bedrock temperature at Cannon Cliff. 

They will also be conducting laboratory analysis of rock samples from the area to investigate chemical changes in minerals due to mildly acidic rainwater and snowmelt.


"Understanding which areas of Cannon Cliff may be especially susceptible to rockfall is important given the popularity of the area as a year-round climbing and tourist destination," Maclay said.

"The Old Man’s face is no longer perched on that rocky outcrop, but he wasn’t the first rockfall, and he’s not the last," he added.