10 ways to cool off

From inner tubes to outer space, these chills and thrills can help beat the heat

Lake Compounce (left) and the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center No one stays dry at Lake Compounce’s Splash Harbor water park in Bristol, Conn. (left); The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, N.H. explores the planets. (Handout)
By Patricia Harris and David Lyon
Globe Correspondents / August 9, 2009

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Summer took its sweet time getting here, but now that we’re in the dog days, it’s time to seek some relief. You could always sit on the lawn with the hose running over your head. Or you could try some of these alternative ways to chill in the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer (with a tip of the baseball cap to Worcester songwriter Charles Tobias).

Planetarium show
It doesn’t get much colder than outer space (try minus 455 degrees Fahrenheit), but there’s no need to worry about frostbite when you lounge back in the cool dark of this state-of-the-art planetarium theater at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, N.H., to watch one of the newest shows, “Ice Worlds.’’ Explore the north and south poles of our planet without breaking a sweat, and let the images zip you away to the nether reaches of the solar system to view heavenly bodies that are truly cool, whether or not they have ice. (Think about how chilly it must be on Saturn’s moon, Titan, to sail on oceans of swamp gas.) 2 Institute Drive, 603-271-7827, Adults $9, seniors and students $8, ages 3-12 $6. Planetarium shows $3 additional per person. See website for show schedule.

Splash Harbor
This modern water park at Lake Compounce in Bristol, Conn., one of New England’s oldest lakeside amusement parks, has a zillion ways to get wet, including family raft slides; “Clipper Cove,’’ where 300-gallon buckets of water are dumped every few minutes; and a lazy river that suddenly dumps you into a water slide for a thrilling finish to an easygoing float. You can leave the sunglasses on dry land for the most chilling ride of all, a high-speed plunge down a tube in utter darkness. It’s called, appropriately enough, “Lights Out.’’ 271 Enterprise Drive, 860-583-3300, 52 inches and taller $34.99, under 52 inches $25.99, over age 60 $17.99, after 5 p.m. $17.99, 3 and under free. Water Park open summer daily noon-7.

Sand Beach
Swimming at this beach in Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine, calls for a little more bravado than elsewhere on the New England coast. The Labrador Current just brushes Mount Desert Island, bringing some bracing waters from the Canadian Arctic. The ocean temperature rarely rises above 55 degrees, and that’s measured in Bar Harbor. It’s always colder at Sand Beach. Since the park entrance fee is good for seven days, you can wade in a little more each day to reach full immersion while the pass is still valid. Kids and a few other brave souls seem to enjoy staying in the water until their lips turn blue. 207-288-3338, Entrance fees through Oct. 31 $20 per vehicle and passengers ($10 after Columbus Day), $5 per individual for seven days. Hulls Cove Visitor Center open daily 8 a.m.-6 p.m. through August, until 5 in September, and 4:30 in October.

Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum
We always knew that Mainers were a hardy lot. Bowdoin College graduates Robert E. Peary (Class of 1877) and Donald B. MacMillan (1898) were two of America’s most intrepid Arctic explorers, and this museum at their alma mater in Brunswick, Maine, should give you the chills. About this time 100 years ago, Peary was slowly sailing home through ice fields after, he believed, reaching the North Pole on April 7. See photos and artifacts from both explorers’ expeditions among the Inuit of Greenland and Labrador. Imagine needing those fur parkas. Hubbard Hall, Bowdoin College, 207-725-3416, Free. Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 2-5.

Cape Pond Ice
This outfit has been icing down the Gloucester fishing fleet since 1848, though it’s been a while since the ice house harvested its cool product by carving up Cape Ann ponds in the winter. If you’ve ever wished you could waltz into a meat locker on a hot day, then this tour is right up your alley. Along with historic exhibits (including grainy vintage film of pond harvesting), you’ll see 300-pound blocks of ice being made and perhaps even catch an ice carver chipping away at blocks in the ice house. Dress sensibly. You wouldn’t don sandals or flip-flops to go outside in February, would you? 104 Commercial St., Fort Point Wharf, 978-283-0174, Adults $10, seniors and under 12 $6. Tours Monday-Saturday at 9:30 and 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., Sunday 9:30 and 11; 9:30 a.m. tour not available after Labor Day.

Ice cream tour
It takes a hardened cynic to go through this tour and not buy into the feel-good story of two guys who followed their dream, struck it rich, and made the world a better place. Pitched to the child in every ice cream lover, the tour of Ben & Jerry’s Waterbury, Vt., factory facility is full of bright colors and puns as outrageous as some of the flavor names. To see ice cream being made during your tour, be sure to go on a weekday; a guide narrates a video on the weekends. Either way you end up in the Flavoroom to try the sample of the day. That’s what you were waiting for anyway, right? 1281 Waterbury-Stowe Road, 802-882-1240, ext. 2300, Adults $3, seniors $2, 2 and under free. Tours 9 a.m.-8 p.m. through mid-August, until 6 through October and until 5 the rest of the year.

Beermaster tour
Hold the soda and pretzels, bring on the beer. The complimentary brewery tour at Anheuser-Busch in Merrimack, N.H., is more about the Clydesdales than the beverage, but the in-depth beermaster tour is for those of us who take our hops and barley seriously. See the malt steep and the beer ferment. Learn the difference between ale and lager. Visit the downright brisk aging cellar, and sample directly from the finishing tank. You’ll gain new respect for mass-market American beer. When you’re done, you can still go see the horsies. If popping the top on a cold one is your idea of beating the heat, this Bud’s for you. 221 Daniel Webster Highway, 603-595-1202, Adults $25, ages 13-20 $10. Daily through December 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. by advance reservation.

Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves
When Royal and Lyman Jackman were fishing the Lost River in North Woodstock, N.H., back in 1852, Lyman slipped on some moss and disappeared, dropping into one of the boulder caves where the river plays hide and seek with the sunlight. Now owned by the Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests, the gorge is a great place to get close to the cool rock walls around the babbling brook. Explore along the three-quarter-mile boardwalk or descend into the lantern-lighted caves, sometimes through narrow passages between huge granite boulders. One cave, fancifully dubbed Judgement Hall of Pluto, even has an underground waterfall. 1712 Lost River Road, Route 112W, 603-745-8031, Adults $14, 4-12 $10, 3 and under free. Tickets sold daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (site open until 6) through August, closes one hour earlier September-October.

There’s nothing the least bit man-made about the chutes and rapids of the Farmington River in New Haven, and that, of course, is part of the fun of the 2 1/2-mile float ensconced in the doughnut hole of an inner tube. It’s a decidedly low-tech amusement, where operators rent you a tube and a flotation vest, and give you a ride on a bus back to the starting point. Yes, there are great big rocks in the river, and some narrow passages where the rapids rise to class 3 when the water level is high. But most of the trip is an indolent float on a wide and not terribly deep river - best done with family or a group of your best buds and a waterproof camera to chronicle the adventure. (You will get doused.) 92 Main St., 860-693-6465, $18 weekdays, $20 weekends; call for river conditions and hours.

Surface sizzle
Who would have thought fire could be cool? But when the sun goes down and the torches are touched to 100 river-borne bonfires of WaterFire in downtown Providence, it’s hard not to ooh and aah. The scent of wood smoke fills the air, music echoes along the paths of Waterplace Park, and the assembled throngs inevitably grow mellow. Don’t blame us if you work up a sweat because you can’t keep from dancing. Aug. 18 (basin only) and Aug. 22, Sept. 5, Sept. 10 (basin only), Sept. 19. Downtown Providence. Donation.

Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at harris.lyon

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