Once we left the area around Portland we headed to our ultimate target for the summer, Bangor Maine and Acadia National Park. In the last couple of weeks, we have decided to extend our trip on east to Calais on the Canadian border, but ever since we left the Everglades in Florida we have been aiming for Bangor and we would finally get there! As we hoped the weather was everything we expected with cool temperatures and breezes. Without a doubt we do not miss the summer all of you are having in Alabama, although I do kid Kal about not complaining this coming winter that we somehow missed summer. It was also great that we finally left most of the traffic behind as we left I-95 for US 1 along the Maine coast. Our destination is actually south of Bangor which is closer to the coast and Acadia National Park at Orland, Maine. We knew as soon as we pulled into Shady Oaks Campground that we had come to the right spot for the next two weeks. The staff are great and the campground is beautiful. The only drawback was that all of the sites are back-in so I had another chance to practice my skills. The owners came to give us a hand and we did have an open area that I could pull into to start the process. In fact, I did a very good job of it looking almost like I knew what I was doing! The site had a concrete porch, which is a great addition. that I had to miss and I managed to put the RV next to the porch (without hitting it) on the first try. The only thing the owners had to do was help us decide how far back to place the RV and moving the picnic table out of the way of the slides. We quickly got set up and settled in for a full two weeks of being in one place. I should be able to get completely caught up on this blog and do our six month maintenance on the RV.
We were anxious to finally get a good look at the rocky shores along Maine’s coast at the premier location for this at Acadia National Park, so we drove over there on Tuesday. I was not aware that southern Maine is primarily forested hills that are between 400 and 700 feet in elevation, however, Acadia National Park is a about a dozen peaks at least 800 feet tall and Cadillac Mountain is over 1500 feet. You can obviously see it from a long way off. In addition, I was not aware that most of Acadia National Park is on Mount Desert Island, that’s right, an island! It is the remnant of a 25 million year old volcano that had been eroded by glaciers and rain to the granite core of the volcano. Since granite is very hard and does not make soil easily the tops of the mountains have only scraggly trees looking like you are at the treeline and thus the name, Mount Desert Island. Finally, I was also not aware that Bar Harbor is nearly surrounded by Acadia National Park and is also tucked into a small harbor on Mount Desert Island. This all comes down to the fact that there is only a single highway that crosses over to the island, which funnels an amazing amount of traffic even during the week. You actually come to the turn off for the Hulls Cove Visitor Center before you reach Bar Harbor, so exploring Bar Harbor would have to wait. Our first impression was that Acadia National Park is the busiest National Park we have visited on a Tuesday morning. We learned that there are over 2 million visitors a year to Acadia and all in a three month period beginning at the end of June. Over the next month it would get a lot busier. The Hulls Cove Visitor Center is essentially a huge parking lot with a small Visitor Center up over a hundred steps where you purchase your Park Pass. Thankfully, our Interagency Pass covered the $25/car fee and we had unlimited access to the park for the next two weeks. We also purchased my pin, trail map, and a booklet about the carriage road system in the park. After standing in lines to get our pass and information about the hiking trails and shuttle bus system we had spent over 1.5 hours in the park and had not seen a thing! We learned that although you could drive anywhere you wanted to in the park, parking spaces would be hard to come by without a substantial walk, especially for our huge truck, the best option was to take advantage of the shuttle bus system. The Island Explorer shuttle buses have at least six different routes taking visitors to all points of interest in the park, except the summit of Cadillac Mountain, as well as, the major resorts and Bar Harbor. The operation of these buses is largely from contributions made by L.L. Bean which I will always be thankful for. We decided to eat a quick lunch in the truck before boarding the shuttle bus to take us around the Loop Road.
The Loop Road is a 27 mile loop around the most popular locations in the park. Most of it is one-way and since it is a two lane road, you can park in the right lane. This is a great idea and dramatically increases the parking available at the popular locations, although it would mean a half mile walk from your car! Our first stop was Sieur de Monts, which was originally the center of the park. It was designed by George Door to be a garden spot for outdoor parties and events before becoming the Sieur de Monts National Memorial, the beginning of the park in 1916. Along with a small Nature Museum and beautiful grounds this is also the location of the Abbe Museum and the Wild Gardens of Acadia. We decided not to visit the Abbe Museum since it is a private museum with a fee devoted to local Native American heritage and artifacts. Instead we spent an hour wandering the Wild Gardens of Acadia. They have created separate sections for all the ecosystems you will find in the park from the shore to the top of Cadillac Mountain. Along with small signs identifying each plant and tree, it was a great way to expand my knowledge of the local species.
Again we caught the bus and went to Sand Beach. This is probably the most popular location for tourists as you have access to a sand beach which is a rarity in Maine, which is known for its rocky shoreline. There is an interpretive sign that attempts to explain why this beach is there, but it did not make a lot of sense. It has something to do with the Gulf Stream being shunted north and east away from Maine by a huge glacial moraine that begins near Cape Cod which means the waters are cold circulating in from Canada. Somehow this causes the shell fish to quickly decompose and along with the steep and rocky granite rocks inhibits the formation of sand. However, a small rocky island just off shore of the beach deflects the currents away, so this small cove somehow collects the sand. I know, it doesn’t make sense to me either. In any case, there is a nice sandy beach that was full of sunbathers, kids, and swimmers even on a Tuesday afternoon. However, we were not there for the beach, but rather the trailhead for the Great Head trail up on the bluffs. Since the trailhead was on the other side of the beach, we had to make our way through all the people in the swimsuits and us in our hiking gear. At the far end of the beach was a small stream that drained a small pond behind the beach with its water spreading out on that end of the beach. It appeared like some kids had opened up a small channel in the sand holding back the pond and there was a fair amount of water we had to negotiate over. The importance of this will become obvious later. We knew that the Great Head trail headed up the rocky bluff to the top and then around the small neck into the ocean. However, we did not realize that we would be climbing up a series of granite shelves that were nearly straight up. Once we got to the top, the journey was worthwhile as the views of the ocean and rocks were spectacular from a height of around 150 feet. This was a loop trail which ended up back at the Sand Beach and we found out that it would have been a lot easier to have gone the other way around the loop since the other trail was a gentle slope and we could have climbed down the granite ledges instead of up them. We also found that the small pond behind the beach was nearly empty as the small opening in the dam had now widen to a torrent of water spilling onto the beach. While the water on the beach was only a few inches deep, we did not want to get our boots soaked, so it was a challenge to find a way across the torrent on the larger rocks scattered about. We talked with some other hikers in the same predicament and found out that in all the years they had been visiting Acadia, this was the first time they had encountered this!! Once back on the bus, it was getting late in the afternoon, so we rode it back to the Visitor Center and returned to the campgrounds, leaving Acadia for another day. We had two weeks here, so we would certainly be back.
Wednesday threatened rain all day with predicted thunderstorms in the afternoon, so we decided to just stay in the campground and relax. I got a chance to get a lot done on this blog and started to make real progress towards getting caught up.
Thursday was a beautiful day with cool temperatures and low humidity, so it was back to Acadia National Park. Having learned our lesson to take the bus around Loop Road, we packed our lunch in a backpack and headed straight for the bus. We got a bit of a late start that morning because it was our intention to do a couple of hikes, have dinner in Bar Harbor, and head up to Cadillac Mountain to watch the sunset and do some star gazing. We got off of the bus at Otter Point to hike back along the Beach Trail that parallels the Loop Road to Thunder Hole. If you like to watch ocean waves crashing into granite boulders, then Otter Point is the place. While the trail does parallel the road, for the most part is separated from the road and gives multiple access to the shoreline. We spent a great couple of hours picking our way on the rocky shelves, watching the ocean, and eating lunch. The end of the hike was at Thunder Hole, which is another popular visitor location since at two hours before high tide the waves enter a small cave and bounces back out creating a loud boom. It so happened that we were there at the best time for the day (through no planning on our part), however, the ocean was not cooperating. All we got to hear was some low thumps and the water spray was not large enough to drench the many people watching it. That was unfortunate, but we had more to do and see.
We once again boarded the bus and rode it around the park to the Bubbles. North and South Bubble are two rounded hills about 700 feet in elevation at the far end of Jordan Pond, a linear lake created by the retreating glaciers leaving a glacial moraine plugging the end of the U-shaped valley. At the top of South Bubble is Bubble Rock, which is a “balancing” rock left by the glaciers that has been photographed many times since you can see if from the road. Between North and South Bubble there is a pass that was our objective on the hike. However, after a moderate climb to the top of the pass between the two hills we discovered that Bubble Rock was only 0.2 miles up at the top. Feeling adventurous I convince Kal to make the climb and after three stops to catch our breath (and rest our old legs) we made it to the top. The view from there was certainly worth the effort as you could look across to Cadillac Mountain or down to Jordan Pond and the ocean behind it. Truly wonderful. We did get some shots of Bubble Rock since we were there, but I was much more impressed with the view. Once we got our fill of the view (and rested our old legs) we foolishly decided not to go back the way we came, but to continue on the path down the south side of the hill. I knew from the trail map that the descent was steeper, but I did not realize how steep. I guess I should have known when the trail immediately disappeared around the sheer side of the hill and nothing to break a fall for 30 feet. If Kal had been in the lead I am certain we would have turned back at this point, but I had already negotiated the first segment and she had no choice. Just about the entire 500 foot descent was sheer drops from one group of rocks to another and only the blue line that had put on some of the rocks to mark the path convinced me we would eventually get down. At a couple of places we had to turn around in order to climb down the rocks. If it was any steeper you would have needed climbing gear! It was well worth the experience, but Kal was going to question the wisdom of it every time her knees hurt over the next couple of days. We did make it to the bottom with no injuries other then wobbly knees and were thankful that we had not attempted to climb up that way as we saw a few hikers attempting. We still had a bit over a mile to hike to Jordan Pond House to catch the bus, but at least the trail along Jordan Pond was level and well maintained, although it was heavily traveled.
While waiting for the bus we checked our Jordan Pond House as a place for dinner. However, it was still a bit early, being only 3:30 in the afternoon and the prices for anything with lobster put us off. For the past couple of months every time we talked with anyone that had been to Maine we were told to be sure to eat some Maine lobster. We knew it was going to be an expensive meal, but $25 apiece minimum for dinner was difficult to agree on. I was also concerned about getting a bus back to our truck at the Visitor Center even though there was a Jordan Pond bus that ran from Bar Harbor to the Visitor Center up until 7:00. I was just nervous about relying on this and would feel better if we had our truck within walking distance. So we caught the Loop Road bus back to the Visitor Center and drove into Bar Harbor. With it being late in the afternoon, Bar Harbor was full of tourists. We got lucky and found a parking spot in a small lot along the harbor that was free for 3 hour parking, which was plenty of time for dinner. We were both exhausted so we decided on a small seafood restaurant with outside views of the harbor. We could not have made a better decision. The waitress was delightful and I got a local brown ale during happy hour. we asked her about their lobster and she steered us to their boiled lobster dinner which was on special ($16 apiece) and a promise that she would teach us how to eat it. The lobster came to the table in all its glory and was literally too hot to handle. After following her directions to tear off the tail and claws and to discard the rest of the lobster, which I guess some people manage to find something to eat out of, I had a real mess on my hands. Cracking the claws must be a skill you should learn as a child, as I made a total wreck of it! I will admit that it was good and worth the effort, although I was still not convinced it was worth the cost. After the tail came the tail, which I thought would be the best part since there is finally enough meat to warrant the effort. However, I found the tail to be tough enough to make it a challenge.
After dinner and an hour watching the people at the harbor the sun was getting low enough that it was time to head up to the top of Cadillac Mountain. As we had been told at the Visitor Center, the crowds at the top are much less this late in the day and we had no problem finding any number of parking spots. The views from the top of Cadillac Mountain are impressive as you can see a long way from this vantage point. However, with the sun going down and clouds building to the east, it was not as impressive as it could have been. We had to wait over an hour before the sun went down, which at this time of the year is after 9:00. While we did get some nice pictures of the sunset the sparse clouds to the west limited the colors you would have seen. Unfortunately, the cloud cover was to the north and east, which was going to limit the stars we could see. Our hopes was that we would be far enough away from the light pollution that we would be able to once again see the Milky Way. So we set down to wait and wait and wait. For the next hour as it slowly got darker, most of the people that had watched the sunset left, so we were one of about six cars left at the summit. We did see a few stars at first, but the increasing cloud cover to the north and east, a full bright moon rising behind the clouds, and the persistent light from the setting sun to the west, not to mention the fact we were both exhausted from our hikes, finally convinced us around 10:30 to give up. We were both disappointed, but at the same time elated about what we did see and experience throughout the day. I hope to have many more as fulfilling.
Friday was another day to take a break in the campgrounds, so Kal went to the store and I stayed at the RV to clean and treat the roof. This was the first time I did not just clean the roof, but applied the chemical to treat it at the same time. It turned out to be very easy, so after lunch I cleaned the outside of the RV as well.
Saturday was the Fourth of July, so it was another day in the campground. However, instead of having any chores to do we prepared to spend the day relaxing in the campground and take in the activities they had planned. Kal made a cinnamon bread to take to the lunch and at 11:00 we grabbed our chairs and set up to listen to their country band they hired for the party. They a very good band, although they did not sing very many songs I knew. I guess this demonstrates I am not a big country music fan, but we enjoyed their music. At 12:30 they broke for lunch which was hamburgers provided by the campground and side dishes from everyone in attendance. I should note that while the campground was less than half full during the week, it was packed for the weekend with kids everywhere. It was a great time just watching all the juvenile energy. After lunch Kal went to get the remains of our cinnamon bread which we figured we would be eating for a couple of days since we had not seen anyone eating any. Come to find out it was totally gone, including the disposal aluminum pans she cooked them in. All we got was a small taste from what was left on the serving tongs!! We don’t now where it all went, but assume that at least someone really enjoyed it. The band played until around 2:30 at which time we went back to our RV from which we watched their “parade” about an hour later. This consisted of a small “train” pulling about six cars packed with kids being followed by four adults driving their carts. It was cute and the kids seemed to really enjoy it as they looped around the campgrounds. At 7:30 we went back to the recreation room for a banana split with all the other guests.
On Sunday, Kal grabbed all the dirty clothes and headed to the laundry room at the campground while I got a lot done on the blog. I was able to post the last blog at Portland, so now I have only this campground to write up and will finally be caught up!!
After the past two days in the campgrounds, we were both ready to head back to Acadia National Park. This time we intended to stay away from the growing crowds on the Loop Road and head to the less visited eastern part of the park. Looping all over this part of the park are a system of Carriage Roads built back in the 1920s by John D. Rockefeller. It was his vision to create these roads as an attraction for visitors to the park to leave their automobiles and experience the wonders of nature from the back of horse drawn carriages. They were very popular in their time, but over time fell into disrepair. Within the last 20 years the National Park System have revitalized these carriage roads for hiking, biking, and horseback riding and from what we saw they have done a great job. The road conditions in addition to the spectacular granite bridges built by Rockefeller over 90 years ago, these roads are an excellent way to visit the park. The parking lots along the highway at the trailheads are small, but we got lucky again and squeezed our big truck into an open spot where we wanted to be. It only took Kal four tries to park it along with my directions in front of the truck. We went ahead and ate lunch before leaving on a 4.2 mile hike along the carriage roads. We choose a loop that began by climbing about 200 feet over the first two miles, so the grade was slight but constant. At the apex of the road is the largest waterfall in the park and one of the greatest granite bridges I have ever seen. Although the waterfall was the biggest in the park, it was not very impressive since there was only a small stream of water coming over the falls. The two bridges at the area, though, were impressive structures. Rockefeller certainly did not spare any expense in building massive bridges to span relatively small brooks that will likely stand forever. The trip back down through the mixed hardwood/spruce forest to the parking lot was initially steeper then the ascent, but was much easier and enjoyable. The last part was along the bank of Hadlock Pond where we heard a couple of loons for the first time. At least Kal identified them as loons once we got back to the RV to check their calls out online.
Tuesday was another day in the campgrounds. I needed to spend some time working on the RV and Kal grabbed the sheets and blankets and headed back to the laundry facilities. While she was doing that I treated all the rubber around the slides and doors, checked the tire pressure and lug nuts, lubricated the slides, and touched up the outside seals in the back corner of the RV. This spot has been a continual problem as the screw had tried to come out and the seem continues to separate. I have caulked it a couple of times in the past and it appears that it is finally settling down. I resealed the gap and hope this will be the last time. I had though I would spend all day, however, it took only a couple of hours to finish the RV so I got to work on the blog for a bit as well.
On Wednesday we picked out a State Park that sounded interesting that was only 15 miles away from the campground. Fort Point State Park is a small park of only 120 acres and is the site of Fort Pownall, a French and Indian War fort constructed at the mouth of the Penobscot River to protect it from the French. It was a small star shaped fort with a stone blockhouse in the center. The British destroyed it 1775 at the beginning of the Revolutionary War when they occupied all of eastern Maine to protect their Naval base in Nova Scotia. They have done some excavating at the site so you can easily see the outline of the fort, moat and foundations of the blockhouse. This is also the site of the Fort Point Light Station, which is still active, and the old bell tower used during foggy weather. This bell tower was interesting because the bell is not housed at the top of the tower, but rather on the “porch” in front of the tower. It had a hammer that would strike the bell every 20 seconds that was controlled automatically by gears and a descending weight inside the tower. The weight would have to be raised every 4 hours. A neat idea that I had not seen before. The rest of the park is devoted to picnic tables scattered all along the rocky beach that created a number of nice areas to enjoy to the shore of the river and bay.
On Thursday, we went back to Acadia National Park for one more visit. This time we headed east of Mount Desert Island to Schoodic Peninsula. When it was added in 1929 to Lafayette National Park, the name was changed to Acadia National Park and it consists of a single granite hill surrounded by 7 miles of rocky shoreline. Once again the Island Explorer shuttle bus can be used to access the shoreline, however, since less than 10% of the people visiting Acadia come to Schoodic, there is plenty of parking at the main locations during the week. In addition, the road is again a one-way two-lane road so there is parking in the right lane anywhere you want to stop. After our experience on Mount Desert Island, this was a nice change and the shoreline is just as impressive as that on the island. We drove up the dirt road to the top of Schoodic, which was a fun drive, however, the trees at the top limit the view to a single one looking out over the ocean. We spent a couple of hours at Schoodic Point eating lunch and enjoying the surf. It was hazy and the breeze was a little cool, but it was nice and quiet just watching the waves hitting the granite shelf sticking out into the ocean. In a couple of places the waves would periodically shoot up into the air as the hit the rocks and Kal and I both tried to capture the action with our cameras. We also saw a few small groups of porpoises just off shore. Finally we took about a mile hike into the mixed hardwood/spruce forest at the lower elevation along Elder Trail which made for an easy hike in the woods. The best part of the day, however, was our visit to Schoodic Education and Research Center near Schoodic Point. After swapping stories with the volunteers at the Welcome Center leading into the site, we continued on to the Center itself. The main building of the Center is Roosevelt Hall, which was constructed by the National Park Service using the same architect that designed the rustic appearing entrance gates on Mount Desert Island. The NPS built Roosevelt Hall to sweeten the deal they made with the US Navy to swap their base on Mount Desert Island for this location on Schoodic Point. Roosevelt Hall was to be used as the barracks for the Navy personnel manning a radio communications center in the basement. Since it was built by the NPS instead of the Navy, it certainly does not look like any barracks I have ever seen before. It is a beautiful building. The Navy built other structures for meeting halls, classrooms, kitchen and dining halls, and apartments and they look much more like you would expect of military structures. The Navy closed the base and transferred the property back NPS in 2002 where today it is used to host programs for elementary through high school classes, professional workshops and conferences, and housing for visiting scientists with projects in Acadia. It is a beautiful facility and likely the best the NPS has to offer.
On Friday, we went back to the state parks to Fort Knox State Historic Site and Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory, which are at the same location on the Penobscot River just five miles from the campgrounds. In some ways, we saved the best to last, as this Third System Coastal Fort is the best preserved fort we have seen along the east coast. Part of the reason is that is was built from granite quarried from Mt. Waldo just five miles upriver and partly because it never saw action. However, before we visited the fort itself, we drove the short distance to the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory. When we first pulled the RV two weeks ago and approached this bridge our jaws dropped to the floor. It is an amazing structure when you see if for the first time. There are two pylons built using the same granite from Mt. Waldo that closely resemble the Washington Monument, which it turns out was on purpose. From each of these pylons are steel cables running down to each concrete and steel section of the bridge. The road, which is surprisingly only two lanes, run on either side of the line of cables descending down from the pylons. In addition to being 135 feet above the river it was an experience crossing over with the RV in tow. Today however, we had been over the bridge a few times but it was still impressive. Within one of the pylons they built an observatory at the top of the tower accessed by a fast elevator from the base. In less than a minute you rise over 400 feet to the observatory where you get a 360 degree view of the surrounding land. This is the only bridge observatory in the US and only one of four in the world. It is also a relatively new bridge, replacing the 1930s suspension bridge in 2006.
After lunch in their nice picnic area, we proceeded to explore Fort Knox. You can see the fort from the other side of the river on the drive from the campground and even from there the granite structure is impressive. However, up close the site is truly amazing. The expert stonemasons did a wonderful job of incorporating a number of architectural features into this fort. Due to limited funding allocations is took nearly 25 years to complete and was never actually done. They never had their full complement of cannon and by the Civil War forts of this type were obsolete. The original construction of Battery A and B along the river, which were the first to be completed, were designed for the 32 pound cannon along with hot-shot furnaces. However, by the time they received any cannon the iron clad ships were immune to the hot-shots and the 10-inch and 15-inch Rodman cannon of the Civil War era meant the batteries had to be rebuilt. In addition, the state of Maine has invested a lot of money into preserving the fort, even down to removing the dirt from the top to fix the problems with water leakage. The architectural features include a fancy arched Sally Port, two granite circular staircases to access the upper level of cannon (which never saw any cannons), and gracious arches in the casements and storage rooms. Even the tunnel down through the hillside to Battery B is beautifully constructed. Simply put, if you are ever in this part of Maine and like to see old forts, this is a must see location. We spent over 3 hours exploring all parts of the fort which are all open to the public. This includes the musket ports looking out into the dry moat on three sides of the fort from both the scarp and counter scarp which were a major deterrent to any land based attack.
Saturday was spent with finally catching up on this blog. In fact, it is Saturday afternoon while I am writing this now. Tomorrow will also be spent in the campground so I should be able to add the pictures and post this before we leave on Monday. It sure feels good to be all caught up. Besides it was too hot on Sunday to do much, the temperature got all the way to 80 degrees!