This week, we have fallen hopelessly in love. Winding our way north (or “downeast” as they say here) from New Hampshire to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park six days ago, we got some hints of what was to come but just as there are no words for describing what it feels like to fall in love, we could not know what lay ahead. Rounding the slow curves of Highway 1 the late afternoon sun splashed through the thick spruce and fir forests lining the road. And then the forests stopped and we crossed a low bridge, and to our east we came upon Frenchman Bay. Ringed with the soft forms of tree-covered mountains the deepest blue of the bay waters shimmered and rippled and like sirens, called out to us. Loren Eiseley, the naturalist, wrote that if there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water. “It’s least stir…is enough to bring me searching to a window. A wind ripple may be translating itself into life.”
This was the beginning and like falling off the cliff of the illusion of certainty, we were all in. We camped at Acadia National Park’s newest campground (it opened in September 2015), a place called Schoodic Woods which sits about 45 miles by road, and 7 miles across Frenchman Bay, from Bar Harbor on a breathtakingly beautiful peninsula. Here, a bike ride along the lovely crushed stone bike paths offers up the perfume of cedar and spruce and the vision of laurel and acres of low bush blueberries, just now setting out their tiny green buds of luscious August promise.
Acadia National Park was created from land donated entirely by wealthy summer visitors – Rockefellers, Morgans, Fords, Astors, Vanderbilts, and Pulitzers – who began summering on Mount Desert Island (MDI) where Bar Harbor is located, in the 1880s. Collectively concerned by the transformation (by the portable sawmill) of the island paradise, a group of summer residents, led by Harvard University president Charles W. Eliot, created a public land trust in 1901. George B. Dorr was named its first director and he spent the next 43 years of his life working tirelessly to protect and preserve Acadia for public use. In 1916, Dorr secured national monument status for the trust and in 1919, designation as the first eastern national park. He served as its first superintendent until his death in 1946.
We started our week here with a bus tour of the park, which we highly recommend for first-time visitors. It’s a great way to get an appreciation for the size of the park and an orientation to the sites and distances between them. The tour, which leaves from downtown Bar Harbor, took three hours, and circumnavigated the park, which encompasses more than 50,000 acres, the vast majority of it on MDI. We made three stops (Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, and Sieur de Monts) along the way and since the park was very busy (it was July 4th week) we got up close and personal at each place and had brief opportunities to get out and walk and take photos. The bus follows the Park Loop Road, a 20-mile, two-lane highway that winds through the eastern half of MDI crossing the magnificent stone arch bridges and over some of the remarkable Carriage Roads made of local granite and cobblestones and built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
Rockefeller hoped the park would one day become “a real gem of the first order among national parks”. In 1913 that dream was challenged by the arrival of the first automobiles on MDI and for the next 27 years, Rockefeller built a system of carriage roads (no cars allowed) most of which he later donated to the park, (along with 10,000 acres of land he had purchased) as a refuge for casual walkers, hikers, equestrians and nowadays, bicyclists.
Under remarkably gorgeous, sunny skies, we had our pick of days for hiking and bicycling. On consecutive days, we first explored the bike trails and one-way scenic road along Schoodic Peninsula and then, the Carriage Road around the fresh-water Eagle Lake on MDI. The gently rolling bike trail hugged Eagle Lake providing views that rivaled those of trails in the Tetons. We biked up to the top of one long incline, parked our bikes and walked down to the shoreline to rest tired legs and drink some water. In the absolute silence of the brilliant mid-day, I remembered something Mardy Murie had written after one of her rigorous hikes, “On top, across a carpet … of dozens of …plants, a balmy breeze blew. The sun was high… and I felt absolutely content”. There is something that opens up in our personal pilgrimage when we push our bodies to new levels and then rest in the healing embrace of nature. Each of us has such a desert place where great peace is revealed. Murie writes, “This cannot be put into words”.
On another day, we toured the park’s Visitor’s Center with its 15-minute orientation film. We drove to the “quiet side” of MDI to Southwest Harbor, visiting the picturesque Bass Harbor Light, and enjoying our picnic lunch at the Seawall Picnic Area where mid-day ribbons of fog laced nearby Great Cranberry Island in Brigadoon-like mystery.
We drove along the only fiord in the lower 48 states, Somes Sound, a long, deep, narrow and cold finger of the ocean carved a couple of million years ago by continental glaciers. At the charming and historic Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor, we met up for popovers (an Acadia tradition), chowder and wine with a sister of our dear friends Jim and Lynette, who lives here on MDI.
We celebrated the 4th of July at our campsite with a great bike ride down to Schoodic Point and then a lunch of homemade lobster salad. This is the season for the soft-shell lobsters when they are shedding their winter shells and growing new ones. We were able to find a place that sells freshly steamed lobsters so Peter could crack and easily get at the yummy lobster meat. There is pretty much nothing that says July 4th for us native New Englanders than lobster!
Those of you who follow our travels know that ice cream is an essential food group for us so we always research the best local source. I am happy to report we found it at Mortons Moo in Ellsworth, Maine. On this trip, we picked a bit of heaven called Luau Cow: pineapple, coconut and macadamia nut ice cream. Oh my!
Our time downeast Maine has been full of so many wonderful experiences. We have already made up a list of the things we want to catch on our next trip the summer of 2017 because we want to come back and spend more time here. Here is what we have already put on the list: The Abbe Museum, George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History at College of the Atlantic, Mount Desert Oceanarium, riding the Island Explorer free shuttle bus system, a ferry ride into Bar Harbor, picking wild blueberries, and Roosevelt’s cottage on Campobello Island. If you have any other suggestions, please send them along.
We end this post with some additional images from our time here at Acadia National Park, MDI, and Schoodic Peninsula.
Peter and Liz wrap up their time in Maine, winding their way back to New Hampshire for ten more days before resuming their travels across the U.S. in their Airstream.