Monday, August 25, 2014

Made it to Maine!

Geography was always an interest of mine. I remember the roll-up canvas maps above the blackboards in my grade school—if they were pulled down during class, I would often daydream of faraway places while examining the intricacies of the map while my teacher droned on.

Maine always was interesting because of its location at the far northeastern corner of the United States. It was an easy piece to fill in when putting together a U.S.A. map puzzle. So Maine always had a special allure, yet I had never visited there. It was the last state in the eastern half of the United States that Anna and I had not visited, so we knew we needed to cross it off our list. We decided to do it in style by making it a summer vacation destination.

We wanted to hit three primary areas while we were there—Kennebunkport, Acadia National Park, and the highlands near the Canadian border. Secondary targets included the state capitol in Augusta as well as the L.L.Bean outlet store in Freeport. We decided to take Amtrak to Boston (another train adventure for us) and then rent a car to explore the state.

Our first few nights were spent in Kennebunkport. The first day we took old Route 1 up through Portland (and its interesting wharf district) and on to Freeport—the home of the L.L.Bean Company. Their store has become a hub for other factory outlet stores, making Freeport a shopping mecca. We aren’t big shoppers (although I did luck into a discounted pair of sandals), but the drive up to Freeport gave us our first taste of Maine’s picturesque small towns.

The second day was spent with a friend of Anna’s who is from Kennebunkport. She showed us all around the area, including the small peninsula where former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara spend their summers. We also explored the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, as well as the beaches and the quaint downtown area of Kennebunkport.

Barbara & George H.W. Bush's compound

The tranquility of the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge

After two days exploring Kennebunkport (as well as Portland and Freeport), we headed away from the coastline and into the interior of the state. During our travels, we tried to avoid the interstates and instead take the two-lane highways. We stopped at the Maine State Capitol to check it out. I was able to make my connection with one of my heroes, Joshua Chamberlain. He was a professor at a college in Maine who volunteered for the Union army, led his regiment to a key victory on the second day at Gettysburg, and eventually became a General who Grant invited to Appomattox for the surrender. Then he went back to Maine where he served in their Legislature and eventually became governor.

We also stopped in Skonomish, the birthplace of another Maine politician I admired—Margaret Chase Smith. The New Balance Shoe Company has a plant there, as well as a factory outlet store where we stopped. We also enjoyed a nice lunch at an old building along the riverfront in town before heading further north.

While planning this trip, Anna had discovered a place in the interior mountains called Hawks Nest Lodge along one of their whitewater rivers and on a highway leading to Canada. The name itself was intriguing to us because she grew up near West Virginia’s Hawks Nest State Park (and Lodge). When we checked in, they told us that sometimes they get phone calls intended for the Hawks Nest Lodge in West Virginia!

After getting our room, we headed up the highway to cross the border into Quebec. We drove to a small French Canadian town and ate dinner. The town was at 46 degrees north latitude, meaning that we were closer to the North Pole than to the Equator. On the way back, we were fortunate enough to see a wild moose and her calf.

The next morning we enjoyed a nice breakfast (I had Maine Blueberry Pancakes with Maine Maple Syrup). We then went on a hiking trip to Moxie Falls, the largest waterfall in the state. It was a beautiful place! We went on to visit Lake Moxie, from where we could see a few of Maine’s highest peaks.

The tallest waterfall in Maine.

I'm exploring some of the rapids prior to the big drop-off.

Then we were back on the two lane highways, heading out of the highlands. Our destination for Tuesday night was in Bangor—Maine’s third largest city. I first learned about Bangor in Roger Miller’s song “King of the Road” (…Third boxcar, midnight train; Destination: Bangor, Maine…). We enjoyed a meal of creative dinner salads at a nice restaurant along the Penobscot River that evening.

We arrived in Bar Harbor on Wednesday and caught one of the L.L. Bean sponsored, natural gas powered, free buses into the national park. We had heard about the congestion from all the cars that come to Acadia, and wanted to do our part by not taking our own car in. However, the traffic was still very bad, and I do not think I would enjoy visiting Acadia on the weekends when it would be even worse.

Getting off at the Sand Beach stop, we walked down to the beach. We then hiked to the eastern side and up the hillside to see some nice overlooks of the beach area. The trail, known as the Great Head trail, wraps around to the other side and back to beach area.

A view of Sand Beach from the hiking path up the hillside.

From there we hiked on the Ocean Trail southward along the rocky coastline. There were numerous opportunities to venture off the established trail and onto the massive boulders facing the ocean. I enjoyed picking my path among the cracks and drop-offs that comprise this rocky coast. It was a bit like playing chess—you have to make your decisions based on several moves ahead. We went by a crevice in the rocks where the ocean rolls in that is called “Thunder Hole.” Unfortunately, you have to be there at the right time to really hear the thunder, and the tide was not right when we were in the vicinity.

Rocks and pines instead of sand and palms.

At the conclusion of our hiking that day, we hopped on the free bus and rode back to Bar Harbor. We enjoyed an excellent meal at Geddy’s, which has been in operation there since 1974. Their Maine Special was a steamed lobster, clam chowder, corn on the cob, and wild blueberry pie for $18.95. This was our first experience with a full-size cooked lobster, and it was good. We strolled around the town of Bar Harbor after dinner. It reminds me a bit of Key West, with all its tourist shops and restaurants.


Due to the fogginess, I gave up on my idea of going to the top of Mount Cadillac to watch the sunrise on our only morning in Acadia. Instead, I chose to hike across to Bar Island, which is only accessible for an hour or two at low tide. I climbed to the pinnacle of the island and should have been rewarded with a nice view across the bay to the town of Bar Harbor, but it was shrouded in fog. However, it was still fun exploring the small uninhabited island.

Later that day, we did more hiking around Bar Harbor before catching a Nature Cruise. It was still foggy, but we were able to see harbor seals, bald eagles, and other interesting sights. The local high school science teacher who provided a running narration over the ship’s sound system did an excellent job! Plus, we were able to use our cruise tickets to get a discount at a nice restaurant on the wharf. I enjoyed a delicious lobster roll for my late lunch/early dinner.

We left Bar Harbor at around 4:30 on Thursday, with a desire to get back to Kennebunkport by dark. We decided not to take the shortest route (return to Bangor and go back via interstate), but instead to take two lane U.S. Route 1 along the coast. This allowed us to see lots of small coastal towns along the way, as well as some interesting sights such as the shipworks at Bath, the old Fort Knox, and Camden Hills State Park. In hindsight, I wish we would have driven to the top of Mount Battie in Camden Hills State Park for a similar view as one gets at Mount Cadillac in Acadia.

On Friday, we spent the day at Old Orchard Beach just north of Kennebunkport. This is a wide sandy beach, with a long wooden pier, and a small amusement park. There were no hi-rise hotels—this was an old-school beach town. We walked along the beach for a long distance to the south before turning around and returning. Then we ate a great meal at a beachside restaurant, watching and listening to the waves. After lunch, we walked a similar distance to the north, and then sat there for a while enjoying the ocean. Eventually, we headed back to the car and returned to our motel. That night we enjoyed our last lobster dinner at Nunan’s Lobster Hut (two lobsters and corn on the cob for $25). The next morning, we check out, drove to Boston, and hopped the train (see

Maine has a big variance from high tide to low tide,
leading to wide beaches at low tide.

I must admit that I enjoyed Maine even more than I thought I would. It is a beautiful state. In some respects, it looked similar in the rural areas to West Virginia, and the whitewater rivers we saw could have just as easily been in our mountains. [However, based on all the highway driving we did, their mountains don’t seem to get in the way quite as much as ours do.] Of course, West Virginia doesn’t have a seashore, so that is a big difference. Plus, I had never really experienced a rocky seashore before. The coastal areas, old mill towns, and seaports were all very interesting. The bottom line is that I’m glad I got to visit during the peak of the summer, and not during the winter. I hope I get the chance to return for further exploration someday.

That's me enjoying the nature cruise past a small island.

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