Acadia National Park – October 2006

Saturday, October 7, 2006.. 2

Sunday, October 8, 2006.. 8

Monday, October 9, 2006.. 21

Tuesday, October 10, 2006.. 37

Wednesday, October 11, 2006.. 48

Thursday, October 12, 2006.. 56

Friday, October 13, 2006.. 56

Saturday, October 14, 2006.. 62

Sunday, October 15, 2006.. 68

 

One of the things you don’t have in Florida is the four annual seasons. In particular, there is no fall or winter. As such, you need to travel if you want to experience the changes of fall, such as the cool weather and the spectacular colors of foliage turning yellow and red. One of the best areas to do so is the far North-East of the U.S. In our case, Jill and I wanted to go to Maine and see its Acadia National Park.

Acadia NP offers a lot of outdoor activities and recreations, including hiking, kayaking, bike riding, and of course excellent seafood. This would be a great getaway from the hot and humid Florida this time of the year. And best of all, the weather report forecasted clear skies and mild temperatures for the first couple of days, so we were looking forward to a great start into our fall vacation when we took off on Saturday morning from the Palm Beach airport.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

After a stop in Newark the second leg of our flight from New Jersey to Maine reveals the landscape of the North-East: A land of many lakes, some rolling hills in the interior and plenty of colored dots marking the deciduous trees this time of the year. What a sight on a day like this from 37,000 feet!

We get the rental car at the Portland, ME airport and begin our drive North-East more or less along the coastline towards Ellsworth and the Acadia NP.

The landscape reminds me a lot of Minnesota and the upper Midwest. You see a lot of boat trailers on the roads, which are noticeably narrower than down in Florida. The foliage is near its peak and the colors of the trees are every bit as beautiful as we expected.

We stop briefly in Rockland, ME – supposedly the Lobster capital of the world (in terms of amount exported annually, something like 10 million pounds if I recall correctly). It is a brisk 50F outside with a cool wind, but sunny and bright as we stroll along the harbor of this otherwise sleepy harbor village.

We walk out to one of the piers and watch the repairs of one of the 2-masted schooners as a woman oils the cables of the rigging. Sailing on schooners is one of the tourist attractions, as we would find out son enough in Bar Harbor.

To get from Rockland to Ellsworth, the last town prior to the so-called Mount Desert Island on which Acadia NP is located, you have to drive around a large bay shaped like a horseshoe. At one point you cross the Fort Knox Bridge, an old suspension bridge which is currently being replaced by a new cable-stay bridge. This new bridge when complete will feature a viewing deck on top of one of its two towers, the only one of its kind in the world.

We reach our destination just after sunset as its getting dark. The cabin is very spacious; it has wooden floors on two levels, a nice kitchen and a fireplace. Comfortable, yet with the rustic charm of a cabin in the woods.

After getting settled, we explore the local main street on Southwest Harbor in search of a good restaurant. And we start what would become a tradition for the rest of the week: Every day we would have some sort of seafood and Lobster for dinner – one of the things Maine is famously know for!

Sunday, October 8, 2006

Today is a hiking day. The day starts clear with abundant sunshine. From the maps and guide books we pick a suitable hike – this one is called “Peak Bagger’s delight” as it features 4 distinct peaks in one large, 4hr loop. The peaks are about 1000 ft high and offer sweeping views of Mount Desert Island with its many bays and lakes and forests.

The hike starts out in a dense forest with spruces, firs and pines. As we climb higher, the forest thins out and gives way to lichen-splotched granite. This also opens views of the Atlantic Ocean to the South.

Soon we reach the top of the first peak fittingly called Bald Peak. I take a series of pictures which I later hope to stitch together as another panorama view.

We meet some locals from Portland who came up just for the weekend. They give us some gourmet tips for the following weekend to explore when we get back to Portland on our return trip. They also congratulate us on having lucked out regarding the weather, which could easily have been much colder and rainy this time of the year. For now, we are just happy to enjoy the spectacular views and the mild sunshine here in autumn.

The wind is a bit cool and so we don’t linger too long on any of the peaks. Instead we continue on down through the valley of a little stream which makes for an interesting contrast to the windswept ridges on the top. After crossing the streambed a few times we pass under a stone bridge of a small gravel road.

Shortly thereafter we’re back at the parking lot. I pick up a few pieces of small kindling wood for our fireplace to start what would become the habitual evening wood fire in our cabin fireplace. From the road we have a look back at the mountains we just explored.

The road follows the Southern coast line and we stop at a bay which provides nice access to the waters currently at low tide. Lots of seabirds and the smells of the saltwater and plants exposed at low tide give the unmistakable impression of the sea.

Soon thereafter we reach Bar Harbor, the central village on Mount Desert Island and gateway to the Acadia NP. Here is what the www.maineguide.com website has to say about Bar Harbor:

Located in Downeast, Bar Harbor was once considered a small fishing and ship-building community. Today, it is a favorite destination for people throughout the world. With Acadia National Park in our backyard, a visit to Bar Harbor affords the comforts and luxury of a classic vacation retreat, but also offers spectacular beauty and natural wonder for those who would prefer to spend their time outdoors.

We drive up to the main parking lot at the harbor and are greeted to a pretty spectacular sight: The 4-masted schooner “Margaret Todd” as well as the Celebrity X Cruises “Constellation” cruise ship.

Without so much as a plan we walk over to the pier and spontaneously decide to join the schooner crew for their sunset cruise – impeccable timing as they literally pull away minutes after we step on board.

The 150 ft vessel motors away from the shore and then – with the help of volunteer passengers – we set the 4 main sails as well as a few front sails to provide a quiet, natural form of propulsion.

The contrast to the big glass and steel cruise ship anchoring in the bay could hardly be any bigger!

It is a wonderful, serene experience slowly floating over the calm waters on this big schooner. Of course with hardly any wind we’re not moving much, but it’s very scenic nonetheless.

Since this sunset cruise happened spontaneously and without any planning we just got out of the car in shorts and wearing one thin sweater; as a result we were quite cold upon return, and we badly needed some hot food or drinks to warm up again. We find it at Testa’s Lobster house with a bowl of hot Clam Chowder, good seafood pasta and later a nice fire back at the cabin.

Monday, October 9, 2006

We get up quite early before sunrise. We intend to see the Southern Ocean shore and the famous Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in the first morning light. We don’t quite make it at sunrise – that happens while we’re driving the 10 minutes from our cabin – but still we’re greeted to a stunning scenery with calm waters and warm, yellow morning light.

Only the engine of the passing Lobster boat and the occasional bell rung by the floating buoy break the silence. A pathway leads down to the shoreline and the rocks. From there the view opens up to the East towards the rising sun.

We climb around a bit on the cliffs and exposed rock. The pink granite reflects the rays of the morning sun and creates a beautiful contrast to the lighthouse in the back.

This is one of the most photographed spots in all of Maine – so I can’t help it and also take the picture J At least we got the perfect light for the picture.

We explore another trail called the Ship Harbor Trail. The effect of the tides is very clearly visible now at low tide. I would not have thought that the tides make such a big difference in water levels.

Like at the Inlets of the Intra-Coastal Waterway in Florida you can recognize the tide based upon the inflow or outflow of water into such harbor like bays.

On the way back to Southwest Harbor we cross the Bass Harbor March – a very scenic wetland with the Western Mountains as backdrop.

We hang out a bit at the Claremont Hotel and take in the view from its lawn where they apparently have annual championships in Crocket – all very meticulous with a sense of British style.

As for the afternoon, we have registered with an organized Kayak tour. We meet the tour guide at noon in a little village called Somesville near Southwest Harbor. We drive just a few miles to a beach where we plan to put in with a total of 7 kayaks.

The kayaks are a bit different from my Ocean kayak; they remind me very much of the sea kayak I rented back in August 1999 on Vancouver Island on my return trip from Alaska (see my Alaska trip, Aug-26). We follow the shore line and explore the Thomas bay. There is the occasional water front residence, but overall its quite secluded and quiet around here.

With spray skirt and life vest we’re well equipped. As a matter of fact, we’re dressed too warmly for this spectacular day, with temperatures up to 70 F and abundant sunshine an exceptional day for October in Maine! This also reminds me a lot of my kayaking trip in the Apostle Islands National Seashore of Lake Superior in Wisconsin.

After about 1 hour of slow paddling we encounter a bald eagle sitting in a tree high above the waterline. Thanks to the zoom on Jill’s Olympus Stylus 720 SW camera I can get a good close-up picture of the eagle.

After about 3 hrs we pull ashore on Thomas island and stop for a snack. Tour guide Shaw actually brought a small gas stove and is heating chocolate for some fondue with sweet crackers and marsh mellows – pretty good for hungry paddlers!

The way back is now easier since we have the wind at our back. We gently paddle and float back towards our launch point. Shaw takes a picture of both Jill and myself on the water.

Upon return we decide to rent the two kayaks for the next day which still promises to be sunny and dry. Thanks to us having been given a Ford Explorer as rental car – we had been upgraded since the other models were not available – and due to the fact that Shaw had some foam and tie-down straps we were able to load both kayaks on top of our rental car and drive around with them for the rest of the day. Definitely a first with a rental car!

Just like on the very mild day of kayaking in the Apostle Islands of Wisconsin I take a quick swim upon returning to the car. The water is very cold, just around 50F (10C), but the sun warms me up again quickly. Right next to our car is the parked motorcycle of another participant of the kayaking trip, the chrome-blinking exhaust of which I use for an interesting picture while I’m drying up in the sun.

After the kayak trip we drive over to Bar Harbor. By now, the view of both the “Margaret Todd” 4-masted schooner and some cruise ship is almost routine. Today, however, the biggest cruise ship in the world – the Queen Mary 2 – is anchoring at Bar Harbor for a few hours. We suspect that Bar Harbor is the last stop of the cruise prior to crossing the Atlantic to Europe.

The cruise ship is huge and dwarfs everything else in the water. Smaller shuttle boats continuously go back & forth to bring passengers to the mainland. We go for a little walk along the shore and enjoy the view of the big ship while the sun is setting.

Finally it’s getting dark. The schooner returns from its sunset sail and the cruise ship “sets sail”, i.e. moves out to sea after blowing its horn a few times. We sample another restaurant in Bar Harbor, this time an Italian dinner, but again with some Lobster and Seafood.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Today we’re having a special program: We made reservations for a Biplane ride with a local operator at the nearby airport. After some breakfast in our cabin we pack our gear for the afternoon – the kayaks from yesterday are still atop our rental car roof rack – and then venture out to the airport. There we are greeted by a local aviator, who confesses to us that after all the airplanes he had flown in (including F-15 fighters and P51 mustangs), he still thought that the biplane was the most enjoyable airplane. That should work for us!

For the next 45 minutes we’re enjoying a tour of the entire Mount Desert Island including 6 light-houses. It is absolutely spectacular! We’re incredibly lucky with the sunny day – it was actually supposed to deteriorate today, but so far it’s still an almost cloudless sky. And as a hang gliding pilot myself I am particularly fascinated with the view from above. Our pilot Phil is sitting behind us and occasionally mentions points of interest and visibly enjoyed himself as much as we do.

One of the interesting aspects of the biplane is that you’re flying “open air”, pretty much like a convertible car ride. Over the next 45 minutes we’re just looking around and enjoying the wonderful views. In fact, as I count later, I took 140 pictures in all of this flight, so it is had to pick just a small handful of those to include here.

In the above picture of the bay near Bar Harbor one can see the 4-masted schooner “Margaret Todd” on the far left being dwarfed by the cruise ship anchoring in the bay during the day.

While we are flying over Bass Harbor our pilot Phil points out his Bed & Breakfast called Ann’s Point Inn on a peninsula below. Moments later, we are actually circling overhead his own home and his wife standing outside on the lawn is waving up to us. Phil quips that they had breakfast this morning and he said something like “Honey, I have to go to work now.” What a tough job! On a day like this I could imagine making a living like this.

Later we fly over Bartlett Island, a 2*4 mile Westerly outpost of Mount Desert Island which today is owned by the Rockefellers. As we would later see on a historical map of the 18th Century – which had the names of individual home owners written on it – there were mostly the Bartletts living on this island 150 years ago. Anyway, circumnavigating this island would be our target for the afternoon kayak trip.

On our way back to the airport we look South towards the Long Pond on the Western part of the Island. It creates this spectacular view of the fall scenery. I wish for this flight to last much longer, even though at the rate of almost $10/min I probably couldn’t afford it…

Soon we’re back to the airport and land safely. The whole adventure took only ¾ hours, but its memory will surely last a lifetime. One of the best things I’ve ever done J

After the Biplane ride we drive straight to the Inlet across from Bartlett Island to start our afternoon paddling adventure. Jill can be seen preparing our kayaks for put-in.

The whole trip is a bit of a discovery, as we don’t know whether the island is perhaps too big for us to circumnavigate with the remaining daylight of about 5 hours. So every time we come around a corner which had been the visible horizon for us we see a new point coming up and make that our new goal.

We see plenty of birds and the occasional seal sticking its head out of the water. Once we paddle to shore, get out of the boats and have a break with a drink and a snack.

The weather holds out longer than predicted and so we’re blessed with a sunny afternoon, which makes the kayak trip much more enjoyable. It’s a mild autumn day and the shore line is painted in a warm, yellow afternoon sun.

The last quarter of our circumnavigation is a bit more strenuous than the rest as we need to paddle back into the wind. But as we’re hopping from one little rock outcrop to the next, we’re quickly getting back to the point of our departure. There we watch how local workers try to load a truck and trailer on a barge as a way to ferry them across to Bartlett Island, when the forces of nature and the receding tide are somehow not cooperating with them and effectively grounding the barge and all on the now exposed cement ramp. So they “park” their barge on the ramp and abandon it until the next high tide would return and float the barge again.

In the meantime we’re loading our kayaks on the car again and enjoy the conclusion of our round-the-Island trip.

We conclude the day with a fine dinner at the Seafood Ketch, a local fish restaurant in Bass Harbor recommended to us by the folks who rented the kayak to us. What a great day again on Mount Desert Island!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Today is the first overcast day of our trip. Nevertheless, it is still a good day for hiking, cool, but no rain. After a leisure breakfast we mosey over to the Eastern part of the Island and park the car at the Sand Beach parking lot.

Most of the visitors stop for the Sand Beach. However, from here you can also look up the “Beehive” trail – a steep granite face with a ladder trail leading right up through the steepest sections (“Klettersteig”). Jill is a bit anxious about the steep trail as she isn’t really used to such climbing activities, but nevertheless she wants to go up.

From the middle of the trail, if you look down towards the Ocean you can clearly see the Sand Beach bay behind the parking lot. Notice also the beautiful fall colors.

The trail continues on very steeply, with the help of occasional ladders cemented into the granite rock face.

From here I also take a 210 degree panorama picture which you can see below:

Once up on the knob of the Beehive the trail continues to the Bowl, a small lake on the plateau behind the initial ridge. From here we can see the rest of the trail up to the Champlain Mountain.

About 1 hour later we reach the top of 1058 ft top of Champlain Mountain. From here you can see north to Bar Harbor with the cruise ships anchoring in the bay.

The trail leads back along the ridge with sweeping views of the shore line as well as the other mountains on the island. Even though the sun is obscured by clouds for most of the time, the fall colors are still quite spectacular.

The trail cuts underneath the Cadillac Cliffs – a band of vertical rocks with boulders at the bottom – and finally delivers us at the bottom a mile south of the parking lot. We conclude the loop by walking back along the Ocean trail, stopping once at the Thunder hole, a cave like opening in the rock where the Ocean surf creates rumbling and splashing as the waves hit the rock and spray water up several feet in the air. There are also hundreds of seabirds here, especially seagulls and loons. I play with the camera getting really close to some of them and taking pictures while they maintain their distance.

After some 5 hours of hiking it feels good to just sit in the car and warm up from the cool wind on the way to Bar Harbor, where we conclude the day with another nice dinner, this time at the Island Chowder house with Lobster and Mussels, a Fisherman’s Seafood platter and a delicious Blueberry Pie with Vanilla Ice cream – yummy!

 

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Today is the one really cold and rainy day. We spend most of the day in the cabin and light up the wood fire earlier than usual to keep it nice and warm inside the cabin. We go out only once for about an hour to walk along the beach and retrace our steps from Monday morning. This time we see the Bass Harbor Light House in a different light, with fog and heavier seas.

This little walk is good for us as it lifts our spirits somewhat. We spend the rest of the day over hot coffee with muffins as well as tea and bread in the evening. Finally we get  some time to read the books we brought along for the trip, as well as news from the Internet, as we surprisingly have a free wireless Internet connection compliment to the Claremont hotel.

Friday, October 13, 2006

We have to pack our suitcases and prepare leaving the Claremont hotel. We check out around 10:00am and walk out to the local pier for a last view and picture of the hotel where we stayed for the last week.

The weather is flawless again, with perfect sunshine and cool, but dry conditions. We decide to drive up to Cadillac Mountain, at 1500 ft the highest point of Mount Desert Island.

We explore the local area around the top, walk down to the Gorge Trail for some 1 hour mini-hiking and get back to the souvenir store at the top of the mountain. In the 18th century they actually had a railway track leading up the mountain with a small hotel on the top! So the view apparently has always attracted people to come up here…

Jill buys a metallic plaque of the top for her collection. You can actually order these from the www.geositu.com website.

We continue and stop at the Jordan Pond house, a very scenic place with some history dating back to the 18th century.

We leave Mount Desert Island around noon. After a quick lunch stop at a road side Lobster shack with excellent food at very reasonable price we start heading back towards Portland, where we will conclude our vacation over the weekend.

Before we get back to Portland, however, we stop at a regional State Park near Camden. There we undertake a 2 hour hike up a local summit – the Megunticook with ~ 1350 ft. While the peak is entirely covered with forest and doesn’t provide any real panoramic view, there is a cliff ¾ up the top which affords a pretty spectacular view down to the south and west.

We get some good exercise from this hike and we arrive somewhat tired and a bit cold back at the car. Once the trail is in the shade from the low sun and the chilly wind is blowing, we start getting a bit cold. After we get back to the car, we turn the heater on. In Camden we actually stop for a walk at the harbor of the little village.

Nearby we find a little coffee shop that’s still open and get some hot drinks and sweets for the road ahead. This time we don’t order a latte, but in fact a hot apple cider with cinnamon. The sweet-sour taste of this cider is a real culinary highlight of this entire trip – very good stuff!

It’s getting dark and late by the time we reach Portland and our last stop, the “Pomegranate Inn”. The bellman gives us a good recommendation for good nearby restaurants and we chose the ‘Local 188’, a place with Spanish food on the menu. The resulting seafood Paella will also be remembered for a long time…

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Today we plan to spend in the city of Portland, with a mix of sight seeing, shopping/strolling and dining. First, we wake up to another sunny day – what a great vacation this is in terms of the weather!

Here is the view from our hotel room.

In order to tour the city with such a sunny day, we decide to rent bicycles and pedal around the city trails. We quickly find a local bike shop that rents both road bikes as well as hybrids.

Soon we’re off to the races – well, make that the ride. We explore the harbor, cross over the big harbor bridge and venture south to Cape Elizabeth. We see the Celebrity X Cruises cruise ship Constellation again – the same ship we saw last Sunday in Bar Harbor. Apparently it is on a 1 week loop in the North East Atlantic, with Saturday in Portland and Sunday in Bar Harbor

We stop at several light houses along the way. Somewhat similar to the Biplane ride with 6 light houses, we will see 5 light houses today during the course of about 4-5 hours.

One of the more famous ones is the Portland Head Light; it is in operation since 1791 for more than two hundred years! The gift shop has dozens of memorabilia, including T-Shirts, Posters, Mugs, Stickers, Pillows, Puzzles etc. This light house is believed to be the most photographed object in all of Maine.

At the next light house at the southern tip of Cape Elizabeth we stop at another Lobster shack for some fresh seafood and to warm up from the chilly wind which is blowing the entire day.

Along the way and on the return trip we pass along beautiful pieces of property and very nice homes. We are astonished to find relative rural and quiet areas within less than 10 miles from the city and harbor.

After a few hours we’re crossing back over the harbor bridge to the center of town. A tug boat is just passing under the bridge as we are crossing.

We make sure to return the bikes before 5:00pm as the bike shop will close and not open on Sunday, so missing the 5:00pm deadline is not an option for us!

Afterwards we put our names on the waiting list for the famous Fore Street restaurant downtown, a place with excellent seafood and wine list. It is enormously popular, so that despite calling ahead in the morning we wouldn’t receive a reservation on the phone as they were already filled. During the 2 hour estimated wait time we walk around downtown and buy some small gifts for family back home.

Finally we get some really good seafood and venison for dinner, as well as some fine wine and sweet desert to top it off. Now we are really toasting to our good luck with the fall weather and all the logistics having worked out well along the trip.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Once again we pack our suitcases leaving the hotel. We drive to a nearby small bay called the ‘Back Cove’ which features a nice 3 mile walking path around it, just right for a 1 hour walk with nice views of the city.

And until the last hour the weather turns out to be very nice. In fact this walk reminds me a lot of the lakes in Minneapolis, such as Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet, which I had explored on a tandem with a friend back in 2004 (see Minneapolis tandem sight seeing trip report). The nice homes, lake view, fall colors, mild sunshine… definitely worth the trip this time of the year!

About the only slight negative of the day is the fact that at the Newark airport there is significant congestion leading to delays in our departure from Portland. As a result, we miss our connect flight back to West Palm Beach, and so we get to spend a couple of extra hours at the airport. That way I get a head-start on writing this trip report at a local Starbucks in the airport.

As you can see from the smile on my face I am very happy with the last week and our trip to Acadia National Park.

On the flight back Jill spends time reading the “Short History of nearly everything” by Bill Bryson, while I continue learning from Joe Stiglitz about “Making Globalization Work”. We just didn’t have as much cold weather and as many rainy days as we expected when packing those big books J