Cara and I stayed in Bar Harbor, Maine the last week in June, exploring Acadia National Park and the coast of Mount Desert Island. We had some wonderful nature adventures, and I made use of a unique opportunity to read about Thoreau’s Maine travels while in the context of that landscape. He traveled there 3 times 1846-57, and wrote essays collected as The Maine Woods. I purchased a sumptuous guide book based on his trips in Central Maine , and though Thoreau’s travels were inland (mostly traveling by canoe over lake water), he was a great spiritual companion for my Maine experience, especially when I returned home and read my copy of the original Thoreau book.
It is a country full of evergreen trees, of mossy silver birches and watery maples, the ground dotted with insipid, small red berries and strewn with damp and overgrown rocks, – a country diversified with innumerable lakes and rapid streams. H.D. Thoreau, Ktaadn
We experienced terrain much like he describes on our visit to the Blagden Nature Preserve at Indian Point, pictured above. The Nature Conservancy holds a strip of land that stretches past private properties down to Indian Point, an outcrop jutting into the Western bay that is home to the largest population of harbor seals north of Boston. We went at high tide and couldn’t see the seals, but we could hear their grunting and jostling through the foggy bay waters.
Indian Point, Mount Desert Island
Most of our time in the island’s interior was spent in Acadia National Park itself, which was founded by George Dorr with huge support from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Rockefeller loved designing and building roads and bridges, but he didn’t like automobiles much. The covenant he set on the 47 miles of carriage roads he built and donated still protects the park today.
The carriage ride showed us 5 of the 14 stone bridges in the park. Our driver was a horseman from Pennsylvania who uses these horses for logging in the winter and hauls eight of them to Acadia each summer for some productive exercise!
We did use our car to travel to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the huge, glacier-scraped slab of granite that is Mount Desert Island. We caught a brief respite in the cloudy mists that enveloped us much of the week and were able to see upper Frenchman’s Bay, the location of our cottage, the town of Bar Harbor and it’s namesake island, whose sandbar constitutes an extension of Bridge Street, accessible on foot or by vehicle during low tides, and Otter Point, whose cliffs make the beautiful scene photographed by Cara below.
Cara and I are both point-n-shoot folks, but we both had some luck on this trip, displayed in the photo albums linked at the end of this post. Below is my shot of upper Frenchman’s Bay. The triangular protrusion just to the right of center is Sand Point, where we stayed. We could walk at low tide and see all kinds of barnacles, clams and sometimes starfish.
The geology available right below our cottage was also amazing. We saw smaller versions of the caves and natural bridges to be seen on the bay islands from our nature cruise boat.
Mount Desert Rock, 25 miles out to sea
The two boat trips we took showed us no whales (thus the double trip) but lots of interesting sights and tales. The official (and unsuccessful) whale watch took us all the way out to an amazing outpost on the continental shelf, Mount Desert Rock, whose intrepid lightkeepers maintained their residental post until the late sixties. We saw lots of harbor seals and some gray seals there. Our bonus nature cruise was just as foggy, but lightened by the salacious gossip of our nature guide, a grizzled native who had taught biology for 30 years but seemed much more interested in talking about the various owners of mainland and island properties than locating wildlife. Bar Harbor history and the development and donation of Acadia represents a fascinating portrait of big money, monster money, and the economies of land use. Pre-income tax money built an large array of mansions, styled (50 room) “cottages” by their wealthy summer inhabitants, but almost all burned in a massive 1947 fire and were never re-built. Modern billionares still have summer homes, but are likely to cooperate with the nature groups in maintaining the natural habitat around them. Acadia, the first national park east of the Mississippi, was founded by George Dorr, a wealthy wilderness lover whose namesake mountain we half-climbed. He, Rockefeller and others bought the many thousands of park acres one farm at a time. The pristine, forested small islands we saw on this trip were bare, sheep-mown homesteads well into the twentieth century, and modern conservation acquisitions focus on these . As commerce disappeared from the coastal waters and tourism rose as the leading industry, the island transformed from fishing and boat-building villages into Acadia-aligned restaurants, campgrounds, motels and services. There are still plenty of boats and a healthy lobster fishery, which history we explored at a local nature museum and lobster hatchery.
pregnant lobster at Oceanarium
The main respite we got from tourist crowds ourselves was on the state highways that follow the southwestern portion of the island. Indian Point was off this road, and we found the prettiest rocky coast at the farthest tip of the island. Bass Harbor and its historic lighthouse are shown below.
Mount Desert Island is a remnant of mountains that may have been as tall as the Alps, extending 80 miles beyond the current coastline. The shore is built of granite and metamorphic materials carved and deposited by glaciers up to a mile thick. The numerous bodies of freshwater are all long, narrow and aligned with the path of the glacier. We canoed on Long Pond, one of these, and took the pictures below.
Somes Sound is another of these long bodies of water but opens to the sea, splitting Mount Desert Island up the middle. Somes Sound is the only fjord on the Atlantic coastline. A waterfall that feeds it is shown below.
The trip was adventurous and contemplative, invigorating and still soothing to our teacher souls. I’ll end with one of the more thrilling sights – a bald eagle perched on the edge of an uninhabited island. A close-up is at the top of the post. Please do check the photo albums – many more beautiful sights of Maine.
Maine photo album Part One
Maine photo album Part Two
a wonderful professional set is at sueannhodges.com
Who shall describe the inexpressible tenderness and immortal life of the grim forest, where Nature, though it be mid-winter, is ever in her spring, where the moss-grown and decaying trees are not old, but seem to enjoy a perpetual youth; and blissful, innocent Nature, like a serene infant , is too happy to make a noise, except by a few tinkling, lisping birds and trickling rills. Thoreau, Ktaadn