Mount Desert Island

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Wed 4 Aug 2010 19:36
The 12 miles or so from Buckle Harbour to Northeast Harbour on Mount Desert Island were taxing.  Navigating these waters requires a lot more attention to detail not only of the charts (rocks) but also the tides (strong currents).  The lobster boats had been active since dawn as the not so gentle rocking in the anchorage indicated.  As we set off in the direction of Bass Harbour Light the sea of buoyed pots was endless.  The dredged channel there is narrow, luckily we got there at the correct state of tide and whistled through, to be met by yet more buoyed pots.  Then on the approach to Northeast Harbour in amongst them small sail boats were racing!  At least it wasn't foggy.  Zig zaging into the harbour, where there is no room for anchoring, we picked up a buoy which in the off season belonged to a boat aptly named "Tigger"!  The moorings manager arrived not long after.  He just happened to be a history teacher and we spent a good half hour discussing British-American history.  He whizzed off to help another new arrival before returning to give us a wealth of information on the area.   A quick run ashore confirmed that this was a good place to base ourselves to explore the Acadia National Park. 
Northeast Harbour dinghy dock                                              'Tigger's mooring ball......                                            From the east side - spot Ajaya!
The first day dawned damp & (yes) foggy.  Having got this far North and reached one of our goals we wanted to get the best out of our visit.  So with the boat safe and secure we decided to check out the free bus service and headed into Bar Harbour to get the connecting bus out to the National Park Visitors centre.  The majority of Mount Desert Island is park having undergone several name changes over the years is now currently known as Acadia and includes some of the other outlying islands and nearby Schoodic peninsula to the east.  During the "tourist" boom in the 1800's many summer "cottages" and hotels were built transforming the quiet fishing and farming communities of the Island.  Luckily there were still those that appreciated the natural beauty of the area.  These Trustees acquired over 5,000 donated acres to present to the government who declared it a national monument.  Finally in 1919 following more donations it was re-designated a national park, the first to be established east of the Mississippi River.  An excellent 15 minute film at the centre gave us a good idea of what to expect.  Having paid our park dues the Admiral then interrogated one of the many helpful Park Rangers for more information (brings back memories of Yogi Bear cartoons especially as they still wear those hats!).
With a ruck sack full of info we bussed back to Bar Harbour for a look.  Following a walk along the shore trail where some of the beautiful summer homes still stand we braved Main Street and the Harbour area.  Sadly, the quaintness has been a little lost in the trinket shops and myriad of eateries.  Mr President had visited a couple of weeks before and the town was still buzzing.  After a visit to the Whale Museum and a coffee we boarded the bus back to Northeast Harbour, a different route this time which took in some of the more scenic areas. 
Bar Harbour Main Street                                                       Moose with appalling dress sense chats up the 'Admiral'                      Waterfront hotel (dull day!)
A second damp & foggy start delayed our planned hikes so we explored the nearby Thuya Gardens.  From the harbour a granite and woodland trail called the Asticou Terraces leads a quarter of a mile up to the Thuya Lodge.  Several strategically placed lookouts provided a place to sit and contemplate the view.  There we sat listening to the babbling brooks and waterfalls swollen by the recent rain.  The 140 acre preserve was given to the residents of Mount Desert by Joseph Henry Curtis a Boston landscape architect who summered there until his death in 1928.  Charles K Savage a lifelong resident of Northeast Harbour was then appointed trustee a post he held for 37 years.  The lodge was renovated to accommodate a growing collection of botanical and horticultural books. The orchard was transformed into a semi formal herbaceous garden in the style of England's famous designer, Gertrude Jekyll.  Truly stunning it is too. The lilies were out, the colours were spectacular and their scent combined with that of damp pine was divine - if only it could be bottled.
Listening to the waterfalls                                                                Lilies                                                                                         One room in the lodge
Day three dawned with a clear sky.  Sandwiches packed we boarded the bus for a stop at Brown Mountain Gate House to make an assault on the Carriage Roads. These 45 miles of rustic carriage roads weave round the mountains and valleys of Acadia. They were the gift of philanthropist John D Rockefeller Jr and family.  A skilled horseman he wanted to travel on motor free by ways into the heart of the island.  Constructed between 1913 to 1940 the system includes 17 stone bridges each unique in design.  Today the roads are used by cyclists, hikers, horse riders and naturally some carriages.  The friendly ranger had suggested one of the more picturesque routes that included a good collection of the bridges.  Having consulted the maps we decided to tack on a further few miles to end up at a place called Jordans Pond where we could get a bus back. 
 Cleverly crafted bridges.....                                                            crossing ravines & waterfalls.......                                     the Carriage Roads
Having walked 7 miles in relatively splendid isolation turning the corner to view Jordans Pond was a bit of a shock. It was a seething mass of humanity, lycra clad cyclists, thick booted hikers, dog walkers, Harley riders, coach lead tours and masses of cars. No wonder they are trying to encourage people to use the buses. In the late 1800's Jordan Pond House was a tea house catering for sophisticated summer visitors.  The speciality was the "Popover" served with jam and cream.  Always up for a decent cream tea we had intended to indulge until on discussion with some other cruisers we learnt that Popovers were a form of Yorkshire Pudding - when they travelled to the UK they were horrified to see gravy being poured onto Popovers and served with roast meat!  Luckily a bus was due.
It needed climbing - what broken branch?                                  Jordan Pond looking at the Bubbles Mts                  Carriage hire - horses are an optional extra!
To ensure that we didn't miss out on any other gems we headed back to the Visitors Centre and took the "Loop Road" bus.  This follows the one way road round the major areas of the park.  An hour later another bus took us back to Bar Harbour where we enjoyed an "early bird" meal - reduced prices for those who eat early!  Nice mussels.
As if we hadn't had enough of buses day four saw us boarding the No 5 yet again heading for Bar Harbour to catch the No 7.  All the buses are run on Propane so don't have much power overtaking or up hill which makes for an interesting ride.  The majority of the seasonally employed drivers seem to be of a certain age, some jolly and some grumpy, with equally diverse driving styles.  We had learnt not to sit at the back after our first bone shattering ride over the hard rear suspension. Route 7 heads to the western end of the Island skirting Somes Sound the only fjord on the east coast.  Two hours later having gone to the end of the line at Bass Harbour we decided to get out at Southwest Harbour for a brief look.  It confirmed that we had picked the right spot at Northeast Harbour to leave Ajaya.
The weather held for our assault on Mount Cadillac the next day.  At 1530 feet Mount Cadillac is the highest point on the east coast of the USA.   The friendly Ranger suggested a route once he had politely ascertained our abilities!  The buses do not run up the road to the top so we had to request to be dropped off near the road leading to the base of the North Ridge trail.  This particular trail is 2.2 miles long or so it says on the marker post.  Up we went and up, and up, and up.  It seemed endless.  We didn't have to climb as such but the terrain was not easy going.  As the "easier" of the trails it was popular so some parts did have steps in the otherwise slippery granite.  Surprisingly the road wasn't that far away and although you couldn't see it you could hear the vehicles especially the Harley Davidsons of all shapes & sizes which were out in force.   Being a clear day it was very crowded at the top so we took the photos, sampled a Bar Harbour Blueberry Soda and descended to a quiet ledge to eat our sandwiches. For some unknown reason it seemed to take ages to get down.  We bathed our aching calves in an icy stream at one point but there was no relief for the knees until we got on the bus!  To celebrate the achievement we bought Acadia park T shirts......................
Looking east to Bar Harbour...                                                          Come on we're not there yet......                               Looking West to the Cranberry Islands
Tree, rock, hiked & bussed out our final day at beautiful Northeast Harbour had to be dedicated to chores.   The Admiral attacked the laundry spending most of the day in the dungeon like basement of the local "Deli" store where the coin-op was situated.  Skip came ashore to assist with the food shopping later that afternoon.  Taking the laundry back to the boat he spotted a "Free Ice Cream between 4-5 o'clock" sign outside the small maritime museum.  At 4.45 laden with heavy bags we were told they only had "Rocky Road" flavour left.  Melting quickly it was poured into the cones looking more like a "Slushy Path".  Nevertheless we made a donation to their charity, still can't remember what it was and definitely not too sure whether our bad stomachs the next day didn't have something to do with it.  However this did not spoil our memories of Mount Desert which is 'a little bit special' as they say.