Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Book Review: Cascadia By H.W. "Buzz" Bernard

Cover image from Amazon.com.  A link to this novel on their site is here.

Cascadia is the new thriller from author and Oregon native H.W. “Buzz” Bernard, a former weather officer with the U.S. Air Force for over 30 years, and a senior meteorologist at the Weather Channel for 13 years.  Since publication of his debut novel Eyewall in 2011, Bernard has released a total of five thriller novels, with Cascadia being the latest, slated for release in July of 2016.

Bernard’s latest novel is based on the premise of a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami striking in the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. The central character, Dr. Rob Elwood, is a successful geologist who has suddenly become haunted by very explicit and repetitive nightmares of a massive earthquake tsunami obliterating the coastline of the northwestern U.S. during the busy Independence Day Weekend.  Despite being a scientist who relies on hard facts, Rob cannot help but feel that he has received some kind of supernatural premonition that a 500-year “big one” is going to strike. He struggles with the decision of whether to make this ‘prophecy’ he may have been given public in the hopes of saving innocent lives, though putting his career at risk on the one hand, or keeping his visions to himself and possibly allowing untold numbers of people to die needlessly if it indeed comes true on the other.  In addition to his inner conflicts, Rob clashes with his family, his colleagues, and local officials about his decision.

Intertwined with Rob’s story are those of two other men: one a down-on-his-luck Vietnam veteran named Neahkahnie Johnny, who may have stumbled on the solution to a centuries-old puzzle which may finally turn his life around, and the other is Shack, a retired military pilot who has made a trip to Oregon to make right a wrong he committed long ago when he was a self-absorbed young flyboy.  The potential for a massive earthquake and tsunami in the Cascadia Subduction Zone carries with it the potential to forever change the lives of Rob, Johnny, Shack, and everyone living in the Pacific Northwest.  There are so many great parts to Cascadia that I would like to share, but at the risk of spoiling the plot, I will leave to the reader to check out the details.

Cascadia is a great showcase  for Buzz Bernard’s background in environmental science and his talent for writing thrillers.  It is clear that he put a great deal of time and research into making Cascadia as scientifically accurate as possible.  He expertly weaves scientific information into the story without detracting from the plot, and his characters are immediately relatable.  Bernard’s descriptions of the terrain of the coastal Pacific Northwest virtually transport the reader there, and his action sequences are terrific. A series of scenes involving Rob in his small airplane is especially riveting, and kept me up reading much later than I had planned.  His pacing of the story is excellent. There were no slow sections that made me want to skip forward at any point in the novel.

A few things held me back from giving Cascadia a full five stars. To be frank, I did find a few aspects of the story to be a bit ‘out there’ compared to the rest of the novel, particularly Rob’s willingness to take such huge professional risks based on nothing more than a series of dreams, and the appearance of a mysterious woman named Cassie at various points in the story. There were a few times when I found that that Bernard’s characters’ speaking patterns did not sound natural in places. For example, the occasional placement of mid-sentence dependent clauses came across to me sounding more like something a person would write, as opposed to something they would say. I also thought that Bernard had a tendency to occasionally wax a bit too eloquent in his physical descriptions. 

With memories of the massive December 26, 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean that claimed nearly a quarter million lives still relatively fresh, Cascadia is a novel that can really set the reader on edge, especially if they or someone they know lives near the ocean.  In Cascadia, Buzz Bernard has successfully done what the author of a good thriller does: exploits the possible and makes the reader wonder ‘what if’.  I love a good disaster novel, and this one did not disappoint.  Fun, exhilarating and informative, Cascadia is well-worth your time.

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary advance copy of Cascadia in exchange for my honest, unbiased review. I am not connected with the Buzz Bernard, his representation, or his publisher Bell Bridge Books in any way, and I did not receive any monetary gain from this review.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lamoine State Park, Downeast Maine

With winter starting to lose some of its punch and vacation season not too far over the horizon, it seems like a good time to post another review of one of Maine’s state parks.  I visited eight of the state’s 12 state parks with campgrounds last year, a number of which were return visits to places I had visited before on several occasions.  Lamoine State Park, located in Downeast Maine between Ellsworth and Mount Desert Island was one of them. Last year marked my fourth trip there. It has become one of the parks I have to visit at least once every year.  

Shoreline activity at Lamoine State Park

Lamoine State Park is relatively small at 55 acres.  It is located on the site of an old coaling station for naval ships, which is actually a lot more picturesque than it may sound.  There is scant evidence of the old coaling station now aside from a few historical markers, since it closed in 1912.  The University of Maine was responsible for the facility until 1949, when it was offered to the state of Maine.  I was interested to learn that some of the concrete that comprised part of the old station was reportedly hauled across the bay to be used in construction of the municipal pier in the town of Bar Harbor, which is a world-famous tourist spot just a few miles away as the crow flies.

A view of Frenchmen's Bay from Lamoine State Park, with Mount Desert Island in the background.

The bay, Frenchmen’s Bay, looms large at Lamoine State Park. The park sits on the edge, with stunning views of Mount Desert Island and the area coastline.  A number of fisherman moor their boats at Lamoine State Park, and the boat ramp is busy during the warm weather months with both commercial and recreational users.  It is a very popular spot for ocean kayakers, since the bay is sheltered from the high wind and waves of the open ocean.  There are picnic sites and open areas right along the edge of the bay, and lots of places to sit at the water’s edge and enjoy the view.  The shoreline is very accessible, and many people take advantage of it to explore and take photos.  I personally haven’t seen a lot of wildlife while exploring Lamoine State Park, aside from an elderly porcupine who waddled through my campsite one Saturday evening and proceeded to climb up a tree, completely oblivious to me.  There are a great number of birds however, particularly sea birds.  Eagles are native to the area, and it would not be surprising at all to see one there.

Old Man Porcupine, my 2014 camping buddy at Lamoine State Park

The campground itself is right on the water’s edge, and none of the park’s 62 campsites is more than a few minutes walk from the bay.  Only about ten of them have direct water views however, and they are often reserved well in advance.  As a matter of fact, Lamoine State Park is often close to fully booked during the peak camping months of June, July and August.  It’s beautiful, affordable, and just a short drive from Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, so reserve your site early if you are planning to stay.  May and September are the easiest months to get your choice of campsites on short notice, though there are really no bad campsites at Lamoine State Park.  It just depends on what you prefer.  The campground is wooded and many sites offer a good deal of privacy.  There are some sites that are not separated, so several parties can camp together if they like, and two large-group camping sites are available as well.  As with most Maine state park campgrounds, there is no electricity or water hookups on the campsites at Lamoine State Park.  A bathroom and shower facility, always well-maintained I’ve found, is located in the center of the campground, though there are also outhouses located near some of the sites that are a bit further away from the center.  The park offers a playground and volleyball court, as well as a large treehouse for children, a picnic area with numerous picnic tables, and a few walking trails.  Bring warm clothing, since the breezes off the water can be quite chilly at night, especially early and late in the camping season, I’ve found.  While there’s lots to do at Lamoine State Park, swimming is not one of those things.  The bay is really too cold and rocky for swimming unless you are a penguin.

A sculpture on site at Lamoine State Park

Lamoine State Park, like all the Maine state parks I have visited, is run by a friendly and professional staff who are very friendly and always willing to help out or answer questions.  The grounds are exceptionally well-kept and they do a great job of making sure all visitors have a safe and enjoyable stay.
A remnant of the old coaling station at Lamoine State Park

One of the best things for a camper like me who is only into semi-roughing it is that the city of Ellsworth is only eight miles away.  If I find I’ve forgotten to pack something or have a craving for a lobster roll, it’s just a short drive to civilization.  Even though you can literally see Mount Desert Island from the park, you have to drive around an inlet and across the bridge to get there, which takes about a half hour.  Mount Desert Island offered endless opportunities for visitors, not the least of which are Acadia National Park and the town of Bar Harbor.  I frequently take day trips to the island when I am staying at Lamoine State Park.

If you want to know more about Lamoine State Park, there is a link to their official web page.  It really is a beautiful spot that captures the essence of coastal Maine, and I highly recommend it for anyone making a trip Downeast.

All photographs in this posting were taken by the author.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

David Bowie, Glenn Frey, and Me

The past month has been a rough one for us music fans, with the deaths of some major musical figures.  R & B singer Natalie Cole, hard rocker Lemmy Kilmeister, singer David Bowie and, most recently, Glenn Frey, founder of the legendary rock group the Eagles are the biggest names among those who have recently passed away, but there have also been a number of deaths among lesser known members of popular bands, studio musicians, producers and other industry notables.  Music has been an integral part of my life since I was very young, so when artists who have been on my radar screen for a long time suddenly pass away, it is la kind of loss, like that of an old friend or acquaintance, depending on who it is. 

I can’t honestly account for myself as a true fan of either Natalie Cole or Lemmy Kilmeister’s band Motorhead.  While I respect their work, Cole’s soulful crooning and Kilmeister’s aggressive, grinding hard rock fell just beyond the furthest ends of my musical taste spectrum.  Nevertheless, when I heard of their deaths, it felt like someone had snipped away pieces from a beautiful but increasingly tattered tapestry, one that has always been a part of my life and that I too often take for granted.  I didn’t listen to Natalie Cole or Motorhead very often, but I liked the idea that they were out there making music that people enjoyed and was sadden to hear that they were now silenced.  With the deaths of David Bowie and Glenn Frey however, it wasn’t just pieces of the tapestry snipped away.  Some new large holes were added, alongside those created for me by the deaths of Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Freddy Mercury, Kurt Cobain, George Harrison, and Michael Jackson, among others.  They had put forth great music that had been a tangible part of my life, and they were still active in their careers when they died.  They weren’t done yet.  There was still more to come from them that we will now never get to hear.  I felt real loss.

There was a lot of coverage of the deaths of both David Bowie and Glenn Frey in the media, and an outpouring of reactions in social media.  The men were alike in some ways and very different in others.  Both of them came onto the music scene in the early 70s, both did some acting work in addition to music, and both gradually faded from regular public attention by the coming of the 21st century.  And at the end of their careers, both men were still actively making music.  Yet Bowie was mostly considered an eclectic musical artist who had experienced occasional mainstream acceptance. His focus had always been on the art of music.  Frey, on the other hand, was very much a straightforward rock musician and businessman, who only stepped out of the mainstream to explore new ground on rare occasions.  The artistic side of music was not unimportant to Frey, but he was always very candid in admitting that it had to pay the bills too.  Regardless of the driving forces behind each of them, the end products that each gave us, their music, was truly great.  It was fascinating and touching following the reactions to both of their deaths, and it taught me some things about the part music plays in our lives.

Before the release of 1983’s Let’s Dance album, I wasn’t very familiar with David Bowie’s work at all.  I’d seen some of his albums at the store, but out of context they didn’t make much of an impact on me.  MTV hadn’t come to rural Maine yet at that point, and the only radio stations that played pop and/or rock in my conservative corner of the world kept their playlists firmly grounded in the most widely-acceptable hits.  Other than the rare “Young Americans” or “Heroes”, David Bowie wasn’t on the radio much in northern Maine in the early 80s.  That was about to change in 1983.  Let’s Dance was Bowie’s headlong dive into the new wave pop that was dominating the international airwaves at that time, and the album was a gigantic commercial success, due in large part to new fans like me who now had access to Bowie on mainstream radio.  

I remember hearing the title track to Let’s Dance for the first time late on a hot July night in 1983.  It was the night before my family was to go away on our annual two-week summer vacation to the Maine coast, and I was as excited as I would have been the night before Christmas.  Add to that the fact that it was a swelteringly hot night and it was a recipe for insomnia.  Sometime after midnight, I gave up tossing and turning, and sat on my bedroom windowsill in hopes of getting some cool air. I plugged my earpiece into my little FM radio (so as not to disturb my blissfully sleeping brother with whom I shared a room) and tuned in the local rock station.  The soundtrack of a small town Friday night’s squealing tires and chirping crickets played in one ear and the tinny sounds of rock and roll from a transistor radio in the other while I stared out at the moon over the houses of my neighborhood.  Before long, the DJ came on and introduced a new song by British singer David Bowie.  British acts were flooding the American music scene in 1983, and I was getting into a lot of it, so my interest was piqued.  The song was “Let’s Dance”, and it really hooked me on the first play.  Bowie’s vocals were mesmerizing, and the heavy drums and bluesy guitar solo captured my heart.  “Let’s Dance” became one of my favorite songs of that summer, and I ended up buying the album not long after that. Over time, I came to appreciate the full scope of David Bowie’s career, but to this day, Let’s Dance is my favorite Bowie album, though it is also the one at which many of the biggest Bowie fans turn their noses up.  Among many Bowie ‘purists’, Let’s Dance was just tolerable at best, and a sell-out at the very worst.  To me, it was, and is, terrific.  I was into his next two mid-80s albums too, Tonight and Never Let Me Down before Bowie’s new releases stopped gaining my attention.

Glenn Frey and the Eagles go back even further with me, literally to my earliest music memories.  My parents always had the radio on around my house when I was young, so I was exposed to a lot of music, albeit mostly just the biggest hits that made it onto the local radio scene.  The Eagles were very popular on the stations they listened to, likely because the band had a country-edge to them that gave them some crossover appeal, especially in my part of the state where country music was king.  I knew all the words to “Hotel California” before I was ten years old, and songs like “Take It Easy”, “One of These Nights” and “Already Gone” feel like they are encoded in my DNA.  The Eagles have always been there in the background of my life for as long as I could remember.  Not only was the band popular in my home, but my closest peers liked them too.  One of my favorite teenage memories is of riding around town with my buddies in my friend Jared’s battered red Volkswagen Beetle, all the windows down and the Eagles’ “Already Gone” blasting from the stereo.  Over time, I literally wore out my vinyl copies of both Eagles greatest hits albums, as well as my cassettes of Hotel California and Eagles Live.  I’ve never done that with any other records or cassettes, and I have owned a lot of them. 

I was an avid follower of the solo careers of the Eagles members through the 80s after the band broke up, especially Glenn Frey and Don Henley, and have carried my love of all things Eagles well into adulthood.  Needless to say, I was overjoyed when “Hell froze over” (as the band members had said it would have to) and the band reunited in the mid-1990s, and one of my regrets is that I never got to see them perform live.  My tastes have shifted over time, and my favorite Eagles songs don’t tend to be the biggest hits anymore.  I am more intrigued by the relatively-obscure album cuts that didn’t often get my attention in the past.  My current favorites are “After The Thrill Is Gone”, a Frey/Henley duet from the One Of These Nights album and “Waiting in the Weeds” from 2007’s Long Road Out Of Eden.  All those great songs, including those amazing and unmistakable Eagles harmonies that have been running through my head since I was a preschooler, would not have come to be without Glenn Frey.

My favorite part of the David Bowie catalogue, the Let’s Dance/Tonight/Never Let Me Down period of the mid-80s is one about which few others I’ve interacted with on the subject wax nostalgic. I got a lot of “Oh yeah, but what about the Ziggy Stardust era?”  I don’t dislike his earlier or later work, it’s just that the mid-80s were an especially memorable time in my life: first girlfriend, first real job, getting my driver’s license.  Music, then as now, was a major part of my life, and I am particularly fond of the songs that formed my own soundtrack to those times, which in turn gives a huge boost in my heart to that particular stretch of David Bowie’s career.  I first go to know David Bowie in the mid-80s.  That’s the David Bowie that means the most to me.

The Eagles, on the other hand, seem to be a band that people either love or hate.  They gotten massive amounts of airplay over the years, and their songs may have worn thin with some people.  They also developed a reputation for being arrogant, for being somewhat derivative at times, and for being too focused on profit, all of which has worked against them with some listeners.  Jeff Bridges’ character “The Dude” famously gave voice to this in the 1998 film The Big Lebowski when he is stuck in a taxi while “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” is playing on the radio.  “I hate the f—in' Eagles man,” he said to the cab driver, just before he was thrown out of the car.  Personally, I would have thrown him out of the car too.  I love the Eagles.  Their music has always been there, either in the background or foreground of my life, ever since I can remember.  The fact that people important to me like my parents and my high school buddies were also Eagles fans cemented their place for me.  Of course they weren’t a perfect band, but for me they are almost like family, and how many of us have a full set of perfect relatives?  The positive associations I have made with their music for over forty years far outweighs the negatives.  When Glenn Frey’s voice comes out of my speakers singing “Heartache Tonight”, I’m back to being 11 years old, waiting for that song to come on the radio so I can catch it on my tape recorder. You can’t put a price on something like that.

The passings of David Bowie and Glenn Frey have underscored for me the idea that, like most art forms, there really isn’t much about music that is absolutely “right” or “wrong”.  You might say that there are no bad songs, just missed connections.  I’ve come to believe that a lot has to do with the associations we have with music and the people who perform it.  If there is a connection between some music and something positive for you, then there is a greater likelihood you are going to have positive feelings about that music, regardless if it is something widely considered “a classic”.  If the first dance you had with the love of your life was to “Purple People Eater”, then I think there’s a good chance that even that song could one of your favorites.  And as far as today’s music being “crap”, as many in my generation and older like to say, well, maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t.  Around the time I turned 30, most new music just wasn’t reaching my heart anymore.  But if kids today are making their own lifelong memories to a soundtrack of today’s popular songs the way I did to the music of David Bowie and the Eagles, among many others, then who am I to say their music isn’t just as good?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lake St. George State Park, Liberty, Maine

This year, I was lucky enough to have my summer vacation fall on the hottest and most humid week of the summer.  I was also lucky enough to be able to book a few days of tent camping that week at a beautiful Maine state park I had never visited before: Lake St. George in Liberty, which is between Belfast and Augusta.  I’d tried unsuccessfully to book campsites at Lake St. George on weekends in the past, but it is very popular with a limited number of sites.  The best sites fill up further in advance than I typically like to reserve, due to weather worries. (Tenting in the rain is an activity in one of the inner circles of my personal Hell.)  It was easier to book a couple of midweek days I found, and I did just that, getting a great spot right on the lake itself.  As warm and sticky as the weather was, I didn’t notice it very much because I could literally walk about ten feet and find myself in the clear, cool waters of Lake St. George any time I wanted.

For some reason, I didn't take many photos of my stay at Lake St. George, but here is one of my campsite there.

Lake St. George State Park is on the site of an old farmstead, and there is still a large barn in the center of the park that I believe is from that original farm.  It’s not a large park compared to some of Maine’s other state parks, only 358 acres total.  When you first drive into the park, you can turn left or right from the ranger station.  A right takes you to the camping area, and a left to the public day use area.  

The day use area features plenty of parking, a large beautiful beach with a lifeguard on duty in season, a children’s play area, and plenty of picnic areas.  It is all handicap-accessible.  I’m not sure if there is a boat launch area on the day use side of the park, but I do know there is a public one just up the shoreline a bit, as well as an area in the campground where boats can be launched.  Motorized boats are allowed on Lake St. George, but I didn’t find there to be a huge number of them, even at the height of summer.  There were plenty of canoes, kayaks and sailboats on the water when I was there, and everyone seemed to co-exist peacefully.

The camping area is basically a large loop, with a smaller loop branching off from it.  Only about a half dozen campsites are as directly on the water as mine was, but none of the 38 total sites are more than a moment’s walk to the shoreline.  Privacy varies from site to site, but none of the sites are ones I would consider uncomfortable.  There is a large, centrally-located shower and restroom building in the middle of the camping area that was keep sparkling clean, though I’ve found that most Maine state parks with camping take very good care of their facilities.  Water is available at various places around the campground.  There is a free wifi kiosk for campers near the ranger station, though I didn’t make use of it during my stay.

One of the things I like best about Lake St. George is that, if you are a user of Google Earth, you can actually see ground-level photographs of each campsite.  There is a link at Lake St. George’s page on the state of Maine website that allows you to do that.  It’s not a 360 degree view, but it does give you a good impression of what you are reserving if you’ve never been there previously.  I am really hoping more of Maine’s state parks will start including this feature.

If Lake St. George sounds familiar, that may be because it is the location of the 6-acre Birch Island, now known as “Hawaii 2”, that was purchased by the makers of the game Cards Against Humanity and given out in 250,000 square foot plots to their customers during a promotion back in 2014.  Wikipedia gives a quick overview of Hawaii 2.  If you are one of the owners of Hawaii 2, then Lake St. George State Park would be a great place to stay while exploring your one square foot of real estate.  I don’t think camping is allowed on Hawaii 2 itself, and you’d need a mighty small tent for that one square foot if it was.

Other than the difficulty in making reservations, the only downside I found to Lake St. George State Park is the grocery selection at nearby stores.  There are a couple of small convenience stores within a few miles, but on the day I went looking for supplies, they didn’t even have milk on hand.  They were all sold out.  I’m not sure if it was a fluke or not, but I had a real need (there was cereal to be eaten, after all), and wound up driving all the way into Belfast to get some.  It was 32 miles, round trip.

One other note: take care not to confuse Lake St. George State Park in Liberty with Lake George Regional Park, which is a lovely park near Canaan, Maine. The two names are often confused, but they are nearly an hour’s drive apart from each other, and the Canaan park does not offer camping.

I stayed at eight state parks this past summer, and Lake St. George State Park was definitely one of the highlights.  If you are looking for a camping trip or just a place to dip your toes on a hot day, I’d highly recommend it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Cobscook Bay State Park in Downeast Maine

From almost anywhere you are in Maine, if you drive east without stopping (or southeast from the northern parts of the state), you are going to end up either in Canada or the Atlantic Ocean.  But before you do, you are likely to pass by Cobscook Bay State Park on Route 1 in Edmunds Township, Maine.  And unless you have pressing business in Calais, an up-to-date passport, or an amphibious vehicle, you might want to consider stopping there.  Even if you do have those things, Cobscook Bay is a 888-acre jewel tucked away in deep Downeast Maine that you really should check out.

View from the overlook at Cobscook

Cobscook Bay has its roots in the nearby Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, which was established in 1937 with revenue from the federal Duck Stamp program.  Moosehorn had an early champion in President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who spent most of his summers at nearby Campobello Island.  In 1964, Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge offered a free, long-term lease to the state of Maine on a large recreational area it had created on some of its land near Whiting Bay.  The state legislature voted to accept the lease, management of the parcel was taken over by the state, and Cobscook Bay State Park officially came into being.

I first visited Cobscook Bay State Park in the summer of 2011 and have returned at least once, and usually more than that, each year since then.  One thing I wanted while on a day trip Downeast was to find a quiet place by the sea where I could relax and maybe do some reading.  Cobscook fit the bill perfectly.  It’s large, it’s quiet, and the coastline there has so many inlets and peninsulas that you are almost never more than a stone’s throw from the water.  The day-use area occupies the end of a large peninsula and has numerous private areas with covered picnic tables and grills, as well as two open areas for larger gatherings.  One of those areas for larger gatherings has a good-sized shelter.  The day-use area is also home to the large- and small-group camping sites, which are set apart from other areas, have beautiful water views, shelters, and have nearby water and toilets.  While visiting that more wooded side of the park, I have seen quite a lot of wildlife, including sea birds, bald eagles, and deer.  Birds are everywhere in the park, and a birdwatcher would be in their element there.

It is worth mentioning that Cobscook Bay is not really a true oceanside park.  The bay itself is an estuary with a narrow opening to the Atlantic Ocean.  There are plenty of fishing boats motoring past, and the water is definitely salty and tidal, but if you want to see constantly crashing waves and cruise ships on the horizons, this is not the place.  Don’t let that deter you however.  Cobscook Bay is still very coastal Maine.

There are several areas that make up the campground at Cobscook Bay State Park.  You would be hard pressed to find a bad site.  Almost all of them are set apart from each other and private, and the majority have water views.  A number of them are walk-in sites for tenters only, however, and like most state park campgrounds, there are no electrical or water hookups on the sites.  Cobscook has well over 100 campsites, and I have never seen them all filled in the 12+ times I have stayed there.  Nonetheless, reservations are a good idea, and easy to make online.  

The view from one of the campsites I have had at Cobscook.

If big-time hiking or mountain biking are your things, Cobscook might not be your first choice of destination, though the casual enthusiast such as myself would be quite satisfied.  There are several very nice, well-marked trails for hiking, though none of them are very long or would be considered challenging.  My favorite hike is a short one up the hill across from the park entrance to an abandoned fire tower.  There is also a short but steep hike to a mountain outlook, which is probably the most difficult hike in the park.  Both of these have beautiful views through the trees of the surrounding land.  The overlook trail is part of a longer nature trail in the park, and there is also a “beach trail” that takes you through the forest to a nearby boat launch and back.  The hiking trails are not suited to mountain biking, but I have found that the park roads are perfectly suited for a more casual biker like me.  

The fire tower from far away...

...and an extreme close-up.

The massively fluctuating tides, which are among the highest in the world, are one of Cobscook Bay State Park’s unique features.  They can change by as much as 24 to 28 feet.  At low tide, when regulations allow, park visitors are allowed to dig a bushel of clams for themselves each day.  I personally have never done it, but it is a very popular activity with many visitors.  You will likely get mud in places you have never had mud before, so be warned.

Low tide at Cobscook

High tide at Cobscook (same spot)

Another popular activity at Cobscook is kayaking.  The nooks and crannies of the shoreline make it a great place to explore by kayak, and you can put your boat in directly from your campsite in many cases.  I am not a kayaker, but every season I’ve been to Cobscook Bay it seems like more and more of the visitors are in kayakers.  I would imagine that the rapidly changing and very steep tides would provide a challenge certain times, so do your research before putting out in the water at Cobscook.

While all my visits have been during the warm weather months, Cobscook Bay State Park is open all year.  I can see how it would be a great place to do some cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.  They do allow winter camping too if you are into that kind of thing.  I love to camp, but in the winter?  No thank you.

Cobscook sheep

Cobscook Bay has some quirks that make it stand out.  One is the herd of sheep that works keeping the grass trimmed in a large field in the park.  They must have a good union, because they seem to take a lot of coffee breaks, but they do seem to get the job done.  Another is the very little cemetery on the far side of the sheep field, along the side of the South Edmunds Road, which runs past the park.  There is only one grave, that of a military veteran from the Civil War.  I suspect that it might have been a small family cemetery,which was fairly common in Maine in olden days, but only the one gravestone has survived.  Local veterans groups continue to see that a fresh American flag flies at the grave every year.

Gravestone at Cobscook

There are several places near Cobscook Bay State Park that are fun day trips.  My favorite is the town of Lubec, which is about a 20 minute drive away and the easternmost point in the United States.  A working fishing village with a budding artistic community, I always find something interesting and new ever time I visit Lubec.  If you are lucky, you might see seals bobbing in the channel just off the downtown area.  I wrote a blog post extolling the virtues of Lubec a few years back, and you can find it here.  Roque Bluffs State Park is about 45 minutes away.  If you want a “beach fix”, this is the place.  Roque Bluffs has a long, gorgeous beach that is rarely busy, even at the peak of summer.  There is also a freshwater pond for fishing and canoeing, and a number of very nice hiking trails.  You have to pass through the historic town of Machias to get to Roque Bluffs, one of the area’s retail and service hubs.  Machias is home to Fort O’Brien, site of the first naval engagement of the Revolutionary War.  It is also home to Helen’s Restaurant, site of excellent pie, among other delicious things.  About 30 minutes in the other direction from Cobscook Bay State Park is the city of Calais, the area’s other retail and service hub, and Eastport, which is another fishing town with a thriving artistic community.

A scene from downtown Lubec, Maine

West Quoddy Head, Lubec, Maine

The only negative I can offer about Cobscook Bay State Park is that it can be quite buggy, especially in May and June.  (I wrote a two-part blog post about that, here and here.)  Blackflies in the spring and mosquitoes in the summer into early fall are going to find you.  Some areas of the park are worse than others, with the more wooded areas having the most, but you would be wise to bring insect repellant or other anti-bug measures regardless of when you visit during the warm weather months.

Don’t let the bugs stop you however.  Cobscook Bay State Park is probably my favorite of all Maine’s state parks, and is responsible for turning me on to the pastime of tent camping, which has transformed my summers.  For more information, visit their website here.

All photographs in this post were taken by me.  All rights reserved, etc, etc.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Camping Maine's State Parks: A Series

A sunset view I took from Mount Blue State Park in Weld, Maine.

With the changing of the leaves and the occasional morning frosts, it’s safe to say that summer is over here in northern Maine. With it comes the end of tent camping season for me. This past summer was somewhat stressful for me personally, for reason I won’t go into here, but the frequent camping trips I took to various parts of Maine helped me keep my spirits healthy. Camping is a relatively new pastime for me, having only just gotten into doing it over the past four years or so, but in that time I have pinpointed some favorite spots to camp. Among those favorites are Maine’s many state parks.

The first of the Maine state parks I camped at was Cobscook Bay State Park in Edmunds, near Calais, back in 2012. Since then, I have camped at least once in seven others, making it a point to explore new ones with camping facilities if I get a chance during the season. As a way to relive some of the pleasant summer memories, and also to resurrect this blog, which I have been seriously neglecting for some time, I’ve decided to write a series of posts highlighting the state parks I have visited over the past few years, starting with Cobscook Bay. In the weeks to come, I will also be writing about Lamoine State Park in Lamoine, Camden Hills State Park in Camden, Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal, Sebago Lake State Park in Naples, Lake St. George State Park in Liberty, Mount Blue State Park in Weld, and Peaks-Kenny State Park in Dover Foxcroft.

A post with my take on Cobscook Bay will be coming soon. (Spoiler alert: I am a huge Cobscook fan.) If you have any experience camping or just visiting at any of the parks I’ve mentioned and would like to share it, I’d welcome your input. My e-mail address is chriscolter@icloud.com. Please include the words “state park” in your subject line, because that account gets rather spammy sometimes.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015