Monday, September 16, 2013

Maine Summer Roadtrip 2013 Wrap Up

The leaves are starting to turn and my ever-sensitive feet are starting to get cold again, both of which are tell-tale signs that summer is well and truly over here in the Pine Tree State.  The summer of 2013 has not been the greatest one weatherwise, with the state having received more than its fair share of rain.  In spite of it all, I’ve dodged the raindrops and made roadtrips around Maine every two to three weekends.  Having taken up tent camping a year ago, I decided that this year I would make an effort to explore some corners of the state that I hadn’t seen much of before.   Maine’s state parks offer numerous high-quality camping options at very affordable prices, and they can be found in all corners of the state, so I used them as home-base for my trips. If you include day trips from home, I traveled from Madawaska in the north to Kittery in the south this summer.  I had some terrific experiences, and what follows are a just few of my personal superlatives from my recent travels in Maine.

Favorite campground: Hands down, my favorite camping spot in Maine is Cobscook Bay State Park in Edmunds Township, located about halfway between Calais and Machias.  I’ve yet to find another state park that lives up to the standard Cobscook has set for me.  This sprawling park of 888 acres offers a wide variety of well-spaced sites, almost all of which have a view of the bay and its hugely fluctuating tides.  The tidal range in Cobscook Bay can be up to 28 feet in some spots.  The campsites are mostly wooded and private, the staff is extremely helpful and professional, and I’ve never seen or heard of other campers being inconsiderate or noisy.  The birds, on the other hand, can give you quite an earful, especially early in the morning.  Birds of every shape and description make a home there in the summer, including bald eagles, of which I will never tire of watching.  There are hiking trails for all abilities at Cobscook, including one to an old firetower and another to the top of a small mountain, as well as a nature trail.  You are even allowed to rake for your own clams at low tide in the mudflats there when conditions are right.  Granted, Cobscook Bay is quite a ways off almost anyone’s beaten path, but it is totally worth the trip.  It also makes for a great home base for day trips to the nearby town of Lubec, about which I wrote a few weeks ago.

A very typical view from a campsite at Cobscook Bay State Park (My own photo)

I found this gravesite along a trail while hiking at Cobscook.  I'd love to know the story behind it. (My own photo)

Favorite day trip:  The town of Lubec is still my very favorite day trip , but since I first visited there in 2011, I’ll pick Peaks Island as my favorite Maine day trip discovery of this year.  Peak’s Island is technically part of the city of Portland, but it is a 17 minute ride on a Casco Bay Lines ferry out in the bay.  Part of the appeal of Peaks is getting there on the ferry, which affords spectacular views of the city of Portland, as well as three lighthouses and several forts which date back to the Revolutionary War era.  The island is not overly large, and is a beautiful place to explore on foot.  Golf carts and bicycles are available for rent during the summer months.  You can bring your car over on the ferry, but why would you want to do that?  Speaking of cars, it is especially interesting to see “island-only” vehicles on Peaks, many of which are old beaters held together by waferboard and duct tape, and cannot be used anywhere but there on the island.  There are some places to eat and get a souvenir as well as some bed & breakfast places, but most of the structures on Peaks Island are residential.  You can walk the village streets or take some trails into the less developed parts of the island if you like.

A shoreline view on Peaks with the city of Portland in the distance. (My own photo)

A view of Peaks from the ferry just before docking. (My own photo)

Waiting for my ship to come in, literally (My own photo)

Favorite places to eat: Maine offers no shortage of excellent places to grab a bite to eat.  Admittedly, I am no “foodie”, but in my opinion, if you really want the taste of Maine, go to the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound, which is just on your right on Route 3 before you cross the bridge onto Mount Desert Island.  It’s not fancy, but the food is terrific.  As you can imagine, lobster is their specialty, but they also have steamed clams, mussels, scallops and crabmeat.  The eat-in facility is seasonal, but they ship around the world year-round.  For me, it’s just not a trip to MDI in the summer if you don’t roll down your windows to smell the wood smoke from the fires at Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound before and after crossing the bridge.

Special mention also goes to the Clambake Restaurant in Scarborough, on the road to Pine Point and Old Orchard Beach.  When I was a kid, my family used to eat there every summer on our annual vacations to southern Maine.  Large, comfortable, and clean with a huge seafood menu, the Clambake is located on a saltwater marsh where you can see all manner of wildlife through the large windows.  Again, the Clambake is not a place for food snobs, but I am terribly fond of it anyway, especially the batter-dipped fried clams.

Favorite “tourist attraction”: The Owl’s Head Transportation Museum, appropriately located in the little town of Owl’s Head near Rockland, could be a full day’s visit if you wanted it to be.  There are more than 100 historic aircraft, automobiles, bicycles, motorcycles, carriages and engines on display, in addition to workshop classes, vehicle auctions and special displays.  You can see a life-sized replica of the Wright Brothers’ first plane, a fully restored antique fire engine, and every kind of early automobile you could possibly imagine.  They also host special collections and shows on their grounds, such as an “Earth Movers and Shakers” event later this month.  I made the mistake of visiting the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum on a getaway day when I had to head back home, and was forced to cut my visit much shorter than I wanted to get home at a reasonable hour.  The next time I am in the area, I am going to see aside an entire day to explore the entire place.

1935 Stout Scarab

1929 Springfield Rolls-Royce Phantom I Derby Tourer

Replica of the Wright Brothers' 1903 Flyer

Some favorites of mine from the Owls Head Transportation Museum (My own photos)

Favorite “secret spot”: I don’t think I have ever been quite as back to nature as I was during my visits to Baxter State Park.  Baxter isn’t so much the home-base for a trip as it is the actual trip itself.  On a rather hot day, I went hiking along a road from my campsite (it was too hot for me to do any mountain trails that day) and I happened upon a side trail that led down to the quintessential cool mountain stream.  It looked just like something out of a nature calendar or a National Geographic magazine.  I hoofed it back to my site, changed into my swimsuit, grabbed a towel, and drove back to the spot in my car, where I spent a highly relaxing afternoon floating in the cool, shallow water, watching eagles soar overhead, listening to any number of their smaller cousins chirping in the trees, getting nudged on the leg by curious fish, and even spotting a moose from a distance who poked her head out of the woods to take a drink from the stream.  When the snow is flying and the temperature is dropping this winter, it will be the memory of this spot that will keep me warm.  Speaking to other people who have also been to Baxter, it seems that many of them also have their own favorite secret spot that they have found by accident in the park.

It was a bit sad packing away my camping equipment for the season, but it was way too cold at night on my last trip the weekend after Labor Day, so it’s time to call it a season.  I’ll still be making occasional trips around the state in the off season, but not nearly as often, and certainly not to camp.  Next year however, I plan to start up my series of camping roadtrips again, and see what other sides of Maine I can discover.  I am open to any suggestions for my 2014 sojourns, which you can put in the comment section below, or you can e-mail them to me.

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