Acadia Part II – Going Beyond the Park Loop Road

The Toothy T-Rex and the Little Stegosaurus explore a tide pool on the Schoodic Peninsula.
The Toothy T-Rex and the Little Stegosaurus explore a tide pool on the Schoodic Peninsula.

Acadia National Park has far more to offer than just the Park Loop Road, which I covered in Part I of my Trip Report.  Mount Desert Island is divided into two lobes by the deep waters of Somes Sound, with Bar Harbor and the Park Loop Road located on the eastern lobe.  Acadia National Park also includes the western half of Mount Deseret Island, as well as a number other outlying islands, and also the Schoodic Peninsula, which is located across Frenchman Bay from Bar Harbor.

The Passport cancellations for these areas include:

  • Seawall Campground
  • Schoodic Peninsula
  • Schoodic Woods Campground
  • Isleford Historical Museum
  • Isle au Haut

If you plan your own visit to Acadia National Park, the Parkasaurus family would certainly recommend staying on the west side of the Mount Deseret Island, which is far removed from the crowds of Bar Habor and the iconic destinations of the Park Loop Road.   If you are inclined to camp, the Seawall Campground places you very near some of the less-visited ocean beaches in the Park.

For our trip, which included both grandparents and two little children, we went with a house rental in the town of Southwest Harbor.  This provided us with the perfect “home base” from which we could spend the rest of the week exploring the park.

Southwest Harbor is also known as the home of the famous Beal’s Lobster Pier restaurant, which as the name suggests, is literally located on a pier overlooking the ocean.  For many visitors, it is simply the place to enjoy a fresh Maine lobster as part of their visit.   If you are in Southwest Habor in the morning, however, be sure to check out the Common Good Cafe.  This unique establishment serves a simple menu of oatmeal with all the fixings and fresh Maine popovers, straight out of the oven, served with jam.  Only a free will offering is asked for as payment, and all proceeds go to benefit the operations of a soup kitchen during the winter months after most of the tourists have gone away.

Sunset at the Wonderland area on the less-visited west side of Mount Desert Island.
Sunset at the Wonderland area on the less-visited west side of Mount Desert Island.

Of course, our little ones were not terribly interested in tasting lobster or trying the popovers.  What got them excited, above all things, was exploring the tide pools to look for sea snails and barnacles.   Fortunately, the west side of the park was exactly the place to be for that sort of thing, with four separate areas to explore the Maine coastline.  These areas are the Seawall picnic area, the Wonderland trail, the Ship Harbor trail, and Bass Harbor Head trail.   The first of these is directly accessible from Route 102A, whereas the other three all require a short easy hike  of a half mile or less in each case to reach the ocean.   We happened to spend a good amount of time tidepooling at both the Seawall and Wonderland areas on our trip, and we particularly enjoyed our evening at the Wonderland area, which is featured in the sunset photo above.

In addition, it is worth noting that the Bass Harbor Head area is also a must-stop destination for visitors to Acadia.  The lighthouse there has become perhaps the iconic symbol of the Maine North Atlantic Coast in general, and of Acadia National Park in particular.   This lighthouse is still actively operated by the US Coast Guard,  so the interior is not open to the public, but it is still worth seeing this iconic structure in person.

The iconic Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse was featured on the 2001 National Parks Pass.  The National Parks Pass was the precursor of the present-day America the Beautiful Pass.

There are a number of other notable places on the west side of Mount Desert Island.   Acadia National Park maintains a sand beach on Echo Lake, which provides a much more comfortable swim than the frigid ocean waters of the north Atlantic.   Located just across Route 102 from the Echo Lake Beach is the Carroll Homestead site, with a few interpretive exhibits on the life of early settlers in the area.

Additionally, although there are no carriage roads on the west side of the Park, but there are plenty of hiking trails.  To the west of Echo Lake are several  hiking trails, including one to the Beech Mountain Fire Tower.  The Fire Tower is periodically open to visitation, check at the park visitor center for details.  To the east of Echo Lake Beach, across Route 102, there are also  a number of hiking trails.   We took a short loop hiking trail up the relatively small Flying Mountain – just 284 feet in elevation.   There are a few bare patches at the top which provide some nice views across Somes Sound to the eastern part of Acadia National Park and the small village of Northeast Harbor.

Standing atop Flying Mountain, I was able to catch this view of the NPS concessionaire tour boat that takes visitors to Islesford and up Somes Sound.
Standing atop Flying Mountain, I was able to catch this view of the NPS concessionaire tour boat that takes visitors to Islesford and up Somes Sound.

If you take Route 102 north to the top of Somes Sound, you can connect to Route 198 and then take Route 233 to  head towards the main part of the Park and Bar Harbor.  Route 233 will take you past the Park Headquarters, which doubles as the Park’s winter season visitor center when the other park facilities are closed.   It is also provides the closest access to the carriage road system for anyone coming from the west side of the Island.

I was able to take two short bicycle trips on the carriage roads during my visit, both departing from the parking area near the Park Headquarters and the northern end of Eagle Lake.   The first was a bicycle ride to the north up to the Breakneck Ponds.  This was an easy, relatively flat bike ride that would be suitable for almost any skill level.  The Breakneck Ponds have several beaver dams in them, and if you are lucky, maybe you can spot one!   The only caveat to this trip is that the carriage roads are paved with fine gravel, rather than hard asphalt, which may give some bike riders trouble.

My second bike trip was a loop trip to the south around Eagle Lake.  It should be noted that this loop trip includes an elevation gain of several hundred feet, so is moderately physically exerting.  The highlight of this loop, however, is that it provides access to the short hiking trail to the top of Connors Nubble, on the southwest corner of Eagle Lake.  At 588 feet, Connors Nubble is one of the smaller peaks in the park, but its location right on the edge of Eagle Lake provides some sweeping views from the top.   Despite its short length, the trail is moderately difficult, and includes some rock scrambles.  However, the view at the top was worth it.   As an added bonus, even though I visited on a beautiful midweek summer day, I had the top all to myself.

The view from the top of Connors Nubble is best accessed by a bike trip down the carriage roads.
The view from the top of Connors Nubble is best accessed by a bike trip down the carriage roads.

Besides Acadia National Park’s hiking trails, another way to escape the crowds of the Park Loop Road is to visit the Schoodic Peninsula.   The Schoodic Peninsula is located across Frenchman Bay from Bar Harbor, and was originally set aside to protect the scenic views across the Bay from Mount Desert Island.   It takes a little over an hour to drive around the north end of Frenchman Bay to reach the Schoodic Peninsula, or you can take a ferry  from Bar Harbor across the Bay to the town of Winter Harbor , and then use a special Island Explorer Bus Route to travel around the Peninsula.

Up until 2002 the U.S. Navy operated a radio communications station on the Schoodic Peninsula.   The National Park Service has now repurposed this facility as the Schoodic Education and Research Center (SERC).  In addition to long-term research and education programs, a number of interpretive ranger programs for park visitors are held there as well.  One of the buildings houses a small touch tank, and the Ranger Program there was a big hit for the Parkasaurus family kids, who were aged 4 and 22 months at the time of our visit.  Also worth a visit is the newly-rennovated Rockefeller Hall,  which is now the welcome center for the SERC.   When the U.S. Navy was operating here, it was surely one of the most architecturally-impressive buildings on any military base in the country.

Magnificent Rockefeller Hall is the starting point for visitors to the NPS' Schoodic Education and Research Center
Magnificent Rockefeller Hall is the starting point for visitors to the NPS’ Schoodic Education and Research Center

The real joy for us on the Schoodic Peninsula, however, was enjoying the scenery of the Maine coastline  and taking an empty stretch of that coastline for ourselves to spend more time looking for sea snails and barnacles in the tidepools.   Of course, it also helped that our day on the Schoodic Peninsula also brought some of the sunniest and warmest weather of our entire trip, but the relative quiet and emptiness certainly helped the experience as well.

Finally, Acadia National Park also includes some island locations that are only accessible by boat.  The National Park includes a number of hiking trails on Isle au Haut, which is located well to the south of Mount Desert Island.  Access to Isle au Haut is by a passenger ferry from Stonington, ME, which is about an hour-and-a-half drive to the south from Bar Harbor.  Unfortunately, given its remoteness, we didn’t have an opportunity to visit Isle au Haut on this trip, so we’ll have to save a spot in our Passport Books for Isle au Haut on our next trip.

The Islesford Historical Museum tells the story of lobstering on the Cranberry Islands, right off the coast of Acadia.
The Islesford Historical Museum tells the story of lobstering on the Cranberry Islands, right off the coast of Acadia.

Also part of the park is the Islesford Historical Museum on Little Cranberry Island.   A number of boats operate from Mount Desert Island to Little Cranberry Island, including a tour guided by a National Park Service Ranger that operates out of the town of Northeast Harbor.   A visit to the Islesford Historical Museum adds a dash of history and culture to any visit to Acadia National Park, which is ordinarily dominated by the spectacular scenery.  Both Little Cranberry Island and nearby Great Cranberry Island maintain a year-round population of lobster fishermen.  The Islesford Historical Museum tells the story of lobstering on the Cranberry Islands, which is a story that I’m not sure can be found anywhere else in the National Park System.  In addition, if you take the NPS Ranger guided tour you may have the opportunity to see a seal colony, as we did, and we also get a guided tour up Somes Sound between the two lobes of Mount Desert Island.

Well, after seven days in Acadia National Park we had certainly found plenty to see and places to explore, from sunset at the top of Cadillac Mountain to the tidepools of the Schoodic Peninsula.  Even as we packed up to leave Acadia, we knew that there were still many more places to explore.   Acadia is far enough away from our home in the Mid-Atlantic that we know that we can’t easily predict when we’ll be able to come back – but whenever that trip comes, we are already looking forward to it.

“Daddy, can we go look for sea snails and barnacles again?”

Yes, we #FoundOurPark in Acadia.

Final Shot: Sunset from the Wonderland area.
Final Shot: Sunset from the Wonderland area.
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January Stamps: Steel, Slavery, and Security

The Gantry Crane is part of the Battle of Homestead self-guiding tour sponsored by the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. Photo from 2006.

A total of 13 new stamps this month:

Everglades National Park | Nike Missile Site

Lassen Volcanic National Park | 100th Anniversary 1916-2016

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail | Bitterroot Valley, MT

Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area |

      • Battle of Homestead 1892
      • Bost Building NHL
      • Carrie Furnace NHL
      • W.A. Young & Sons Machine Shop

Underground Railroad Freedom Network |

      • Cape Hatteras NS
      • Christiansted NHS
      • Fort Monroe NM
      • Fort Scott NHS
      • Monocacy NB
      • Petersburg NB’
Aerial view of the Nike Missile Base at Everglades National Park. Photo Credit: Rodney Cammouf, Nataionl Park Service
Aerial view of the Nike Missile Base at Everglades National Park. Photo Credit: Rodney Cammouf, Nataionl Park Service

If you participate in the Passport program long enough, you’ll no doubt have many cases of the “one that got away” – a stamp that you just missed due to the circumstances of the day.   The Parkasaurus Family just had one of those moments as we visited Everglades National Park over Christmas week just last month.  We had hoped that this visit would give us a “complete set” of all four Everglades Passport stamps, only to have Everglades receive this new stamp for their Nike Missile Site, which is open by guided tour.   As we like to say, though, this gives us another reason to go back to this park!

Nike Missiles were early surface-to-air missile defense systems that were deployed during the first part of the Cold War in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.   Nike Missile sites can also be viewed at several locations in Golden Gate National Recreation Area,  including one in the Marin Headlands area with its own Passport cancellation.   Nike Missile Sites are also included within the boundaries of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Gateway National Recreation Area in New York and New Jersey, but are not part of the interpretive program at either park as near as I can tell.  (UPDATE: a reader in the comments informs me that Gateway NRA’s Sandy Hook Unit in New Jersey does offer guided tours of its well-preserved Nike Missile Site on the weekends in-season, as this schedule from Spring 2015 confirms. Gateway NRA has a second Nike Missle Site at Fort Tilden in Queens that is very deteriorated.)

Although the history of the Cold War is slowly being included in the National Park System through places like Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota, Eveglades National Park is actually a surprisingly rich location to learn about the history of the Cold War.   Due to its proximity to Cuba, the Nike Missiles stationed in Everglades National Park were some of the last to be decommissioned, remaining active some five years after other sites around the country were taken out of service.  In addition, numerous locations around the Park were used by the Central Intelligence Agency to train Cuban exiles to conduct operations against the Castro Regime in Cuba. These efforts even included the stationing of secret weapons caches for arming Cuban exiles in areas around the park!  In addition to these clandestine offensive operations, during the 1950’s the US Air Force actually trained National Park Service Rangers as part of the Ground Observer Corps  Program, whose role was to have participants capable of identifying incoming hostile bombers attacking the United States.   Although advances in radar technology rendered the program obsolete by the late 1950’s, that program is illustrative of a much different era in U.S. History, one in which Everglades National Park was in many ways located on the United States’ front lines in the Cold War.

Meanwhile, Lassen Volcanic National Park, in northern California, is continuing an extended centennial celebration.  Last year, Lassen Volcanic added a new stamp marking the centennial of the 1915 eruption of Mt. Lassen.   This eruption lead to the creation of Lassen Volcanic National Park the following year on August 9th, just a couple weeks before the creation of the National Park Service itself on August 25, 1916.

 

While traversing the Bitterroot Valley in 1805, Lewis & Clark received confirmation of the Lolo Pass to the north over the Bitterroot Mountains. This photo from the Lochsa River, just beyond the Lolo Pass, illustrates the harsh, mountainous terrain, they would have to cross to reach the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean.
While traversing the Bitterroot Valley in 1805, Lewis & Clark received confirmation of the Lolo Pass to the north over the Bitterroot Mountains. This photo from the Lochsa River, just beyond the Lolo Pass, illustrates the harsh, mountainous terrain, they would have to cross to reach the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. Photo from 2005

The new stamp for the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail will be located at the Ravalli County Museum in Hamilton, MT, about 30 miles south of Missoula. The Lewis & Clark expedition passed through this area in early September of 1805, the second year of their cross-country expedition. Just before passing through this relatively broad valley, they encountered the Native Americans now known as the Salish.  Lewis & Clark purchased horses from them and gained valuable information about the Lolo Pass to the north, which they would eventually take over the Bitterroot Mountains, just barely making it through before the early onset of winter.  Interestingly, Lewis & Clark were so amazed by the unique sounds of the Salish language that they speculated that the Salish must be the lost descendents of Welsh explorers from the 12th Century – which was a popular legend in America at the time.

It is also worth noting that the Bitterrot Valley actually owes its name somewhat indirectly to Lewis & Clark.  The American Indians of the area would eat the roots of this plant after boiling them until they were soft, and the women would collect these roots in the valley during the late summer each year.  In 1805, they shared some of these roots with the expedition, but Lewis found that “they had a very bitter taste, which was naucious  to my pallate.” (spellings from the original)   Nonetheless, on the return journey back east in 1806 Lewis was able to collect some specimens of the complete plant, which he he returned back east as part of the expedition’s collections.  Botanist Frederick Pursh of the University of Pennsylvania would later give this species the scientific name Lewisia rediviva in Lewis’ honor.   And of course, that initial assessment of the bitter taste lives on to this day in the name of the valley and of the mountains.

This decaying water tower is one of the signature landmarks at the Battle of Homestead site in the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.. Photo from 2006.

The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, like other National Heritage Areas, is a partnership program – but in many ways, it also functions as “Steelmaking National Historical Park” in the absence of a full-fledged national park dedicated to the history of steelmaking in southwest Pennsylvania. The main starting point for any visit to the Heritage Area is the visitor center and headquarters for the River of Steel Heritage Alliance in Homestead, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh.  The Bost Building  was originally built as a hotel, and served as the temporary headquarters of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers during the contentious strike and lockout of 1892.  That strike culminated on July 6, 1892 with a conflict between the striking workers on one side and the security agents and strike-breakers hired by the Carnegie Steel Company on the other side.  The nearby site of that battle is already a Passport location for the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail and features a small visitor contact station, some wayside exhibits, and a cell phone audio tour.   Across the Monongahela River from this site are located the Carrie Furnaces National Historic Landmark.  There lie the remains of the giant blast furnaces at the Homestead Steel Works, and are open only by guided tour from May to October.  The Carrie Furnaces are actually the core of a proposal to create a Homestead Steelworks National Historical Park; you can also see part of this facility in this 13 minute online video tour.

Finally, the last new Passport location is for the W. A. Young and Sons Machine Shop and Foundry, which is located about an hour south of Homestead in Rices Landing, PA, and has been restored by the Rivers of Steel Heritage Alliance.

Appomattox Plantation at City Point in Petersburg National Battlefield once had a number of slaves before it was occupied by the Union Army in the closing stages of the Civil War.  Photo from 2015.

The last stamps this month are for the Underground Railroad: Network to Freedom.  This is partnership that includes any site that tells the story of slavery or emancipation in the United States.  Since this partnership includes more than 500 sites and programs, for purposes of the Passport, the Network only issues cancellations to sites in the Network that are already part of the National Park System proper.  The waterfront at Christiansted National Historic Site in the Virgin Islands was once part of the slave trade from 1733 to 1803 as a colony of Denmark.  Petersburg National Battlefield in Virginia preserves the Appommattox Plantation at City Point, which was later used as General Grant’s Headquarters.  Like most southern plantations, the plantation included a number of slaves, whose stories are now told by the National Park Service.  Similarly, Monocacy National Battlefield includes the Best Farm, which was founded  in 1793 as L’Hermitage by French plantation owners from what is now present-day Haiti.  The  Vincendiere Family owned slaves at the plantation into the 1850’s.

Fort Monroe National Monument in Virginia was amously used as a refuge for escaped slaves during the Civil War as well.  Union General Benjamin Butler argued that if the Confederates wished to argue that slaves were legally property and that they had legally seceeded from the Union, then escaped slaves were legally “contraband of war” and thus no longer needed to be returned under the terms of the Fugitive Slave Act. The story of escape from slavery is now part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.  A monument there marks the site of the Hotel d’Afrique on Hatteras Inlet, which was used as a safe haven for escaped slaves during the Civil War.

Finally, Fort Scott National Historic Site in eastern Kansas tells the story of the “Bleeding Kansas” years of the 1850’s.  During this time, pro-slavery southerners and pro-abolition northerners flooded in to Kansas, and frequently had conflicts with each other, as they attempted to influence whether Kansas would enter the Union as a so-called “slave state” or “free state.”  The violence would include an appearance by John Brown, who would later go on to fame (and his death) in a raid on the Federal Armory at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.   This violence also led to the infamous case of Republican Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts being nearly caned to death by South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks after Sumner gave a speech sharply criticizing the role of one of South Carolina’s Senators in instigating the violence in Kansas.  The violence ultimately came to an end only when southern Senators abandoned the US Senate during the Civil War, allowing Kansas to be admitted to the Union as a “free state” in 1861.

The addition of this month’s new stamps means that there are now 1, 997 Passport cancellations currently available.   That means next month we will almost certainly pass 2,000!    Excluding anniversary and special event cancellations, there are still 1,897 cancellations available.

Fort Scott National Historic Site
Fort Scott National Historic Site in Kansas is one of several new sites adding an Underground Railroad: Network to Freedom Passport stamp this month. Photo from 2006.

 

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