Tag Archives: Acadia

June 2018 – Hopewell Furnace Expands & More!

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site in Pennsylvania headlines the list of this month’s new stamps. Photo from 2012.

Acadia National Park | Duck Harbor

Great Smoky Mountains National Park | Sevierville Visitor Center

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site |

  • Buckley & Brooke Office & Store
  • 80th Anniversary 1958-2018

Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail |

  • Historic Winter Quarters, NE
  • Sixth Crossing, WY
  • Church History Museum, UT

Old Spanish National Historic Trail

  • Fishlake National Forest – Gooseberry, UT
  • Museum of Moab, UT

Oregon National Historic Trail | Three Island Crossing SP, ID

Santa Fe National Historic Trail | Cimarron Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center, NM

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail | History Museum on the Square, MO

The Buckley & Brooke Store is a new cancellation location at Hopewell Furance National Historic Site. Photo from 2017

The highlight of this month’s stamps are two new cancellations for the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, located about an hour’s drive to the west of Philadelphia.  Hopewell Furnace is one of three national park system sites with a primary interpretive theme on the history of ironworking.   The first is the Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site, located just northeast of Boston.  The Saugus Iron Works were the first iron-making facility in the English Colonies, and operated in the mid-1600’s from 1646 to approximately 1670.  The Hopewell Furnace was founded a full century later in 1771.  It operated using charcoal for heat all the way until 1883 when coal-powered steel mills began to take over.  The Tredegar Iron Works were founded in 1831, and are today preserved as the main visitor facility for Richmond National Battlefield Park in Richmond, Virginia. The Tredegar Iron Works were the largest in the Confederate States, and were a critical armory to the Confederate war effort. Like Hopewell, Tredegar faded from prominence with the introduction of steel in the late 19th Century, but did manage to stay in operation through both World Wars and into the mid-20th Century.  The story of the transition to steel can be visited through the National Park Service’s Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area in western Pennsylvania.

The first new stamp for Hopewell Furnace of course commemorates the 80th anniversary of the park’s establishment.  The second is for one of the historic buildings preserved in the park, the Buckley & Brooke Office and Store.  In its heyday, Hopewell Furnace functioned as a self-contained company town in which the workers were paid by the company, and in turn bought much of what they needed from the company.  The company town concept bears a lot of similarities to the Blue Heron coal mining community at Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area in southeastern Kentucky.

If you visit Hopewell Furnace today, you can of course tour the historic buildings, including the historic furnace that is the centerpiece of the park, as well as of course the historic company store and the historic ironmaster’s house.  There are also farm buildings with livestock, which are always a hit with little kids, as well as reconstructed charcoal huts where the charcoal was made that powered the iron furnace.  It is hard to believe today, with Hopewell Furnace largely surrounded by the well-forested French Creek State Park but in the heyday of the Furnace, this area would have been nearly clear cut to fuel the furnace’s continuous need for charcoal.  An exception to that, however, would have been the iron-making community’s fruit orchards – and a visit to Hopewell Furnace in the late summer and early fall can provide the unique opportunity to go apple-picking in a national park, including many heirloom varieties.

Acadia National Park gets an updated cancellation this month for Duck Harbor on Isle au Haut. This photo, from the Schoodic Peninsula is from 2015.

The new stamp for Acadia National Park appears to be an update to the existing stamp for Isle au Haut.  Isle au Haut is a small outlying island, which is only accessible by ferry from the coastal town of Stonington.  Around half of the island is set aside as an outlying unit of Acadia National Park.  Duck Harbor is about four miles from the town of Isle au Haut and is the location of the National Park Service campground and the National Park Service trailheads for the island.

The town of Sevierville in Tennessee is one of many gateway communities to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are located just outside the park’s main visitor center, and are notorious for their crushing traffic congestion.  Sevierville is located at the junction of US Route 441 and Tennessee Route 66, and is a convenient place for the National Park Service to provide information to incoming travelers heading towards the Great Smoky Mountains just before they would reach Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg,

Notable also this month are stamps for three very significant locations on the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail.  The Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters in Omaha, Nebraska commemorates the settlement where the original group of Mormon Pioneers spent the winter of 1846-1847 after being expelled from Nauvoo, Illinois. (See Parkasaurus for June 2017.)  The new Sixth Crossing Visitors Center in Lander, Wyoming marks the difficult crossing of the Sweetwater River by  a later group of Mormon Pioneers in October 1856.  Hit by an early season snowstorm, this group of settlers ultimately had to be rescued  at this spot by supplies of food and clothing sent from Salt Lake City.  Finally, the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah comprehensively tells the story of the Church of Latter-Day Saints.

The Old Spanish National Historic Trail had just added stamps in Moab, Utah and for the Fish Lake National Forest in April 2018.  This first of this month’s stamps appear to be headed for the US Forest Service Offices for Fish Lake National Forest, in addition to the previous stamp for Fish Lake Resorts.  The second stamp is headed to the the Museum of Moab, Utah – the gateway community for Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.  The town of Moab now has four different cancellation locations for the Old Spanish National Historic Trail, as this cancellation joins existing ones at Arches National Park, the Bureau of Land Management Moab Field Office, and the town of Moab Information Center.  Unfortunately, and strangely, the Museum of Moab is closed until September 2019.  Go figure.

Idaho’s Three Island Crossing State Park features an Oregon Trail History and Education Center.  It was an important crossing of the Snake River for settlers on the Oregon National Historic Trail.

The Cimarron Chamber of Commerce has an updated Santa Fe National Historic Trail stamp this month. Photo from 2015.

The new stamp for the Cimarron Chamber of Commerce replaces an existing stamp reading “Cimarron, NM” for the Santa Fe National Historic Trail, which passed through the area.  Many readers may be familiar with the town of Cimarron, New Mexico as also being the gateway to the famed Philmont Scout Ranch, operated by the Boy Scouts of America.

The History Museum on the Square can be found in Springfield, Missouri.  The Museum is dedicated to the entire history of the city in southwest Missouri, including the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail and Route 66, which also passed through the area.

Finally two stamps were actually removed from the Eastern National list this month.

El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail | Santa Fe, NM

El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail | Santa Fe, NM

These removals reflect the temporary closure of the Santa Fe Offices where the stamps had been housed.  Following rennovations, it is likely that the stamps will be reissued once the office reopens.

Final Shot: The town square in Cimarron, New Mexico. Photo from 2015.
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February Stories Behind the Stamps: El Malpais & Erie Canal

El Malpais National Monument headlines the list of new stamps this month.
El Malpais National Monument headlines the list of new stamps this month.  This is a view from the sandstone bluffs overlooking one of the lava fields.

Eastern National has released the new stamps for the month of February.   There is just one new stamp for units of the National Park System, and a few others for partnership programs.  All told only two of the seven new stamps are actually for truly new locations.   Here’s the list:

El Malpais National Monument | El Malpais Visitor Center

Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor |

    • Albany Institute of History & Art
    • Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum
    • T. Spencer Knight Park and Visitor Center
    • Waterford Flight

Santa Fe National Historic Trail | Las Vegas Citizens for Historic Preservation

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail | Audubon Acres, TN

The newly-rebranded El Malpais Visitor Center at El Malpais National Monument
The newly-rebranded El Malpais Visitor Center at El Malpais National Monument.  Photo credit: Brian Bailey

The highlight of this month’s new stamps is El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico.  Located right next to Interstate 40 about 80 miles west of Albuqeurque in the town of Grants, the Northwest New Mexico Visitor Visitor Center serves as a joint visitor venter for the National Park Service’s El Malpais National Monument and the adjacent El Malpais National Conservation Area, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.   The new stamp this month reflects the National Park Service’s decision to re-brand the generic-sounding Northwest New Mexico Visitor Center as the El Malpais Visitor Center and to more prominently feature the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management logos, connecting the Visitor Center to the El Malpais park lands.  This article from the Cibola (NM) Beacon has more background on the decision.  In particular it notes that the Northwest New Mexico Visitor Center was originally built in 1999 with an overly-optimistic projection of 500,000 visitors per year, but last year only welcomed 23,000 visitors – which was only just about one-eighth of the 175,000 visitors to El Malpais National Monument itself.  Hopefully the rebranding will more closely connect the facility to visitors to the park, as it is legitimately a very nice, spacious facility with lots of natural light and space for quality exhibits.

More importantly, hopefully this will be part of a campaign to draw more people to explore El Malpais National Monument.  In recent years, the Federal Government has started using the national monument  designation for more and more places, including historic sites like Pullman National Monument and Honouliuli National Monument, fossil sites like Waco Mammoth National Monument.   The national monument designation has also been increasingly used for places in the National Landscape Conservation System, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and which typically lack the visitor facilities of national park service areas.  So when visitors to an area see national monument, its really hard to know what to expect.

El Malpais in particular is a hidden gem for many who discover it.  The name is Spanish for “the bandlands,” and it preserves the remains of a lava field from a volcanic eruption that occurred just 2-3,000 years ago.   Most significantly, its worth noting that at more than 114,000 acres in size, El Malpais National Monument is larger than 21 full-fledged national parks.  Indeed, it is more than twice the size of Acadia National Park,  which just recently was the subject of a two-part trip report on Parkasaurus.  Thus, despite the fact that El Malpais National Monument is almost completely lacking any sort of national reputation as a “destination park,” its large size provides plenty to explore and discover.

The restored Sam Patch canal boat is one of the highlights of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. A new stamp has been seen to the T. Spencer Knight Canal Park in Newark, NY just a few miles from Pittsford, NY where the Sam Patch is based.
The restored Sam Patch canal boat is one of the highlights of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. A new stamp has been seen to the T. Spencer Knight Canal Park in Newark, NY just a few miles from Pittsford, NY where the Sam Patch is based.

The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor stretches, in the words of the famous song, “from Albany to Buffalo.”  Two of the four new stamps are already Passport locations.  The Albany Institute of History and Art has been preserving the heritage of the upper Hudson River Valley since 1791, and is already a Passport location for the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area.  Both Heritage Areas overlap in the Albany area of New York State.  The new stamp for the T. Spencer Knight Park and Visitor Center is  a rebranded replacement stamp for the existing Port of Newark Canal Park.  The park features a mural depicting the Erie Canalway and a hiking trail along the canal.

The Waterford Flight stamp will be located at the Waterford Harbor Information Center, which is a brand-new Passport location for the Canal.  The Waterford Flight Locks are a set of five locks on the modern Erie Barge Canal, that raises boats more than 150 feet in just 1.5 miles around the Cohoes Falls of the Mohawk River. This is the greatest vertical distance for a set of canal locks in the world!

The Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum is located just north of  Buffalo, NY in the suburb of North Tonawanda – and yes, the museum uses that older spelling of carousel.  The factory dates back to the second decade of the twentieth century, and it immediately looks like one of the most-intriguing Passport destinations in the Heritage Area.

The Las Vegas Citizens Committee for historic Preservation has a new stamp this month for the Santa Fe National Historic Trail, and is the new friends organization for nearby Fort Union National Monument.
The Las Vegas Citizens Committee for historic Preservation has a new stamp this month for the Santa Fe National Historic Trail, and is the new friends organization for nearby Fort Union National Monument.

The Santa Fe National Historic Trail marks the famed 19th Century trade route between Kansas City in the United States and the town of Santa Fe in the newly-independent country of Mexico.   The Las Vegas Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation in Las Vegas, New Mexico promotes the history of the town, located about an hour’s drive to the east of Santa Fe itself.   The group also operates a Santa Fe Trail Interpretive Center in downtown Las Vegas.  According to their website, last month they also became the official “friends organization” for nearby Fort Union National Monument.  The new stamp replaces an earlier stamp with a typo in it, reading only “Citizens Committee Historic Preservation, NM” (i.e. missing the word “for.“)

The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail  marks the route of the forcible expulsion of Cherokee American Indians and others from the eastern United States to present-day Oklahoma.   Audubon Acres is a local nature preserve operated by the Chattanooga Chapter of the Audubon Society.  Significantly, the first naturalist on this property was actually a Cherokee American Indian by the name of Spring Frog.   The restored Spring Frog Cabin, where he lived, provides insight into the lives of the Cherokee in this area before their removal.  Additionally, many of the plant labels in the sanctuary are labeled in both English and in the Cherokee language.

The three new stamps this month (i.e. those that are not replacements for existing stamps) bring the total number of Passport cancellations to 1,997.  Next month the Passport program will likely add its 2,000th cancellation!  Excluding cancellations for special programs and anniversaries, there are 1,897 Passport cancellations available.

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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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Acadia Trip Report Part I – Around the Park Loop Road

The rock coastline and tidepools are just some of the many attractions at Acadia National Park.
The rock coastline and tidepools are just some of the many attractions at Acadia National Park.

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

After just one day in Acadia National Park, those were the words of my four-year-old, the Toothy T-Rex, which I would hear often during the rest of our week there.    Acadia National Park is a great family-friendly National Park for families with young children, and even after one week there in July 2015, we left already thinking about when we would be able to return.

The heart of Acadia National Park is located on Mount Desert Island, which many locals pronounce Mount Des-er-et, in eastern Maine.  Its about a 3.5 hour drive from the New Hampshire border, or a little over an hour south from the Bangor, Maine airport.   The island is connected to the mainland by a bridge, and the national park itself only has about half the land on the island – as well as some land on a few surrounding islands and the Schoodic Peninsula.

For those collecting Passport cancellations, the addition of a new stamp in Setember 2015 means that Acadia National Park now offers 13 cancellation locations.  Of those, 8 are located along or around the Park’s loop road, which takes visitors around the eastern half of Mount Desert island and represents the core of the park:

  • Thompson Island
  • Bar Harbor, ME
  • Village Green
  • Sieur du Monts Nature Center
  • Thunder Hole
  • Blackwoods Campground
  • Jordan Pond
  • Cadillac Mountain

I’ll talk about the other locations in Part II.

The first three locations are all places to plan your trip to Acadia.  The Thompson Island information station is located right on Highway 3 as you cross the bridge over the Mount Desert Narrows from the mainland, and is the best place to stop if you are heading to the less-visited west side of the island.   Bar Harbor is the famous gateway community for Acadia, and is the original Passport stamp for this park going all the way back to 1986.  Ironically, this stamp is located at the park’s Hull’s Cove Visitor Center,  the main visitor center for the park, and which is located one town to the north of Bar Harbor in Hull’s Cove.   Finally, the Village Green stamp can be found at the small National Park Service information station located right on the Village Green in the center of downtown Bar Harbor, and is also the convenient terminus for the free Island Explorer shuttle buses that can take you just about anywhere on Mount Desert Island.   The buses are a great option for planning one-way hiking or biking trips, or simply to avoid the cost and hassle of finding parking in the hustle and bustle of Bar Harbor.

At low tide, you can walk on the ocean floor on the sand bar that gives Bar Habor its name.
At low tide, you can walk on the ocean floor on the sand bar that gives Bar Habor its name.

The town of Bar Harbor takes its name from the large sand bar that connects the town to Bar Island at low tide.   Thus, one of the real highlights of any visit to Acadia is a sand bar walk out to Bar Island.   The sandbar becomes walkable around 1.5-2 hours before low tide,and remains passable until 1.5-2 hours after low tide.   The National Park Service Information Station at the Villlage Green will contain the latest advisories on when to plan your walk – and most importantly, when to plan your return, lest you be stuck on Bar Island until the next low tide.

As it turns out, Bar Island is owned by the National Park Service, and so is part of the National Park itself.  On the island, there is a short one mile hiking trail to the highest point of the island, which provides views looking back on the town of Bar Harbor and the rest of Mount Desert Island.  Or, if you are travelling with young children, you can just spent your time on the sand bar and on Bar Island looking for sea snails and barnacles, as we did.

The Sieur du Mont Spring in the foreground and the Spring House in the background is referred as the "heart of Acadia" by the National Park Service.
The Sieur du Mont Spring in the foreground and the Spring House in the background is referred as the “heart of Acadia” by the National Park Service.

Just south of Bar Harbor on Highway 3 is the Sieur deMonts Nature Center.  Like most nature centers, this stop is primarily geared towards kids – with exhibits on the flora and fauna of the park.   For adults, however, two highlights are to see the natural freshwater spring and the nearby spring house structure.  The spring house was built in 1909 by George Dorr, who would go on to became Acadia National Park’s first superintendent when the park was established in 1916.  Because of the role Dorr and other Mount Desert Island landowners played in getting Acadia established as the first U.S. national park east of the Great Lakes (*), the National Park Service calls the area around the Sieur de Monts spring the “heart of Acadia.”

Continuing south on the Loop Road is the very popular Precipice Trail – a short, but challenging climb up Champlain Mountain using chains, iron hand-holds, and ladders.   At less than one mile in length, it is one of the shorter trails in the park, but is certainly not for the faint of heart!  Unfortunately, during our visit, the trail was closed due to nesting Peregrine Falcons, which is often the case for a good portion of the summer.  However, when the trail is closed, National Park Service Rangers provide a spotting scope for viewing the nesting Falcons, making the location worth a stop regardless.

Next up is the Sand Beach – one of the few sandy beaches available on the island.  Sand Beach is also the northern end of the 1.6 mile Ocean Trail.  This is a good place to get out of the car and explore the tide pools, although on our trip we preferred to explore tide pools at some of the more out-of-the-way beaches away from the crowds on the Park Loop Road.

The area around Thunder Hole on a foggy day. Come a few hours before high tide to hear the water "thunder."
The area around Thunder Hole on a foggy day. Come a few hours before high tide to hear the water “thunder.”

The next stop around the Park Loop Road is the location known as Thunder Hole, where the waves associated with an incoming tide can produce a loud sound.  According to the National Park Service, the best time to hear the “thunder” is about two hours prior to high tide.  Unfortunately, we did not time out trip so precisely, so only encountered a little gurgling of water.  The location is so iconic, however, that on a summer day, you can expect to find a decent crowd here at  any tide level.

The Park Loop Road begins to turn to the west once you reach Otter Point.  This is also the southern end of the Ocean Trail, which will take you back to Sand Beach.   Additionally, if you are a completist in pursuing the Passport cancellations, you can exit the Park Loop Road here to reach the Blackwoods Campground.  The Blackwoods Campground is the most-popular campground in the Park as it places you close to all the activity of Bar Harbor, as well the Park Loop Road.  However, the Blackwoods Campground is not directly accessible from the Park Loop Road, you can only reach it from Route 3 south of the Sieur de Monts Nature Center, from the Otter Cliff Road at Otter Point, or from Route 3 heading west from the village of Seal Harbor.

The Park Loop Road continues west from Otter Point and passes just north of Seal Harbor.  Here you can access the Wildwood Stables, which is the only authorized vendor of carriage rides within Acadia National Park.   The carriage roads are perhaps Acadia National Park’s most-unique feature.   Park benefactor John D. Rockefeller, Jr. envisioned carriage rides as an ideal form of outdoor recreation.   Thus, he supervised the construction of carriage roads, with no motorized vehicle traffic allowed, between 1913 and 1940, and then donated them to the federal government for inclusion in Acadia National Park.

Our horses, Blossom & Thumper, for our carriage ride.
The Parkasaurus family with our horses, Blossom & Thumper, for our carriage ride.  The Toothy T-Rex is wearing his pony shirt from Assateague Island National Seashore.

In the present day, however, you’ll see far more bicycles on most of the carriage roads than actual carriages.   However, in the vicinity of Seal Harbor, where the Rockefeller Estate is located, there is still a section of carriage roads that remains outside the National Park boundaries, and which are reserved for the exclusive use of horse-drawn carriages – no bicycles allowed!

Just as iconic as the carriage roads is Acadia’s beautiful Jordan Pond, and the nearby Jordan Pond House restaurant.   The small pond and the nearby “North Bubble” and “South Bubble” that so strikingly accent the scenery are both legacies of the sculpting power of glaciers on the landscape during the last ice age.   During our week in Acadia  we did not find a prettier scene than standing on the south shores of Jordan Pond on a sunny day.   In fact it was remarkable how on some days, even when the coast was wrapped in a layer of scenery-killing fog, the air was nonetheless bright and sunny just a short ways inland at Jordan Pond.

The Toothy T-Trex exploring the rocks around Jordan Pond. (Note: wading is not permitted in Jordan Pond, as it is part of the water supply for Seal Harbor.) The North Bubble and South Bubble are in the background.
The Toothy T-Trex exploring the rocks around Jordan Pond. (Note: wading is not permitted in Jordan Pond, as it is part of the water supply for Seal Harbor.) The North Bubble and South Bubble are in the back left.

The food at the Jordan Pond House is almost just as much part of the experience as the stunning views.   The current structure dates back to 1982, after the original Jordan Pond House was destroyed in a fire in 1979 – but travelers have been served here going back all the way to 1896.  In particular, the signature item here is a local treat called the “popover.”  Popovers are a puffed pastry, with about the consistency of a croissant, that are best served straight out of the oven and with a side of jam.   As you might image, Jordan Pond House can be extremely popular, especially during meal times on warm sunny days.   However, a good option for getting the Jordan Pond House experience outside of traditional meal times is to visit for “afternoon tea,” where they will serve you a personal pot of tea and a pair of popovers.

The final stop of the Park Loop Road tour is Cadillac Mountain, which includes a spur road that takes your car all the way to the top.  At just 1,500 feet above sea level it is in some respects barely even a mountain at all.   Nonetheless, it is the highest point on the Atlantic Coast, and thanks to a quirk of ecology that has left the summit large tree-free, it is able to provide breath-taking views in nearly every direction.   Additionally, thanks to the 3.5 mile summit road, some of the best times to visit are either just before sunset, or better yet, just before sunrise – one of the first sunrise visible in the United States.   As we were travelling with two young children, we opted for a sunset view, but even still we were not disappointed.

A sunset view from the top of Cadillac Mountain is a great cap to any day in Acadia National Park.
A sunset view from the top of Cadillac Mountain is a great cap to any day in Acadia National Park.

Continue the Adventure in Part II: Visiting sites further afield in Acadia National Park.

(*) – Update 30 January 2016 – This post originally stated that Acadia National Park was the first national park east of the Mississippi.  An alert reader correctly pointed out that several Canadian national parks were established between Yellowstone in 1872 and 1916.  Additionally, Mackinac Island in Michigan was briefly a U.S. national park between 1875 and 1895 and Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park in Kentucy was actually established as Abraham Lincoln National Park just one month before Acadia on July 17, 1916.   It wouldn’t lose the “national park” designation until 1939 when it went through the first of three name changes, before reaching its current name in 2009.  The post has been updated to reflect this. 

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October New Stamps: Acadia, Yellowstone, and Hudson River

The brand-new Schoodic Woods campground at Acadia National Park will let you wake up close to spectacular scenery like this in the Schoodic Peninsula area of the park.
The brand-new Schoodic Woods campground at Acadia National Park will let you wake up close to spectacular scenery like this in the Schoodic Peninsula area of the park.

Compared to previous months, the list of new stamps this month is much shorter:

Acadia National Park | Schoodic Woods

Yellowstone National Park | Tower Falls Area

Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area |

  • Jacob Blauvelt House
  • Rosen House at Caramoor
  • Senate House & Museum
  • Albany Institute of History & Art

Acadia National Park is somewhat unusual in offering place-specific Passport cancellations for each of the campgrounds within the park.  In fact,  based on my research only around a half-dozen parks can really be described as offering place-specific campground stamps.  Of those, only two others are truly systematic, as Acadia is, in having a place-specific stamp for each campground in the park: Joshua Tree National Park in California and Gateway National Recreation Area in and around New York City.

To me at least, this makes sense.  Although campgrounds, out of necessity almost always have a Ranger Station in some form or another where a Passport stamp could be located – creating place-specific stamps for campgrounds raises the philosophical question of whether its ethical to collect a passport stamp for a campground without actually spending the night there.   On one hand, that would seem to make sense.  On the other hand, on many trips it would be logistically impractical to spend a night at each campground that has a stamp – particularly if the campground itself does not represent a distinct portion of the park to explore, even without an overnight stay.

In this case, though, since Acadia National Park already had stamps for its Blackwoods Campground, located just south of the tourist destination of Bar Harbor, and also for its Seawall Campground, located on the less-visited western half of Mount Desert Island, it only made sense to order a stamp for its brand-new Schoodic Woods campground.   The Schoodic Woods campground just opened in September 2015,  The Schoodic Peninsula, located to the east across Frenchman’s Bay from Mount Desert Island, was originally added to the boundaries of Acadia National Park to help preserve the natural beauty and scenic views from Mount Desert Island.  On the Peninsula, the U.S. Navy continued to operate a small base until 2002, when it was turned over to the National Park Service and has now become an environmental educational center.  The addition of the Schoodic Woods campground will provide another place for visitors to stay while enjoying one of the quietest and least-crowded places in the park.

At Yellowstone National Park the new stamp for the Tower Falls Area is also a very logical addition.   This stamp will presumably be located at the Tower-Roosevelt Ranger Station at the northeast corner of the park’s Great Loop Road.  For at least two decades, this Ranger Station has been the only one of the park’s major ranger stations to not have its own passport stamp.  So this addition now completes the set of a total of 15 passport locations located throughout Yellowstone National Park.

Finally, each of the four official listings for Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area this month represent replacements for existing stamps in the passport program.  For example, the Jacob Blauvelt House is the location of the Rockland County Historical Society, and presumably replaces that stamp.  With 71 passport locations, the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area stands far and away above any other National Park Service designation with easily more passport stamps than any other.

With this month’s additions, there are now 1,973 active passport stamps, or 1,875 excluding stamps for special programs and events.

Tower Falls in Yellowstone National Park highlights this month's stamp additions. Photo Credit: Jim Peaco, National Park Service, August 2004
Tower Falls in Yellowstone National Park highlights this month’s stamp additions.
Photo Credit: Jim Peaco, National Park Service, August 2004
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