Tag Archives: Assateague Island

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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30 for 300 – Honorable Mentions

Well, I should have figured when I first set out to do this series that it would provide to be nearly impossible to pick just 30 favorite moments from the hundreds of visits that I have made to the first 300 national parks that I have already visited.   Or even worse, that I would get to the end and realize, “how could I possibly have left out that?”   So sure enough, I have a few national park memories that got left on the figurative cutting room floor that I just couldn’t leave unmentioned.

Thus, as a postscript to my “30 for 300” series, here are five “honorable mentions” that I just couldn’t leave out.

#5) Searching for Starfish in the Tidepools at Olympic National Park – August 2003
Olympic National Park is often called “three national parks in one” for its combination of rugged alpine scenery, lush temperate rainforests, and spectacular Pacific coastline.  The day after that 20 mile hike I mentioned earlier in this series, I’m not sure which I enjoyed more – seeking out the fabulously colorful starfish like these guys:

Growing up in the Eastern United States, Parkasaurus just isn't used to seeing starfish like this.
Growing up in the Eastern United States, Parkasaurus just isn’t used to seeing starfish like this.

Or else enjoying the absolutely amazing sunset behind the rock spires of the coastline:

They don't make sunsets like this on the Atlantic Coast either...
They don’t make sunsets like this on the Atlantic Coast either…


#4) Walking Among the Ruins at Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument – February 2003
This trip was memorable in large part simply because my friend and I were not supposed to be there.   We were only visiting this Park because a major snowstorm had cancelled all flights to the East Coast, giving us an unexpected extra two days in New Mexico.  Salinas Pueblo Misssions was the first national park I visited that primarily preserves the civilization of the prehistoric pueblo-dwelling peoples, so it will always be special to me for that reason.  What makes Salinas Pueblo MIssions particularly distinctive, however, is that at each of the three prehistoric pueblos preserved in the park, the Spanish had also built a large mission church right in the middle of the pueblo, which is also preserved. Thus, this park preserves the moment of contact between two cultures, and is a place where you can really feel the sweep of history beneath your feet.

#3) Special 100th Anniversary Commemorative Programs at Mesa Verde National Park – June 2006
By the time I visited Mesa Verde National Park three and a half years afte rmy visit to Salinas Pueblo Missions, I had started to become abundantly familiar with the story of the Ancestral Puebloan people, or as they are sometimes called, the Anasazi.  Since the ancient pueblos are largely permanent structures that were built in a desert environment, the U.S. National Park System includes quite a few of them.

Mesa Verde National Park, of course, preserves some of the most-spectacular abandoned Ancestral Puebloan ruins out of all of them.   In 2006, Mesa Verde also celebrated its 100th Anniversary with numerous special programsthroughout the summer.  One program my friends and I were particularly lucky to catch was a Ranger providing costumed interpretation as J. Walter Fewkes, one of the first archaeologists to study the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde.

A ranger dressed as archaeologist Jesse Fewkes really helped bring the story of Mesa Verde to life, with the famous Cliff Palace in the background.


#2) Rafting with Au Pairs on the New River Gorge National River – June 2003
One of my former co-workers used to be, as he described, a “den mother” for au pairs working in our area.  Essentially this meant that he had some responsibility for looking out for them, helping them deal with any problems they may have, and also organizing a social activity for them each month – so that they could have some regular time together with peers while adjusting to life in a new country.

For three years, one of the biggest events he organized as a “cap” to their year in this country was a whitewater rafting trip on West Virginia’s New River Gorge, and for those years he invited me to come along as an additional chaperone and driver (since the au pairs generally did not have their own car in this country, naturally.)   It was an offer that I couldn’t refuse.  A two-day trip on the New River Gorge in late spring or early summer is perhaps the perfect river for “newbie” whitewater rafters.  The first day provides some light rapids to get used to the water, and the second has enough big rapids to provide a real adrenaline rush without requiring too much in the way of technical maneuvers from the paddlers.  Plus, the trip provided a great opportunity to make new friends with young women from far away places like Poland, Hungary, and Germany without ever leaving this country.

#1) An Evening Walk on the Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore – August 2007
There’s nothing like walking on a beach at sunset in the summer, when there is no longer a harsh sun beating down on you, and the sand is cool underfoot, and the water is still warm to the touch.  I snapped this picture by wading into the water and taking this picture of the future Mrs. Parkasaurus by looking back towards the shore, and the sunset off in the west.

This picture of the future Mrs. Parkasaurus has become one of the author's personal favorites.
This picture of the future Mrs. Parkasaurus has become one of the author’s personal favorites.


And that’s a “wrap” for the series.   If you missed any part of it, you may want to go back and check out:

Part I with #’s 21-30

Part II with #’s 11-20

Part III with #’s 1-10


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April Stamps – Ready for the Beach!

Assateague Island National Seashore has enjoyed 50 years of sunsets like this one.  Photo from 2007.
Assateague Island National Seashore has enjoyed 50 years of sunsets like this one. Photo from 2007.

There are four new stamps on Eastern National’s list for April, three at two national parks, and one at a national historic trail:

  • Assateague Island National Seashore | 50th Anniversary 1965-2015
  • Cape Lookout National Seashore | Great Island Cabins
  • Cape Lookout Naitonal Seashore | Long Point Cabins
  • Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail | Philadelphia, PA

Additionally, there were two other stamps that were previously reported, but were listed as “new” on the list for the first time this month.  One was for the Civil War Defenses of Washington | 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, which was used to commemorate that 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Fort Stevens on the outskirts of Washington, DC back in July 2014, and the other is for the National Park Service’s Washington Support Office in downtown Washington, DC.

With the new stamp for Assateague Island National Seashore, this actually marks the fourth straight month that a new anniversary stamp has been issued.  While anniversary stamps used to be an occasional novelty in the Passport Program, there’s no question that they now seem to be a definite trend.  While some people like having the extra anniversary cancellations available, at Parkasaurus, we don’t see how it makes sense to make a stamp for a one-year anniversary with a seven-year adjutable-date wheel.  Traditionally, collecting all the passport stamps at a national park  would be a way of ensuring that you visited all the major sites within the park,  but an Anniversary stamp arguably falls into a different category.  Ideally, we’d like to see parks celebrating anniversaries to offer creatively-designed anniversary bonus stamps instead.

Anyhow, it is interesting to note that three of the four new stamps this month are for National Seashores.  There are 10 national seashores and 4 national lakeshores in the U.S. National Park System.  The first, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, was established way back in 1937.  The other 13 national seashores and national lakeshores, however, were all established in a 14-year period from 1961 to 1975, starting with Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts on August 7, 1961 and ending with Canaveral National Seashore in Florida on January 3, 1975.

This burst of activity in protecting pristine seashore and lakeshore environments is often attributed to the influence of Lady Bird Johnson,   During her husband’s Presidency, Lady Bird Johnson was known as a prominent advocate of the U.S. National Park System, and she famously envisioned a system of national seashores as a “string of pearls” along the coast of the United States.   The 1960’s were obviously a period of tremendous growth in the post-World War II “vacation culture” in the United States, and development of coastal areas in the United States.  Nevertheless, it is amazing to think that for more than a decade up to the very beginning of 1975 nearly one new national seashore or national lakeshore was established, and that there has not been a single new one since.

The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is an iconic feature of Cape Lookout National Seashore. Photo Credit: National Park Service

The two new stamps for Cape Lookout National Seashore are to be located at the Ranger Stations associated with each of two separate groups of rental cabins available on the Seashore.   Both sets of cabins are fairly rustic.  The Great Island Cabins are wired for electricity, but incredibly are “BYOG” – bring your own generator.  The Long Point Cabins do have electricity and air conditioning.  However, neither set of cabins includes a refrigerator; bring your own cooler, and ice is available for purchase on the island.

With these additions, Cape Lookout National Seashore now has six stamps.   The Beaufort, NC stamp (just released in September 2014) and the Harker’s Island, NC stamp at the park’s main visitor center are both located on the mainland.   The remaining four stamps will all require a ferry ride.  The Light Station Visitor Center stamp at the Keepers Quarters for the iconic Cape Lookout Lighthouse is accessible by ferry from the Harker’s Island area.   The Great Island Cabins and the Long Point Cabins are accessible by ferries from Davis, NC and from Atlantic, NC, respectively.  Finally, the stamp for Portsmouth Village actually requires two ferries, a ferry to Ocracoke Island on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and from there, a ferry to Porstmouth Village – making it one of the most-remote stamps in the Passport Program.  Portsmouth Villlage is the best-preserved ghost town east of the Mississippi River, having formerly served as a “lightering village” – a way station to transfer cargo from heavy ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean on to lighter ships traversing the Ocracoke Inlet through the Outer Banks.  The village was slowly abandoned after the shifting sands of the Outer Banks and changing technology rendered the lightering system obsolete, and today it is now also famous for having perhaps some of the most vicious mosquitoes in all of the U.S. National Park System – but that is perhaps a blog post for another day.

Appropriately, historical French Flags and historical American Flags both fly at the Yorktown Battlefield Unit of Colonial National Historical Park.  Photo from 2007.
Appropriately, historical French Flags and historical American Flags both fly at the Yorktown Battlefield Unit of Colonial National Historical Park. Photo from 2007.

The fourth stamp this month is for the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail.   In 1780, the nascent United States took its informal alliance with France in the Revolutionary War to a new level with the arrival of a few hundred French ground trips in Newport, Rhode Island under the command of General Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau.   This national historic trail (which is not one of the 407 national parks) commemorates the route that Washington and Rochambeau took with their forces to Yorktown, Virginia and the last major military action of the Revolutionary War.  There, perhaps even more significant than the presence of French ground forces, the presence of the French Navy effectively cut off British General Charles Cornwallis’ avenue of retreat by seas.   With no other option, that forced General Cornwallis, in 1781, to surrender to General Washington, the American Army played “The World Turned Upside Down,” and two years later the war would officially be over with the Treaty of Paris being signed in 1783.

There previously have been two stamps available for the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route NHT.  One of them lists all the States through which the trail passes, “CT DC DE MA MD NJ NY PA RI VA,” available at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia and Thoms Stone National Historic Site in Maryland.  The other just lists “DC, MD, VA;” available at the George Washington Memorial Parkway‘s Headquarters at Turkey Run Park in Virginia.   This new stamp will simply say “Philadelphia, PA” on the bottom and will be the first place-specific stamp for this Trail.  It will presumably either compliment or replace the existing stamp listing all the States at Independence NHP.

Speaking of the end of a war, there was also a new stamp discovered this month that was not on the monthly list.  This stamp was for Appomattox Court House NHP | 150th Anniversary of the Surrender.   The village of Appomattox Court House in Virginia is, of course, the place where the Civil War effectively came to an end with the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses. S. Grant and his Army of the Potomac, 150 years ago this month.

With the addition of these five new stamps, by our calculations there are now 1,886 active cancellations to collect, with 79 of those being for anniversaries or special events.

Update: This post was updated on April 13th to add the paragraph clarifying that the new Washington-Rochambeau NHT stamp at Independence NHP will be different from the generic stamp that has already been available there for the last couple years.


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