Acadia National Park, Maine

The first stop on my trip up the Atlantic coast would take place in Acadia National Park. This is one of the oldest and most beautiful parks in the United States, and there was no reason not to spend a day visiting Acadia sicne it would be very much on the way. I decided that I would leave on a Saturday morning from my home in Baltimore and do the drive up to Bar Harbor, Maine while stopping for a few hours in Portland along the way. This would give me an opportunity to see Maine's largest city and catch some of the biggest sporting event taking place at the time, the ongoing 2010 World Cup.

It's a long drive from Baltimore up to Bar Harbor and I knew that this commute would take up pretty much the entirety of my first day of travel. I woke up at 4:00 AM so that I could beat any early traffic and made great time heading north. The picture of the sun rising above was one that I snapped while driving on the New Jersey turnpike about an hour and a half into the trip. There were relatively few cars on the roads and I was able to make it past New York before too many people were up and about. After that it was a routine and uneventful drive through Connecticut and Massachusetts on a path that I've taken a number of times previously, along the well-traveled Interstate 84 corridor. I made it to Portland right around noon and was surprised at how quickly the journey had gone. Then I immediately made the foolish mistake of locking my keys inside the car (they literally fell out of my pocket onto the seat as I opened the door), but at least I spotted the problem immediately and a call to AAA brought a mechanic to open the door in less than an hour. Not exactly ideal, could have been a lot worse.

Portland is the largest city in the state of Maine, and for that matter also larger than any cities in New Hampshire or Vermont. It's hardly a large city though, and with roughly 65,000 people it had the feel of an overgrown town moreso than a true metropolitan area. Portland sits on a small peninsula that juts out into a protected harbor, and the dominant industries for most of the city's history have been fishing and shipbuilding. Visitors are never far from the water when visiting. These pictures were taken from some of the street scenes that I observed while walking around Portland's downtown, if it could be called that. There was plenty of history on display here, such as the Wadsworth-Longfellow House (the brick building above) where American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow grew up.

All walking paths in Portland inevitably lead to the harborfront eventually, where I found both boats and seafood restaurants in abundance. It was too bad that I don't particularly care for lobster given how many eateries were selling fresh-caught offerings of the things. The waterfront area in Portland has transformed over the past few decades from a grungy working port into an upscale neighborhood, with new apartment buildings going up to complement the boutique stores and trendy restaurants. This was a pleasant place to stroll around on foot, and the overall vibe that I was getting from Portland had an artsy feel to it, a little bit like Asheville, North Carolina only on the coast instead of in the mountains. There seemed to be a lot of free spirits living here in the small city.

I found myself climbing up to the open top floor of a parking garage so that I could take some pictures of the city from a higher vantage point. This provided me with some overview looks at the downtown, where many of the buildings were clearly historic ones made out of brick or stone. A lot of them have been repurposed for modern use, such as that W. L. Blake and Company mill building that now appeared to hold apartments inside. In the other direction was the harbor, where a mixture of pleasure boats and commercial fishing vessels plied the calm waters. It would have been beautiful if the sky hadn't been so overcast off to the north, threatening to break out in a downpour at any minute. I thought that I would get drenched by fortune was with me and it never actually rained, at least not where I happened to be.

As I mentioned before, this was late June of 2010 and there was a World Cup taking place at the time. The United States had advanced to the knockout stage in dramatic fashion with a last minute goal against Algeria a few days earlier, and they were matched up against Ghana in the round of 16. Vacation or not, I definitely didn't want to miss this match, and I found a Portland sports bar where I could watch the game when it came on in the afternoon. The match opened poorly for the USA as they conceded a goal in the fifth minute, then spent the rest of the first half playing from behind. The team drew a penalty kick in the second half and Landon Donovan drilled it home to tie the game at 1-1, with that moment of wild celebration captured in the second picture above. Unfortunately that would be the only highlight for Team USA on the day, as the match went into overtime where Ghana scored to win 2-1. It was a disappointing ending since Ghana was a beatable opponent and not one of the true heavyweights in the tournament.

I finished up the day by driving from Portland to Bar Habor, where I was staying for the night. Bar Harbor is the town located just outside of Acadia National Park, a place famous for upscale New England luxury accomodations. Fortunately there are cheaper places to stay in Bar Harbor as well, and I was able to stay in the local hostel (make sure to book in advance, this is a hostel that fills up quickly in the summer months). I took an evening stroll around the town after checking in, at a time when the town was lit up with cheery streetlamps and store windowfronts. The temperature was absolutely delightful, a perfect summer evening on the New England coast. It was unfortunate that I didn't have a better camera for this trip, as I was still using a very basic $99 point and shoot setup. It worked reasonably well in direct sunlight and rather poorly for any kind of low light conditions.

I was up early the next morning again, waking at 6:00 AM to get a fast start on the day while most people were still asleep. The town of Bar Harbor was quiet and still as I walked down Main Street again towards the harbor, this time with enough light to see properly. There was a gorgeous building named the Bar Harbor Inn overlooking the waterfront with a wooden sailing ship sitting at anchor alongside its narrow pier. Further out on the water, I could see across the Mt. Desert Narrows to a series of small forested islands. This is a popular destination for sightseeing boats that take tourists out to see whales and puffins in the Atlantic Ocean. I wouldn't be going on one of those trips today, instead staying on land to see more of Acadia National Park.

It was low tide here in the early morning, and that had real significance. The Maine coast has some of the most dramatic tides in the world, and I would experience even larger tidal effects the next day when I visited the Bay of Fundy. Here at Bar Harbor, there's a walkable path that opens up to Bar Island but only at low tide. This was the dirt path pictured above that led across to the forested trees at the other side. When the tide comes in, it submerges this path and transforms Bar Island back into an island again. While this is indeed really cool to see in practice, the land that gets revealed at low tide ends up being rather disgusting, a muddy area covered in seaweed that stinks to high heaven. The view from this causeway looking back towards the mainland was much prettier, with the landscape rising up in hills towards the summit of Mount Cadillac. I should also clarify that Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park both sit on a larger island named Mount Desert Island. The name was coined by French explorers in the early 17th century due to the rocky and barren nature of the terrain along the coast. I'll link here to a park map of the region.

Acadia National Park opens at sunrise, and that means that it opens quite early in the summertime. The best way to get an initial feel for the park is via the Park Loop Road, which was where I was driving to begin the day's journey. This was part of the reason why I had woken up so early, as the road running through Acadia gets extremely crowded with tourists during the summer months. An early start allowed me to avoid wasting time sitting in traffic on this single lane road. It also had the benefit of being out and about when the wildlife is most active, and I was fortunate enough to catch this group of deer as they ran across the Park Loop Road in front of my car. They stopped to drink water from a stream and then bounded away into the trees.

The biggest draw at Acadia National Park comes in the form of the coastline. These pictures were taken at a place called Sand Beach, one of the few places where there was any sand along the coast, but it wasn't exactly a place where anyone would want to go swimming. Even in the summer the water temperature doesn't get much about 50 Fahrenheit / 10 Celsius here, the kind of conditions that demand a wetsuit for anything involving the ocean. Unlike the calm shorelines that I was used to seeing growing up in Maryland, the Atlantic coast here was jagged and rocky, with tree-topped cliffs running down to the waterline. I climbed up on some of those rocks to get a better view of the area, while taking care not to stumble off the edge. Anyone who tried to jump into the water from up there would surely break their legs. The low tide had revealed big clumps of seaweed sticking to the exposed rocks, and they had attracted swarms of flies while they were temporarily out in the air. So long as I could ignore that little detail, this place was stunningly beautiful and worth the long drive up to Maine all by itself.

More pictures of the Atlantic coastline at Acadia National Park as I continued on the Park Loop Road south from Sand Beach. This was about three or four miles south of Bar Harbor, approaching the the southern end of the park and the tiny little town of Otter Creek. The scenery here was nothing less than incredible, a meeting of sea and stone and sky. There were such stark contrasts in colors between the dark blue of the ocean, the various shades of brown that made up the rocks of the coast, and then the vibrant green of the evergreen trees. These were the views that launched a thousand tourist postcards. If anyone ever wanted to see the idealized image of a rugged New England seashore, this was definitely the place to go.

I also used the timer feature on my camera to take this picture of myself staring out into the waters of the Atlantic. I specifically had in mind the famous Romanticism painting from 19th century artist Caspar David Friedrich named Wanderer above the Sea of Fog which you may have seen at some point. Maybe I'm the only one who thinks about things like this while vacationing, I dunno. It was a wonderful place to sit for a few minutes to rest and think deep thoughts while enjoying the perfect natural splendor.

The Park Loop Road eventually turned away from the ocean and headed inland, back north again in the direction of Bar Harbor. The road took me past a series of mountain lakes on its way upwards, including Jordan Pond and Eagle Lake. Jordan Pond is known locally for its two rounded mountaintops known as The Bubbles (North and South) that rise above the northeastern shoreline, which make for beautiful photographs from the lake's shores. I also came across some of the carriages and horseback riders that give Acadia National Park its own distinct identity. Business tycoon John D. Rockefeller financed, designed, and directed the construction of a network of carriage roads throughout the park in the early 20th century shortly after this area was designated as a national park in 1916, and these carriage paths still exist today with their use limited to horses.

These are pictures looking down at Eagle Lake from the Cadillac Summit Road that leads up to the highest point in the park. Eagle Lake is the largest lake within the boundaries of Acadia National Park, a coldwater lake where swimming is prohibited. The roadway twisted and turned as it gained elevation heading up to the summit, with the higher altitude providing better and better views looking down and the surrounding countryside.

The road came to an end at the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point in the park at 1530 feet / 466 meters and the highest elevation anywhere along the Atlantic coast of the United States. It was named after the French explorer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, the sieur de Cadillac, who was one of the first Europeans to write down detailed observations of the island. Cadillac Mountain has the reputation of being the first location in the United States to see the sunrise each morning, although apparently that's only true for part of the year (and obviously discounts American territorial possessions in the Pacific like Samoa and Guam). The growing conditions at the top were rough enough that there was little vegetation here, thereby providing unobstructed views looking down at the water below. Bar Habor was easily visible at the foot of the mountain, and with the passage of time since the early morning, the tide had come back in and covered over the causeway with water. Bar Island was back to being an island again and there was no trace of the dirt path that I had crossed earlier the same day.

I had intended to spend an hour or two hiking on something called the Precipice Trail, a steep ascent along the eastern cliffs of Champlain Mountain. This is a summit not reached by road and I was psyched to make this ascent along a series of stone steps carved out of the mountainside. However, I discovered to my chagrin that the Precipice Trail was closed for maintenance and I would have no opportunity to scale it on this day. Argh, I'd have to come back on another trip if I wanted to have that experience. Instead, I used this time to drive to the southwest tip of Mount Desert Island and visit Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. This is a vintage lighthouse dating back to the late 19th century that still remains in service to this day operated by the Coast Guard. I've seen this lighthouse featured in a number of different desktop wallpapers over the years, usually with some kind of dramatic lighting and/or Photoshop effects in use. The actual lighthouse was a bit more mundane, and I wasn't able to get too close to it or go inside due to the fact that it remains a working structure. Although Bass Head Harbor had some pretty scenery, it probably wasn't worth the time to drive down to this end of the island.

I only had one day to spend in Acadia National Park, which wasn't time to do much more than catch the major highlights. There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails that run through the park, and multiple different climate ecosystems to explore from coast to forest to mountaintop. There are all kinds of wildlife to be spotted here as well, with big favorites like moose and bears and beavers in addition to more than 200 different types of birds. Acadia National Park also has drastically different seasonal weather, ranging from warm summers to notably cold winters (January mean temperature: 22 degrees Fahrenheit). And that's to say nothing of the brilliant display of foliage here in the autumn months, or the new growth of spring that blooms each year in April. I would love to come back and spend more time in Acadia National Park on a future trip, especially in a non-summer month to get a view of the place in a different season. For the moment though I continued onwards into Maritime Canada, starting with a stopover in New Brunswick and the Bay of Fundy.