Happy Birthday Dad!
It seems a little bizarre that I have been on the road for almost three weeks and have only visited two National Parks: Cuyahoga Valley and Acadia. Both left a distinct impression, but they are far from the only wilderness areas on my route. Two National Lakeshores, multiple National Forests, the Adirondacks, the White Mountains, the Green Mountains, and a myriad of State Parks all play into my explorations of American wilderness to date. Everything was just a little more spread out…
Acadia and Maine conjure very fond memories for me. Only two hours from Bates, I can remember spending time on this protected coastline during my college years. Even though those memories were still young, I felt like I was looking at Acadia with fresh eyes. Instead of focusing on bagging peaks or rushing through trails, I felt drawn to all aspects of the park. Like many National Parks, it has a complex history.
With three different birthdays, it is hard to track when Acadia truly gained status as an area of protected wilderness. Some people say 1916 (when Woodrow Wilson designated it as Sieur de Monts National Monument), others say 1919 (when it became Lafayette National Park), and others still celebrate 1926 (when it became Acadia National Park) as its anniversary. Regardless of how you look at it, Mount Desert Island and its environs have been protected for nearly a century. The history of Acadia, however, stretches beyond simply federal conservation efforts. John D. Rockefeller and his Standard Oil fortune played directly into the development of the protected land. He funded the construction of a network of carriage roads, bridges, and lodges that are largely still in use today. These trails, combined with the park loop road, make for a park with unparalleled public access. The park loop road allows LL Bean propane-fueled, free buses to shuttle hikers and sightseers to many of the main areas of the park. The carriage roads allow bikers and hikers to wander endlessly through the coastal Maine wilderness. The roads and carriage roads are wonderfully maintained to the point that they feel welcoming for automobile, cyclist, and pedestrian alike. It is a park that has been designed for accessibility. Coming from Baxter State Park, the contrast was immediately evident. Baxter’s unpaved roads and wilderness ethic create a rugged, almost exclusive experience only for those who are prepared for the uncertainty of the wild. Acadia caters much more openly to its clientele, ushering them through its granite cliffs, rough peaks, and dense forests. Maine is lucky to have two wilderness areas as expansive and distinct as Acadia and Baxter.
Sadly, our second day in Baxter was beset by cold, windy rain. The temperature had dropped into the 50s overnight, which had led to a relatively restless night of sleep in Sam. We sprinted around town until we found Two Cats, a nice little breakfast joint with some tasty maple, walnut sweet potatoes. Shortly after, we hunkered down in a great coffee shop, chatting with the baristas and locals (including a Triple-Crown hiker and an astronomer), while I did some writing/processing and my mom finalized some travel plans. Afterwards, we wandered the streets of Bar Harbor, spending the better part of an hour admiring the woodworking in In the Woods, a sustainable forestry initiative that uses proceeds from downed/dead wood products to procure and protect Maine forest lands. The work was absolutely beautiful and the mission was just as inspiring.
Once we had had our fill of Bar Harbor, we slowly meandered along the Park Loop Road, stopping at just about every overlook or scenic turn off we could find. Eventually, we ended up at the Jordan Pond lodge, where Mom enjoyed popovers and I guzzled down Maine blueberry tea, seated next to a crackling fire. I can’t imagine a better way to escape the cold.
With the weather showing no signs of improvement, we drove up to Cadillac Mountain to see what all the fuss was about and ended up driving right into a chilly cloud. Returning to Bar Harbor felt like a sound decision, so we headed for the Trailhead Cafe, which oddly enough had a barista belting show tunes at the top of her lungs. After a game of Scrabble, we headed for Reel Pizza, a Bar Harbor institution that touts good food, a couch-filled movie theatre, and a totally relaxed atmosphere. We munched on basil-infused oil popcorn and a peanut sauce pizza while watching The Man From UNCLE. It wasn’t necessarily a National Park experience, but it felt like a great way to end the day.
The next morning a cloudy Cadillac sunrise beckoned.