Day 1: Salem and the Schoodic Peninsula
The second half of our fall break was focused on Acadia National Park in Maine. We spent our last night in the Boston area in Salem. Evan had just read The Crucible, and we thought it would be interesting for him to see the actual setting. Like many tourist traps, the town has fully embraced the witchcraft theme, and has become a Mecca for those who enjoy another reality. The main street is lined with stores celebrating these dark arts, mostly through T-shirts with pentacles and pentagrams.
We only had a few hours in the morning before we had to hit the road, so we chose to see the “Witches Dungeon”, a combination theater and tour of a recreated Salem dungeon where those accused of witchcraft were held during the 17th century. This gave a new perspective on the reality of life in 1692 Salem.
Farmers were struggling to raise crops. The economy was stagnant, and the British government had not established any real order in the new colonies. Anyone accused of witchcraft was presumed guilty and locked in the dungeon proven innocent. The description of Giles Cory being “pressed” to death under a pile of rocks as a way to extract a confession was particularly gruesome.
Now people flock to Salem to celebrate witchcraft, which seems like an ironic twist. I’m not sure I’d recommend it as a destination, but if you’re in the area, it’s worth a few hours of people watching and wandering the streets.
We then started our drive up the coast. Our goal was to see the more remote eastern part of Acadia, the Schoodic Peninsula. The drive was longer than we expected, initially because we had our nav system set to a “no tolls” preference, which routed us along a stretch of Highway 1 that wound through a continuous maze of small towns and traffic lights.We eventually got that fixed and shaved almost 2 hours off the trip, but we were still going to just make it ahead of the sunset.
This proved to be a good mistake. We arrived at the farthest part of the peninsula, called Schoodic Point, about 20 minutes before a fabulous sunset. It was also nearing high tide, and 6-8 foot swells were breaking over the large rocks on the point. At the same time, a light rain started to fall and a double rainbow formed out to the east. It made for a beautiful scene.
Once the sun dropped below the horizon, we headed back down to Mount Desert Island, where we had rented a small cottage for a few nights as the base for exploring the guts of Acadia.
Day 2: Park Loop Road and The Bubbles
Thursday was mainly about getting the lay of the land. We stopped at the Hulls Cove visitor center for a map and to stamp Evan’s passport with our 26th national park. Then we drove along the perimeter of the main section of Acadia on the Park Loop Road. We stopped at several of the pullouts to explore the dramatic shoreline. This included a stop at “Thunder Hole”, where waves crashing into a hollowed out section of rock can create a loud “boom” when conditions are just right. This turned out to be Alex’s favorite location. We came back here three times during the trip to try to catch it at it’s loudest.
Next we drove to Jordan Pond, which is basically the central hub of the park with one of the more famous sites looking up towards “The Bubbles” (two small, rounded hills) on the far side of the pond.. It was so crowded we couldn’t even find a spot to park in one of the 3 lots surrounding the visitor center. We abandoned that stop and continued to the north side of the pond to hike to the top of the bubbles along a trail that would also take us along part of the shore of Jordan Pond. It’s a very pretty location, and must be stunning if you can catch it at the peak of the fall colors. We were slightly past the peak, but still had plenty of color in the scene.
We wrapped up the day driving to Bass Harbor to see the famous light house at sunset. The guidebooks recommend you arrive early to beat the crowds, and that’s advice worth taking. We got there about an hour before sunset, and had to wait in a line behind 3 cars for parking spots to open up. After a short walk down some steps and out on to the rocks, we ran into a crowd of close to a hundred people, all jockeying for a spot to watch the sunset.
My goal was to get a picture of the lighthouse, which was also where about half of the people had gathered. I made my way out to the farthest portion of the rocks to get a spot to set up without people in the photo. This turned out to be good and bad. I got a great perspective of the lighthouse, but it was also a spot where the waves were lapping the rocks, turning them into a slip-n-slide path straight down the rocks and into the ocean. I was able to set up my camera on a tripod and trigger it remotely via my phone, so for the most part I was able to avoid the danger.
The trouble was that at this point, I had drained all 3 of my camera batteries, and was shooting on fumes. I wasn’t able to hold out until sunset. The camera died about 15 minutes before the sun hit the coast. When I walked over to check on it, I slipped and crashed hard into the rocks. A photographer next to me grabbed me by my backpack, or I may have been headed for a swim! We decided to head back to the car, which was also just as well. The place would have turned into a madhouse getting out of the small parking lot after sunset.There were now at least 25 cars waiting on the road trying to find parking. Most of them would clearly have to go home disappointed.
Day 3: Carriage Roads and Bridges
On Friday I got up early to head down to the coast for sunrise while the family slept. My goal was to get a photo on “Boulder Beach”, where the coast is made up of large, rounded rocks that are lapped by the waves with the Otter Point cliffs in the background. As with the sunset the night before, I was far from alone. There were so many people on Boulder Beach that I decided to back up behind some larger rocks to once again get a shot without people in it. I think it worked out fairly well. I ended up in a location where I shot several perspectives of the rocks with the waves rolling around. It wasn’t the greatest sunrise, as a thick layer of clouds over the ocean muted the early morning sun, but it was definitely worth the visit. After the sun came up, all the photographers along Boulder Beach packed up shop. I sneaked in to snap a couple of long-exposure photos with the waves forming an ethereal mist around the rocks.
One of the other attractions in the park is a series of carriage roads built back when the early 20th century tycoons owned most of the park. The roads are smooth and graded, and make for some easy walking or bike riding through the interior of the park. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. commissioned a series of stone bridges along these roads, many of which cross picturesque tumbling streams. Our first hike of the day started from the Hulls Cove visitor center, along a carriage road to Witches’ Hole, and then up to the Duck Brook bridge. The road took us through more bright fall colors and past several ponds and streams – pretty much the definition of “serene”.
After a picnic lunch near the shore, we decided to climb up Gorham Mountain, along the coast near the Boulder Beach I photographed in the morning. This was a fun little hike, scrambling up and around some rocks before reaching the peak about 500′ above the shore.
Glutens for punishment, we decided to add on another carriage road walk to see three more bridges in the western area of the park. In particular, we wanted to see “Waterfall Bridge”, where there is a waterfall immediately behind the bridge that can be framed by the arch of the bridge. The same road also took us past Hemlock and Hadlock Brook bridges. We caught the last of them just as the sun was going down, and finished our hike in the dark. At this point, we’d had our fill and were ready to crash for the night.
Acadia is different from the national parks in the west. It was formed through donations from philanthropists over the years, and is divided into pieces by many small neighborhoods and private homes. It is relatively small, but draws large crowds – especially for the fall colors. We definitely enjoyed it, and hope to return again.