Thursday, May 30, 2013 : Acadia National Park


Bangor is a city of sports enthusiasts, we can see that from the plentiful breakfast at our hotel.


After the shower and the Skype chat with the family back in France, we take the road to Acadia National Park, roughly 55 miles from Bangor, a little over than an hour away. Probably as a consequence of the recent Memorial Day, a long stretch of the road is lined with American flags, about one every 500 feet for perhaps 20 miles.


At first, the weather is quite foggy, and we fear the worst for this beautiful park, which is best seen under the sun. Fortunately, we are quickly reassured, and we will enjoy really bright day.

Acadia National Park, the main entrance

Acadia National Park, here we are !


Acadia National Park occupies most of Mount Desert Island, discovered by Samuel de Champlain in 1604. The navigator found there an excellent shelter against the fierce winter storms of the North Atlantic, in a region equally coveted by the English and the French.


The park, established in 1919, is the oldest east of the Mississippi. We discover that it includes many enclaves, most notably the charming city of Bar Harbor, which we will visit late in the afternoon. Its history is marked by the sponsorship of the Rockefeller family.


At this moment, we are at Hulls Cove Visitor Center, in a deep conversation with a ranger who seems to know the park in absolute detail. He indicates us several must-see places, including a few that we most likely would never have found by ourselves.


Acadia National Park, Frenchman Bay

Frenchman Bay


Our second stop is at Frenchman Bay, named for Samuel de Champlain. At this morning time, a few fog banks still remain on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.


We can see the smooth, round shapes of the hills in the park. Rocks date from the Precambrian, an era that ended more than 500 million years ago. Erosion has had all time to do its work, in three different ways :

  • Glacial erosion : the region was covered by glaciers, more than 5,000 feet thick. They gave those round dome shapes with polished rocks, lakes and fjords,
  • Sea erosion : the energy of the Atlantic waves carved those small coves with sharp edges,
  • Frost weathering, caused by water seeping into rocks, freezing into ice and expanding, shattered the rocks and created cracks.


During the day, we will see many instances of the three kinds of erosion.


But we are not there just to study the geology of the park. We enjoy the beautiful Atlantic shore landscapes, under a gorgeous sunshine.


Acadia National Park, Frenchman Bay under the morning fog

Frenchman Bay under the morning fog


Our next stop is a little further, at Frenchman Bay. A higher viewpoint allows us to see the ocean high above the short trees. We quickly understand why : a sign reminds that we are in a part of the park that was badly burned out in the great 1947 fire. Since that time, trees have of course grown back, but not to the point of obstructing the view.


According to some specialists of the area, this fire contributed to bring back to the region some plants that had totally disappeared, an opportunity for the biodiversity of the park. Once more, I am absolutely stunned by nature's resilience and its capacity of adaptation.


Acadia National Park, raptor at Beaver Dam Pond

Raptor at Beaver Dam Pond


After geology and plants, we are interested in animal life. Marie takes a picture of this raptor landing on a stump slightly emerging from the water. It is less than 200 feet away from us, and does not seem too bothered by our presence.


The name Beaver Dam Pond is supposed to refer to a small lake behind a dam built by beavers. But we will not see any.


Acadia National Park, Peregrine Cliff, falcon

Falcon at Peregrine Cliff


Following the visitor center's ranger recommendation, we stop at Peregrine Cliff, where a few families of falcons are supposed to nest. We have been warned that those birds are best seen early, and it is already a bit late in the morning.


But two rangers show us that we arrive at the right moment. They have setup a high-magnification telescope, closely pointed on the nest of a family of falcons. The mother, clearly visible, watches her offspring, while the father, probably the bird that can be seen on the picture, is looking for food.


The falcon flies according to a carefully crafted ritual : it keeps on slowly flying in circles high above the ground and, when it sees an interesting prey, it dives vertically and catches it in its claws before it has time to flee. The game is not successful each time, but it works well enough to decently feed the bird's family with little rodents.


The rangers explain the difference between the male's call, a bit hoarse, and the female's, more ear-piercing. I joke that they are not unlike humans : Madam grumbles when Mister is late from the groceries.


Acadia National Park, Peregrine Cliff

Peregrine Cliff, where falcons nest


On this picture of Peregrine Cliff, our falcon family's nest can obviously not be seen. it is located almost at the top, under the row of scrub slightly below the summit of the cliff.


When it flies in circles looking for prey, the male falcon is roughly at the height of the summit, about 1,000 feet above the ground. Its exceptional vision allows it to easily spot a field mouse in the grass at such a distance.


House enclosed within Acadia National Park

House enclosed within Acadia National Park


We have now reached Schooner Head Overlook.


As we already mentioned, Acadia National Park is studded with many enclaves. This beautiful house with a magnificent view is actually located outside the park, which completely surrounds it.


There are more topographical oddities in this park. Some roads that do not actually belong to it nevertheless cross the park from end to end, like the one by which we will reach Bar Harbor at the end of the afternoon.


Acadia National Park, Sand Beach

Sand Beach, the only one of its kind in Acadia National Park


We stop for a while at Sand Beach, appropriately named as the only one of its kind in the park. Although the weather is really fine, there are very few bathers in the ocean. The water of the Atlantic, here under the influence of the Labrador Current, is very cold and seems to motivate only a few daring kids.


We have a short rest at Sand Beach.


Acadia National Park, island facing Otter Point, seabirds

Rock facing Otter Point, inhabited by seabirds


Not far away from Sand Beach, we also stop at Otter Point. Just in front of us, this small rock is inhabited by seabirds and, although we did not see them, seals and otters, hence the name of Otter Point.


Acadia National Park, cliff near Sand Beach

Cliff near Sand Beach


We then walk a narrow path that leads almost back to Sand Beach. We can closely see the work of erosion by the sea, which has cut into these sharp rocks. Beware of falls !


This part of the road, from the entrance of the park to its southernmost point at Seal Harbor, a cute small port enclosed within the park, is one-way.


Acadia National Park, Jordan Pond, the Bubbles in the background

Jordan Pond, the Bubbles in the background


After the junction with the two-way road that leads back to the entrance of the park, we stop at Jordan Pond. Once again, we can see the characteristic shapes wrought by glacial erosion, round summits, U-shaped valleys and the straight, narrow lake left  by a glacier that melt off long ago.


Just in front of us, the twin summits are called the Bubbles, as an obvious reference to their semi-spherical shape. Seen from afar, I was thinking of entirely something else ... let's say actress Jayne Mansfield.


We want to have some exercise, so we are going to walk around the lake. It is very quiet, hardly a noise, just a little wind whispering in the trees, vaguely shaking the leaves. And we are not exactly disturbed by visitors. We will cross less than a dozen.


Acadia National Park, view from the summit of South Bubble, Jordan Pond and the Atlantic Ocean

View from South Bubble, Jordan Pond and the Atlantic Ocean


At the far end of the lake, we set out to walk to the top of South Bubble, the closest to us. The climb is short but very steep and, at some point, looks more like actual mountaineering. A short but very narrow passage erases whatever remained of Marie's motivation. She decides to have a rest and wait for me. Too bad for her, we had almost made it.


I finish the climb on my own, which lasts but a few minutes. The absolutely gorgeous view at the top was really worth the extra effort. The sight goes out to the horizon, covering all the southern part of the park. The island in the background is more than 12 miles away.


After chatting for short while with a couple of English tourists who walked up South Bubble by a much easier way on another side, I go back to Marie, we climb down the hill and walk the other side of Jordan Pond.


Acadia National Park, view from Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain, Mount Desert Island, Atlantic Ocean


We are now driving to the top of Cadillac Mountain, which takes its name from Antoine Laumet de la Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac, third Governor of French Louisiana which, at the time, stretched from Québec to the Mississippi delta. Much later, the creators in Detroit of the famous car company will honor him, by choosing for their brand the name of their city's founder.


The Sieur de Cadillac, who emigrated from Southwest France to North America, explored all the North Atlantic coast, from Québec to New England and the Carolinas, establishing many fur trading posts. He also founded the town of Les Douacques, which later became Bar Harbor. Quite naturally, the highest summit of his adopted land was christened with his name.


On this picture, taken a few turns below the summit of the mountain, we can perfectly see the round shapes of the hills and the coves that deeply cut into the land, not unlike fjords. They are all the result of glacial erosion.


Acadia National Park, view from Cadillac Mountain, Frenchman Bay and Bar Harbor

View from Cadillac Mountain, Frenchman Bay and Bar Harbor


The northern side of Cadillac Mountain overlooks Frenchman Bay and Bar Harbor.


There are many trails leading to the summit of the mountain. However, after walking around Jordan Pond, more than 3 miles with some climbing in between, we chose the easy way and drove all the way up.


We slowly walk around the summit of the Mountain, enjoying a panoramic view of the whole area. While researching for this article, I learn that President Obama and the First Family have walked exactly that same path in July 2010.


In any case, Cadillac Mountain really deserves a visit.


Acadia National Park, Thunder Hole

Thunder Hole


We have some time left. We set out on the one-way road again, for a longer stop at Thunder Hole, which we have kind of overlooked in the morning.


Thunder Hole is the product of sea erosion. It is a rather deep cut in the cliff in which, according to tides, water flows with more or less strength, leaving behind the noise of an emptying bathroom bowl when it flows back. This acoustic oddity, along with the wild beauty of the landscape, justifies a second visit.


Water and deposited seaweeds make the rocks very slippery. We strongly advise against walking too close to the wet portions. Better safe than sorry !


It is our last stop. We soon leave Acadia National Park.


Bar Harbor, anchored schooner

Anchored schooner in Bar Harbor


We still have time. We set out to Bar Harbor, a nice fishing and leisure harbor, sheltered in Frenchman Bay, which exudes quietness, elegance and a laid-back lifestyle.


All activities are geared toward the ocean : lobster fishing, plentiful in the area, leisure boat maintenance, sea excursions.


At some distance, we can see this beautiful schooner. It is a private ship, visits are out of the question  !


Bar Harbor, five Corvettes side by side

Bar Harbor, five Corvettes side by side


Further down on the port, we can see an incredible number of Corvettes, almost a dozen, in hardly a few minutes. There must have been some kind of gathering. Those cars are beautiful, in excellent condition.


It is my favorite car, and I hope to have one, one day. This surreal vision makes me feel in Heaven !


Bar Harbor, lobster trap buoys, color code by family

Bar Harbor, lobster trap buoys, color code by family


On the wall of a fishing hardware store, we can see those buoys, used to locate lobster fishing traps. Each family in Bar Harbor has its own color code, which gets passed along from generation to generation. Since it seems that nobody ever thinks of snatching the content of another family's lobster traps, the color code is sufficient. Perhaps lobster stealing in Bar Harbor is considered a major criminal offense, much like cattle stealing in Texas !


A little further down the road, on the wall of another shop, we can see hundreds of license plates nailed on the wood. The plates of North Dakota and Hawaii come from this wall.


It is now time to drive back to Bangor, where we arrive long after dark.


We have dinner at the Texas Roadhouse, a grilled meat restaurant close to our hotel, where meat quality is excellent and service very friendly. We are glad to have dinner at the bar rather than waiting for a table. Our waitress entertains us with deadpan humor, which I always enjoy a lot. We later have a rather long conversation with the restaurant's owner, who wanted to know how we liked the steaks. Excellent, dear Sir, excellent !


We walked almost 8 miles today. We deserve a good night of rest.

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