Sue and I headed out for a vacation to Moosehead Lake on Thursday morning, 10/01/15. Though the weather was predicted to be chilly, but otherwise fine, we super packed for intense rain. Fortunately, none of that was needed as the weather was just spectacular all week.
Just the weekend before, the Northeast was hit with one of the most damaging and severe rain storms on record. Though we didn't get it too badly along the New Hampshire Seacoast region, many parts of northern Maine got 5 and 6 inches of rain. Portland, ME was flooded with several inches of water coursing through the downtown streets, and I understand that parts of Bath, ME had to be evacuated.
In summary, our trip took us north on I95 to Augusta, ME and then over for the day to one of our favorite spots: Belfast, ME. We spent the night in a yurt just west of Belfast in Montville, and then Friday drove the back roads up to Baxter State Park and Mt. Katahdin. We spent the night in a cute bed and breakfast in Millinocket, ME, and then on Saturday, again driving the back roads into Maine's Great North Woods, over to Greenville, ME and Moosehead Lake, staying at The Birches resort in Rockwood, ME for Saturday and Sunday. Monday, we drove up to Jackman, ME, just 17 miles from the Canadian border, and then worked our way down Route 201 through The Forks, Moscow, and Skowhegan where we stopped for gas and hot dogs for lunch before winding our way down to I95 and home, arriving around 3:30pm.
From home, we headed out Route 4, stopping on the way out of Dover to grab coffee and breakfast sandwiches. We picked up Route 9 in North Berwick, ME and drove to Wells, ME where we jumped onto I95 North and I295 through Portland, ME. When we got to Augusta, ME at exit 113, we picked up Route 3 which took us all the way into Belfast, ME.
What a pretty drive Route 3 is! Interestingly, not only hadn't many of the leaves begun to change around the Dover, NH area, but it was pretty much the same for the whole drive up to Belfast. It had been really hot for over a week not too long ago, and then the heavy rains the week before I suspect had slowed things down. But this last week since the storm, the temperature has been down in the low 40s and even in the high 30s. I would have expected more color, but we didn't find this to be the case until we got all the way up to Jackman, ME on Monday. And even that was not complete or full. When it comes this year, it'll come very, very fast. That's for sure!
Sue and I just love Belfast. It's such a gem of a Maine seacoast town, just far enough away from all the hub-bub of Camden to be 'remote'. It sits anchored to the rocky coast on Maine's unpredictable but magical Penobscot Bay. We had done an overnight trip up to Belfast in April of 2014.
Even though this trip was primarily to see Moosehead Lake, one of Sue's great 'Bucket List' items was to stay in a yurt. When researching the trip, she had found one available for Thursday night at Goose Ridge Yurts in Montville, ME, only about 30 minutes west of Belfast. So, going to Moosehead Lake via Belfast was just a done deal when she read that!
The wind was very brisk when we stepped out of the car down at the harbor area of downtown Belfast. It was just around noon, and we thought stopping in Belfast at the Dockside Family Restaurant for lunch would be great fun. The waitress confirmed that Belfast had got 6 inches of rain in the storm and that water had just poured down Main Street. She said it was one of the worst storms she'd seen.
After lunch, we wandered down to the town docks, through the park, and then visited a few of the shops along Main Street before heading off to Goose Ridge Yurts, arriving there at 3:00pm. We met the owner Kim as our cars met half way up the winding gravel driveway to their home that sits overlooking a large, grassy field surrounded by trees swaying in the wind. She told us where to park and that the yurt was about an eighth of a mile hike up a trail through the woods.
Goose Ridge Yurts
We just couldn't believe how cute the yurt site was when we broke into the clearing. Being the 'city boy', I was immediately careful to note the exact location of the outhouse because I just knew that I'd be doing at least one middle of the night trip out there! The inside of the yurt was damp and cold, and so one of the first orders of business was to get the small wood stove going. After some exploring around the yurt and hiking back down the gravel road so Sue could get some pictures, we went back to the yurt to see how the wood stove was doing. It was only after getting some warmth flowing that we took a bottle of wine and the backgammon board outside to a picnic table just to the side of the yurt.
We didn't last long playing backgammon outside because the yurt sits pretty much in the woods. As the sun began to fall below the treeline, the air took on a biting chill. But it was so cozy inside the yurt by then that we just fired up a couple of battery powered lanterns that were there, and had a wonderful time. There were two big containers of water: one for drinking and the other for washing. We got a big pot of water boiling on the gas fired camp stove and began to slowly heat spaghetti sauce with a bag of frozen meatballs that Sue had brought up in a medium sized cooler.
After eating and playing a few more sets of backgammon, we just decided to close up shop around 9:00pm and go to bed. We were both beat from the long drive, and knew we had several hours of driving to do the next day. Well, we didn't get that much sleep because we had to keep getting up to feed the wood stove.
Sue was up in the morning long before I was. She had grabbed her camera and had taken a long hike through the woods on a trail that Kim had mentioned to her. I think it was well over a couple of miles that she walked when she came clumping into the yurt mumbling something about the city boy needing to get his ass out of bed.
We had some pastries for breakfast that we had bought in Belfast on the way over to the yurt, and then we were off on a 3 hour drive to Baxter State Park and Mt. Katahdin. Seeing Mt. Katahdin was another 'Bucket List' item for Sue, but I'm not sure the effort of getting to where we had at least a decent view of it was really worth it.
We stopped in Millinocket, ME (about a half hour away from the Togue Pond Gatehouse entrance to Baxter State Park) to get sandwiches for lunch in the park, and to vist the Baxter State Park Authority. No way was I heading off into the wilds without a little more information! And good thing we did, because the folks there were so friendly and helpful.
One thing in particular really saved us a lot of grief. I had mentioned that the next day we were thinking of heading over to Moosehead Lake via Golden Road which the maps all showed ran through to the north side of Baxter State Park and then west. I had thought that would be a really scenic drive. But the woman warned us that the road was strictly a logging road with deep ruts and all shale, which could ruin tires on a passenger car like my Honda Accord. They don't tell you that in any of the guide books or visitor manuals!
They also warn you not to rely on your GPS, so having good maps and directions are essential. The road out to the park is good, but once you pass through the check in gate, it becomes an excruciating 10 mph exercise on a bumpy gravel road dodging ruts and rock outcroppings. And you're surrounded the whole time by trees; you can't see a thing. We did stop at a lakeside rest area to have lunch, but that was the extent of any view until we got 8 miles into the park to the Katahdin Stream Campground where we were told would be a wide open view of the south face of Mt. Katahdin.
Baxter State Park and Mt. Katahdin
Really? I don't think so. Oh, sure, there was a clear view of the mountain through the trees, but the campground was just a large open space with some picnic areas carved out of the deep woods. We walked across a bridge to the ranger station on the other side and then back to the main area to walk part way down one of the trails. But neither of us were really interested in hiking in the closed in woods. What a bust!
Heading back to the parking area, a girl hiker, she introduced herself as Crow, asked us if she could get a ride into Millinocket. She had just hiked the Appalachian Trail from Mt. Washington (actually scalling Mt. Washington) to trail's end at the base of Mt. Katahdin, though she had taken 3 hours to hike up to the top and she bumped into us after coming back down. She said all she wanted after 6 weeks on the trail was a hotel room with a hot tub and some decent food!
After dropping Crow off at The Katahdin Inn and Suites in Millinocket, we drove over to where we were going to spend the night, The Young House Bed and Breakfast. I had chosen that not only for it only having 5 rooms in a great old historical house, but because they said they served the best and biggest breakfast around. Though a terrific experience and a great chat with the managers, Bethany and Hamilton Ash, we were told that the Inn was closing at the end of October. Sad, because it really is a magnificent building. The though Bethany was born in Millinocket, and had come back after many years with Hamilton to run the inn, they were headed to California to be closer to their kids. And for future plans, we hope they stay in touch with us as they plan on starting up an inn of their own somewhere in Montana. Now, that might be an excuse for a trip out there!
After checking in, we got to take hot showers before going out to dinner at the The Scootic In Restaurant. The Scooticin turned out to not only have great food, but we just had the best time there. Again, it was an early night when we got back to the Inn. But this time we had heat and lights! So before heading off to bed, we just sat up and played some backgammon and chatted.
Breakfast in the morning was amazing. And soooo much food; we were totally and completely stuffed by the time we left. It was a lot of fun because we sat at a large table with two other couples. It's always nice to hear of others stories and adventures. Just as we all were finishing up, another couple and their son sat down. George at our table had met them the night before and announced to everyone how proud we all were to learn that he had just completed a 6 month hike of the entire Appalachian Trail from it's beginning at Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. What a feat! We all clapped loudly for him and his accomplishment.
The drive from Millinocket to Moosehead turned out to be far more of an ordeal than either of us could have ever expected. Things started out just fine, but what should have been a couple hours of driving took us far, far longer than that. When I had gotten directions, there was an option to cut across on the Katahdin Iron Works Road, the Ki Road, about 26 miles out of Millinocket. That road goes through The Hundred-Mile Wilderness forest and I thought that would be a marvelous scenic way to go. Seccnic, yes. Marvelous, no.
The Katahdin Iron Works
First, you travel about 8 miles on a very bumpy unemproved gravel road to the entrance to the park where you pay $12 per person to go through. It's either pay, or go back over 8 miles of tooth jaring road and go around. Should have gone back and around because the road through is just awful. And you have to fill out an entry form that must be handed to the gate at the other end to prove that you made it out!
The Hundred-Mile Wilderness itself is the section of the Appalachian Trail running between Abol Bridge just south of Baxter State Park and Monson in the state of Maine. It is generally considered the wildest section of the Appalachian Trail, and one of the most challenging to navigate and traverse. And the Ki Road that you drive through it isn't much better! It's 22 miles of the worst road your car can stand short of a full blown logging road, which this road was classed as anyway. Holy Crap!
The entry gate is at The Katahdin Iron Works, a Maine state historic site located in the unorganized township of the same name. It is the site of an ironworks which operated from 1845 to 1890. In addition to the kilns of the ironworks (of which only one survives), the community was served by a railroad and had a 100-room hotel. The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.
Sue leaped out of the car as soon as I pulled into the parking lot at The Katahdin Iron Works and headed for the large brick kiln, snapping pictures as she went, while I went into the gate house to pay the fees. In an unbelievably scary situation, as I was walking around the site with Sue, I somehow dropped my car keys! Dumb ass.... Here we are in the absolute middle of nowhere and for the first time in my life I've lost the keys to the car. Great move, Peter. Just a really great move. Fortunately, after we both scoured the grounds, I found them laying in the grass. Saved! Dumb ass....
22 Miles of Grief Over the Ki Road
Right next to the gate is just a spectacularly beautiful wooden bridge crossing a surging stream. We just had to walk over to that and take in the beauty of it. The scenery was just breathtaking, but again, the leaves were only turning in less than half of the trees. But the contrast between those that had and the deep green of those that hadn't was magnificant in its own way.
With a breath of relief that I had found my keys, we drove the car over the wooden bridge and started off on what they call the Ki Road. And that was 22 miles of the crappiest road I have ever been on - again, short of a full fledged logging road. It took almost an hour to traverse. I was beat by the time we finally hit some decent pavement.
Greenville, ME and Moosehead Lake
Greenville, ME is such a picture-postcard perfect little village sitting on the south west edge of Moosehead Lake that you could imagine. With only a population of 2,000, that expands to a little over 10,000 during the main hunting and fishing season, it has such a comfortable and relaxed feeling to it that I immediately fell in love with it.
We parked the car in the community lot by the docks where the sightseeing boat, The Mount Katahdin, is located, and walked around town for a few minutes before deciding that we should stop and have lunch. We had a great meal at the Rod n Reel Cafe, looking out the windows across the street to Moosehead Lake.
After lunch, we went exploring along the main street. We stopped into one of the neatest shops I think I've ever been in, the Moosehead Lake Indian Store. I almost had sensory overload by the time we came out of there! Such great fun that Sue wanted to go back in Sunday when we came into town.
The Birches Resort, Rockwood, ME
I had made reservations at The Birches Resort, Rockwood, ME which is about a 25 minute drive north on Routes 6 and 15. There is just about no development between Greenville and The Birches. But then, this is what they call Maine's Great North Woods. It's remote as a region!
The Birches itself is tucked in the woods on the shore of Moosehead Lake. There is a wonderfully rustic main lodge with a reception and sitting area, a lounge with two fire places, and just beyond that, a large log framed dining room with one of the largest fire places I think I"ve ever seen, and with windows looking out over Moosehead Lake. To say that it was unbelievably captivating would be a gross understatment, if you like the lodge style look and feel; which both Sue and I do.
After checking in and making dinner reservations, we drove the short distance to where their 15 Rustic Log Cabins were, all lined up in the woods along the shore. We had been assigned to Cabin Number 10 called Green Eyes. Again, just a picture perfect rustic log cabin! But not too rustic! It had running water, electricity, and indoor bathroom with a shower. It had a gas fired heater in the bedroom, and a large stone fire place in the living room. When we first walked into the cabin, it was cozy warm as they had lit a fire before we arrived. The small crackling flames lept around the remains of the two logs, and so Sue gathered up a few logs from a stack on the front porch and I stoked the fire back to life.
The wind had been blowing farily strong all day, and was coming right at us across the lake. There was enough of a reach so that pretty good sized waves of 4 or 5 inches were crashing against the rocky shoreline. We both agreed that it sounded just like the ocean, it was that compelling. The resort even had warnings in its literature that Moosehead could be a very treacherous place in a storm with significant wind and waves. It warned that if you were planning on renting canoes or kayaks to hug the shoreline just to be safe.
After taking a short walk around the general area, I convinced Sue that we should go back to the main lodge so she could take pictures from inside through the windows of the lake while the sun was still up. She got some terrific pictures that so capture the beauty of The Birches area. Back at the cabin we broke out the wine and played a few sets of backgammon before freshening up for dinner. The dining room was really crowded, and we had to wait just a few minutes beyond our 7:00pm reservation time for a table to clear. We really lucked out with a table right next to the windows so we could catch the last of the sunset. We had a leisurely dinner sipping our wine and watching the roaring fire. This is how life should be all the time.
When we got back to the cabin, we stoked the fire and brought a bunch of wood in so we wouldn't have to traipse around outside in the cold, it was already really chilly; probably mid 40s, to bring in wood in the middle of the night. We turned one small light on, and sat by the fire playing a few more games of backgammon and chatting before going to bed.
Midnight Photography Shoot
Sue woke me up around midnight dumping logs on the fire and tromping around mumbling about getting her camera and what a magnificent night sky there was. She was all wound up! I got up, put on my warm clothes (because I knew for sure where this was going!), and went out to the car to get Sue's tripod for the camera.
The sky was pitch black with thousands of stars twinkling as a backdrop to one of the most gorgous moons shadowed by whisps of fog that I have ever seen. I don't know how many pictures Sue took, but there were a lot! Some of them just take your breath away, but pale in comparisson to what we were able to experience there on the shores of Moosehead Lake at one o'clock in the morning in a bone chilling wind.
Sunday morning, I hear Sue come crashing through the door and again mumbling something about the city boy needing to get his ass out of bed. I know she didn't sleep much after we quit the photography adventure, and she told me later that she had gone on a long hike with her camera at about 6:00am that morning. She was all fired up and just loving this whole thing. I had slept really soundly through all of that and was surprised that it was after 8:00am!
After I got dressed, we jumped in the car and drove down to Greenville to find something for breakfast. The cafe where we had lunch Saturday didn't open until later, and so Sue suggested another cafe she had seen driving around yesterday. We sat by the window and just enjoyed muffins and coffee before going back over the Moosehead Lake Indian Store, which was actually just across the street, as Sue had wanted to see a part of the store that she had missed. That was fine with me because that is just the neatest place!
Center for Moosehead History museum
We drove over to the Center for Moosehead History museum around 10:30am as we had been told how neat it was. And what a great place, describing all of the rich history of the Moosehead Lake region from its earliest days. There was quite a bit of information about Henry David Thoreau's 1853 long journey by canoe from Moosehead Lake to the Allagash Wilderness, and back again; a distance totalling 325 miles. Just really fascinating stuff.
As it was after 1:00pm, and we were hungry, we headed back for The Birches. We both had huge dinners the night before, and Sue had saved over half of hers for today's lunch. On the way, we took a small detour onto Lakeshore Road, which bears off to the right just before you'd get onto The Birches Road. Colin and Ren and about a dozen of their friends have rented a log home on the river up here for the last couple of years. They all bring their jet skies and assorted toys, rent a pontoon boat from The Birches marina for the week, and just have a ball. They wanted us to see it, and Ren had given Sue the directions. It was only a few minutes from the turnoff, and we're glad that we had a chance to see it as it's a really nice spot. They're all already talking about going back next year, and we could definately see why!
After having that late lunch, we took a long walk that included spending some time along the shore at The Birches marina. The docks were bobbing up and down in the waves coming across the lake, and the wind was still blowing pretty good, though it was warm in the sun. Back at the cabin, we threw a few more logs on the fire to take the chill out of the air, and sat down with glasses of wine to play some backgammon and chat before going to dinner.
Remembering the crowd from the night before, I had made 6:30pm dinner reservations. But when we got there, only a couple of tables were occupied. And were it not for a chance conversation that I had with the girl at the desk earlier that afternoon who mentioned that Sunday dinner always had a Thanksgiving turkey style dinner with all the fixings, we'd have never known because our server was just there because she had to be there. We had the greatest time! But neither of us could even eat half our meals they were so big! We got doggie bags and had that for dinner back home Tuesday night. And we got stuffed again!
Another Late Night Photography Adventure!
When we came out of the main lodge after dinner, a whispy fog hung over the far shore of the lake. After throwing a couple of logs on the fire to get that going again, we just stood outside in the chilly air taking in all of the beauty around us in the dead-still of the blackness around us. Of course, Sue could not pass this opportunity up, and so out came the camera again for some great shots of the lake under its cover of gray-white.
Again, I got caught sleeping the day away when Sue came back from a long walk that she had taken. I lept out of bed and got dressed as fast aa I could, packing a little as I went. We had a long drive home ahead of us, and I had wanted to get a much earlier start than we would be getting, particularly because we were going to have a big breakfast here at The Birches before heading out.
But when we got to the main lodge, the desk clerk said that since there were only a couple of folks on site, the manager had decided not to open the kitchen. That's understandable because this weekend was the end of one of their busier periods. But that didn't help as we were pretty hungry. One of the other employees was standing there and suggested that we just drive a few miles down the road to the local gas station and market for their breakfast sandwiches.
Well, that sounded pretty good to us, but before heading out the door I had a feeling I'd better ask him about the proposed route that we were planning on taking home. And again, it's a good thing I did because the road I had mapped out turns out to be another one of those logging roads! Gad, if we would have gone that way we would have been screwed for sure. We wanted to get over onto Route 201 South and see some of the small towns along there that we had always heard about, but figured we'd just never get there because... well, unless you hunt or fish there's no earthly reason you'd want to go there!
Anyway, the guy was kind enough to encourage us to just head North all the way up to Jackman, ME and then head south from there. Now, Jackman is only 17 miles from the Canadian border and is known to be absolutely in the middle of nowhere. I had just thought that would be way out of our range, but he insisted that was the only way we'd get to see what we wanted to see and that it was only about 30 miles out of our way. I asked him if there might be a store or gas station along the way to grab a bite to eat, and he just chuckled. He said that once we got just north of The Birches, they didn't even have power lines until almost to Jackman!
To Jackman, ME... And BEYOND!
So, we drove the few miles south to get coffee and breakfast sandwiches, turned around, and headed north into the deep North Woods of Maine along Routes 6 and 15. And: there-was-ab-so-lut-ly-NOTHING-there! Miles, and miles, and miles of nothing but the beauty and power of Nature enveloping you in its grandure. It was spectacular!
Jackman is the quintessential template of the remote Maine village. Quaint would not be a word that I would use to describe it. Beat but functional would be a better representation. Regardless of all that, it is the hub of the serious outdoors person's love. The whole town just oozes that closeness to Nature that we all, at one time or another, long for. And those folks who take the time to make the trek to Jackman do so because of this. And it is the perfect place to really get away from it all!
From Jackman we continued south on Route 201 through a couple of really pretty areas: The Forks, ME and Moscow, ME. I'm really glad we took the time to run up north to Jackman so that we had the opportunity to see this beautiful sretch of some of the more remote parts of Maine. We stopped in Skowhegan, ME for gas and hot dogs for lunch before winding our way down to I95 and home, arriving around 3:30pm.