Big Falls Preserve

With the prospect of cooler weather upon us, I wanted to venture a little farther afield for our explorations. While perusing the events feature on Maine Trailfinder, one of my go to websites for locating hiking possibilities, I located a preserve in New Gloucester that just happened to be next to a cidery. On the Norumbega Cidery website, I discovered that there was a trail system on their property as well. Excellent, we would be able to explore the Big Falls preserve, create a loop with the trails on the cidery land, and finish up with a cider tasting. What a great way to spend a sunny September day!

Unfortunately, summer returned with a vengeance. When we arrived at Big Falls preserve it was 80 degrees and humid. Hiking in oppressive weather would add a significant difficulty factor to our walk, but we had driven an hour and a half to explore, so explore we would. As we walked up the dirt road towards the trailhead, we passed a couple finishing up their hike. They looked very overheated and disappointed. They claimed they had walked about 4 miles and never found the falls. I thought that perhaps the falls were seasonal but we would see.

Just before we reached the trailhead, there was a metal bench overlooking  Meadow Brook. It seemed like it could be a beautiful spot to take in the scenery but my husband thought it was more of a great place to feed the mosquitoes so we moved on. At the trailhead, we entered a dark hardwood forest with an abundance of ferns on the forest floor. The trail itself was fairly easy to navigate, and there was always an abundance of blue markers to lead the way. Not far into the preserve, we found the remains of a very old, abandoned automobile. My husband took a few pictures before we continued our hike.

The path eventually led to Meadow Brook and followed it for quite a ways. When we saw the rocky stream-bed, we understood why the exhausted couple we had met had not found the falls. The brook was mostly rocks with a few puddles scattered among the rocks. As I suspected the falls were seasonal. Still the rocks, the wet spots and the sun filtering through the trees created a special scene that we admired for some time.

At this point there was a little bit of an incline through the woods but the hot, humid weather was making it difficult to maneuver. As we reached the top of this hill I commented to my husband that I thought I could hear the falls that the previous hikers had missed. Sure enough there was a pile of boulders that created a natural dam. Behind the boulders was a large pool of water but not enough to rush over the dam. Whatever water was making its way downstream was trickling through the cracks between the rocks.

From here, the path turned away from the brook. It wasn’t long before we were back on the road heading towards the Norumbega Chapel trail on the opposite side of the road. Along the grassy road and at the trailhead there was an abundance of Golden Rod and Calico Asters, the only flowers that seemed to remain by late September.

The Chapel Trail was a little more difficult due to fallen twigs and debris along the path. These conditions continued during the remainder of our hike. Still, there were plenty of red markers showing the way to go. There was never any time that we had to worry about being lost. Halfway through this portion of our explorations, we found a cute little chapel in the middle of the woods with a small stained glass window of a ship towards the back. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask the owners of the significance or history of the chapel.

Shortly after paying our respects at the chapel, we crossed a bridge with cairns at either end of the crossing. Soon we were at the cidery, where we decided we deserved a tasting after our heated travels. After our refreshment we returned to the woods, crossed the bridge and followed the yellow markers along the stream. There were quite a few cairns along either side and in the stream, which could have been old trail markers before the owners expanded this trail and put up the yellow markers. In any case it was a better way to return to the car than to walk down the graveled driveway to the road. Despite the heat it had been a great day for an outing.

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Hidden Valley Nature Center 2019

Several years ago, we had visited the Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson Maine, a preserve that consisted of over 1000 acres of protected land and 25 miles of multi-use trails. It was during that difficult season that could not be defined; not quite winter, not quite mud season but not yet spring. If I remembered correctly, the walking was difficult as we maneuvered around patches of snow and ice. At the time we swore we would be back and now, mid-September 2019 it was time to revisit the Nature Center.

During our first adventure here, we had created a short loop exploring the western section of the area. We walked as far as Haybale Pond, then back down past Kidney Pond and the South Yurt, looping back up to the parking area. As mentioned, due to the time of year the going was a bit challenging but on this beautiful, autumn day the trails were quite easy to navigate. Our plan of attack this time around was a longer walk, first to explore the eastern section of the preserve and then straight up the Bowl Loop Trail to the Little Dyer Pond Trail. Because of the maze of paths here, we printed out a trail map to help navigate the area (highly recommended).

At the Gatehouse, we veered right towards the Crossbill Trail and Warbler’s Way. In this portion of the Nature Center, there was evidence of a rather large population of Lady’s Slippers. In fact, many were flagged in a section designated as a Lady Slipper Research area. I thought that this must be a spectacular sight in the spring. As a different season was upon us, the abundance of Golden Rods and Asters added color to our journey. Near the top of the Crossbill Loop, a short trail led down to a boardwalk where we explored the Kettle Hole Bog. Although the summer blooms were done, we could still spot the occasional flower rising above the distinctive base of the Pitcher Plants, which covered the area. I was also intrigued by the feathery remains of some unknown plant (tawny cotton grass, perhaps?), particularly one heart-shaped specimen. At the end of the boardwalk, there was a platform that looked out over the water. We meditated on the scenery for a bit before returning to the Crossbill Loop and along Warbler’s Way.

Once on Warbler’s Way, we continued to see an abundance of Lady Slipper leaves, as well as the yellowing leaves of Canada Mayflowers and the sporadic evidence of Indian Root Cucumber. We stopped numerous times along this path to marvel at the variety of mushrooms around us. Other than Shelf Fungus and Coral Fungus my identification skills for mushrooms were not sufficient to know any of the others we spotted. Although, we did find a few perfectly shaped specimens.

Despite the number of stops along the way, it was not long before the Warbler’s Way trail intersected with the Bowl Loop. This was more of a road than a path, and except for a slight incline here and there, was a pretty easy walk. We did take one little side trip to admire the views of Haybale Pond before continuing on Bowl Loop. Along the sides of the trail, we spotted an abundance of Tall Rattlesnake Root. Until recently, I had mistakenly referred to this plant as either Wild Lettuce or Wild Cucumber, but since one of the varieties of Rattlesnake Root was referred to as White Lettuce I think it was an honest mistake.

Rather than continue on the Bowl Loop, we made a slight right on to Little Dyer Pond Trail. It wasn’t long before we could see the pond through the trees. Eventually we stopped at the South Campsite to enjoy a snack and the views of the pond.  After our respite, we meandered back along Slick Rock Trail, to Bowl Loop and Big Rock Loop. Along the way, we found an interesting art work of a skier attached to a tree. We were not sure it this had any significance but speculated on its meaning a bit before continuing one. We made a brief side trip to investigate the Yurt before attempting to return to the Bowl Loop. Rather than backtrack to the easier trail, we opted to take one of the few steep sections in the preserve. We had passed a sign earlier in the day, indicating this steep shortcut to the yurt. There They were not kidding!! I was sure that I would find myself sliding down this hill on my butt. I eventually made it safely down this hill and we were able to continue on the road back to the entrance. It had been a rewarding and enjoyable day.

 

Another Sunrise

My husband had been proclaiming the beauty of watching the sun come up over the ocean while sitting on the summit of Bald Rock Mountain to a co-worker. After mentioning it to his family, everyone became excited about the idea, well at least the adults were enthusiastic about the adventure. After calendars were consulted, and sunrise charts verified to figure out the best day where we wouldn’t have to be on the trail too early (if one considers 4:30 not too early), a date was set. And that is how we found ourselves celebrating the official end of summer, Labor Day weekend, with a sunrise hike up Bald Rock Mountain.

Since we had done this trail so many times during our daytime hikes, my husband and I knew how much time we needed to get to the summit. This was an important consideration for the sunrise hike, since not everyone hiked at the same pace. We consider ourselves to be slower than most. On this particular day sunrise was 6:56, so figuring 27 minutes up the Multi-use Road, another 30 or so to the summit and adding time to enjoy the pre-show put us at 4:30. This was figuring that two energetic children would walk at a faster pace than us. However, the children were not happy about being dragged out of bed at the ungodly hour of 3:30 am. Still we made good time.

Once we reached the Bald Rock trailhead at 5:05 we knew that we would be okay, especially as the children became more alert. In fact, the smaller members of our party took great delight in locating all the toads along the trail. The toads seemed to like this time of day, so there were many of them. I believe we counted at least a dozen large ones and one small one (located by the smallest member of our group).

Five minutes before we reached the summit, the pre-dawn became light enough that we could turn off our headlamps. In a few more minutes we had reached our destination with plenty of time to spare. It was about 5:40 and the pre-show was already under way. The horizon was beginning to take on a reddish hue, illuminating the clouds nearby. In a few more minutes, we caught a glimpse of the sun at the water line. As always, the best show in the world was awe inspiring. Forgotten was the 3:30 alarm, the accusation of “whose idea was this anyway”, and the grumbling during the first portion of our hike. The best display that nature could offer made it all worthwhile.

As the sun rose higher, the reddish morning hue reflected on the water. I decided to play with my camera a bit trying to catch that reflection and line it up with the lens flares. After testing that out a bit, I tried to do the same with the lens flare and a group of goldenrods nearby. The results weren’t horrible. Then I remembered a photography article I had read concerning early morning and evening light. That article had suggested that you should also turn around and see what the light is doing to the landscape behind you. I turned around and noticed the red light illuminating the trees behind me. It was just as beautiful as the view of the rising sun.

We stayed a bit longer, enjoying a snack and the stillness of the day before heading down. The children were more lively and chatty now, so I got all the news on the way down the trail. The company and the views had been a great way to start the holiday weekend.

 

Blue Hill Mountain

By late August my friend and I were ready for a new adventure. She would be busy with new classes in September and would be unavailable while she got acclimated to the new semester, so this would be our only opportunity for exploring new places until later in the fall. Her first suggestion was someplace in Acadia but I informed her there was no way I was going to Acadia until the summer crowds dissipated. With this condition in mind, I sent her some ideas between Bucksport and Ellsworth. We soon settled on Blue Hill Mountain just outside of Blue Hill, with a stop in Bucksport on the way home for the ice cream I had promised her earlier in the year.

I had done this hike almost a dozen years ago, and I remembered it as not being too strenuous. Once on the road that would give us the option of two different trail heads, we thought that we would pull off into the first parking area, for no other reason than it was the first. The decision for the second trail-head was made for us when we drove past the first parking area. No problem, most of the trails were about the same difficulty.

After crossing the road to the Hayes trail, we meandered along a path through a meadow. There were bird boxes throughout the field and we stopped to watch a pair of blue birds flitting from the birdhouse to the vegetation. Further up the field we studied a butterfly resting on a nearby flower.

At the top of the field, we had the choice to continue on the Hayes Trail or turn onto the Service Road Trail. The Hayes Trail would intersect the Service Trail just behind a radio tower. The Service Trail would then continue towards the summit. Since the Hayes trail was described as challenging, with a section where we would  have to climb a steep rocky slope (described as a talus on our map), we opted to take the Service Road towards the summit. This path took us through a beautiful mixed wood forest, which became mostly pine as we neared the top. Most of this road was paved with stone blocks to allow the service vehicles to reach the tower, which made for a relatively easy hike (other than stopping to catch our breath due to the ascent).

As we neared the tower, we found a map at the intersection of the path we were on with the Hayes Trail. We spoke with two men who were studying the map, to get their assessment of the Hayes Trail. After our discussion, we decided to give it a try with the thought that we could turn around if it seemed too difficult. Soon we found ourselves on a large, comfortable area of open ledge with spectacular views of Blue Hill harbor. It was the perfect spot to enjoy our lunch!

It was while we were eating, that my comrade made the observation that she thought that another trail to the summit, Larry’s Trail, continued on the other side of the support wires for the tower. I went over to investigate and found that Larry’s Loop would have us walk along a very narrow open ledge. Nope, that was not happening. I investigated another path behind us, hoping that it would bypass that narrow ledge (especially having just found out that she was more uncomfortable with open ledges than I). This trail did bypass the narrow section of trail but would deposit us on a slightly wider open space. After some discussion, we decided that we already had the best views from where we were, and did not really need to summit, and hey, wasn’t it time for ice cream?

With a stop for ice cream in mind, we opted to make our descent on the Hayes Trail. It wasn’t long before we were scrambling down a boulder field. I slowed down considerably since I am not at all comfortable maneuvering around rocky conditions, not only due to my hip replacement but because I have been known to trip once in a while when hiking. All of a sudden, my friend yelled for me to move and attempted to push past me (I swear she was trying to push me off the mountain). She had found six or seven bees flying around and, since she was allergic to bee stings wanted to get quickly out of their way. I let her zoom past me, while I continued my painfully slow pace down the mountain. Eventually, we reached the field and could safely walk the rest of the way to the parking area.

Our hiking adventures done for the day, we made our way to Bucksport for our much deserved ice cream. After purchasing our sweets, we found a bench along the river with wonderful views of the Penobscot Bridge and Fort Knox. We then  walked the red brick paved walkway along the river to work off some of the ice cream before calling it a day and heading home.

 

Long Cove Preserve

By late August I felt it was time to explore something new, so I pulled out our trail guide for the local land trust and studied our options before deciding that we should visit Long Cove Preserve in Searsport. It was one of the few preserves in the guide that we had yet to investigate. After a few weeks of warm, humid weather, this particular Friday promised lower temperatures and lower humidity; a perfect day for hiking an unknown territory.

When we arrived at the preserve, we studied the trail map and set out our travel plan. Although there were two loops in this park, visitors needed to travel at least part of the blue loop before reaching the orange loop. My initial strategy was that we would traverse both loops in a figure 8, in order to visit most of the area.

I have to say, that the Long Cove Preserve was one of the “wilder” properties owned by the land trust. Then again, the vegetation had all summer to take over sections of the trail. As we walked along the Blue Trail, I noticed that the Asters and Golden Rods were beginning to lean over the trail a bit, making the path a little bit narrow. Not horrible, just a little narrower than what we were used to.

As we walked along, I noticed that the leaves of the Canada Mayflowers and the Eastern Starflowers were beginning to turn yellow, the Wild Sarsaparilla was taken on the yellow or reddish spotted appearance of late summer, and the Bunchberries were displaying a large amount of bright, red berries. The end of summer was certainly making its presence known. I was particularly intrigued by the way the Self-Heal was shedding its petals, leaving a small circle of purple around a green core. It was also in this section that we counted a half dozen frogs in the span of just a few feet.

When we reached an intersection, indicating one direction for the blue loop and another for the orange, I got a little confused. I guess I didn’t realize that we needed to continue on the Blue Trail a little bit longer to carry out my plan of walking a figure 8, and as a result, I made the decision to turn right on to the Orange Trail. This would come back to haunt us.

Walking along the Orange Trail, we discovered how fast things can grow. The Bracken Fern reached our waists and completely obscured the trail in some sections. Fortunately, we could see clear areas beyond the ferns so we never lost the trail. The orange blazes also got us through some of the more overgrown areas.

At one point, the trail became very wet. In fact, we had to work our way around a river that had probably been hard ground not that long ago. Once we successfully maneuvered around this section, we continued on for a little while. After a some period of time, my husband noted that we had not seen any orange blazes for quite some time. We thought we were okay since we still saw the occasional snow mobile sign, but as we continued and still saw no sign of an orange blaze we decided to turn around. Once again we had to work away around the river. It was shortly after this that we came to the last orange marker we had seen, a small branch on the ground with an orange blaze. Looking up, we noticed the two orange paint marks (one over the other) on a nearby tree to our right, and a very clear trail with additional blazes beyond. If we had followed our original plan of that figure 8, we would have come out at this clearly defined intersection and would have found the next obvious marker. We figured we had gone about ½ mile out of our way.

Back on the correct trail, we worked a way through a few more patches of Bracken Fern before we reached the Blue Trail once more. On the Blue Trail the path was a more visible and a little easier, and we completed our hike with no further difficulties.