Eliot Mountain

After eliotoct16-1enjoying the morning exploring the gardens near Northeast Harbor, we walked through the gate at Thuya Gardens to ascend Eliot Mountain. Once through the garden portal, we left the well maintained walkways behind us and began walking along one of the rocky trails so familiar to Mt. Desert Island.

At the next intersection we faced an interesting dilemma. We knew that we wanted to get to the Eliot Mountain Trail but the eliotoct16-2signpost here pointed one way towards the parking area and another way for “The Richard Trail”, which appeared to be a relatively new post. This unknown road was not on any of our trail maps, and we knew we didn’t want to end back at the entrance, so with a leap of faith, we headed along the Richard Trail. Later, I discovered that this new trail, connecting Thuya Garden to the western carriage road on the Little Long Pond lands was constructed this past year to honor the late Richard Rockefeller.

Soon enough, we came to another marker that indicated the Richard Trail continued straight across the Eliot Trail towards the carriage road. Fortunately, the marker here indicated that we needed to turn left in order to reach the summit. Confident now of our direction, we began the short ascent towards Eliot Mountain.

As eliotoct16-3we made our ascent, I discovered an interesting stone formation in the woods to our right. Lately I’m in tune with finding images in different objects, so I was not surprised that I could make out a face in this rock outcropping. I could clearly see a nose and a mouth but I’m not sure what the flat object covering its eye could be. Must be why it looked so grumpy.

It wasn’t long before we reached the summit of Eliot Mountain. There we found a bronze plaque honoring Charles Eliot. We also located 2 summit eliotoct16-4survey markers, designating not Eliot but Savage Mountain. My husband did find some reference to various name changes that took place within Acadia over the years, so I guess at some point this peak was known as Savage Mountain.

We stayed for a while studying the markers, the monument and a single stalk of golden rod that seemed to grow out of the rock, before making our way back towards Thuya Garden. As we turned back down the trail we were surprised by a wonderful view of the harbor. This view was a gift and a reminder that sometimes we have to look all around us to find such gems. We admired the view for a bit before heading off to find lunch.

Thuya Garden

thuyaoct16-2The next stop during our Mt. Desert Island visit was Thuya Garden, only ¼ to ½ mile from Asticou Gardens. Our brochure described a loop that hikers could use to travel between the two but since I misinterpreted the duration of that walk, we opted to begin our exploration from the lower parking area for Thuya Garden. From the parking area, visitors must cross Route 3 (please use caution in using the crosswalk) towards the Asticou Terraces trailhead.

The Terraces Trail designed and built by Joseph Henry Curtis around 1912 is an uphill journey of paths and granite steps. Our excursion began by climbing a series of granite steps, followed by the trail curving back and forth along the slope. As we made our ascent around each loop, we found sheltered huts looking out over Northeast Harbor. Each shelter was of a different design and each thuyaoct16-1offered its own unique seating arrangements for the explorer to pause and enjoy the harbor views.

At the top of the hill, a well maintained path surrounded by low bushes, spruce and cedar trees took us past Thuya Lodge towards the garden gates. I had visited Thuya Gardens many years before and I could still remember how impressed I was by those gates. Designed bythuyaoct16-3 Charles Savage these doors were hand carved in cedar with each door displaying 24 natural history images. The carvings of those images were perfect, right down to the pileated woodpecker holes in a tree.

Like the Asticou Gardens, Thuya was also designed by Charles Savage and it was interesting to note the differences between the two. Asticou surrounded the visitor with the meditative peace of a Japanese garden while Thuya presented the disciplined structure of a formal English garden, itsthuyaoct16-5 large expansive lawn bordered by flower beds inviting a different kind of contemplative study.

Once again, we noted each plant label for future reference and then promptly forgot it. We worked our way towards the far end of the garden, where a pavilion allowed visitors to look down the length of the garden. Nearby, we found a gate that indicated it was the trail towards Asticou Gardens.

From the pavilion we continued down the next row of flower beds before, pausing briefly to watch a Monarch butterfly flit among the flowers. Nearby we discovered a section of vegetation described as a Monarch hatchery.thuyaoct16-4 There were signs warning visitors not to disturb the chrysalises, so we strolled carefully through the area hoping to spot some evidence of a butterfly waiting to emerge. Since it was the beginning of October and we did not find any chrysalis, we assumed that all the butterflies had already dispersed for the season.

From the butterfly hatchery, we continued our exploration back towards the entrance. We paused to study an interesting spring house not far from a gate pointing the way to the Eliot Mountain Trail. We admired a nearby reflecting pool before heading through the gate.


Asticou Garden

asticouoct16-1As October approached, we hoped that the summer traffic through Mt. Desert Island and Acadia had died down enough for us to enjoy an off-season visit. The peak summer numbers would be down and the fall foliage folks would not descend for another week or so. In addition, a friend had given us a tip on how to avoid the traffic through Ellsworth and most of Trenton. With all this in our favor, we booked a night at a small inn near the Bar Harbor airport. This would allow us a full day to enjoy our visit.

Our asticouoct16-2first stop was Asticou Garden, located near Northeast Harbor. It was built by Charles Savage in 1956 who was inspired by Japanese garden designs. Thanks to Mr. Savage, the visitor has a beautiful, peaceful place to enjoy the calming effects of nature.

As we entered this oasis, the first thing we noticed was the well maintained, raked walkways. In fact, some outposts along the path were raked in crisscross patterns, inviting the wanderer to stop and meditate for a bit, and benches throughout the garden allowed guests to do just that. After passing through the moss garden, we followed a small detour to what might have been the “north lawn”. asticouoct16-3Not much light came through trees and tall rhododendron bushes but I could imagine that it must have been colorful when those bushes were in bloom.

Retracing our steps and meandering down a different loop we soon discovered the “sand garden”, a garden of rocks and raked sand. A small loop took us over a stream and deposited us directly across from the “sand garden”. The designers had strategically placed a bench by the stream facing the sand, inviting the visitor to stay a bit longer.

We asticouoct16-4continued our journey towards Asticou Pond, where we found most of the garden’s guests. This section was more open with uninterrupted views across the water to the foliage that was just beginning to put on its autumn colors. Strolling around the pond, we were amazed by the number of flowers still in bloom on either side of the path. I never knew that so many blossoms could be encouraged this late in the season. Everything was labeled, but alas we did not bring anything to write the information down nor did I think to take pictures of the labels for future reference. Probably just as well, with my inability to grow things. We spent a little more time soaking in the tranquility of this park before continuing on to our next destination.


Little River Community Trail – Route 52

Towards watershedsep16-1the end of September I decided to complete my explorations of the Little River Community Trail. Over the past year, I wandered the Route 1 section to Perkins Road and on a separate occasion traversed a segment from Perkins road in the hopes of using a large erratic mentioned in the trail description as my end point. On that trip, the day was rather warm and I never did locate that rock but the arrival of autumn brings perfect hiking weather and so this time I was determined to find that boulder.

To reach the last part of this trail, I parked at the Walsh Ball Field on Route 52, not far from Route 1. From the parking area, I followed a path that ran through a field filled with asters and goldenrod, watershedsep16-2before entering the woods. I crossed a small board bridge that once spanned a stream. I paused here for a moment, studying the dry bedrock wondering when we would see enough rain to make up the deficit we had experienced this year. Even the lake near our home was down 3 to 4 feet.

Between loose stones used to create portions of this path and tree roots trying to grab my boots it was slow going while I concentrated on proper foot placement. I did look up when I reached a sunlit portion of forest. The timing was perfect, for there before me was a beautiful spider web illuminated by the light. watershedsep16-5While I admired nature’s artwork, a small plane flew just above the tree line as it made its approach to the nearby municipal airport.

During my last few walks, I have become more aware of how the understory (vegetation under the trees) changes on any one hike. On this journey, areas of ferns gave way to a ground covered with bunchberries which was followed by blankets of Canada Mayflowers mixed with Starflowers then back to ferns. The forest also changed from a mix of birch and maple to pine.

My wandering took me across four wide, grassy paths that could have been access roads and a few dry streambeds before I reached the Little River. watershedsep16-4Even though this body of water also showed signs of stress from the drought, I could still hear the trickle of water as it found its way through the pebbles. I listened to that mesmerizing sound for a bit before studying the area around me. And there, sitting right by the river but almost hidden by the vegetation was that boulder! Its shape reminded me of the Old Man in the Mountain from New Hampshire as it stared out across the river. I even imagined that the reason why he was no longer in New Hampshire was because he decided to vacation in Maine.

I decided that I would continue on a little further towards the reservoir just to see how close I had been to my goal during my last attempt at locating this boulder.watershedsep16-3 As I wandered, the path crossed a stony indentation. There was no bridge here but I assumed it was a dried up stream. Looking down this gulley I found two small puddles reflecting the canopy, all that was left of a larger body of water.

I probably meandered less than ½ mile before the trail took a steep upwards direction towards a ridge. Since I had abandoned my last hike when I discovered I had to travel down towards a ravine and up the other side, I figured that my summer walk had ended just on the other side of the ridge. Satisfied that I had traversed the entire section during my three hikes, I turned back towards the trailhead.


Reading the Forest

Onebeechhillsep16-2 Saturday in September we decided to attend a guided walk hosted by the local land trust. Our guide for this outing would take us up the forested side of Beech Hill, discussing how to interpret the history of the area through clues of the landscape.  Along the way he referenced two books by Tom Wessels; The Forested Landscape and Forest Forensics.

Our first stop was an area consisting mostly of young sugar maples, with one lone massive oak tree nearby. According to our guide, the single oak tree and its size indicated that at one time this area was an open space, a pasture perhaps with the oak tree providing shade for farm animals. I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you much about the sugar maples for my mind began to wander. Seems to happen when things get too technical for me. At this point, I started to study the area around me and was attracted to a small seed pod, like a dandelion puff, stuck to a log at my feet. While the conversation droned on, I was mesmerized by the beautybeechhillsep16-1 of that intricate spidery form below me. I was brought back into the group as an arborist in our group was estimating the age of the oak, as well as the maple grove, confirming that this area was clear at one time.

We stopped at a stone wall, where we learned that the large trees near the wall were left as “border” or boundary trees. Here, we learned that if you studied the area around the wall, you would find a hollow and piles of small stones against the wall. If beechhillsep16-3I remember correctly, this indicated that the smaller stones in the field were pushed against the wall, by a plow leaving the hollow nearby.

Our guide then led us down a side trail towards the only wet spot left after this dry summer. The fact that this pond was here could only be the result of a spring, and indeed our leader pointed out the source that was feeding this small pond. One of the members of the land trust who had joined this walk, pointed out that this side trail was a “social trail” and beechhillsep16-4not sanctioned by the land trust. In other words, they wanted this pond to stay protected for the wildlife seeking refreshment.

Nearing the section of this loop trail that would return the group to the parking lot, most of our fellow travelers decided to finish the walk there while a few of us continued on up to Beech Nut House at the top of the hill. From here, the path became very overgrown and we had to push our way through flowers and hedges that were taller than anyone in the group. In addition to fighting the vegetation, we crossed two bog bridges that were nearly rotten. Finally, we emerged on a ledge and I admired the view while a geologist in our group talked about the ledge and pointed outbeechhillsep16-5 glacial markings.

Shortly after this brief stop, we reached the top of  Beech Hill and the beautiful Beech Nut House. What was left of our group listened to a docent talk about the history of this small, stone cottage before wandering around the top of the hill to admire the house and the views. I looked out over the water and noted the clouds of an incoming front that would bring rain later that evening. Shortly after this observation we headed back through overgrown trail and completed the loop back to the car.