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Borestone Mountain Sanctuary

Just before Labor Day, my hiking buddy decided we needed to get out of “Dodge”. Since she thinks nothing of going on a spur of the moment adventure, I knew that meant that we would be driving 2 to 3 hours to our destination, hike for a few hours and drive 2 or more hours home. The last time we did that, I was driving and when we lost the daylight about an hour from home I discovered that I no longer see that well at night. It was the last time I drove in the dark, so I knew she would be driving for this outing.

On September 7th, she picked me up at 7:30 and we probably got on the road by 7:45, heading towards the Borestone Mountain Sanctuary. My friend was not a morning person, so I was pretty impressed that she had set such an early time. We probably would have made it to our destination in 2.5 hours, but we had to make a detour to Dover-Foxcroft in order to visit the bakery. Fortified with donuts and other pastries, we arrived at the Borestone preserve by 10:45.

According to our research, from the parking area we would have to walk about 1 mile up to the visitor’s center. We had the choice of meandering up the access road or hiking through the forest using the Base Trail. We thought that the Base Trail looked a bit steep and had a lot of roots, so we opted for the road. After a few minutes, I was not sure that was the correct choice.

The access road was very steep and paved with shale. Quite a few times, the shale would slide under our feet, so we had to step carefully. The day proved to be quite humid, so the steepness of the road had us stopping quite a few times to catch our breath. In addition, due to all the switch backs, I believe that road was actually longer than the Base Trail. Near the end of this avenue, we turned off onto an overlook spur. In a few feet we were standing on a ledge looking at some beautiful views. Back on the main route, we were just a few minutes from the kiosk. It had taken us an hour to reach the visitor’s center.

Before turning towards the building, we walked to the edge of Sunrise Pond to ponder Borestone Mountain in the distance. No one was at the center, but we left our $5 in the box placed there for admission fees, and then studied the map posted on the building. Even if we had already decided we would not take the Summit Trail to the top of Borestone Mountain, the description of the trail cinched it for us. The trail was described as over-exposed ledge, with a 130 steps plus two steel rungs. Nope, that wasn’t happening.

Unfortunately, one of our other choices, the Fox Penn Loop was closed, so that left us hiking the Peregrine Trail. This trail was described as a gradual climb for half a mile to the ledge. You would think that such a short path would not have taken us an hour, but it did. It could have been that it did not feel like a “gradual” climb, or the fact that shortly after beginning this route, we had to make a way through a narrow path with a rock wall on one side and a humped ledge on the other. Once passed this, we had to stop and study the separate boulder that looked like a face. My friend thought it looked like the statues on Easter Island. Moving on, the remainder of the forest was a beautiful moss-filled fairy land.

After 40 minutes, we reached the ledge at the end of the trail. The views were amazing! In one direction, we had additional views of Borestone Mountain. In the other, we could see mountains in the distance and wondered if the large one was Katahdin. In any place, it was a great spot for lunch.

We probably spent 30 minutes enjoying our lunch and the views before heading back down. We reached the car around 2 in the afternoon and were home by 4:30, well before dark.

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Pownalborough Court

For several years now, I had been talking about wanting to meander the trails around the Pownalborough Court House. I particularly wished to explore this place in autumn but still had not gotten there. Although the fall foliage was not yet at peak, I figured that the holiday weekend near October 9th was probably the best time to go. Waiting another week might just mean I had missed another year of exploring this area.

Pownalborough Court House was built in 1761 on the banks of the Kennebec River, not too far from Augusta. Apparently the court house was very much out of the way of civilization at the time, for John Adams did not seem impressed by his visit there in 1765 saying “It is unnecessary to enlarge upon the fatigue and disgust of this journey. It was the only time in my life, when I really suffered for want of provisions”. Over time, the building served many functions, as well as being the family home of Captain Samuel Goodwin. It continued as a family home until 1954. (Information taken from the Pownalborough Court House website)

On October 9th, my husband, my friend and I travelled to the court house to explore the nearby trails. I thought maybe we would be able to view some colorful foliage closer to the river, so we began our journey across the street from the full trail system. As we walked down the driveway we passed a barn along the way. We did have to stop to admire the structure, as well as the very interesting windows. Depending on where we were standing, we were able to catch a glimpse of the river behind this structure. In the grassy area around the barn, I was surprised to find a number of Primroses still in bloom.

Further down the drive, we found the three story court house. There was a kiosk to one side containing trail maps and brochures about the history of the area. Here, we had a little difficulty finding the trail but eventually found a blue marker located at the far back corner of the property. This first trail led us into the woods with some excellent views of the river. I was a little disappointed that the leaves were not at peak foliage, but I had my glimpse of fall during our road trip along Route 17. The colors we had seen along Route 17 were amazing.

I would soon find that there would be plenty of other interesting discoveries during our journey. Still walking parallel to the river, it was not long before we stopped by a tree covered with Oyster Mushrooms (according to iNaturalist). As we studied the tree more closely we noticed that these mushrooms must have been foraged, for there was evidence that some had been cut from the tree.

Once we had found the Oyster Mushrooms, we found mushrooms everywhere. Not only individual ones but whole colonies. My friend would point out a bright white mushroom and I would look a little deeper into the woods and spot dozens of them! We found Russula, Corals, Jelly Fungus, yellow ones that were as large as dinner plates and purple ones. My friend and I stopped so often that my husband wondered how we got any exercise whenever we went “hiking”.

After we complete the trail near the court house, we crossed the road and continued to explore the remaining trails. Since we were walking primarily in an evergreen forest there was not much to see as far as fall foliage went, but we continued to see an abundance of mushrooms. They certainly liked this location. At some point, we found the perfect log to sit and enjoy our lunch. Surrounded by the sights and smells of the forest, I supposed we were practicing our own version of forest bathing. After lunch we finished the remainder of the trails and began our journey home. It was another wonderful day.

Hatchery Brook Preserve

July 4th was the last full day of our Rangeley visit. We decided to set out at a more leisurely pace, and visit a few local preserves near town. Our first stop was the Hatchery Brook Preserve, just a few minutes outside of town.

The trail map indicated that this would be a loop. I am not sure where I read the reviews, but there was some indication that the right side was a little trickier, so we opted to meander in a counter clockwise direction. This would get the rougher side of the preserve out of the way first, allowing us a peaceful meander for the rest of our journey.

We were not 20 feet into our walk when we both stopped to study different things. I was attracted by a bunchberry plant growing inside of a tree stump and the cluster nearby with berries already turning red. My husband was so intrigued by the variety of ferns in one spot that he spent some time attempting to improve his fern identification skills. Since we did not travel with any identification guides, I recommended that he take pictures for reference so that once we had the resources available he would be able to research his findings. I believe at that point, he began taking pictures of the top of the ferns, the underside of the fronds, the spores, and the base of the stem. After a time, we were able to move on.

Once we were moving again, it wasn’t long before we reached a rather extensive boardwalk that helped us pass over the boggy section of the preserve. Halfway along this walkway, I paused to admire a cluster of Forget-me-nots before proceeding to the end of the planked path. The next few minutes of our adventure was the most distressing, as we waded through waist high vegetation. Naturally, my tick phobia set in, but we had never seen ticks when we had to wade through tall ferns before and a few tick checks along the way eased my fears.

After pushing through the ferns, the trail became easier to manage. We now walked through a beautiful forested area along a soft dirt path surrounded by bunchberries. A few side trails led to benches and views of the lake.

Since it did not take very long to stroll through this lovely preserve, we decided that we would continue our adventures on one more trail system. Our goal was to find the Rangeley Lakes Trails Center, have lunch in the parking area, and then explore a trail or two. Alas, this was not to be. In addition to being used for winter activities, the website indicated that the trails were for walking, running and biking, but clearly this was a winter only facility.

As we ate our lunch, we noticed that every place that might be a trail was overgrown. We watched as one couple examined the trail map on one side of the large parking area, then start to walk on a trail not far from where we sat. In minutes they had returned and tried the Geneva Loop trail near the kiosk. Since they did not reappear by the time we finished eating, we decided to follow them.

The trail was not even, in fact it looked like it had been roughly scraped clear of vegetation with a front loader. Basically, we were walking in the tire tracks left by whatever tried to clear the path. Because of the wet weekend, which still persisted, it was pretty muddy, enough for me to slip in a few places. After 40 minutes of slogging through this terrain, we met the other couple coming the other way. Apparently, they had reached a point where they would have had to bushwhack to continue.

That was it! We were done! This place should have been advertised as a winter only activity center, for there was no trail maintenance done to make it a viable option for walkers or bikers. However, we could not complain about our weekend. Out of 7 places we visited, 6 of them were very enjoyable.

The next day we headed for home, and of course, the sun came out.

Piazza Rock 2021

On July 3rd, we agreed to meet our friend at the parking area for Piazza Rock and the AT trail. After all, since we were that close to the Appalachian Trail, wasn’t it required that we at least set one foot on it? The tricky part in the beginning was keeping an eye out for the “hiker’s crossing” sign just as we came around a curve, signaling the entrance to the almost invisible entrance to the parking area. (Oh yeah, and watch out for logging trucks that come around that curve at some clip.)

It was another damp, cool day but we were ready for our adventure. From the parking area, we crossed the road and began our hike on the Appalachian Trail. The beginning of the path headed downhill. This is something I really didn’t appreciate during our exploration, since it means at the end of the journey when I would be tired, I would have to travel uphill. There was just something so wrong with that!

In a very short time we reached a small metal bridge that crossed over a gorge. After crossing over the stream, the trail made a steep ascent for maybe half a mile before leveling out. During drier times, this section of our travels would have been easy but there was a rather long distance of walking along wet bog boards. Not being the most physically stable person to traverse a balance beam, this slowed me down quite a bit while I tried to walk as flat footed as I could in order to not slip.

About a mile from the trail head, we crossed a dirt road, continuing on the AT trail for about another mile where my friend signed us in at the AT sign-in kiosk. Immediately after the kiosk, we had to navigate across a slightly wide stream (in other words it was not a quick hop across the water). Safely on the other side we continued our journey towards Piazza Rock.

It wasn’t long before the trail split in almost 3 directions. To our right was the continuation of the Appalachian Trail. Straight ahead but slightly to the left was a trail that went to some caves and finally, more towards the right was the path towards Piazza Rock.

Before making our ascent towards our destination, we decided to have lunch under the protection of the lean-to nearby. While we rested I took some time to admire a cluster of mushrooms growing on the top of a nearby stump. Once we were sufficiently nourished we were ready to reach our destination. This last little bit was quite a scramble up a steep, rocky incline but with expert advice from my buddies I made it towards the rock.

I pointed out to my husband the blue blaze tucked underneath this structure that would take a hiker to the top of the rock. I had attempted but failed when I was last here with my friend since I could not figure out how to contort my body to maneuver through the narrow space. I was glad to see that my husband could not get up to the top either, although he claimed it was because of the wet rock.

After exploring the area around Piazza Rock for a bit, we made our way back towards the trailhead. As predicted that last uphill stretch was difficult and I stopped to study some flowering Partridgeberries and One-sided Shinleaf plants before continuing to the end of our journey.

Misty Days and Waterfalls

On July 2nd, the first full day of our stay in Rangeley it was cool and misty, but we weren’t going to let a little rain stop us. Earlier in the week this looked like it was going to be the worst weather day, so we had decided we would seek out an exploration that was somewhat level and save the serious hiking for another day. My husband and I decided to head over to some of the trails near the Mount Blue campground before meeting up with my hiking buddy later in the day. With rain gear in hand we set out for a new adventure.

Not far from the actual campground was a Nature Center. Unfortunately, the Center was closed on this particular day but we did peek through the window to discover a small natural history display. Next to this building was a short arboretum trail with postings identifying various flowers, ferns and trees.  We spent some time studying the ferns before completing the loop back to the Nature Center.

It was still early, so we ventured on to explore the Hopping Frog Trail nearby. The beginning section of the path was covered with more Club Moss than I had ever seen in one place. If I closed my eyes and imagined this moss being much taller, I could almost visualize how the world looked during prehistoric times. Almost completely hidden by the moss, we found some Pipsissewa. Although not quite in bloom, they did look beautiful with water droplets hanging from the buds.

Continuing our journey through areas covered in ferns and over wet slippery bog boards, we stopped briefly to admire a small brook with a rustic bench nearby. The wet weather had encouraged the mosquitos to emerge so we did not stay long here. Eventually, we reached a lookout over the lake. We could see some mountains through the haze but I could not tell if any of them were actually Mount Blue. It was enough, that despite the drizzle, we got a nice view.

Having finished our morning at the Mount Blue Campground, we headed towards one of the lookouts over Rangeley Lake to enjoy our lunch. While we looked out over the water, we touched base with our friend and agreed to check out Cascade Gorge. She recommended that we park on the road, rather than attempt the steep driveway up to the parking lot. She was not kidding when she said it was steep! I had not anticipated needing my inhaler just to walk up a driveway! Whew!

We continued our steady climb up the hill before we found the gorge. We climbed a bit until we reached a place where we could get a better view. My husband and friend wanted to continue further up the trail but for some reason, maneuvering over the wet rocks made me nervous. I encouraged them to continue exploring, as I perched myself on a perfect sitting rock.

While I waited, I played with various shutter speeds on my camera. I took lots of pictures of the falls, from one continuous stream of water to ones separating the individual streams of water. As I was playing, I heard some “hellos” from the top of the falls I was studying. There were my comrades waving from the top of the gorge. My husband took the opportunity to take a photo of me which also showed the area from a difference vantage point.

In a few more minutes they rejoined me and we made our way back down to the road. We agreed to meet later that evening for dinner and made our way back to town.