Rocks and Bridges

Once we were fully vaccinated, my husband and I felt that we would still stay put and hold out on any vacation plans for this year. Then mask requirements dropped and we decided “why not”? My hiking buddy friend was camping in Rangeley for the 4th of July weekend, so we decided to see if there were any rooms to be found and join her for a hike or two. Since I had heard stories that every place from Southern Maine to Campobello Island was booked for the summer, I wasn’t too optimistic about our chances. Two weeks before the holiday weekend I was very surprised to book an online reservation at the Rangeley Inn. Perhaps it was just coastal Maine that was booked solid. In any case, on July 1st we were off to explore someplace new.

Since we could not check in until 4pm, we decided to take the long way to Rangeley, by taking a detour through New Poland. We had packed a lunch, figuring we would be able to find a place by the river to enjoy the views while we ate. As we approached the river, we discovered a wire bridge with a wood planked surface. I watched as a car crossed over the bridge and the planks undulated under its weight. I opted to walk across while my husband drove the car to the opposite side of the bridge.

Safely across, we found a parking area and a playing field nearby. Looking around, I found a picnic table and a short trail down towards the river. Heading down the path towards the water, I noticed that previous visitors had constructed cairns around the water, some of them quite interesting. After amusing myself studying the cairns, I turned my attention to the bridge. Viewing the bridge from this perspective did not allay my fears about crossing the bridge but my husband convinced me that I would not feel the movement as we crossed. After lunch, both of us returned to the car to cross back over the water.

It was still too early to head directly to Rangeley, so we added another side trip to our day. I had heard about a short hike in Phillips that would end with a view of a rather large glacial erratic and thought it might be an interesting diversion. “Diversion” was probably the appropriate word, for in trying to locate this trail, we discovered that Google Maps knows nothing about gated and private roads in rural areas.

As we drove along a dirt road we passed a few places that looked like there had been recent logging activity. One of those must have been the road we wanted but it was clear there was no way through. Eventually we ended back on a surfaced road, pulled over and pulled out our gazetteer to find an alternate route. What was really funny, was less than a mile along our new route there was a sign pointing the way to Daggett Rock. In 10 more minutes we found the parking area and headed up the trail towards the erratic. All this trouble for a hike that was .2 mile one way.

Although the heat wave was over, the air was muggy with a cold and wet forecast for the weekend. This made even that short hike a bit of a problem for me, forcing us to stop frequently. We also had to watch our step along a trail that looked like a dried, rocky streambed.

Eventually, we made it to the glacial erratic and yes it was worth the short hike. This rock was impressive! I had seen pictures of this boulder with people standing on top. That was certainly not for me, but for size perspective I did find a ladder leaning against the erratic. Look closely and notice that the ladder did not look structurally sound.

My husband wanted to return down the trail, but I decided to walk around this boulder. Down the first side, I informed him that he had to see this crevice in the rock. Viewed from the trail, the erratic looked like one piece but it was actually split in half down the middle. As we walked through this split, we found another one half way down. It was an amazing study in the power of nature.

We had accomplished a lot during our first day of travel but it was now time to head towards the inn and rest up for our next adventure.


The Mountain

Right around the holiday weekend in October, it was time to take our annual trip to Augusta for the annual service on my car. As usual,  I looked for someplace nearby for an outdoor adventure. This time, I decided to go a little farther afield and investigated places in the Belgrade Lakes region. I figured Central Maine by mid-October should be almost near peak fall foliage season. I finally  settled on a trail known as “The Mountain”. (I kid you not, the trail system was called “The Mountain” and I have provided photographic evidence here).

After studying the trail map, we decided our game plan would be to explore the Great Pond Loop off to our right and then cross over the main road to finish  our adventure with the Long Pond Loop to our left. To reach the Great Pond Loop, we meandered along an old logging road for about ½ mile. Since this was a nice smooth byway, we were able to really observe the woods around us. The trees in this portion of the preserve were mostly broadleaf trees. Here we saw plenty of Birches, Aspens, Beeches and lots of Striped Maples. As we strolled along this lane, we soon noticed that some of the boulders to our left were hosting the cutest little cairns we had ever seen. Most were only about 2 to 3 inches high and we surely would have missed them if we were moving at a faster pace.

Leaving the logging road at the Great Pond Loop, we found more forest trail conditions. The path became narrower and we had to watch for roots and hidden rocks. There was one point where we had to step up and over some boulders but it wasn’t that difficult. For the most part, the path zig-zagged its way around a glacial boulder field, allowing us to enjoy a relatively easy walk on the dirt packed trail.

Here the composition of the forest changed from mostly broadleaf to a mix of conifers, a few Oaks and quite a few Striped Maples and American Basswood. I found the last two fairly easy to identify since their leaves were quite large with a width of 5 to 6 inches. I don’t know what was in the soil here but we also found some mushrooms that were also quite substantial. In fact, we thought they looked like a sizable pancake. Near this crop of fungus was an interesting rock formation. It almost looked like it was intentionally placed there as an artistic structure.

We soon reached an elevation of 665 feet and the summit of “The Mountain”.  Over time, the tree growth had blocked most of the views of Great Pond but we were able to catch occasional glimpses of the pond and the hills beyond. We admired the colors of the season for a bit before moving on.

The Long Pond Loop was a much shorter loop. Once again the landscape changed a bit and Oak Trees seemed to replace the Basswood and Maples. After a short stroll we reached an area with a bench overlooking Long Pond. We had better views of the lakes and the mountains in the distance but you could tell that it would not be too many years before this vista would be blocked by a forest of conifers. Still, there was enough space for us to enjoy the colorful gifts of the season. We soaked in the beauty of the landscape for a bit before continuing on to complete the loop and meander back down the main road to our car.

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.

Annie Sturgis Sanctuary

This was the year I was determined to visit the Annie Sturgis Sanctuary, a property owned by the New England Wildflower Society, to view the spring flowers.  Between the dreary weather in May and my leg issues, I did not think I was going to get there this year. To top it all off, my husband had strained his ankle, Causing him to limp as well. So I was very surprised when he suggested that we explore the Annie Sturgis Sanctuary.  Hoping it wasn’t too late in the season, we headed to Vassalboro that first weekend in June to find wildflowers.

Using the mileage numbers on our directions, we found a small weather beaten sign tucked within a small strip of trees between two private properties. Since the directions indicated we were to park along the shoulder as far off the road as possible, we opted to turn around  to park along the side of the street that would not place us in a ditch. We then followed the narrow trail between the two properties that would lead us to the sanctuary.

For the most part, the trails were dry and manageable. There were a few places, especially at the beginning of the trail, where the grass was a little higher than I would have liked. In other places, the path was a bit narrow through the vegetation. It was an absolute must to be dressed appropriately against ticks. In fact, we did find one dog tick during our journey. The other precaution we had taken was to be prepared for mosquitoes. It was not long before we donned head nets to keep these little pests at bay. There was also a small section of trail with a sign that warned about a steep passage. We did need to be careful here, noting the skid marks in the dirt from previous travelers who were not so lucky. This was the only difficult section of trail we encountered, but then we did not explore the entire preserve during this visit due to my husband’s ankle injury.

Before we even got to the heart of the sanctuary we found an abundance of gifts to enjoy. Not far from the road were several clusters of Bluets. We spent some time admiring them with their hint of blue. In fact, I initially thought these blossoms were white when I tried to identify them. It wasn’t until I went to the GoBotany site, that lets you answer some questions about the characteristics of a plant in its Simple Key section, could I identify them.

Next up, we found a few Wood Anemones. These were difficult to photograph due to the cluster of stamens in the center. Even my husband could not get a clear picture of this flower. As always, Starflowers and Mayflowers clustered together along either side of the trail carpeting the area.

There were a number of Wild Sarsaparilla plants but few of the blossoms were white enough to provide enough contrast for a picture. Although my husband did get a decent picture. It was interesting that these plants were in different stages of development; some in full flower, some in early stages of development. This brought to mind another precaution. In the early stages of this plant, the leaves were shiny, red and looked very similar to poison ivy. The only difference was the fact that Wild Sarsaparilla had 5 leaves and poison ivy had 3 leaves, but, as my husband pointed out if you took some scissors and cut off the 2 back leaves you would not be able to tell the difference. I had to point this out, because this was the only place in Maine that I had found that much poison ivy. It was not as abundant as what we had in New York but it was enough to be cautious.

The most stunning thing about the Annie Sturgis Preserve was how the various types of flowers clustered together. Throughout the preserve we found hundreds of Purple Trillium, all in their final stages of life but flowered enough for a photograph. In another section, the area was blanketed with Bead Lilies. I had never seen so many of them in one place.

Unfortunately, we were too late for some of the other flowers I had wanted to find. The Trout Lilies were done. Not a single blossom to be found, but the distinctive leaves were everywhere. There was no evidence of Blood-root, but since that was a flower that bloomed in April any trace was long gone. This preserve was known for one of the few places in Maine that is home to Wild Ginger, another early spring flower but we could find no evidence of its existence during our journey.

Overall, our visit was rewarding and enjoyable. We vowed we would try to come back early in some future spring. For now, it was enough.



Kennebec River Rail Trail

My husband’s re-certification exam was finally over and it was time to get him back outdoors. Given that it was also time for my annual car service at the dealer which was an hour away from home, I made my usual plan of finding a place to walk and a promise for lunch at a favorite watering hole in Hallowell. After a 45 minute service visit we set out for the Kennebec River Rail Trail, a 6 mile trail from Augusta to Gardiner.

Since we had some errands that afternoon we carefully planned our time so that we could have an early lunch and be back on the road towards home by 12:30. Knowing that, we headed towards a river front parking area in Hallowell. From there, we figured that walking the two miles toward Augusta would allow us to return to our starting point in time for lunch.

Although a meteorologist report claimed the leaf color had already peaked in northern Maine the weekend before and the rest of the state was to follow this weekend, I was surprised at the amount of green still visible in this central part of the state. I thought the colors were more vibrant by the coast. However, it was also a rather gloomy day so maybe that made the difference. In fact, the most colorful part of our walk was the row of Adirondack chairs lined up along the water’s edge, not far from the parking area.

There was road construction going on in town and since this section of trail was near the street, we were forced to detour around the construction for a bit. Once past the work area, the paved path quickly distanced itself from the road and the noise dropped away. We were now able to take in the gifts of nature in a more peaceful setting.

Along the small section that ran alongside an old rail bed, we found  large clusters of asters and butter and eggs still in bloom. On seeing these 2 toned yellow flowers, I realized the only other place I have seen them in abundance was along the Belfast rail trail. I guess these particular plants like growing along train tracks.

Further along, I stopped briefly to study the remains of a flower cluster. The pink berries along the red stem intrigued me and I thought perhaps it was some type of viburnum but I was not entirely sure. The leaves on this shrub were certainly tending towards autumn colors. The sumacs also were showing some brilliant red leaves.

We left the paved path briefly to walk along a trail that led towards an overlook of the river. Again the colors were not vibrant but the day was still and the reflection of the vegetation in the water was impressive.

When we spotted a train stop near Augusta we decided to turn around. We made our way back to Hallowell in plenty of time for an early lunch. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to browse the nearby quilt store before we had to turn towards home.