Christmas Eve on Beech Hill

The adult children arrived home for the Christmas holidays and since all of them had a love of the outdoors, we managed to get in a few walks while they were here. On Christmas Eve we decided to enjoy lunch at the top of Beech Hill. After gathering backpacks and making sandwiches we made our way towards the preserve.

Although the weather was cold, there was no snow to enhance the beauty of the landscape. Prior to the arrival of our guests, the temperatures had soared and deposited an inch or more of rain which washed away any of the white stuff that remained. That did not dampen our spirits since we knew the views across the water towards Mount Desert Island would be spectacular.

We encountered quite a few people on our walk up the hill. It seemed as if everyone decided to bring on the holiday spirit by spending some time outdoors. The number of people did cause one of my daughters to comment that “the problem with short, easy hikes with wonderful views is that everybody can do them”.

After a 20 minute uphill stroll, we arrived at the Beech Nut House. After studying various locations along the veranda, each one of us found our favorite spot to sit and enjoy our lunch while gazing out at the water. My husband and son-in-law read about the history of the house, the girls found a bench and huddled against the icy wind and I perched on the wall (in the sun) where I could converse with some visitors to the area about the preserve.

The visitors were a bit disappointed that they could not explore the inside of the cottage but unfortunately the house is only open on a few occasions during the year. I did inform them that if they were still in the area, the hut would be open for a few hours on New Year’s Day and then left them to identify the islands, while I walked around the building.

As I studied the sunny side of the hut, a man approached a door nearby. He asked if we wanted to see the inside of the house, as he unlocked the door. What a treat! Everyone at the top of the hill was able to explore the inside of the building, while listening to the docent talk to us about the history of the hill. Speaking to a Land Trust person a week later, I found out that the docent had taken a walk up the hill and had just decided to open it. It was one of those being in the right place at the right time moments.

After exploring the building, I lead my little band towards another trail. We did not get far when someone complained about the cold, so we turned around and headed back towards home where a warm fireplace and holiday dinner would complete the day.


Oyster River Bog

During my travels over the last few years, I often passed a small land trust sign for the Oyster River Bog along Route 90 and decided that one day I would explore the area. I hesitated to take this particular preserve on due to two stories I had read; one of a person who had been through the preserve and contracted one of the more serious tick related illnesses and the other from a blogger who had encountered a large population of both black flies and mosquitoes while exploring the area during the summer months. But one crisp, 18 degree day in December seemed like the perfect time to investigate this trail.

Knowing that the trail ran 6.7 miles from Route 90 to Route 1 in Thomaston, my husband and I decided that we would meander the trail for an hour or so before turning around, but first we had to find the trailhead. After turning into the driveway near the preserve sign, we stopped in a field near the road. We could not see any kiosk or trail markers, so we decided to walk a bit to try and find where this hidden park was located. The driveway led into a boat yard which did not look very promising. We walked deep into the boatyard, down the full length of the driveway before locating the kiosk and a small parking area. I felt the directions for this preserve should have indicated this small detail. Once my husband retrieved the car, we set off into the woods.

We soon discovered another benefit of hiking a bog trail during the cold days of winter; the wet areas were completely frozen. This enabled us to avoid using some of the rotten planks that had been laid down as bog bridges. Right at the beginning of our walk, I had to pause and study an intriguing design in the ice nearby before maneuvering over one of those worn out structures.

The only difficulty on this path was the number of rocks that one needed to walk around. There were enough of these obstacles that while I was anticipating the next one I tripped over the one right in front of me. During the few seconds that I was lying flat on the ground I gave a few thanks that the cold temperatures had encourage us to bundle up in layers, including a top layer of ski pants. Unhurt, I continued on.

Soon after this incident, we reached a bridge that spanned the Oyster River. It was a beautiful structure, complete with a seat at the center. In one direction, we studied the ice formations on the nearby vegetation. Looking the other way, we watched the river disappear through the trees.

After enjoying the views, we continued on before encountering another bridge crossing over a section of bog. Given the height of this overpass we wandered how high the water levels would get in the spring.

Our journey advanced past several frozen flood plains. I found the one surrounded be fir trees especially beautiful. At this point, we were reaching our hour mark but I knew that we must be getting close to the Split Rock notated on the trail map, so we continued on for a few more minutes. It wasn’t long before we reached this interesting attraction. We wondered at the tree growing through the middle of this split studying it from all angles. After completing our investigations we decided to call it a day and turned towards home.

Winter at Fernald’s Neck

The week before Thanksgiving brought 2 separate snowfalls and some very cold temperatures. The actual holiday reached single digit night-time lows and highs in the mid-teens to low 20s. Needless to say, it was very cold but still we managed to get in two walks at Erickson Field and a final stroll through Fernald’s Neck before the end of the weekend.

We had attempted to visit Fernald’s Neck last winter but were thwarted by the fact that the final stretch of road to the parking lot was blocked off for the season and the only signs we saw were NO PARKING and NO TRESPASSING signs on either side of the road. It wasn’t until early spring that my friend and I discovered two signs posted on the fence of the last house before the preserve letting us know that parking was allowed between those two signs. It was enough for, at most, two cars. Since I still had a desire to explore the park after a snowfall and was now aware of the parking situation, my husband and I paid a visit to Fernald’s Neck even though the seasonal signs were not posted yet. At least, I hoped that the signs were not posted yet.

Once in the woods, we decided on meandering the Orange Trail towards the biggest attraction of the preserve, Balance Rock.  As we wandered along, there were plenty of opportunities to catch glimpses of both Lake Megunticook and the cross on top of Maiden Cliff through the trees. At Balance Rock, we paused to study the thin layer of ice near the shoreline as well as the large rock wearing an ice skirt created by the surrounding water.

After this brief respite we continued back along the Orange Trail. I noticed that the blazes seemed freshly painted and the wood signs at the intersections looked new. This certainly helped with navigating the woods during the winter months.

Somewhere along this loop, I noticed a rather impressive growth of mushrooms on the side of a tree. I am not sure, but perhaps it was a cluster of Turkey Tail. Not far from this find, we found a few Shelf Mushrooms as well.

At the top of the loop we had views of the lake from the opposite side of the point. We followed the lake for quite some time before turning back inland. Once we reached the intersection with the Blue Loop we got a little confused and for a brief time found ourselves heading in the wrong direction. I don’t remember what clued us into our mistake but we did not go that far before we realized it was not the way we wanted to go. Perhaps there should have been a sign pointing towards the parking lot at this point or it there was, there might have been blue blazes in a third direction. This would have been an easy mistake to make since the short trail from the parking lot to the two loop trails is also blazed blue. In any case, it had been another wonderful morning outside.


Finding a Cave

Mid-November my hiking buddy decided we should explore Thorne Head Preserve in Bath. She had read an article recently about a cave in the preserve and she wanted to check it out. My crazy side did think it would be interesting to check this out but my sensible side decided to remind her about the weather. Was she aware that a) the high temperatures for the day would be in the lower 20s and b) the wind gusts were predicted to be in the 20 mph range? I wasn’t overly concerned about the wind chill factors since I could always layer my clothing and the exercise would warm me up soon enough. I was more concerned about traipsing through the woods on such a blustery day. Trees were known to topple over on excessively windy days. I don’t remember how she managed to change my mind but soon enough we were headed down to Bath in order to find a cave.

Since it looked like the cave itself was not located on any specific trail but nestled between the Narrows and Ridge Runner trails it really didn’t matter how we decided to get there. One possibility would be to take the Whiskeag Trail to the Narrows Trail and then follow that around to the Ridge Runner Trail. The other, more direct route would be to walk the Overlook Trail to the Ridge Runner Trail. Needless to say, we took the longer, less direct route.

Shortly after entering the woods, my friend decided to explore off trail for a bit. While I stayed on the trail, I watched all the lovely conifers swaying in the wind. Soon I heard my buddy exclaim that the creaking sound was a nearby tree that had started to split. I thought of my earlier warning about walking through the woods on a blustery day but decided that maybe we should just speed up the pace a bit instead.

After averting the potential disaster of splitting trees, we settled into a rhythm of finding the next trail marker and just enjoying our time in the woods. The frigid temperatures had created some significant frost heave, and as a result, the ground crunched beneath our feet.

We must have gotten lost in our conversations, or the natural beauty around us but somehow we went off course at one of our intersections. The funny thing was that we both had noted the sign where the Narrows Trail met the Whiskeag Trail but we both forgot that when we started out we had decided that was the trail we needed to take. Instead of turning right, we turned left and continued along the Whiskeag Trail. We kept walking until one of us realized that we had been going on a long time and had not reached our destination. In fact, when we saw some boundary markers we knew we had made a wrong turn and needed to turn around. It took us about a thirty minutes to retrace our steps. Along the way we had to cross at least one rickety bridge (well I crossed the rickety bridge, my friend climbed down into the gully and up the other side). When we reached the sign for the Narrows Trail we couldn’t believe that we had made such an obvious mistake.

The trail kept close to the water at this point and the wind coming off the water was bitter cold. We soon saw a ledge and I commented on the ice floe coming down the ledge. I also pointed out to my buddy that I thought that might be her cave up there but she wasn’t so sure. After following the ledge around and climbing up via the Mushroom Cap Trail, we soon found the Ridge Runner Trail. I pointed out a small side trail that I thought might lead to the cave. The trail looked a little too steep for me, so I let my friend explore telling her to take a picture of the ice floe. It wasn’t long before I heard “your expletive ice floe is in front of my cave”!  Well, she found her cave anyway.

We took the Overlook Trail back to the parking area where I got more grief when she realized the Overlook Trail had been only 10 minutes from the cave. Okay, so it took us 2 hours using the indirect route but we did spend a great time outdoors.

Mystery Trail – Take 2

Our second hike during Veteran’s Day Weekend was to explore the unmarked trail nearby. We had hiked this unknown territory in the Spring but this time we decided that when we reached the official blazed trail, our adventure would take us in the opposite direction.

The day was clear but the night time temperatures had settled down into the 20s. It was enough to leave ice bells on the leaves that were hit by the spray from the water cascading down the hill. Once in the woods, we continued along the obvious pathway towards the rock face that we knew we had to climb. Only this time, we got a little confused and could not determine the way up. It is amazing how different things look in a different season! Eventually, we made our way up to the ledge and were able to continue on our way.

Even with all the vegetation stripped for the year, we were still able to discern a viable trail. When things began to look all the same, once again we found the pink ribbons to help us continue along the way. As we searched for each successive marker, we did occasionally have to find a work around over some pretty wet areas. The very wet Autumn had created numerous streams in this area of the woods.

Eventually, we reached an intersection with another trail but we were not quite sure this was what we were looking for. It took us a little while to find the blue blazes designating the trail. The painted markers had become faded over time and were in need of some freshening up. When we reached what appeared to be a newly laid bog bridge, we knew we were headed in the right direction.

Not far from the bridge, the stream meandered around a large boulder. One side of it was worn flat and the trees flanking the rock on this side just seemed to give it a certain symmetry. We admired the artwork for a bit before heading on. At some point, the trail followed the base of one of the mountains. The ledge slopping down to where we eventually wanted to go. I noticed a beautiful ice flow along the top of the ridge.

If I had thought that climbing up a small rock pile on an unmarked trail was difficult, I had forgotten about the nasty habit of some officially marked trails to have blazes directing adventurers to perform some super human feat. It wasn’t long before we found a blue marker painted on a boulder pointing straight up. My first thought was “you have got to be kidding” before looking for the best place to work my way up the hill. It was tricky and I did slip at one point but we did make it up to a place where we had views of the town below us and the ocean beyond that. We did not make it to our official end point since I was done climbing up rocks and was worried about heading back down.

It had taken us a little less than 2 hours to reach our little lookout spot. The way back took us about an hour and 30 minutes, including the stop to study an interesting tree with a twisted bark and pointed hook at the end.