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Acadia National Park MAG
The view from Mount Cadillac is breathtaking: a wide, stretching plain of brilliantly colored trees and dark conifers broken by silver lakes reflecting the low, horizontal rays of sunlight like mirrors. The summit is wind-sculpted granite with patches of delicate alpine grasses and heavy bunches of crimson berries.
Whipped by an icy wind, we stand trembling in our jackets as the sun sets on the Maine wilderness. The creamsicle sky bathes the scattering of islands in amber light. At the edge of the world, the full moon rises out of the silver sea. It looks like a misshaped balloon, bloated and pink. As it climbs higher it inflates, growing full and round. It hangs suspended, a juicy orange globe. As the dark hours pass, it shrinks, becoming white and parched. A pool of moonlight leaks into the waves.
By the time we come down from Cadillac, we are chilled and in dire need of soup. Way down the coast we find a seafood shack. When we walk into the little florescent-lit room, the air smells like the sea. There are huge tubs of lobsters, looking like massive insects, clambering over each other. The rough-looking woman behind the counter reaches into the tubs and pulls out dripping, twitching lobsters to weigh on a metal scale before lowering them into a vat of boiling water. We order three pints of fish chowder and sit outside at the picnic tables, shivering and slurping up the buttery broth with plastic spoons.
The next morning we are on our bikes. Acadia National Park boasts 45 miles of broken stone carriage roads, built by philanthropist and horseman John D. Rockefeller, Jr. between 1913 and 1940, and to this day not open to motor vehicles. The scenery is startlingly beautiful. We wind up gentle grades to alpine mountains and fields of blueberries above the tree line, then careen down through gulches of conifers thick with scratchy beards of lichens and mats of emerald moss. A golden carpet of sugary, sun-warmed pine needles whispers under our bike tires.
Huge boulders called coping stones line the curves and act as a guardrail to keep us from flying off a cliff. Every now and then the road passes over a leaping mountain stream as a beautiful arched stone bridge straddling the falls. We pass carriages pulled by bored draft horses, their bells jingling, and it feels as if we have stepped back in time.
The weather is gorgeous, bright and clear, with just enough nip to get us up the hills. The trees, lit from behind in the afternoon light, are flaming torches of scarlet, tangerine, and saffron glowing against a lush curtain of feathery evergreens. The brilliant colors reflect in the ponds gouged out by glaciers, accenting the band of reeds. Skeletal trees stand like sculptures rising from the depths. A fat porcupine waddles across our path; a lazy heron struts through the shallows. Stashing our bikes on the bank, we rock hop out to stand amidst the crystal waters.
I have never enjoyed bike riding so much. It is like having both the pristine wilderness and alpine vistas of backpacking, but the gentle grades of a rail trail. We couldn’t pass by Jordan Pond House without tasting its famous popovers. Sitting at a sunny dining table on the lawn, we are served tea and a basket of warm popovers. As we butter our crispy-shelled baked goods and slather the moist, chewy inside with strawberry jam, we gaze out over Jordan Pond. Behind it two round mountains called the “Bubbles” rise from the flaming forest.
Along the carriage roads are great side trails to hike. In the afternoon we decide to try the Triad, a short, steep climb through the forest and over a bald granite dome to the summit. There, we rest on the sun-warmed rock and squint at the glittering ponds and ocean.
On our second day we head to the visitor’s center to see a rather old-fashioned documentary about the park in which a husky-voiced man exclaims over Acadia’s “precious, private pockets of peace.” We spend the rest of the day driving the park’s one-way loop road along the coast, stopping at Sand Beach and sea cliffs to take pictures. Farther around Mount Desert Island, we stop at Thunder Hole and stroll down a little path on the sea rocks to where the waves gurgle into the stone cavities, are sucked out, and spewed up in puffs of spray.
Outside of Northeast Harbor, we climb a series of stacked terraces along a pine-forested cliff to the quaint Thuya Gardens that overlook the bay. Down below, we enjoy a picnic of caper and eggplant-stuffed peppers with cheese and crackers on the rocks. In the harbor, sailboats and fishing vessels bob.
One day we head up and off Mount Desert Island to go 45 miles east and back down around the Schoodic Peninsula to Schoodic Point. Although part of Acadia National Park, it is its own secluded spit of land and not nearly as visited. With no bike trails, we cycle on the road that is one way and has little traffic. The views are gorgeous from the highway winding along the edge of the sea. We stop to walk out on the shoals, jutting into the water. Waves crash on the smooth stones and clink and clatter in the surf. We pick up the sea-polished stones and stow them in our pockets.
At Schoodic Point we sit on slabs of sun-warmed granite and picnic amongst the squawking gulls. We chuck an apple core to one who promptly swallows it whole. It stands there half-stunned, its crop swollen with the fruit, until we fear it may keel over.
The tide is out late this afternoon, so back on Mount Desert Island we pack a blueberry pie from famous Helen’s restaurant and walk out to Bar Island. At low tide the waters recede to expose a rocky sand bar to the island from downtown. We hike over the glistening rocks, our shoes crunching on the barnacles and seaweed. On Bar Island we climb a small hill to a vista hacked out of the foliage. The pie has come out of the pan and collapsed in a pile of blue mush.
We couldn’t leave Acadia without seeing the sun rise on North America from the summit of Mount Cadillac. On our last morning, the alarm wakes us at 5:45. We shove our duffel bags into the car and grab the muffins our B&B hosts set out. The sky is already bathed in a curtain of pink haze and Mom shoots up the mountain, the car lurching on the curves.
We run over the granite dome to stand on its brow just as a pool of sun ripples on the horizon. It is flaming orange, shimmering in waves of heat. It began to take the shape of a globe. A band of tangerine and watermelon sky stretches across the horizon, and before long the rocks are shining in honey light. The sun has risen on Acadia.