Maine Coastal Rt 1

Trip Start Jul 08, 2004
Trip End Jul 14, 2004

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Flag of United States  , Maine
Sunday, October 24, 2004

Maine - the real Vacationland
Ramona and Steve Boone

The beautiful state of Maine really lives up to its license-plate motto "Vacationland." You can sample some of the best of Maine's treasures in an easy trip of less than 200 miles along Maine's coastal Route 1. Along the way you take in sights from desert to ocean, with side-trips to visit lighthouses and fishing villages nestled on the finger-like peninsulas that shoot south off Route 1. Be sure to stop at the numerous Visitor's Centers. All are staffed with very friendly and helpful people who have the latest lodging availability and current information on local attractions.

Begin at Mt Desert Island, 47 miles from Bangor, just south of Route 1 via Route 3, and visit Acadia National Park, the first National Park east of the Mississippi and among the top-ten most-visited parks in the National Park System. Designated a Park in 1919, this was the first national park whose land was donated entirely by private citizens.

The 15-minute orientation program at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center explains how molten rock, called Magma, rose from the ocean floor through bedrock to produce the coarse-grained granite you'll find throughout Maine. Later, continental glaciers dug deep valleys and lake basins while carrying large boulders, called erratics, that can be seen at the summit of Cadillac Mountain. When the ice receded, water flooded the area and cut the island off from the mainland. Mt Desert Island is the third-largest island off the East Coast of the continental U.S.

A scenic 20-mile Park loop Road lets you take in a jaw-dropping vista of lakes, mountains and seashore, while Cadillac Mountain Road gives you a panoramic view of the coast and island-studded bays from the highest mountain on the U.S.'s Eastern Seaboard (1530 ft). Walk a trail to the top of Cadillac Mountain or follow a trail to the sandy beach and clamor granite rocks - you might find a crab or two hiding there, too. Be sure to stop at the Jordan Pond Tea House for lunch and order the popular fresh-baked popovers. And silently thank those people who had the vision and generosity to set aside this scenic area for future generations of nature lovers.

Paintings of this area by famous landscape artists Thomas Cole and Frederic Church depicted a beautiful wilderness that brought tourism to Bar Harbor, a quaint resort town on the northeastern edge of Mt Desert Island, just outside Acadia Park. Millionaires such as Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Morgans built summer 'cottages,' but a massive fire in 1947 destroyed most of the grand estates. Today's Bar Harbor is fun to explore, with antique shops, art galleries and outdoor cafes. There's even a free shuttle, the Island Explorer, which makes everything easy to reach.

Visit the downtown Abbe Museum, where changing exhibits explore the history of the area's native American Indians, the Wabanaki, or "the People of the Dawn." The Wabanaki are members of the Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Micmac and Maliseet tribes (isn't that a mouthful!) who settled in Maine over the last 10,000 years. Check out the gorgeous Indian baskets in the gift shop, too; they're an exhibit in themselves.

Leave the island behind and go west on Route 1, stopping halfway between Ellsworth and Bucksport at the Big Chicken Barn Books and Antiques, which has an amazing 21,600 ft of books and antiques. I love used bookstores, and this one is a gem. They have rare books, first editions and collectible newspapers and magazines besides the used books. Have a field day examining the original manuscripts and antiques scattered through the book stacks. You can even have free coffee - look upstairs behind the religion section. How can you not enjoy a shop whose stated goal is " please and delight you..."?

Sixty miles farther down Route 1 have lunch at Cappy's Chowder House in Camden. Their clam chowder tied for first place in my personal Maine clam chowder taste-testing. You can eat in their Crow's Nest and have a great view of the harbor, then treat yourself at their bakery downstairs. Walk around town to see the unique items made by local artists. You'll find sea-inspired paintings, lighthouse memorabilia and more lobster-themed knickknacks than you could ever imagine.

Now stay with me for a highlight of the trip. Go two miles farther west on Route 1 to Rockland, turning toward the water at the Irving Gas/Convenience Store. No kidding. There's a small dirt road that brings you to the North End Shipyard and Captain Neal Parker's Wendameen, a beautiful 67-foot restored schooner that sails at 2pm. You'll have made reservations with Susan as early as possible, of course, because there's only room for 14 passengers. Read the Q&A's on the Wendameen's website and start chuckling before you ever board. Example: Q&A #16: 'Do you perform weddings? Yes, and I'm pretty good at it...'

There's free parking outside the North End Shipyard boathouse. Go inside to meet Captain Parker -the Wendameen is tied up outside. After a few moments conversation with the Captain, you'll realize this restoration was a labor of love. A licensed captain since he was 20 (he now qualifies for AARP), Captain Parker spied the Wendameeen in 1986, stuck in a mud bank near New York. The Wendameen was built in 1912 at a nearby Maine shipyard for a wealthy New Englander. She changed hands several times and was sailed by the rich and famous until her last owner, who never sailed her in the 50 years he owned her.

With a lot of hard work and the help of a few special people, the Wendameen finally sailed again on July 1, 1990, for the first time in 57 years. The combination of his meticulous restoration and her unique history has earned the Wendameen a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wind and weather determine the exact course of each cruise, but for sure you'll sail through lovely bays and channels off the coast. My husband grinned like a kid when he was allowed to help raise the sails, an activity greatly encouraged by the Captain! Bucolic scenes and gorgeous summer homes dot the islands' rolling hillsides, except for one granite island which was leveled when its granite hills were quarried to build the Brooklyn Bridge. Even the colorful lobster buoys in the water everywhere add just the right nautical accent (each pattern is registered by the owner.) We dropped anchor in a quiet bay to enjoy the sun set as it shimmered across the water. The trip ends all too quickly the next morning after a hot breakfast. Unfortunately the boat has powerful motors, so there's no chance to extend the trip because of a wind shortage.

Stroll through Rockland before you leave the area. Although small, the downtown has a variety of shops. Try the rhubarb pie at the Second Read Books & Coffee. Or there might be a festival at the Rockland Public Landing. There you can sample Maine's famous 'lobster roll' (lobster salad on a bun) at Anthony's Take Out over by the Visitor's Center. And on Thursdays the Rockland Farmers' Market offers some yummy treats.

Now drive 15 miles west on Route 1, then turn south on Route 129/Route 130, to Pemaquid Point, where the first settlement in Maine was made in 1625. The picturesque lighthouse was added in 1827 by order of President John Quincy Adams, and is accessible by automobile, unique as so many Maine lighthouses are in remote locations. This one sits on a desolate, rocky hillside where you can see Atlantic Ocean waves pounding the shore and only imagine what this must be like in the perfect storm. Originally burning whale oil, then kerosene for the light, in 1934 this was the first Maine lighthouse to be automated, and can now be seen 14 miles away on a clear day. Like all the other 53 lighthouses still in operation and automated, it's operated by the Coast Guard, although ships today tend to rely on GPS. Inside the old keeper's house is the Fishermen's Museum, displaying artifacts of Maine lighthouses and the fishing/lobster industry. The three-foot long mounted lobster is truly impressive! The museum has quite an assortment of items in several rooms. There's the Navigation Room, with charts used by the fishermen, the Fish House Room, displaying the tools and gear used by lobstermen, the Net Room, displaying several different methods of harvesting the sea, and the Gallery, with working half-models of fish boats, whalers, sloops and schooners.

Before you return to Route 1 have lunch in Damariscotta at King Eiders Pub, just off the main street. It serves the co-winner in my chowder taste test! A bowl of their hearty clam chowder will tide you over until supper at our next stop, just a few short fingerling peninsulas west, off Route 1 via Route 27.

Picture-perfect Boothbay Harbor is the quintessential New England fishing village. Huge seagulls nosedive into the bay for lunch, and flowers bloom in every yard. Real fishermen live and work here, and tourists are treated like part of the family. Enjoy the peace and quiet - the road into town is a short loop with little traffic.

Relax in a rocking chair on a porch overlooking Boothbay Harbor at Captain Sawyer's Place. This 1877 Victorian sea captain's home is now a B&B run by Kim Reed, a charming second-generation Boothbayer. She'll tell you local history, like how the early settlers constructed small boats for fishing and trading, and during the World Wars were able to build military ships in record time. Kim's son served in the Marine Corps, and she shows her patriotic spirit by flying ALL the service flags from the front porch - what a great sight!

You, however, now have a mission: you must buy ice cream. The best we found on our whole trip is at the Downeast Ice Cream Factory on Pier One. It has over 53 flavors - the owners argue over whether to count strawberry yogurt, since there's already a strawberry ice cream. For $1.95 you get a huge scoop that's big enough to share, but mighty fine to eat all by yourself. Don't worry, they have fat-free, sugar-free and no-carb choices. Walk behind the Ice Cream Factory and sightsee from the footbridge connecting Boothbay Harbor to the East Side. Lean on the rail awhile, watch the lobster boats come in and unload their haul, or just gaze as the sun sets over the sparkling blue water.

Back on Route 1 you head to the last stop: Portland, Maine's largest city. Saunter along the Old Port Exchange on the waterfront. This used to be the heart of Portland's commercial industry and the cobblestone streets and old gas lights set you back in time a hundred years. But your twenty-first century genes can get a workout in the many shops tucked into the antique-looking buildings. On the Portland Pier enjoy another harbor view when you eat at J's Oyster. Snag an outside table and have a last fix of lobster roll and terrific clam chowder. Portland offers a plethora of cultural activities; be sure to visit the Portland Museum of Art, especially the C. S. Payson Building designed by I.M. Pei and Partners. The museum has an awesome collection of works by American artists, including works by New England artists Winslow Homer and Andrew Wyeth, and European masters such as Renoir and Degas.

Near the Museum is Longfellow Square, complete with a statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, native son of Portland. Half-a-block away is another Maine treat - a stay at the Percy Inn. This 1830's brick row house is a terrific B&B. As you enter the foyer you can hear strains of classical music from the baby-grand player piano in the drawing room. The rooms are named after famous authors like Shelley, Keats, Whitman, and, of course, Longfellow. A third floor kitchenette provides 24-hr snacks and the full breakfast has added homemade treats that are irresistible. The outdoor patio is a perfect place to read a book, or you can choose from a collection of hundreds of DVD movies to play in your state-of-the art room electronics. Talk to Innkeeper Dale Northrup for local dining suggestions - he's a travel writer/reviewer with obvious good taste in creature comforts.

As you leave Maine you remember seashores, lobster buoys, and friendly people. It's easy to agree with Mainers - this is Vacationland.

Abbe Museum, 25 Mt Desert St, Bar Harbor, 207-288-3519

Big Chicken Barn 207-667-7308

Cappy's Chowder House, 1 Main St, Camden, 207-236-2254

Wendameen, Rockland, 207-594-1751

Second Read Books & Coffee, 328 Main St, Rockland, 207-594-3123

King Eiders Pub, 2 Elm St, Damariscotta, 207-563-6008.

Captain Sawyer's, 55 Commercial Street, Boothbay Harbor, 207-633-2290

J's Oyster, 5 Portland Pier, Portland, 207-772-4828

Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square, Portland, 207- 775-6148

The Percy Inn, 15 Pine St, Portland, 888-417-3729
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