Susan and I spent a lovely long weekend on Mount Desert Island in Maine for our summer vacation (or Babymoon as some people are callling it). We stayed at the Penury Hall bed and breakfast in Southwest Harbor. This was our second visit to MDI and the B&B, previously staying there in January 2003 during a blizzard. On that visit, the Penury Hall proprietors were at their other property in the Bahamas and we were hosted by their son Alden who taught rock climbing in the summer, and among previous jobs spent a summer flying kites on a beach in Oregon. So this would our first time meeting Gretchen and Toby, a lovely couple who provide a lovely place to stay.
See photos from Mount Desert Island at Othemts.com.
We drove up on Friday morning after a filling breakfast at SoundBites in Somerville. On our previous trip we discovered a great show on Maine Public Radio called Down Memory Lane. Basically the DJ selects songs that debuted in charts in this week in 1917, 1927, 1937, 1947, 1957 and 1967. It’s a nice selection of music from across eras. There should be more radio shows like this.
We arrived at Penury Hall in the early afternoon and checked in with Toby who also made us reservations at their favorite restaurant Red Sky. Feeling car-lagged we went for a walk around the town and down all the way to the Coast Guard Station and Oceanarium (the latter a bit too pricey to visit for just an hour). On the way back to town we looped along another road and passed the Southwest Harbor Congregational Church with it’s spiffy shingles and examined an old burial ground across the street.
Stopping in back at the B&B for a nap, we then drove out to watch the sunset on the quiet side. En route we discovered the Seawall and got out for a walk along the cobblestone beach. Then we continued to the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse where we again clambered around on the rocks and joined a crowed watching the sky turn pink as the sun disappeared in the distance.
We had a late but worth the wait seating Red Sky. A very tall waiter served us tasty food and beer (the latter for me alone). I ate the potato gnocchi and I believe Susan ate the halibut. For dessert Susan had blueberry pie and I ate the cheese course. Mmmm.
The next morning it rained cats and dogs with a howling wind. This reminded us of our summer vacation from last year where it rained all week. Toby assured us the rain would stop around 11 am. Apart from meteorology, Toby also does the cooking for breakfast. The much more chatty Gretchen joined us at the breakfast table and brought us up to date on Alden. Apparently he’s now at firefighting school in Colorado and spends up to six months a year at a research station in Antarctica. There’s a picture of him on the fridge with a penguin in his lap. Somehow we were the first ones up but the other guests soon joined us at the table. One of them cheerfully told us how she had injured herself once each day during her vacation and was expecting another daily injury today.
We decided to spend our first fall day exploring Acadia National Park via the Park Loop Road. We went to the Halibut Cove Visitors Center first in hopes that the rain would stop while we were there. We saw the introduction film (“Simple Gifts” on the kettle drums rocks) and purchased a park pass, but it was still raining when we left. Worse, we both neglected to bring much in the way of wet weather gear. So we went to Bar Harbor, found parking, and an outdoors store. Susan found a rain jacket and a rain hat right away but the store seemed short on men’s clothing. Instead we found a cheap poncho for me a tourist shop, their name and logo emblazoned across the chest “Cool as a Moose.”
Ready for rain we started on the road. First stop, Sieur de Monts Spring where a domed spring house from the cottage era of Mount Desert Island history stands as a monument to George B. Dorr who is responsible for creating the national park. We visited the nature center and followed a guided walk around the site which includes the Abbe Museum of Native American archeology and the Wild Gardens of Acadia. The woman who worked at the Abbe was very friendly and informative and was actually descended from the local Indian tribes (although she didn’t know that until she was an adult).
Next stop was at Schooner Head Overlook. Despite the motorist guide advising us to not visit the shore here, we went down anyway and enjoyed waves crashing against the rocks without a crowd. We also peeked into, but did not enter the Sea Anenome Cave. We also were getting very hungry, so we agreed to zoom ahead along the park road to a lunch stop. According to my guidebook, the tea and popovers at the Jordan Pond House should be required by law. So we ate lunch at this popular, scenic spot. The rain had really kept the crowds down, and even though the sun was coming out as Toby predicted, we were still able to be seated right away. And the tea, popovers, soup and salad were all very tasty, served by a lovely young woman from Charlotte, NC.
To work off our lunch we went for a walk around Jordan Pond, a long stretch of water surrounded by pines and hills and resembling a Scottish loch. Actually, it looks even more like Glendalough in Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains, the resemblance being somewhat eerie in some spots. On the far end of the lake are two round mountains called the Bubbles and we walked up and over South Bubble as part of our hike. Near the peak is a rock which appears to be precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff. We were amused by the other hikers who all posed for photos as if they were pushing the rock off the mountain. One dad told his kids that the entire roster of the New England Patriots could not push it over, although I’d like to see them try. Back down the other side of Jordan Pond, the trail follows a long set of bog bridges, or a “boardwalk” as the signs refer to it. Gretchen told us later that this is relatively new and the trail used to be marshy and hard to follow before the bridges.
Having climbed a mountain by foot we could justify driving to the top of Cadillac Mountain at sunset. Due to cold winds and crowds, we didn’t stay long, but did follow the circular path around the summit to take in the views. We also bought some postcards at the summit house. Back down the hill and into Bar Harbor we enjoyed dinner and a movie at Reel Pizza Cinerama, a movie theater with counters in front of the seats so you can eat pizza while watching the film. Lots of nice leg room for those of us with restless legs too. We ate “The Godfather” pizza and watched The Simpsons Movie.
After a delicious breakfast of eggs Benedict on English muffins, we walked to the town pier in Southwest Harbor. We arrived very early for the Cranberry Cove Ferry to the Isleford (a.k.a. Little Cranberry Island). While waiting a cheerful couple from Florida came down the pier and remained cheerful even when they learned that this wasn’t where they wanted to be. They told us about meeting a local teenage girl on the Island Explorer shuttle bus from Bar Harbor who told them that there are a lot of fights among the girls at her high school. This led to the quote of the week: “She says there’s a lot ‘drama’ at her school. In Orlando we call it violence, she calls it drama.” When the ferry arrived we were joined by a large number of tourists, children, and dogs for the hour-long journey to Islesford. The views of Mount Desert Island and the Cranberry Isles were fantastic. We even saw eagles circling above us among the seagulls.
Islesford is a child’s paradise. Large troops of children roamed the island seemingly unsupervised playing baseball, riding bikes, dressing up as pirates, and jumping off the pier (after much posturing). I thought much about living on Islesford even though I wouldn’t make a good lobsterman, or artist, or independently wealthy person with a summer home. We ate a picnic lunch on the town green and then wandered the length and breadth of the island taking in scenic views and charming architecture. It wasn’t all walking as we napped on Gilley Beach and read books under the trees by the Islesford Historical Museum. Islesford is a beautiful, relaxing place and one I’d like to return to. They do have a library there so maybe I might just fit in after all.
Our final day on Mount Desert Island came all too soon. We returned to Acadia National Park and picked up the stretch of the Park Loop Road that we skipped over on Saturday. Not that we planned to drive it, we wanted to walk it! We parked at Thunder Hole, so called because of a cave in the rocks that makes explosive sounds when air is trapped by waves. The viewing platform was crowded with irritating, pushy people but Susan managed to charm some senior citizens. From here we walked south along the coastal path toward the Otter Cliffs. Away from Thunder Hole there were fewer people, although the crowds increased whenever we reached a spot by a parking area. The path took us to Otter Cliffs, Otter Point, and Otter Cove. We didn’t see any otters but walked along dramatic coastal scenery that one couldn’t take for granite.
Returning to the car, we drove to Somesville, site of the first settlement on MDI and now a village with a charming footbridge. After crossing the bridge we visited the Somesville Library which was actually open. We had a terrific conversation with a library volunteer, a retired school teacher, who told as the history of the library and talked with us about children’s books. I never read children’s fiction as a child, so I was excited to see a large collection of biographies for children from a series I remember reading. Next door is the Port in a Storm Bookstore, a great place to while away the time looking at books and peaking out the windows to see Somes Sound, the only fjord on the East Coast.
Except for a long drive home, that was our summer vacation.