Today was a half-and-half mix of driving and hiking. We drove on mostly
slow state roads from our inn by the seaside near Calais to Baxter State
Park- in the Mid-region of Maine–another travel tip from Richard. We only stopped twice on the way, once for a huge garage sale and bake sale in a
teeny town not far from our starting point, where we could have picked up 78 records for cheap but just bought a couple of bar cookies instead, and the
second time because there was a marker for us crossing the 45th parallel,
and we are geeks.
We got to Baxter State Park (BSP) around 1 pm. BSP is a large park (200,000
acres, and according to Wikipedia, with only 55,000+ visitors
annually–compared to the million that come to Acadia every year), and what makes it interesting is that its motto is “forever wild”–it is a
gravel-road, no water, no electricity park with tent and cabin camping and
day visits only, and they are very good/very strict bat their Leave No Trace
stuff. It is mostly famous as the location of the highest mountain in
Maine, Mount Katahdin, which has two peaks connected by a ridge that people like to hike. But it is not a day hike–the ascent on any of the trails
takes 8-10 hours total, and most people hike to the halfway camp and then
start for the mountain in the morning. Mount Katahdin is partly famous
because it is the northern trailhead for the Appalachian trail, which has
always fascinated us–and this day can go down in history as the day we
hiked 0.01% of the trail, about 2.2 miles of the 2,200-mile trail!
But first we had a picnic lunch in the park entrance area, right by a lake
(our first picnic on this trip). We got a so-called “moose ticket “to go
into the park–all the day-hike parking spots were already taken, given how late we got there in the day, but this allowed us to go into a particular
area for just three hours to look for moose. We drive to the designated
area and got on the Sandy Stream Pond trail. We didn’t see any moose,
sadly, although we did find lots of moose tracks in the mud by the trails. But we did get to take a 2.5 mile hike around a lake with a beautiful view of
the mountain and some very nice woods around it. Presumably, Every hiker goes up to Mount Katahdin, so we only ran into 7 or 8 hikers total on this trail. Then we returned to the entrance station, returned our moose pass, and were allowed to go in again and hike, since it was now 3:30 or so and more parking had been cleared. We drove to another area of the park and went for that hike on the Appalachian Trail–from near our parking lot to two falls in the river named little and big Niagara. They were absolutely beautiful, and because the rocks around them are all granite and stay dry, we could climb really close. We even saw traces I’d an old mill works upstream from the falls. We walked the AT back after we had seen enough of the falls, and failed miserably taking another AT proof-that-we-were-there selfie on the trail, with the tell-tale white trail mark on a tree (we hate selfies, but at least it made us laugh). The mosquitoes were getting pretty bad, even with the bug spray we had with us, so it was time to leave, even though for wildlife, we only got to see a beautiful dragonfly-type bug, a jackrabbit and a small red squirrel.
By the time we had driven back out of the park after our hiking half-day,
and into Millinocket, it was 7 pm. We found a doable motel which had what
we really wanted–a roadside Chinese restaurant at the end of the building!
We had a decent, cheap meal in the almost deserted restaurant, where we were the only guests, with only two calls coming in for takeout while we were there. The whole town is a little sad; it is trying to survive on tourism
since its key industry, a major paper mill (Great northern, which had been
there since 1899), went under a few years ago–and there are just not enough tourists around, even with all the pretty lakes and the state park right there. After dinner, we just turned in and did our daily journal logistics.