This past September my husband and I rented a primitive forest cabin and spent a weekend Down East exploring the Blue Hill region. This area encompasses the small monadnock mountain of Blue Hill (elevation 934 ft) and the surrounding large peninsula jutting into the Atlantic sandwiched between Penobscot Bay and Mt. Desert Island.
There are several small towns on this peninsula including Blue Hill, Surry and Castine. Crossing the impressive old bridge over Eggemoggin Reach takes you to Little Deer Isle and Deer Isle, two very beautiful islands, and the towns of Deer Isle and Stonington. There is also Cape Rosier, on the Castine side of the peninsula, where we stayed near the hamlet of Harborside.
This part of Maine lies just off the major byways of Rtes 1 and 3 that each year carry millions of tourists to Acadia National Park and points farther east. The turn-off to the peninsula flashes by quickly at 65 mph. As a result, the area around Blue Hill remains more like the old-time country Maine increasingly vanishing from the Maine coast. So much of the seaside region has been taken over by the tourist trade with traffic, seafood restaurants, strip businesses, fast food, endless motels and big box stores. Mainers tend to avoid these congested areas, especially in summer. Maybe I shouldn’t even let people in on the quaint charm of the Blue Hill region for fear of development!
Tim and I enjoy a roughing-it vacation occasionally. This cottage was not as rough as our usual tent accommodation. There was no cell phone signal, electricity or running water, yet we were quite cozy. We had propane for cooking and heating water, fresh drinking water hauled in five gallon jugs, a solar boat shower which we made more comfortable with added hot water, a real bed and a commodious outhouse just a short walk away among the trees. Not bad at all. And early to bed means early to rise. With all that morning time, we had plenty of chances for exploration.
Directly across the road from the driveway to our cottage lay Holbrook Island Wildlife Sanctuary, more than 1200 acres of pristine forest, ponds, marsh, small mountains and sea shore maintained by the State of Maine. Threaded with walking trails, and featuring extinct volcano mountains for challenging climbs to gorgeous views, the Sanctuary teems with animals. We even saw a bobcat, standing right beside the road. Maybe it was the official park bobcat earning its living, who knows? We climbed Backwoods Mt, one of the old volcanoes, and spotted plenty of obsidian-like lava spit out when the site was a bubbling cauldron of molten rock. The paths were quite steep in places.
This section of the Maine coast abounds in reversing falls. The phenomenon of a reversing fall occurs when the incoming tide pushes the water level higher than the body of water emptying into the ocean. The rocky stream that drops brackish water to the sea during most of the day suddenly become inundated. The strong flow of the tide pushing against the almost-as-strong stream creates whirlpools and standing waves. The sound of rushing water tells of the violent struggle of the currents. We watched three of the falls: Goose Falls, Bagaduce Falls and an unnamed falls on the shore near our cabin. We were able to walk to this last falls and enjoy a close-up of the tumultuous waters.
We took a walk along the shore of the Sanctuary near a spot named Indian Bar. This area was once inhabited by Penobscots of the Abanaki Nation. They are gone, yet the name lingers. A small schooner slipped through the still waters of the harbor in the early mist.
After all this fun, the climb up Blue Hill Mt might have seemed a little anti-climactic, but not at all. We saved this hike for the last day of vacation. There are several paths up the mountain. We chose a moderately difficult climb that was a shorter route than easier ways. The mountain trails are maintained by a community-based trust for the enjoyment of all. A cell tower has been installed at the summit, detracting from the beauty, but helping the locals stay connected. Getting a signal in this region is challenging, even with the tower.
The climb was steep and littered with rocks. As we neared the top, vistas would suddenly open. There is a nice view of Blue Hill harbor and the mountains of Acadia National Park. The Blue Hill Fair was just wrapping up for the year. The emptying fairgrounds far below brought a fleeting nostalgia for cotton candy and agricultural exhibits.
At the summit, wide sheets of bare rock reveal the geologic formation of the hill. Tortuously folded layers of seabed were turned to metamorphic rock by volcanic action as they were thrust up to form the elevation. The maintenance trail is used by technicians on ATVs to service the cell tower. It makes an easy, gradual descent for old knees.
Our time in the Blue Hill region was fleeting. Going off-grid is so relaxing, once you get over the urge to check your email and social media messages. Soft candle-lit evenings, the bliss of a warm outdoor shower, enjoying a camp stove-cooked dinner eaten to the sound of crickets and night birds reminds one that the best joys in life are simple and quiet.