Sunday, August 10, 2014

Week Downeast, Days 5 and 6

Heed my advice, ocean lovers:  come downeast.  Bring your hiking shoes, a camera, and a bottle of water. Then make sure you spend time at two of the most extraordinary places in the state:  Great Wass Island and Quoddy Head.  Both of these spots boast amazing hiking, with unrivaled views unspoiled by the crowds we expect in southern and midcoast Maine.  They are the best Maine has to offer, and are national treasures.

The view along the shoreline at Great Wass; looking west to Englishman Bay.
Perched on the cliffs overlooking Grand Manan Channel; with the island of Grand Manan in the distance.
Great Wass Island:  Thank you, Nature Conservancy, for all you do.  I know that human recreation is only a small part of your mission, and that more importantly, you preserve rare and exemplary habitats and organisms.  Being able to see some of these at Great Wass Island was a real treat.

The hikes at Great Wass are moderately difficult.  The maps give you fair warning; in fact, they make the hikes sound rather impossible, which I guess weeds out the folks who would otherwise show up in flip flops, carrying a cooler.  This is a place where you definitely want your hiking shoes to properly laced; you will be clamoring over rocks and roots.  The trail was dry most of the time while we were there (but for a short thunderstorm on our way back).  But I can imagine a little bit of moisture -- from the persistent fog downeast) would make this trail a real challenge.  The trails pass over granite bedrock that is carpeted with a thin layer of soil, hosting mosses and lichens that are kept moist by the fog rolling in.

We hiked the entire loop on the preserve.  The Mud Hole Trail passed along a well-protected cove (the Mud Hole) with a few cruising boats anchored up inside (lucky boats).  This trail spits you out on pink granite ledges that slope down to Ascophyllum-draped rocks, a bay completely covered in lobster bouys, and offshore islands hosting either weekend cottages or sunbathing seals (bring your binoculars).  We broke out some water here and sat quietly, watching the spectacle that is Downeast Maine -- lobster crews hauling gear, eagles flying overhead, and a great silence, interrupted only be the slow and gentle surge of the Gulf of Maine.  Unfortunately, it wouldn't have been too easy to carry my boots across the island, so I skipped the tidepooling.  It was high tide anyways.

The walk south along the water was spectacular but challenging.  Much of the way we passed over massive slabs of granite, but this was interspersed with stretches of boulders to clamber over and cobbles to stumble through.  We were rewarded with yet more spectacular scenery, making the effort worthwhile.  (I must admit to disappointment that trails didn't let us get even further south on the island's west coast.  Since this island juts so far out into the Gulf of Maine, I'm going to bet it's a lobster nursery.  Alas, I must keep imagining, probably best for any baby lobsters that have washed shore here.) 

Our walk back to the parking lot on the Little Cape Point Trail was interrupted by a quick thunderstorm, with lightning striking very close by (within a mile).  The pace picked up after that! We were a bit damp, but no less enthusiastic, when we finally reached the car.  The entire trip took four hours, but at least half an hour of that was us simply sitting and soaking up Englishman Bay.  

A lobster pound at Beals.

Beals Island is just north of the preserve, and I couldn't resist stopping for a little snack.  (What else? A lobster roll.)  We both agreed our rolls were the best we'd had so far on the trip -- just what I expect from a hole-in-the-wall by the side of the road in a town like Beals.  Clearly, lobstering is in their blood here; everywhere you look there are pots stacked high in dooryards and buoys piled up by the side of the road.  The air was filled with the sounds of diesel engines as lobster crews came in with their catch.  We strolled down to the docks to see the lobster pounds, where the catch is stored while lobstermen wait for better prices.  Alas, this was too short a visit.  I have a feeling Beals and Jonesport will go on the list of places we hope to spend some time visiting next year.

Quoddy Head: This is as far "downeast" as you can go.  Ain't nothin' past it but Canada.  The lighthouse there, West Quoddy Head, must be one of the most photographed in the nation.  With its distinctive red stripes, it's a beauty.

But the hordes of tourists who drive straight to the lighthouse, snap a few quick pictures, then take off as quick as they came are missing the true gem of this state park.  Along the eastern shore of Quoddy Head lies some of the most spectacular scenery in the state.  The trails here wind along the edge of massive granite cliffs that rise above the Grand Manan channel like cathedral walls.  (Pardon me if I wax poetic; this place is worth a little poetry, even if it's not very good.)  

A few places are real standouts here.  Gulliver's Hole allows you to perch high on the cliffs and listen to rocks rolling around in the surf far below; resulting in a constant thunderstorm at your feet. Spending a few minutes here, sitting quietly, is worth your time.  Plenty of tidepooling is available along the way -- in the right weather.  Bring shoes that can get wet and be very cautious if you take the plunge.  And stopping at the cairns is a great way to enjoy a picnic.  

Shockingly, we ran into NO people past the cairns.  Not a soul.  I'll warn you that the trails are in bad shape at this state park (Governor LePage, you should be ashamed.)  You'll get muddy.  But it's worth it for this amazing hike.  Trust me, once you've snapped your photo of the lighthouse, lace up your boots and head south along the shoreline.  It's the real treasure in the park.

Alas, our tine downeast is coming to an end.  We're packing the truck and heading back to our real lives this morning.  I'll be back though!

No comments :

Post a Comment