Acadia National Park: Schoodic Peninsula

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.
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For this trip to Acadia, we decided to visit one of the less traveled sections of the park: The Schoodic Peninsula, across the bay from where were staying in Bar Harbor.

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We took the ferry from Bar Harbor to Winter Harbor, courtesy of the Downeast Windjammer Cruise Lines, so we could experience Acadia without the crowds found on Mount Desert Island. The alternative to the ferry is a slow drive back to the mainland around the rocky coast to the peninsula. We needed a break from driving.

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The Quoddy Dam is a seasoned working vessel, not a luxury yacht. As long as you don’t go expecting a ride on a big ship like the whale watching cruises, you won’t be disappointed. We saw lighthouses, seabirds and a dolphin on the journey and chatted with one of the seamen who is retired Navy. He pointed out some of the sights to us along the way.

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When we arrived at the dock in Winter Harbor, the free Island Explorer bus was waiting for us. The driver took us to Schoodic Point, told us he’d be back in an hour and that we’d have time for lunch and still be able to make the 2:00 ferry.

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Schoodic Point is a peaceful place to watch crashing waves, explore tide pools and see unique geology. There are dark channels running through the rocks here called diabase dikes. This is unique to this side of Acadia because the Schoodic Granite has a different structure than the granite that makes up Mount Desert Island.

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Completely remote, there were only a few others out there with us. The fog was with us again so we didn’t have much of a view, but we hear you can see Cadillac Mountain from this point on a clear day.

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True to his word, the bus driver was there an hour later and he took us where we wanted to go. If only the expensive commuter transit company back home was so efficient and friendly as this free bus!

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Back in town, we walked the sleepy main street of Winter Harbor to JM Gerrish. A mix between old-time ice cream parlor and luncheonette, JM Gerrish is charming and epitomizes rural America. The locals were having lunch there along with the Schoodic tourists. The service is unhurried & friendly. The food is good, standard burgers and BLT sandwiches… on really good bread.
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Location: Schoodic Peninsula

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 7/8/1916

Date of my visit: August 2015

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You can see my other Acadia Posts by clicking on the following links:

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Gateway National Recreation Area: Sandy Hook

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

Sandy Hook in New Jersey is one of Gateway National Recreation Area’s three geographical units. The other two are in Staten Island and Queens, with the three parks framing the ‘gateway’ to New York Harbor.

I grew up on Staten Island and Sandy Hook was the closest beach to us for summer Jersey Shore trips. We’d load up the station wagon with family, friends and beach paraphernalia and head ‘down the shore’ several times during the hot summer months each year. Without a commercial boardwalk, it was the quietest beach within our day-trip radius, but we still left bright and early to avoid the traffic.

As kids, we thought of it as a welcome escape from the heat and a chance to body surf in waves less gross than on the Staten Island beaches. We didn’t realize that the peninsula had more to offer than the beach just after the entry gate or a life outside of July and August.

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Spermaceti Cove Life-Saving station was built in 1894 as a base from which to rescue shipwreck survivors

I started visiting Sandy Hook again in recent years when a group of friends hosted a photo meet there on a mild March day. We spent the entire day walking the northern end of the peninsula, beginning at Fort Hancock.

Fort Hancock was built in 1896 and served as a primary defense of New York City up through the cold war. In 1954, operations were converted to a Nike missile base. The fort was decommissioned in 1974. There is still an active Coast Guard station just north of the fort.

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What remains of the fort are the ruins of the batteries and the distinctive row of yellow houses (Officer’s Row.) When I visited with the photo group in 2014, little more than a year had passed since Hurricane Sandy had devastated these buildings and the charter school located in the complex. The school was rebuilt shortly afterwards and I’m guessing the homes have now been stabilized as well because the NPS is bidding out 60 year leases for them (according to their website.)

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Sandy Hook is also home to the Sandy Hook Lighthouse. Sandy Hook claims to be the oldest lighthouse in the USA, and indeed, every time I post a photo of it on social media, a few fervent admirers will sing its virtues as THE oldest light still in use.

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However, I have been to Boston Light and heard exactly the same thing from the lighthouse-obsessed couple that live on that isolated island and keep the light running when not conducting tours.

People who love lighthouses are very passionate about them and their claims to fame.

So which IS the oldest working lighthouse? It looks like Sandy Hook might actually be the winner by a technicality. Sandy Hook was built in 1764. The ORIGINAL Boston light was built in 1716 but was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1783. Thank you, Wikipedia!

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Leaves of three, let it be!

That same year, I chaperoned a class trip to Sandy Hook for my daughter’s middle school. There were rangers and environmentalists on hand moving the kids through stations to learn about various aspects of the local ecosystem.

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We learned about the horseshoe crab, a living fossil that has been on this earth for 450 million years. Their blue blood is invaluable to the medical industry and there is no synthetic substitute for it. Over-harvesting has led to a marked decline in the population in recent years and the species is threatened.

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We were too late to save this one

After learning about the horseshoe crabs, the kids went out on to the beach and rescued the ones that had been beached by turning them over near the shore line and watching them swim away with the next wave.

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This one happily swam away with the next wave

A year or two after the field trip, by the miracle of Instagram, I discovered that there were seals to be seen in Sandy Hook during the cold winter months! I checked the NPS website and found that I could sign up for a free ranger-guided viewing of the seals. We met our ranger at the lighthouse and caravanned to an undisclosed location. The NPS is having trouble with people traumatizing wildlife for the sake of photos, or doing plain stupid things like taking selfies with grizzlies for social media, so the rangers asked us not to post location specifics. Remember folks, it is a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act to come within 100 yards of the seals, so if you are lucky enough to see one on the beach, keep your distance.

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When we got to the viewing spot, the rangers set up some telescopes so we could see the seals more clearly. Even with my longest lens, the photos were still pretty far off, so we were in no danger of harassing a marine mammal that day. It was still pretty exciting to see them!

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Another great thing about Sandy Hook in the off-season is that dogs are allowed. There are lots of great paths winding through the fort area towards the beach at the very tip of the peninsula. On a clear day, you can see lower Manhattan from this beach.

And in the summer, I hear it’s a nude beach…no dogs or cameras allowed. 🙂

Location: 85 Mercer Rd, Highlands, NJ 07732

Designation: National Recreation Area

Date designation declared: 10/27/1972

Date of my visit: March 2016

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Acadia National Park: Bar Island

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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Bar Island is a tidal island in Bar Harbor, just North of the West Street Pier. It is now part of Acadia National Park (Acadia NP was established in 1916, but the boundaries weren’t adjusted to include Bar Island until 1986) and has some hiking trails running through the island. The only way to get there is by crossing a sand bar on foot or with an ATV.

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This land bridge is only accessible 1.5 hours on either side of low tide. You don’t want to be on the island when the tide comes in or you will be stuck out there until the next low tide.

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We’d seen Bar Island at high tide from the area behind our hotel. One of the locals explained that we could go there at low tide, so we checked the internet for the next low tide.

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We were lucky that low tide coincided with sunset. Even though it was foggy, the setting sun still shone through, creating a glorious diffused effect. It was such an amazingly beautiful sight.

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While walking across the land bridge, with what seemed like every other occupant of Bar Harbor, we saw some kayakers coming back to shore.

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As we neared Bar Island, we saw little stone towers everywhere. We added a cairn of our own on the beach at Bar Island and then headed back across the sand bar, not wanting to spend the night on the Island.

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You can see my other Acadia National Park Posts by clicking on these links:

  1. Park Loop Road
  2. Jordan Pond and The Bubbles

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Location: Mount Desert Island

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 1986

Date of my visit: August 2015

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Martin Van Buren National Historic Site

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

The Martin Van Buren National Historic Site is in Kinderhook, NY.  Van Buren was the 8th president of the United States, the first American-born president, and a founder of the Democratic Party.

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He moved here to the home called Lindenwald in the mid 1800s after serving out his presidential term and losing his bid for re-election. It was a tumultuous time in our history, as our nation teetered on the brink of civil war. Van Buren had no intention of retiring in Lindenwald. He enlarged the home and ran two more presidential campaigns using the mansion as his campaign headquarters, before ultimately conceding defeat and becoming a ‘gentleman farmer’ on the 220 acre estate. The home was again expanded to 36 rooms, complete with modern conveniences such as running water when Van Buren’s son moved into Lindenwald with his family.

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My husband and I stopped at the visitors center several years ago on our way up to Lake Placid. The only way to see the inside of the home is on a ranger-guided tour, so we took the tour. We didn’t know much about Martin Van Buren or his presidency and so we enjoyed the ranger’s informative talk as we walked through the mansion.

 

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The Ogee arch originated in the Arab world and later became popular in medieval England

 

The home has many interesting architectural details, like the Ogee Arch in the formal parlor and the Palladian window in the second floor bedroom and the stair tower that connects the old and new portions of the home. The home was designed to impress as Van Buren frequently entertained his political guests here.

Location: Kinderhook, NY

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designation declared: 10/26/1974

Date of my visit: 7/25/2011

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In the mid 1800s, having a tub with running water and a flush toilet was quite unique
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The winding staircase connecting old and new sections of the house
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The guest bedroom on the second floor. Servants quarters were on the 3rd floor.

Acadia National Park: Jordan Pond and The Bubbles

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

As I mentioned in my previous post on Acadia (which you can read by clicking here,) I have been to this park 3 times over the course of the last two decades. It’s a big, spread-out park and there has been someplace new to explore each time.
On our last trip, knowing that we’d have to meet up with our photo tour during the busy afternoon in the Jordan Pond parking lot, I’d planned our day around getting to that lot early, leaving our car there and planning the day’s activities in that area.
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After a brief stop at the Hull’s Cove Visitor Center to get our pass and bearings, we headed for Jordan Pond, planning to spend the morning hiking The Bubbles. The Bubbles, I explained to my family, are two mountains looming over Jordan Pond that look like boobs. When we reached the beginning of the trail around Jordan Pond, we saw…
…nothing!
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The pond was completely fogged in and my family thought I’d made up the whole story about the boobs. “Just wait,”  I said, “the fog will burn off and you’ll see.”
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The Bubbles on a clear day in 2007
The first mile or so of the hike, running along the pristine waters of Jordan Pond (this is actually the drinking water supply for the surrounding area,) was level and pleasant. We were out pretty early and so saw some interesting birds and other wildlife along the way.
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When we turned off towards the South Bubble Trail, the going got rough, at least for me and my daughter. Though the trails are very well maintained with stone, dirt and log steps, it’s STEEP with an elevation gain of 766 feet. And it was humid. I hate humidity.
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Nevertheless we ascended the South Bubble, peered over the side and saw…
…nothing! Still fogged in.
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And somehow, in all the nothingness and the out-of-breathness, we neglected to look for the park’s famous Bubble Rock, a huge boulder seemingly perched on the edge of the cliff. By the time we realized we’d missed it, we were halfway to the North Bubble and there was no way I was going back.
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We made it to the summit of the North Bubble at 872 feet and were again confronted by fog. It wasn’t going to burn off that day. Still, we felt pretty good about ourselves for having climbed two mountains in one morning.
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We explored some side trails as we made our way back to Jordan Pond to meet up with our afternoon photo tour.
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Back in the Jordan Pond lot, we met up with our guide Howie from Acadia Photo Safari . 

He led our group around the side of the pond we hadn’t hiked that morning. It is a flat trail alongside the pond with some planking and stepping stones. Howie knows a lot about photography and cameras and is very good at explaining it. He was even able to help my husband and daughter get more out of their point-and-shoot cameras and showed me a few things I didn’t know about my SLR.
In spite of the foggy day, I think everyone came away with some decent shots and tricks we can use again and again.

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When the photo walk concluded, we were famished. I’d made reservations at the historic Jordan Pond House. In its heyday, Mount Desert Island was a vacation hot-spot for High Society and the Pond House was a fancy place catering to this crowd. But in 2015, it didn’t matter that we weren’t in dressier attire as many other patrons were also in hiking clothes.
We were seated by a window overlooking the patio and what would have been a magnificent view if not for the fog.
There were many empty tables… not busy at all, but our waitress, while friendly, was absent and inattentive. We did enjoy the famous popovers and the local artisanal cheese plate. Most of our meal was from local organic sources and was very fresh. Considering the days activities (Fitbit registered over 30,000 steps and 11 miles walked) I probably could have eaten cardboard and thought it delicious.

And hanging on a wall near our table was a painting of The Bubbles reflected in Jordan Pond against a brilliant blue sky. “You see! There are the boobs!”

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From May 2007.  In 2015, she had no recollection of having been here previously

 

Location: Mount Desert Island

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 7/8/1916

Date of my visit: August 2015

Gettysburg National Military Park

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania commemorates the site of the Civil War’s bloodiest battle. It is considered a turning point in the war, with the Union forces repelling Robert E. Lee’s second invasion of the North. Over the course of 3 days of fierce fighting in July of 1863, about fifty thousand soldiers died…the costliest battle ever in American history.DSC01685

Five months after the Battle of Gettysburg, President Lincoln dedicated a National Cemetary at the site and delivered the famous Gettysburg Address, reminding everyone of the principles behind the Declaration of Independence and urging unity in the hopes that,

“these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

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Did you know that when Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, he was suffering from a mild case of smallpox?!

We visited Gettysburg on Labor Day Weekend in 2011. We started out at the Visitor Center where we perused the museum, watched a short film and viewed the interesting Cyclorama Painting. We picked up the Junior Ranger booklet for my daughter to earn her badge.

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The Eternal Light Peace Memorial dedicated on July 3, 1938, commemorating the 1913 Gettysburg reunion for the 50th anniversary of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. The natural gas flame is visible from 20 miles away.

We then took a two-hour bus tour around the battlefield and memorials. Tours are conducted by licensed battlefield guides…they have to take a course and pass an exam in order to conduct tours on the NPS site. Our guide narrated throughout the bus ride and we had several stops where we could get out, stretch our legs and take photos. There are over 1300 monuments, memorials and plaques here, comprising one of the largest collections of outdoor sculpture in the world.

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Our favorite was the Castle at Little Roundtop because we could go inside and climb the stairs to an observation deck. This memorial is for a New York regiment in honor of Ephraim Elmer Ellsworth who was the first Union soldier killed during the war. It was here that there were some volunteers performing a living history. This union soldier spent some time talking to my daughter and helped her with her junior ranger packet.

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Location: 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, PA 17325

Designation: National Military Park

Date designation declared: Declared a National Park in 1895, decades prior to creation of the NPS

Date of my visit: 9/3/2011

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Our junior ranger being ‘sworn in’

Acadia National Park: Loop Road Highlights

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Frenchman Bay shrouded in fog, as seen from Cadillac Mountain

Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

Since we were driving three hours from Portland, Maine to Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island we planned a light sightseeing schedule for our first afternoon in Acadia National Park. I had been here twice before, my daughter didn’t remember her earlier trip and my husband had never been.

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Fermentation tanks at the Atlantic Brewing Company back in 2007…the place was unchanged 8 years later

We rolled into town around lunch time, so we stopped first at the Atlantic Brewing Company for some authentic smokehouse BBQ. The smoker was going… we had some quality pulled pork and ribs with our micro-brews. With lunch I ordered a summer ale… I don’t usually drink beer but this was light and refreshing. My husband got something a little darker which he also said was very good.

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If you decide to dine at Mainely Meats BBQ, do douse yourself liberally with bug spray before going in. Seating is outside and the gigantic Maine mosquitoes love BBQ-fed human.

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Once in town, we hopped on the 2.5 hour trolley tour (reserved a few weeks before onine) of Acadia National Park with Oli’s Trolley.  Our driver talked about the various historic mansions we passed on the way into the park (rich folk loved to summer here back in the day) and provided information on the history and geography of Mt. Desert Island as we drove the park loop road.

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Unlike many other National Park loop roads, the traffic on this one isn’t too bad (the real stop and go problem is in Bar Harbor itself) but parking at key stops is difficult. The free Island Explorer bus does not go to the top of Cadillac Mountain… Oli’s trolley tour is a great, hassle free intro to the park.

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View from Cadillac Mountain in 2015

We had three stops for photographs and exploration. The first was Cadillac Mountain, named for a French explorer. At just over 1500 feet elevation, Cadillac is the highest point on the American Atlantic coast and, at certain times of the year, is the first place to see the sunrise in North America. On a clear day, you can see as far as Mount Katahdin, Maine’s highest mountain. We were not there on a clear day. The harbor was completely fogged in. I got some cool shots of the fluffy white shroud blanketing the small islands I remembered being able to see in Frenchman’s Bay eight years earlier. When I pulled some of the older photos for this post, I realized it hadn’t been entirely clear in May of 2007 either, but I had gotten an image of a cruise ship coming into port, so visibility was definitely better.

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View from Cadillac Mountain in 2007

Next stop was Sieur de Monts. There is a natural spring here. The Sieur de Monts Spring House was built by George B. Dorr, the first superintendent of Acadia in 1909.

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Sieur de Monts Spring House

There is also a nature center here where we were able to touch a moose antler and talk to a ranger. There is a garden trail that we did not explore this trip.

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Nature center in Sieur De Monts

Our last stop was Thunder Hole.  This is a sort of blowhole formed by an underwater cavern in the rocky coastline. We stood at the guardrail with about 100 other eager tourists and watched the waves come in and spout out through the hole. Mesmerizing, but the waves weren’t really strong enough to create the thunderous crash the location is named for.

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The rocky coast by Thunder Hole

Back in town, we walked next door to Stewman’s Downtown Lobster Pound. Yes, this is a tourist trap, but it has a lot going for it: ample seating with views of the harbor, it is in walking distance from most downtown hotels (trust me, once you get your car in the hotel lot, you will not want to move it again until you are leaving Bar Harbor behind) and it’s a lobster pound, which means fresh lobster is brought in daily, right off the boat. Everything else on the menu is meh, so just stick to lobstah and you’ll be OK.

Location: Mount Desert Island

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 7/8/1916

Date of my visit: August 2015

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