Thursday, October 18, 2007

Day Four - In Praise of Schoodic

The view from Route One, looking back toward Mount Desert Island

Acadia National Park is not limited to Mount Desert Island. It actually encompasses parts of other islands, as well as the Schoodic Peninsula. Schoodic is just about an hour’s drive from Bar Harbor. Today, we left MDI by way of Route 3, taking a right in Ellsworth onto Route 1 heading north. We then took a right at 186, following the signs to Acadia/Schoodic Peninsula and Winter Harbor.

As we have done for many years, we stopped along 186, just outside Winter Harbor, at the Grindstone Neck Smokehouse. If it has lived in the ocean, Grindstone has probably found a delicious way to season and smoke it! You can bring your cooler to this retail shop and fill it up with smoked mussels (perfect over pasta), smoked haddock (makes a wicked good smoky fish chowder) or our newest discovery: the Salmon Candy. It’s a sweet and smoky, tender, salmon jerky. Trust me. Have I ever led you astray?

Our cooler well packed, our appetites whetted, we continued down 186 to the “T” intersection in the center of the village of Winter Harbor. Taking a left, Chase’s Restaurant was just ahead on our right. Chase’s is a casual, local classic, with the heart of diner. The staff seems to really care about the locals who dine there and are warm and welcoming to those of us just passing through. Their chowders are simple, un-fussy fare, where the seafood as star, is introduced to the milk, in which the potatoes, onion and celery are merely supporting players. It often needs a dash of salt and pepper at the table. We usually follow up the cup of chowder with a Lobster Roll and today was no exception. Chase's serves theirs in the classic New England style in a grilled frankfurter roll, with the chunks of lobster tossed very lightly in mayonnaise. These generous sandwiches are a bargain at $11.99, and don’t have the “cheater” layer of lettuce on the bottom of the roll to fool the eye! While we were happily enjoying our lobster, we heard the fateful words: “chocolate cream pie”. That is Chuck’s favorite and he rarely finds it done well when we’re out and about. He ordered a slice and the waitress wisely brought two forks. A homemade pie crust appeared topped with a thick, deep, dark chocolate pudding with a whipped cream frill over all. Chuck pronounced it perfect!

Ready for Acadia on Schoodic, we continued up the road a piece, following the Acadia National Park signs. We first came to Frazer Point, a picnic area with lots of tables overlooking the water. But since we had already had a great lunch at Chase’s, we continued along to the beginning of the one-way, two laned Loop Road which runs along the shoreline and through thick evergreen woods, all the way to the tip of Schoodic Point. Every time the first ocean vista appears, it never fails to take our breath away.

Several years ago, we learned about a hidden gem. Just about two and a half miles from Frazer Point you’ll find an unmarked road to your left. This narrow, dirt and gravel road winds it’s way up to a small circular turnaround area near the top of “Schoodic Head”. From there you can get a good view back toward MDI. But if you park your car off tightly to one side and look for the trail head marker for the “Schoodic Head Trails”, things get even better. The first time we climbed the trail, we were trusting a guide book. Now, we look forward to the hike based on previous trips. I’m no hiking maven, but with a sturdy pair of sneakers, with a solid, sticky tread, I have always comfortably navigated the blue blazed trail along mostly granite outcroppings. The only challenging part (at least for me) is the fairly steep, very beginning of the trail. Once I pass that brief test, the rest of the trail is comfortable and beautiful, especially in autumn. At the very top of Schoodic Head, we were once again rewarded with a wonderful tree top view of the Atlantic Ocean.

The granite trail atop Schoodic Head

Ta Da! The view from the top of Schoodic Head

It is always hard to tear ourselves away from Schoodic Head. The only thing that makes it easier, is knowing Schoodic Point is yet to come. We retraced our route back down the long winding road. Almost all the way to the bottom, we saw a small sign pointing the way to the “Alder Trail”. That struck us as new, so we took the left and followed the road to a small parking area. There was a trail marker for the “Alder Trail” leading to the “Blueberry Hill Parking Area”. Our first thought was that it looked like an old farm road, so we decided to explore it. It turned out to be a mostly level, mostly grassy trail, studded with some rocks and tree roots. But it was well maintained and wide enough for us to walk side by side through Alders, evergreens, and a variety of deciduous trees. The .6 mile trail is a mix of open and shady parts and brought us to the other side of the peninsula across from the Blueberry Hill overlook and the ocean! We retraced our steps back to the car (doesn’t a trail look and feel so different in the opposite direction?) and then back along the dirt road to the main one-way Loop Road which leads to Schoodic Point.

One view of the Alder Trail

Schoodic Point is magnificent. That’s not hyperbole. Multi-tiers of parking allow for a great view of the rockbound point which, when the tide and weather conditions are right, bring the waves crashing up in great bursts of white foam. But even on a still day like today, the ocean is never truly still. We always feel drawn out onto the rocks, our sturdy, sticky treaded sneakers once again standing us in good stead. The dramatic thick black stripes of basalt within the lighter swathes of granite and the pools of standing water where the gulls wade are always fascinating. Caution and common sense keep us from getting too close to the water's edge, where salt spray and seaweed on the rocks and sudden waves can be treacherous.

Late this afternoon, the sun was beginning to sink and the gulls were gathered on the massive rocks. Two herring gulls took flight and my camera didn’t let me down.

As is true of nearly all of Acadia, Schoodic is beautifully accessible by car. If you are unable or disinclined to go clambering over rocks, or hiking on trails and carriage roads, you will not feel as if you have missed out. I think that makes Acadia particularly well suited to all ages and abilities. But if you want to plunge into nature for an afternoon or a day of hiking or biking, you can emerge tired yet refreshed, renewed and ready for a lovely dinner and some window shopping (or real shopping) back in Bar Harbor. It’s all about the balance.

Speaking of balance, after the long day we've had, I need to get some sleep...

: : It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind!
Revised and updated 10/19/2007

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