Preparing for Maine, my wife and I spent several pleasant days with our daughter near coastal Rhode Island. Moving into Baxter State Park in northern Maine, we escaped the noise and madness of the world by settling into a lean-to by a scenic stream and then constructing a small campfire.
Baxter is the state’s largest park (over 200,000 acres) but is not a part of the Department of Conservation’s state park system. It’s governed by its own Park Authority based on former Governor Percival Baxter’s clear priority for this wilderness– the inherent value of the wild comes first, before the recreational opportunities it affords.
The Tote Road is a narrow, gravelly byway (the only one inside the Park) and it skirts the edges of this wilderness. Hiking trails give access to the mountainous wonder that’s inside. The primary feature is Mt. Katahdin, the 5,280-foot northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and a prominent crown in a system of over 40 mountains and numerous bodies of water.
The only legal form of angling in the Park is catch-and-release, with artificial flies. Nesowadnehunk Stream is noted for wild brook trout, and I prepared to enter its tannic waters lined with balsam firs and singing white-throated sparrows. The mosquitoes did a lot of whining but we shut them up with liberal doses of OFF! The scenic pools and riffles held obliging trout and an ample supply of rocks and boulders that required careful footing. Even with careful steps, I got jammed at one point in a deep, boulder-studded flow where I briefly lost my fly rod. I managed to control the get-away by clamping down with a cleated boot. In doing so, I smashed the lowest rod guide which, consequently, needs to get repaired.
Since I no longer feel the need to bag a mountain’s summit, I had no desire to conquer Katahdin’s formidable heights with a 10-hour round-trip scramble. This old body probably could have done it, if pressed, but I was more content doing a one-mile climb (it was 4.4 miles from our camp to the summit) with my wife while strolling through a wonderful diversity of plants and trees including Indian cucumber, Solomon’s seal, moccasin flower, moosewood, cedar, birch, and balsam fir. The shadow of Katahdin, vibrant with the spirit of Thoreau, who climbed here in the mid-nineteenth century, was enough for me.
We made several side trips out of Baxter, viz., a fishing jaunt to Big Eddy on the West Branch Penobscot and then, most memorably, to the newly instituted Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument, an 87,500-acre wild zone buffering Baxter State Park on the north and east.
The Monument was officially declared by Presidential Proclamation in August 2016. The land had been donated to the National Park Service and to the American people by Roxanne Quimby, a conservationist and co-founder of Burt’s Bees. The lands and waters are biologically and culturally significant, and a pleasure to explore if you enjoy remoteness with limited amenities and signage and a total lack of services and concessions. The shadow of Katahdin is a blessing issued most summer evenings from the west.
The 16-mile Loop Road is a rough gravel byway in the southern Monument, approachable on a 10-mile dirt road heading west from Route 11. Remoteness is, of course, one of Woods & Waters’ great appeals. On this blistering hot Wednesday we would see only one other vehicle while on the self-guided tour. A brief walk to Lynx Pond brought us to boreal haunts of moose, wild blueberries and carnivorous pitcher plants. Beyond the Overlook (mile 6.4) with expansive views of Millinocket Lake and Mt. Katahdin, I saw a fisher leap off the Loop Road, thinking at first that what I saw was a bear cub racing for its mother.
Unfortunately the searing heat and humidity (90-plus-degree days are seldom reached in northern Maine) caused us to forego a hike to Wassataquoik Stream and Orin Falls near the end of the Loop Road. No doubt an autumn visit to that site would be beautiful.
We finished this part of our Maine visit with a cooling swim in the East Branch Penobscot River. Our legs and other body parts looked orange and vibrant in the sunlit bronze-colored pools and riffles of an aging afternoon. The shadow of a large bird crossed us at the water’s edge. Looking up, we saw an elder spirit of the place where the wild country and the human realms intermix. A bald eagle circled on cooling breezes just above a large white pine.
[Coming soon, a four-day ramble through Rangeley, Maine…]