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…]
Another great post! Great photo of a dragon on cane and what a gorgeous brookie!
Thank you! Sometimes dragons understand this madness….
Spectacular place, Walt! I’d visit for the sheer joy of saying Nesowadnehunk in situ, although I’d likely mangle it. Maybe it gets easier after a Tubular or two…
Tough conditions you enjoyed out there, but I think you made an excellent choice, stumbles, heat, bugs and all. An autumnal visit would be quite something.
Thanks for this, and looking forward to the next piece!
Thank you, my friend! The name Nesowadnehunk was a bitch to remember when I’d ask my wife what the stream I fished was called or when I’d try to recall it for the purpose of my journal. I mean, it doesn’t have the same catchy ring to it that Lake Mooselookmeguntic has, but it did make me want to remember and to spell it right. And yeah, the Tubular helps!
I can confirm that it’s a joy to visit in the fall! Columbus Day weekend was peak leaf color (or even slightly past prime), and still enjoyably cool temperatures. Lynx Pond was beautiful and quiet, and the vistas across the valley from the monument are breathtaking.
Yep, and thanks for the maps & the lead on all this rambling!
Wow, absolutely beautiful, and the brook trout are a bonus. Never been to Maine, really need to change that.
Thanks Michael. You’d enjoy the DownEast sights & fly-fishing, too.
Not enough adjectives to do it justice, so “beautiful” will suffice. Fly fishing only, catch and release waters – my kind of place!
Yeah, and I think there’s an aura to the place that makes it quite attractive for the likes of us to explore…
What a nice scene it must have been. A campfire at Baxter and the cold rush of water tumbling over brooks. Yep, where do I sign-up for that! Color me green with envy, but living that adventure through your write-up helps Walt. Worry not about the rod, it can be repaired. You know, many mountain stream miles trudged through with wading boots, can cause slips. Its a wonder I haven’t broken legs out there at times.
I’m glad you and your wife enjoyed the whole experience, even during the summer heat. The hikes and time spent together can bring hearts close. The great outdoors has a lot to share. They heal and nurture our souls along there paths. I just wish people could spend more time with there families and take in that experience. How much less trouble would our youth bare through its connections. Life is short Walt, but your finding a lot of value along its trail. Yah, I saw that two-some cold IPA in that picture-lol. Enjoyed I’m sure..
Thanks JZ for reflections based on personal thoughts & experiences! Yeah the “two-some cold IPA” was a tasty complement to the cold tannic waters & the wonders of the balsam-edged trails… Family time is so important & the woods & waters can be therapeutic, if needed. It certainly worked for us, as did the visit to Rangeley– a report coming soon!
Here I thought all the Maine Brookies were just sporting the new ‘lip-ring’ look – trout style using an artificial fly! Maybe I am mistaken on this account! (hehee) 😉 Looks like the start of a great trip.
No, you got it right; it’s been the fashion for quite a while! Thanks–