When you think of Maine, lobsters probably come to mind along with ocean breezes – maybe even the sight of lobster boats trawling on the ocean. It may be difficult to imagine that among the rolling hills and just a few miles from the coast is a desert. We were not looking for this desert, but it just happened to be next door to our RV Park – Desert of Maine RV Park (reviewed here). We were so intrigued that as soon as we settled in we immediately caught a tour to see for ourselves what they are bragging about. And sure enough, there it was!
It is not really a true desert by weather standards, but is otherwise considered a desert. This tract of land is now covered with a sandy substance known as glacial silt (called “mica”), which has developed into dunes 80 ft deep. Centuries before, topsoil formed a cap concealing the desert, enabling a forest to grow. In 1797 Mr. Tuttle farmed this land, but poor crop rotation techniques and over-grazing resulted in soil erosion, and one day a patch of sand became exposed.
It continued growing until the sand claimed the farm, swallowing buildings and pastures. Because he could not contain it, Mr. Tuttle sold the 300 acres of land for $300. Mr Goldrup bought the farm and saw a potential, and in 1925 opened the area as a tourist attraction. So that is how the Tuttle Farm of 1783 to 1919 became a Desert of Maine since 1925.
After that excitement we ventured out and began the search for a good lobster roll, live fresh lobsters, lighthouses, boats and ships and oh, maybe some shopping too. A trip to Freeport would be incomplete without a stop at the mothership of shopaholics, L.L. Bean, which has had its headquarters here since 1917. We indulged in some needed clothing, and since lunchtime was approaching we searched for Derosier’s Cafe, recommended by the cashier at LLBean. We were told they serve the best lobster roll in the area for only $9.95, and it certainly was delicious! A great hole-in-the-wall restaurant among many fancy places.
We drove to Cape Elizabeth Light – also known as Two Lights – where two light towers, about 300 yards apart, are located. Built in 1828 and rebuilt in 1874, were sold several times and now sit on private property. Only the eastern tower of the two that made up the light station until 1924 is active. The western tower is deactivated, but it is still standing and is privately owned. We were disappointed that we couldn’t get all the way up to the structures and would not recommend driving too far our of your way to see them.
This area along the ocean coast is also known for its rocky outcroppings that jut out to the ocean.
One of the most popular landmarks along the shores of Maine is the Portland Head Light. It is the state’s oldest lighthouse built in 1791 and sits in Fort Williams Park, on a head of land at the entrance to the primary shipping channel into Portland Harbor. It is located within Casco Bay in the Gulf of Maine. An active lighthouse, it is now automated and the tower, beacon, and foghorn are maintained by the United States Coast Guard.
We followed a trail which gave us various views of the lighthouse as we explored the rocky shores.
Bath, Maine is known as the “City of Ships” for its shipbuilding history dating back 400 years. It is home to Bath Iron Works (BIW) where we joined a one-hour trolley tour that took us behind the gates of “The Works” to see how modern U.S. Navy destroyers are built. We learned why the phrase “Bath Built is Best Built” rings true at this ultra-modern facility. Photography is prohibited on the tour, so we sat in rapt attention as the guide narrated the various stages of shipbuilding which he likened to assembling lego blocks. The size and scope of work performed at this facility is staggering. They are just now building two of the Navy’s newest destroyers – the DDG 1000 Zumwalt, and the next Arleigh Burke class ships. Pulling alongside an 800+ ft. long destroyer in drydock is enough to take anyone’s breath away. Don’t miss this one!
The huge blue box in the picture is a floating dry dock, used for launching the ships after their hulls are complete. When ready for launch, a completed ship is moved into the dry dock by means of a hydraulic trolley system. There the vessel rests on temporary cradles and blocking until it can float away. The dry dock sinks by pumping river water into its tanks, and floats again by pumping water out.
Since admission to the Maine Maritime Museum next door is included in the ticket price ($35 per person), plan to spend several hours here if you can. The area’s nautical history is chronicled in detail, and there are several impressive displays. On the center of the grounds is the largest sculpture in New England, a life-size representation of the Wyoming. It was the largest wooden sailing ship ever built, at 426 feet from tip of bowsprit to stern rail. It had six masts, each 177 feet tall! My photo below can not convey the size of this sculpture, but believe me it is impressive.
The sculpture stands on the same spot where the schooner was built in 1909 and is of the same size as shown on the picture below.
Although we aren’t boat fanatics, we found the displays about boat building on this 20-acre campus to be quite interesting. The self-guided tour includes the history of the lobster industry and how it became a staple and symbol of Maine.
After touring and sightseeing, its time to go to the market and get some seafood…lobsters, that is!
After admiring lighthouses and the coastline (not to mention satisfying our lobster cravings), we moved to Bangor, Maine and stayed at Pumpkin Patch RV resort. We spent a couple of days trip planning and preparing Betsy for our border crossing into Canada.
We are now dependent on the internet offered at RV parks in Canada, which is really spotty. Hence my story telling may be somewhat delayed during the next few weeks. Oh the tribulations of international travel!
Up next: Betsy’s “ferry” tale! – St John, NB