A bridge with an observatory, and Fort Knox – Penobscot Narrows, ME

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The Penobscot Narrows Bridge observatory

After experiencing and loving the natural beauty of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park, we traveled only 20 miles south of our campground to be amazed by a man-made wonder and engineering feat.  The Penobscot Narrows Bridge is a structural beauty spanning 2,120 feet over the Penobscot River.  It connects the towns of Prospect and Verona Island, Maine, on highway 1.  These are quaint, rural towns where you don’t expect to see a stunning structure such as this peeking out over the treetops.

Penobscot Narrows Bridge

Beautiful Penobscot Narrows Bridge

The bridge is Maine’s first cable-stayed bridge, and one of only three bridges in the U.S. that are similarly constructed.  The span consists of 181 segments like the one pictured below, suspended on cables from the 447-foot tall concrete pylons.

And the best part is we were able to enjoy a 360-degree view of the surrounding area from the Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory.  It is the tallest bridge observatory in the world, and open to the public with access to the top deck, which sits 447 feet above the Penobscot River.

Penobscot Narrow Observatory

The observatory is accessible only through Fort Knox (not THE Fort Knox, more later), so after paying a very reasonable $7.00 per person to access the observatory AND the fort, up we went on our one-minute ride straight to the top.  When the elevator doors slid open we were faced with a dizzying view of the Penobscot river.  We climbed stairs two more levels and were faced with an awesome view of the surrounding countryside – mountains, hills and lots and lots of trees.

Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory

Northwest view, with Cadillac Mountain in the distance behind that cell tower.

Bucksport, Maine

Gazing at the town of Bucksport, Maine

Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory

Looking down at the cable arrangement – this bridge is amazing!

East View Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory

View to the east – Penobscot River, a paper mill and the town of Bucksport.

Fort Knox

“The other” Fort Knox in the foreground.

A beautiful inlaid bronze compass rose, taken from a 1613 map created by Samuel de Champlain, can be seen on the top deck floor of the observatory.

Inlaid Compass Rose, Samuel de Champlain

Inlaid bronze compass rose.

One last look at that bridge on the way across.  We were surprised to learn that it took only 42 months from conception to opening day in 2006 to complete this bridge and observatory – practically unheard of these days!  It had to be built quickly after it was discovered that the existing Waldo–Hancock Bridge was rapidly failing due to corrosion.  The beautiful and graceful design also turned out to be the easiest and most economical to construct in a hurry, costing only $86 million.  There’s not even a toll to cross this bridge – excellent!

The Penobscot Narrows Bridge observatory

We never got tired of hanging around this bridge.

After a dizzying time at the observatory, we swung by Fort Knox (not to be confused with the one in Kentucky storing all that gold) just a few hundred feet away.  It is a military installation built in 1844 to protect the Penobscot Valley and one of the best preserved fortifications on the New England seacoast.

We’ve visited many forts during the past year and a half, yet we continue to enjoy checking out each one along our route.  They all have their unique battery of cannon and neat architecture – this one is almost all solid granite, since the stone is plentiful in the nearby mountains.  Of course, the story of each fort is different and interesting to learn.

Casemate at Fort Knox

It’s hard to imagine the sound and vibration that a large cannon blast would send through these archways (called casemates).

Storage Vault, Fort Knox

Supply officer Lowe reporting for duty, sir!

Fort Knox, Maine

It seems like it must have taken the granite from an entire mountain to build this place!

Penobscot Narrows Bridge, Fort Knox

The fort, bridge and observatory – a must-see in this area!

The views were excellent despite the overcast sky, and in just a few hours we got to explore and be amazed by these man-made creations.

 Next up:  Hugging Maine’s coastline

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The Fabulous Acadia National Park – Maine

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Acadia National Park had been on our radar screen for several years, and the time finally came for us to explore it.  We were not disappointed!  We quickly learned that the park covers much of Mount Desert Island, the largest island off the coast of Maine.  When visiting the park, one should also check out the various other busy little resort towns and harbors that are intertwined with national park land throughout Mount Desert Island.

Mount Desert Island

Mount Desert Island in the distance with the imposing Cadillac Mountain to the right.

Jeffrey, our campground host at Forest Ridge RV Park (you can see Steve’s park review here), provided us with detailed tips for exploring the island, the park and the surrounding towns and villages via less traveled roads.  To do all he suggested we decided to extend our stay to 4 days, as there is much to see and experience here.  We allowed two days to explore Acadia National Park, to include not only the “must see” but also to discover sceneries and hidden delights of the island.  We were also excited to resume our much-needed exercise, since we had been getting rained out a few days earlier.

Acadia National Park is the jewel of Maine, and also the first national park east of the Mississippi. It includes mountains…

Acadia National Park

…islands…

Bar Island, Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park

Bar Island is accessible on foot at low tide from Bar Harbor in the foreground.  We saw people walking across the channel – cool!

Frenchman Bay, Acadia National Park

Islands on Frenchman Bay and cruise ships – viewed from Schoodic Head.

…woodlands, moss, evergreens…

…lakes and ponds…

Schoodic Peninsula

Schoodic Peninsula

…rocky ocean coastlines…

Acadia National Park

…and lichens-splotched granite, where I managed to blend in quite well!

Cadillac Mountain

Looks like I have lichens on my shirt, too!

All of the above and much more spectacular scenery were revealed and took our breath away, as we drove two scenic loops to cover the park.  One was the 27-mile scenic loop at Mount Desert Island (the “main” part of the park that everyone visits), and the other is a 6-mile one-way loop at Schoodic Peninsula.  Many people don’t make it to the Schoodic Peninsula, but it is at least as beautiful as Mount Desert Island.  We just loved the short drive on the new road and took a great hike there, too.  Don’t miss the Schoodic Peninsula if you come to this area.

Park Loop Road, Acadia National Park

Hints of fall on Park Loop Road.

We were also excited to hike the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge, which began at the summit and gave us an unimpeded view all the way to the ocean.  This hike is a bit strenuous, as it requires some “scrambling” on the rocks near the beginning of the trail.  It’s one of those hikes where each time you think you’ve reached the final rise, there’s always another one ahead.  But the scenery is so worth it!

Cadillac Mountain South Trail

Heading down Cadillac Mountain from the summit toward the ocean.

Gouged Granite, Cadillac Mountain

But the car is at the summit, so back up we go!

And at Schoodic Peninsula, which is about an hour’s drive from Bar Harbor, we combined the four trails that traverse the area for a great hike.  We enjoyed spruce-fir forests and great views of Cadillac Mountain in the distance.  At the end of the peninsula we were led to the wind-swept coast, where we noted dark diabase dykes intruding into pink granite ledges.

Schoodic Point

At Schoodic Point – Cadillac Mountain in the background and a large black diabase dyke between granite ledges.

We saw several fascinating lichens that thrive on granite and rocks here.

Borders of the park are accented by picturesque harbor villages such as Southwest Harbor, known for its active waterfront.  Also, the very popular Bar Harbor is a commercial center and tourist destination that even hosts cruise ships.  We also visited Seal Harbor with its lovely beach, and more!

Southwest Harbor

Southwest Harbor

Seal Harbor

Seal Harbor

Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor

We think an interesting fact about Acadia National Park is that it is the first national park whose land was donated entirely by private citizens over many years.  Although we missed the fall colors as we were here a couple of weeks too early, this park is high up on the list of our favorite stops so far.

Next up:  The Penobscot Narrows and more Maine adventures!

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