Lighthouses, lobsters and a desert? – Freeport, ME

Comments 11 Standard
Portland Lighthead

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!

Desert of Maine

This post shows how the moving sand dune has covered a water spring and drinking station that lie below.

Desert of Maine

A pose at the desert of Maine

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.

Lobster Roll, Derosier's

Our first lobster roll, the best in Freeport!

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.

Two Lights

Cape Elizabeth Two Lights

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.

Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park

We followed a trail which gave us various views of the lighthouse as we explored the rocky shores.

Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park viewed from the west

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!

Dry Dock

The Big Blue dry dock, 750 ft long, 144 ft wide between walls, 52 ft high and can lift 28,000 long tons – made in China!

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.

Wyoming sculpture

Life size sculpture of “Wyoming”, the flagpoles represent the mast locations

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.
Wyoming 1904

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.

Maine Marine Museum

Campus waterfront viewed from the Paint and Treenail House

Carving house

After touring and sightseeing, its time to go to the market and get some seafood…lobsters, that is!

Desert of Maine Campground

Our nice, spacious site at the Desert of Maine RV Park

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

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A place NOT on everybody’s “Must See” list – Tecopa, CA

Comments 11 Standard
Clay and rock

After days of exploration and fascination at Death Valley National Park its time to say goodbye to one of our favorite places and move along.  We didn’t have a firm destination, but rather a tentative stop in mind before crossing into Nevada.  We took highway 190 E and at the junction turned right onto 127 S, where we traveled through the expanse of the Amargosa Valley.  We initially hesitated to stop at our first tentative destination, for it was in the middle of nowhere and we didn’t know much about it.   But what the heck, lets check out this place called Tecopa Hot Springs.  We saw what looked like a little oasis up on a plateau to the east, so we turned left and followed the sign.  Our GPS directed us to the first RV park, Petersen’s Tecopa Palm RV Park.  At registration we learned we’d be hooking up to natural mineral water, which means it’s not so good for cooking, drinking or using in your coffee.  Also, since we were in the desert there was no cell, internet or tv.  Hmmm, sounds exciting!  So we decided to stay for the night.

Mineral Water Content

Even if Tecopa is off the beaten path, this town seems to be a snow birder’s destination.  As we socialized with folks during the 4pm happy hour we learned that the big attraction here is the natural baths, local hot mineral springs they claim is healing.  There is a public hot springs administered by Inyo County at a cost of $5 per day, where you must shower first then bathe in the nude.  Oh.  Lucky for us, the RV park had their own  private Hot Mineral Baths, natural hot spring water piped into soaking tubs.  The rules are the same, shower first then soak in your  birthday suit.

Hot Tub

The sign says, “Welcome to Paradise”.  Well, maybe if your idea of paradise is scalding hot water!  Too hot for us…

Our planned one-day stay became three days in short order, as the desert landscape and quiteness got to us, plus the natural hot springs.  The mineral water did not bother us much, nor did being off the grid again.  Tecopa is beautiful and has a mix of rolling hills and desert flats.  From our site we enjoyed a 360-degree mountain view, interesting vistas and more.  This place is no Death Valley, yet it has its own character and is worth seeing and enjoying.

View from our Betsy

The view of Tecopa from Betsy

On our second day we hopped in the car and followed the sign pointing to China Ranch, about 7 miles north of Tecopa.  At the end of a twisting road between chalky cliffs cut into desert seemingly barren of plant life, China Ranch came into view.

China Ranch

To China Ranch we go

What the heck is China Ranch? Well, it’s a family-owned small farm in a hidden oasis in the Mojave Desert.  The ranch fills a little valley with groves of stately date palms, stands of cottonwoods and thickets of vegetation, all amid the tranquil sounds of trickling spring water. P1240476

There’s  a bakery with yummy home made bread and cookies made of dates, assorted dates for tasting, a gift shop, landscaping nursery, a one-room museum

and miles of hiking trails.  Mine shafts abound in China Ranch, as the area has a rich history of mining booms and busts.  Lead, Silver, Gypsum and Talc were the primary minerals that were extracted here.

Date Palms

Groves of Date Palms ready for harvest

We were thrilled at  the assortment of hiking trails!  Off we went  without a trail map (the gift shop was not open yet) or drinking water, thinking we’d be back in less than an hour.  In short, we were winging it and feeling adventurous.

Gold Rock

Gold Rock next to Clay hills

Despite the lack of trail markers, this was really a wonderful area to hike and explore.  It is unique, with an assortment of intriguing scenery.  As we were walking along the ancient lakebed sediments, we saw light-colored clay hills mixed in with darker hard “gold rock” mountains.  We also explored a couple of canyons leading between mountain peaks which ended in very high dry waterfalls.  We could just picture the water cascading down those falls and through the canyons we were exploring.

We enjoyed looking at interesting formations and checked out some  veins of gypsum running through the clay hills.  Then we walked down the ridge and flood levee. Rockhounds would love this place with all the colorful rocks strewn in the area.

Waterfall in the desertFinally, we saw a waterfall in the middle of the desert.  Parts of the various trails run along the grade to the old Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad, and we found many of the 100+ year old track ties discarded along the way.  As we kept walking and admiring the view of badlands, colorful rhyolitic volcanic rocks, marshes and salt flats we lost track of time and were feeling a little lost in the wilderness.  The half-hour walk became a three-hour trek, and it was pretty awesome.  After arriving back at the park we availed ourselves of the  mineral bath to ease our aching muscles.  Not for long though, that water was super-hot!

The lack of  quality drinking water in Tecopa, a community  built around natural hot springs, does not deter those who seek a destination off the beaten path. Our spur-of-the-moment decision to stop here illustrated that even though it’s NOT on everyone’s must-see list, that only makes it more  alluring.  It was a stop well worth it!

Here are some interesting things we admired along the way.

 

First stop in Oregon – Grants Pass

Comments 3 Standard

We had heard of Henderson’s Line Up through another Travel blog WheelingIt, and we were impressed with the service they offer.  Although Betsy is fairly new, we wanted some real pros to give her the green light before charging off to Alaska and beyond.

Their Road Performance Assessment starts with one of their technicians taking the RV on an initial test drive – with the owner – to evaluate handling, steering, and brakes.  Then they weigh all 4 corners of the RV to assess weight distribution, which is important for handling, safety and tire wear.  Finally, the customer actually goes under the RV with the technician to perform a thorough inspection with them.  That was awesome!  I was able to see everything as they checked it and ask all the questions I wanted to. Continue reading