Desert Island, which to some resembles a lobster claw in shape, is the third largest island off the coast of the continental United States. Connected to the mainland by two short bridges spanning the Mount Desert Narrows, MDI is divided into four towns: Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert, and Tremont. About three quarters of the islands contains Acadia National Park. Ninety-six percent of Maine is privately owned; the 36,000 actres of Acadia National Park is the largest publicly-owned portion. There are restroom facilities at the Thompson Island information center at the head of the island. In Bar Harbor, there are facilities adjoining Agamont Park.
Shortly after coming upon Mount Desert Island, consider taking the right fork at Parcadia Exxon Pizza (which makes deliveries to area campgrounds. Call 288-5053.) . The road to the right leads to the island's so-called backside and passes by some interesting roadside attractions. Traditionally, the folks on the "working side" of the island have been deeply involved with such pursuits as boatbuilding and fishing and haven't much hunkered into catering to tourists. This has changed to an extent, but there is still far less glitz here, and sometimes there are better values.
If you're among those who think art should be fun, you won't want to miss Ernie's. Operating from a small shop in Town Hill, Ernie Abdelnour fashions fascinating, often funny sculptures of copper and brass, odd pieces of plumbing, tools, assorted debris, and anything else that strikes his fancy. Truth be told, Ernie seems to be a bit hung up on vehicles--many of his pieces are boats, trains, cars, fire engines and wagons, although he also has done sundry buildings and much else. He does a frog series that features a piano-playing frog campaigning against gourmet food--including, of course, frog legs. Call 207-288-5337.
Just a short ways down the Crooked Road, youíll come to Dalling Additions, which features solid wood furniture and accessories. Their stock is all Made in Maine.
At Woodshop Cupolas, Philip Alley has created an impressive selection of handcrafted cupolas and weathervanes. He designs and builds them himself from pine, cedar, and copper. He has two shops: One on Rte. 3 in Trenton, the other on Rte 102 in Bar Harbor. Alley recently doubled the floorspace in his Trenton shop, adding a line of wooden gifts. Phil Alley is a true and honorable man who takes great pride in delivering the best quality possible. Nobody who deals with him is ever sorry. Call 1-800-698-5538.
In Somesville is the Mount Desert Island Historical Society Museum, a collection of local documents and artifacts, including period clothing, pewter, and old maps. Open 2 to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays, mid-July to Labor Day. Both wild and domestic ducks swim in nearby Mill Pond. You might enjoy checking out the frequently-photographed Somesville Bridge, a graceful span over Somes Creek.
At the A.V. Higgins Store, there is a pleasant conglomeration of antiques, collectibles, and deli items, including baked beans and blueberry muffins and pies. Ready for lunch? You won't find a better sandwich anywhere in the territory. Call 207-244-5401.
Just down the road, the Acadia Repertory Theatre has been presenting summer theater for the past quarter century. Call 207-244-7260 for reservations and additional information.
At Echo Lake, there is a man-made beach with changing facilities and lifeguard. From the parking area, a steep trail leads up the cliff face of Beech Mountain. At Ikes Point, there are boat-launching facilities (Powerboats with motors exceeding 10 hp are prohibited.)
You can get a good deal on family camping at the Appalachian Mountain Club Camp on Echo Lake. Campers live in tents that have board floors and are supplied with beds, sheets, and blankets. Hot showers are available along with three daily family-style meals, including a clambake and lobster picnic. The camp is so popular that a lottery must often be held to determine who will get in. Write Echo Lake Camp, Mt. Desert, ME 04660, or call 207-244-3747.
Itís a little hard to find and itís nothing fancy, but
the Rocky Coast Rock Shop at 70 Beech Hill Crossroad is certainly an interesting place. Proprietors Steven Haynes and Juanita Sprague are the foremost authority on Maineâs historic granite industry. They have collected specimens from over 350 of the stateâs abandoned granite quarries. (Steven can look a hunk of rock and tell you precisely where it came from!) Although they have many products made of granite at the shop, they are as interested in instructing folks as they are in selling them something. They will show you their extensive collection of artifacts, including blacksmith and stone cutting tools, oxen shoes, railroad cartwheels, railroad spikes, old photos and derrick parts. Studying granite has been a lifelong pursuit for Steven; nobody knows more about this somewhat ignored aspect of Maine history.
The Fernald Point Road, which goes by the Causeway Golf Club, takes you to Valley Cove, a scenic lookout to Somes Sound. From the Fernald Point Road, you can take a trail up Flying Mountain. It's an easy climb, said by many to provide the park's best view for the least effort (unless you count driving up Cadillac Mountain). The Seal Cove Road goes to Long Pond. From the south end of this pond, there are hiking trails providing three routes to Mansell Mountain.
The Cranberry Isles, half an hour out of Southwest Harbor, provide an experience that is distinctively Maine. These islands, home to generations of fishermen and spared commercial exploitation, are much as they were a century ago. The Cranberry Cove Boating Co. makes trips daily. Round trip tickets are just $9 for adults, $5 for kids. Take your bike, pack a picnic lunch. There are plenty of trails for hiking, and lovely, unspoiled ocean beaches you'll long remember. Call 207-244-5882.
Lots of local folks eat at Kozy Kove. They know what's good hereabouts. Call 207-244-9607.
In Southwest Harbor, the Wendell Gilley Museum of Bird Carving features changing exhibits of carvings by Gilley and other artists. Gilley, author of the classic "The Art of Bird Carving," did around 6,000 wooden birds, some of which have in recent years commanded thousands of dollars. The museum is housed in a state-of-the-art solar heated building; staff is on hand to explain its workings. During the summer months, the museum has a full schedule of demonstrations and classes. Call 207-244-7555 for schedules. Low ticket prices make this a real cultural building. General admission: $3; children 5-12, $1; children under 5 free.
You can see the work of more than 50 local artisans at
The Sand Castle, a very pretty shop situated downtown. There are granite carvings, ships' bells, handmade sailing vessels, pottery, blown glass, jewelry, puppets, birdhouses, the list goes on and on. Half the fun of visiting this shop is not knowing what you'll discover next. On top of it all, everything is reasonably priced.
MDI is a leading national center for birdcarvers. Gilley
was first, but Cliff Youse, who loves to talk about the intricacies of
carving birds, has been a major factor in getting others interested in
the art. You can see his work at the House of Youse on Clark Point Road.
In Bar Harbor at MDI Woodcarvers, Wayne Edmondson is usually on hand to demonstrate how birds are carved.
The Claremont Hotel, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, holds an annual summer croquet tournament.
Henry R. Hinckley, noted builder of luxury yachts, has its yard in Manset. Driving past the yard and in the harbor at Northeast, you can see some of the world's most beautiful sailing vessels.
The Seawall Picnic Area on the ocean is near the Seawall Campground. Both are in Acadia National Park. Here there is a rocky shore laced with tidepools..
Manset Boat House repairs, services and sells Johnson and Honda outboard motors. The company also repairs and sells boats.
The trail to Wonderland is an old road offering an easy walk to the shore thru a dense spruce forest and open pitch pine forest. Here there is an amazingly wide variety of habitats, making it a good birdwatching spot.
The Ship's Harbor Nature Trail runs about a mile-and-a-half thru a spruce forest and open ledgy woodlands. A self-guided brochure to the trail is available free at Seawall Campground.
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse (1858) is often said to be the most-photographed lighthouse in the world. It has been automated, and the house is now a private residence.
The Seal Cove Road, most of which is in Acadia National Park, is a winding dirt road that takes you thru a heavy coniferous forest, providing access to Bald and Western Mountains, two of MDI's quieter hiking areas.
Roaming around these parts is a great way to avoid the crowds that flock to Sand Beach and Thunder Hole. You may meet no other hikers as you explore such places as Seal Cove and Hodgdon Ponds. Likewise is true of the Long Pond Fire Road, an unpaved loop providing access to Western Trail, which leads to a notch between Bernard and Mansell Mountains. The forests hereabouts have been untouched for decades, allowing for mature growth.
"People say we have the best lobster rolls, in Maine," says Karen Godbout of Bass Harbor's Maine-ly Delights Snack Bar. Karen, who started out serving great lobster and crab rolls from a tiny milk truck a quarter century ago, evidently hasn't heard about inflation. From day one, her lobster dinners have been as low as $6.95depending on market price. Doughboys, the only ones on MDI, are among her specialties; they're just $1.50. Karen has other daily specials as well. If you like, you can eat outside on her deck overlooking the fishing village of Bass Harbor. No way can you beat the low prices and friendly atmosphere you'll find here.
Island Cruises, headquartered on the Shore Road in Bass Harbor, are on the inexpensive side: $12 for adults, $8 for children. Running the show is Kim Strauss, who describes his cruises as being on the mellow side. "They're definitely not cattle cruises," he promises. One cruise goes to Frenchboro on Long Island while a second one "pokes around some of the other islands looking for eagles and seals." Kim is just getting started in the business and seems eager to please.
You can get a round-trip ticket on the ferry to the Cranberry Isles for $8. The Cranberry Cove Boating Co's vessel leaves Southwest Harbor four times daily. Children under 12 pay half; those under three sail free. You can bring your bikes. Call 244-7225.
The Wharf Restaurant features picturesque Alfresco dining with views of the working harbor and mountains beyond. Youll find traditional Downeast fare including lobsters, crabs, shrimp, clams, scallops and fish as well as unique specials served in a casual "family" atmosphere. Bring your own beer or wine.
A bit more expensive is the Bass Harbor Cruise, which leaves twice daily from the
Bass Harbor town wharf. Tickets for the two-hour trips are $14 for adults, $9 for children. On board is an Acadia National Park naturalist as well as a Maine lobsterman, who will demonstrate trap hauling. Call 244-5365 for reservations.
How pervasive is the Internet? Well, when the luddites and anti-technologists feel they have to have websites, weâd say itâs mightily so. But that's the case with Nicols Fox. At her Bass Harbor shop, Rue
Cottage Books, she specializes in texts for "luddites, greens and like-minded readers" and is an authority on the luddites, those single-minded folks who at the dawn of the industrial revolution felt morally compelled to demolish weaving machinery. Her business card says she's "reluctantly on the web at ruecottage.com," and she stocks a small but very interesting assortment of books, both new and used.
On the Pretty Marsh Road, you can see one of the country's finest collections of antique cars at the Seal Cove Auto Museum. The display represents the fruits of a great deal of dedication as well as heaps of old and inherited money. Tickets are $5 for adults, $2 for kids.
In Bernard, check out Nancy Neale Typecraft, Maine's only printing museum and memorabilia shop. Here you'll find one of the country's most extensive collections of wood type. Near the museum is E. & L. Higgins, Inc, Maine's largest antique wicker dealer.
The Indian Point Road leads to the Blagden Conservancy,
which is owned by the Nature Conservancy. The area was once home to the Passamaquoddy Indians. Now a nature preserve, trails thru the land offer views of old spruce forest, an old apple orchard, and white spruce along the coast.