Sunday, August 20, 2017

Boston Summer 2017 - Adventures in Acadia

Last Sunday, after a weekend of fun in Plymouth, Mass, we dropped off Gavriella and picked up Dovid, Chana and Tzipora. Our destination: Acadia National Park. While the park is a mere 5 hours from their house, we decided to play it safe and use all of Sunday to drive the 4 hours to Bangor, ME. That would put us an easy hour drive away from our campsite, which we planned to tackle the next day.

Sunday was thankfully uneventful. We stopped at some Outlets to pick up various supplies and have a delightful side-of-the-road picnic. It was on this first leg of the trip that Shira and I began to appreciate who the true hero of our trip was: the Chevy Tahoe we rented. Every time I thought that beast of a car was fully loaded, I managed to cram more stuff into it, all while having immense amounts of legroom for myself. Go Chevy!

Having adjoining hotel rooms on Sunday, one for the kids and one for us, was an excellent luxury and gave us some space to segregate out the specific supplies we'd need while camping the next few days.

Bright and early Monday morning we drove the hour or so to the park, and before we knew it, we were on Mount Desert Island (which didn't feel like a mountain, desert or especially like an island). We made our way to the campground, and while I was eager to get hiking, Shira insisted that we setup camp first. Of course, she was right. Better to setup the tent while the weather was good and the daylight plentiful. The tent went up without issue, and we were exploring the park in no time.

Our plan was to do a loop hike that would take us along Park Loop Road and the coast, and then turn inward and take us to the top of Gorham Mountain. This gave us a chance to see the picturesque cliffs of Acadia, as well as sweeping views from a relatively high position. We learned pretty quickly that by the water, you can easily leave the trail and hop around the rocks for impromptu mini-adventures. The kids loved it. I loved it. Shira was only slightly impressed (what can I say, she's a tough one to impress). If there was one draw back to the hike, and ultimately to the park, it was how crowded it was. For sections of the coast trail, you've got crowds of people you have to navigate through.

The crowds did thin out while we headed up Gorham mountain. The kids enjoyed hopping from the rocks and boulders strewn throughout the trail. The kids also learned to identify both the blueberries and huckleberry bushes along the trail and we stopped for many a trail nibble. Dovid spent so much time searching out huckleberries that we started calling him Huck.

After the hike up Gorham mountain, we drove back to our campsite and went to work preparing dinner. Our first impression of our campground was that it was just so-so. Perhaps we've been spoiled by some campgrounds with top-notch facilities. Still, the bathrooms were clean and reasonably sized (again, Shira was was underwhelmed). It was, however, our site placement that ultimately made me relish camping at Blackwoods. We happened to have a site on the western edge of the campground, which meant that while we had neighbors on two sides, and our tent faced the rest of civilization, to the back of our site was open forest. This gave the kids a huge space to play in, and on more than one occasion I banished the children there while I could take care of something that required a bit of quiet. This was also helpful because it gave us a supply of kindling we could use to supplement the large firewood we purchased on the way into the park. Most campgrounds we stay at may be in the woods, but with little actual wilderness surrounding them. Not so with Blackwoods.

While Shira focused on finishing camp setup (those air mattresses don't blow themselves up!), I focused on the fire. This time, however, I had helpers. During our hike up Gorham mountain I pointed out a couple of examples of birch bark, which would be important for lighting a fire. Tzipora picked up on this, and throughout our hike collected up useful tinder and kindling we'd need later in the day. As I started prepping the fire, Chana and Dovid got in on the action and scoured the nearby woods for useful fire fuel. They also took turns blowing into the fire to build it up. In another couple of years, they'll be pros at this.

Dinner of Hot Dogs and Marshmallows was a hit. As we tucked the kids into their sleeping bags, Tzipora lamented that she had no stuffed animal to sleep with. Not a problem I announced, and quickly grabbed the bandana from her 'adventure bag.' I balled up my camp gloves inside of her bandanna and tied it off. The result was quite the cuddly creature, which served us well both nights we slept in the tent.

Tuesday Dovid was up at 5am, as was I, so we went for a mini-hike to let the rest of the crew sleep. While I snapped photos of the active and loud chimpmunk population, Dovid collected up birch bark and maple leaves. When we returned, he'd make an entry in the kid's journal explaining he found:

When I woke up this morning Uncle Ben and I went on a hike found a green maple leaf and 11 other red maple leave! And a couple of pieces of bark!

Sounds like a budding field biologist if I ever heard one.

Once our full party was awake and fed, it was time to spend the day exploring the park. We returned back to the Park Loop Road near Thunder Hole, and resumed walking along the coast and exploring the shore line. We found various rock features, did much rock hopping, took a try at creating one of our own rock statues that seem everywhere in the park (man, they are harder to make than they look!) and even managed to catch a seal playing off-shore. The only disappointment, if you can call it that, was that the tide pools we encountered were nowhere near as active as the ones we'd seen in San Diego. I was hoping to blow the kids minds with all the life that was hovering in the pools, instead, we just saw clusters of treif mollusks. The kids weren't impressed. At one point I did find a crab claw, which Tzipora didn't hesitate to pick up and torment her siblings with. Once we found all the guide book recommended sites I'd had in mind for the day, we returned to the car and made our way to Bubble Rock.

The Bubble Rock trail was another chance to do some hiking, and the kids did fantastic. Tzipora got a bit freaked out at the start. Perhaps she saw Bubble Rock sitting preciously close to the edge, or maybe it was my fault for pointing out some rock climbers nearby and she imagined we'd be scaling walls. All I know is that after a few minutes of coaxing, she was bounding up the trail, hopping from rock to rock. Shira, Dovid and Chana went ahead and got some quality time with Bubble Rock, while Tzipora and I got a glimpse before it was time to return home.

Like Gorham Mountain, Bubble Rock was the perfect trail for the kids. With plenty of rocks in the way, it was more than just a simple path through covered woods. But unlike other trails in the park, it didn't require clinging to iron rungs for dear life.

After Bubble Rock, we drove to the top of Cadillac mountain. The day had been overcast and foggy, so we weren't expecting to see much at the top of the mountain. In fact, the views were comically bad, being little more than a sheet of white. The kids didn't mind. Chana and Tzipora ran ahead with Shira, playing on the trail, while I hung back with Dovid and we searched out huckleberries.

We finished up our full day of exploring the park by hitting a trail near a visitor's center and walking through the Wild Gardens of Acadia. We returned to our campsite and made yet another fire, with even more help from the kids, and enjoyed a veritable feast (couscous, mashed potatoes, tuna and baked beans. Yum!).

Wednesday was our last day in the park, and the kids were already excited to get to our next hotel for some pool time. Still, I couldn't leave Acadia without one more adventure. Shira reviewed our Hiking Guidebook and found the perfect candidate: Hunters Beach. This short, out of way trail, winds through a perfect forest and lands at a quintessentially Acadia cobblestone beach. It gave us one last chance to hunt for shells, do some rock hopping and build rock sculptures. Best of all, the place was quiet, sharing it with only one other small family. It was the perfect way to close out our Acadia adventure.

Next stop: Portland Maine!

Some photos may have been left out (hard to believe). Full album available here.

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