Unusual Attractions and Destinations in Maine
Don't Miss These: Desert, Volcano, Oceanarium, Fort Knox and the Golden Road
After spring comes summer and summer vacation. Time to start planning your trip to Vacationland. Acadia National Park, Old Orchard Beach, lighthouses and L.L. Bean are frequent destinations of visitors to Maine. Whale watching, eating lobster, biking, hiking, and kayaking are must dos. And what vacation would be complete without a round of miniature golf, a spin on a go kart, or some thrills at an amusement park?
Did you know there is a desert and an extinct volcano in Maine? Thought Fort Knox was in Kentucky? Guess again. Make your next visit to Maine different.
Check out this list of unusual attractions and destinations in Maine that you probably didn't even know existed.
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What Started as a Farm, Ended up as a Desert
Only a few miles west of L.L. Bean in Freeport is the Desert of Maine. So out of place in Maine, this "desert" is not a tourist prop of trucked in sand. Technically, since it is glacial silt and not sand, it is not a "desert". But, it sure looks like one.
Poor crop management and soil erosion have allowed the glacial silt deposited in the last Ice Age to gradually become exposed and swallow up a farm. What used to be the Tuttle Farm is now a 40 acre glacial desert.
The Desert of Maine (1-207-865-6962) is located at 95 Desert Road, Freeport, ME, approximately 2 miles west of Interstate 295, Exit 20. Open from May to October (call for exact dates), take the family for a day of fun. In addition to tram tours of the desert, there is a museum, a farm museum, picnic area, and activities for children.
Source: The Desert of Maine
Extinct Volcano on Vinalhaven
When my wife took a geology class at the University of Maine, Hutchinson Center, one summer, the class took a field trip to Vinalhaven Island to visit an extinct volcano. I don't know why I didn't know about this volcano. The New York Times reported it in 1895!
While the central and southern parts of the island are the typical pink granite, the northern part of the island contains a variety of volcanic rocks.The volcanic rock, or Vinalhaven Rhyolite, can be seen along North Haven Road, north and south of Middle Mountain Road. Rhyolite forms when thick, taffy-like lava solidifies.
The volcanic rocks are on the north end of Vinalhaven Island. Do not confuse this with North Vinalhaven Island.
Vinalhaven, a large island in Penobscot Bay, is an hour and fifteen minute ferry ride from Rockland. A working community more than a tourist area, visit Vinalhaven and try to imagine what life on an island in Maine would be like. This extinct volcano can give you one more reason to enjoy a ferry ride and visit a Maine island.
Source: Maine Geological Survey, Maine Department of Conservation Website
There Ain't No Gold Here
America's first Fort Knox is located on the west bank of the Penobscot River across from Bucksport in Prospect, ME. Built from 1844-1869 with granite quarried from nearby Mount Waldo the fort was never involved in a conflict. Like Fort Knox, KY, it was named after Henry Knox, the first Secretary of War.
With unique architectural features it has always been one of my favorite places to visit. Kids and adults alike, can spend hours exploring and imagining what it would have been like to stationed here in the 1800s. While not absolutely necessary, a flashlight can be useful in some of the darker parts of the fort.
Located at 740 Fort Knox Road, Prospect, ME 04981, the fort is open daily from 9AM to sunset, May 1st through October 31st. Special events including re-enactments, cannon firing, ghost tours, demonstrations, concerts, and plays are scheduled throughout the months the fort is open. Admission fees are $3 age 12 and up, $1 age 5-11. If you combine it with admission to the Penobscot Narrows Observatory next to the fort, admission is $5 ages 12 and up, $3 age 5-11, and $2.50 for age 65 and over. Bring a picnic and spend the day.
Click here for a copy of the Fort Knox Brochure (pdf format).
Source: fortknox.maineguide.com and The Friends of Fort Knox
Fort Knox, Prospect, MEClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Penobscot Narrows Bridge
Tallest Public Bridge Observatory in the World
The U.S. Route 1 Pensobscot Narrows Bridge crosses over the Penobscot River between Prospect, ME and Verona Island. Atop one of the towers of the bridge is the Penobscot Narrows Observatory, the highest public bridge observatory in the world. Rising over 400 feet above sea level, the multi-level observatory provides views as far away as Mount Katahdin and as close as the Penobscot River Valley below. The only observatory like it in the western hemisphere, you would have to travel to China, Slovakia, or Thailand to see another.
Located at 740 Fort Knox Road, Prospect, ME 04981, the observatory is only accessible through Fort Knox next door. The fort and observatory are open daily from 9AM to sunset, May 1st through October 31st. Combined admission is $5 ages 12 and up, $3 age 5-11, and $2.50 for age 65 and over.
Source: fortknox.maineguide.com and The Friends of Fort Knox
The Golden Road
Like off-roading? This is off the grid off-roading. While cars can probably handle the road, I wouldn't take a high performance car.
The Golden Road is a private logging road in Maine's Northwoods. Commercial vehicles (i.e. big logging trucks) have the right of way.
While I haven't traveled on it recently, you can enter the road just north of Millinocket, not far from the entrance to Baxter State Park. There is a gate house there and there may be a fee. You can go from Millinocket to the Quebec border or Moosehead lake.
You can stop to see the wildlife (moose) and the views (Mt. Katahdin), but you can't stop for food or fuel. Prepare before you start your journey. Fill your gas tank, bring extra food and water, make sure your tires are in good order and bring a spare. A map, compass and GPS could also be invaluable. Cell phone coverage is limited or absent if you need help. A CB radio would be more helpful than a cell phone. Remember them good buddy?
The Golden Road is a 70 mile journey from Moosehead Lake in Greenville, ME to Mount Katahdin and Baxter State Park in Millinocket, ME. (Part of this route is paved) Before you go, confirm that all parts of this trip are open to public traffic.
YouTube video by Zwei4Eins
Oceanarium and Blue Lobster
Pet a Starfish, Visit the Mount Desert Oceanarium
Ever wonder what a scallop looks like in the ocean or want to pet a starfish? The Mount Desert Oceanarium is the place for you. The Oceanarium is actually spread out in 2 locations on Mount Desert Island (MDI). The Bar Harbor and Southwest Harbor sites are unique and each have a different focus on ocean life.
On U.S. Route 3, shortly after you cross onto MDI, is the larger of the two Oceanariums. The Bar Harbor site features the Thomas Bay Salt Marsh Tour, the lobster museum, the Maine Lobster Hatchery, and a touch tank. During the Marsh Walk you learn about important ecological principles. The lobster hatchery studies the life cycle of the maine lobster. The Maine Lobster Fishing Program is also located at this site.
My favorite of the two, and the most difficult to find, is the Oceanarium at the Southwest Harbor site. This relatively small building near the U.S. Coast Guard Station houses the Discovery Pool Touch Tank marine aquarium and the Fisherman's Museum. Staff eagerly talk about everything that lives in the touch tank and answer all of your questions. You are even allowed and encouraged to touch. This is your chance to pet a starfish, hold a horseshoe crab or cuddle a sea cucumber.
The hatchery that was formerly on the town pier in Bar Harbor has been relocated to the Route 3 location.
Source:Mount Desert Oceanarium
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© 2012 Mark Shulkosky