The holidays, travel and a few other distractions got in the way of posting something from this most recent trip to New England. I’m way overdue, but here it is anyway.
Back in the summer, I was scratching around to find yet another fun place to go shoot. I’d just finished a great ‘shop with Bill Fortney across Washington state, so was juiced to find another, completely different, landscape locale. Thanks to Moose Peterson’s BT Journal (very worth the modest e-subscription for iPad), and the fact that the Winter-2013 issue hit just at the right time, Maine in the fall jumped right out of the pages (well, the electronic pages anyway). Yes, I know that every place with seasons has its own version of autumn foliage. That includes my home in Oregon and my semi-annual route south through the Eastern Sierras. But if you haven’t seen the Fall in New England, you’ve missed real autumn.
Fall colors in New England – dazzling!
For ease of words, I said that this trip was to New England for the colors. But, as spectacular as autumn is during this two-week window, the real beauty and primary reason for this trip was to experience leisurely days meandering along Maine’s winding roads covered with fallen leaves, past farms, ponds, coves, harbors and just plain “Americana” at such a lovely time of the year.
Two weeks is not nearly enough time to cover much of Maine and certainly won’t even dent the rest of New England. So, I call this a New England “sampler”.
After arriving in Boston and as quickly as possible navigating our exit from the airport and city, we headed northwest to Boxborough where we were fortunate to stay with our friends, John and Michelle Dubois, at their farm in Boxborough. In this instance, “farm” is a relative term since John has turned his home into a veritable science lab amidst 25 acres of beautiful woods, horses, barns and serenity. That was a great way to get tuned up for the rest of the trip. And, if the truth be known, that would have sufficed for an entire two week’s stay. There is plenty to see and shoot within an hour of Boston, especially if you’re lucky enough to be there at the right time and have good friends who know where and when to venture.
While there, we drove out to the nearby Old Sturbridge Village for a wonderful day’s trip. The Village is a 200-acre living museum which re-creates life in rural New England during the 1790s through 1830s. And even though it is mostly a restoration of a 19th century town, it offers some wonderful opportunities for a number of very colorful scenes.
On Day 3, we reluctantly broke ranks and headed north toward New Hampshire. First stop, Lincoln, Hampshire, at edge of Franconia State Park. Fortunately, this being a state park, the shenanigans that took place in Washington shutting down the Federal government and thus closing several of our scheduled National Park/Monument venues didn’t affect this park. But, unfortunately, the tail-end of Tropical Storm Karen had moved through two nights prior, so most of what would have been near-peak color was blown away (literally). Wonderful, nevertheless.
A favorite in stop in Franconia is The Basin. Here, the Cascade Brook tumbles over rocks and a few falls, and into a grotto-like basin, and on into the Pemigewasset River. Although the waterfalls are not high or particularly spectacular ones, the tad of color that lingered made for a very idyllic spot for a few shots.
On to Maine via the famed Kankamangas Highway. We based the Maine part of the trip in 3 places — Freeport, Bar Harbor, and Rockport. Doing this was almost blind guesswork, aided by a few other photographers’ suggestions. It was based on the idea that spaced out locations about 100 or so miles apart made for some great day-trips as well as plenty of byways between each stay.
Freeport may be best known as the headquarters, factory, and the huge factory store, of L.L. Bean. Just a stroll through this campus-like setting which houses several buildings, each specializing in one or more of the Bean merchandise lines, is a not-to-be-missed experience.
Freeport, although picturesque, was mostly valuable as one of our staging points for several day-trips out into the countryside.
One of the really cool visits was to nearby Damariscotta on the feature weekend of its Pumpkin Festival. We skipped the pumpkin launch, the pumpkin regatta and other events, but couldn’t resist walking mainstreet to see the carving contest.
This is definitely not your neighborhood pumpkin-carve. It is a massive contest-exhibit by very seasoned and creative pumpkin artists (yes, they are called that here) who work away on pumpkins weighing at least 200 pounds. One was 1,200 pounds! Pretty cool. Although wish I could have been there with fewer bystanders (waddling blockages and/or distracting elements), but still some fun shots.
Like most every town or village along the way, Damariscotta has a personality all its own, and its age and friendly folks make this regionally known, hometown event a lot of fun.
About 40 miles east on what is part of Cape Newagen is Boothbay Harbor. Mostly a working harbor and neat waterfront village, it is very importantly home to The Lobster Dock, one of Maine’s best known and classic Lobster houses. I noticed that many visitors tend to gravitate toward traditional chain or restaurant types that are familiar. What a shame, since this is one of so many “crab shack” stops where the best lobster and crab are to be had. One shouldn’t be fooled by any reference to their casual “dock” or “shack” reference. These are actually badges of pride in Maine since being right at the wharves and harbors make for immediately fresh, live Maine catch. The Lobster Dock is well worth the drive to Boothbay Harbor (across the waterfront from the main village of Boothbay). It was so much so that when I found out that the next day would be the last day of service for the season, I made the drive again for a late lunch, two rounds of Pumpkinhead Ale, and undoubtedly the best “lobstah roll” and crabcakes I had in Maine. And given that there were others that were well beyond anything I have found on the west coast, that is saying something!
Next stop, Bar Harbor.
Bar Harbor is said to have been the summer playground for the likes of Rockefellers, Fords, Drexels, Vanderbilts among others. The quaint town is fun and full (even at this time of the season) of shops, restaurants and sights and photo opportunities. But, it is a popular stop-off for tourist and cruise liner traffic, even at this time of year. In fact, the end of cruise calls around the end of October actually defines the end of the season. In the words of one of our table servers, “On the morning after the last cruise ship leaves, you can hear the ‘whoosh’ of people leaving.” And leave they do. I was told that there is almost nothing other than a few essential services, one or two gas stations, the banks and government offices remain open after November 1st.
The main visitor draw and target for my trip to Bar Harbor is the Acadia National Park. Sadly, the failure of our elected children in Washington to do what they were sent there to do lead to the budget funding failure and the shutdown that closed all of the national parks, including Acadia. And even though there are two state highways that encircle and cross the park, its sheer size makes any real visit impossible without access to its parking lots and the interior loop. So, other than a few wonderful ponds visible from the roadside and fallen leaves along the highway, I much to show from one of America’s most beautiful parks, especially in the Fall. Maybe he next trip.
Along the Way, Lighthouses.
One of my objectives for this trip was to see and shoot some of the iconic New England lighthouses that I’d seen so often. Yes, we have lighthouses along the west coast, but those in New England, and especially along Maine’s “DownEast”, are among the most scenic.
The Pemaquid Light, near the town of Bristol, turned out to be my favorite. The facility itself is not all that impressive, but the setting is pretty dramatic. Most who visit never venture beyond the yard surrounding the lighthouse and former Keeper’s residence (now a museum). But a short (but tricky) hike out onto the rocks below yielded a very unique composition. Windswept rocks below the lighthouse grounds, chiseled by the sea for ages, look as though they were placed there specifically for a photographic composition.
For those of us who pick at the nits of photos trying to find their faults, I’ll note one here. To capture the reflection, I had to be in a position such that the lighthouse tower and the nearby bellhouse weren’t visually separated very well. But hey, I thought it looked pretty cool anyway. A few steps to the left made for a better image of the light tower, but the reflection was lost altogether.
Another favorite is Bass Harbor Light. Actually a headlight (flashes red vs. white), this one is very unusual, particularly from a photographic standpoint. The lighthouse itself is perched essentially on a cliff. Most visitors never go beyond the path leading to the lighthouse itself (very poor angle). But thanks to Moose Peterson’s directions and a few other shots I’ve seen from others, I learned that the best shooting angle was well below the house, at the end of a trail to the left of the parking lot, down 40 feet of tricky wooden stairs clinging to the rocks and out onto the rocks at the very edge of the lapping tide. On my first try for the classic sunrise shot, I learned that the tide here varies over 12’, and high tide was only an hour after sunrise. So, for any who are interested, the best you can hope for at high tide (unless you hire a boat) is essentially an end-on shot with several trees crowding the shot.
Two days later, I made the second trek at low tide (unfortunately in the early afternoon, so not the best light). This paid off since I was able to crab my way over rocks and to a perch nearly 20 feet farther out than the earlier try. This gave me a much better angle, and to my surprise, even a reflection in a puddle left by the earlier high tide.
The lighthouse is still functional and operated by the Coast Guard. But, all of the visitor facilities (parking lot, interpretive center, restrooms) are handled by the Park Service, and the entire compound was closed because of the government shutdown. The road leading it was closed at the end of the state highway, so getting to the lighthouse grounds meant a half-mile hike past the barricades (and technically a trespass). Nobody stopped me, and I only saw Coast Guard cars in the lot. Maybe they too were too angry at the shutdown to even try to kick anyone out.
All around Maine, there were quaint towns, church spires, docks, boats foliage, and just a whole lot of wonderful sights everywhere one looks.
And then again, sometimes I just felt like capturing and processing something different, something that I hope conveys, in a different way, the quiet and peaceful nature of what I also found in so many places around Maine.
A Word About Lodging.
I learned a few very important things about lodging for future visits. During most of my past days of business travel, I wouldn’t consider staying at a hotel that wasn’t part of a nationwide or very well known and respected brand. That wasn’t for any snobbish reason, but more because I knew what to expect, and consistency was important. It helped that my company was picking up the bill, and although I didn’t spend needlessly, my time in the hotel was minor compared to the work purpose for the travel. So, it was important for me to not be worried with figuring things out, having to churn over poor internet or phone connections, or have other surprises.
Those days are behind me, and my travels are for pleasure and photography. I still follow that practice, although now in slightly less pricey hotels (Best Westerns, Red Roof, Hilton Garden, etc.). But New England, is a completely different story. Perhaps due to its age, maybe the history, or maybe just out of heritage or tradition, independent inns are not the typical no-name, iffy places outside the mainstream of name brands elsewhere. There are so many that are charming, sprawling, quaint, stately, cute, rustic, prominent and hundreds of other words to describe the overwhelming spread of very worthy inns and hotels in this area. For example, even the Holiday Inn (Regency) at Bar Harbor is a classy resort with lots of amenities and a very good restaurant right on the bay-front.
Another that I’ll return to is the Island View Inn, our stay while in Rockport. It is a wonderfully appointed, very moderately priced, thoroughly modernized inn at water’s edge with a terrific view of the Penobscot Bay and islands beyond (thus the name). Like some others we experienced, there is no in-room microwave or coffee pot, but the front desk keeps fresh coffee a few steps away, and is happy to micro your snack or eat-in meal (chowder, yes!). So don’t be put off by, or better yet, strongly consider, an independent inn, as long as you’ve checked it out first.
Another critical issue is that this region is heavily driven by seasonal visitors and weather. That means that the “season” ends sometime around Columbus Day, and the majority of all businesses close until May. The flip side is that the prices change from high season usually around Labor Day. So plan accordingly.
I’m already planning for the next trip “Down-East”.
Oh, and thanks to Moose Peterson for the tip on the dory that was still out there by itself in the Bernard Harbor.