This travel season we’ve spent time in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Shenandoah National Park, and Acadia National Park. We’ve also dipped our toes into the Catskills and the White Mountains, along with national and provincial parks in the Canadian Maritimes. Visits to places outside of our National Park system clearly revealed just how special our national parks are.
We didn’t plan it this way, to be spending so much time in a handful of our national parks in this, the year of their 100th anniversary. But we are glad we are doing it. After two years of full-time RVing, we’ve finally arrived at the need for slowness, to enjoy, to savor, and to immerse ourselves in our national parks.
We tackle the parks on two fronts. First, we almost always delve into the history of the park. How did it come to be? Who were the movers and shakers who brought it into existence? In short, what is the story behind the park’s existence?
And second, we get out into the park, to explore the physical and the ethereal parts of these marvelous creations. We drive. We hike. We walk. We picnic. We sit in wonder. We take tons of photos. We go on ranger-led walks. We read all of the signs and the explanatory brochures. Sometimes we pick up a book and read the history of the people of the park – the ones that stripped the land bare for the lumber or dug into the earth to bring out wealth or grew crops to let nature do the heavy lifting of making new wealth.
One destination we love to visit is Acadia National Park – that gem of land in Maine. We’d been twice before, once for three days, another for just a day. This is barely enough time to take a sip of what is there. Our most recent trip to Acadia was an eight-day adventure, which included the discovery of a part of the park we did not know existed: the Schoodic Peninsula, way on the north side of the park. You can see it sitting in the waterfront park in Bar Habor, looking directly across the bay. It is a different experience altogether, as the land meeting with the sea reaches out from under the soil and places wide, flat fingers of solid rock out into the ocean. It’s fun to walk on, explore, and just simply admire. It really makes the mind wonder how this all actually came about since all explanations are simply theory. I think having a sense of wonder beats the pants off the geological theories of land creation.
We more or less stumbled into Schoodic Peninsula because we were camping on the north side of the park, in a town so small there isn’t a stop sign, much less a traffic light. There we had our first lobster of our Acadia stay, paying a flat $8 a pound for hot lobster brought to our campsite with plates and the special tools you need to squeeze every ounce of meat out of the red shell surrounding it.
For our stay “in the park”, an RV campground just outside of the Bass Harbor Lighthouse, way down in the southwest corner of Acadia, was just about perfect. It meant a bit more driving but the towns and views were well worth it. Plus we discovered parts of Acadia we would have missed – those tucked away tiny towns with a handful of shops and restaurants. Places where you meet the top professional photographer in his studio, and chat about Acadia and its offerings like friends of years past.
This time, we could take a leisurely stroll around the marvelous carriage trail roads with its many famous and gorgeous stone bridges. Even bumping into a carriage ride, stopping for tourist gawking at the more grandiose of the bridges. The workmen hired by Rockefeller to create these beauties had to be told to back off a bit on their construction so the finished product did not look so perfect. After all, handwork-built stone bridges should have some imperfections.
And this time, we enjoyed a couple of picnics along the cliffs of the cliff road. These stunning granite formations, up against the endless ins and outs of the Atlantic tide, create wondrous cliffs worthy of clambering around and pretending to be an original explorer. While carrying the most traffic in the park, the rocky cliffs are so expansive they never fit the feeling of crowded.
The inland forests make for hikes from the easiest stroll to life-challenging iron rod vertical scrambles. Whichever meets your standard of fitness and daring, you’ll find it here. We passed on the chains and steel rods, and avoided the rappelling classes, thank you very much. But we did hike to the top of Acadia Mountain, a challenging hike up and even more so on the way down. With views to curl your toes, across the forest canopy and out into the lengthy harbors and finally the deep blue ocean that is Acadia. And always surrounding by that musky fir forest smell. Lovely, just lovely.
We tend to be easily enticed by tradition, so it was a given you would find us at the top of Cadillac Mountain at sunrise. Perfectly planned timing wise, but almost a complete bust of a sunrise, with the sun hiding somewhere behind those thick purplish-gray clouds. Still, there is something to be said for welcoming first light to the U.S., and the mountain top itself is a testimony to geological wonder and astounding views.
Of course, along the way we partook of lobster, both rolls and lobster grilled cheese sandwiches. We finally figured out we could enjoy a lot more lobster with a lot less work if we went the lobster roll route. And a local hairdresser steered us to Thurstons, the local hangout for lobster and a harbor-view dining experience without breaking the bank. Only 10 minutes from our campsite, we had to go twice.
The whole point of this lengthy write-up, in addition to encouraging you to go visit our national parks, is this: go and spend some time there, whichever park or parks you choose to visit. Visit fewer parks and go deeper. Explore. Hike. Get to know some locals. Wander off the beaten path. Hit the high points (they are high points for a reason!) Try something new. Dig into the history. Join a ranger-led walk. Touch. Smell. Taste. Feel. Listen. Wonder. Memories are waiting, but the best ones take
Touch. Smell. Taste. Feel. Listen. Wonder. Memories are waiting, but the best ones take time to make.
About the author:
Rob and his wife Jan have been full-timing for the last two years. Following a lengthy career in marketing and leadership consulting, Rob got the RV bug when in 2010 he secured a sponsored trip to visit 50 national parks over seven months in an Airstream Interstate Class B motorhome. He and Jan lived in the Airstream Interstate for the entire trip.
Taking over 12,000 photos on that 35,000-mile trek set the hook for both RVing and photography. Since concluding the 50 park adventure, Rob’s been an artist-in-residence at Great Smoky Mountains National Park (2012) and Rocky Mountain National Park (2013.) In 2015 he and his wife spent six weeks on the Oregon Coast and in the Columbia Gorge capturing images for the Oregon State Parks.
This year, their plans are taking them up through Shenandoah, Gettysburg, the Catskills, White Mountain and Acadia on the way to spending the month of September in the Canadian Maritime provinces.
You can see Rob’s work at:
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