The Appalachian Trail

“Maine is deceptive. It is the twelfth smallest state, but it has more uninhabited forest-ten million acres-than any other state but Alaska.”

A Walk in the Woods

Bill Bryson

The first time I crossed the Appalachian Trail or the AT as it is also known, I was on the Mt. Washington Railway climbing to the summit. The second time I crossed the Trail, was 5.2 miles from it’s ending on the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park.

For the about 400 Thur-hikers, who have hiked the entire 2,200 miles in one season, this is the last part of their long journey ending at Baxter Peak at 5,267 feet. They would have started sometime in the early spring at Springer Mountain in Georgia and passed through 14 states. Through that journey, their elevation gain and loss is the equivalent of ascending and decending Mt. Everest. . . 16 times!


I walked a short way on the AT, found a rock, sat down, and sketched. The sketch I created was a loose, gestural representation of the trail that stretched out into the woods before me. I used my dark sepia brush pen and I sketched quickly. I had to because I felt the first few drops of a passing sprinkle. The weather changes here at Baxter very quickly and I wanted to get the bare bones of my sketch down before the rain.

Now I can say that I have walked about 100 yards of the 2,200 miles of the AT. Well that’s a start anyway.


Sandy Stream Pond

I left the Up Back Cottage in Lamoine at 5:30 AM (it was hard to leave such cozy digs). I had two wildlife targets for this early morning adventure. One was a small boreal species weighing half an ounce and the other was the largest deer in the world. Adult males can weigh in at 1,800 pounds and can be over six feet tall at the shoulder.

I was hoping to kill two birds with one stone (forgive this tasteless idiom) on a single hike in Baxter State Park. The hike was on the eastern shore of Sandy Stream Pond which is in the shadow of Maine’s highest peak: Mount Katahdin (5,267 feet).

I hit the trail by 8:30 after signing in at the trailhead. Baxter is some serious wilderness and many hikers attempt to summit Mt. Katahdin and you had to be aware of the trails, terrain, and the quickly changing weather. Mortality can feel very close here.

I crossed Roaring Brook and soon I could see the pond through the trees off to my left. At this point the trail was a wooden boardwalk above the boggy ground. I took the first left towards a viewing point. Once I had a clear view of the waters, I immediately saw two moose in the water near the far shore. A cow and her calf were grazing in the waters. Each time the cow raised her head from the waters, a small cascade of mountain water flowed down from her “beard”, like a small stream.

IMG_6250Moose cow at Shady Stream Pond. See, I’m not making these similes up, like a small stream.

I stayed and watched the cow and calf feed in the pond. This was the second time I had seen moose in the wild. The first time was two years ago. I had tried known hotspots in Grand Tetons National Park, arriving at the appropriate times (dawn and dusk) only to see a cow and a calf in the city park on my way out of Jackson. It was great to see moose in a more natural setting with long legs submerged in an icy mountain lake.

Sandy Stream

A quick sketch of Sandy Stream Pond with fall foliage.

After getting my fill of wild moose in an amazing backdrop of autumn reds, oranges,  yellows, and dark greens under the shadow of the peak of Mt. Katahdin, it was time to move on to look for a small bird that weighed as much as five pennies.

I continued north along the Sandy Stream Pond Trail towards the junction with the South Turner Mtn. Trail. The key to locating a boreal chickadee was to be in the right location (check) and to listen for the sounds of the more common black-capped chickadee. It’s call, chicka-dee-dee-dee, is onomatopoetic of it’s name, was the call I was listening for, because the boreal chickadee forms loose feeding flocks with it’s more well known cousin.

I was halfway along the trail from the Sandy Stream junction when I first heard the faint sound of a chickadee coming from within the mixed spruce to my right. In this case a black-capped. I headed off the trail and weaved my way through the trees trying to locate of the flock, willing to hear the “gargle” call of the boreal.

Much pishing and other hopeful noises brought in a few black-caps. This was a good sign. And then a few other birds came in with calls that seems a little similar but not quite right. It was different enough. And one of these chickadees flew in to a branch above my head and I was able to get a few photographs.

IMG_6275Above is the first photo that I captured of the mystery bird. The key fieldmark that distinguishes a boreal from a black-capped is that the boreal has a brown cap. The bird was looking to be the bird that I was looking for. It clearly had a brown and not black cap. The Audubon Bird Guides noted the boreal chickadee, “has gained a reputation as an excessively elusive bird.” This bird was elusive no more! Lifer!



Carriage Roads and Bridges

A way to avoid the tourists and fall foliage peepers In Acadia National Park is to hit the 57 miles of Carriage Roads that rise and weave throughout the National Park. It was easy to find peace away from the crowded Jordan House area because anything requiring hiking on a slight rise really thins out the masses.

The Carriage Roads where a gift from philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. and were constructed from 1913 to 1940. The roads were designed and built to fit the lay of the land and meant for taking your time and enjoying the journey. These roads were never built for the automobile in mind and to this day you can only travel by foot, tire, or hoof.


Walking on a Carriage Road in the fall was certainly one of the highlights of my trip.

Rockefeller also financed 16 out of the 17 stone-faced bridges. I was heading out early from Jordan Pond to sketch the oldest bridge on the Carriage Road system: Cobblestone Bridge which was completely in 1917.

Less then a mile on the well marked Carriage Roads, I came to the first bridge ever built in the road system. It is different than most of the other 16 bridges in that it is faced in cobblestone, in an attempt to fit into it’s stream-spanning location. I found a streamside rock on Jordan Creek and started to sketch.


I loved sketching the textures of this bridge. I also loved sketching in my Stillman & Birn Delta Series watercolor journal. I normally don’t like spiral sketchbooks because of their lack of ruggedness for the trials of travel but this this book held up well.

I headed back to the Jordan Pond area, where a good confluence of Carriage Roads exist, and I hiked out to look at two other bridges. I sketched one of them, the Cliffside Bridge which was completed the year my father was born, 1932. This 230 foot bridge is an arch above a ravine and standing above the arch gives way to a beautiful fall foliage panorama.


I drove to another trailhead and another carriage road system to see and sketch two more bridges. The first bridge I came to was the Hemlock Bridge (1924) and then I came to the appropriately named Waterfall Bridge (1925) because it’s arch frames a forty foot waterfall. This bridge I sketched in my smaller Aquabook.

Waterfall bridge

Waterfall Bridge in my smaller Aquabook.