Summer Journal Day 15
Saturday, August 15
This is the first chance I’ve had to write all day. I’m sitting on my rolled up sleeping bag inside our tent in a campsite in Northwest Cove on Moosehead Lake. It’s far too buggy outside to write. We’re told the weather should be nice tomorrow, but that rain is expected Monday.
Little Lyford was once again great. We met some very nice people. Joe made pancakes with real maple syrup and sausage along with coffee and juice for breakfast. He also cooked the latest fish Chris caught.
We ran into another moose on our way out to Greenville. I think that makes nine moose sightings so far.
We decided to skip doing more laundry while in Greenville. I think we have enough clean stuff to last a few more days. Our trip is winding down and while I’ve recovered from my near death experience at Gulf Hagas, I think we’re both a little tired. I know we’re spoiled after sleeping in a bed and having hot showers. We stopped by the Indian Hill Trading Post while in Greenville. It’s just a nice place to poke around. Chris ran right downstairs to the fishing department, while I found a couple of books on Maine life that looked interesting. We picked up more ice and grabbed some soda and beer.
We topped off the gas tank at the trading post and shortly after noon we headed up Route 15 toward Rockwood. Our plan, as it stood, was to enter the North Maine Woods at the 20-Mile Checkpoint and see where the road took us. At the gate I showed our season passes and the guy asked where we were going. For a lack of any better answer I said Hurricane Pond, so that’s what he wrote down.
Not too far inside the North Maine Woods gate we came to a turn for Canada Falls. We drove done the side road and took a look at the stream and the falls coming down from the lake. It all drains into Seboomook Lake and eventually the West Branch of the Penobscot River.
We cruised up the 20-Mile Road to Pittston Farm located at the confluence of the North and South Branches of the Penobscot River, with shore frontage on Seboomook Lake. After nothing but trees it was a surprise to find this little village sitting down in a field over a hill. There was a lodge, small store, a restaurant, campsites, a museum and even a chapel along with a couple of houses.
The Great Northern Paper Company purchased the entire township of Pittston Academy Grant, including Pittston Farm, in 1906 and began building what is now the present farm.
These farms, and there are several throughout the north woods, but none as extensive as Pittston, were established to support logging operations. The supplied nearly everything necessary, from food and equipment, to a place for weary loggers and company executives to gather. Pittston Farm operated until 1971 when the end of the great log drives ended its usefulness.
While we didn’t see a lot of people, there were too many buildings, so we cruised in and right back out.
I’ve always wanted to drive the Golden Road from end to end. It’s the main road in the North Maine Woods and probably the best known running from St. Zacharie, Quebec to the hospital in Millinocket at a length of 98 miles. There are parts of the road near Millinocket that are paved, but for most of its length the Golden Road is a dirt drag strip dominated by 22-wheeled, 200,000 pound trucking behemoths with logs stacked high traveling at frightening speeds.
Between the years of 1901 and 1971, the easiest and most economical way to get the log harvest to the Great Northern Paper Company mill in Millinocket was to cut the trees into four foot sticks of pulpwood during the winter months, haul the wood onto the ice with teams of horses and tractors and then wait for the ice to melt in the springtime. At that time the spring pulpwood drives began and the wood then was sluiced down the many streams and lakes feeding into the West Branch of the Penobscot River.
The wood usually entered the West Branch Watershed north of Chesuncook Lake. Once it reached Chesuncook it was boomed and towed down the lake to Ripogenus Dam. From there it was sluiced down the West Branch of the Penobscot River.
This practice was ended during the early 1970′s and all the wood was then transported to the mills in tree-length logs primarily by truck on a privately constructed road called the Golden Road. This road became the aorta of the North Maine Woods logging road system.
We continued up the 20-Mile Road and hooked up with the Golden Road and turned west toward the Canadian border. We checked out a couple of spots to camp and fish along the way, but nothing seemed right. I had turned the wheel over to Chris once we hit the Golden Road as it’s a weekend and there are no logging trucks running.
We stopped for a close look at potential fishing sites along the North Branch. As we got closer to the international crossing we began to notice a sharp increase in the number of sugar shacks. There is a large maple sugaring operation in the woods of northwestern Maine that exists right alongside logging. For miles we found shacks and some fairly well built structures sitting off in the woods with miles of plastic piping running throughout a network of trees. Everything was shutdown. The sugar in maple sap only appears where warm, sunny days and below-freezing nights follow each other for days on end, as they do in Maine’s long, slow spring.
The art of making sugar and syrup from the sap of the maple tree was developed by Native Americans of the Northeast. For them it was the all-purpose seasoning, used as we might use salt today. Sometimes the syrup is dark and rich, sometimes pale gold and delicate. It all depends on the soil and terrain, the wind and the weather, just like wine.
When we reached the border it was closed. The St. Zacharie gate doesn’t operate on weekends. We didn’t have passports so entering Canada wasn’t an option. There were no people and if we had wanted to park the truck we could have walked around the gate and into Canada.
There is a scale for weighing the big trucks on the US side of the gate and a house like you might find on any modern suburban street in America that is home to the US Customs Agent. We drove to the closed gate and turned around for our run down the Golden Road. We hadn’t stopped for lunch, but were munching on our more than adequate supply of food in the backseat.
We still didn’t know where we were going to spend the night. We found the entrance to Hurricane Pond, an unmarked path of two tire tracks leading off to our right. We drove in about a quarter mile with branches taking swipes at the canoe on the roof racks. The overgrown path opened up to what was an obvious camping spot, but tracks continued off to the right. We still hadn’t seen the pond. It looked muddy, so for the fourth time on our trip I put the truck into 4-wheel drive and carefully nosed it down the path. It was tight with the bushes closing in. The mud was deeper than I had expected and to top everything off the road was a dead end, only about 100 yards long. From here we could finally see the pond, what a disappointment.
A small log-driving dam that had been placed across what was probably little more than a meandering bog section of Hurricane Brook formed the pond which still exists only because the old, decayed dam sluice was plugged by beaver. The dam itself has long since gone and apparently the beaver has moved on.
At its deepest the 54 acre pond is just seven feet, but does have a limited population of trout. Getting to the water was going to be a problem as the shoreline is former pond bottom and very deep mud. It might have been nice for Chris to cast a line in here as the pond probably hasn’t been fished in quite some time.
We climbed down to the broken old dam and then walked back to the truck. Just getting into the doors was hard with the bushes so close. I put it into 4-wheel low and blindly started to backup. There was no chance of turning around.
The tires did some spinning in the deep mud even though I was moving very slowly. Still it dug its way through the mud and got us back to the campsite without incident. There we were able to turn around and head back out to the Golden Road.
Chris was doing the driving now. We crested a small rise in the road and saw a bear standing there. Why he didn’t hear us coming I don’t know. The standoff didn’t last two seconds before he bolted into the woods. No time for a picture. A little further along we came across a second bear. This one stared at us for a few moments before running off.
About seven or eight miles down the Golden Road we took a right onto Norris Road at a homemade, weather-beaten sign that said, “Dole Farm.” We had no idea what it might be, but since we had no real destination in mind, we decided to take a look. Two miles down the road we came to a sizable sugaring operation, but out of season and shutdown. We continued down to Dole Pond to look for a campsite. We crossed a very questionable bridge over the 704 acre pond where I think we both actually held our breath. The old, worn planks were the width of the truck and no more. Dole Pond is very pretty, but we kept rolling along a back road until we came to Long Pond. There are eight Long Ponds in Somerset County Maine. This was the one in Dole Brook Township, T3 R5.
Here we found what I thought might be our campsite for the night. There is a dam with a large grassy area at the foot of an 845 acre pond framed in mountains. It still amazes me that we can stand at the shore of these lakes and ponds, with such wide and beautiful views in perfect silence and be the only people.
We had made the decision to spend the night here at Long Pond and Chris started walking the shore looking for fishing spots. But then for whatever reason, maybe the urge to just wander, we put the tent back in the truck and continued on.
Back out on the Golden Road with Chris still behind the wheel we cruised down the north bank of the North Branch of the Penobscot River. There are small hills and long straight stretches of road along this section where you can see ahead for miles. There was no one else in sight. Some of the old timers up here told me that the Golden Road has seen its share of smuggling out of and into Canada over the years. In the 70’s it was apparently used to smuggle illicit drugs into the country. I can certainly see why. There is nothing out here and with the spider web of old logging roads, many now overgrown and under a canopy of trees; it would be easy to disappear. I also learned from a couple of locals that you can camp anywhere out here as long as you don’t have a fire. There are planes that patrol the area watching for smoke. They say that if the North Woods people, the landowners or their managers find you, they’ll probably just ask you to move on. But still, if you’re prepared and equipped to stay in the woods, this is the place. The odds of being found are unlikely.
I think it was former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, an advocate of wilderness, who described this place as, “eastern America’s last natural frontier.” It is a land of pristine beauty, rugged and remote.
A few miles past the 20-Mile Road, which some refer to as the Northern Road, we arrived in the area of Seboomook Lake. This 6,448 acre lake we’re told is a fisherman’s paradise. Like so many places here the lake gets its name from the Abenaki. It means “big lake” or “at or near the large stream.” Both possible definitions fit as it is big and the North and South Branches of the Penobscot run into the western end of the lake and the West Branch begins at the dam on the eastern end.
About four hundred million years ago this part of North American was part of the ocean floor. Today around the western part of Seboomook Lake there are still some volcanic rocks visible which were formed when fissures opened in the ocean floor and the molten rock spewed onto the bottom of the sea.
The lake is manmade, created when the Penobscot River was dammed to create a sluiceway to carry logs downriver in 1893. From Pittston Farm and the confluence of the North and South Branches and the dam the lake is approximately 10 miles long. At its widest near Nulhedus Stream it measures approximately a mile and a half.
When we reached the turn to Northeast Carry we turned right. This was also the route to Seboomook Dam. Again we though we had found a campsite, but the open area that we pulled into had a large white cross indicating to us that it marked a burial spot, not where we wanted to spend the night.
We just kept driving. It was getting late and we had been in the truck all day. The road ended at Northwest Cove on Moosehead Lake at Seboomook Wilderness Campground.
We found a nice spot on the water and set up the tent. Once again the bugs tore into us like banshees hell-bend on our blood.
Chris built a fire as a smudge to ward off the bugs while I cooked up some macaroni and cheese. Once he had the fire smoking, Chris got out his pole and had a few casts.
The view to the southeast is spectacular. It’s hard to believe that this is just a cove. Moosehead, the largest lake in Maine, is 74,890 acres in area and approximately 40 miles long by 10 miles wide with around 400 miles of coastline. It is the source of the Kennebec River and has over 80 islands.
In the distance through the haze I can see Mt. Kineo, one of the most famous features of the Moosehead area.
Legend says that wicked Chief Kineo was exiled by his tribe and lived on Mt. Kineo. Another says that the great Indian spirit Glooskap killed a moose and it became Mt. Kineo. In Abenaki the names means “sharp peak or rock.”
Native Americans once traveled great distances to Mt. Kineo to acquire its rhyolite rock. The mountain is a geological formation of flint known as siliceous slate, or hornstone. It was once used by Indians to make arrowheads, hatchets, chisels and other sharp objects.
We had hoped to hike Mt. Kineo last year when we were up this way, but the weather didn’t allow it. This year it wasn’t in the cards either.
Tomorrow is Sunday and another day for Chris to drive. We’ll continue our trip along the Golden Road to the east and see what we can see.
The views and opinions in the Enterprise blogs are those of the author and are not neccessarily shared by Falmouth Publishing.