Baxter State Park Maine

So…the big attraction which brings one to the Medway/Millinocket Maine area is Baxter State Park…which ain’t your mother’s state park…it’s managed somewhat uniquely compared to any other in the USA.

Baxter is the largest and most popular state park in the state of Maine…encompassing some 200,000 acres in the upper central portion of the state…what most folks know as “the Maine woods”. It is composed of 28 separate purchases and subsequent donations of land by Percival Baxter between 1931 and 1962…but Mr. Baxter had a few strange requirements for his gifts. First…it was required to be “forever wild” which is now the motto of the park. Second…no stores or gas stations are allowed. Third…instead of being managed by the State Park Commission…who he didn’t trust to keep it “forever wild”…it’s managed by the Baxter State Park Authority which is the Attorney General, Commissioner of Wildlife, and Director of the Maine Forest Service. It is independently funded through a series of trusts, user fees, and sales of products from the park’s Scientific Forest Management Area. 

As I said…it’s the most popular park in the state…primarily because it contains Mount Katahdin which is the northern terminus of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail which runs along the spine (mostly) of the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia north to Maine. However…Mount Katahdin is actually a cluster of mountains of which Baxter Peak…named for old Percival…is the highest at 5,267 feet. 

Mount Katahdin is the reason it’s popular…in fact it’s so popular that there you must have a reservation…except for a few drive up spaces…to park at the trailhead lots leading to the peak…and the few drive up spaces are gone by 0700. That’s the bad news…the good news is that the rest of the park…and there are only two roads through it…is pretty much populated only by wildlife and those few who aren’t hiking up Mount Katahdin. There is no electricity or running water inside the park…in keeping with the “forever wild” philosophy of old Percival even audio/video devices that “impairs the enjoyment of the park by others or that may disturb or harass wildlife” is prohibited. There are campgrounds for both small…very small…RVs in the park as well as walk in tent only camping areas. There are vehicle size restrictions in the park…dualley trucks are not allowed so we went in with Little Red instead.

Finally…Percival must have been channeling his inner Back to the Future when he made up the rules…because as they say in the movie…”Roads, where we’re going we don’t need roads”…and there are literally no paved roads. The roads are dirt/gravel only although they are periodically graded to keep them somewhat smooth…and the majority of them do not have room for 2 vehicles to pass…hence if you meet another traveler the Irish Rules apply…whoever has the easiest place to pull into one of the slightly wider spots does so and you ease past each other. Park speed limits top out at 20 mph and are frequently less than that.

Here’s a shot of what passes for a road in the most popular state park in Maine…this is one of the wider sections. It’s got more curves than Sophia Loren.

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So…onto our visits to the park. 

After our lazing around section of last week we headed out on our first of 2 trips through the park…we planned on entering at the southern Togue Pond gate and exiting out the northeast corner at the Matagamon Gate. That’s about 48 miles on the aforementioned 20 mph speed limit dirt/gravel roads…see photo above…so it’s going on 3 hours of driving if you don’t stop…and that doesn’t include the 45 minutes to get from Medway to the park or the 75 minutes it takes to come back along the banks of the Penobscot River. So…it’s a long day. We headed out about 0830 Friday morning and after paying our entrance fee…$15 per car per day, it wasn’t worth getting the annual pass as it takes 3 visits before it’s more economical…we headed up the Park Tote Road…which used to be a toll road through this section of woods owned by various timber and paper companies.

These first three were not in the park itself but along Dolby Pond just before we passed through Millinocket on the way to the park. We liked the reflections on the water…and as it’s not too often that the water is calm enough for them it was worth a stop…we took the shots looking away from the railroad tracks that cross Dolby Pond on the same causeway that the road uses.

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Shortly before you enter the park…a stop at the Visitor Center between Upper and Lower Togue Ponds revealed this shot of Mount Katahdin with Baxter Peak on the right side looking over Upper Togue Pond.

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A closer view of the mountain.

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More reflection shots along some of the many, many ponds along the road…this particular pond is unnamed.

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Connie likes these close up shots of flora with dreamy out of focus in the background…I like ‘em too.

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We stopped for lunch at a place named Ledge Falls…so named because the falls are short and not vertical…it’s much like a series of rapids instead…except instead of being rocky and dangerous with deep pools it’s worn smooth rocks with at most a few inches of water flowing over them. Locals come here and use the entire set of ledges as a natural water slide.

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Neil took the next two shots to learn ya ‘bout the various ways of shootin’ running water…as you can see the framing is almost identical. The first one has a shutter speed of 1/800 of a second…which essentially freezes the water droplets. The second one was 1/20 of a second…which is slow enough that the water gets blurred by its motion. Connie tends to like the former better and Neil the latter although one has to be careful not to let the water completely blur into white noise…then it doesn’t look like flowing water any more…the idea is to get enough blurring to eliminate the frozen in time drops but not enough to lose the color and texture in the flow. Sometimes this means you need 1/20 of a second…other times it means you need a second or more of exposure, obviously the longer the time the harder it is to handhold which is why most of his flowing water shots are done on a tripod. He also does a lot of HDR bracketing of flowing water to keep both detail and texture in the water as well as in the rocks and foliage.

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Insects doing bug things

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After lunch…we were the only ones there for the 30 minutes we sat and enjoyed the view although several other couples and families showed up right as we were leaving…we continued north the remaining 25 miles or so of Park Tote Road then exited the park and drove down the Penobscot River…although we could rarely see it through the dense woods and eventually got back to the rig for dinner.

Sunday after Mass we headed a slightly different direction…Connie found a couple of waterfalls not in the park so we packed a lunch and headed out…again through East Millinocket and then Millinocket then northwest towards the park…but continued along the southern side but outside the park boundary to Abol Falls…I dunno where they get the names of things up here but based on our experience so far it’s probably on land that used to be owned by the Abol family or something like that.

As you can see…they’re not tall…maybe a foot and a half tops but they did have a bit of character to them…and on a perfect late summer Maine afternoon we sat on the picnic table nearby and had lunch…then after a quick visit to the pit toilet facility…Maine has the cleanest and most acceptable pit toilets we’ve ever seen…headed for the second set of falls.

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The Pockwockamus Falls turned out to be a complete bust…they’re about another mile or so down the road from Abol Falls but they’re really just rapids instead…and not very serious rapids at that as the whitewater rafting tourist company boats were out in force…we didn’t even bother getting out of the car for a photo as there were no falls to be seen, no viewpoints to see them from, and numerous privately owned cabins we would have had to walk past to get to the edge of the river.

We did get a nice different view of Mount Katahdin on the way back home though.

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Monday we had a really, really, really early day planned…like we set the alarm for 0400 early so we could get to Stump Pond in the park as early as possible…supposedly there would be wildlife there around dawn. Dawn ‘round these parts in August is 0541…so after leaving in the dark from the rig and stopping at Dunkin’ Donuts in Millinocket for coffee and breakfast on the way we got to the park gate at 0520…and discovered the gates didn’t open until 0600. So we sat there and waited…we were 8th or 9th in line and by the time the gate opened there were at least another 30 cars behind us…luckily most of them were getting to the drive in parking spots for Mount Katahdin trailheads…we got up to Stump Pond for a look around.

Wildlife…nope, nary a one.

Nice scenery including more calm water reflection shots…yup, got those.

First one is pretty much straight out of the camera…which doesn’t do justice to the Golden Hour light…the second and third ones Neil processed to get it looking more like we remembered it.

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Continuing on up the Park Tote Road towards our second destination for the day…the trailhead for the Little Niagara and Big Niagara Falls which are located on the Nesowadnehunk Stream which drains Daicey Pond…we stopped for a quick look at this pond…again no wildlife but a nice sun coming up over the mountain and mist rising from the pond shot which made it a worthwhile stop.

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Another dozen or so miles into the park we parked at the Daicey Pond Campground lot, signed into the trail log and headed out for our 2.7 mile round trip hike…there’s about an 80 foot elevation drop between the upper Little Niagara Fall and the lower Big Niagara Fall…and immediately remembered what we hate most about hiking trails in Maine. Trails here meet the R&R standard…that  stands for Rocky and Roots. These ain’t your momma’s trails with wide smooth paths making them easy to walk on…nosiree…these are pick your way cross the split log bridges, ‘round (or on or over) the ottoman size rocks, pick your feet up so ya don’t trip over the danged exposed roots trails. After a short walk from the parking lot we turned south along the aforementioned Appalachian National Scenic Trail for a bit over a mile to visit both of the falls. Once on the AT as the trail is known…it was still rocky and roots…but at least it was mostly flat except for the descent between the two sets of waterfalls.

Reaching the upper Little Niagara Falls first…I dunno why it’s called Little but probably because instead of a single drop like Big Niagara has it’s got a couple of smaller ones although the total drop at Little is actually more…at least by eye, we didna survey them.

Tree growing around a rock about 8 feet in diameter we passed on the AT…not sure how it happened but most likely there was some leaves or pine straw on the rock and the seed sprouted up there then sent a root growing down to the ground next to the rock.

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On further review after viewing both of the falls…we liked the upper Little Niagara better as it had more character due to the numerous flow paths, logs trapped in the rocks, and generally interesting opportunities it supplied.

Connie got this one looking across the stream from where she was waiting.

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Connie…she stayed on the bank and took photos from there…most of the frozen in time ones are hers as she don’t carry a tripod with her. Neil on the other hand…he crawled out on the rocks of course handset up his tripod. She had to turn about 45 degrees to her left from the shot above to get this one.

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This is one of the shots he got looking back upstream from the vantage point above…Connie is just out of frame to the right on the bank where we arrived after a short side trail from the AT.

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He then turned to his left 90 degrees for this one…although it’s all part of the same water fall it’s completely different in character…one of the reasons we liked Little Niagara better.

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Connie leaned over the side of the rock a bit for this one. One of Neil’s fave shots of the day…and he can’t even take credit for the shot, just the post processing.

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Neil took a short video of Little Niagara from his viewpoint on the rocks…you can see Connie on the far right side right at the beginning. You can see the video here.

We hiked back up to the AT and another 0.3 miles downstream to Big Niagara Falls…and Connie immediately assumed sole custody…at least until she was done…of the single good vantage point to view the falls for another of her frozen in time shots. The drop here is maybe 15 or 20 feet and its the only thing to really see at this falls…6 feet out of frame to the right it’s smooth and flat water and out of frame to the left there’s another small foot or two drop into another little pool then it’s smooth downstream after there. Unfortunately…there’s no way to get to the bottom for a looking up the falls shot…at least not without another 50 or so feet descent down the trail another quarter mile then cross country to the stream itself…and we wuz starting to get tired by this point…Connie said she wasn’t going and On Further Review as the officials say…Neil didn’t want to do that either as he had twisted his ankle and knee a bit between the upper and lower sets of falls and it was starting to ache a bit.

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Neil got the less good looking vantage point another 15 feet upstream for this shot.

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Once C was done Neil moved his tripod to the good spot for a few more.

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Nice closeup of the drop.

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I can’t remember ‘xactly where he was looking for this one…but it was at Big Niagara somewhere. There’s no drop involved here…just water in motion…but it and the one C took above with the log in it are the best shots of the day he thinks.

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Neil again took a short video of Big Niagara…seen here.

Speaking of videos…we have our own YouTube channel where we post our infrequently taken videos…we ain’t serious video people so there aren’t that many but what we do take we post at Laubenthal YouTube Channel. I’ll add a link to the menu at the top of the page to get there as well as posting it here.

With that we headed the mile and a bit back to the car…most of it on the AT after getting back up out of the hole Big Niagara is in. We were amazed by the lack of wildlife we saw…it was still early morning…we left Big Niagara to head back for the car by 0940 and there were practically no other folks on the trail. We did see one day hiker with a backpack who passed us heading north on the AT just after we left Big Niagara…and we saw another 2 couples separately starting up the trail in the last couple of hundred yards before getting to the parking lot and a 3rd couple at the parking lot…but it was basically deserted. Despite that…wildlife was pretty scarce. We spotted a couple Varmint Cong…we picked that one up from Caddy Shack and is our reference to any small rodent creature like chipmunk, gopher, or the like. Connie also scared up the fattest mouse we’ve even seen and a wild turkey crossed the trail 50 yards in front of us on the way back but neither of them stayed ‘round long enough to pose for us. We did spot a couple of piles of poop so there’s wildlife in the area…don’t know what it was but we eliminated bear, elk, deer, and moose by it’s appearance.

We got back in the car and headed home…stopped for another reflection shot of Baxter Peak along the road then exited the park and continued on to the campground. Due to our early morning wakeup call…we had a nap for an hour or so before lunch.

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On to interesting things found on the net.

No photo for this one…but I really love it when people get hoisted on their own petard. Ya remember Asia Argento…she’s one of the ringleaders of the Crucify Harvey Weinstein Mafia…she jumped on the #metoo wagon and accused him of rape, sexual assault and various other things. Anyway…turns out that she doesn’t practice what she preaches…she molested a 17 year old actor who was starring in a movie she wrote, directed, and starred in in 2012 and paid him off to keep quiet. What goes ‘round comes ‘round ya know. Hypocrite…although I’m sure her friends will defend her and say that this is a completely different situation.

Our friend Bill Napier sent us this one…men are much simpler creatures.

Another Men vs Women View

I know it’s a stereotype…but there’s frequently a lot of truth in a stereotype.

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I wonder ‘bout this too.

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My kinda soup.

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Here’s a little math explanation for ya…you see a lot of people talking on the TV ‘bout giving more than 100%…especially coaches…ever wonder what that really means?

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Cyas.

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About Gunther

The full time RV travels and experiences of Gunther the Bear and Kara the Dog…along with their human staff neil and Connie.
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