Sunday, October 23, 2011

Orono Bog Walk Orono, ME

     Hello and welcome to another edition of The Outdoor Wanderer! Today I have decided to talk a bit about a gem of a location, the Orono Bog Boardwalk located in Orono, Maine, but accessible from the Bangor City Forest.
     The Orono Bog is a very fascinating place, a rare wetland environment where acidic peat has built up over thousands of years. It is a culmination of many different exotic plants and animals. I have decided to walk the bog on a nice, mildly breezy October afternoon with my friend, Tim.
     Tim and I set off towards the wetlands, and are greeted by fresh air and a gentle breeze. It is a nice day to be outside. But then again, when isn't it? 
     My friend's motive is to take photos with his new camera, while mine is an escape from the grind and something to write about afterwords.
     The first thing to catch our attention before even reaching the boardwalk was a large beehive up in a tree.       
It's one reason why I love the outdoors in the fall. Any other time of year, this magnificent creation would have probably been clouded by leaves, and we probably would have passed underneath without taking notice.
     As my friend takes some time to perfect his shot, I think to myself about just how amazing a creature the bees are, or the other colony-based insects that make homes here. How they take up a job, and specialize in the task, to ultimately work together for the good of their kind as a whole. It's just an incredible evolutionary development if you really think about it. And it works for them, too. 
     We reach the boardwalk and begin to walk along it. The Orono Bog Boardwalk is a stretch of "floating" planks that stretch 4,200 ft. in a loop to bring visitors closer to the natural features the bog has to offer. The boardwalk takes you from the edges to areas that are over 20 ft. deep with peat, or dead acidic plant matter. The 4 ft. wide boardwalk brings you safely over and around the bog, allowing one to get up close to the unique flora.
A red squirrel enjoys the boardwalk with us
     I have learned that the person responsible for this boardwalk being built was a man by the name of Ron Davis. a professor for the University of Maine, he found himself bringing his classes to the bog often. He had thought that this interesting place should be shared with the public, and so he began to pull the project together. The Orono Bog Boardwalk is now a reality, and is sponsored  cooperatively by the University of Maine, the City of Bangor, and the Orono Land Trust. It has been designated as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.
"Through the Winterberry"
This image I feel helps to capture the diversity of the bog
      As I proceed deeper into the bog, any remaining earth is replaced increasingly by areas of peat moss and other mosses. They thrive in this environment, specializing in floating above the peat, and in holding water and air. 
Peat moss
     One of the most interesting plants here is the evolutionary result of little minerals and high acidic content of the peat. Pitcher plants, named so by their peculiar shape, are a carnivorous plant! They attract insects into their cavity, which is partially filled with liquid, 
Pitcher plants
And the insects can't make it back out. The insects drown in the liquid, and get broken down by enzymes into mineral nutrients that the plants can absorb. This I find truly fascinating. The pitcher plant has essentially developed a stomach, which allows it to withstand the harsh conditions of the bog. So what if there is no soil? This plant finds it's nutrients in a more creative way!

Looking down inside a carnivorous pitcher plant
     Out in the deepest parts of the bog, I come across a variety of unique plants, and a few birds. It all feels very low and open, allowing me to see a ways in the distance. At this time of year, most everything has a hue of a rusty red, dotted by the occasional patch of still green moss and white puffs of tall cotton grass. The boardwalk sinks a bit with each step, reminding me that I stand on around 25 feet of waterlogged and dead but not decomposed plant matter.
Tall cotton grass
     When we first entered the bog area, it began as forest. Out in the depths of the bog however, there is just one tree that is predominant over the majority. The black spruce tree has also adapted to the bogs. They have an appearance of being short young trees, but they are actually quite old. 
     The trees appear to grow in clusters. This is because the tree has special adaptions to the circumstances. As the mosses overtake branches of the tree, the now swallowed branches make roots, so that the tree is constantly clinging to the top. The tree clones itself with these rooted branches, forming genetically identical new trees. This is why there are clusters of these trees in the bog. the oldest trees are found in the center of the clusters.
Tree clusters
      The path slowly becomes more and more forested, and we gradually find ourselves looped back to where we started. As we make our way back to our car, I think about how much I have seen in just my short visit today. It brought forth the youth from within me, excited to experience and eager to learn. I look forward to returning here in the future, to see what the other seasons bring to my attention. 

To learn more about th Orono Bog Boardwalk, please visit:

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Debsconeag Backcountry Loop

Hello and thank you for tuning in! This week, the adventurous spirit within me has brought me to the remote wilderness of the Nahmakanta Unit of the Maine Public Reserved Lands for what proved to be an exciting and inspiring overnight rendezvous with the lands Thoreau once referred to  as "God's Country".
     Driving into the wild lands proved almost as exciting as the rest of the adventure. As I leave the last glimpse of the civilized world in passing the Kokadjo Trading Post, and trade pavement for dirt, my adrenaline begins to rise. The bumpy and winding roads take me a good 25 miles into the heart of the forest, with views of remote lakes and mountains. The occasional bird or rabbit darts out before me. Every so often, I am reduced to crawl speed to navigate a particularly tricky area in which the road has been partially washed away, or a recently downed tree has blocked half the road.
    After almost an hour of navigating windy dirt road by truck, I reach my destination, Fourth Debsconeag Lake. The weather proves beautiful, and Autumn is present in the colored leaves. I strap on my backpack and begin my journey down the Debsconeag Backcountry Loop.
      As I walk the trail, I feel instantly refreshed by the fresh air and solitude. This is where I want to be. The wilderness in any form just tickles my soul in a way that is hard to explain, it is only felt in places like this. There is a fire in me, and when it starts to dwindle, when society and the world has it all but extinguished to just a few glowing embers, I step into the wild, and that fire is stoked and fueled into an inferno.
Hikers in this area are greeted by stunning streams and waterfalls

     I have chosen to bear right at the first fork, to head in the direction of Stink Pond and some of the farthest stretches of this back country. As I walk past Fifth Debsconeag Lake, I realize that this would be a great place to bring a fishing pole. I have not brought my fishing gear. My plans were for some great hiking, wildlife views, and solitude. It now hits me that I will be circling several hidden lakes and ponds, as well as crossing a few nice rivers. In fact, the translations for these places from the language of the Abenaki Tribe is "plenty of fish lake" and "ponds at the high place". I am sure the fishing would be incredible here.
A red squirrel poses at the first fork
     Hiking along the Debsconeag Back Country Trail brings me through deep wooded, primitive trail. A lot of these woods are young, this area having been heavily logged over the years. Occasionally, I pass some evidence of the loggers, like at stream crossings where pins remain in rock, or where a portion of the lake remains dammed with earth. The loggers used to use these dams to flood the streams and lakes to move the timber along down the Penobscot River, eventually arriving at the mills.
     The woods here, I noticed, are very green with mosses. It gives it such a lush appearance. It makes for a striking image at this time of year, with the contrast of the Fall colors. Dark, vivid green of mosses and pine, dotted with leaves of bright red, yellow, and orange. I could paint canvas for years and never quite capture the beauty the natural world has set before my eyes.
One of many stream crossings
     Hiking along side the aptly named Stink Pond, I begin to really notice the wildlife. Various birds hop around the trees above. Many squirrels making it well known they don't like having me around. I also begin to really observe the signs of wildlife. Footprints galore. Many areas of scat, I identify some as being moose and bear droppings, both of which I hope to see. At a safe distance would be preferred! Due to the many crunchy leaves I am walking on, I am probably loud enough that a close encounter is unlikely.
Claw marks on bark
     I begin to ascend to the ridges above Stink Pond, where the forest begins to loosen up a bit. The added sunlight from the openings in the canopy make the Fall colors really pop. It's a bit of a climb, working up a little sweat, but with nice reward. Finally reaching the ledges above, I am met with some nice views of the surrounding area. I spend some time here to catch my breath and marvel in the awesomeness of the mountains before me.
Jo Mary Mountain and Furrar Mountain in the distance
     After passing through another stand of colorful trees, the path opens up to more ledges, and more views. I meandered through the cairns to an overlook that offers me a view of some ponds below. I observe the marshy ponds from my perch, and almost fall over in my excitement as I notice what appears to be movement! Trying not to jump to conclusions, I fumble through my backpack in search of my binoculars.
     Fixing the view on my target, I am happy to say that I was correct, and that I was now watching a female moose, or "cow moose", in her most natural habitat! I watch for some time, as she grazes, and looks around, then returns to the marshy water she stands in. What a sight! I wait for a bull moose to come, which would be inevitable, but I could only wait so long, there's many miles to be covered, and I was more than content with what I have witnessed.
     So I leave the large yet graceful beast to her routine, and I march forward. I dip into a large gap, passing more streams and dense forest. While I see many signs of wildlife having been in the vicinity, I hear nothing. Just the crunch of my own feet. I find it very peaceful.
     Reaching the other side of the gap, I begin to climb again, reaching views this time of the beginnings of a mountain I will be climbing on this trip, Nesuntabunt Mountain. The slopes are lit with Autumn colors.
Nesuntabunt Mountain
     I descend from the hills, making my way past the very remote Seventh Debsconeag Pond, Then the larger but equally remote Sixth Debsconeag. The sun is beginning to drop behind the peaks, and the light begins to fade from the valley. I pick up the pace to ensure I reach my destination before dark.
Nahmakanta Lake
     Reaching the 3.5 mile long Nahmakanta Lake, I seek out and find an area suitable for camp. I start a fire, pitch my tent, then sit by the rocks along the shoreline, and wonder how such a large and inviting lake has managed to avoid being completely surrounded by log cabins and camps. I eat my oatmeal, and stare at my fire for a short time before the darkness surrounds me. Feelings of bliss and loneliness compete for my thought in the solitude of the night. Exhausted, I leave the thoughts outside as I crawl into my tent, and quickly fall asleep to the sounds of waves lapping the shore.

     The next morning arrives suddenly with the realization I had overslept a bit. The cloudiness, paired with being deep in a valley, kept the sky somewhat dark and was the cause of my not waking. I don't mind the clouds, since the forecast had been for rain and currently it was just clouds with no rain.
     Expecting rain at some point, however, inspired me to pack my gear and head out without much haste. leaving the Debsconeag Back Country Trail, I cross a bridge to take the 3/4 mile West Trail.
     The West Trail is a short but exciting trail, quick ups and downs, as I pass huge glacial boulders that teeter on edges, dripping with various shades of green mosses and lichens. Toward the end of this trail is Rainbow Stream, a fast moving, shallow yet wide vein of mountain water. There is no bridge, so I begin to ford the river. It is fairly shallow with a few large rocks to step on, so I leave my boots and socks on and head across. Well, it turns out my waterproof boots aren't so waterproof anymore, as I feel my wool socks sponge and I cringe as the ice cold water hits my skin.
     I come out at a jeep road, and I sit at a bridge to change out my soaked socks for dry ones. Crossing the bridge, I come to the entrance of a section of the Appalachian Trail. I begin down it, heading Southbound.

White blazes mark the Appalachian Trail
     The Appalachian Trail, or AT, holds very much special significance. It runs from Georgia all the way to Maine, running along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains. It amazes me that people had just past through here, hiking on the very dirt I am hiking, who have come more than 2,000 miles to get here. And people before them have done the same, year after year, for decades. I will be attempting this myself in the near future. But for now, I just revel in the privilege to hike just a sliver of this unbelievable and significant corridor of land.
     The AT here runs along Pollywog stream, and begins to climb to the top of Pollywog Gorge, 300 feet wide and walls over 180 feet deep . The thick clouds and fog really dull the visuals a bit. The beautiful colors of yesterday don't quite "pop" as much today, without as much sunlight. It is all so beautiful still, just in a different way. A whole new pallet of impressiveness.
     As I look down into the Pollywog Gorge, I am reminded of that. The forces of water and wind have set forth and shaped this land into a wide variety of amazing landscapes. And here I peer into a fine example of this.
Pollywog Gorge
     The trail loops around Nahmakanta Lake and takes me up to a minor summit (the translation of the mountain is "three heads", in reference to the several peaks) of Nesuntabunt Mountain, an elevation of around 1600 feet. A strenuous climb, it began to drizzle on my ascent. The light rain was welcome, as it cooled me and felt refreshing. Unfortunately, from the summit I could have seen astounding landscape views, including a view of Katahdin, Maine's tallest mountain. Instead there is just walls of gray fog and clouds. I can barely make out the ripples of waves in the huge lake below me, but that's it. So, as the drizzle changes to a hard rain, I begin the long trek off the mountain, along the opposite shore of the long lake, and toward my journey's end.
My view, or lack there of, from the summit
     As I close out my final miles of trail, I am a bit cold, very sore, and drenched in rain. I am thirsty and tired. I look forward to a hot shower, a hot meal, and a warm bed. As the sun sets around me, and the rain picks up, I cross my final stream, and the end is in sight.
     As finished as I am, there is a part of me that never wants to leave. There is that part of me that loves the back country so, that is driven by the curiosity, the beauty, and the challenges. I feel something special out here. A drive. There is so much for me to learn, to see, and to experience.
    At the least, I know I get to come home and relive my journey through word. As I type this, i feel that flame burn warm inside. Many passions of my life come together, and I embrace it.
     And I know, when the burdons of life bring my internal blaze back down to flickering embers, I will return to the wild again.

To learn more about the Debsconeag Back Country area, visit
To learn more about the Abenaki language, you may visit

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Welcome to The Outdoor Wanderer!

Hello and welcome to this new blog, "The Outdoor Wanderer"! My name is Ray, and I will be out adventuring and exploring the natural world, and sharing my experiences on this site. My goal with this is to expand on several of my passions, outdoor activities and writing, to combine them and hopefully take them to new heights. I also hope that this blog will inspire me to spend more time outdoors, and to continually be active.
I will try and update this blog as frequently as possible. Hopefully I will have a new adventure to share every week or two at least, and in between I hope to write articles about gear, skills, news, and maybe just general writings on the topic of the outdoors.
I plan on connecting with you all on a continual basis... whether it be from my kayak, snowshoes, or boots on the top of a mountain.
Thank you for joining me and Happy Trails!

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