Up the Coast of Maine

As I’ve mentioned before, Maine is a neighboring state I’ve spent very little time in. Short of a family vacation to Ogunquit circa elementary school, and a very brief stop in Portland a few years back in which more time was spent in traffic than in the city, I haven’t experienced Vacationland much at all. 

After completing an all-time favorite branding project for The Belmont Inn last winter, and further enticed by a Lord Huron concert happening in Portland, Jake and I decided to plan a July long weekend. We’d catch the concert first, head to The Belmont Inn, and round out the stay with some hiking up in Acadia and add another National Park notch to our belts. 

So last Friday, on the dawn of a heat wave, we headed North. We largely avoided the apocalyptic traffic of my memories and arrived in Portland just after lunchtime. It was hot there too. We strolled along the docks, up and down the hilly streets, and in and out of quirky shops. I lusted after summer hats and bags in Peyote Moon, and marveled at the branding (and bread) at Standard Baking Co. We noted many delicious-looking restaurants along they way; in case you hadn’t heard, Portland has good food. 

But we had reservations set at Little Giant over in the West End, which had come highly recommended by my girl Ariel. We were so glad that the restaurant brought us out of downtown, and into a quieter, more residential neighborhood that had all kinds of Maine charm. The restaurant itself was set just perfectly on a corner, door wide open and framed by cottage roses. Inside was minimal and classy, with the prettiest gilded cocktails to match. We ordered buttered radishes on thick toast, a citrusy farro salad, a dreamy green goddess salad, and salmon. Each plate was a gem.

A695C984-6FF8-4CB8-8BE0-51426B471BC9.JPG

We headed to the Lord Huron concert over at Thompson’s Point afterwards, and the atmospheric songs seemed just perfectly set to the glowy sunset over the coast. 

After that was a sleepy drive to Camden, with one stop to pick up a toothbrush (my bad). We arrived at The Belmont Inn later than is typically courteous, but the lovely innkeeper, my Godmother Kim, waited up for us. It was so wonderful to see her. 

649D26E4-1AB8-4975-83D8-450BC8A09A82.JPG
THE BELMONT INN MAINE.JPG

Biased or no, The Belmont Inn is hands down the nicest bed and breakfast I have ever stayed at. Jake agreed. Tastefully styled, impeccably clean, delicious breakfast, complementary blondie treats, bursting gardens…I could go on and on. I was so proud that my branding represented such an excellent establishment; Kim had really made this place shine. We would have happily stayed three more nights. 

The Belmont Inn Business Card.JPG

But Acadia called! First, we spent Saturday morning around Camden, admiring the Schooners setting sail, poking around the local farmers market, and driving the top of Mount Battie to take in the harbor town from above. Camden is just adorable. 

EAFA0FFB-0A6E-4944-BE7A-ED76B00D1203.JPG

Heading up Route 1, we stopped in Belfast for lunch, another cute costal town. We wandered into Chase’s Daily, which was part farm market part restaurant, and marveled over the crates of fresh summer veg. I had a delicious cold cucumber dill soup, which was particularly refreshing in the sweltering heat. Maine was definitely not spared of the heat wave. 

Chase's Daily Belfast Maine.JPG

Back in the car, we continued to wind our way North, lobster shack after lobster shack guiding our path. Arriving in Bar Harbor a few hours later, we checked into The Primrose Inn. This was also a lovely accommodation, but we had definitely been spoiled by The Belmont. 

The Primrose Inn Bar Harbor Maine.JPG

Kim had given us a hot tip on the way out the door to eat dinner on the terrace at The Bar Harbor Inn. National Parks are amazing, but one typical symptom of these tourist inundated spots is that food options leave something to be desired. We took her word for it and found a great seat overlooking the bay, and were not disappointed. I enjoyed fresh fish tacos and Jake indulged in a lobster roll, and toasted blueberry sangrias as we watched every sort of sea vessel come in and out.

The Bar Harbor Inn.JPG

After dinner, we took a walk on a “sometimes” path out to Bar Island. It’s a sand bar that only reveals itself at low tide, providing pedestrian access to the nearby island. Don’t get stranded though! We turned over rocks to hunt for crabs which was a good feeling I’d forgotten about. 

611EBD31-8130-4B56-88F4-4EC7AED9968D.JPG
0C0DEB92-93ED-46B2-9C45-EA4A655EF36A.JPG

The next day was just as hot, and although we were ready to start exploring Acadia, we nixed some harder hikes we had planned and decided it would be best to go easy. So we set off on the Jordan Pond Loop, an easy going three mile trail around the idyllic Jordan Pond. The views of The Bubbles (majestic butt-shaped mountains) were gorgeous, and most of the trail was shaded and pleasant. The only frustration is that swimming isn’t allowed at Jordan Pond, and it is borderline torture to hike around the crystal clear waters for hours on a 95 degree day. It was all too tempting. 

19980C0C-F277-42F1-8A0E-E1946436D4BB.JPG
25B6F18E-4B83-4DF9-84E9-C6543C9A6F2E.JPG

Completing the loop, we arrived at the Jordan Pond House, one of the top-rated restaurants of any National Park in the country (I’ll say it again, this isn’t exactly a competitive category). They are famous for their popovers, of all things. We ordered up two popovers with a side of blueberry jam and a pair of blueberry lemonades, and they totally lived up to the buttery hype. The Jordan Pond popovers are not to be missed.

0CD30F04-6D8C-4817-8640-5A5243795E50.JPG
Jordan Pound House Acadia.JPG

But we were still very, very sweaty. It was kind of them to serve us, actually. If we couldn’t swim in the Jordan, we were going to need to find another water source. We scoped out Lakewood Pond, and took a quick dip before a little thunderstorm rolled in. It brought to mind that E.B. White essay

Lakewood Pond Acadia.JPG

After a good shower, we went to dinner at Project Social Kitchen & Bar. We had prime seats on a little front porch and enjoyed a spread of small plates. The crab cakes were some of the tastiest I’ve had. We took another stroll around Bar Harbor afterwards and finished up the evening at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream, which offered genuinely creative flavors. Jake’s Cardamom Cinnamon was the winner.

We went to bed way early because our alarm was set for 2:00 a.m. That’s the time you gotta wake up if you want to hike to sunrise on Cadillac Mountain! We managed the early wake up call, which involved me blow drying my sports bra still wet from the pond swim (ew) and drove to the dark, dark North Ridge trailhead. 

6A5A0663-F6C2-4C46-B88E-321E65B2A4C2.JPG

This was my first night hike and I wasn’t as spooked as I thought I might be. The headlamp gives you a sort of tunnel vision and I just followed Jake right on up to the top. It took us about two hours, and after seeing just two other happy hikers out on the trail, it’s a little strange when you arrive at the summit and suddenly find 200 friends. They all drove to the top and were awaiting the sunrise in the their PJs. I felt accomplished snacking on my granola bar, anyhow. 

4A5C93C2-1499-4862-BC32-E367A522A835.JPG
109096FD-16B6-4F94-A2D1-9E2DB2FECD61.JPG

The sunrise was completely worth it - absolutely breathtaking. We watched the red, glowing ball hover above the water and all of its little islands, casting beams of color every which way. It was special. 

83511B90-A8BE-4446-BD7F-9C3EC6ACE622.JPG

We descended the Gorge Path, which was just beautiful and lined with wild blueberries. Did you know blueberries are the only thing you can take out of the park? Up to two quarts! We were at the bottom by 6:30 a.m. and had only one thing on our minds: blueberry pancakes. 

E5825FDB-1BA1-4C0E-ACF3-BB48F7BC4455.JPG

Our needs were met at Cafe This Way, which served up two larger-than-your-face blueberry pancakes each complete with the crispy, raggedy edges. So so so so good. 10/10. Better than I could have hoped for. 

D6107C35-22C6-4D9D-B577-682E2A1E18B3.JPG

We napped after that. 

And woke up for a carriage tour of the park! I was so excited about this. Acadia offers horse-drawn tours along the famous carriage roads designed by John D. Rockefeller Jr. Wildwood Stables is home to about 30 draft horses of all breeds that pull the carriages. This is a must-do in Acadia; all of the best views are from the carriage roads - it’s designed that way. And, we learned so much about the history behind the park along the way. Most importantly, I got to love on the drafties. 

IMG_1333.JPG

After a little more exploring and a visit to the picturesque Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse (and a cute seal sighting!)  we turned in early, still beat from the high energy morning. The next day we began the journey home - Jeeze, when did we get so far North? 

Our lunch stop en route home was by far the most highly anticipated food event of our trip. I’ve had a brand crush on Rose Foods of Portland LONG TIME, and wanted to try their bagels, too.

F8A579F8-EBD4-4FD7-9966-4D69EEA0DC2A.JPG

Everything about this place. Is perfect. The unassuming brick storefront, the takeout menu, the little apple juices, the fucking tote bag. I fan-girled out (I wasn’t the only one, this is a destination) and then the bagel sandwich about put me over the edge. Art. I got The Good Deal, Jake got the Classic Nova. I wish I could go there right now and eat it all over again. 

FEEBC8E9-6486-4568-AFDF-ED8DE2733F02.JPG

But instead, I’ve got a pink souvenir mug that is keeping me inspired for a restaurant branding project of my own I’ve got going on. Maine as a whole totally inspired me; it’s always refreshing to get out of your backyard. Glad I finally got up there, and can’t wait to return. 

Southwest Road Trip

Back in January, I learned I'd need to go out to Arizona for the full-time job and my wheels immediately started spinning. "Southwest road trip in March???" I texted Jake with a cactus emoji. He didn't hesitate, putting together three possible itineraries nearly overnight that would take us through the desert, down canyons, over mountains, and more.

Well, over the last week we put 1200 miles and a thick coat of orange dust on a rented Toyota doing just that. Starting in Scottsdale, we traveled North up Arizona to Sedona, Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, and Monument Valley, then over into Utah to see Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. 

Sedona

After Jake met me in Scottsdale, southwest sushi take-out in hand, we hit the saguaro-lined road headed North in search of red rocks. They showed up in the distance after about two hours, amidst cooler temperatures and passing rain showers. It’s a dramatic entrance into Sedona, buttes rising all around, their glowing red sediment beckoning you into Northern Arizona.  

We stayed at The Orchards Inn, which was my favorite stay of the trip – it may have been too nice, we were totally spoiled on the first night. A cozy corner fireplace, king bed with seven (!) fluffy pillows, and a back deck with just about the best view in town made us want to stay the rest of the week.

IMG_8930.jpg

The hiking in Sedona is so very pleasant. Jake’s itinerary included PLENTY of hiking to no one’s surprise, and Sedona’s perfectly maintained, scenic trails were just the way to warm my wimpy winter legs up. We explored the Baldwin Loop the first day, an easy two mile trek around Cathedral Rock that leads to a perfect little swimming hole, and then the Mystic Trail, Hogwash Trail and Broken Arrow Trail on day two, which totaled to six miles over and around the red rocks. The views are incredible, so there were plenty of stops to take it all in and snap photos (I brought my twin lens reflex). Even at the end when we emerged at the Chapel of the Holy Cross, I felt like I could have gone further.

But we didn’t, and instead I got a double order of avocado toast and scrambled eggs at Pump House Station, to Jake’s amusement when they brought two separate place settings all for me. I cleaned it up.

Sedona is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and the mystic vibes, vortex-seekers, UFO tours, and kitschy crystal shops only add to it. I could hardly believe it was only the beginning of our trip, and it was tough to leave such a desert haven.  

Flagstaff

We climbed the mountains along the Oak Creek Canyon, spiraling up towards Flagstaff. Towering evergreens begin to line the landscape, snow-capped Mount Humphrey looms into view, and you begin to wonder if you’re in the same state. Arizona is incredibly diverse, a range of elevations bringing on wildly different climates that make for a packing challenge (so many layers). We were shivering when we got out of the car at The Weatherford Hotel.

This historic hotel had that old New England creepiness that I feel at home in; no doubt that place was riddled with ghosts. Our room was charming. The bathroom was a Wes Anderson moment, offering an emerald claw foot tub complete with a hand-held shower head. Not our first choice after a long day of hiking, but it was awfully cute and did the job.  

The real destination in Flagstaff was Pizzicletta, an infamous local pizza joint. I’d been once before last summer, on another work trip, and had talked it up to Jake ever since. The tiny establishment serves up beautiful wood-fired pies, and we enjoyed arugula-laden slices at a long family-style table, dough flying around behind us. We talked late into the night and watched locals filter in and out.

Grand Canyon

After an early breakfast at Tourist Home Café, where we loaded up on eggs, root veggies, and more avocado toast anticipating the hike ahead (and the lack of decent restaurants to come), we hit the road toward the Grand Canyon. The South Rim is only about an hour and a half away.

We started at the East end, at the Desert Watch Tower. You’ve never seen something so big in your life as the first time you lay eyes on the Grand Canyon in all its glory. Tourist-ridden though it may be, that big hole in the earth is worth seeing again and again and again.

We made stops along the rim, and ventured down into the canyon at the South Kaibab Trail. It’s a very popular hiking spot, and for that reason, a bit intimidating; heading down the initial switchback you witness some people in way over their heads coming back up the steep trail, red in the face, huffing and puffing. The further down we wandered, the better the view got, but the more nervous I became about climbing back up as glassy eyed tourists trudged on by.

IMG_8980.jpg

We ventured just a mile in to Ooh Aah Point, which certainly lives up to its name. To my delight a caravan of beautiful mules clopped by, surefooted along the steep trail. My fellow bipedal tourists were not so thrilled; farm girl though I am, I have to say the inevitable manure is POTENT and in high concentration, adding quite a bit of funk to the hike. One guy couldn’t handle it, gagging his way down the trail. We chuckled.

The hike back up was not as bad as it looked, and I felt good emerging to the endless view once again. Although, I personally can’t imagine hiking down to the Colorado river and back up. Maybe someday, but not today!

We hit the Visitor Center gift shop on the way out, investing in an irresistible Grand Canyon edition Pendleton blanket. This in turn made us members of the Grand Canyon Association, for which we also received a stuffed bighorn sheep we named Rammy.

Rammy on the dashboard, it was back in the car, another two hours to go until Monument Valley. We covered a lot of ground that day. 

Monument Valley

A key decision we made was to stop at the Whole Foods in Flagstaff, and stock up on snacks and peanut butter sandwich supplies. Food gets pretty scarce at this point in the journey, and there really isn't even much at Grand Canyon - it's all sort of bland looking and overpriced. Monument Valley, in all its awe and beauty, is not exactly a place to go eat. Bring your own supplies. 

It was a race against sunset; we sped down the endless, lonely highway to catch those glowing buttes as the sun creeped nearer the horizon line. We arrived at The View Hotel just in time, photographers making a nightly pilgrimage to capture the three iconic mittens entering twilight. We burned rubber, Jake practically exiting the moving vehicle in a tuck-and-roll, clutching his DSLR. So worth it though. This was possibly the most beautiful, picture perfect sunset I have ever seen. 

IMG_9030.jpg

The hotel itself was great, living up to it's name 100%. Waking up to those three mittens peeking outside the sliding glass door was just surreal.

Riding in Monument Valley was the highlight of the trip for me. We took a rental-smashing drive down the treacherous Valley Drive Road to find Dineh Trail Rides, where we met up with our Navajo guide Jerome and the three mustangs that would carry us through the reservation. 

Seeing the valley through the ears of my mount, Geronimo, was one of the best experiences of my life. We trotted across the desert, Jerome pointing out the passing buttes named for their curious shapes, and the settlements of Navajo families, illustrating the history of his people's connection with the land they were placed on. "They sent us here to die," he explained. "But we are resilient. We survived, we're still here today, and we have embraced the land we live on and our way of life."

Patting our horses in gratitude for an unforgettable ride, and thanking Jerome who bid us "hágoónee", we loaded back into the dusty rental, destined for Bryce Canyon. We made a quick stop in Page for excellent Mexican food and a quick view of the Instagram-favorite Horseshoe Bend. We made it to Bryce Canyon just before nightfall, exhausted as we tucked into a sort of weird spaghetti dinner at a cowboy buffet.

Bryce Canyon National Park

The next morning we awoke early thrown back into winter; a light snow had fallen and the thinner air was a chilly 30 degrees. Jake scraped ice off the Toyota's windshield and we headed towards the canyon.

If you want to get an idea of what it's like to live on Mars, Bryce Canyon National Park is the place to go. And what a treat to have it frosted with a little snow! The orange hoodoos rising from the steep cliffs, dotted with Ponderosa pines offers a gorgeous pallet that I wanted to live inside. 

IMG_9136.jpg

We hiked down from Sunrise point and over to the Queen's Garden Trail. There were so many fun nooks and crannies to explore. Lots of little doors are chiseled out of the rocks and natural windows frame picture perfect views. It was dreamlike and romantic - and sort of a difficult hike back up! Wrapped up in all the surreal beauty, you don't realize how far down you've gone.

But we made it up just in time. We watched a little blizzard sweep over the canyon, and fade the orange landscape into creamy white. We made it to the car just as the view was completely erased by falling snow.

Zion National Park

Our final destination was Zion National Park, not too far from Bryce. The drive into the park along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is sublime, the road curving around towering sandstone cliffs, sending you through a mile long tunnel carved into the center of a mountain and spilling you down an impressive switchback, into the little town of Springdale. You expect a T-Rex to come around the corner at any moment. 

We had (Jake had) hoped to attempt The Narrows, a gorge hike down the Virgin River. I was feeling very nervous about this one, water levels high as snow melt trickles in this time of year and cold currents making for numb toes. And it's not an easy hike to boot. Jake had faith in me though, and I nervously tried on neoprene socks and a dry suit in preparation for the next day.

To Jake's disappointment and my relief, the river flash flooded overnight after a downpour, and the trail was closed to hikers. I promised Jake we'd come back in warmer temperatures and a gentler current. Instead, we decided to take on the Hidden Canyon Trail; if we couldn't see the park from the bottom, might as well climb to the top.

IMG_9232.jpg

The most difficult hike of our trip, the initial switchback going up Hidden Canyon isn't much fun, but things get easier even as they look more scary. You become very exposed as the narrow path cuts into the side of the steep canyon, grab-chains offering a little comfort for your left hand. The views are sweeping though, and you forget to be scared. The hanging canyon that the path leads you to is serene and fun to explore, and we sat down to snack on a granola bar. 

We did two more little hikes after this, The Canyon Overlook Trail and Emerald Pools Trail which both offered easy access to incredible vistas (and waterfalls!). It was a full day and we saw the park from all sorts of interesting angles. At the end of the day, we just hopped on one of the shuttle buses to do a full loop around the park, sleepily taking it all in one last time.

We had an indulgent celebration dinner at Zion Pizza & Noodle Co., where we ordered both pizza AND noodles, and enjoyed it on the deck as sunset illuminated the mountains. It was the perfect ending, and we went to bed early in preparation for the journey home. 

I can't recommend doing this trip yourself enough - it was such a refreshing perspective on our country, offering all sorts of adventure. I'm most happy to be home, New England spring within reach, but I'll always be ready to grab my cowgirl hat and head back out West.

Finger Lakes Road Trip

The Finger Lakes are a place I lament to admit I didn’t fully appreciate when I was in school out there; I feel like I was always counting the days until I was back in Massachusetts. Now I miss the rolling wine country terribly, and always look forward to my annual pilgrimage back to Western New York. And this year Jake came with me!

Our first stop was the little town of Skaneateles, which sits perched on its clear, crystal blue lake. It was lunchtime so we stopped into Skaneateles Bakery, where we split a turkey sandwich on homemade bread and an almond cookie (in anticipation of a huge dinner). We poked around the village, stopping in an antique shop or two and then got back on our way towards Geneva. 

IMG_0134.JPG
IMG_0135.JPG

Geneva is striking when you first drive along Route 14 and see Seneca Lake in all its glory; especially this time of year as the leaves turn. Colorful row houses lead the way to Hobart and William Smith Colleges, where I spent my collegiate days. I pointed out the places I used to live to Jake, and took him down to the boathouse where the lake was still as I’d ever seen it. 

IMG_0137.JPG
IMG_0142.JPG

We met Western New York friends Katie and Aaron at one of my all-time favorite restaurants, Ports Cafe, and indulged in an autumnal feast. You always start with a baked brie at Ports, which was garnished with cherries and walnuts on this particular evening, and then I enjoyed a perfect piece of halibut with butternut squash risotto. We were too full leaving the restaurant, especially after the chocolate banana tort finale, but went on to our favorite wine bar, Microclimate, anyhow.

I’m not a wine drinker anymore, but I was so happy to be back in that cozy, rustic little bar on Linden Street. I helped Jake (sort of) with his flight of Finger Lake reds, and we laughed late into the evening.

IMG_0140.JPG

The next morning the four of us had a very trendy brunch at the new H.J. Stead Company, also on Linden, which served an impressive cast iron tostada. We took one last stroll around campus and said goodbye to Katie and Aaron, and were ready to head South along the lake to Watkins Glen, and then on to Ithaca. 

I visited Watkins Glen once previously as part of a geology class, and it was even better than I remember. The carved passageways and cool, wet air as you descend into the gorge seem so exotic, and waterfall after waterfall complemented by stone bridges, mossy sediment, and cavernous twists and turns makes you question if you’re even in New York anymore. 

IMG_0146.JPG
IMG_0147.JPG

Jake took a quick shower in the glittering Rainbow Falls.

IMG_9882.JPG

The only drawback to Watkins Glen is that it's a major tourist attraction and packed with tour buses; and we were there during peak traffic on Saturday afternoon. Much better to go during an off-time in the middle of the week. 

We headed a little further South and arrived in Ithaca. It’s really such a unique place; you may have heard, it’s gorges. We stayed in the lovely Hotel Ithaca which was recently redone, scoring a fabulous corner room with a fall panorama of the city below, Cayuga Lake looming in the background. We met up with my brother, Drew, who goes to Ithaca College. He had a whole list of “secret spots” for us to visit.

First, he took us to a sunset spot just behind a bunch of creepy Cornell frats, reeking of circumstance, pomp, and cheap beer. We climbed down a wall of shale and passed through a spooky tunnel that must just be a hub of debauchery after dark. I was grateful that I couldn’t see the ground I was walking on. 

IMG_0149.JPG

But we emerged within a gorge at the crest of a towering waterfall overlooking the luminous sunset, a second waterfall just behind us. It was a perfect introduction to Ithaca. 

IMG_0150.JPG

More waterfalls were abound Sunday punctuated by a rugby game in which Ithaca College was victorious partly thanks to a try (score) by Drew. First we went to Six Mile Creek per Drew’s recommendation, which is made up of two major dams set amidst an old abandoned watermill; It’s a little chilling. There are plenty of cliff jumping opportunities into the emerald water, and we watched some college kids plunge into a deep spot just below the mill. 

IMG_0155.JPG
IMG_0158.JPG

Drew’s third recommendation was our favorite, and probably one of the most impressive waterfalls I’ve ever been to. Lucifer Falls is deep within Robert H. Treman State Park; we had a little trouble finding the trail but I think our own lack of research was to blame. Once we were headed in the right direction, we were in disbelief of this gorge and the lead up to the falls; it truly felt like you were walking along the paths of some ancient civilization, forgotten by time and reclaimed by nature. 

IMG_0165.JPG

The falls themselves were incredible, and light enough this time of year that we could take off our shoes and wade right up to the base, letting the cool mist hit our faces. The climb back up the rim trail was a serious glute workout; LOTS of stairs, but worth it for the view.

IMG_0168.JPG

Monday morning was rainy and grey, good weather for heading home. But not without a stop at Collegetown Bagels, where we had our favorite meal:

IMG_0169.JPG

We took the road-less-traveled back East through the Catskills, making quick stops in Phoenicia (had to check out the Mystery Spot, and that diner with the killer branding), Kingston, and then familiar Great Barrington once we’d crossed the state line. 

IMG_0170.JPG

The Finger Lakes are perhaps New York’s best kept secret, and I can’t wait for the next journey west.