Spruce Head, Maine

Today is Independence Day, a holiday here in the U.S., and I decided to take the week off to do a little camping, a little hiking, a little travel, and a lot of photography. One of Brenda Petrella’s podcasts from her Outdoor Photography School inspired me to return to Acadia National Park – which I had last visited nearly thirty years ago. So I booked a hotel there in Bar Harbor, Maine, but wanted to break up the drive by camping along the way. Needless to say, finding an available campsite on Sunday of a three-day summer holiday weekend was nigh impossible, at the last minute, but a Google search led me to a few options along the coastal portion of my drive from home to Acadia. I found a spot – and a whole lot more. Read on.

The Lobster Buoy Campsite is truly old-school. Unlike the slick websites used by other commercial campsites (some of which promise “glamping” opportunities), or even the very usable websites by the national and state parks, for this remote campground you need to call ahead. Yes, the woman with the gravelly voice said, there was a spot left! No payment needed now – no credit cards accepted anyway – just show up by 2pm or lose your spot.

So yesterday morning I packed the Tesla and headed out on its recommended route, up the familiar roads toward Mount Moosilauke and then through Holderness and the Lakes District of New Hampshire. I stopped briefly to supercharge at a Dunkin’ Donuts, where a biker gang had pulled in moments earlier. (New Hampshire is very popular among bikers: no helmets required. Live Free and Die!) I was watching my Tesla’s battery level and ETA to destination carefully – I didn’t want to be late, nor did I want to arrive at a remote campsite with low battery.

Refreshed, I crossed into Maine and soon reached the coast near Portland. Heading up Route 1, the coastal highway that runs from Florida to Maine, I soon found myself in Freeport, the home of L.L. Bean and the site of its massive flagship store. It has a Tesla Supercharger, a small cafe, a giant boot, and a restroom. Perfect stopover!

After passing through the lovely two-block downtown area of South Thomaston, with signs marking the July 4th parade route, I followed the small side road to the even smaller back roads. At 1:54pm, with six minutes to spare, I walked into the office of the Lobster Buoy Campsite. The elderly woman behind the desk had a deeply lined face and a gravelly smokers’ voice, reflecting her dozens of summers (and winters) on the coast of Maine.

The proprietor of Lobster Buoy Campsites – and daughter of its founders – surveys the grounds on July 4th.

This small campground is right on the beach, with a few dozen grassy spots filled by a mix of RVs and tents. Many of the RVs seem to have been here for years – propped up on cinder blocks and surrounded by a permanent front porch and gardens.

Many of the other seasonal campers, I’m told, are fourth-generation families who have been coming here ever since Fred and Mabel opened this campground in 1969. I must say, the picnic tables and other furnishings seem to date from that era, but it is this simplicity people seem to appreciate. Most of this weekend’s residents appear to be retired couples or multi-generational families spanning toddlers to pensioners.

The beach is classic Maine – ragged rocks, seaweed, polished stones, and a bit of sand in between. The water is clear and swimmable, though very cold – far colder than the Connecticut River at home, and nearly as bracing as the Baker River on Mount Moosilauke.

After a swim and a bit of photography, it was mid-afternoon and I’d run out of things to do. The lady at the front desk recommended McLoon’s Lobster Shack, a few miles away on the tip Spruce Head Island. I drove there, past a mix of farmland and vacation homes and across the causeway, arriving in late afternoon. Set on the shore of a harbor, steps away from the docks where lobster boats offload their days’ catch, it lived up to its reputation. I stepped up to the window of the small shack, placed my order, and settled in to a chair near the water. The weather was perfect and the place was busy, with happy families seated at the many picnic tables.

Soon one of the teenaged staff came scurrying past the tables to a nearby dock, and winched a crate up from the waters below. He selected a few lobsters from the crate, placed them in a bucket, lowered the crate back to the water, and trotted back inside to introduce my dinner to the steamer.

I’m not a big lobster fan, but there’s hardly anything better than dining on a lobster fresh out of the sea, sitting on the shore in the afternoon sunshine watching the lobster buoys bobbing in the harbor.

Ok, maybe there is something even better. I drove back to the campsite, plugged in my Tesla – yay, a site with electric hookups! – grabbed my camera, and walked back down the road the way I’d come. Within a quarter mile I’d reached Waterman’s Beach Brewery. The sun was warm, the air was fresh, the breeze was mild, and the parking lot was packed. In one area, a group of locals had gathered for (so the signs read) the Sunday Supper Potluck, sharing food and enjoying fine beers. From the snatches of conversation I gathered this place was popular with locals, seasonals, and out-of-towners like myself. The vibe was mellow and cheerful. They don’t serve food – bring anything you like, the man said, as long as it’s not outside beer – and the cheerful signs encouraged conversation but disallowed any discussion of politics ;-).

I tried a flight of Lager, two Ales, and a Stout – enjoying the latter enough for another pint and a “howler” to take home. (Ahem, this is why I walked, rather than driving.) I asked the bartender about the rules for walking on the beach, as all of the oceanfront here is private land. He noted that, in Maine, all the land below the high-tide line is open to the public. The tide was low and going out, so I stepped down to the beach and rock-hopped my way back to the campground, just around a point of land.

With still an hour to go before sunset, I set up camp – inside my Tesla. I’ll write separately about that experiment! The mosquitos were out, and getting fierce, so I went back to the beach to see what the sunset might bring. With a just a few wispy clouds, it wasn’t a grand sunset, but pleasant enough. As I returned, someone across the street was setting off some pretty big aerial fireworks. A fine end to the day!

This morning I was out at 5am for the sunrise, and then, later, for breakfast and blogging on this beach-side picnic table. The day is sunny, mild, with a slight breeze. A great start to the day!

Lobster Buoy Campsites are located on the coast of Maine, just a few miles off Route 1 in the town of South Thomaston.

No photo gallery yet – I still have to process photos and then find a better Internet connection to upload them.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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