Sunday, August 24, 2014


Acadia National Park - nice enough I guess

In 1872, through an act of congress, Yellowstone became the first National Park in the United States, or the world for that matter.  The second was Mackinac Island in Michigan, but after a few years the good people of Michigan asked for that one back, so it was released from federal custody and is now a Michigan State Park, however other locations had been added to the list in the meantime.  Between 1872 and 1919 the National Park Service grew to include Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Crater Lake, Mt. Ranier, Sequoia, Denali in Alaska, Haleakala in Hawaii, Wind Cave in the Black Hills, Rocky Mountain and Glacier National Parks, the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings and Mount Lassen in California.  Thirteen National Parks and they all had one thing in common.  They were all west of the Mississippi River.  Whereas the vast majority of US citizens were not.  And they were getting pretty fed up about it.

At the dawn of the 20th century, getting from New York or Boston to the Yosemite Valley was no simple matter.  Most people could not take a couple of weeks off to cross the country on a pleasure trip. They wanted something a little closer to home.
Bar Harbor from atop Cadillac Mountain
Mount Desert Island had been attracting artists and outdoorsmen since the mid-1800s and had been popularized in the newspapers of the time. This attracted the wealthy, the Rockefellers, Morgans, Fords, Vanderbilts,
Carnegies, and Astors, who came and built "cottages", which were actually luxurious mansions with dozens of rooms where the families could spend vacations in pseudo-rustic surroundings. One of these super-affluent vacationers, George B. Dorr, became obsessed with

Cruise ship at Bar Harbor
preserving the area and managed to get his family and friends to donate parcels of land, eventually acquiring about 6000 acres of Mount Desert Island which was then donated to the federal government so that in 1916 his buddy, Woodrow Wilson, could create the Sieur de Monts National Monument, which he was able to do with nobody's permission by presidential fiat. Creating a national park still required an act of Congress, which was finally arranged in 1919 with the creation of Lafayette National Park. Bit by bit, more acreage was added and the name was changed.

Today Acadia National Park covers more than 47,000 acres and is the second most visited park in the system, but I think this is primarily due to its proximity to

Frenchman Bay
the large population centers, not its extraordinary beauty.  I mean, it's lovely enough, but no more so than much of the rest of New England we have driven through in the past few weeks.  There are forests, lakes and coastline but that's just generally true of of Maine.  There is no iconic landmark or vista you could look at and say "Oh yeah - that's Acadia".  No Half Dome or Old Faithful.  This ain't no Grand Canyon.

The closest thing they have is Cadillac Mountain, which is never mentioned without adding that it is "the highest Mountain on the East Coast." I suppose that's true if you narrowly define "East Coast" as extending only a couple of miles from the Atlantic Ocean. But this "mountain" is only 1550 feet above sea level (give or take 10 feet depending on the tide). That's barely a foothill. Our home in Redlands was higher than that and we were considered flatlanders.

Sand Beach with piles of rotting seaweed
The coast is mostly granite rocks and covered with tourists.  It is nice to look at but not safe for entering or exiting the water.  There is one sand beach, conveniently labeled as "Sand Beach".  It is fairly popular but when we were there it was covered with decaying sea weed which significantly stunk up the place.  And we didn't see anyone swimming, the water at this latitude being in the mid-fifties.

Mighty Cadillac Mountain from the far side of the harbor
Because it is the only national park within a day's drive of most of the eastern cities, the locals flock to Acadia like maggots, filling every parking space and bus seat.  We wanted to take one of the famous carriage rides but they were booked for 4-5 days in advance and we ran out of time.  We did get a reservation for tea at the Jordan Pond House, but when we arrived there were no parking spaces within a mile of the place.  After cruising around the 2 parking lots for 40 minutes we finally gave up.  The park recommends you park at the visitor center and use the bus system but the buses only run every 30 min and they also fill up, leaving people stranded at the bus stop.

In fairness, there are obviously summer crowd problems at other parks but at someplace like Zion or Yellowstone we think the scenic payoff is better.  Our initial impression of Acadia is that it could be nice but in the current reality it is not worth the aggravation.

Oh, and as long as I am griping...

We drove to Ellsworth, the nearest town of any size, to see Guardians of the Galaxy.  It was a fun movie and deserves all the good press it has gotten.  But the theater in Ellsworth was a disaster.  It is set up in what appears to be previously unrented store space in a modest strip mall.  The screen was really too small for the room, not filling enough of the viewer's visual field to give a real theater experience.  In spite of that, they kept the projector under powered (which exhibitors do to try and lengthen the life of the projector bulb) so the picture was dim and murky.  Worst of all, it seemed like they were playing the 7 channel surround sound on only 2 channels, so the actors would fade in and out depending on where the character was standing in the shot.  We missed a good portion of the dialog.  I guess being located just outside a National Park, they figure they don't have to rely on repeat business.  Had we known, we would have driven the extra 20 miles to Bangor.

Last winter we spent three months working on the Navajo reservation in Arizona.  After a few months to sort through her feelings about it, Vicki has written up her impressions of the experience which we will be including in segments over the next few posts

We Be City Folks:  Working in Chinle
By Vicki Rains

Our vacant lot in Chinle
We spent 3 months, from mid-February to mid-May working in Chinle, Arizona at the Indian Health Center on the Navajo reservation.  For those of you who understand what workamping is, did the doctor form called Locum Tenens.  Because there is a doctor shortage, there are many companies out there trying to place doctors short term in places it is difficult to find doctors to commit to long term.  Yes, we are two of many doctors that retired early because we just couldn’t stand it anymore.  Placing medical personnel in temp positions has become big business.  Most of you have heard of traveling nurses.  Well they also place pharmacists, pharmacy techs, lab techs, etc.  When we visited the CompHealth facility near Salt Lake, it was very clear how successful the business is.  The building they were housed in was big, lovely, with a gorgeous view and they were going to be moving to a larger “campus” soon.

Just outside the motorhome door
So what does our title have to do with working in Chinle?  Well, Chinle and the Navajo reservation are really rural and there were some unexpected experiences that looking back are quite amusing, but at the time were a bit unsettling. Like the time when I was about to take the dogs out and looked out the window to find horses grazing 5 feet from the door.  Ziva, our 12 pound schnoodle, is an alpha female and she thinks she is tough.  She barks at any sized animal when she is on the leash, without regards to the consequences.  What would the horses do?  Fortunately due to the drought there wasn’t much to graze on in the gravel yard so the horses moved on quickly.

The neighbors
Then there was the time that I looked out and saw cattle grazing in the yard.  Now, I’ve been around horses before, though not ones that roamed freely, unbridled.  But I haven’t been close to cows and calves, except to look at them from a distance.  I needed to take the dogs out.  So what was I to do?  Again, there was little to graze on so they moved on.  Those of you who are not city folk are probably wondering what the problem is with having cattle and horses graze in your yard.  The answer is in the picture.

Benefits of free wandering livestock
Ah, the stray and feral dogs.  When we first arrived I was afraid of them, thinking they were all feral.  When I took my dogs out walking they stayed at least 50 feet away and just monitored us, despite the fact that Ziva barked at them when they came near.  Eventually we came to learn that 2 of the dogs were owned by someone just down the road.  One of those 2 dogs was a sheep herding dog and was the obvious leader of the dog pack.

Not a feral dog but a reasonable facsimile
I had to drive back to California just before Easter because it appeared that my dad was actively dying.  (He didn’t die then because his daughter came back, 2 of his 3 grandchildren visited and he was fed an ice cream diet, his favorite food, because he couldn’t swallow.)  Just before I came back to the reservation, Roger awoke one morning to find one of the young stray dogs was lying on our door mat with a gash in its forehead.  Roger had heard a ruckus between the horses and dogs the night before so he figured that a horse had kicked this poor canine.  He felt sorry for the pooch and didn’t think he was long for this world so he gave the dog what remained of the schnoodles dog food.  From that time on that dog (which did not die after all) adopted us.  Shortly thereafter when I returned to Chinle the dog was essentially living on our door mat and I was frightened when I had to take the dogs out.  However, that dog and the sheep herding dog accompanied us from then on during all of our dog walks and now their distance was only about 10 feet.  I think we were being herded.  They even allowed me to pet them.  Yes, I became fond of them and enjoyed our dog walking ritual.  Unfortunately, the hospital’s head of housing came by and asked Roger if the stray dogs were ours.  When he said, “No,” we think she called animal control because they disappeared the next day and we never saw them again.

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