Playa Guiones, Costa Rica

Surfers, Birds, & Turtles

Renowned for its steady waves and smooth beaches, Playa Guiones, on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, has become a destination for surfers, yoga enthusiasts, and others in search of a tropical getaway.

Location

It’s a bit remarkable that so many people flock to the area’s beaches through the nearby town of Nosara. It’s not exactly easy to get to.

Nosara is a 6-hour bus ride from Costa Rica’s capital, San José. The final quarter of the journey is on narrow, dusty, and rutted dirt roads. But the dry tropical air, network of walking trails, and easily accessible beaches have made this area a hotspot nonetheless.

A Beach of Birds

Sandpipers at Sunset
Sandpipers forage on Playa Guiones as the sun sets.
Continue reading “Playa Guiones, Costa Rica”

Barnard Mountain – Trail Review

Maine’s Katahdin Woods &  Waters National Monument is one of the most recent additions to the National Park System. President Obama designated the monument by executive order on August 24, 2016. But the story begins long before that. As early as 2001, Burt’s Bees’ cofounder, Roxanne Quimby, began purchasing logging land with the intention of creating a national park. Despite years of planning leading up to the 2016 designation, the monument still faces backlash today.

I won’t dive into the complex politics of the monument, which lies just east of Baxter State Park in north central Maine, but to give you a sense:

  • Many people in Sherman, the town nearest the monument entrance, still have “National Park NO!” signs in their front yards
  • The logging company that manages timberland adjacent to the monument, Prentiss & Carlisle, mark their roads and bridges with large yellow signs :”This bridge owner says ‘National Park NO!’
  • More recently, Maine’s governor attempted to block the installation of road signs directing visitors to the new area managed by the National Park Service until a few weeks ago

Mount Katahdin
The monument provides a few great views of Mount Katahdin.

Yet, in Sherman alone, rental and, guide services are springing up, the gas station is expanding, people are coming and spending money in places that have been experiencing steady economic and demographic losses in recent decades. Maybe the monument isn’t such a bad thing?

More on this another time. Now, to the Barnard Mountain Trail Review!

Barnard Mountain Leaves
Maples changing color along the Barnard Mountain Trail

Barnard Mountain Trail

Distance 3.3 miles (one-way) Entry Fee No entry fee
Hike Type Moderate climb Dog Friendly? Yes
Special Challenges None Features View, lean-to, brook crossing
From Sherman, Maine, follow Route 11 south (a slight left at a near 4-way) for 5 miles. As Route 11/Grindstone Rd. takes a sharp left, continue straight onto the gravel Swift Brook Rd. This is where you'll want a detailed road map to continue into the monument, which is another 17 miles on logging roads with many offshoots and a 15 mph speed limit. (During my visit, the dirt roads were in good condition.) If you cross the gorgeous East Branch of the Penobscot River on the Whetstone Bridge, you know you're getting close. Basic map: Katahdin Woods and Waters Recreation
Starting at the parking lot off Mile 11.8 of the Katahdin Woods & Waters Loop Road, the trail follows a former logging road now converted to International Appalachian Trail. The trail is wide and dips down to a bridge and lean-to at Katahdin Brook, and back up a hill. After 2.5 miles, the Barnard Mountain Trail spurs off the logging road and continues another 0.8 miles uphill to the summit. The climbs are moderate and steady, but not especially steep.

Barnard Mt Summit Sign
Signage marks the way from the International Appalachian Trail to the summit of Barnard Mountain.

Ratings

Includes: Scenic Scale, for pure beauty; Wilderness Factor, channeling Stegner or Zahniser, government designated Wilderness Areas receive an automatic 10; Moose-O-Meter, how likely you are to find moose, or other wildlife; and some wildcards. All ratings from 1 to 10. A “perfect” score is 30.

logging road trail
The start of the International Appalachian Trail, a logging road converted to trail, features gentle slopes and wildflowers.

Scenic Scale

  • Near peak fall foliage: +2
  • Not many features of interest along the trail: -2
  • Prize-winning views of Mount Katahdin, Katahdin Lake, and points west from the summit: +5

Scenic Scale: 5

View from the Summit of Barnard Mt
Incredible views from the summit of Barnard Mountain and a picnic table make this the perfect lunch spot!

Wilderness Factor

Wilderness Factor: 8

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
This ruby-crowned kinglet was one of many birds enjoying the shrubs along the logging road trail.

Moose-O-Meter

After three years, I finally saw a moose in Maine. The moose was not on the trail, but near the official entrance of Katahdin Woods and Waters, just past the Sandy Bank Stream camping area.

I was driving out of the monument after my hike, when suddenly a massive phantom appeared in the middle of the road only 100 feet in front of me. I stopped my car, lost my breath, and we stared at each other. Coming to my senses (as a photographer), I grabbed my camera and slowly opened my door ready to peek out. But before I could, the 7-foot tall bull moose vanished into the forest.

  • Moose potential in Maine’s north woods—high: +8
  • An interesting assemblage of migrating songbirds along the old logging road, including kinglets, warblers, and a scarlet tanager:+1

Moose-O-Meter: 9

Wildcards

Trail Boulder Bonus

An extra point for the trail crew that build the Barnard Mountain Trail! The trail goes between two giant granite erratics that look like a cracked egg: +1

Cracked Boulder trail Barnard
Hikers are encouraged to squeeze through a small gap between these two 12-foot tall (or more) slabs.

Final Score

24/30

This hike is a great introduction to Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument. However, next time I visit the protected area near Baxter, I’ll definitely go for more than a day and hike along Wassataquoik Stream or bring my canoe to see its full beauty!

Katahdin Woods and Waters is full of interesting beasts and incredible vistas, so it’s no surprise that it receives a high score from our judges. If you’re looking for a real north woods adventure, Barnard Mountain Trail should be near the top of your list.

Stay tuned for more trail reviews and pictures from your humble photographer. In the meantime, please sign up for the email list, connect on Facebook or Instagram, and discover more Maine wildlife and landscapes in my gallery.

Wetlands in Katahdin Woods and Waters
This wetland pond is near the entrance gate to the monument—when you visit, leave plenty of time to explore!

Any photo included in this blog post, or elsewhere on this site, is available for purchase. Find out more.

Tunk Mountain – Trail Review

During my last years of high school, after discovering the independence that a car can offer, I became comfortable hiking solo. I slowly sought out the unmarked state land, never ending US Forest Service roads, or off trail hideouts. Places to simply escape and explore. The thrill of discovering these new areas by myself was exhilarating.

Today, I felt like I was in high school again.

Follow the blue blazes!

At 4:30pm, I set off right from work. I took to the hills of the Blackwoods Road—a Maine Scenic Byway that stretches from Franklin to Cherryfield.

Blackwoods stretches into post-glacial terrain encompassed by the 14,000 acre Donnell Pond Unit of Maine Public Reserve Land—a treasure trove of hiking trails, fishing holes, and swimming and boating spots. Almost entirely undeveloped, Blackwoods Road winds between erratic boulders much larger than cars and old pines and oaks whose boughs drape over the pavement’s margins. At any point, you feel as if a moose could appear along the roadway or a bear might peak out from behind a boulder.

The Blackwoods Road is one of the most well-kept secrets in Maine. The Tunk Mountain Trail is one of Blackwood’s gems.

Tunk Mountain Trail

Access

From Ellsworth, take Coastal Route 1 east 4.7 miles (toward Hancock or Milbridge). Turn left onto Route 182 or Blackwoods Road after the gas station and continue 6 miles. In Franklin, stay on Blackwoods Road for another 8.4 miles and the trailhead parking lot is on the left, marked by a large blue sign.

Tunk Mountain and Hidden Ponds Trail Intersection
The Tunk Mountain and Hidden Ponds trail intersection.

Difficulty

From the parking lot to the Hidden Pond loop trail, elevation gain is minimal, but roots and rocky ground may slow down your hike. After reaching the Hidden Ponds and skirting around the shallow western side of Mud Pond (about 0.7 miles in), the trail takes on a steep and rocky turn upward. The remaining 1.1 miles is strenuous, but even if you can commit to 0.4 intense miles, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views.

Map: 1.8 miles, one-way, to the summit of Tunk Mountain.

Witch-Hazel and Roots Tunk Mountain Trail
Exposed roots and rocks in the trail make for a typical Maine hike. Witch-Hazel, here turning yellow, is abundant along the trail.

Ratings

Includes: Scenic Scale, for pure beauty; Wilderness Factor, channeling Stegner or Zahniser, government designated Wilderness Areas receive an automatic 10; Moose-O-Meter, how likely you are to find moose, or other wildlife; and some wildcards. All ratings from 1 to 10. A “perfect” score is 30.

Scenic Scale

  • A mountain (granted, this is Maine: Tunk Mountain is only 1,157 feet above sea level) with a panoramic view of pocket ponds, scraggly peaks, and even the islands of distant Frenchman Bay: +6
  • Beginning of fall foliage: +2

Scenic Scale: 8

View from Tunk Mountain lookout
The view southeast from a lookout on Tunk Mountain.

Wilderness Factor

  • Not a designated wilderness, but remote (miles from the nearest town): +3
  • Easy to find on a map or by accident: -1
  • A largely contiguous chunk of conserved land, managed as an ecological reserve, allowing all sorts of wildlife to roam free: +4
  • Some cell phone coverage: -2
  • A fraction of the people who visit Acadia National Park (I was the only hiker during my visit): +3

Wilderness Factor: 7

Mud Pond on the Tunk Mountain Trail
Mud Pond on the Tunk Mountain Trail.

Moose-O-Meter

I have yet to see a moose in Maine. When my dreams come true, we’ll have a 10. Until then, this is an estimate of moose potential and other wild creatures encountered.

  • Moose potential—shallow ponds and wet woods away from the coast—high: +5
  • Frogs at Mud Pond are a half-point each: +3
  • Few birds or other wildlife: -2

Moose-O-Meter: 6

Mud Pond hobblebush
Hobblebush turning bright red by Mud Pond.

Wildcards

Bug Bonus

In the spring, this trail is probably pretty buggy. Today, it was spectacularly bug-free: +1

Bubble Bum Bonus

Pit toilets are bad news: putrid scents wafting from the underground chamber, hoards of flies, obscene drawings on the walls, and if you’re lucky you can maybe get a few scraps of toilet paper. But that’s not the case here. The pit toilet in the Tunk Mountain parking lot was clean and a pleasant smell of bubble gum filled my nostrils: +1

Big Tree Bonus

Sentinel trees stretch taller here than most of coastal Maine: +1

These popples (or apsen, which are in the genus Populus) are just some of the big trees along the trail.

Hummus Wrap & A Pickle

A perfect after hike meal from Flexit Cafe in Ellsworth: +1

Final Score

25/30

This hike inspired a possible series reviewing local trails, so it’s no surprise that it receives a high score from our judges. If you’re in Downeast Maine, looking for a half-day inland hike, Tunk Mountain Trail should be near the top of your list.

Stay tuned for more trail reviews and pictures from your humble photographer. In the meantime, please sign up for the email list, connect on Facebook or Instagram, and discover more Maine wildlife and landscapes in my gallery.

Any photo included in this blog post, or elsewhere on this site, is available for purchase. Find out more.