Scenic Byway

Imagine the travel pictures you’re going to have. Seriously. You’ll be back in your hometown showing a friend a picture of the World’s Tallest Indian or Moxie Falls and they won’t believe you and will have to see for themselves. The universe likes to think of them as hidden treasures. But if they stayed hidden they wouldn’t be treasures would they? The experiences will be attached to your brain as tightly as the canoe is attached to the top of your car.

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You could travel the world and never see one.

Or you could visit here and…

WOW. Look at the size of that one.

We’re talking moose. BIG MOOSE. The kind you see in Kennebec Valley. The kind my wife saw when she opened the drapes of the picture window in our cabin.

“And good morning to you too,” I called out.

That was after the shriek. Not a bad shriek. Actually a shriek of the best kind. As in, another Maine adventure experience checked from the bucket list. With an exclamation point.

My wife, seeing a moose in her pajamas.

Well, obviously the moose wasn’t wearing her pajamas. Fortunately, he had his own.

“I suppose you’re going to tell everyone about this,” my wife said.

“No,” I replied. “This is just between you and me – and the big guy with the antlers.”

They’ve perfected the art of river rafting here in Maine, I thought as I took a sip of Big Mama Blueberry Ale.

When my friends said they were planning a trip to the Kennebec River, I imagined a nice, lazy river and a quiet campground where even the birds could whistle Kumbaya.

I sure wasn’t anticipating anything as majestic and exhilarating as rafting through the Kennebec Gorge and its class 2 to 4 rapids, with names like Big Mama, White Washer and Magic Falls.

And I definitely didn’t imagine the day would end listening to live music and enjoying local beer.

As I finish my Bear Naked Black Lager and reach for another one, we started debating whether to take it easy tomorrow on the Lower Penobscot or tackle the class 5 rapids of the Dead River.

A tough call. So I suggested we flip a coin. Better yet, a bottle cap.

I remember it like it was only yesterday. The first time my little brother and I went to Moxie Falls with my mom and dad.

Of course, we made the connection instantly. And I asked, with typical five-year-old innocence, “Is it named Moxie Falls because of Moxie Soda?”

“According to legend,” my dad said with his wry smile.

Looking toward the dramatic thirty foot drop of the falls, he improvised (I realized this later) the story about a family of elves that lived in a cave behind the roaring waters. There, they made Moxie Soda, using the water of the Kennebec River and magic dust that came in a variety of flavors.

It was a great story then and, apparently, still is.

At least our five-year-old son and his little sister thought so when I told them the story on their first visit to Moxie Falls. I remember their laughter and excitement like it was only yesterday too.

Not surprising. Because it was.

I found a pay phone. Seriously.

Immediately, I fished out all the coins I could find from the pockets of my car seats and got to work.

“Yep, I’m calling from a pay phone,” I told my friend Alyssa. “Off Old Canada Road in Kennebec Valley. The scenery out here is amazing.”

Then I called my buddy, Justin, and told him about canoeing Moose River Bow.

Next the coins jingled for Miriam. I regaled her with my description of the spectacular view of the valley from Robbins Hill.

Claire received a call about the Maine Beer Trail and the fantastic regional brews that flow from The Forks to Skowhegan.

I could go on and on. And I did, until my coin supply ran out.

So I hopped back in my car, looked at my cell phone and thought, not today.

I started the engine. Somewhere out there, in the midst of all this timeless beauty, there had to be a change machine.

Blueberries may be Maine’s state fruit, but they’ve never been my favorite.

I mean, wild blueberries are delicious, but for me, they just don’t match up to the first bite of a nice, crisp apple.

Especially a nice, ripe Empire or Macoun. My husband jokes that I’m an apple snob, but even he knows that a Red Delicious shipped in from God-knows-where pales in comparison to the local varieties we can get.

A few weeks ago we drove up to North Star Orchards in Madison for Maine Apple Sunday. I was like a kid in a candy store.

We took the grandkids—they loved the hayrides—and I bought a half-bushel of McIntosh. I think I’ve made half a dozen apple crisps since then.

I’ve got a recipe for blueberry-apple crisp I’m going to try next.

On a crisp, sun-splashed autumn afternoon on the banks of the Kennebec River, you can close your eyes and envision the river as it was a couple of centuries ago.

The Kennebec is quiet now, so it takes a little imagination to see this same river bulging with an endless flow of giant logs – the proud result of the labor of the local woods workers and river drivers.

But all you have to do is follow the Kennebec to the warm, inviting river towns of Waterville, Winslow, Skowhegan, Norridgewock, Madison, Anson and Bingham to see the evidence of how this picturesque region grew up around the timber trade.

It’s a glimpse into Maine’s rich and colorful history.

And all you have to do to go there – on a crisp, sun-splashed autumn afternoon – is close your eyes.

Okay, so the State of Maine assembled a panel of the state’s leading fall color experts to determine the best time to see the peak fall colors in Kennebec Valley.

The panel worked diligently for three days and finally agreed on the following:


“The third week of September,” announced Edgar Adams, PhD.

The two days after the October moon,” proclaimed Adjunct Professor Gwen Harmon.

First weekend of October,” said State Park Ranger Justin Molloy.

“I usually watch them with 3-D glasses, so it really doesn’t matter,” said the guy who delivered the pizzas.

But by far the most accurate answer was the one given by Dr. Audrey Lang – not a PhD. but an optometrist – who was lodging nearby and happened to wander in.

“The best time to see the fall colors in Kennebec Valley,” she said, “is the next time you open your eyes.”

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