Rangeley Lakes

And The High Peaks

The pine trees hug your vehicle as you glide on highway 17. When you roll down the windows there’s a natural air freshener. And when you stop, say at Height of Land or at Smalls Falls or if you find a spot along Rangeley Lake, the universe gives you permission to shake off the stress and say “Ahhhhh.” You know those pictures you see in books that made you say, “I want to go there!” Those pictures will now be in your camera, for you to show the world that those places actually do exist. This is the Rangeley scenic byway, where there are infinite stories per square mile.

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“Say Mooselookmeguntic 3 times fast,” I said to my 12-year old son.

“Come on, it’s 6 o’clock in the morning. Give me a break.”

They looked out over the lake, high up on what is called the Height of Land. To my son, it was like a scene in the movie where they show what heaven looks like. I had never seen him this speechless. It looked like his mind was taking pictures at 1000 frames per second.

“You didn’t want to get up this morning.”

My son shrugged his shoulders.

“Told you it was going to be worth it.”

He looked up at me and paused. Then he looked back out over the serene lake.

“Yep.”

“We have dinner guests,” I said, pointing towards the lake, a group of loons gliding across the pristine, glassy surface. There’s nothing like Rangeley at dusk. We were sitting out on the deck of a local restaurant, right on the water.

“Loons don’t eat much,” my wife said. “But ... did you know that loons have four distinct calls?

My wife liked to show off her knowledge of birds whenever she got the chance.

“OK, I’m ready. And those calls are … ?”

“The tremolo, the wail, the hoot, and my favorite, the yodel, which signals alarm or distress.”

“Hmm, the yodel. That reminds me,” I said, getting the waiter’s attention.

“Can we see a menu and get a couple more cold beers over here?”

“I got one!”

I looked back at my daughter, water flowing out of the bottom of her pan as she pulled it out of the river.

“We’re trillionaires!”

“Show me,” I said, and she grabbed the nugget and held it about an inch from my face.

“Looks promising. I’d hold on to that one.”

She hopped back to her spot, excitement rushing through her veins. There were people up and down the Swift River, panning for gold. I thought, this is so 1840. But here I am dipping my pan into the water, rifling through the rocks in search of something shiny.

It seems fitting that you’d pan for gold in such a pristine place. The Swift River running through Coos Canyon takes a hold of you in a strange magical way. It makes you want to just close your eyes and relax for a second.

And just as you find that relaxing place, echoing through the canyon you hear it:

“I got another one!”

Okay, so I’ve read my share of children’s stories. Hosted tea parties for stuffed animals. And conducted more than one coronation of a princess.

But it wasn’t until I took my daughter salmon fishing for the first time at Rangeley Lakes that I really earned my stripes as a dad.

And when she caught her first salmon – not the biggest of all time but not the smallest either – I just had to say: “Maggie, you’re a regular Fly Rod Crosby.”

“Who’s he?”

“You mean who’s she? Fly Rod Crosby was Maine’s first official fishing guide. She once caught 200 trout in a single day.”

“Were they as big as the fish I caught?”

“Nah. Not even close.”

Later we read a story about Fly Rod Crosby at the Sporting Heritage Museum. But the story I’ll remember most is a children’s story I call “The Princess and the Salmon.”

Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. I keep telling myself: Deep breaths.

Yeah, heights aren’t my thing. I’m feeling a bit dizzy.

But the air up here, wow. It felt good traveling in and out of my lungs. It was cleansing. Still, don’t look straight down. Just stand back and take in this incredible panoramic view.

I didn’t come here to Bald Mountain to not make the short two-mile hike and then go up the 30-foot lookout tower.

I conquered my fear of heights today.

From up here, I feel like I could conquer the world.

Settled, 1782.

Wow, this is America. No, seriously. THIS is America.

Rumford, Maine.

I walked down the main street wondering how many of our original settlers walked these same paths. I looked at the bricks signifying some of the years that these historic structures were built.

The Victorian architecture was stunning.

Later that same day I was hiking a trail and observing some even more stunning architecture. Mumford Falls. A spectacular series of rocky drops off the Androscoggin River – falling 127 feet in all to a trout and salmon-filled lake below.

And I thought to myself again, this is America.

The beautiful.

Alive and well, 2014.

Bob and Tom walked up to the par 4 10th hole at Sugarloaf.

“There’s nothing like a little mid-October golf, right?” Bob said, pointing out over the breathtaking hues of yellow and orange painting the landscape out beyond the green. “The fall colors out here help me forget all my bad shots.”

“Yeah, I don’t think you can take a bad shot here,” Tom said.

Bob stopped for a minute from making his club selection to notice Tom holding his camera pointed out towards the horizon.

“Yeah, no bad shots here,” Bob said, as Tom clicked the photo.

“Now hurry it up, there’s a foursome right behind us.”

I parked the car at Smalls Falls and looked at the mobile phone sitting on the passenger seat.

“I need some space,” I said, looking at the phone. Sheesh, you know you’re losing it when you’re talking to your phone.

A separation was in order. I got out of the car, slammed the door shut.

There are some things that technology will never replace, I thought, as I traversed the dirt trail that led to the bridge looking out towards the falls. As you approach you can hear the water crashing, getting louder the closer you get.

I made it to the middle of the bridge, and out of my right eye I caught a glimpse of the waterfall. Kids and parents were jumping off the cliff into the swimming hole. Giggles echoed in the distance.

A bird landed on the bridge and chirped a bit. I smiled.

The real version is so much better than the ringtone version.

Rangeley Lakes

Scenic Byway