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Friday, August 5, 2011

Anything Can Happen: Speaking of Sand....

Sahara desert...dunes and blowing sand
Last week's Anything Can Happen celebrated the joys of playing in sand and building castles and cities of sand on beaches, in backyards, or anywhere.  So, I decided to share a true Maine anomaly with you today... the Desert of Maine.  Never heard of it? Neither had I before moving to Maine.  In fact I passed the signs pointing the way to the Desert of Maine for years, always saying "We should check that out sometime" or something similar. FINally one year I decided that this was the summer we would take that turnoff and see the "desert" for ourselves.

I have seen photos of vegetation in deserts. Rows of trees or trees clustered around an oasis water pool. Landscapes of sand, carved by wind. Moving oceans of sand, shifting and burying, sometimes uncovering, obscuring trees, pools, anything in its way.

But in Maine??? Imagining snowdrifts atop sanddunes seemed like an impossible visual oxymoron.

When we arrrived I was extremely skeptical, expecting a tourist scam, a mind set that wasn't helped by a gift shop and campground. But when I went into the "desert" I was actually intrigued. See for yourself.

Turns out it is not technically sand, but glacial silt. but it feel like sand, looks like sand, and arriving through a pine forest outside Freeport Maine, just a few miles from L.L. Beans, you feel like you have entered a surreal land. The sand is extensive, steep, and has indeed swallowed acres and acres of land.

It currently covers about 40 acres. In the late 1700s it was a working farm and some of the poor farming practices, cleared land, and overgrazing may have contributed to the erosion that exposed this glacial "desert" beneath. Now it is an attraction complete with 30 minute buggy tours to save your feet hiking on the steep sands.

You don't really get the impact with photos, but it is impressive in person.  Not a "wonder of the world" kind of impressive, but it is a truly fascinating oddity of nature. My ex-husband is a Maine native and remembers visiting the Desert of Maine and seeing one of the original farm buildings [a spring house] before it was completely buried by the shifting sands. Now there are just pictures and a signing marking its location.... until the next shift that is.

Next shift? Starting with a small sandy patch it took decades and decades to expose this desert that had been hidden under the topsoil. But nature is working constantly to reclaim this land. Just as tiny flowers began to bloom after Mount St. Helen's volcanic explosion, here too nature is attempting a return. The layers of glacial sand that are so very deep and the winter storms make it difficult but sometimes on the edges you can see nature trying, though the new growth rarely makes it through the winter, trying to reclaim the land.

Technically the area receives too much rainfall to qualify as a "desert" but these acres can transport you to another world, help you imagine a true desert, open your eyes to the wonder and the stubborness of nature, learn to respect the tenacity of pine trees, ..... and yes, even the annoyance of sand in your shoes, pants and eyes.  

For a video from a local tv segment about the site click below 

P.S. If you can't view the video imbedded then click here

Image credits:,,,,, you tube

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