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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES in ME » MAINE (all topics) » The Other Maine
Looking south on Route 162 as a Storm Approaches
The Other Maine

The Roads Less Traveled

By Alex Seise | January 24, 2011

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There’s an old saying that Mainers semi-jokingly drop in conversations a bit more frequently than their southern neighbors: “You can’t get there from here.”

America’s First Mile Granite Marker

While it’s rarely true - except, perhaps, in the case of lonely Estcourt Station, Maine (population 4), which is only accessible through a network of border-hopping roads and unpaved logging trails - there are a few direct paths to travel from point to point. Aroostook County is no stranger to these roundabout routes, and it is served by a handful of byways that carve through nearly every town.

The county’s main artery is US Route 1. Snaking north along the Canadian border from Houlton (where it intersects with I-95), this one- and two-lane highway provides an easterly spine for Aroostook’s residents.

It passes through such towns as Monticello, Mars Hill, Presque Isle, Madawaska and Fort Kent before abruptly ending near the border crossing with Clair, New Brunswick.   This terminus is fondly referred to as “America’s First Mile” and is marked by a polished granite monument.

Along one stretch from Caribou to Van Buren, Route 1 is lined with white reflective squares. These squares are spaced several feet apart and help to alert motorists to moose, bears and other large animals that lumber across the roadway after dark. When a distant white square suddenly dims, there is a usually a furry critter blocking it from your view - signaling the need to proceed carefully.

A Moose Crossing Sign on Moose Alley

On a late trip home, David and I found ourselves rounding this stretch of road close to 1AM. With David clutching the wheel, knuckles pale white from stress, we watched as one of those white squares shimmered about 400 feet ahead of us. As our high beams illuminated the side of the road, we let out shrill gasps as a fully grown buck reared on his two back legs, antler points flared toward the heavens.

Fortunately, we zipped by before he could make his next move; and when we encountered a smaller cow moose several miles down the road, we were prepared for the eerie encounter.

Down the center of the County, State Route 11 cuts a clear path through wilderness. Known as the “Aroostook Scenic Highway,” this winding logging roadway runs from suburban Pittsfield (just west of Bangor) all the way up to Fort Kent, approximately 200 miles in total.

Skirting the divide between the Great North Woods and the towns dotting Route 1, this road is the second major artery connecting Northern Aroostook County with Downeast Maine. Between these two major roads, a number of smaller roads slice across the state’s forests, farms and freshwater lakes. These lesser traveled roads frequently lead to some of the Other Maine’s most treasured gems.

Route 162’s northern end is in Frenchville. As it meanders south, it passes through Saint Agatha and Sinclair. Along the way, drivers are treated to sweeping views of Long Lake. This 12 mile long waterway witnesses flourishing summer tourism as out-of-towners pilot pontoon boats and canoes. In the winter, hearty souls take to ice fishing and four-wheeling across its frozen surface.

A lonely sign for North 161 in front of abandoned farmland

Where one good road ends, another often begins. Such is the case for 162 - its southern terminus is a quiet intersection with the similarly numbered Route 161. Cautiously known to many locals as “Moose Alley”, this byway traverses the distance between Fort Fairfield and Allagash.

The road weaves between forested areas and sloping hillsides alike, and it is punctuated with brightly colored moose crossing signs. Some signs simply reflect oncoming headlights, others are rigged with elaborate solar-powered flashers to warn motorists. Signs are placed at locations where fatal crashes have taken place, and the sheer number dotting the 83 mile span is a sobering reminder to drive cautiously.

Caribou and its southern neighbor Presque Isle serve as a hub for many local roads. Some simply zip between Routes 1 and 11, like Route 163. Others like 164 and 228 veer away from Route 1 and without ever straying too far. Further north, unmarked, unpaved trails diverge into the woods and offer convenient routes for large trucks to haul toward paper mills on the Saint John River. These trails double as alluring off-road paths for quad riders, skiers, hunters and hikers in search of unchartered adventures.

The roads of Northern Maine offer a crisscrossing way to get around. Fortunately, with a bit of caution, a full tank of gas and a handy atlas, you’ll almost certainly always be able to buck the saying and get there from here.

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