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Backpacker Magazine – September 2011

Rip & Go: Debsconeag Loop - Maine Public Reserved Lands, Nahmakanta Unit, ME

Cross the northeast's wildest moose country beneath fall's fiery canopy.

by: Christopher Keene

Nahmakanta Lake (Photo by Tim Seaver)
Nahmakanta Lake (Photo by Tim Seaver)
Luminous moss (Photo by iStock)
Luminous moss (Photo by iStock)

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Key Skill: Spotting a moose
Looking to frame a closeup of Bullwinkle? You can scarcely do better than the ponds, marshes, and ridges around the Debsconeag Ponds. Bonus: Mating season (September to October) ratchets up your chance of seeing moose interact. 
Go early
Moose are most active around water at dawn. If you spot a female alone, be patient; the male will be along shortly. Listen for his short, guttural grunts as he approaches.
Go silent
Moose may have poor eyesight, but their hearing is superb—especially bulls with large racks, which catch sound. Opposite tactic: To call a bull, pull a length of rough twine through a small hole in the bottom of a can to imitate a cow moose’s call.
Go back
Moose are creatures of habit. If you see fresh tracks near the water’s edge, return to the same place the next morning.
Go safely
Don’t get closer than 75 yards to a cow with calves, or bull moose, especially during the rut. If one charges, turn around and run for it (unlike bears, moose won’t give chase for long), and put something (trees, boulders) between you and the beast. Most charges are bluffs, but if you’re knocked down, curl up, protect your head, and keep still (this convinces the moose that you’re no longer a threat).
See This
The family Schistosteagaceae has one member— luminous moss (aka Cat’s Eye Moss or Goblin’s Gold), which grows inside the opening of animal burrows, the bases of uprooted trees, or similar shady areas. Its ability to flourish in such places is due to clear, globular cells that collect faint light—even reflections from a stream—resulting in photosynthesis and the plant’s faint, greenish glow during the day. Spot this rare moss streamside in Pollywog Gorge.
Locals Know
Many of the woods up here are second-growth bounce-back after a few centuries of logging in the Nahmakanta area. Loggers dammed nearly every pond and lake to move timber, and some streams—especially Rainbow Stream at mile 9.2—still bear the scars of the log-driving days in the form of steel pins and blasted ledges. You can spot signs of the old earthen dam on Fifth Debsconeag, 1.3 miles from the trailhead. This pond was used chiefly to raise the level of Fourth Debsconeag and flush the logs floating there downstream to the West Branch Penobscot River, where they’d head for the mill. The loggers were pretty thorough, but they didn’t cut all of the trees and send them down the river—some stands in the unit include individuals well over the 300-year mark, including one 320-year-old white cedar, and the elder statesman, a 397-year-old red spruce in the Henderson Pond area.

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