Last Updated on June 11, 2023
The Desert of Maine is a pseudo-desert and privately-owned tourist attraction in Freeport, Maine.
It comprises a 40-acre expanse of barren glacial sand in a non-arid region, captivating visitors with its natural curiosity.
This captivating destination, resulting from poor farming practices in the 19th century, offers an intriguing blend of geological and historical significance.
Although not a true desert with its annual rainfall of 40 inches (100 cm), this sandy landscape devoid of vegetation possesses an uncanny resemblance to its arid counterparts.
Why is There a Desert in Maine?
The Desert of Maine is not technically a desert because it receives more than 10 inches of precipitation annually.
However, the area does have a desert-like appearance, with rolling sand dunes and sparse vegetation. This is due to a combination of natural and human factors.
The natural factors that have contributed to the formation of the Desert of Maine include:
- Glacial rebound: When the glaciers retreated from Maine about 10,000 years ago, they left behind a layer of loose sand. This sand was easily blown by the wind, forming the sand dunes that we see today.
- Wind-blown sand deposition: The wind continues to blow sand into the area, further contributing to the formation of the dunes.
The human factors that have contributed to the formation of the Desert of Maine include:
- Farming: In the 19th century, farmers began to clear the land in the area for farming. This removed the vegetation that helped to stabilize the sand dunes, allowing them to move more freely.
- Mining: In the early 20th century, mining operations began in the area. This also removed vegetation, further contributing to the movement of the sand dunes.
History of the Maine Desert
During the last ice age, approximately 15,000 years ago, the entire region of New England, including coastal Maine, was covered by the massive Laurentide Ice Sheet.
This enormous ice sheet, reaching up to 3,000 meters (almost 2 miles) in thickness, exerted immense pressure on the land, causing coastal areas of Maine to sink below sea level.
At its lowest point, the land in the area that would eventually become the Desert of Maine was submerged 175-245 meters below its current elevations.
As the glaciers gradually melted around 13,500 years ago, the land in Maine began to rebound, rising above sea level. It was during this process that the future Desert of Maine started to emerge from beneath the sea.
Over time, around 12,500 years ago, the area became a receptacle for wind-blown sand, and pioneer plants likely began to colonize and stabilize the open sand deposits. Within a few hundred years, a forest likely took root, effectively stabilizing the sand.
The Tuttle family, who owned the land in the early 1800s, played a particularly significant role in the formation of the Desert of Maine.
Their farming practices, which included overgrazing and the use of poor agricultural techniques, led to the erosion of the topsoil and the exposure of the underlying sand.
This, in turn, made the area more susceptible to wind erosion, which further contributed to the formation of the sand dunes.
Today, the Desert of Maine is a popular tourist destination. Visitors can explore the sand dunes, hike the trails, and learn about the area’s unique history.
Things to do include:
- Hike or walk on the sand dunes. The Desert of Maine is home to a variety of sand dunes, which are perfect for hiking or walking. The dunes are also a great place to fly a kite or build a sandcastle.
- Visit the natural playground. The Desert of Maine has a one-of-a-kind natural playground that is perfect for kids of all ages. The playground features a lookout tower, swings, a slide, a log jumble, a cargo net, a seesaw, and a moose play structure.
- Play a round of mini golf. The Desert of Maine has a unique mini golf course that is perfect for the whole family. The course features beautiful landscaping, waterfalls, and sculptures from the Desert’s history.
- Camp in the campground. The Desert of Maine has a campground that is perfect for those who want to experience the beauty of the Desert up close. The campground is located in a quiet, secluded spot surrounded by tall pines, sandy dunes, and a gentle stream.
In addition to these activities, there are also a variety of other things to do at the Desert of Maine. Visitors can learn about the history of the Desert, take a guided tour, or simply relax and enjoy the beauty of the natural surroundings.
The Desert of Maine is located at 95 Desert Road, Freeport, Maine 04032. It’s about 15 miles from Portland.
- By car, take I-95 to exit 19 and follow the signs to Freeport. The Desert of Maine is located on Desert Road, just off of U.S. Route 1.
- By bus, Greyhound Lines offers service to Freeport. The bus stop is located on Main Street, about a mile from the Desert of Maine.
- By train, Amtrak offers service to Brunswick, Maine, which is about 10 miles from Freeport. The train station is located in downtown Brunswick, and there is a free shuttle that runs to Freeport.
Once you arrive in Freeport, you can walk, bike, or drive to the Desert of Maine. The entrance fee is $10 for adults and $5 for children.
The Desert of Maine is open from 9am to 5pm, seven days a week. The last admission is at 4pm. Reservations are not required, you can purchase a ticket directly at the entrance or in advance through the official website.
Maine Desert FAQs
What is the Desert of Maine?
The Desert of Maine is a pseudo-desert, which means that it does not receive enough rainfall to support a desert ecosystem.
However, it does have some of the characteristics of a desert, such as sand dunes and a lack of vegetation.
Where is the Desert of Maine located?
The Desert of Maine is located in Freeport, Maine, about 10 miles from Portland. It covers a 40-acre patch of sand dunes that sits in the middle of a lush forest.
What caused the Desert of Maine?
The Desert of Maine was formed by a combination of factors, including glaciers, wind, and erosion.
Glaciers deposited the sand that makes up the dunes, and wind has blown the sand into its current shape.
Erosion has also helped to create the dunes by wearing away at the surrounding bedrock.
Who owns the Desert of Maine?
As of 2023, the Desert of Maine is owned by Mela and Doug Heestand. They purchased the Desert of Maine from the previous owners, Gary and Ginger Currens, in December 2020.
The Heestands have expressed their plans to revitalize the landmark, introduce new attractions, and focus on promoting arts and sciences.
They aim to create a destination that attracts more visitors and offers a range of activities, including camping, concerts, mini-golf, and scientific exploration.
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