Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ambajejus - Beautiful and Fascinating

   We were sitting in a motel room in Millinocket after a failed expedition to spot moose.  I flipped back and forth between some pages in my Delorme map book looking for a place to paddle.  Did we want to go up by Baxter State Park?  Head along the Golden Road ?  Drive along the East Branch of the Penobscot River?  Stick close to Millinocket?   My eyes scanned the map and noticed a scenic attraction symbol by a lake and the text "Ambajejus Boom House." (Note:  This was in my 2011 DeLorme, which I keep in the car; it was not in my 2004 version which I keep at home.)
I did a quick Google search:

"The Ambajejus Boom House River Driving Museum is housed in a 1906 vintage 1 ½ story building at the edge of Ambajejus Lake.  It was used to house river drivers who worked on the rivers and lakes bringing logs from the forests to the paper mill and has been restored to its original state.  It is comprised of a kitchen, parlor, dining area and bunkrooms and contains a vast collection of tools, equipment, photographs and hands-on displays representing the way life was during the years it was occupied by “Booming Out” crews.  Henry David Thoreau wrote of this spot at the mouth of the West Branch of the Penobscot River in his 1857 Trip Up River to Climb Katahdin.
The Boom House can be visited by way of boat or float plane.  The fee for this journey back in time is a moderate donation toward the upkeep of the museum."  
   (from Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce website)

   Now, I don't often go to lumbering museums, but a museum that I needed to boat to - how exclusive!  Looking at the map, the museum was about 3 miles from the launch across a large lake attached to an even larger lake.  Ambajesus (which may mean "eddy"  in Abenaki) is a part of the "Pemadumcook Chain of Lakes", which itself is a part of the West Penobscot River.   The Pemandumcook Chain of Lakes includes Ambajejus, Elbow, North Twin, Pemadumcook, and South Twin. Each is a large lake; altogether they are the fifth largest lake in Maine.  Generally I don't find large lakes fun to kayak.  Still, a museum on an island, in the north woods of Maine....

   The next morning what was supposed to be a quick scout for moose somehow became multiple hikes, multiple drives and still no moose.
Sandy Stream Pond, gorgeous, but no moose
   Near lunchtime we were sitting by Upper Togue Pond. (Delorme page 51), tired of hiking and discouraged by how much time we'd spent on a fruitless quest.  Upper Togue Pond is a small multi-lobed pond.  We watched some loons take off in flight and debated, kayaking here and just poking into the many coves.   It was tempting, but on Ambajejus we'd have a goal....

   So we drove back to the lake on Delorme page 43, to the launch in Spencer Cover.  Spencer Cove was lovely, spotted with islands, mountains ahead, mountains to the north, bounded by well-maintained houses.
   Our first surprise came as we rounded into Ambajesus Lake, and we saw what looked like a large sandstone formation.

   But we soon realized it was sawdust, left from a mill that was there 80 years ago.  Several times we'd driven by Saw Pile Rd.  Somehow I never imagined it was a huge saw pile by a lake.  
   Since its formation, it has been carved by the wind and made into homes for cliff swallows.

   A new sight for me, but as a child Mark once lived next door to a saw mill. He tells of fun times sledding down sawdust piles and building "forts" dug into the soft, fragrant material.

   My next surprise was a loon snorkeling.  It swam along at the surface with only his head below water.  I guess that's a more efficient way to look for fish, and is probably very common, but I hadn't seen it before.

   Soon it was time to cross to the Boom House - and here it is:

   And this is the sign on it.

   It's probably a pretty neat place, the rings placed on the nearby rocks are certainly huge.

  So you might think that not seeing a moose, and not having the museum be open I would have been totally depressed.   I was sad that this quixotic museum might have run into a problem beyond what voluntary contributions could cover.  But I was not upset that I'd spent the time paddling on Ambajesus.  After all, I'd seen two magical sights: the snorkeling loon and the saw pile.  The lake was lovely, the day perfect for paddling.  And when I'm looking for moose I have the nagging suspicion that I'm doing it wrong.  While I'm gazing out at Compass Pond, (where I've seen moose twice before) the moose are wandering through Pickerel Cove at Millinocket Lake; when I'm up by Sandy Stream Pond the moose have meandered over to Abol Pond; when I'm up in Millinocket moose are probably dancing on the sidewalks in Bangor.
Just a few minutes late to see this moose
 When the museum isn't open, it's not like it's branch has opened in downtown Millinocket.  The museum is still there.  Besides, with views like this throughout the paddle, how can you complain? 

More about the boom house.
Ambejejus Boom House pictures at Maine Memory Net
An interview with Chuck Harris, who restored the Boomhouse
Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce information on the Boomhouse
Digitized Article:  Making Paper in the North Woods
Penobscot River Corridor Camp sites

Summary:  About a seven mile trip, lots of parking, paved ramp, no facilities.


  1. Intrigued by your photos and description of Ambajesus. Per one of the links I learned that log drives occurred there as late as 1971 which surprised me. Sounds like a great place for some paddling and camping (if allowed).

    1. Good point, the DeLorme shows primitive camp sites on a few islands throughout the chain of lakes. These need permission for camping but from whom? I can't find it online, maybe it shows up at the launch? I know there is a commercial campsite right by the launch, and others in the area. I've added a guide I found to some sites deeper in the woods.

  2. Nicely done- someplace we haven't been

    1. Hard to imagine you and Kelley haven't found your way there yet. There is lots of hiking in the region, some for dogs, others, like Baxter SP, without.

  3. Awesome story - it is the moose hunt that is helping you find more interesting things by kayak . . . Here's how I spotted my first moose. I started hoping I wouldn't see one - they are huge! I spotted one 2 months ago while driving - just glancing into a mountain meadow off the highway - it was just a big baby with very long legs. My fav pic is the sawdust pile with the swallow abodes and Mark's story of them as a boy. Very cool! Cheers from Canada.

    1. You make a good pint, though we spent time searching for moose to photograph, we really didn't want to see them close to the car. Somewhere well off to the side would be fine...
      Hope all is well in Canada!

  4. So glad I found your blog! My husband and I have just started kayaking and we are looking or any information and guidance we can get!!! I thoroughly enjoy reading about your adventures!!

    1. Thank you for visiting the site, and best wishes on your kayak adventures!