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Hiking the Bold Coast, Cutler, Maine
Charles T. Jackson, Maine's first state geologist, visited the Cutler area during his survey of the State of Maine in 1837 and reported "enormous cliffs of greenstone trap." These "trap rocks" were also noted by geologist Charles Hitchcock (1861) in his survey of the area. Later studies by both American and Canadian geologists identified these rocks as diabase (a dark-colored intrusive rock) and also examined the older shales, argillites, siltstones, and feldspar-rich tuff breccias in the area. Detailed mapping of the Cutler area was undertaken in the late 1950's by Olcott Gates. His research resulted in a Maine Geological Survey publication entitled The Geology of the Cutler and Moose River Quadrangles, Washington County, Maine (1961) and has provided us with the best description of the rock types in the region.
The Cutler diabase, the most common rock type along the Cutler Coast hiking trails, strongly influences the local landscape. During the last Ice Age, glaciers covered the land surface. Glacial erosion smoothed the diabase hills on the northwestern, up-ice, side and plucked rock away from the southeastern side. This resulted in a gentle slope on one side and a steep cliff on the other. Note the rounded hills on the U. S. Geological Survey topographic map (Figure 1) and in the field (Figure 2). Additional evidence of glacial erosion is present as glacial grooves on the rock, such as those seen just north of Black Point (Figure 3). Fractures in the rock, called joints, are visible in many outcrops (Figure 4). The joint pattern in the rock, when exposed to water, frost action, and waves at the ocean edge, controls the style of modern erosion, resulting in steep cliffs (Figure 5, Figure 11).
A number of regional structural features influence the coastline shape in the Cutler area. Perhaps the most prominent, just offshore of the Cutler Coast, is the Fundian fault which parallels the coastline from Machias to Lubec (Gates, 1982). It passes between West Quoddy Head and Grand Manan Island in Canada (Figure 6). Johnson (1925) and Koons (1941) noted that the Fundian fault may be the border fault between the Triassic rocks of the Bay of Fundy and the Silurian-aged rocks that make up the Cutler coastline.
Pocket cobble beaches form from modern erosion of both the bedrock and exposed glacial deposits (Figure 7). The Cutler Coast shoreline, facing the open ocean, is a high energy environment, as reflected by the large size of the cobbles and boulders on the beaches. Only very large waves crashing on the shore could have moved some of the large rounded cobbles and boulders up the beach at Black Point Cove (Figure 8). The waves move the cobbles and pebbles, grinding them together and polishing their surfaces (Figure 9).
Hiking trails begin on the right side of Maine Route 191, about three miles northeast of Cutler. Refer to the trail map produced by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands for detailed hiking distances. It is a 1.4 mile walk along on the Coastal Trail to reach the first viewpoint, overlooking the Grand Manan Channel and Bay of Fundy (Figure 5, Figure 10 and Figure 11). This walk is through a maritime spruce-fir forest (Figure 12; Gawler and Cutko, 2010). From this first viewpoint the Coastal Trail heads southwest 1.4 miles to Black Point Cove and its cobble and boulder beach(Figure 8). Most hikers will return to the parking lot from Black Point by way of the Black Point Brook Cutoff and Inland Trail (2.7 miles from Black Point) (Figure 13). From Black Point one can continue southwest along the Coastal Trail to the Fairy Head campsites and then return back to the parking lot by way of the Inland Trail (6.3 miles). Just south of Black Point Cove is another pocket beach, this one a lower energy beach with smaller pebbles and cobbles (Figure 14). Three small tentsites are located at Fairy Head, all offering beautiful views of the rocky Maine coast (Figure 15 and Figure 16).
One of the most spectacular sections of the Maine coastline is found in the Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land. This unspoiled landscape can readily be experienced after some moderate hiking (Figure 17) and is a great place to enjoy some of Maine's interesting flora, fauna, and geology.
Gates, O., 1961, The geology of the Cutler and Moose River quadrangles, Washington County, Maine: Maine Geological Survey, Quadrangle Mapping Series No. 1, 67 p., map.
Gates, O., 1982, Brittle fractures in the Eastport 2-degree sheet, Maine: Maine Geological Survey, Open-File Report 82-29, 15 p. (map, scale 1:250,000).
Gates, O., and Moench, R. H., 1981, Bimodal Silurian and Lower Devonian volcanic rock assemblages in the Machias-Eastport area, Maine: U.S. Geological Survey, Professional Paper 1184, 32 p.
Gawler, S., and Cutko, A., 2010, Natural landscapes of Maine; A guide to natural communities and ecosystems: Maine Natural Areas Program, Maine Department of Conservation, Augusta, Maine, 348 p.
Hitchcock, C. H., 1861, Preliminary report upon the natural history and geology of the state of Maine: Sixth Annual Report of the Secretary of Maine Board of Agriculture, Augusta, Maine.
Jackson, C. T., 1837, First report on the geology of the state of Maine: Augusta, Maine.
Johnson, D. W., 1925, The New England - Acadian shoreline: Wiley, New York.
Koons, E. D., 1941, The origin of the Bay of Fundy and associated submarine scarps: Journal of Geomorphology, v. 4, p. 237-249.
Text and photos by Robert A. Johnston
Originally published on the web as the June 2010 Site of the Month.
Last updated on January 20, 2011
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