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The Desert of Maine: A Natural Wonder Great for Kids

by Barbara Rogers

May 31, 2023

© Zrfphoto | Dreamstime.com

Destinations / North America

The Desert of Maine, near the shopping mecca of Freeport, has been an icon since it opened in 1925. Children of family travelers along Maine’s coast were fascinated by road-side signs showing camels, sand dunes and colorful Arabian tents. At times, live camels were added to the desert landscapes.


Back then, while much was made of its exotic qualities, very little explained how these acres of sand dunes came to be. That changed when the property was bought in 2018 by Freeport residents determined to turn the desert from a mere curiosity to a place where adults and children could see and learn about this unique and changing landscape, as well as have some fun at the same time.


Today, visitors can walk across the dunes and read a series of lively illustrated signs explaining how geology, weather and human intervention created the desert. They tell the story of the newly uncovered spring house that was engulfed by a dune in the 1940s, and point out small pine trees growing on top of a dune; they’re actually the tips of full-grown trees buried in the sand.


On the mile-long, self-guided tour, the story of these 20 acres of shifting sand unfolds, beginning with the glacier that once covered this coast in ice 2 miles deep. The glacier receded, leaving a large depression to catch wind-blown sand, later covered by plants and forest, stabilizing the land.


In 1821, the Tuttle family cleared the forest for farming and, by 1890, the thin layer of topsoil had been depleted by plowing and overgrazing. What remained was the sand below, constantly reshaping itself into dunes.


For younger kids who may not find this story as engaging as their parents do, the Desert of Maine offers plenty of distraction, all carefully designed to follow up on themes in the desert’s story.


A nature walk is marked by signs with pages of an illustrated children’s book about the Desert of Maine, narrated by a grain of sand named Pierre. In the hands-on Fossil Dig, kids use paleontology tools and methods to uncover fossils such as those found in the ancient sea floor. At Gemstone Village, kids can play in a Hobbit House and find gemstones they can keep.


A playground highlights Maine’s nature, with a log jumble, lookout tower with binoculars, swings, a slide and a moose play structure. The 18-hole, mini-golf course following the story of the Desert of Maine is a fun option for the whole family.


Be sure to take a family photo in front of the colorful camel statue with the dunes in the background.


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