Maine – Day 6: Driving through the Solar System, to the First Mile, and along Scenic Roads to the Portland Museum of Art

Brittany Swanson   September 20, 2015   Comments Off on Maine – Day 6: Driving through the Solar System, to the First Mile, and along Scenic Roads to the Portland Museum of Art

Space fascinates me. When I was younger I was determined to be an astronaut because I really wanted see the Earth from the moon. I've spent many nights stargazing and I try to be on the lookout for cool space phenomena. Naturally, when I saw that Maine had a scale model of the Solar System along U.S. Route 1 I had to see it for myself.

I think I stopped to reload Google Maps and get better directions for the actual location of the Solar System, or something. I pulled in to the Visitor Center that was nearby just because I felt like it (thank you Universe). I went inside, and while I was looking around I found Pluto! Which made me instantly happy because, 1. I was on the right track to finding the rest of the planets, and 2. if Pluto was here that meant they still counted it as a planet! Yay! (I always feel bad about poor Pluto's reclassification as a Dwarf Planet.)

Picture of Brittany with quarter sized Pluto Model form Maine's Model Solar System

I found Pluto inside the Visitor Center in Houlton, ME!

Later, I found out that while they have Pluto in the Model, they added the other Dwarf planets as well, so technically Pluto's inclusion in the Model is as a Dwarf Planet. I also learned that there are two Plutos in the model. The one at the Visitor Center marks Pluto's average distance from the sun. Another Pluto, about seven miles closer to the Sun, shows Pluto's present distance from the Sun. They have two Plutos to show how much Pluto's orbit changes its distance from the Sun.

Neptune, about eight miles North of Pluto on U.S. Route 1.

Neptune, about eight miles north of Pluto on U.S. Route 1.

I was a little worried as I started driving that I was going to miss the planets. If Pluto was so small, how was I going to see the other ones while driving down the road?!  I drove North on U.S. Route 1 keeping my eyes peeled for Neptune. After about eight miles, I saw it off to my left. I slammed on the brakes and pulled off to the side of the road and put my hazards on. I crossed the street and took some pictures. My first thought was, Wow, Neptune is so much bigger than Pluto. 

Uranus, eleven miles North of Neptune on U.S. Route 1.

Uranus, eleven miles north of Neptune on U.S. Route 1.

I got back in my car and drove about eleven miles until I spotted Uranus. There was a building behind Uranus, so I actually got to pull in and park to take pictures. Uranus is comparable in size to Neptune. At this point I thought, I think I'm learning more about the Solar System now than I ever remembered in school. I'm such a visual learner. Also, this would be a sweet, field trip. Though it'd be super annoying for teachers.

Saturn, eleven miles North of Uranus on U.S. Route 1.

Saturn, eleven miles north of Uranus on U.S. Route 1.

It was another eleven miles to Saturn. I think Saturn is my favorite planet. I mean, the rings automatically make it cooler than all the other planets right? Way to stand out and be different Saturn. Saturn was much bigger than Neptune and Uranus, and way bigger than Pluto, but still not as big as I'd expected for some reason. I also totally missed it's moon at first. I saw it listed on the sign, looked around, and was like, where's the moon? As I was walking back to my car I finally found it, it was so small by comparison, and so far away, it's no wonder I missed it.  

Can you spot Titus, Saturn's moon? (Hint: look to the far left.)

Can you spot Titus, Saturn's moon? (Hint: look to the far left.)



I won't even tell you how long it took me to get a picture with myself and Saturn and Titus...

Jupiter with one moon,  five miles north of Saturn on U.S. Route 1.

Jupiter with one moon, five miles north of Saturn on U.S. Route 1.

Next up: Jupiter. Again, not nearly as big as I was expecting, but still way bigger than the earlier planets. It was only five miles from Saturn to Jupiter and while Saturn had a pull-in space for one car, Jupiter had a little U-turn driveway pull-in spot. Nice. Unlike Saturn, I instantly spotted Jupiter's moons. They were still really small, but closer to Jupiter and all in a line so they were much easier to see. The picture with all of the moons is so far away you can't see much of anything, so here's a closer up one:

Mars, four miles north of Jupiter along U.S. Route 1.

Mars, four miles north of Jupiter along U.S. Route 1.


I nearly missed Mars. It was super small compared to all the other planets, except Pluto. In fact, Mars seemed barely bigger than Pluto. It was four miles down the road from Jupiter. No fancy pull-in spot for Mars. Just another quick slam on the brakes, reverse, put the hazards on, and jump out to take a picture stop.

I am not amused that this is the sun...seriously?!

I am not amused that this is the sun...

I missed all of the rest of the planets. Drove right by them. I even stared right beyond where the Earth was and didn't see it. After getting about ten miles away from Mars I realized I had to have gone to far. So I turned around and looked up directions to the University of Maine at Presque Isle, because that's where the Sun was supposed to be and the other planets had to be before the Sun. I parked in a faculty parking lot and then wandered around Folsom Hall looking for the Sun. There were so many classes going on... I simultaneously felt awkward and super glad I still looked young enough to pass for a college student. I tried to act like I knew where I was going, I'm not sure how effective that was. After I'd combed the building and was just about to leave I noticed this yellow arch in the stairwell. No way, I thought. Seriously?! I consulted with my friend Google who confirmed my suspicions. This architectural arch was supposed to represent the Sun. Lame. 

Mercury, the illusive.

Mercury, the illusive.

I wandered around Presque Isle's campus for another twenty or so minutes trying to find Burelle's garden where Mercury was supposed to be. Eventually, I went into the Student Center to ask someone if they knew where Burelle's Garden/Mercury was. I did not drive all this way to miss nearly half the Solar System! The first lady I asked pointed me to a brochure and said I could come back if I had any further questions. Another lady overheard this and asked if she could help. She pointed out Burelle's to me - it was a store up the hill and across the street! So I got back in my car, drove up the hill to Burell's and I managed to find Mercury. Finally.

With the help of the brochure I got at the Student Center I managed to find Venus and the Earth without much trouble.

Venus, next to Budget Traveler Motor Inn.

Venus, next to Budget Traveler Motor Inn.

Earth, near Percy's Auto Sales.

Earth, near Percy's Auto Sales.

Finally, about an hour and a half later than I meant to, I completed my tour of the Solar System along U.S. Route 1. Next, I planned to drive all the way to the top of Maine to see where U.S. Route 1, the first road in America, started. I was just barely going to have time to stop and take a picture before heading back to Portland so I could go to Free Admission Night at the Portland Museum of Art, but I knew I had to see it, so I did. It was pretty cool. I'm glad I went.

America's First Mile, U.S. Route 1.

America's First Mile, U.S. Route 1.

Next, I flew down and around Route 11, which was like a beautiful scenic roller coaster ride. I'm not even going to show you the pictures I took because they really don't do it justice. I only wish there had been more fall colors. Though, that might have brought me to tears, so perhaps it's good the trees were still mostly green.

I made it back to Portland in time for one hour of Free Admission night at the Portland Museum of Art so I did a speed through of the top two floors. I thought that was the end of the museum, so I  went back through them slower. They had a few big names: Lichtenstein, Degas, Monet, Turner etc. I was impressed considering how small the museum was. As I was leaving, I stopped to use the restroom and then realized there was a whole back section of exhibits I'd missed! With only about ten minutes until closing, I super sped through the back areas, just glimpsing everything to get a feel for what was back there. In the end, I'd say I saw everything I wanted to see, though I wish I had known about the back section earlier so I could've spent more time there instead of going back over the top levels a second time. Oh, and my camera ran out of memory, so sorry there are no pictures from the museum.