07/27/2012 08:08 am ET | Updated Sep 26, 2012

The Desert of Maine

The Desert of Maine is one of those roadside attractions you just have to pull over for. During our recent jaunt through New England, my sister and I took time out from outlet shopping in Freeport to see what the heck was up with this desert that was just a few miles from the ocean and surrounded by pine forests.

In addition to the desert, the other attraction is a barn that's more than 200 years old--highlighting that this land had once been a farm. Inside was an assortment of scary, old-fashioned farm implements, including a DDT sprayer. Hmm, I thought. Any connection between chemicals and a farm turning into a vast desert?

A family called the Tuttles farmed there, until overgrazing and erosion exposed a small patch of the sand--or what is actually glacial silt--left over from ages ago and exposed after the poor and intensive farming practices. By 1925, the land was sold for $300 bucks and turned into the tourist attraction it is today. So while it may not have been chemicals alone that wrecked the land there, the Desert of Maine is certainly a reminder why it's so important to manage the soil with care and take the long view when farming (or doing anything, really).

The desert itself is a large oval-ish expanse surrounded on all sides by wonderful cool Maine pine forests. There are little springs of water and lots of beautiful moss. I read that the current proprietors had to work vigorously to defend the desert from the encroaching forest; we noticed a few little trees taking root and starting to grow in the silky soft sparkly sand, as if nature is trying to take back this tourist attraction.


Maya Rodale is the author of multiple historical romance novels, as well as the nonfiction book Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels, ExplainedShe has a Master's degree from New York University and lives in Manhattan with her darling dog and a rogue of her own.Her latest book is The Tattooed Duke. Learn more at


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