There is perhaps no taller order than trying to go on a leaf-peeping weekend to Maine with children, to whom such trips are comparable to the mandated watching of black and white films.
But let's get to brass tacks. Beyond bribery or extortion, how can it be done?
Speed is of the essence: You must see as many candy-colored leaves as possible in one fell swoop.
And never underestimate the power of bribery and extortion. You need to be able to tell the ill-tempered lot that if they drink in this one view up high of leaves coming kiss-close as they float to the ground, you'll quickly take them to a fort where they can pretend to blast invaders to smithereens.
You might call this devious or desperate. I call it acting on experience from having three children.
The View From Above
As such, you'll want to head directly for the
Penobscot Narrow Bridge and Observatory ($5 admission). It's in Prospect, Maine, which is centrally located on the state's ruggedly beautiful coastline.
The over 2,000-foot bridge, which is new, is cable-stayed in design and makes you feel as if you're driving over a sculpture. But the observatory is the real attraction and carries with it the irony that with all the natural peaks in Maine, this manmade one just might offer the ultimate view.
It is 420 feet high, accessible by a minute-long elevator ride that opens up directly to reveal a stunning vista of coastal Maine and the Penobscot River all those many stories below. (Those nervy about heights -- no matter what age -- can use the elevator ride to mentally prepare, but they would be wise to stand toward the back once disembarking.)
The observation room, which is an additional two knee-straining flights up, offers 360-degree views. On a clear day, you can see 100 miles, from the pristine islands studding Penobscot Bay to the craggy Wallamatogus and Bald Mountains.
Words cannot adequately capture the scene and here, as they say, is the magic part: This million-dollar view is truly overwhelming, with the added intrigue of an elevator ride to a towering perch.
Children will not just tolerate it, they'll be enthused to play king of the mountain.
Use the Fort
After that, head next door to
For you geographically challenged, no, you can't burrow through this Fort Knox's dirt roof to get to a ridiculously secured bullion depository. The sexier, splashier Fort Knox is in Kentucky and has no dirt roof.
But at Maine's Fort Knox, that unrivaled fall view bagged, you will be able to enjoy the site of kitchen-counter supplier meets military installation, not to mention visit a historical footnote that stands as a WMD of intelligence in the Civil War era.
Construction of Fort Knox actually began in 1844, years before the Civil War.
The state of Maine became obsessed at that time with the idea that it was going to be invaded by Britain, who would come through its colony of Canada down the Penobscot River, in order to steal the ample lumber supplies in Bangor ... or so the more paranoid residents believed.
OK, in retrospect in sounds like an overblown fear. But it was not that off the mark, if seen in the context of the day -- during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, British war ships did sail down the Penobscot. In addition to that, there was the virtually forgotten Aroostook War of 1838-9, a relatively bloodless, intermittent border dispute between Maine settlers and the British in Canada.
The upshot was that Maine was itching for a fortification to protect itself from the British, but the federal government was not so keen on handing over the financing. The result was a haltingly financed fort, with construction spanning almost two decades.
Fort Knox was built of the local granite, which has since made its way from the wild to the trendiest kitchen counters.
At the time, it was the first fort in the state not constructed from wood, and it even boasts the envy of all modern interior decorators: a remarkable granite spiral staircase.
Though the fort features a dry moat on one side and cannon emplacements -- each requiring eight soldiers to fire -- facing the river on the other, it never fired a shot in combat. Those cheeky Brits didn't show up on the Penobscot River again, and the fort did little else but house Civil War trainees.
Today, with the British on our side in our own collective battle based on bad intelligence, the fort is part of a placid state park. Civil War reenactments and other events are held there, but the grounds are open for wandering anytime from May to the end of October.
It's a bit like visiting a castle being put up for auction after the owners have gone bankrupt, burning up their furniture the last few nights for heat. Most of it is cavernously empty (which means the kids can run around with no danger of breaking anything), although the ghosts of a rich history still linger.
Fort Knox is well worth the visit, especially for families looking to sneak in a slightly educational autumn trip, or those en route to
Acadia National Park or other natural destinations with a troop from the handheld-game generation. A towering elevator ride and an hour spent trying to blast imaginary Brits through the rifle port into oblivion is suitable distraction -- it certainly worked for our ill-trained, ill-tempered army of three.
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At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.
A journalist with a background on Wall Street, Marek Fuchs has written the County Lines column for The New York Times for the past five years. He also contributes regular breaking news and feature stories to many of the paper's other sections, including Metro, National and Sports. Fuchs was the editor-in-chief of Fertilemind.net, a financial Web site twice named "Best of the Web" by Forbes Magazine. He was also a stockbroker with Shearson Lehman Brothers in Manhattan and a money manager. He is currently writing a chapter for a book coming out in early 2007 on a really embarrassing subject. He lives in a loud house with three children. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;
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