The Desert of Maine – Freeport, Maine - Atlas Obscura
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Freeport, Maine

The Desert of Maine

This tiny patch of arid sand sits in one of the greenest states in the United States. 

Despite slowly encroaching vegetation and a great deal of yearly rainfall, the so-called Desert of Maine remains a strange reverse-oasis among the verdant Maine pines.

The small, 40-acre plot of land now known as the Desert of Maine actually began as a successful farming plot. As early as the late 1700s, the land was being farmed by the Tuttle family, who used the acreage to grow potatoes.

Unfortunately, by the late 1800s, the family had neglected to rotate their crops. That, combined with overgrazing by their flock of sheep, turned the land into a useless sandy silt. The family abandoned the unfarmable plot in 1919.

The “desert” isn’t a true desert, as it still receives a fair amount of precipitation every year. In truth, the poor land use had exposed glacial silt that had been laying in wait under the topsoil for thousands of years. 

Because of the land’s desert-like appearance, it was turned into a tourist oddity in 1925. The Desert of Maine has been attracting curious visitors ever since. The dunes are now adorned with desert-worn debris and even a fiberglass camel. A gift shop and “sand museum” have also been erected, where visitors can bottle and take home some sand from one of the most unlikely deserts in the world. 

Know Before You Go

The Desert of Maine is two miles off I-295. Take Exit 20 and turn west to Dead End. The current admission prices are: adults $12.50, teens (ages 13 to 16) $7.75, and children (ages four to 12) $6.75.

The desert is fenced in, and closed for the winter season.