ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine>> Cheered by a key victory in Congress and good news from the Gulf oil spill zone, a relaxed President Barack Obama began a weekend holiday Friday on a sun-dappled mountain peak overlooking the rocky Atlantic coast.
Within hours of landing at the Bar Harbor airport in a smaller version of Air Force One, Obama, his wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha were clambering over the granite outcrops at the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. At 1,530 feet, it’s the tallest peak along the East Coast, according to the National Park Service.
The family also went cycling for an hour on a secluded bike trail along a nearby lake.
Their visit was scheduled to end Sunday morning; no public events were planned.
The brief vacation quickly yielded plenty of photos of a president who knew he’s had a good week.
Before leaving Washington, Obama went before TV cameras in the White House Rose Garden to bask in the latest news from the Gulf — that for the first time in 12 weeks no oil was flowing from the ruptured underwater well.
Obama, clearly relieved, called it "good news" but stressed that the cap in place was at best a temporary measure, pending the permanent cementing of the well. That is expected to happen sometime next month.
Still, the news was hugely welcome after weeks of rising public frustration that often forced Team Obama on the defensive.
It also came a day after the Senate sent him a package of new financial market rules that Obama insisted are crucial to the economic recovery and necessary to prevent a repeat of the severe financial collapse of 2008.
But in Maine, for a couple of days, Obama seemed happy to leave the politics behind and concentrate on his family.
After leaving the mountain, they stopped at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream for cones.
"I went with coconut," Obama said as he walked out of the shop. Licking his cone, he said: "This stuff is terrific. Excellent. I strongly recommend it." He shook hands and posed for photos with some German exchange students, telling them "Guten tag" or "Hello."
The area around Bar Harbor is a scenic retreat favored by the rich and famous, from Rockefellers and Vanderbilts to movie stars. Aides said the Obamas planned to spend much of their time in the 47,000-acre national park.
Their first stop was Witch Hole Pond and a bike trail cleared of users by rangers and the Secret Service. The Obamas rode in private as an ocean wind ruffled the trees, aides said.
An hour later, they were back in the motorcade of SUVs and driving a switchback road to the mountain summit. From there, the Obamas surveyed a spectacular stretch of Maine’s rocky coast — Frenchman Bay and Somes Sound, bright blue in the sunlight, hugging the outlines of Mount Desert Island and partially obscured by scattered cloud banks below.
Sasha, 9, balanced on a granite boulder with her arms in the air, and Malia, 12, had her arms around her mother’s back as the park superintendent pointed out features to the president. Obama shook hands with tourists in a parking lot before leaving.
"You brought the sunshine," shouted one.
"At the control center of the White House, we move the clouds around," Obama deadpanned.
Later, a boat tour of Frenchman Bay was cut short by 20 minutes when it became cloudy, fog rolled in and it began to rain. After the boat docked at the edge of Bar Harbor, the Obamas went to dinner at a harborside restaurant.
Obama’s vacation time as president has been relatively spare. He’s spent some or all of just 65 days on vacation, including at Camp David, according to Mark Knoller, a CBS News reporter the White House recognizes for his record-keeping. By contrast, George W. Bush’s total after 18 months in office was 120 vacation days.
But those days have been somewhat of a nightmare to schedule for Obama. Trips with his family have been interrupted, shortened, delayed and canceled with remarkable regularity. Stays in Chicago, Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., Hawaii and national parks out West were interrupted by the calls of office, and a trip to Indonesia has been postponed — twice.