Terra Nova National Park: a reintroduction

We were in our twenties the last time we camped at Terra Nova National Park. Carl and I had just started dating and were with our university friends for the May 24thlong weekend. Newfoundlanders are determined to camp on this weekend. Wild fluctuations in day-time and night-time temperatures at that time of year mean it is a shock-and-awe tenting experience. We slept in a pup tent, drank copious amounts of adult beverages and, in general, just celebrated being alive and finished with another term of post-secondary education. We therefore honestly couldn’t remember much about the park. Our interests in those days did not extend to hiking, assessing facilities and wondering about interpretive programs. We have always camped in Gros Morne when we are in Newfoundland because of proximity to Carl’s Mom. How would Terra Nova measure up to Gros Morne we wondered?

The first thing we had to do is decide which campground to inhabit. There are two main ones. We needed electricity and wanted to be handy to some good hiking trails so we chose Newman Sound Campground. Carl and I had a little bit of an argument as to whether this was the campground we all took residence in during that wild weekend so long ago. Carl thought it was. I reminded him there was only one in our group who had a car. Our friend Obes owned an ancient, tank-like Volvo with no brakes. Every time we had to make a daily beer run, he took a couple of guys with him in case he went into the ditch. They had to make several passes at the Traytown turn-off from the highway before he could get the Volvo slowed enough to manage the turn. I recalled that we camped as close as we could to Traytown to minimize the danger. You can’t beat the safety logic of 19-year-olds. That meant we would have been in the Malady Head Campground. Yes, that is the name of a real place. One thing you get used to in Newfoundland is colourful and strangely appropriate place names. The Malady Head campground is close to Traytown and Glovertown while the Newman Sound Campground is more centred in the Park, sheltered in the Newman Sound Inlet.

The Newman Sound Campground was beautifully laid out with easy access to everything you might need. It is remarkable how they manage to fit so many campers into the Campground without it seeming crowded or intrusive. In our Newman Sound Campground, there were raised gardens, bird houses and evidence of the craft-fruit of other facilitated children’s programs around the campground. There are child activity centres in the campground areas in which many interesting programs take place during the day. Terra Nova is also trying to develop a dark sky sanctuary, which I did not know until I saw the bat exhibit at the children’s resource centre. The park is a great example of “if you build it they will come with kids.” It was lovely to see and hear so many children and families camping together. This has not always been our experience in National Parks. The Park seems to have purposely arranged playgrounds, activity centres and trails such that mixed aged groups can all find something to do together. The shower areas and comfort centres were clean and well kept. There are laundry facilities and even a general store. The campground dumping station was positively industrial in scale – 4 well-spaced receiving stations.  Our only disappointment was that fire pits are only found in communal areas. This is to mitigate risk of forest fire. Central Newfoundland can get quite dry in the summer time.

As with many National Parks, there are a number of different eco-systems to explore: boreal forest, seashore, ghost remnants of a ship building village, woodlands, ponds, bogs and more. Hiking, kayaking, boat tours, canoeing and swimming are all possible in this Park.

IMG_0722 5

Visitor Centre interactive interpretive display.

Terra Nova has some informative, well-staffed and interesting interpretive centres at Sandy Pond including a Marine Exhibit and a very interesting self-directed audio tour around a very old ship-building site.

My mother-in-law is a Newfoundland West-Coaster and is therefore very attached to Gros Morne National Park. When Carl and I returned from our Terra Nova excursion she asked me in a tone weighted with expectation of the correct answer, “So, did it measure up to Gros Morne?” I replied that Terra Nova exceeded our expectations and was astonishingly beautiful in its own way.

How to Get There:

Presuming you have found your way to Newfoundland either by air or by ferry, you will need to take the Trans Canada Highway. If you took the ferry which lands at Port Aux Basque your ferry ride will be about 6 hours. You will need to travel east for about 8 hours. Gas stations are not plentiful so fill up when you can. If you took the ferry to Argentia your ferry ride will be about 13 hours, but your land trip to Terra Nova will be between 2-3 hours. Both ferries will require reservations. Make them well ahead of time. It is a sad sight to see tourists languishing on the edges of the ferry terminal parking lots while they wait for space on the ferry.

Contact Information:

Visitor Centre (Salton’s Brook): 709-533-2942

https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/nl/terranova

Fundy National Park: an eco-smorgasbord

Fundy is a National Park worth coming back to, even unto the third generation.

I began camping in Fundy National Park at the age of twelve. Camping was important in my family. My father came to Canada from the Netherlands as a young boy after WWII. He fully invested emotionally, psychologically and physically in this country. When he turned eighteen he joined the Royal Canadian Airforce. He met my mother a few years later after befriending her brother. They married and began a family. As an adult, he insisted my siblings and I take part in those things he felt that Canadians did, which included hiking, fishing and camping. My mother was not so keen. Her childhood included times of deep poverty which made the idea of minimalist sleeping, eating and struggling with flimsy shelter seem ridiculous and vaguely, uncomfortably familiar. In particular, she really hated tenting in those smelly, mouldy canvas tents which never seemed to be erected without much cursing.  She loved us, so she endured, managing to avoid camping-reality by immersing herself in murder-mystery novels.

One day, I disembarked from the Junior High bus to find an old, Bell telephone van in the driveway. Dad had put a bid on one and became the proud owner of this strange, clearly once heavily utilized blue van. He had a plan. By himself, with the occasional help of some inquisitive, sometimes incredulous neighbours, he cut off the top, extending it upward by three feet. He added a tiny fridge, some bunks and a collapsible table. He painted this Franken-van the colours of the Dutch flag. Dad grandly opened the side doors one day, declaring it finished. He proudly named it his “Blue-assed Baboon.” He did this, I think, partly because he could not keep himself from inventing weird things, but also because he loved my mother and hoped she would come to like camping as much as he did. I am not sure she ever got there, but camping was never quite the same after that. It improved in some ways and became more complicated in other ways.

One thing that it improved was our ability to range farther during our family vacations. One of the first really long trips we made in it was to Fundy National Park. We liked the Park so much we returned. I fell so in love with this Park that Carl and I decided to spend our first post-marriage vacation together there. He fell in love with it too.  Although, there were some very amusing moments for this born-and-bred Newfoundlander as he experienced life off the rock for the first time (more about that later). When we had children, we would often camp at Fundy feeling it was well worth the long trip. Now our children go there as adults, enriching their children with this same intense camping experience.

 

Why is Fundy so special? Fundy National Park has many radically different ecosystems packed into a relatively small space of a Park. The Park’s compact size means you can experience and explore them all. Fundy is home to the world’s highest tides, finalist for one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World. The Park has guided beach walks or you can walk out for kilometres and explore the fascinating tidal flats on your own. When you tired of tides, there is a unique blend of forests on the cliffs and mountains which are part Acadian forest and part Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region forest. If fields and grasses are your thing, you can find trails through those too. Fundy National Park has a lovely salt-water swimming pool, a beautiful golf course, groups of chalets and access to lake kayak/canoeing as well as sea-kayaking tours. There are hiking trails for every skill set and environment preference including journeys through forests, sea-side, mountain, riverside and waterfalls. Fundy Park is open year-round, although we have never been brave enough to winter camp (yet).

Fundy_National_Park_(8083106376) James Bates pic

pic by James Bates (Flickr Commons)

Accommodations include a variety of tenting sites, RV sites, chalets, yurts and oTENTiks. Care needs to be taken with the latter, as they are perched on cliff edges. Any family with toddlers or disobedient, unrestrained dogs would do well to avoid them. Chignecto North and Headquarters Campgrounds are well appointed with showers and shelters. We have found that there are often restrictions on campfires during the summer. However, Headquarters Campground is more likely to allow them because of their proximity to fire-fighting facilities. If you need a campfire, camp there.

There are a few stores in the nearby town of Alma, but they only contain the rudimentary things needed for camping and refurbishment of basic food. So, bring lots of food with you. There is a great seafood store with wonderful lobster and good scallops. One tradition we have is going to the Kelly’s Bakery, “Home of the World Famous Sticky Bun.” Truly, those sticky buns are the most delicious things on this planet. Don’t get one until the day you are leaving the Park because if you get them when you arrive, you will just dream of them every single day until you have one every single day and then you will leave a much larger person than when you came. So, trust me, wait.

My parents never really camped after we became older teens. However, they did plant those love-of-camping seeds in me. Now, my children and grandchildren are growing into their own deep love of camping. We keep coming back to Fundy and I suspect we always will. It always feels like a reunion of sorts. To honour my mother, I occasionally bring a murder-mystery to read.

Fundy National Park covered bridge

New Brunswick is the only province with well-preserved covered bridges. (Pic by Milo, Marko, Ana and Aleska – Flickr Commons)

Fundy National Park is located in New Brunswick which is Canada’s only truly bilingual province. Therefore, services are handily offered in good quality French and English.

Headquarters

PO Box 1001, Alma

NB E4H 1B4

Visitor Centre/Headquarters: 1-506-887-6000

www.parks.canada.gc/fundy

 

 

Gros Morne National Park: a UNESCO World Heritage Site for lots of reasons

 

Many years ago, Carl and I spent our honeymoon in Gros Morne National Park, where, as you would hope, we fell even more in love with each other. What we did not expect was how deeply  we would fall in love with Gros Morne National Park. I had trouble writing this post because it is so very difficult to convey into mere words such astonishing beauty. A combination of mountains, a freshwater fjord, the highest waterfall in eastern North America, salmon rivers, deep lakes, ocean seashore, dense forest and the occasional misty field make it a stunning buffet of panoramas. The multiple options available to explore these make it a struggle to choose your daily adventure!IMG_0280

Gros Morne is a UNESCO heritage site partly because of its picturesque splendour, but also because of its unique geological features. Orange, naked, mineral dense, weathered rock from the middle layer of the earth called the Tablelands, has been thrust up next to beautiful, forest-covered mountains through the stresses and strains of plate tectonics over 500 million years. You can walk on some of both in the span of a day. The geological tectonic thrusting about combined with glacial scouring during the last ice age to create interesting mountain cliffs, valleys and a freshwater fjord.The Tablelands of Gros Morne is one of the few places on earth where you can see, touch and walk on the Earth’s mantle. Every time we go to Gros Morne I need to walk on the Tablelands, lay my hands on the wrinkled rock and just breathe. It feels like holy space to me. At Green Point, seaside cliffs are layered with markers of deep time. Fossils mark the boundary between the Cambrian and Ordovician periods. This is a geological benchmark for the rest of the world, referred to as “Green Point Time.”

IMG_0270

Green Point: plate tectonics make interesting patterns. All of these, including the section that looks like a castle “wall,” were sculpted and cut by the earth’s crust .

If you camp, time seems to bend at Gros Morne. The five campgrounds are well maintained with clean comfort stations and good showers. You can choose from forested areas, shoreline or mountain views. Newfoundland is one of the last bee, bat and bird havens in eastern Canada. Since it is an island, the diversity of mammal population is more limited than that of the  Canadian mainland. You will notice that besides the occasional moose, there is very little roadkill on Newfoundland roads. There are no porcupines, racoons, snakes or gophers. Campsites therefore remain relatively unmolested by wildlife. Even bears tend to keep themselves scarce.

The hiking at Gros Morne is, I was told by global hikers, world class. There will be a separate blog describing some of the trails. Suffice to say, there are nineteen trails that explore unique aspects of this part of the world. There are many guided walks and some really excellent interpretive centres. You must get out and move around in Newfoundland to truly meet her. Luckily, when you get there, the land calls to you and you can’t wait to get your walking shoes on. Having said that, be prepared. Newfoundland is rugged and the weather changeable.

Tabletop mountains

Tabletop mountains

Many journeys culminate in Gros Morne National Park. Salmon make their epic voyage home to Gros Morne from their travels in oceanic parts unknown. You are able to fly fish in the Park, an activity that Carl says would beat any kind of meditation, yoga and mindfulness practice in terms of total body-mind relaxation. There are several companies that offer boat tours, kayaking tours and ocean fishing. Rocky Harbour is a tiny town inside the park which has certainly grown since we honeymooned in Gros Morne. You can find just about anything you may need there.  It has a fish store where you can get the world’s most delicious scallops and lobsters, often brought in that very day. If you prefer a cooked meal there are several restaurants.

We were told last summer about a really good fish-and-chip place in Rocky Harbour so we dropped by at about noon. Usually if a restaurant is good, there will be lots of people in it. I was one of two customers so I wondered if we were in the wrong place. I looked at the waitress and asked, “Where is everybody? There’s no one here.” She put down her cloth, looked over her glasses and said, “They strikes about 12:30.” It took me a moment to realize she meant that’s when the customers come. Newfoundland has a famously unique dialect. Often phrases or words refer back to fishing.  I remembered that when lots of fish start biting the fishing lines they are said to have “struck.” Also, on that note, most Newfoundlanders expect a real lake to be gigantic (by Mainlander standards). Most bodies of fresh water tend to be called “ponds.” When we first moved to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland thirty-three years ago, we saw Dollar Lake, shook our heads and Carl said, “I scoffs at dat. It’s a pond, b’y.” With that in mind, to explore Western Brook Pond requires a substantial trip in a large boat, which is well worth doing.

Explore local culture in Rocky Brook and other nearby towns. Newfoundlanders are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet.

IMG_0274

Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore created this piece of art that invites people to listen to the land. You can find it at the edge of Green Point.

 

 Contact Information for Gros Morne National Park

http://www.pc.gc.ca/grosmorne

email: grosmorne.info@pc.gc.ca

Mail: Gros Morne National Park of Canada, P.O. Box 130, Rocky Harbour, NL, A0K 4N0

Phone: (709) 458-2417

Reservations: http://www.reservations.parkscanada.gc.ca, 1-877-737-3783

 

Forillon National Park, a review by soundscape: pebbles, birds, children, RV washing (what?) and silence

I wish I could record the soundscapes for this park. First among the recordings would be the sound of walking on the pebbles of Grande-Grave beach. Pebbles is not quite the right word. It is more like a vast natural collection of flat, grey stones. Take the sound you remember as you walked along a pebble beach and add ethereal percussion.  The pebbles, wind and ocean is why Europeans came to this part of the Gaspé beginning in the 16th century. It was ideal for laying out cod to dry on the beach. A great fishing industry built up which was managed by a kind of fish mafia from the Jersey islands. They laid claim to the world’s “best” cod, although I know some Newfoundlanders who might dispute that. Sadly, over fishing means that cod is now the “white rhino” of the edible sea. The Park does an excellent job of animating this history with Hymans and Sons General Store. There is also a fisherman’s house, the Blanchette homestead. I thought I knew a lot about cod fishing, but there was still a great deal to learn in the well laid-out display upstairs in the General Store.

 

 

The second sound I would record is the that of birds. There were so many that I could not identify. It is encouraging. I wondered if the Park is experiencing the same horrific downturn in bird population as the rest of the world. I also wondered what kind of bird sounds the Mi’kmaq heard as they occupied, used and respected the land for over 8,000 years. A sound I could not record if I wanted to is that of mosquitos. This was a nice surprise, reprieve even. You learn to live with the constant whining of mosquitos where I come from.

The camp grounds are laid out in a let of 5 (A, B, C, D, E).  Four are all grouped together in kind of a skinny-leaved four-leaf clover. There is also a group campground. We were in one of the new 31 semi-serviced campsites (running water, electricity).  I was impressed that the Trudeau government was doing what they said they would do – investing in our National Parks after a decade of cuts by the other guys.

IMG_0038

Home at Forillon National Park

The third sound I would record is that of children. When we arrived almost every other site was occupied by massive motorhomeswho were part of an American tour group. This meant that they took off together in the little cars they towed for trips during the day, then retreated into their palaces on wheels when they got back. The only time we saw them was when they washed their motor homes which happened with a surprising frequency considering the motor homes never moved. All of the occupants were seniors who seemed terrified and/or suspicious when we said hello.  I really missed the sound of children’s voices so when I jogged in the mornings would choose a route through the other tenting campground areas. When the big motorhomes moved out en masse one morning, they were replaced that by families with children, Boomers in smaller motorhomes and just few Big Rig Seniors. They all had dogs. Children’s voices and dog barking vitalized our campscape. Thank God.

This Park infrastructure is prepared for children and families. There are modest playgrounds. There were a couple of offerings a day, often in French (as is appropriate since French is the first language of Québec). These too seemed more oriented toward adult experience. The shower areas are combined with recreation places that have a couple of wood stoves and several wooden tables suitable for board-game playing and family dinners. There is also a place to do supper dishes for Tenters. Much family conversation, negotiation and bonding happens when doing those dishes. I would sometimes linger, being the inveterate people-watcher I am.

IMG_0040

Lovely comfort centres are part of the shower and bathroom buildings

Another sound that I might record is that of Yates’ pounding on doors. The biggest interpretive centre is L’Anse-au-Griffon Visitor Centre. We really wanted to visit this on our way out. We arrived at 8:30am but were dismayed to find out the Centres all open at 10am. Almost all of the animated display centres also did not open until 10am or 11am. Mid-morning seems a strange time to open, but perhaps they found campers did not get themselves together until then.

The final soundscape would consist of a total lack of sound. The great asset of the Park is the combination of different eco-systems that can be explored. There are unique beaches, ancient human habitations, wooded trails, mountainous trails and cliff-walking. In a world of light pollution, the Forillon Park night sky is very dark, for those who like to explore the heavens. If you settle in your chair by the crumbling ashes of the fire and tip your head back you can imagine yourself in the depths of space, where there is no sound. At all.

 

Vistor’s Guide to Forrillon National Park:

“Located at the northeastern tip of the Gaspé Peninsula, Forillon National Park safeguards an are that is representative of a terrestrial natural region, the Notre_Dam and Mégantic mountain ranges, and of some elements of two marine natural regions, the Laurentian Channel and the Magdalen Shallows. In other words, it protects a segment of the Applachians and the adjacent waters as well as the fauna and flora inhabiting this area.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dollar Lake Provincial Park: The Park

Dollar Lake Park has been a favourite of ours since the boys were very little. It is close to Halifax which meant it was also close to our home should the need arise to flee for various toddler-emergency related reasons. For tourists and other visitors, this proximity means the great cultural life of the city is within a 40-minute drive. The Park is about a 20-minute drive from the Airport and Highway 102, which is part of the TransCanada. You can also quite easily go to Truro, the Annapolis Valley via that route. Alternatively, you take Highway 357 South and explore the Eastern Shore. (Travel Tip: you should gas up at the Irving by the airport or at Parker’s in Middle Musquodoboit if you are running low. There is no gas station within a thirty-minute drive).

SAM_1188

A view as you enter Dollar Lake Park

The Park has a really great small beach, with just enough sand on its shores and on the bottom of the lake to make play, swimming and general water-lounging quite comfortable. Grassy areas under shade trees are available for those who are land-loungers. There is a life-guard on duty during the summer months. Picnic tables are not plentiful, therefore if you plan to spend a meal-time there and need one, come early in the morning to grab one. The public change rooms and washrooms are kept clean by diligent staff (although toilet paper frequently runs out on very busy days) and if you get hungry at the beach there is a canteen run by the non-profit Heartwood.

Dollar Lake.beach

(photo: nils) Dollar Lake beach

There are enough water taps near each campsite. However, the two nearest ours did not work. We had to walk a little farther to fill up our jugs. As I walked, I remembered when Dollar Lake used to be a party destination until the alcohol restrictions were imposed. It could get quite rowdy. Once, when Matt was about 5 or so, we went to fill up our water container at the nearest tap. A young man was attempting to add some water to a large pot with Kraft dinner remnants. He looked up at us, turned green, dropped the pot and ran into the woods. Orangey noodles littered the base of the tap. We picked our way around them. As we filled the plastic jug, Matt asked what happened to the man. I was about to explain what a hangover was, then thought better of it. Matthew happily mused that the raccoons would have a great KD feast that night. Thankfully, the Park is much more peaceful these days. The occasional whiff of marijuana will waft over you as you walk. I have never heard of weed-smokers starting riots as drunk people are wont to do, so we don’t worry about it.

SAM_1183

Our campsite: “The Lakes”

The 119 campsites are organized around 4 loops, A, B, C, D. By the time we figured out we both had enough time off to book the Canada Day Weekend for camping, we got the second last available site, C4. On this weekend of rain-deluge we affectionately called our site, “The Lakes.” When I complained after stepping out of the camper into 2 inches of water on Saturday morning, Carl reminded me that there was a worse site. He had checked it out. It would have been the last campsite to go, which means people taking bookings are doing their best to put people into the best ones first. That’s a good thing. On that note, we walked around the loops. It should be said that all the campsites are of ample size. There are some stunning ones. Several on loop A overlook the lake and have beautiful views with the sound of loons during the day and owls at night.  Some of those are potential toddler-danglers, so take care. Loop D has a couple of sites that are spectacular. One is surrounded by rock formation. Last year, some ridiculously self-absorbed people spray painted on these rocks that their family had been gathering there for over 2 decades. I was glad to see this was painted over. Another D site has a kind of driveway and is placed deep within a wooded lot. When D loop was developed some obvious care was taken with site design.

SAM_1186

A large wooded site on D loop

SAM_1187

Another wooded site on D loop

SAM_1184

A beautiful campsite amongst rock formations

We have hiked some of the trails. They are not lengthy and one of them has poison ivy so you will need to be careful. We did not hike this weekend because we would have been knee deep in mud.SAM_1180

The shower and bathrooms at Dollar Lake are clean. Staff are very careful about keeping them clean. I have special inside knowledge in this matter as our oldest son had a summer job at Dollar Lake many years ago. One of his main duties was to go into these to clean the toilets, wipe sinks and hose every inch of floor down. He is now a Mechanical Engineer and works in shipbuilding. Whenever I go into shower/bathrooms I think of him doing this work and the work he is doing now with care and precision. I feel a little proud. That’s not weird, right? In terms of facilities, the Park appears to be fraying at the edges. The playground equipment is rusting. There is a slide next to one of the showers that looks like it might fall apart at any minute. Two of the water camps next to our site did not produce water.  I suspect this is due to successive years of provincial cutbacks. This is shortsighted and a little strange given that the governments also declare tourism as one of the pillars of economic growth.

Nonetheless, we appreciated our time at this beautiful little campground.

Website link: https://parks.novascotia.ca/content/dollar-lake

2017 Season Dates: June 9 to October 9
Park contact number: (902) 384-2770
Civic address: 5265 Old Guysborough Road, Wyses Corner, NS

Next Blog Post: Dollar Lake: Dune, teen-wrangling and extended family