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.

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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: lessons from barnacles

When the kids were little, we would go on every guided walk/hike that was on offer. Ostensibly this was for their education. Truthfully, guided walks are enjoyable for all generations. Led by Park personnel, those walks always ended up being chock full of surprising facts and intriguing observations. You also get to meet and converse with your fellow campers who inevitably are from all over the world. It is always a good practice to take in a couple during your stay if you can manage it because it may transform how you view your natural surroundings. Sometimes an encounter can even transfigure your worldview.

 Fundy National Park is home to a variety of eco-systems and so offers a diverse selection of interpreted walks. Lake Bennet also has a guided canoe trip.  If you can only take in guided walk, do not miss the interpretive beach walk. The stroll will take place at very low tide so you can walk out quite far. Remember to wear your rubber boots! The guides tend to stay close to the tidal pools which look like salt-water puddles to the untrained eye. As you gather round and listen to the guide you begin to see that the Fundy tidal flats are home to an incredible array of creatures. It was once thought that the flats were devoid of life, even sterile. When biologists decided to take a closer look at the beginning of the last century, the diversity of crustaceans, fish, mammals and plants surprised them. The walks introduce you to a smattering of these creatures.

On these walks I love watching the transformation of people’s consciousness. They arrive, sloshing indiscriminately through puddles. By the end of the tour, they gingerly, respectfully pick their way through the mud. It is a delight to watch the wonder of children as they take small sticks, softly nudging tiny crabs into reluctant movement.

When you get a sense of the density of life on the flats, you want to walk lightly. It makes you slightly cringe to hear the crunch-crunch of barnacles meeting the bottom of your rubber boots. I learned on one of these walks that barnacles make a fateful decision. When they are miniscule, shell-less creatures, they swim freely around the ocean until it is time to set up a home for the next part of their life cycle. Then they must choose very wisely. When they finally find a spot, on a rock or under a boat, they excrete a glue that is tougher than any man-made glue on the planet. Attaching themselves to the object, they begin to construct a calcium-rich shell around themselves, complete with front-doors that open when the tide comes in and close when it is out. How horrible, I thought, to have chosen the rocks that people will walk on. Likewise, how sad to have chosen small rocks that get buffeted about by the waves, crushing them in the grind of pebbles and rocks. How fortunate is the barnacle that selected the sheltered side of large, inaccessible rocks. No wonder they are so huge, some approaching an inch in height. If you only ever get to choose once, a barnacle needs to choose well.

 

Barnacles by Chris Spencer (Flickr Commons)

Barnacles by Chris Spencer, Flickr Commons

It occurred to me that we humans are blessed with choice and chances for new beginnings and renewal. Although there are many things in life we do not have control over, there are daily decisions of small and large behaviors that we do get to choose. Today I presided at a funeral of a remarkable, humble woman, Roberta. She was of that generation that Tom Brokaw has referred to as the Greatest Generation. She was born in 1930, just as the horrors of the Great Depression were beginning to be visited upon the most vulnerable. When she was three years old her father left the family leaving her mother to raise her alone at a time when such

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Another friend you may meet on a guided walk at Fundy

 

circumstances not only bore real financial brutality but also social shame. Roberta lived through the Second World War and its aftermath. Throughout all of this hardship , or perhaps because of it, she determined to live a life of love and service to her community. She was devoted to her family, volunteered for a number of community groups, was faithful to her God and her church and was particularly interested in the promotion of the arts and literacy. She often said she was the luckiest person in the world. I found that an astonishing statement when I think of how she would describe the reality of her early years. When I listen to her children tell her life story, I cannot help but think that throughout her life she consistently made daily decisions to love and build up, rather than to resent and tear down. There was no situation, Roberta felt, in which a person could not start over in some way.

In life there are many things we do not get to choose. There are also many times we can pick ourselves up and try another rock.  We are not barnacles. For that we can be thankful.

 

 

Fundy National Park: How Those World-Wonder Tides Work (by Carl Yates)

The Tilting Tides of Fundy

When Linda and I went on our first anniversary tour as a couple, she was keen to take me to Fundy National Park where she had previously explored as a young child on camping trips with her family.  One of the big draws then, and still is, the amazing high tides of the Bay of Fundy that occur twice a day.  The twice a day occurrence of course is not unique but the height of the tides in the Bay of Fundy sure is.  When Linda and I did our tour, we met up with a friend of ours, Derek Dunphy, who went to university with us and had just graduated from engineering school.  As part of our reunion in the park, we decided to see what these high tides were all about and planned a day trip from the town of Alma to see how far we could go out on the flats after the tide went out.  Being smart engineers and recognizing the trek could be long and tiresome, we took a six-pack of beer with us to ensure our thirst would be quenched along the way.  After going quite a long distance [> 2 km out] in our rubber boots on a hot sunny day, we decided enough was enough and sat down for our first beer.  With our thirst quenched, we stood up and proceeded back to Alma with one beer gone and another in our hands.  As it was sunny, the walk back was slower, aided by the fact we had to have a swallow every now and then.  After finishing the second beer, we decided it was time for a proper break and found an old log to sit on and tell some war [university stories].  After the third beer, we were getting a little giddy and didn’t seem to have a care in the world.  That was until I looked behind us and saw water rapidly advancing towards us and headed for the beach.  Alas, the tide was coming in and coming in fast.  We had no choice but to pick up the pace and keep moving towards Alma.  By the time we reached the town, we had a good sweat on.  What appeared to be a tranquil resting place to share a beer was long under very deep Carl and Derek Dunphy astonished at the tidewater and we were tired.  The moral of the story is don’t underestimate the speed and extent of the Bay of Fundy tides as they have stranded many an unsuspecting tourist.  So, why are the tides so high you ask!  Well, it goes like this:

As mentioned above, the tidal cycle occurs approximately twice daily, or every 12 hours and 26 minutes to be precise. The Bay of Fundy is shaped like a funnel so as the water enters the mouth of the Bay, it continues up the bay to the narrower part of the funnel and climbs higher up the shoreline as it goes.  In addition, there is a phenomenon called the “seiche” effect that comes into play.  If you put water on a shallow tray and start the movement of water from one end, it is magnified in height at the other end due to the momentum of the water as it travels across the confines of the tray.  The Bay of Fundy is in essence, a rather long, shallow tray.  Now here is the fascinating part.  It just so happens that it takes about 6 hours and 13 minutes for water to travel from  the mouth of the bay to the end of the Bay at the Minas Basin and Petitcodiac River just downstream of Moncton.  In other words, it matches the natural tidal cycle between low and high tide.  So what does the unsuspecting tourist see from this combination of natural forces at work.  The tide rises and falls by as much as 53 feet at the inner part of the Bay.  As Fundy National Park is a little more than halfway up the Bay of Fundy, tides in the order of 30 feet are quite common.

 

Linda’s Note: The tides are a wonder worth exploring. Take waterproof boots and dress for cool weather when you are on the windy flats. Keep track of your time and where you are. Many a tourist has had to frantically climb cliffs in order not to be swept away by the sea. Sometimes, sadly, they don’t make it. Currently both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are exploring ways to harness the massive energy power of these spectacular tides. Some companies have tried putting in turbines but the tides chewed them up and spit them back. The turbines are controversial because the Fundy tidal ecosystem is essential to an incredible variety of marine life. The Fundy sea bottom was once thought to be relatively devoid of life. Scientists have discovered (and you can too) a rich ecosystem uniquely adapted to salt water rushing in and out.

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.”

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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.

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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: exploring the parks out of the back of your car. Meet Nicholas.

Forillon National Park: Nicholas Madden, explorer

Perhaps you think you need a truck camper to explore all of Canada’s National Parks? I would like you to meet Nicholas Madden who is living out of his small car as he adventures through all of the Parks. We were puzzling out which version of the Mont-Saint-Alban trail the perpetually-psyched-for-a-hike dogs could tolerate with their short legs, when he joined us at the display map. He was tall, young and laden down with all kinds of camera paraphernalia. This caught my eye. It is rare to see someone younger than forty carry imaging equipment in an era of smart phones. Nowadays phones can take better photos than your average human with a fancy camera and a trunk full of camera paraphernalia. He looked directly at us and asked if we had done the climb before. No, I replied and then asked him what he was doing with so much imaging equipment which was admirably arranged all over his knapsack and himself. I silently rebuked myself for being so bold and possibly scaring away a young adult. They are scarcer than bears in these Parks crawling with seniors and Boomers. A spacious smile and then he spoke his story.

Nicholas Madden is 23 years old. He is travelling to as many Parks as he can get to in 2017. He has a degree in Environmental Studies. He was feeling a little burnt-out from constantly being at school and decided to take a year to see the environment close-up and personal. He is living out of his car as he travels across Canada. He is friendly, knowledgeable, adventurous and smart. He will meet his Dad in Alaska where the two of them will embark on a North-South odyssey of epic proportions exploring United States National Park. I totally get why Dad is going, beyond the bonding, fun and adventuring. I would have ten heart attacks a day imagining my child travelling solo, sleeping in the back of a car as he checks out American wild places. I found myself experiencing a total body relax-response the minute he said his Dad was accompanying him.

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Nicholas Madden

Nicholas is vlogging his journey which is why he needs to take so much recording equipment. He takes pictures, sound recordings and video recordings of the environment he loves so much. We talked for a while about the necessity of recording these shared natural spaces before climate change and human greed impact them. Because Carl and I can never stop being parents (damn!) we encouraged him to continue his environmental studies. I told him what I say to our son Matt who is working on a Ph.D. in biology at Concordia. In an era of assault on the environment and popular animosity toward science and data collection, devoting one’s life to science and scientific method is a slow but critically important act of resistance. Not many can do it, so the ones who can should.

Check out Nicholas’ vlog and Facebook site. When I asked if he had a name or title for his site he simply said “Google me.”

Forillon National Park Hiking: We encounter a Canadian lynx who may have thought Pax was a potential snack

One of our favourite things to do, whether we are camping or not, is to hike. We discovered this on our honeymoon in Gros Morse National Park 34 years ago. We were 22, grossly out of shape, unprepared and kind of stupid. We decided to hike the 20 kilometer Green Gardens trail. It was astonishing we emerged from that particular hike at all. When we recovered three days later, we had to admit we liked the experience of walking through vast expanses of nature, observing and/or dodging wildlife and challenging ourselves to push a little farther than we thought we go. We were hooked. We have been hiking pretty much weekly ever since.

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Petit-Gaspé trail

Every journey to a camping site is a commitment on our part to hike as many trails as we can. We prefer hikes that are a minimum of 6 kilometers to a maximum of 15. We have done longer ones but it is difficult to take the dogs as Pax has a bum leg. Given those parameters, Forillon was somewhat of a disappointment to us. Despite being called a “hiker’s paradise” it did not have many trails that fit within this range. You mostly needed to be a super-ninja hiker, that is 20-35 km hiking) or a slow leisurely walker kind of hiker (.6 to 3 km). Nonetheless, we did the few that fit us best and they did not disappoint.

First, it should be noted that Forillon is famous for being the mainland tail-end, or the beginning depending on your perspective, of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT). As you travel through Forillon Park various trails and roads are marked with the IAT symbol accompanied by some information about trail section length and difficulty rating. John Brinda from Washington State hiked the entire trail from Key West in Florida to Forillon in 1997. There is a nice plaque and information kiosk about this at near the lighthouse on the L’Anse-Aux-Amérindiens trail. As you travel throughout the Appalachians in the Gaspé you can often see these IAT signs.

The Petit-Gaspé Beach trail, a 7.2 km loop, was busy with friendly, hiking campers. Many groups included children and dogs. All were affable and seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was a well-groomed trail which culminates in an impressive observation tower at an elevation of 283 metres. The view is gorgeous as can be seen in the image below. There were several interpretive panels which were helpful as were the sporadically placed benches and the famous “red chairs.” These scarlet adirondack chairs are placed by Canada’s National Parks in the locations with the best views. They are ideal places to take a breath and let the beauty flow into you.IMG_0062

The most memorable event occurred on the L’Anse-aux-Amerindiens trail which we took from L’Anse-aux-Améridiens to Cap Gaspé. That hike gives you the option of walking on a dirt road or the IAT trail that runs alongside. As it was towards the end of the day and I simply did not feel like mountain-goating up hillsides we took the nicely banked dirt road. At this point I should confess our failings as dog-owners. Despite attendance at many obedience classes, we cannot get Pax to heel when hiking. Or ever, actually. She is 11 pounds of muscular feistiness. She is less unruly when she is able to trot ahead of our other dog Russell. She was not lead dog a number of times on this hike. When she is behind him, she is heart-broken and irate which means she emits sounds akin to that of a dying animal.  When we arrived at the lighthouse, the apex of the hike, I was looking at the ocean, while Russel growled and barked next to Carl. This is unusual for Russell.  Carl said, very quietly, “Linda, turn around.” There was a HUGE cat that was intently observing us about 50 feet away. It had come out of some tall grass, then crossed the lawn as it coolly surveyed the dogs. It disappeared into more tall grass. We think it is possible that it was following us because of Pax’s incessant wounded-animal cry. We had a little family meeting. We decided that if we are attacked by a bear or a Canadian lynx, Pax may have to make an honorable sacrifice to the carnivore gods if we cannot scare or beat the bear/lynx away with our hiking poles. Russell could not speak, but we feel strongly that he would be on our side in this matter.

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Cap Gaspé, after the Canadian lynx

We also saw seals and many different kinds of seabirds. Whales come by there, but we did not observe any.

We did several iterations of the Les Graves beach walks. These were always lovely. It amazed me though how humans need to constantly re-arrange the environment. Rather than leave driftwood as is, there were constant piles and structures being made by visitors. One evening, however, I do think God looked back at me from one of these, as yet unorganized, pieces of driftwood.

 

 

 

Trails

Prélude-a-Forillon:  .6 km loop – easy – universal access trail (boardwalk)

La Taîga:  3 km return – easy – observation blind, view of marsh, boreal forest, fragile environment

Les Parages:  3km loop – easy – Grand-Grave heritage site

La Chute:  1km loop – moderate – 17 m. waterfall, boardwalk and stairs

La Graves:  various possibilities from 6.4 km to 15.2 km, all return – moderate – coves, pebble      beaches, Cap-Gaspé, marine mammals.

Mont-Saint-Alban:  two possible loops from Petit-Gaspé beach and Cap-Bon-Ami – moderate – sea and cliff scenery, observation tower at 283m, 360-degree panoramic view

La Vallée:  9.2 km return – moderate – L’Anse-au-Griffon river system

Le Portage:  20 km return – moderate – connects the north and south sides of the peninsula

Les Créte:  35.4km return – difficult – wooded, mountainous, backcountry campsites

Les Lacs:  36.6km return – difficult – park highlands and wilderness lakes, back country campsites