Cape Breton Highlands National Park

About 225 miles from Halifax on the northern tip of Nova Scotia lies this magnificent National Park. We’ve spent four nights here – a bit of sunshine, some clouds, a spot of warmth, and some very cool nights.

I’m tired of my voice, so just enjoy these photos….

We took a hike one day, and were treated to some of the most intense autumn color I’ve ever experienced. About seven miles of splendid color, much of which was supplied by low-lying blueberry plants, whose dark scarlet leaves dominated the scene.

Along the way, there was an old survival cabin, equipped with two wooden bunks, a woodstove, two old sleeping bags, and a lantern.

What was really fun was the notebook with a stub of a pencil for inhabitants to leave notes for those yet to come. Lots of people commented about moose sightings (oh, sure…) and weather conditions. But this one made me laugh.

Tomorrow, we move on. This has been a great stop.

❤️ing Nova Scotia

When a post starts out with a photo like this, you know there’s not going to be too many negative things I have to say. Our trip to Canada just keeps on getting better and better. Nova Scotia was a huge surprise.

Our first few days in Nova Scotia were spent near Halifax. Before getting to the City itself, there were two remote locations that we were eager to explore. So, breaking our ‘no driving once we get to camp’ rule, we set off for the fishing village of Lunenberg, about 45 miles away. Lunenburg was established in 1753, by a proclamation signed by the King (George? I don’t remember). Today, Lunenburg is still a fishing city, with some of the fleet owned by people with names that were present in the area well over 100 years ago. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which means it has been selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization as having cultural, historical, scientific or other significance. It is judged to be important to the collectives of humanity, and it protected by international treaties (Wikipedia).

The photo above is Lunenburg. The pristine harbor was beautiful, even on the rainy, windy day we visited. Every corner, every turn brought something that I wanted to photograph. I probably took 80 photos, but have culled it to just a few to post.

Perhaps wrongly, we neglected to visit the Maritime Museum, which includes tours of a couple of old fishing schooners which are part of the Museum. We just didn’t have time.

The Fisherman’s Memorial there dedicated to all the fisherman who have lost their lives pursuing their dangerous vocation. It really moved me. Going back 100 years, it listed the ships lost, and the names of their crew. Each time, there were four or five men with the same last name – entire generations of families were often wiped out in one mishap. It’s a sobering testiment to a dangerous occupation. I was unable to get a photo, due to poor lighting conditions, so check this out. www.lunenburgns.com

From Lunenburg, we blew through the village of Mahone. In October, the who town becomes home to scarecrows of every kind. Sure, it’s kitschy, but there was a lot of fun stuff there. Lots of bride/groom pairs, including this one with an oddball guest.

My other two favorites were the kilt-wearing shepherd, protected by a plastic bag, and a quintet of musical genuises.

On to Peggy’s Cove. This rugged stretch of coastline is what I pictured all of Nova Scotia to look like. It is fantastically beautiful. As we approached, we passed no fewer than six tour buses returning to Halifax, probably bearing passengers from the cruise ships which dock there. I can see why they all want to see this. Here are a few of my favorite sights.

Peggy’s Cove is also the site of the Swissair Flight 111 Memorial. This flight crashed in 1996, resulting in the deaths of all on board, over 220 crew and passengers.

Its a beautiful, desolate spot. Apparently nearly 2 million pieces of crash debris were eventually recovered.

One reason we selected the campground we did was that it gave us the ability to ride our bikes about seven miles to catch a ferry into downtown Halifax. We really dislike wandering around strange cities, searching for parking in our big red truck. Not only could we cycle in, we rode the entire way along pieces and parts of The Great Trail, a maze of 24,000 miles of connected trails covering Canada. Pretty amazing. But we do wonder how we would get along without Google Maps for navigation. Whether on foot, bike, or in the car, this is the tool we use. It’s a marriage-saver.

Our first stop was the Fairview Lawn Cemetery, where there are about 200 graves of victims of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. This is a site we really wanted to visit, and we walked forever to get there. Perhaps we should have signed up for a tour – there were many groups with animated guides, telling stories of bravery of many of the victims. Without the benefit of that input, the site was a bit of a letdown.

Perhaps we didn’t find the soul of Halifax. There was a big port area filled with restaurants, shops, and other tourist gigs. It was teeming with cruise ship passengers. We wandered a bit, but really didn’t find much to capture our interest. Maybe we have tourist fatigue. Here’s one shot of a row of houses that caught my eye, and a guard at the Citadel (which we viewed from he outside). We’ve seen many forts and military museums, and decided not to partake of another.

So, we left the city, and headed back to the great outdoors. That’s a whole separate post.

Up North, for real

Urban Quebec is just a dim and distant memory after just a week or so on the road. We (foolishly) abandoned our original travel plans in favor of a route that would take us farther along the St. Lawrence River into northern Quebec. After all, we can see forests and rolling hills anywhere. But how many chances does one get to travel along a great shipping channel?

So, we headed out of Quebec City toward National Parc du Bic. Hello??? We knew there was a pet ban in nearly all Quebec National Parks, but did we confirm that for this location? Obviously not. After a scenic drive, we arrived at our destination, only to be reminded of the pet ban. We were chased northward to Rimuski Camping, a funky little motel/campground. We spend another night being pounded by rain, and departed to Sugarloaf Mountain Provincial Park the next morning.

Canada’s Provincial Parks are the equivalent to our State Parks. We’ve been in several now, and all have had huge, relatively private campsites with pristine bathrooms. All seem have extensive recycling programs, and superb maintenance. Camping here is a real pleasure. Sugarloaf has not only a ski hill, with challenging runs for all abilities, but also a popular bike park, full of twisty mountain bike trails with crazy jumps and long rickety narrow bridges, jammed with crazies sporting full face helmets and protective gear. The ski lift is equipped with special hooks for bikes to make the 800′ trip to the top effortless and quick. See that the chair ahead has a bike, but nobody in the chair. Attendants at the top snag the bikes and have them ready to go for the rider approaching in the next seat.

Although there weren’t any great vantage points from which to watch this spectacle, we saw lots of guys (only two women) risking life and limb to race down. Not for the faint of heart.

For us, we decided to hike to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, which is totally separate from the ski area. The trail circled the base of the Mountain innocently, until we hit Trail #9. In less than a kilometer, we climbed about 800 feet! That’s steep. A portion that section had a vertical ladder-like thing to assist the assent. Here’s the view going up and down. Seriously steep.

The photos really don’t capture the grade of this ladder. At the top, we were rewarded with a fantastic view.

Across the River is the province of Quebec. We are in New Brunswick.

Our other day at Sugarloaf, we split up – I was dying for a bike ride, and John wandered on foot. I rode about 40 miles to Dalhousie and back, following the River. Several great views and farm market were my reward. These photos are from downtown Campbellton, near the Park. The green bridge connects Quebec to New Brunswick. Salmon fishing is the name of the game in these parts. The shoreline is beautiful, beginning to show fall colors (not very evident in these photos)

Our next stop is one we were excited about – our very first National Park of Canada – Kouchibouguac – pronounced koo-she-boo-gwach, meaning ‘river of the long tides’. Oh yeah….

We had this great, 300-site campground nearly to ourselves. Our neighboring campsites are what they call oTENTiks. These are a cross between a lean-to and a cabin.

inside, they have built in bunks with mattresses, heat, and a beautiful sturdy fat wooden table/chairs. Outside, there’s a big gas grill, and a big overhang with Adirondack chairs. It’s so inviting. At Sugarloaf, they were even better – elevated on stilts – so each was about 5′ aboveground, with green metal roofs. As we were getting pounded by rain, all I could think of was how wonderful it would be inside, listening to the rain, safe and dry. Bring your sleeping bag, food, and you are camping! This seems like a great way to introduce families to camping without a big cash outlay. Most of these structures were designed to sleep up to six people comfortably.

We cycled around the 25 mile path at Kouchibouguac, packing regular shoes to get off our bikes to walk the scenic trails. By far, the best one was the boardwalk out to the Bay of St. Lawrence. It was calm and beautiful (it can NEVER hurt to have such a place all to yourself).

At the beach, we had custody of two perfect chairs. There was nobody else in sight.

Sadly, the rest of the day was down hill after this. We strolled the salt Marsh trail, surrounded by shoulder-high vegetation, then visited the Mi’kmaw Big Wagwam area where activities celebrating the indigenous culture are celebrated.

 

So, I’m a bit short of photos to account for a pretty great, albeit wet, week of camping in New Brunswick. We are still coming up short in our quest to sight a moose. Perhaps they are the mythical snipe of Canada. But, roadside warnings make you BELIEVE they do exist. Who wouldn’t be watchful after seeing this sign every few miles along the road? (Shot through the windshield, apologies for the photo quality).

Perhaps I really don’t want to see one! Our Vermont friends had an unfortunate nighttime encounter a few years ago when an 800 pound yearling moose darted into the front passenger side of their Prius. The moose died, their car was destroyed, but they escaped unscathed. So, maybe the mythical moose is best unseen.

We’re in Halifax now, battened down for more than 2″ of rain tonight. Looking forward to bike rides, ferry transit into the city, lobster and scallops. On to remote Cape Breton after that.

J’aime Quebec

Do all visitors to Quebec (city) fall in love and begin to imagine living here? Or just me? I am smitten. No, more than that – captivated. Crazy about this incroyable city. See, I’m already practicing my French…

Location, location, location. That applies as much (or more) to camping life than our other life. A great, or lousy, campsite can make or break a week. We are here at Motel Etchemin, in Levis, Quebec – directly across the St. Lawrence from Quebec. There’s a small campground alongside the motel. Sure, the bathroom is a bit primitive (not heated, co-located with the washer and dryer)…BUT, we’re about a kilometer from a fabulous bike/walking path alongside the River. One lane for walkers and runners + a divided highway for bicycles.

And just 4K from the ferry, which drops us right into historic Quebec. So, a quick bike ride in the morning, a $5 ferry ticket, and we’re good for the day. Ditto on the return. Ferries run every half hour (at least), so there’s no waiting, no crowding.

The City itself is sparkling clean. Like someone has licked the streets of any tiny bit of litter or dirt. No cigarette butts. Perhaps the modern section isn’t quite as tidy, but the historic section is impressively tidy.

Every tiny space has an odd-shaped home or garden. From the River, the city extends up and up, with layers of retail, homes/hotels, restaurants, and churches. Impressively thick masonry walls – 200 years old – surround much of the area.

At the highest point is La Citadelle, the old fort, established in the 1600s, and continually improved for 200 years after that.

Of course, in the background is always the Le Chateau Frontenac, which dominates the skyline. (View from the ferry, as we slid into the harbor).

We walked for miles, ducking in for a peek at every old building with an unlocked door.

Holy Trinity Church (Anglican)

Notre Dame Cathedral was impressive. The Catholic Church spared no expense in creating a magnificent structure. Sorry about the huge photo, but I had to try a panorama from the altar up to the ceiling.

There’s even a public library that was made from a church built in 1870. I doubt very much that they need librarians shushing patrons here!

Here are a few more of my favorite sights from the last few days….

Love the wave house, but it’s really close to the bike path.

Even the sewage treatment plant is artfully done.

Two magnificent murals decorate historic buildings. The first one covers four seasons, and 400 years of history, from Champlain to hockey-playing kids. (Ok, check out this link for the first one. I destroyed my photo. Grrrr….) The second one explores early times. The artistry in these two murals is amazing.

More city sights…

I’m unsure of the significance of the umbrella hung over this section of a narrow street, but they are a colorful addition.

A few more photos, and I’ll quit.

Many older buildings were have been refurbished with new metal roofs and flashing, as shown in the first photo. In the second photo, we think this showed that recovering procedure in process.

So much to see, so many poorly-executed photos. Sigh…..

But Quebec has captured my imagination. I can (almost) picture myself living here.

a bientot

Stateside Again

After just a week of foreign (Canadian) travel, we ducked back across the Border into New York for a brief romp through the Adirondacks and Vermont. I was a bit cheesed off to have two lemons and two of the best-selling tomatoes I’ve had all summer (purchased from an Amish roadside stand near Montreal) confiscated at the Border. I was really tempted to just eat those two tomatoes on the spot – it really broke my heart to lose them. The funny thing was that the Border guard was from Grand Rapids – attended the high school just a few miles from our house. By the time we were finally released to cross into New York (after a brief search of the Campsh@ck), we were punch, and ready for something good to happen.

So, rolling into Durant Lake State Park in New York was just what we needed to lift our spirits. What a gem! We had a giant site, well-separated from our neighbors.

The big letdown? It rained every day. We had a hard time finding a break to go for a hike (but we managed). Nearby Blue Mountain Lake offered a great trail to Castle Rock, which offered a great view of the surrounding area. For us, it’s always more fun to hike with some ups and downs in elevation. There’s something wonderful about reaching a point where there’s a break in the scenery, and a whole world opens up in front of you. It’s addictive, and it keeps up coming back for more hikes.

We had the same experience at our next stop at Moreau Lake State Park, a short hop down the road. Again, we had a gigantic campsite in a quiet campground. New York State Parks rock! Even those with aging facilities still provide a great camping experience, primarily due to the layout of the campground itself.

Our hike at Moreau Lake took us to a high spot above a dam on the Hudson River.

What we thought would be a six mile jaunt became a ten mile grind, featuring a face-plant by me in the middle of the trail. Luckily, nobody was around to witness my downfall (literally)! Ten days later, the scabs and bruises have nearly disappeared.

We were lucky enough to be camped at Lake Moreau during the weekend of their annual Nature Festival. Every environmentally-related organization has a booth or demo. Both kids and adults had some hands-on learning about groundwater, recycling, raptor rehabilitation, and more. For a small community, it was an impressive display.

One disappointment we experienced was the surprising lack of fall color. It must be too early, but we were foolish enough to hope for a splashy show of red and yellow. Nope – wherever we looked, it was just green….

Our next stop was a quick two-night hop to Winhall Brook Campground, around the end of Lake Champlain in Vermont. What a spectacular drive this is – a tidy two-lane rolling road past some extraordinarily beautiful rustic farmland. This would be a drive worthy of a day trip in any season. Sprawling farms, roadside stands, and farmer’s markets all provide plenty of fodder for speculation about packing up and moving to a new state.

Again at Winhall, we dealt with rain as well as the possibility of some severe weather. During our previous week at Moreau Lake and Durand Lake were in rustic campgrounds. Cloudy conditions, rain, and heavily wooded campsites meant that we had no opportunity to use our solar panels to recharge the batteries in the Campsh@ck, so, we were nearly depleted after six days. So, for the first night at Winhall, we elected to have an electric site, to give us a much-needed power boost. But, the site we were assigned was VERY low, and already mushy from recent rains. The forecast was for heavy rain during our second night, so we packed up and moved to a quiet site on much higher ground. Good choice. We were pounded by a big storm, and would have been submerged at our original site. In the 20 days or so that we had been on the road, we had significant rain for at least 13 or 14 days. Everything we owned was damp, or just outright wet. Enough!

Originally, we planned to spend a few nights with our old T@DA pals Cathie and Jay at their home in St. Albans, VT. Would it be possible to arrive a few days early? We honestly couldn’t face breaking camp with a bunch of sodden gear, and setting up again in the rain. Whew! They took us in. Happy times commence.

Cathie is a volunteer at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, so that was our destination for our first day of exploration.

We looked and looked, but in six miles of hiking, we saw nary a bird, fish, or turtle. There was one comatose bee on a stalk of goldenrod, but that was about it. Dreary skies made for few decent photo opportunities, so I don’t have much to show for this day. But, this would be a great place to explore at a busier time of year. There is one area here with lots of sugar maples, and we got to see how maple syrup is harvested in these days. Think it’s individual taps pounded into a tree, dripping into a bucket? No, it’s actually yards and yards (probably miles) of blue vinyl tubing wound through a groove a trees. Taps are connected to various parts of the system into the trees. When the sap begins to run, a portable pump is rolled onsite, and it pulls the sap from the trees. Who knew?

Here’s a real conversation starter….when was the last wolf in Franklin County, VT killed? Why, I’ve got the answer right here…it’s possible that trusty Vermonters have documented every facet of early life in the 14th State.

John and I have tried to visit as many State Capitals as we can. So, after the rain finally cleared on our third day, we headed off to explore the State House in Montpelier. Here are two fun facts. Montpelier is the only State Capital in the US that doesn’t have a McDonalds. It’s also the smallest city to be a Capital, with a population of only 8000 (give or take a few). The State House itself is stunning, with its gold-plated done.

The best tidbit I picked up during our tour? The Governor’s chair is crafted from wood from the USS Constitution. No one but the Gov him/herself is allowed to sit in the chair, and it was impossible to get a photo of it, no matter how I tried. But, it was impressive. We had a great tour of this gorgeous building. Although we were unable to view the rotunda, photos inside the State House show the elaborate wooden framework that supports the heavy done, plated in actual gold. The current State House was constructed in the 1850s. Probably few modern buildings feature gold domes these days – it’s amazing how many State capitol buildings actually do.

Oh, how I would love a peek at this. As you can see from the exterior photo above, renovation is in process, to be completed next month. A brand new 14-foot statue of Ceres will Grace the top. The former statue, crafted in pine had nearly rotted away – the new version is mahogany.

Our last full day in Vermont was spent chasing the elusive, migrating broad-winged hawk, which passes through Mount Philo State Park every year. Often, thousands of hawks are seen on a single day in this area, but we were shut out. Zero sightings. The buzz among the birders was that most of the hawks were already gone. In exchange, we had a beautiful, sunny, cool day with spectacular views. I did see one red-tailed hawk though. (I know, I know…big deal)

In the distance is Lake Champlain, which separates one corner of New York and Vermont. Unlike the Great Lakes which surround Michigan, this lake is chock full of islands and shallow reefs. It must be a kayaker’s heaven. These islands are dotted with small towns, full of fall activities – cider mills, pumpkin patches, and the like. It’s an idyllic setting, although one best absorbed in small doses. Norman Rockwell-ish, but beautiful.

Tomorrow, we head back into Canada – Quebec City, the Bay of Fundy, and the Maritime Provinces. Loonies and Toonies. Bonjour and merci beaucoup. Away from a comfy bed, great friends, and dry towels. Back to iffy showers and damp campgrounds…

Man, we had fun.

Note: if you are reading this soon after its posting, you won’t see any links to locations or reference tags. I’ll get back and add these when I can.