Still More Canada

It just keeps getting better here in the Maritime Provinces of Canada. I’ll admit to initially being lukewarm to visiting this area, but am happy to admit to being totally wrong. I can’t wait to revisit to see everything we missed on this brief visit.

October is such a great time to camp, with one big problem. So many campgrounds close on Columbus Day (National Indigenous People’s Day, or Thanksgiving in Canada), which came early this year on October 8. Our campground on Prince Edward Island was the only campground open on the entire island. And, we were so lucky to find this spot at New Glasgow Highlands Campground. It was a gem. Private campgrounds are never this nice, but this one excelled in every aspect.

PEI was a big surprise. Very rural and agricultural – a big potato growing area. Trucks filled with potatoes ere everywhere, and there are even a few distilleries featuring their own potato vodka. Long, rolling country roads are punctuated by ocean views. And, the Confederation Bridge connecting Nova Scotia to PEI is spectacular. At 42,323 feet in length (about 8 miles), it’s the longest bridge over ice covered waters in the world. Of course, most of it was shrouded in rain and fog when we crossed. But, amazing still.

The view through the windshield looked like this, something we’ve experienced time after time on his trip.

Our PEI time was limited. Fortunately, we were close to Prince Edward Island National Park. This was the main area we wanted to explore, so we donned our familiar yellow rainjackets and headed to the shoreline. It’s a crazy feeling to have miles of beautiful beach to yourself, but we are getting used to that sensation. It would be easy to get spoiled.

There are variations to the view. These two guys in their neon rainsuits were methodically working their metal detectors on this dark afternoon.

At the other end of the Park is Dalvay by the Sea National Historic Site, which is an enormous summer home, built by oilman Alexander McDonald (crony of JD Rockefeller of Standard Oil) in 1895. You can stay in one of its 25 guest rooms, so tempting in our damp state.

What a treat to stroll in and find a welcoming bar, complete with roaring fireplace and huge leather chairs. We were more than ready for a bit of pampering. A beer and a shared scallop crudo eased our chilly misery. Did we feel out of place in our grubby camping duds? Not a bit.

Day 2 on PEI sent us over to the Anne of Green Gables House, which inspired the book of the same name (insert gagging sound here). No photos – the area was swarming with busloads of tourists. John was interested enough to download and read AoGG, but I just wanted to run. We finished our day on PEI with one of the most fantastic meals I’ve had. Mussels, chowder, halibut (by far the best-ever), and a baked seafood thing in a cozy restaurant. Again, no photos, but do yourself a favor and visit the Blue Mussel Cafe if you are in the area. Five stars, with five star staff.

We headed back to New Brunswick to check out Fundy National Park. This is such an amazing place that it deserves its own post. So, read on to the next one…

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 – ambit 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.

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.

Campshaws Internationale

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? The summer has passed, with little camping for the Campshaws. But, it’s September, one of our favorite times of the year to head out. So, you’re going to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly in Campshaws Internationale. Yep, the Campsh@ck is in Canada – home of fabulous Provincial Parks, poutine, a beautiful capital city, and lots of other treats

To get to Canada, we started our journey in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, specifically Brimley State Park. Although it stormed, or threatened to every day, we still managed to do some typical UP stuff – eat smoked fish, watch a freighter pass through the Soo Locks, and quaff a beer or two. There’s lots of good cycling here, and many great views.

That’s in spite of being cheek to jowl with hundreds of other campers. I’m sorry to say that the more I camp in Michigan, the more I dislike our State Parks. The goal here seems to be maximim density, minimum genuine camping experience. It just isn’t good.

But the best, most interesting thing about being at Brimley at that time happened late at night on our second night in camp. John had gone in for the night, and I was feeding the campfire while trying to finish a book. It was overcast, and very dark in the campground as my fire faded away to embers near midnight. I looked up into the trees behind our site, and it was as if someone has strung hundreds of fuzzy, hazy green lights in the trees. Randomly. As far as I could tell, it was only the trees behind our campsite. I woke John, and made him come out to see this. When we shined a flashlight into the trees, the green lights vanished. Know what this is? Foxfire! It was amazing. I don’t have the ability on my camera to take a time exposure, so this is the best I could capture. There were three exceptionally bright spots low to the ground. I realize its not too impressive, but I wish that you all could actually have been there to see this. Makes me smile to think about it more than a week later. It looked like fairies had strung Christmas lights. It was such a disappointment not to be able to get a representative photo.

Of course, the next night I was all geared up to explore this further. I decided to find a few spots which were readily accessible, and put a twist tie around that branch, so that I could examine it in the daylight. Oh yeah, I had my Junior Scientist cap on! Sadly, we didn’t see them again, despite my staying up into the wee hours of the morning, waiting for it to happen. But, being able to experience it one time was thrilling.

If you never have the chance to travel Queen’s Highway 17 from Ste Sainte Marie to Ottawa, just do it. What a fantastically beautiful roadway. Rolling hills, waterways, wildflowers, AMD mosses/lichens of every color (green) imaginable pass by at speeds of 40-60mph. John drove, while I was on High Alert for moose along the roadside. It’s the kind of scenery where one would actually expect to see a few casual moose lolling about in the ponds. Roadside picnic areas are everywhere.

For the three days it took us to wander toward Ottawa, we loved every mile.

Our first night was spent at Chutes Provincial Park. Since our travel time was relatively short, we had time to enjoy a five mile hike along the old logging river. It was named Chutes, because the loggers actually had to build wooden chutes to get the logs down the twisting river – the twists and turns were too sharp to force the logs through the bends. This was the perfect way to begin our Canadian adventure.

Day 2 took us to Samuel Champlain Provincial Park. Have I mentioned that it has barely stopped raining since we left home at week ago? We arrived in a deluge, and stayed inside, and out of the muck as much as we could. This may be a lovely Park, but that determination will have to be made on a future visit. It was miserable.

On to Ottawa! If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that we are fans of visiting US state capitals, and exploring the amazing government buildings and public areas . Ottawa would be our first foreign Capitol, and it did not disappoint. Cantley Camping was our home for a couple of nights, and it was a good choice, despite being a few miles out of from town. We had an easy commute to the local bus station, and a great experience with public transportation into town. We got dropped off at Parliament Hill, the government hub. Wow!

Many of the buildings were undergoing exterior cleaning, but the disruption was minimal. We toured the Parliament, which was reconstructed after a fire destroyed everything but the library 100 years ago. Most of the areas were difficult to photograph with my phone camera, so I didn’t even try. But, the library, (not touched by the fire because iron doors separated it from the rest of Parliament), was jaw-dropping.

My apologies to Queen Victoria for cutting off her head. Queen Victoria was the Monarch who selected Ottawa to be the capital of Canada. Her official portrait displayed in Parliament is one that she disliked, because she felt that it made her left arm appear deformed. But, since she never actually visited Canada, it had hung with all the other Kings/Queen’s portraits there.

An amazing feature in Ottawa was the Rideau Waterway. A series of huge locks in Ottawa make the passage from Kingston to Ottawa possible. It’s over 125 miles long, constructed in 1832.

Ottawa is beautiful city, which we surely didn’t explore in just two days. I’ve already got places to visit mapped out for our next trip.

Getting to Montreal was a challenge. Endless road construction and detours, combined with our lack of ability to speak French made it a tense trip to Camping Amerique. Don’t be fooled by the greenery in the photos – these are seasonal camping sites. We were assigned a few square feet in a gravel parking lot, vitually on top of our neighbors. It was bad.

One of the main reasons we went to Montreal at this time was to see the Grand Prix (pro cycling race). Held on a hilly 7k circuit in the central city, it was exciting to watch. We had front row seats from every vantage point. These are Tier 2 pro cyclists – some will probably make it to the top tier of Tour de France racing. But these are top pro teams, and we had a blast watching them.

Our hearts were with the Cannondale team, which didn’t place well, but it was a blast, anyway. This is a whole level of cycling we hadn’t experienced. These are amazing athletes.

I had watched a video of two guys slurping noodles in Montreal Chinatown, and marked two restaurants I’d like to visit, so we found ourselves at Maxim. John is an excellent slurper, I’m less so. This simple, inexpensive food was probably the best we’ve had in a long time.

Omg, that was tasty! We each had a noodle bowl, and shared a scallion pancake. I want to make noodles like this guy!

We spent time just wandering around, enjoying the sights of a big city. Once again (and we knew in advance), we didn’t budget enough time to really explore. The Basilica Notre Dame was awe-inspiring. We were a bit chagrined to realize (upon exiting), that we had entered unofficially from a side street, and had not paid the admittance fee. Oops.

(I apologize for the unedited photos). We have had little or no internet since we left home, and I’ve often uploaded photos when we found a bit of WiFi). Using the WordPress app instead of my laptop is cumbersome for me, so things might look a bit haphazard.

We’re back in the States now for two weeks, then heading to Quebec City, and on to the Bay of Fundy. Not sure if we’re going to go to PEI and Nova Scotia, or leave that for another trip. Perhaps part of that decision will be weather-driven. We are soggy and a bit mildewed around the edges after endless day nof rain. We get a snippet of sunshine, followed by a deluge.

Camping is more fun in good weather than bad. That’s Rule #1.

More to follow…

Sun, Wind, Rain – Repeat

Lately, each time I decide to start a new post, I’m amazed to see how much time has elapsed since the last one. Has it really been two weeks? This is our sixth campground since my last post, so I’ll just hit the high spots.

You are probably sick of hearing me rag about the Texas spring winds, but they were truly incredible and uncomfortable. When your camping plans include cooking and eating outside everyday, the last thing you want are howling 30mph winds.20180412_130530-1799708842.jpg They plagued us at our stops at Lofers Bend West and Ratcliff Lake. Both were pleasant spots to camp – Lofers Bend (on the water), and Ratcliff Lake (more of a woodsy, rustic spot). Nothing really remarkable about either of them, but both nice enough for a return trip for a quick overnight. I did have a horrifying encounter with this gigantic spider in the shower at Ratcliff Lake, but I think a few years of therapy will help me get past this. That’s a quarter placed in the vicinity for size perspective. That thing was a monster!20180414_1101071864957766.jpgNearly every year since we’ve been on the road, Galveston Island State Park has been a place where we’ve tried to land for several days. Although the Beachside campground is nothing more than a parking lot with decent-sized lots, firepits, and picnic tables, it IS right on the Gulf of Mexico. Listening to the roaring surf every night, having miles of beach to wander every day, in addition to all the historical sites of the area is a treat. (It was slightly less of a treat because of the extremely high winds when we were there, but…)20180415_1627591612159452.jpgFrom the campground, we can cycle on the beach, then down the Seawall all the way to the historic end of town – about 15 miles one way. It’s a great ride. Although you can’t tell from this photo, the seawall is about 6-8 feet above the sandy beach.20180416_1201491253756854.jpgThis year, we tried to do a couple of new things – we cycled all the way to the south (or west?) end of Galveston Island down the beach. The sand on the island is perfect for cycling. Just find the sweet spot between the not-too-wet, and the not-too-dry sand and crank away. It’s doable, but still much harder than trail or road riding.20180418_1043002011903451.jpgBy the time we made it 15 miles down the beach, we were whipped! But, we would not have been able to do this (with our mountain bikes) on the sand at San Clemente in CA, or along the Lake Michigan shoreline. It’s all about sand texture, baby.

On the way back, we mostly took the road, which was a comparative breeze! (pun intended) Along the way, we stopped to chat with an old hippie guy who had a bunch of kites up in the air. His biggest was 19 feet long! At one point, he had nine kites up at once.20180417_170808823855851.jpg20180418_1327161389457496.jpgFunny thing – the shark kite on the far right took a dive just as were were leaving – it punched over the string of the kite to its left, which then got tangled up in the string of the gigantic blue octopus kite. Both crashed onto the roof of a closed-up beach house. Lesson: Sharks are dangerous. Hope the owner was able to retrieve them. We didn’t hang around to find out.

The other new thing we did was to explore the Ocean Star Museum. This is an 1970s era Gulf of Mexico drilling rig/platform which has been turned into a museum. It was fascinating. Did you know that the oil company that President George HW Bush was an owner of the company that developed one of the first offshore drilling platforms? This particular rig was put into service in 1969, and decommissioned in 1984 – a reliatively short life, due to rapidly changing technology. Much of the original equipment is still there to see, as well as lots of photos and artifacts of life on the rig. Can you imagine having 28 people evacuate into this emergency “bell” lifeboat? It had food, water, and automatic sprayers on the outside to spray seawater on it to keep the occupants cool until rescue. It’s hard to tell size from the photo, but I can guarantee you that 28 people would be nose to nose inside. 20180419_1334521414555063.jpgA diving suit from the same era was also featured. Again, I was horrified at the thought of being encased inside.

The Ocean Star was designed to drill up to 5 miles deep, and to accommodate 100 workers. There were scale models of many types of platforms, and an area devoted to the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf off the Louisiana coast.

What was most fascinating to me was how these platforms are installed. They are erected onshore then towed into place on huge barges, which then tip the platforms off into the sea where they are fastened down by underwater robots and secured by cables stretching miles out from the platform in every direction. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see one on the move?20180419_1409251212290084.jpgFrom our campsite at Galveston Island, we could see several working platforms in the Gulf – there are hundreds of them out there. At night especially, the lights twinkle in the distance. Three other mothballed platforms, either undergoing repairs or waiting for a new assignment waited in the harbor. These smaller exploration platforms are called ‘jackups’, because they can be jacked up on a base, then moved when their task is finished. The larger production platforms are permanent until decommissioned after approximately 30 years.20180421_133503675878780.jpg It was an interesting afternoon. There’s much to be learned here – a bargain for the $10 entry fee.20180419_1402071281299882.jpgOf course, we had to wander around Galveston for a few hours. After Hurricane Ike in 2008, many homeowners turned their downed trees into sculptures, primarily by three chainsaw sculptors. How about this one with a Wizard of Oz theme?20180419_1528511278978464.jpgLots of interesting things to do and see in Galveston. We’ll be back again.

Our next camp was a fisherman’s dream at S. Toledo Bend State Park, just across the border into Louisiana. If you’re into bass fishing, Toledo Bend is sacred ground. Ours was one of the few campsites that didn’t have a bigass bass boat parked alongside.20180420_1816101022983571.jpgWe had a great site there, and enjoyed all the commotion of a busy weekend. Kids and bikes everywhere – 50 Cubscouts, a gigantic thunderstorm, and a free concert by a group of mountain dulcimer enthusiasts. 20180421_155536650940952.jpgWhile I have to admit that each song sounded pretty much the same (even the ones they sang), their warmth and dedication was infectious. This guy tapped on the board (secured by his butt), and it forced the little wooden dolls to dance. 20180421_1559351717086712.jpg

I did a bit of wandering on my bike, as I wanted to see the dam that formed Toledo Bend. I managed to get down a sandy road on the back side of the dam. There were folks fishing everywhere, although there didn’t seem to be too many fish being caught. Sometimes it’s more about the fishing than the fish, I guess. I did see one guy down at the shore who was bowfishing. Ugh – I gave him a pretty wide berth.20180421_1226111968847915.jpg20180421_12332946344939.jpgThere was just one gate open in the dam releasing water to the back. Probably 100 white pelicans were hanging around there, watching the water rush down the backside of the dam, waiting for a fish to fly past. Pity the poor fish who thought he had finally made it to freedom from the pursuit of 100s of fishermen to be nabbed by a pelican on the final burst to freedom.20180421_13070898435999.jpgWe spent a single night alongside the Natchez Trace in Mississippi as we plow eastward. Perhaps on a different day this would be a pleasant stop, but we were terrorized by thousands of mosquitos, each easily the size of a Buick. We could hardly cover up enough to run down to the bathroom. omg – it was awful at Rocky Springs Campground

But tonight is our reward. A lucky pick of a campground at Deerlick Creek Recreation Area (Corps of Engineers) in Tuscaloosa has rewarded us with probably the most beautiful campsite we have ever had.20180423_1620001136378522.jpgOur own deck, water/electric, and a great view of Deerlick Creek. Every now and the a barge rumbles past, pushing some unknown commodity down toward the Gulf. All this for only $13/night with our Senior Pass. Although we’ve only been here for a few hours, we’re already sad that we can only stay two nights. If any readers of this blog are Spartan fans, you’ll be happy to know that we thumbed our noses as we passed Nick Sabin’s Crimson Tide cathedral on the way in. We may have to cycle over there to explore a bit tomorrow.