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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Hiking the South Head Lighthouse Trail

Today's weather was iffy, so we planned a trip to view a lighthouse.  What else we might do would depend on Mother Nature.  Our quarry -- South Head Lighthouse in the Bay of Islands, northwest of where we are camped in Corner Brook, Newfoundland:

As we drove out of Corner Brook, we looked back down the Captain James Cook Trail toward Corner Brook, to see the low clouds scudding across the Humber River where it turns the corner to flow out to the Bay of Islands:

We had REALLY wanted to hike the Blow Me Down Trail, which winds its way through the Lewis Hills from near Blow Me Down Provincial Park to Serpentine Lake, but the weather was uncooperative, and we didn't have enough time in the day.  So we satisfied ourselves with this view from the trailhead, up the valley toward Serpentine Lake:

The Lewis Hills, you'll remember from prior episodes of this blog, are huge massifs of peridotite, rock formerly from the depths of the Earth's mantle.  The rock has iron content, and as the iron oxidizes the rock presents itself as orangeish.  We found the Tablelands in Gros Morne fascinating.  So we'll put the Blow Me Down Trail on our list for our next visit.

We drove out to Lark Harbour, which is the nearest town to the South Head Lighthouse, and up toward Bottle Cove.  From our trailhead parking, we could look down to the village on Bottle Cove.  We thought about the lunch we would have there after our short hike.

We were so wrong!

The hike to the lighthouse was a diverse, challenging climb, traversing from Bottle Cove, past Miranda Cove, Devil Head, Parker Beach, Island Cove and Trumpet Cove, to a point where we could see the lighthouse.  In 2.5 miles, we would climb almost 1,000 feet.  However, the first 2/3 of our hike had little gain, so we climbed the 1,000 feet in our last 0.8 mile - for a gain of 1,200 feet a mile -- the steepest elevation gain we've hiked, other than limited sections of our hikes in the Alps and the Canadian Rockies!

Along the way, we spotted some gorgeous wildflowers --

-- a dramatic waterfall that plunged all the way to a gravel beach far below --

-- and spectacular views back toward Bottle Cove.  

Here, Kathy pauses to catch her breath on the steep climb:

Notice those beautiful white flowers next to her?  That's EVIL GIANT HOGWEED!  DO NOT TOUCH THIS!  David happened to walk in shorts through some giant hogweed on a backpack in the White Mountains in 2012, and suffered severe allergic reactions which still continue to this day whenever he suffers mild hypothermia.  While giant hogweed's flower resembles Queen Anne's Lace, don't be fooled.  Its leaves look like green oversized maple leaves with serration on the edges, and its stems are thick with small spines.  Queen Anne's Lace has very thin stems and feathery leaves like carrot greens.  We hope this warning is all you need.
-- and here is the view we had as we reached the height of land at a col between the near head and a nearby mountain:

The notation in the photo above shows where South Head Lighthouse is.  This photo was taken from the END OF THE TRAIL.  We looked, squinted, used our spyglass, squinted some more, and whined, "Is that ALL we're going to get of the lighthouse???"


So we turned our steps back down the steep slope, resting near the bottom of the steepest part.  I took some photos and returned to find Kathy passed out on a bench beneach a spruce tree:

After resting the tired feet, we continued downhill to the stream which formed the drainage we followed.  David led the way across a makeshift ladder bridge:

Along our way, we happened to pass a tree, where we heard a loud, scolding chatter.  It appeared we had entered the realm of a local pirate who demanded that we provide him payment for free passage through his forest.  We begged off, explaining that we had no squirrel food, so he let us off with a warning.

Once again, we reached Miranda Cove, and found the light had caused the colors of the water, rocks and grass to pop out, so we couldn't resist pausing.  While Kathy rested, David found a way down to the beach, but declined to walk down because we had further to go and were running out of time...oh, yes, and we were getting hungry, not having packed a lunch because we thought this would be a short walk.

Returning to the trailhead, we did receive one consolation.  The townfolk have saved the top of the original lighthouse and erected it next to the trailhead sign.  We had passed the lighthouse when we started hiking -- without realizing that we had seen it before setting foot on the trail!

Stopping for gas in Lark Harbour, we asked the proprietor of the gas station where we might catch a bite to eat -- oh, yes, and perhaps a beer.  She suggested we try "Myrtle's On the Bay" at the end of the road.  We followed these detailed directions and, indeed, found Myrtles, dressed in her finery for summer tourist diners (this is a photo we grabbed from Myrtles' website):

All was well.  Mussels were on the menu and we both eagerly ordered a bowl, along with some quaffable Newfoundland beer.  While we were waiting for our order (along with some tasty fries), we looked out on the deck and saw this view of the boatyard and harbor:

Some eating and drinking later, we felt refreshed and rehydrated and we continued on our way back toward our campground in Corner Brook.  Along the way, we spotted one pretty scene in Frenchman's Cove along the Humber River which we can't resist sharing with you:

We're growing sad.  Today is our last day in Corner Brook.  Once we move back to the Codroy Valley tomorrow, we'll have only one more full day in Newfoundland before catching the ferry back to Nova Scotia.  Where did our month on The Rock go?  We're becoming resolved to visit here again and explore all of the wonders we know we missed this time.

Paddling the Humber River

Hi Blog!

Our time here in Newfoundland is winding down. We’ve had some amazing experiences, but one thing we haven’t been able to do is kayak. We thought that an island covered with lakes and ponds and surrounded by hundreds of bays and coves would offer us endless opportunities to paddle. However, as we traveled around the island, strong winds were a constant companion. For example, a fun leisurely paddle can be done with winds up to 10 miles per hour. Anything over 12 gets too bumpy and higher winds can be downright dangerous in open kayaks. The average wind speed while we were in St. John’s was 25 miles per hour! Which is why we were so excited when we got to Corner Brook and saw the weather forecast for Saturday, July 14th – sunny, warm and winds of only 4 miles per hour! Oh, yes, and our campground has its own private beach on a quiet cove of the Humber River.  

Time to break out the paddles and dust off the boats!

Our campground here in Corner Brook is situated on the banks of the Humber River. It is one of Newfoundland’s largest rivers. It starts high up in the Long Range Mountains. By the time it reaches Corner Brook, the Humber looks more like a lake than a river. There are numerous bays and coves all around the edge for us to explore. 

The boats are ready!

It felt good to give our legs a break from all those Newfoundland staircases! We gently paddled in order to keep our wake down in hopes of getting some reflective photos.

As we rounded the end of our first cove, we could look down the length of the Humber River toward the orange-brown mountains known as the Lewis Hills.  These hills are also part of the earth's mantle, just like the Tablelands in Gros Morne. Just around the corner ("Corner Brook" -- get it?) to the right is the Bay of Islands and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

We would have loved to capture a few photos of the scampering plovers, the fishing ospreys or the soaring bald eagle, but we need our subjects to stay still long enough for a photo!  So we settled for some reflective rocks in quiet water:

Other than the one fisherman near our campground, we had the entire area to ourselves until about noon. Two small fishing boats made their way over to try their luck; and over, closer to Corner Brook, several jet skis raced about. They were far enough away that they didn't bother us, except for the buzzing like loud obnoxious mosquitos! However, they soon ran out of gas and returned to port. We continued our exploration along the rocky shore.

Geologists love Newfoundland. So much of the earth's crust is available for study. Just imagine the force needed to push all this rock up. 

The water in the river is crystal clear. It has a certain brownish hue. We've asked the locals and there are different opinions. Some say it is the iron in the water, other say its from the tannin in the spruce bogs which feed the river.

There is definitely iron in them there hills, as Kathy cuddles up next to a seam of rose quartz.

We probably spent more time rock hounding than paddling. With each rocky beach we passed, we cruised close as possible and plucked likely candidates from the beach. However, some specimens just wouldn't fit in the boat no matter how much we wanted to take them home.

Just after two, we noticed a subtle change in the winds. We were sure the winds were coming up, even though the forecast had assured us otherwise.  It was time to make our way back to our campground.

It took longer than usual to load up the boats, as we had to clean about 20 pounds of little rocks out of each boat. Now we get to draft and see which ones make it into the rock bowl! 

Newfoundland Rocks!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Gravels Walking Trail in Port au Port, Newfoundland

Like the Skerwink Trail in Port Rexton, NL or the Middle Head Trail in Ingonish, Cape Breton, the Gravels Walking Trail in Port au Port, NL is noted for its striking views.  It's not far from where we are camped in Corner Brook, so we took a gorgeous day to drive over and take the hike.

The trail begins on an isthmus that connects the Port au Port Peninsula with the mainland.  It is believed that Jacques Cartier landed on this beach in 1534, but the settlers here are predominantly English, not French:

In 1951, a flood covered this beach and severed the Port au Port Peninsula from the mainland, destroying the buildings that were located here; but, as is evident, the beach was rebuilt, and it certainly looks, from the stone piled along the causeway, that the residents are serious about avoiding the 1951 disaster again.

As with the locations for most of our hikes, the Port au Port Peninsula is located on the western edge of the Appalachian Mountains that run along Newfoundland's western coast - here called the Long Range Mountains. The Lewis Hills, a formation of peridotite (former Earth mantle that was heaved up on top of the Appalachians and stranded there millenia ago when North America separated from Europe), lie to the northwest of this location. The Lewis Hills are part of the same formation as the Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park, which we hiked when we were staying at Deer Lake.

This area was at one time called, "Aguathuna" (meaning "white stone") in the local indigenous Beothuk language.  The name "white stone" arises from the limestone and gypsum formation evident along the shoreline.  More on that later.

The trail starts gently, inviting leisurely exploration:

Within a quarter mile, we started to realize, however, that we were not in Kansas anymore.  The rock formations hinted to us that we would be seeing some new sights:

The coves were gorgeous, with crystal-clear, blue-green water lapping happily onto gravelled or rocky shores, with steep cliffs capped by spruce, tamarck and birch trees:

Summer is ("finally!", as the locals will hasten to add) in full flower.  We'll indulge ourselves to include some of our flower photos so you get an idea what blossoms here in Newfoundland:

These new tamarack (aspen) cones aren't wildflowers, but their rich scarlet/purple colors were very striking as they swayed gently in the breeze along our trail:

Perhaps the stars of the wildflower show were the ladyslippers that popped up trailside along the way:

Another cove, in case you didn't get enough with the last one.  Be assured that there were many more we didn't include:

This view back along the coast from where we had hiked shows a series of rocky points, some interesting rock formation, and a little tuckamore (windblown krumholz or dwarf tree) that couldn't resist echoing the shoreline above him:

About halfway along our trail, the trail joined a gravel road, and where we crossed drainages, some superb, primitively engineered walking bridges helped us on our way.  No vehicles are allowed on these (but we believe that the people who maintain the trail do drive ATV's over them):

Our destination for this hike was the abandoned limestone (gypsum?) mine at Jack of Clubs Cove, which was built by the Dominion Iron and Steel Company in 1911.  Our first view of the quarry site looked like a scene from some post-apocalyptic movie, with rusted hulks strewn about a huge, flat, quarried area, covered in what looked like snow from a distance but was actually small granules of limestone or gypsum:

Fragments remain of what look like they were massive structures:

Piles of gypsum were left standing, as if the owners just woke up one morning and left:

This looks like some Stonehenge monument to space and time:

This structure perched out near the edge of the cliff, which prompted us to wonder how the powdered limestone/gypsum was transported out:

We later learned that huge ships pulled up to a massive dock alongside this cliff and were loaded from here.  Bound for North Sydney, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the limestone was used in the company's steel making.

On our return hike, we took a side trail to the top of the hill to visit Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church --

-- whose former rectory houses a museum of local history.  It was here that we learned the history of the limestone mine and that this community had been formerly named Aguathuna.

All in all, we got a lot more than we bargained for on this hike.  Yes, we got beautiful coastal scenery, but we got heavy doses of geology, wildflowers, history, a cool abandoned mine, and another unique and beautiful church.  The only thing we didn't get was a lighthouse -- but don't worry, that will come shortly.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Twillingate Island

Hi Blog!

As we travel around Newfoundland, we are learning that distances on a map are a lot further than they appear. Each peninsula has it's own scenic drive. Near Gander, where we are camped, the Road to the Islands combined with the Road to the Shore would have had us driving for six hours and that doesn't include stops for adventure. Since we only have one full day here near Gander, we narrowed our focus and just drove out to visit Twillingate, the iceberg capital of the world. Along the way, we passed a number of "outports" that saw better days before the cod fishing ban.

On our way, we spotted this old church, which is just asking for someone to come and make it a brew pub!

Twillingate is very popular with the bus tourists. As we stopped to take pictures of the church, two buses passed us on the way to Twillingate. We knew this meant a rough day:  we would be hounded by the tour buses and their hordes of tourists wherever we went. 

So we decided to head straight to the lighthouse in order to beat the crowd.

Long Point Lighthouse is an active lighthouse located outside Crow Head on North Twillingate Island. The lighthouse, completed in 1876, is considered to be the most photographed lighthouse in Newfoundland, as Twillingate attracts thousands of tourists each year.

While we waited to tour the lighthouse tower, we learned all about the Titanic disaster. Although we had done the Titanic Experience in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee some years ago, this museum exhibit was totally different. Rather than focusing on passengers' life on the big boat, it went out of its way to point out all the things that went wrong during the voyage and the many mistakes and misjudgements made by the owners and operators of the Titanic. We were each given a passenger card. At the end of the exhibit, there were two books -- survivors and victims. Kathy's passenger survived, but David's passenger died.

Soon it was our turn to take the hike up to the tower. All the original fixtures are still present in the tower. However, the light itself has been automated, so hand cranking is no longer necessary.  While there are still two lighthousekeepers employed on site, the modern day keepers focus on maintenance and repair, rather than cranking the gearworks every two hours.

The old oil laterns were replaced with LED lights. In the photo below, Kathy holds the lightbulb used in the light. That tiny little bulb, when placed inside the adjoining Fresnel lens housing, can be seen for 30 kilometers!

Just as we finished our tour and walked over to the trailhead to take a hike near Long Point, the tour bus showed up and threw up its contents all over the viewpoint.  Luckily for us, bus people never venture far from the bus. Just a few steps down the trail, we had the place to ourselves. We decided to head over to Sleepy Cove first before taking in the view of Nanny's Hole.

If you look closely, you can see tiny little hikers working their way out Crow Head. As we hiked we noticed a tour boat circling around just beyond the point. We took out our spy glasses - there be whales here! They were too far away to photograph, but we got to see them surface and spout!

If you plan to do any hiking in Newfoundland, be prepared to climb up and down stairs.

Sleepy Cove was anything but sleepy when we arrived. The local seagulls were having their convention on the beach.

Here is the whale watching tour returning to harbor.

Nanny's Hole was impressive. The crystal clear water makes for colorful photos.

After our hike, we drove back down into Twillingate in the hope of finding lunch. The Canvas Cafe, known for its seafood and vegetarian options, had a tour bus parked in front. The Auk Winery Island Winery and Restaurant had THREE tour buses parked in front. Luckily, we found a little local place and shared a two-pound order of local mussels! After lunch, we decided to visit the Wooden Boat Building Museum and Twillingate History Museum.

Twillingate is one of the oldest seaports in Newfoundland. The French fishing fleet used the waters around the island between 1650 and 1690 and it was these fishermen who gave the islands the name "Toulinquet" because of their similarity to a group of islands off the French coast near Brest. The name became anglicized to Twillingate with the first formal settlement of a town, around 1700. The first permanent settlers, were English fishermen and their families from Devonshire. Boat building became an important and respected trade.

The first floor of the museum, is filled with displays on the various types of boats used around the island. The second floor is actually a boat building workshop. Fortunately for us, the boat builder was at lunch, so the student trainee gave us the tour. He had grown up in Twillingate and his grandfather was a boat builder. We had such a good time talking to him, we didn't even mind that one of the tour buses showed up.

They had a couple older boats on display to show the different styles. The one front and center was rowed with oars. The one in the back uses an outboard motor.

This is the newest boat. Once this boat is finished, it will be raffled off to raise money for the museum. Every area of Newfoundland had its own boat builders. The boats were built to handle the coves, harbors and weather near that particular part of the island.

On the way over to the History Museum, we stopped into St. Peters Church, one of the oldest wooden churches still in existence in Newfoundland. It was built in 1842. The church was modeled after a similar church in Poole, England.

Twillingate prides itself as the birthplace of a world renowned opera star. Georgina Sterling was born in 1867, the youngest daughter of Twillingate's first doctor, William Sterling. Known as the "Nightingale of the North," Georgina changed her name to Marie Toulinguet (the French name of Twillingate) and made her Paris grand opera debut in 1893. She had a long and storied career before returning to Twillingate.

All that musing can build up a powerful thirst. Before heading back to Gander, we stopped at the Split Rock Brewery and sampled their offerings before deciding on a couple to take back to camp with us. We would have liked to do one or more of the other hikes, but we'll have to save those for next time. Tomorrow we move to Corner Brook.