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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Don't Steal the Nautiloid Cephalopods!

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Okay, so that's a melodramatic title.  But it summarizes the message conveyed by the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador in connection with the Table Point Ecological Reserve, which is about a 45 minute drive south of where we are camped in Port au Choix. 

The Reserve protects fossils and rocks that document changes to the continental shelf of the ancient Iapetus Ocean, which disappeared in the formation of the ancient supercontinent Pangea just as the ancient Appalachian Mountains started to form in what is now Newfoundland.  At the time, this area lay along the Earth's equator and was populated with tropical flora and fauna.  One of these was the nautiloid cephalopod, a fossil of which is pictured below in a stock photo we found on the Internet:

The unique limestone layers at Table Point were laid down during the Ordovician Period as shellfish died, and occasionally a specimen or its shadow impression was preserved whole in the limestone.  The nautiloid cephalopod fossils are so spectacular that fossil hunters combed this area and dug up the fossil beds to find it.  Apparently, one was found and taken.  This breach of archaeological etiquette resulted in the formation of the Reserve to protect what fossils remain.

The Reserve is not signed; you have to know where it is and find a nearby place to park off the highway.  What used to be a gravel road entering the Reserve from the highway has now been cut off by drainage work along the highway, so there is no vehicular access to the Reserve.  We found a bland white sign marking the road and decided it would make an appropriate trailhead sign for our outing:

This region of Newfoundland has an alpine tundra character.  The ground is so stony, with so little topsoil, that it is difficult for vegetation to take hold.  Those plants that do get a foothold get right to work in Spring with displays of colorful flowers to attract what pollinators can survive here:

The landscape has an alien -- almost lunar -- character, where the color of plants comes as something of a surprise:

The rock layer characteristic of Table Point is limestone laid down in the old Iapetus Ocean.  We were luck to find a rock that shows the layering of limestone from the shells of ancient shellfish:

The Reserve is protected for work by geologists.  We could see the sites where amateur fossil-hunters had dug the ground in search of trilobytes and such, but the geologists were much more circumspect in their work.  The only evidence of scholarly research was this one decaying sign that was somehow left behind, its number denoting a location for some research specimens:

Again, traditional plants always come as a surprise in this environment:

As we walked out to the point, where the limestone layers are most evident, we got a glimpse of the rocky beach below:

We found no fossils ourselves, but we did spot one piece of limestone with the track of some ancient sea worm.  We left it where we found it, for scientific purity, and to honor "leave no trace" -- and, oh by the way, to avoid criminal penalties.

Did we tell you how bright the few plants burst into color in the Spring?

We satisfied our geological and archaeological curiosity and drove on to our next stop, which was Arches Provincial Park.  It preserves conglomerate stone that, after the last Ice Age, was eroded by intruding sea water into arches.  Now, the beach on which the arches rest is littered with rounded stones that appear to have been smoothed by some large ancient river flowing down to the Gulf of St. Lawrence from the nearby Long Range Mountains or their ancestor Appalachians.

Of course, we had to get up close and personal with the Arches:

The beach is vast and filled with large rounded stones that are difficult to traverse by foot because they roll under your step:

Some prior visitor had formed a group of round stones into a heart, and Kathy jumped into the spirit of the moment to share the love:

But this was not our last stop!

We paused for lunch at Bennett's Lodge, in Daniel's Harbour, which, to our good fortune, just opened today to inaugurate its season.  Our fare was basic Newfie, although, interestingly, without seafood.  Plenty of potatoes.  Kathy had very good roast turkey, and David had a hamburger with a special secret recipe for the ground meat that he found particularly tasty; the owner would not reveal the recipe.

After lunch, we sought out a beach to do some beachcombing -- particularly to look for sea glass.  We decided to try our luck at Bellburns, where Bound Brook flows into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  It looked like an appropriately gravelly beach for sea glass searching:

The day was sunny and not so windy, so the scenery was dramatic and beautiful:

We parked on a cliff above the beach and, seeking a way down, followed a raised gravel path along the cliff, hoping that it would lead us to the shoreline.

We were not disappointed.  The Newfies love their staircases on trails, and that proved true again on this walk.  The beach beckoned to us from below:

As it turned out, while the beach was littered with many larger, round stones, there was enough gravel and small stones to make our search for sea glass worth the effort.  Kathy found several beauties, including some unique blue and yellow pieces.

David was after other quarry.  Bound Brook is very lively as it burbles down into the Gulf:

The day was so beautiful that we knew Ruby the Adventure Cat would want some time outside, so we hastened back to Port au Choix to open up the RV and let her out on her first adventure in our 3-day stay.  The wind and cold has been pretty fierce and she hates being out in it.

Sure enough, she loved her outing in the warm afternoon sun with only a light breeze ruffling her fur.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Torrent River Traverse

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Hi Blog!

The weather in this part of Newfoundland is slowly starting to improve. No snow in the forecast today. We enjoyed our visit yesterday to the French Bread Oven in Port au Choix. The ladies running the center, had loads of local information. We mentioned we were thinking of heading to Hawke's Bay (no, Kenny, not to see Patsy) to visit the Salmon Interpretive Centre and Fishway. One of the bake oven volunteers mentioned it wasn't open yet, but we could still hike the 3-km boardwalk, named for Newfoundland Ranger, John Hogan, which would take us to the Salmon Interpretation Centre. 

Getting ahead of our story, here we are at our destination:

Our adventure started at the Torrent River Nature Park at the mouth of the Torrent River. We walked down to the bridge so we could get a good look at the river. The Torrent River flows from the fens, bogs and barrens of the Long Range Mountain highlands through a chain of ponds including Western Brook Pond (a famous location of inland fjords in Gros Morne National Park), to it's outlet in Hawke's Bay.  The lower portion of the basin is located along the flat coastal plain and is dominated by areas of bog and forest.  Listening to the water rush into the bay, you can understand why they called it the Torrent River.

The John Hogan Trail is a 3-km boardwalk meandering along the Torrent River in Hawke's Bay. The trail was built to commemorate the remarkable courage of Newfoundland Ranger John Hogan, who, for over 50 days, survived in the wilderness and cared for a totally incapacitated companion. The Hogan Trail begins at the Torrent River Nature Park and leads to the Torrent River Salmon Interpretation Centre and Fishway. 

There are several scenic stops along the way. Here Kathy tries her hand at casting an imaginary spey rod for imaginary salmon (they haven't started running here yet).

We were skeptical when we saw this sign for Mini Fish Brook, but we really did see a mini brook working its way through the willows.  We're pretty sure it's a nursery for small salmon fry before they venture forth to make their way out to the Atlantic Ocean.

One thing we learned hiking in Newfoundland is that Newfies love their boardwalks and stairs. It took a while to realize the reason they go to all that trouble is that nature would quickly take back any trail that they build. Willows are relentless. Without the boardwalks and stairs, you would never be able to find the trail.

One of the bread ladies mentioned that the bridge over the Torrent River was washed out. She wasn't sure we'd be able to get across the river. As it turns out, while the approach to the bridge was washed out and the road was closed to vehicle traffic, we were still able to walk across the bridge.

This was our view downstream --

-- and this our view upstream:

Torrent River is the site of one of the region's most successful salmon enhancement projects in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Research had indicated that giving salmon access above the falls would boost the population and improve the recreational fishery on the river.  So, in 1965, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) developed an enhancement program which included the design and construction of a fishway past the falls. Resembling a series of stairs, the fishway enabled adult salmon to swim up and over the falls through a series of 34 gradually elevated pools.\

With all the recent snow and rain, the falls were very active. In the photo below, Kathy braces herself as the mist approaches.

The Adult Salmon-Stocking Program is a success. Salmon born above the falls in Torrent River return to the upper reaches of the river to spawn and a healthy, viable salmon population has been created. The salmon count at the fishway increased from 58 fish in 1971 to a high of 7,000 in 1996 and has remained at approximately 4,000 salmon in the years since.

Click the link to watch a video of the falls and fish ladder 

As we hiked our way back to the trailhead, we kept an eye out for moose. While there were plenty of moose prints and moose poo, we didn't see any moose. However, the river valley provided lots of scenic views.

After our hike, we drove back into Port au Choix for lunch. We both ended up ordering Newfie fish cakes! Back in the RV Park, we decided to use the rest of the good weather for a good beach walk. The limestone bedrock in this area made for some really interesting rock formations on the beach.

We weren't sure if this square rock eroded from some nearby limestone or was deposited here by some ancient glacier.

The beaches in Newfound are full of amazing things. The sea urchin shell is completely intact.

There is a section of the beach that was covered in rounded rocks. We can only assume that once upon a time, a river entered the bay near here and left all these perfectly round rocks.

If you wanted to collect driftwood, Port au Choix is the place to come. There were huge piles of bleached and stripped driftwood along the high tide line. Here is one that fell down onto the beach looking like a whale bone.

In our drives to and from Port au Choix, we passed this inuksuk on the side of the road. We decided to make this our turnaround.

On the way back, we noticed our traditional inuksuk friend had several more modern companions.

The perfect place to watch the sunset across the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

No one knows for sure the exact number of shipwrecks around Newfoundland, but it is estimated to be in the thousands. There is no way of knowing exactly where this gear shaft came from. It just one of Newfoundland's many mysteries

If the weather cooperates tomorrow, we plan to head to Arches Provincial Park. Until then, stay thirsty my friends.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Raw Newfoundland in Port au Choix

Monday, May 29, 2023 

Once the snow passed this morning, we started to get clearer weather.  Our beachfront campsite almost looked warm -- but it was an illusion.

We were gazing at the sea so, when we spotted an unusual shape far out in the water.  Kathy pulled out the monocular and -- lo and behold! -- THAR BE ICEBERG!

First iceberg sighting of the season!  We were so excited.  "Where can we get a closer view?"  "Let's drive out to the lighthouse!"
And we did.

The Point Riche Lighthouse is a "pepperpot" lighthouse that was built in 1892 and is still active. The white wooden tower is octagonal and pyramidal in shape.  The lantern room is painted red. The structure is 62 feet tall. Its light flashes every 5 seconds. The keeper's dwelling burned down in the 1970's.  
The lighthouse is maintained by the Port au Choix National Historic Site, a unit of Parks Canada.  For this reason, it is eligible to be the site of "official" Parks Canada Red Chairs -- a favorite of Kathy's.  And, sure enough, there were the red chairs -- situated, conveniently enough, at a point with the closest view of the little iceberg, which was so small that you cannot see it in the photo below, even though it is smack in the middle between our chairs:

Our venture out of the Jeep lasted only 5 minutes, and our hands and noses were already freezing from the bitter winds ripping across the Port au Choix Peninsula.  It wasn't quite lunchtime, but we decided to stay out and explore the town (by Jeep) until lunch.  In search of interesting views, we quickly found this fetching little inuksuk, perched over one of the three bays boasted by Port au Choix with a view back at the town:

As everywhere in Newfoundland, while houses are modest, owners take great pride in them and are very creative about decorating what they own.  We spotted this shipping container in one yard.  The mural you see was assembled from wood -- NOT just painted.  We were very impressed.

While the cod fishing industry collapsed years ago in Newfoundland (and, aside from the history of cod fishing itself) this fact underlies and plays through every single experience one has in Newfoundland.  You cannot understand the Newfies without understanding how the collapse of the cod fishing industry upended the lives of every one of them.  Even so, the fishing industry still thrives in certain harbors, including the one in Port au Choix.  According to one of the volunteers we spoke with today, cod fishing has come back to a limited degree; but lobster fishing is very important, as is shrimping, scallop farming and other fishing.  So the harbor was full of working boats and the community looked healthy.

However, as everywhere on The Rock, remnants of cod fishing's influence still remain:

Did we mention how people like to decorate their properties --

-- or how important lobster fishing is?

We drove out to Philip's Garden, an archaeological site and a site that was and is sacred to Indigenous people of the area.  It has a distinctive formation of what look like pillow volcanic rocks stretching out toward the mouth of the harbor:

That was quite a bit of history and culture to absorb.  We worked up a terrific hunger and repaired to a most appropriate spot -- the Anchor Cafe, with the hope of catching some typically Newfie lunch fare.  We weren't disappointed.

Kathy scored some battered halibut and fries, while David scarfed down some seafood chowder, mixed fried seafood and home fries.  Lots of fried things -- too many for us -- so we took half of the meal home for later indulgence, along with some (obviously it's going to be) yummy Figgy Duff, which David insisted on boxing up for dessert tonight or tomorrow.  For those of you reading without benefit of Newfoundland experience, Newfoundland Figgy Duff has nothing to do with figs, dried fresh or otherwise. Raisins are historically referred to as figs in many parts of the province, and this dish can best be described as a steamed pudding with raisins.  Just that description is enough to make David drool.  More on that later after we taste it.

Our campground host, Todd, recommended that we drop by the local historical bake oven to see the demonstration of the stone bake ovens used by itinerant French (Basque) fishermen as they plied this coast (now known as the French Shore) for fish under agreements with the British Government, which claimed control of Newfoundland during the 19th Century.  Port au Choix is one of six locations in Newfoundland, Canada to celebrate their French heritage by building an outdoor bread oven, which is pictured below:

At these demonstration bake ovens, a wood fire is started in the oven at 9:30 in the morning. The ashes are removed before the buns are put in the oven at 2 in the afternoon by interpreters dressed like ladies of the past. As visitors, we were served two hot buns and butter with homemade jams made of local berries such as Squashberry, Partridgeberry and Blueberry, along with a hot beverage (Kathy had hot chocolate). A nominal fee is charged to participate in this taste of history.

After we enjoyed our taste of heritage, the volunteers at the bake oven explained the history of the bake ovens on the French Shore.  Our speaker centered her talk on this new mural painted by a local artist, which depicts an incident in the life of one of the ancestors of Port au Choix citizens.  While the French fishermen were not allowed to live permanently here, English settlers slowly encroached on the land to compete with the French for the fishing in the area.  As it happened, the French employed young boys to do manual labor on the boats and in connection with the fishing industry, and, over time, some of the boys "jumped ship" to hide and remain in Newfoundland as the French fishing fleets returned to France each year.

The story was told of one young boy who survived long enough to tell his story to local historians.  His name was Joe Gaslard, born 1887, who jumped ship in 1902, never to return to France.  He escaped discovery by hiding in a woodpile, and this mural represents his story, being taken in by an English settler, staying, raising a family and being able to boast (were he alive today) of descendants still living in Port au Choix.  The mural depicts him emerging from under a woodpile as the French fishing ship departs:

One cannot overstate the importance of cod (and its failure) to the history of Newfoundland.  Salted cod was in demand in Europe the 1800's and 1900's, both as a delicacy and as an economical food for armies.  The process of salting cod to preserve it thus became an art, which is still practiced today.  Just to prove that it is still enjoyed, our hosts brought out a real salted cod, which Kathy grabbed and examined, eager to understand how she might use it in recipes for fishcakes and chowder:

Thus having learned our fill of cod, we moved on, at our hosts' recommendation, to the French Rooms, an exhibit which focused on the more recent cultural experience of French descendants in the Port au Choix region:

The most gripping exhibit was a half hour video, filmed in the early 1960's about the first of 13 families whose homes were relocated to Port au Choix from other outports due to loss of fishing work.  In the film, the family's house is towed across the bay to Port au Choix from their original homesite nearly 30 miles north across the water.  The film includes footage of the methods used to float the house and tow it, as well as very touching interviews of members of the family which were conducted while the house was being moved.  The mother said they moved because of the loss of work fishing for cod, and the hope of more job opportunities in Port au Choix, as well as the chance for a good education for their 10 (!) children.

We left the French Rooms with a more sober awareness of the difficulties faced by Newfoundlanders over the years.  We reached our cozy RV and were about to settle down to write this blog entry, when -- to our astonishment -- a lone young caribou male wandered by the front of our rig:

Young Ruby Cat was awestruck at the sight.  She didn't know what to think.  Kathy thought, "Yes!  First iceberg, red chairs, French bread, first caribou.  It's a good day!"