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Saturday, May 20, 2023

Isthmus of Blue Beach and Breadcrumb Trails

Friday, May 19, 2023

Hi Blog!

We left Grand Codroy on Thursday, but we didn't go far. We drove north about an hour to the small community of Robinsons. We are camped high above the Robinsons River at the Pirate Haven RV Park. It was the only RV park open this time of the year in the area around St. George's Bay.

High on our list was a hike out the Isthmus of Blue Beach. Friday dawned cold and blustery, but at least it was clear and sunny. Here we are at the "trailhead" which is basically the end of the road. More on the trail later in the blog. 

In order to get to the Isthmus of Blue Beach, we needed to drive around the French Ancestors Route which circles the Port-au-Port Peninsula. We decided to get an early start and stop in Stephensville for breakfast. We found a cute little family restaurant called Hartery's. As we were driving, we had to turn on Carolina Street, we then passed Massachusette Avenue. Then we saw a U.S. Air Force jet at the next intersection. Once we got the restaurant, we learned about the U.S. base in Stephenville.

From its establishment in 1941 until March 31, 1949, the base was located in the Dominion of Newfoundland. On March 31, 1949, the Dominion of Newfoundland was admitted to Canadian Confederation and became the 10th province of Canada. The agreement established the base from 1941 until closure in 1966, enabling it to function as a de facto enclave of United States territory within, first the Dominion of Newfoundland and later Canada, making United States military personnel stationed at the base subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The base had a huge economic and social impact on Stephensville. Once the U.S. vacated the bases, many of the structures were converted to use by local businesses. Air Canada now has flights to Stephensville which is the only airport in Western Newfoundland. Every year, Stephensville hosts The Friendly Invasion, an annual festival that fondly remembers the great friendship that was forged between 1941 and 1966 between the local people and the American military personnel and their families.

Now, the real reason we stopped at Hartery's Family Restaurant. Pictured below is a traditional Newfie breakfast - egg, beans, potatoes, toast and the pièce de ré·sis·tance: fried bologna!

Because of the cold temperatures and wind chill, we packed hot tea and soup for lunch. Knowing this would not be enough, we stopped at Danny's bakery for some tea biscuits and cookies! With our bellies full and packs loaded, we headed toward Blue Beach. The entire road was lined with houses. We were surprises to see so many folks living in what we would call the wilderness. We later learned that many of the new residents were transplants from the outports that close after the cod fishery was destroyed by over-fishing.

Pictured below is our first look at Blue Beach. We were surprised by the number of buildings at Blue Beach. We were expecting a wilderness experience. We later learned that Blue Beach is the closest harbor to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Approximately 700 fishermen in the area are stationed at Blue Beach, some of them spending six months of the year fishing out of its harbor. 

There were a number of lobster boats in the harbor. Lobster season in this area runs from May 15th to July 15th. In that time, a typical boat can earn 1.5 to 2 million dollars pulling lobsters from the Gulf. However, there are a lot of expenses that go into running a boat. Hopefully, they will break even by the end of the season.

We knew this hike would be rocky, but we didn't realize just how rocky. We were hoping the beach would produce some sea glass, but it was just too hard to walk on such large rocks at such a steep angle.

We moved further up the "beach" and had a chance to look into a number of tide pools.

Newfoundland and Labrador has a world class geology. Earth scientists from all over the globe visit the province to study the record of the earth's evolution preserved in its rocks. Not only does it have some of the oldest rocks in the world, but it also has some unusual sequences of rocks which tell a fascinating tale of colliding continents and disappearing oceans in the geological past.

As we came off the beach, we could see the light beacon calling us.

The Modern Light Beacon helps the folks at Blue Beach make their way back to port.

The end of the Isthmus is a wild place. This small rocky point separates the Gulf of St. Lawrence from the Bay of Port-au-Port. We wanted to walk to the very end, but the winds and high tide kept us from crossing.

Even this far up the coast, we can still see remnants of Hurricane Fiona. In the photo below, Dave hoists an anchor which was not enough to hold against those hurricane force winds.

Having hiked as far as we could, we worked our way back along the shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence. If you didn't know, the Gulf of St. Lawrence is the outlet of the North American Great Lakes via the St. Lawrence River into the Atlantic Ocean. The gulf is a semi-enclosed sea, covering an area of about 87,000 square miles. Half of the ten provinces of Canada adjoin the Gulf: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Quebec.

The gulf has provided a historically important marine fishery for various First Nations that have lived on its shores for millennia and used its waters for transportation. The first documented voyage by a European in its waters was by the French explorer Jacques Cartier in the year 1534. Cartier named the shores of the Saint Lawrence River "The Country of Canadas," after an indigenous word meaning "village" or "settlement", thus naming the world's second largest country. It is speculated that Jacques Cartier may have actually stopped here on the Isthmus. We are walking in the footsteps of history.

As you know, Newfoundland rocks. There are so many different rocks, it can make a rockhound's head spin. Pictured below is a beautiful piece of slate perfectly formed to represent a Newfie dog!

We crossed back from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Bay of Port-au-Port and enjoyed a brief moment out of the wind. The flowers seem to like this sheltered area, as well.

After our hike, we ended up having lunch in the Jeep because it was just too cold and windy to enjoy our lunch outside. A couple local women stopped by on their way out to the Isthmus. They probably didn't really have any place to go, they were just curious about the strange Jeep parked at the end of the road.

As we travel, we try to be respectful of peoples places and things. However, we couldn't resist stopping and taking a picture of this unique trailer conversion project named "Dismusbdaplace!"

On our way to Blue Beach, we saw this property and its unique decorations. We made a note to stop on the way back and take some photos.

As luck would have it, by the time we returned, the owner was busy making improvements. We had a lovely chat with the gentleman who owns this estate. He is planning on turning it into a bed and breakfast. He loves rocks as much as Kathy does. He has plans to erect his own version of Stonehenge!

We continued our drive around the peninsula. We passed a number of small villages before crossing the height of land on the way to Cape St. George.

The history of settlement in the Port au Port peninsula is as complex as its geology. The first records of the peninsula come from the Basque whalers who frequented the area even before Jacques Cartier came sailing by. They named the place Ophor Portu or ‘port of rest’ and the pronunciation gradually became Port au Port. However, the Basques were not settlers and although there appears to have been a Mi’qmaw presence, it is not believed to have been substantial in numbers.

We made our way to Boutte du Cap which is the furthest point on the peninsula. It is interesting to note that Port-au-Port peninsula is recognized as the only bilingual community in Newfoundland and Labrador. We noticed our trail sign was in French first with a small English reference at the bottom.

The winds were driving the Gulf waters right into the peninsula.

Despite the gale force blow, Kathy was willing to soldier on.

This area is know for its kittiwake colonies. However, with the strong winds, most of the kittiwakes were hunkered down. We did see a few venturing out to check out the herring spawn. 

Cape St. George is very proud of their traditional French bread oven at Boutte du Cap Park. It can bake four loaves at a time and it makes beautiful crusty bread. The best part is that it is free. Unfortunately, the town folk only fire up the bread oven in July and August, so we could only imagine how tasty it is. 

The 240 kilometers that make up the French Ancestors Route make for a long drive. However, the views and history are worth it. Tomorrow, we hope to get out further in the wilderness. Stay tuned.

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