Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Newfoundland - part 2

Newfoundland again. I need a thesaurus to find words to describe what we've seen! We are into week ten now, which is a record for us, and we just now are headed south again. I checked the other day, and it was 2500 miles in a straight line to Houston.

I guess we left off at Terra Nova Natl. Park. Teachers started back to work Monday a week ago, but we were stuck here in Newfoundland. Why not take a hike? We started the day with a walk to the top of Ochre Hill . There was a beautiful panoramic view of the bays, ponds, and mountains all around. We ran into just one other person on our hike.

                                    From the top of Ochre Hill in Terra Nova National Park

There are a lot of peninsulas around the island. There are too many for us to explore them all, so we chose Cape Bonavista as one of them. There is a collapsed sea cave called The Dungeon that was a must-see, and a historic lighthouse near where it is has been agreed upon that John Cabot landed. There is a little island near the lighthouse that is a nesting place for puffins. It was fun to see where they live, and we were lucky enough to see a few coming and going from their burrows. Even with the orange beak, they are hard to spot. Our campground that night was about 6 km (3.6 miles) down a very bumpy road. We were glad we only had to take the round trip once.
The Dungeon

Cape Bonavista Lighthouse

View from Cape Bonavista

The big city of St. John's was our next stop (pop. 100,000). Still, 'city driving' is not fun, especially when you aren't sure where you are going. St. John's is known for the colorful houses, but we didn't stop to take many pictures of them. We spent our time at two historic sites- Cape Spear and Signal Hill.
      Cape Spear is the easternmost point of North America, not counting Greenland, so we had to go there to get a geocache names “Extreme East”. Signal Hill is above the harbor entrance, and has been the site of many battles between the French and British. At the top is a stone building called Cabot Tower. Early radio transmissions were received here, and there is a recreation of the radio room.
As far east as you can go by car - Cape Spear

Cape Spear Lighthouse

Cabot Tower on Signal Hill

Looking down from Signal Hill as a ship entered St. John's Harbor

Kris signing the log of a geocache below Cape Spear Lighthouse - a precarious perch

On Signal Hill, there is an attraction called GeoCentre. It is a museum about geology UNDER the hill. They carved the museum into the rock of the Signal Hill. We decided to spend another day in St. John's to see what it is like. You can see all of the layers going back billions of years. It was quite informative, and not too busy, so we really enjoyed the day not driving around.

It was time to escape the big city. We traveled west to Placentia Bay and Castle Hill National Historic Site. There are remains of French and British forts there, along with the history of how forts have changed due to technology. Gunpowder and rifles barreled guns made a lot of difference!

It would have been nice to visit France – There are two French islands off of the coast of Newfoundland, but it was too much money to justify a visit to France, although it would have been a new country to Geocache in!

The Trans Canada Highway isn't very busy compared to Houston freeways, and is a comfortable drive. The only problem was that I drive the speed limit, so people were frequently on our tail. One good thing, though, is that they actually use their turn signals to pass! Amazing, for sure.

Well, we've gone as far east as we can, so why not head farther north?  One of the places we HAD to go back to was Gros Morne National Park on the west coast. We camped another night, and then headed north to L'Anse aux Meadows, where the Vikings had a short-lived settlement in 1000 A.D.. We took an excellent tour, guided by a local man that grew up playing on the 'Indian Mounds' that turned out to be the remnants of the Viking dwellings. National Parks always have interesting guided tours, but we have been very lucky this trip to have two guided by people with direct connections. This guide worked on the archeological digs in the area and helped reconstruct the buildings that are used in the living history exhibit.

                                                  Brian strikes a pose with Leif Ericson

Our tour guide with remains of the original Viking dwellings behind them.  
They were excavated and then covered over to preserve them.

A reconstructed Viking dwelling with sod walls 6 feet thick

Inside a reconstructed house

Another historic site on the northern peninsula is in Port Au Choix, where four different prehistoric groups of people have lived over the course of 5,000 years. We took a short hike on one of the trails, and were lucky enough to see a lone caribou on our walk.

We took a short hike on Raven Trail that is the northern terminus of the IATNL – International Appalachian Trail Newfoundland – but we haven't been able to learn much about it. It was another wonderful view (this time on the first day the kids were back to school) and this time, we didn't see ANY people!

The view from Cape Raven (and a geocache)

Today, we did the tourist thing and took a boat tour on Western Brook Pond, an ancient fjord that is now a freshwater lake. The two-hour ride was breathtaking, and well worth the 3 kilometer hike to get to the boat dock. I liked the fact that I wasn't doing the driving.
                                          Western Brook Pond - Gros Morne National Park

Our boat trip on Western Brook Pond

Kris here – my 2 cents worth:
We had planned on spending one week in Newfoundland but extended our visit to two weeks. Although we could see Labrador across the Strait of Belle Isle about 25 km away, we had to draw the line somewhere so we didn't take the ferry across to visit it. L'Anse aux Meadows was well-worth the drive up to the end of the Northern Peninsula. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (as is Gros Morne NP) and I have always been intrigued by the place. I wasn't sure we were going to have time to visit, but adding the time to our Newfoundland expedition made it possible. We saw a 10-foot statue of Leif Ericson that was a tribute to all people of Scandinavian heritage so it was fitting that I saw it and thought of my Norwegian ancestors. The tour guide was excellent and is a living witness to the discovery of the ruins and played a role in the preservation. He has worked for Parks Canada for almost 50 years and really knew his “stuff.”
Surprisingly, we haven't seen much wildlife. Too late in the summer to see whales, but NFLD supposedly has the highest population density of moose anywhere in the world and we haven't seen even one, despite the ubiquitous warning signs along the highways. I was thrilled to see one caribou, a handful of puffins, and a hare that hopped through our campsite last evening.

We have booked a night crossing on the ferry back to Nova Scotia where we will resume our sojourn at Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

Geocaching warning!
This trip hasn't been all about caching. Yes, we look at them, but we are fairly picky. We have averaged about ten finds a day. We aren't racking up big numbers, but we have found quite a few places that we wouldn't have seen if there wasn't a geocache there.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


Hey! We are in Newfoundland now. I guess we were on Prince Edwards Island since our last post, so we have seen a lot since then.
We forgot to say that we saw two bear cubs crossing the road when we were leaving the National Park in New Brunswick. I saw one of them loping across the road, and asked Kris if she saw it. She hadn't but looked up and there came another one! No time for pictures, though.
The ferry ride across to Nova Scotia was OK, It didn't take long, so no excitement. Nova Scotia is a lot different than PEI. Once we got there, we said “This is more like it!” The Cape Breton Highlands were amazing, to say the least. It is a National Park, with scenery that can't adequately be described. Since our reservations for the ferry to Newfoundland was already made, we couldn't spend much time, but I'm pretty sure we will stop by on the way back. Alexander Graham Bell lived in Baddeck, Nova Scotia for a while, and did a lot of work on aviation here. There is a very interesting National Historic Site that we visited. Again, we may go back to spend some more time. Luckily we bought the Canadian National Park Pass, and don't have to pay for daily use fees. It has already paid for itself!
      On a drizzly day, we camped near the ferry landing for the NL ferry, and did some laundry and were able to cook a meal before the real rain started. We got an early start to catch the ferry, but were able to stop to see the giant fiddle in Sydney (and use their wi-fi).

The Big Fiddle in Sydney, Nova Scotia

The ferry ride to Newfoundland was about six hours long, and the air conditioning wasn't working most of the time, so it was not comfortable at all. I managed to catch some ZZZs, but the foghorns woke me up when we hit a cloud bank. It was a good thing that unloading didn't take as long as loading the boat.

Picture taken through the windshield as we were driving onto the ferry to Newfoundland (Kris's travel journal on the dash)

I sure didn't know what to expect on Newfoundland, but I am impressed. Gros Morne NP is beautiful. We stopped there for a night, and would have spent more time, but we wanted to get to a Geocaching Event a few hundred kilometres away, so we decided to spend more time on the way back to the ferry in a week or two. It is on the way to the north side of the island where circa 1000 AD Viking village was discovered.
There is an area called Tablelands in the park where the Earth's mantle is exposed. The hike to a viewpoint was spectacular, but windy! The American and Canadian space agencies consider it a Mars analog for the type of rocks exposed there.

                Tablelands trail in Gros Morne National Park

              Cool clouds over the mountain

You can see Bonne Bay (part of Gulf of St. Lawrence) from our campsite.

Yesterday, we almost missed the geocaching event we were going to. Our clock said it was 11:15, but my phone said it was 11:45. We asked someone, and they said that Newfoundland is ½ hour ahead of the rest of Atlantic time. No reason was given, but I'm glad we noticed it.
Right now we are at Terra Nova National park. We spent an hour on a hike around a small lake, and will be camping tonight (3 ½ weeks in the truck now) before heading out to Bonavista and St. John's to see what those areas are like.

Kris here:
Brian has covered most of it, but I have a few words to add.
Cape Breton Island is fabulous. We really need to spend more time there when we return to Nova Scotia. The Mackenzie Mountain Highway and the western side of the island are rugged and scenic.
Prince Edward Island was nice, but more pastoral than we like...gentler landscape, too.
I didn't know what to expect in Newfoundland. Gros Morne National Park certainly deserves more of our time and we plan on visiting again before we drive up to the end of the Northern Peninsula to visit L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site. We woke up at 5:00 one morning and watched the sunrise over the mountains from our campsite.

      Sunrise from our campsite in Gros Morne National Park

We have crossed the province from west to east on the Trans Canada Highway. The road is good and the towns are few and far between. Sparkling lakes and forested hillsides for the most part. I saw a sign along the highway today that said “15 moose accidents in 2014; 2 in 2015.” We have seen numerous “Be Moose Aware” signs, but no actual moose yet. I suppose it's a good thing we haven't seen any along the highway. We originally planned to spend a week in Newfoundland, but have extended our plan to stay almost two weeks. We haven't made a reservation for the return ferry yet, but need to set a date soon.

Gros Morne National Park

                                                  Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia

                                             Cheticamp Island, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

                                                   Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia

       On a different note, I have found myself thinking about the start of school back home. To Kim and all of my CCISD teaching friends, I wish you a productive week ahead and a smooth start to the school year. I will be thinking of you, but not missing the stress and work of it all.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Canada! Part 1

 Oh, Canada! We have come back!

The first thing we did after we crossed the border was to check on converting currency. Glad we did, because the 'Royal Bank' couldn't or wouldn't cash our check or use our VISA debit card. They did convert the cash we had to Canadian, so we had some time. Next stop, a bigger town. Three banks, same problem. OH OH! What should we do? Have someone send us money through Western Union? Maybe Wal-Mart, with cash back? No luck. I decided to check the web for a Pulse or VISA local terminal, and found that the gas station had an ATM that would help. Whew, that was a relief!
Free to roam without money problems we headed up toward the NB/Ontario border, and followed up to the Acadian peninsula. It is kind of like VERY north Louisiana, without the alligators, and prettier. There are mosquitoes, though. It is very pretty, and we enjoyed the drive. Most everything is in French, then English, which was a bit of a problem, but we managed. I don't understand how anyone could live in a bilingual area for any length of time without picking up some of the language. I don't mean speaking, but just understanding what is going on. I picked up a bit of French, but couldn't hold any sort of conversation. [sorry Madam Lavender from High School French].
Our first night was spent at Sugar Loaf Mountain in New Brunswick.

We decided to walk to the top of it. It was a hike STRAIGHT UP the 'mountain' at a very steep grade. The view was awesome, but it was humbling to see people pass us up two or three times doing the circuit more than once. And, for all of you thinking that it was a high mountain, the elevation was about 900 feet. Not nose-bleed category.

The Acadian peninsula was pretty, and we visited an old church with an outdoor sanctuary.
As Justin Wilson said, the people wouldn't swear allegiance to the King, they would only swear AT him, so some landed in Louisiana, and some landed in NW New Brunswick. You can decide who you think were the lucky ones. (hint – think both winter and summer)
     We had reservations at Parlee Beach Provincial Park for the weekend, so we could attend the Maritime Mega Moncton geocaching event. Over 400 people attended, and they were very friendly. We were able to meet some local cachers that we had been in contact with via e-mail. A good time was had by all. The campground we stayed at wasn't the best, but it was convenient, and we only used it to sleep. People were packed in like sardines.
While in Moncton, we were able to see a tidal bore. It wasn't very big, but it was impressive. The tide makes the water flow upriver, forming a small wave. Surfers like to try to 'ride the wave'. If you look closely at the picture, you will see at least one.

 Another attraction in the area was the world's largest lobster.  Who could resist stopping by?

      There is a National Park -Kouchibouguac -not far from Moncton that we had to pass up to get to the event, so we decided to return for a day and see what it was like. It was nice and quiet. We got in some nice hiking, and walked the beach as the sun was setting. A very relaxing day. It was New Brunswick Day, so most everything was closed, except some gas stations and fast food places. It is a civic holiday, but not related to anything that we could determine – just a day off.

Next stop, Prince Edward Island. The Confederation Bridge crosses the Northumberland Strait. . . 8 miles long.  It is free to cross over to the island, but they make you pay to get off!
PEI end of the Confederation Bridge

We stayed at Prince Edward Island National Park, and set out to explore the island. It is a very rural island for the most part, with some small towns (they call them cities). Lots of potato fields in bloom! Kris got tired of seeing them pretty quickly. There is a lot of coastline, and we pretty much followed the North, West and East coasts. There is a wind farm on the North Cape with an interpretive center, but they wanted too much money to go 'Interpret' wind energy in the indoor exhibits, so we walked the trails to see it in action.

This is as far as you can go.

There was also a nature trail, so we got a nice hike in there, too. Jacques Cartier Provincial park was our home for the night, and we could see his statue from our campsite. PEI knows how to treat Senior Citizens! We got the discount at their parks! It rained a bit, but the upside was a pretty rainbow.
We got a discount at the Canadian National Potato Museum, too. It was the kind of quirky place we like to go. The exhibits were good, but video circa 1985 kind of dated it. They had poutine (french fries and cheese curds covered with gravy), so we had some. It sounds kind of weird, but it is delicious!

Yummy poutine!

At "Bud the Spud"

A local geocacher was hosting an Event at his house, welcoming some Americans back to the island. We stopped by, too, and were inducted as Honorary Prince Edward Islanders.  The induction ceremony involved a shot of potato vodka and raw oysters and kissing Mr. Potato Head.

Since we are ending our PEI jaunt on the east coast, close to Nova Scotia, we decided to cross by ferry to save time, rather than drive back and use the bridge. We have reservations to take the ferry to Newfoundland next Thursday, so we will poke abound Nova Scotia before that. I'm sure we can find something to do!

I'll add photos in a day or two. (NOTE:  photos added on 8.16.15

Kris here:
PEI is all about farming (mostly potatoes) and fishing (lobster, clams, oysters).  We made dinner last night with locally-grown wax beans and potatoes.  The landscape is primarily rolling farmland of red dirt with patches of trees.  And, you are rarely more than 10 miles from the sea (Gulf of St. Lawrence) and beaches.   As Brian mentioned above, we did enjoy some poutine.  We tried it years ago when we were up in the Montreal area with the kids.  Everyone loved it so we make it at home, or at least a close approximation of it.  We like the uncrowded areas of the island and chose to skip the Green Gables/Avonlea/Anne/L. M. Montgomery attractions.  I tried reading "Anne of Green Gables" as a kid and just couldn't get into it.  Weather has been enjoyable - shorts during the day, light jacket in the morning until things warm up.  A little light rain now and then, but nothing like the torrential downpours back home.  We are looking forward to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland soon.