Category Archives: camping

Over the mountains to sunshine

It’s no secret that this has been the wettest winter on record in western Washington (almost 45 inches of rain between October 1st and April 30th – our average, for well over a hundred years of record-keeping, is closer to 35 inches for the entire year), and one of the coldest. There’s no argument that it’s been incredibly depressing as well (and personal reasons have made it even more so for me).

So, when the weather forecasters for this past week noted (with great cheer) that it was supposed to get to and over 70dF on the west side of the mountains for the first time this year on Wednesday and Thursday, and even warmer, with lots of sunshine, on the east side, I thought, you know what? Screw it, I’m going camping.

Of course, when I thought about the east side of the mountains, my first idea was to go back to the Okanogan, which almost feels like home after the time I spent there researching my first two Tales of the Unearthly Northwest. I was also hoping it would nudge me back into writing the third Tale, which has sat there a few chapters in whining at me for longer than I want to think about it, due to those personal reasons I mentioned above. That didn’t really happen, but at least I got to spend some time in the sun, in nature, and to see lots of spring wildflowers.

The first place I went for flowers wasn’t on the way to the Okanogan, not in the region proper. At some point in the past I had picked up a flyer titled Wildflower Areas in the Columbia Basin, and one of them was about ten miles southeast of Wenatchee.

That turned out to be something of an adventure, as the photo of the Rock Island Grade Road will show. At my first sight of it, I thought, oh my gosh, I hope that little dirt road climbing up the side of a canyon isn’t the one they’re talking about, but yes, it was.

The Rock Island Grade “Road”, looking back towards the Columbia River from where I saw so many wildflowers.

It wasn’t the steepest, narrowest road I’ve ever driven, but I think it’s the steepest, narrowest dirt road I’ve ever driven. The recommended place to stop was about two and a half miles up, and the flyer hinted that there was a parking area. Ha. And what it turned out to be was a place for locals to go up and shoot cans, with all of the attendant garbage. That said, it was also literally carpeted with wildflowers. I managed to park Merlin as close to the edge of the road (not, at that point, hanging over the cliff) as I could, in case someone else came by (no one did, thank goodness), got out, and this is what I saw.

Spreading phlox spreading everywhere along the Rock Island Grade Road.
A phlox close-up.
And another. One of the things that makes phlox one of my favorite wildflowers (and garden flowers) is the infinite variation of a simple five-petaled flower in such a limited color palette.
The yellow flowers are wild radish. The purple ones are blue mustard. Both are tiny, but were profuse.
Yakima milkvetch, which was a new one to me.
And the first of more balsamroot I’ve ever seen in one trip before, which is saying a fair amount.

After I made my way cautiously back down to the highway, I headed back to Wenatchee, then north along Hwy. 97, which borders the Columbia River. It was getting fairly late in the afternoon by then, so I stopped at Lincoln Rock State Park, the first of three parks with campgrounds north of Wenatchee. I’d never camped there before. All of the sites are within sight of the river, and it was a peaceful, warm evening. I sat out in my lawn chair and just absorbed it all. Unfortunately, the batteries in my camera chose just then to give up the ghost, and apparently I’d forgotten to bring the spares, so I have no photos of that.

And that was my first day east of the mountains this year.  More tomorrow.

September 19: Some seriously white knuckles, and back to my park

Back to Red Lodge’s information center this morning, where I was informed that the pass was open today! According to the lady at the desk, there wasn’t even any ice up there. So off I went.

Dear godlings. I will never drive over Beartooth Pass again. Ever. It wasn’t bad at first, and the scenery was lovely, but that didn’t last long. Oh, the scenery did, what I saw of it while I was hanging onto the steering wheel for dear life, but I am not fond of narrow roads climbing up the sides of 11,000 foot mountains with 1000+ feet straight up on one side and 2000+ feet straight down on the other, with a multitude of hairpin switchbacks and no guard rails! Well above tree line for miles, so there was nothing to stop the howling wind that caught Merlin like a sail, to the point where I was scared to pull over in the turnouts hanging over the edges of the cliffs to take photos for fear he’d get blown down the mountain. Or that I would if I opened the car door.

At least it wasn’t snowing since it was in the forties at the top (10,979 feet), not counting windchill. But criminy. That was terrifying. And I don’t scare easily when it comes to that sort of thing.

But that’s the main reason I don’t have a lot of photos. There was just no way.

Once I got down on the other side of the pass, back below the tree line, I did manage some good photos, but I’ll be honest. Yes, the Beartooth Highway is beautiful, but give me U.S. 12 between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef in Utah any day. It was much prettier, and a lot less scary.

At the beginning of the Beartooth Highway.
At the beginning of the Beartooth Highway.
The view from about 10,000 feet.
The view from about 10,000 feet.
You can see two layers of the road in this photo.  Yeah, there was a guard rail here, but that was an exception.
You can see two layers of the road in this photo. Yeah, there was a guard rail here, but that was an exception.
Coming down the southern side of Beartooth Pass.
Coming down the southern side of Beartooth Pass.
And another view.
And another view.
And another.  This was from a little gravel side road leading up to a closed-on-Mondays fire tower.  It would have been nice if they'd actually had that on the sign at the turnoff instead of making me drive a couple of miles to find out.
And another. This was from a little gravel side road leading up to a closed-on-Mondays fire tower. It would have been nice if they’d actually had that on the sign at the turnoff instead of making me drive a couple of miles to find out.
From the same road.
From the same road.  The gold is aspens.
Back down on the highway.  The aspens along the lower part of the road were absolutely dropdead gorgeous.  They reminded me of the time my parents and I drove up to see the aspens in the Colorado Rockies when we were living in Denver.
Back down on the highway. The aspens along the lower part of the road were absolutely dropdead gorgeous. They reminded me of the time my parents and I drove up to see the aspens in the Colorado Rockies when we were living in Denver.
I did know the name of this mountain, but it escapes me now.  That's one prime example of a glacial arete, though.
I did know the name of this mountain, but it escapes me now. That’s one prime example of a glacial  horn and arete, though.
A valley full of aspens.
A valley full of aspens.

I entered Yellowstone National Park at the northeast entrance, to discover that this was actually a really good thing because the road between Mammoth and Norris is closed early for the season for construction, so I would have had to go way out of my way to get to West Yellowstone. Which was really my only choice at this point. The first thing I saw after I entered the park was a sign listing all the campgrounds and their status for the day. Half of them are already closed for the season, and the rest were already full for the night.

Soda Butte, a very old, defunct thermal feature in the far northeastern section of Yellowstone National Park.
Soda Butte, a very old, defunct thermal feature in the far northeastern section of Yellowstone National Park.
Bighorn sheep!  Near Tower Falls.
Bighorn sheep! Near Tower Falls.
Tower Falls.  It's about an 80 foot drop.
Tower Falls. It’s about an 80 foot drop.

It’s always difficult to do Yellowstone as a last-minute thing, and I knew that going in. The lodging in the park gets reserved well over a year in advance (the reservations for each year open on May 1st of the previous year, and they’re usually all taken by June, although I have been lucky to get a cancellation with a couple of weeks’ notice in the past). I didn’t think the campgrounds would be such an issue, though – I’ve arrived in the park and gotten a campsite on the spot before. But not this time.

So it was on the 90 miles (Yellowstone is a big park – over 3000 square miles) to the town of West Yellowstone. I didn’t stop much along the way because I figured the earlier I got to West, as the locals call it, the more likely I was to find a place for the night. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to West until about three, and when I stopped at the tourist office, I was told it would be almost impossible to find a motel (also that the average room in West goes for $250 a night – eep! – that’s gone way up in the last few years). So I said what about campgrounds? And she said, there’s a nice forest service campground about three miles north of town, and they have some sites left. So I drove up, and here I am.

Harebells at Baker's Hole campground just north of West Yellowstone.
Harebells at Baker’s Hole campground just north of West Yellowstone.
The Madison River (famous from the movie A River Runs Through It) at Baker's Hole Campground.
The Madison River (famous from the movie A River Runs Through It) at Baker’s Hole Campground.

Tomorrow I will get up early and go wander around the geyser basins and hopefully catch an eruption of Grand Geyser, then drive on out of the park late in the afternoon. I have a reservation for tomorrow night for a cabin at Hebgen Lake, about 25 miles northwest of West, in the direction I’d have been heading, anyway. I wish I could spend more time here, but logistically it’s just not going to work. It’s time to head home. I’ve probably got two more nights on the road after this one, if all goes according to plan. The cabin at Hebgen Lake, and probably the campground about ten miles west of Missoula where I’ve stayed before. That’s a day’s drive from home.

I can’t believe the trip’s almost over. I’ve got some seriously ambivalent feelings about it. Part of me wants to keep on going, even though it’s getting late in the season and if I did I’d have to head south again, and part of me knows I really do need to settle back down again. At least for now.

Sigh. I guess there’s always next year…

September 18: “Mountains, Gandalf!”

Er, Merlin. I’m sure he’ll forgive me the LotR quotation. Anyway. Today I saw Real Mountains [tm] for the first time since June 12th, back in Colorado. I knew I’d missed them, but I hadn’t realized quite how much.

I drove west from Billings a few more miles before I turned southwest on U.S. 212, aka the Beartooth Highway. Well, not quite yet. It’s a bit over forty miles to the town of Red Lodge where the highway actually starts. But I started seeing mountains almost immediately, which made me so happy.

You can just see the mountains in the distance.  Honest.
You can just see the mountains in the distance on the left. Honest.
See, and here's more.  These were taken on the road between Billings and Red Lodge.
See, and here’s more. These were taken on the road between Billings and Red Lodge.

That whole drive was lovely, actually. I’d gotten a really late start, knowing I wasn’t going to go all that far today (I’d figured on camping in one of the half dozen or so forest service campgrounds between Red Lodge and the pass), and I got to Red Lodge just about lunchtime. I stopped at the tourist information center looking for a restroom, only to hear the lady at the desk tell someone else that the pass was closed! Apparently, even though it was in the sixties in Red Lodge, it was snowing up there!

Statue in front of the tourist information center in Red Lodge.
Statue in front of the tourist information center in Red Lodge.

So that threw a serious monkey wrench in my machinery. It was either wait till tomorrow to see if things would get better, or turn around and go back to I-90 and across to Livingston, where I could drive down to Gardiner and the northern entrance to the park. I really didn’t want to do that. And Red Lodge has a laundromat, so I decided to do laundry and wait. If worse came to worst, I’d drive back to I-90 tomorrow.

My clothes all clean, I went looking for a campground. Fortunately, there’s a very nice one just four miles up the road from Red Lodge, so I had a pleasant, quiet rest of my afternoon. It is getting cold out there, though, and it’s been spitting rain a bit. This does not bode well for tomorrow, alas.

The view from the highway close to where I camped tonight.
The view from the highway close to where I camped tonight.

September 16: Today was a Critter Day. In spades.

I don’t know what time the rain quit hammering on Merlin’s roof last night, because it was still going strong when I fell asleep. But I woke to bright sunshine and only a few fair-weather clouds, which made me very happy. It was cold, though. Not quite as cold as that night in the Colorado Rockies where it frosted on me at 9600 feet, but I’m pretty sure it got down into the forties last night after the clouds cleared off. Thank goodness for warm sleeping bags.

I got to do something this morning that I didn’t think I’d ever get back here to do. I drove the entire fourteen miles of the scenic drive at the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I think I mentioned that the last (and only, or so I thought at the time – I mean, how often does one go to North Dakota?) time I was here, the road was closed about six miles in due to slumping. Well, this morning it was open, and I drove all the way to the end. Lots of pretty scenery, and the CCC made its presence known again, and bison! A couple of lone bulls, and a small herd of females and half-grown youngsters. So that was fun.

Cottonwood forest at the not-eponymously named Juniper Campground.
Cottonwood forest at the not-eponymously named Juniper Campground.
Off through the Badlands in TRNP's North Unit.
Off through the Badlands in TRNP’s North Unit.
Golden cottonwoods and badlands.
Golden cottonwoods and badlands.
CCC viewpoint house above the Little Missouri River.
CCC viewpoint house above the Little Missouri River.
Part of the view from the viewpoint house.
Part of the view from the viewpoint house.
Bison herd in the distance.
Bison herd in the distance.
Bull bison *not* in the distance.
Bull bison *not* in the distance.  I eased around him *very* slowly, but he just ignored me, so that was good.  He’s about the same size as Merlin.

By the time I left the north unit and drove the sixty miles back down to I-94, it was getting on towards lunchtime, so after I strolled along the walk at the Painted Hills overlook, which is the only cross between an Interstate rest area and a national park visitor center that I’m aware of, I stopped in the rather self-consciously Old West town of Medora and ate lunch in the saloon (the second saloon I’ve eaten in on this trip, the first one having been in Virginia City, Nevada, way back in early June).

A view from the Painted Hills overlook.
A view from the Painted Hills overlook.

Then I headed into the south unit of TRNP, and took its scenic drive. The last time I was here, in June, 2012, it was 100dF, and blowing about 70 mph. Which is why I didn’t camp in the park the last time I was here. Today it’s been in the mid-60s, and the breeze has never been higher than pleasant. So I had a much better time than last time. I saw more bison (actually, where I saw more bison was at the Painted Hills rest stop, right along the freeway, which was kind of bizarre). I saw several prairie dog shows [g]. There are three huge prairie dog towns in the park – watching them scuttle around and make their incredibly loud chirps (I can hear them inside Merlin with all the windows closed and the engine running) is great fun. And for the first time in my life, I saw wild horses! Two different groups of them (are they herds if there’s only half a dozen or so individuals?), one of which crossed the road directly in front of me. Such absolutely gorgeous animals. I’ve seen wild burros before, in South Dakota’s Black Hills, but never wild horses. It was amazing.

Wild horses!  Those mounds in the front are part of a prairie dog village.
Wild horses! Those mounds in the front are part of a prairie dog village.
The other herd, which had just crossed the road when I took this photo.  Aren't they beautiful?
The other herd, which had just crossed the road when I took this photo. Aren’t they beautiful?
And one more shot of the second herd.
And one more shot of the second herd.
Prairie dog!  I almost hit one sunning himself in the middle of the road, but fortunately I was going very slow, and he got up and waddled off onto the shoulder.
Prairie dog! I almost hit one sunning himself in the middle of the road (at first I thought he was dead, that someone else had hit him), but fortunately I was going very slowly, and he got up and waddled off onto the shoulder.
Doing the lookout thing.
Doing the lookout thing.
This really isn't scoria, it's clinker (rock that has burned, believe it or not), but the local term for it is scoria.
This really isn’t scoria, it’s clinker (rock that has burned, believe it or not), but the local term for it is scoria.

I’d been sort of debating about whether to camp here or drive on to Glendive or Miles City, Montana (I’m only about 25 miles east of the Montana state line, and Glendive’s about thirty or forty miles on beyond that), for the night, but the Cottonwood campground here in the south unit looked so pleasant that I decided to stay here.

I’ll drive on to Billings (about 300 miles) tomorrow, and then we’ll see what we’ll see. It did occur to me that, coming from the northeast as I am, I could approach Yellowstone over the Beartooth Highway, which I’ve never driven the entire length of. That is if it’s still open for the season. It goes up over 10,000 feet, and is closed most of the year due to snow. It’s supposed to be one of the most spectacular drives in the U.S., though, and if it’s still open I’ll probably do it. I’ll check online tomorrow night in Billings.

September 15: In which I run into a couple of old friends. Very old friends.

I saw this on my way out of Bismarck.  Made me wonder if there were transplanted Roswell, NM, residents here.
I saw this on my way out of Bismarck. Made me wonder if there were transplanted Roswell, NM, residents here.

It rained a bit during the night, but had cleared up by this morning. The weather prediction was for it to be overcast most of the day, with a few scattered showers, and I believed it. More fool me.

To be fair, it didn’t do much more than spit as I drove north from Bismarck towards Fort Mandan, where Lewis and Clark built their home for the winter of 1804-05. There they stayed from October till April, waiting for the temperatures to warm up from the minus forty it hit several times that winter, and for the ice to melt on the Missouri River before they headed on upriver to the Pacific Coast – eventually.

It was funny how much the reproduction (the original is under the shifted Missouri River somewhere) fort looks like the reproduction Fort Clatsop in Oregon, where the Corps of Discovery spent their second winter. Or maybe not. Anyway, it reminded me of home, in an odd way, hence the subject header of today’s post. Not that I’ve ever lived in a hand-built log fort or anything…

I love this quote, for obvious reasons.
I love this quote, for obvious reasons.
The front of Fort Mandan.
The front of Fort Mandan.
One of the pierced tin lanterns, lit up.
One of the pierced tin lanterns, lit up.
Inside Fort Mandan.
Inside Fort Mandan.
A blunderbuss.  I'd read about them, but I'd never seen one in person before.  The guide let me try to lift it -- it's *heavy*!
A blunderbuss. I’d read about them, but I’d never seen one in person before. The guide let me try to lift it — it’s *heavy*!
The obligatory statue of Seaman, Lewis's Newfoundland dog.  I'm pretty sure every L&C site I've ever been to has had one.
The obligatory statue of Seaman, Lewis’s Newfoundland dog. I’m pretty sure every L&C site I’ve ever been to has had one.

It had started raining again by the time I left Fort Mandan, and was coming down fairly well by the time I got to the North Dakota Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center a few miles back down the road. It’s a very nice museum, dealing with both L&C as well as North Dakota agricultural history, which is more interesting than it sounds, especially as the first farmers in what later became North Dakota were the Mandan Indians. Apparently a fair number of our commercial corn and bean varieties are descended from those the Mandans grew, including my favorite dry bean, the Great Northern. I’ll never look at taco soup the same way again [g].

Double life-size statues of L&C and the local Mandan chief in front of the L&C interpretive center, just down the road from Fort Mandan.
Double life-size statues of L&C and the local Mandan chief in front of the L&C interpretive center, just down the road from Fort Mandan.
Nifty bison statues at the interpretive center.
Nifty bison statues at the interpretive center.
The Missouri River near Fort Mandan.
The Missouri River near Fort Mandan.

The rain did not stop. Oh, it slowed down a little, but when I arrived at the Knife River Villages National Historic Site a few miles to the west, it was too wet to go hiking out to see more earth lodges. But there was a fellow in the visitor center who played a wicked Native American flute (I wish I could have recorded him – he was that good), and a very helpful ranger who gave me the phone number of the ranger station at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s North Unit.

See, the last time I was in this part of the world, in 2012, the road into the North Unit had been closed because the land underneath it had slumped. Slumping is the primary way the badlands of the western Dakotas are formed, so it’s nothing unusual, but I had been rather disappointed at the time. So I wanted to see if the road was open again before I drove out of my way to go see it. And yes, it is. And the campground is still open this late in the season, too.

The beginning of the Badlands.
The beginning of the Badlands.

So on westward I went, through the rain and about twenty miles of unpaved road construction (dear godlings, was that not fun), and finally made it here to TRNP’s north unit, where I’m ensconced in a campsite, listening to the rain pound down on Merlin’s metal roof (I’m always glad I’m not tent camping, but I’m really glad tonight).

It’s supposed to clear up tomorrow, and it darned well better. I have a drive I want to make [g].

September 6: Full fathom five thy father lies

Otherwise known as a national park named after a Shakespeare quote (it’s from The Tempest), which has got to be one of the coolest things ever. Unlike the weather. The whole time I was at the Forbers’, the weather was relatively cool and dry and lovely. Today we’re back to heat and humidity, but not nearly as bad as some of what I’ve been through on this trip, at least.

This morning I drove down to the Bruce Peninsula/ Full Fathom Five National Parks visitor center, which had one of the best national park visitor center museums I’ve seen in a while. Too bad I wasn’t here in June to see the forty different kinds of orchids that grow here, but I did get to learn more about the Niagara Escarpment, which is a huge land formation that runs from Wisconsin way up into Ontario and then back down to New York State. Niagara Falls is a result of that escarpment. Also, the Bruce Trail, the oldest long-distance trail in Canada, follows the top of it from that visitor center to within a few miles of Niagara Falls, almost 600 miles long.

See, Christine?  The Bruce Trail *does* end rather than terminate at Niagara [g].
See, Christine? The Bruce Trail *does* end rather than terminate at Niagara [g].
The skull on the right is a normal-sized beaver.  The one on the left is of the extinct giant beaver.    Makes you wonder how big a tree *he* could have felled.
The skull on the right is a normal-sized beaver. The one on the left is of the extinct giant beaver. Makes you wonder how big a tree *he* could have felled.
I just liked this.  A lot.
I just liked this. A lot.

I also learned that the fisher is the only real predator of porcupines, and that the way they catch them is to bite them in the face and flip them over so that they can eat from the spineless stomach and avoid a mouthful of quills.

The ferry landing at Tobermory where I'll be leaving tomorrow.
The ferry landing at Tobermory where I’ll be leaving tomorrow.

After that I went into the tiny town of Tobermory on the very tip of the peninsula to find lunch – which was basically a choice between fish and chips or fish and chips, but that was okay. Then I went back to the visitor center and walked a trail to the water’s edge, which was lovely. Heavily wooded all the way to the end, and a nice little deck above the water with the obligatory Adirondack/Muskoka chairs (Ross, I was told in the Maritimes that calling them Muskoka chairs is an Ontario-centric thing).

The trail from the visitor center to the water.
The trail from the visitor center to the water.
The view from the end of the trail.
The view from the end of the trail.
I finally let someone take my picture in one of the ubiquitous Adirondack/Muskoka chairs that are in every Canadian national park.
I finally let someone take my picture in one of the ubiquitous Adirondack/Muskoka chairs that are in every Canadian national park.
I've never seen cedar berries like those before.
I’ve never seen cedar berries like those before.

I also went to a place called the Singing Sands, which was a lovely little beach, but the sand didn’t sing today, at least not so that I could hear it.

This was at Singing Sands.  Not where I was expecting to run into Mr. Muir, but I don't know why I was surprised.  That man got around.
This was at Singing Sands. Not where I was expecting to run into Mr. Muir, but I don’t know why I was surprised. That man got around.
The pretty little beach at Singing Sands.
The pretty little beach at Singing Sands.

Then I came back to the campground and kicked back for the evening, and here I am.

Tomorrow is a two-hour ferry ride! And the biggest freshwater island in the world, apparently, with at least one lake on the island that has islands of its own.

September 5: Following the Niagara Escarpment

This morning I left Christine’s, after a wonderful four days of visiting and sightseeing, (and a chance to catch up with practical stuff before heading on, which was also much appreciated). Thank you for a great time, all four Forbers. I hope that you, like the other folks who have been so hospitable towards me on this trip, get a chance to come out to Washington so I can show you around!

There are two ways to get to the top of the Great Lakes in order to continue west. Well, the third one is to duck down into the U.S., which would have been going through territory I covered pretty well on my last Long Trip, so that wasn’t going to happen. First, you can drive due north and go around the east side of Georgian Bay on Lake Huron, or second, you can drive northwest to and up the Bruce Peninsula to the very tip, then take a ferry ride across the mouth of Georgian Bay (a bay that’s probably half the size of Lake Huron proper) to Manitoulin Island, from which there’s a bridge to the north shore of the lake. Having decided to do the latter several days ago, I’d gone online to make reservations for the ferry. They’re for Wednesday afternoon (today’s Monday) to give me plenty of time to explore on the way.

Across the rolling countryside of southern Ontario.
Across the rolling countryside of southern Ontario.
A hint of fall color.  Eep.
A hint of fall color. Eep.

So I drove northwest across southern Ontario, and wound up in the town of Owen Sound, on the southern shore of Huron, at lunchtime. I like Owen Sound. Yes, there’s a body of water called Owen Sound, too, but it’s not very big. The town itself is small, used to be much bigger, and, according to the local historical museum (which was great fun), was once a hotbed of vice and iniquity [g]. Bootlegging and counterfeiting and prostitution, among other things. The museum also has a couple of nifty outdoor exhibits, and is right along a very pretty waterfront walking trail.

Calling William Murdoch (actually, the panel talks about a cop who reminded me very much of Detective Murdoch [g]).
Calling William Murdoch (actually, the panel talks about a cop who reminded me very much of Detective Murdoch [g]).
The museum had a train car and a caboose that they were restoring.  The caboose used to be part of the local McDonalds playplace, which was funny.
The museum had a train car and a caboose that they were restoring. The caboose used to be part of the local McDonalds playplace, which was funny.
Looking down Owen Sound's harbor towards Lake Huron, from the walking trail.
Looking down Owen Sound’s harbor towards Lake Huron, from the walking trail.

I decided, after I left Owen Sound, to drive north along the lakeshore rather than take the direct highway to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula. This turned out to be a good idea, as there were quite a few water views, and the inland part was pretty, too. The drive met back up with the highway about halfway up the peninsula, and I drove on to the Bruce Peninsula and Full Fathom Five National Parks (they appear to be joint the way Sequoia and Kings Canyon Parks in California are). The Bruce Peninsula sort of reminds me of Cape Cod, only without all the crowds, which was really nice, and the national park has a terrific (and reasonably priced, for once) campground. I’m settled in for the evening, knowing that I have all day tomorrow to explore the parks before I catch the ferry on Wednesday.

I think that's part of the Niagara Escarpment, but I wouldn't swear to it.  From the lakeshore drive.
I think that’s part of the Niagara Escarpment, but I wouldn’t swear to it. From the lakeshore drive.
Bruce Peninsula National Park, where I'm camped.
Bruce Peninsula National Park, where I’m camped.

August 31-September 1: Leaving Ottawa earlier than expected, and across Ontario

Well, part of Ontario, anyway. Ontario is Huge.

So, Fannish Night was a great deal of fun. I met Marna, and Ian, and Lorayne, and Cat, and the six of us (including Elizabeth and me) ate chicken and veggies and fruit and dessert, and watched a really funny movie called Bon Cop, Bad Cop, which is a buddy cop movie with a very Canadian twist. Well, a couple of them. Let’s just say that after six days in Quebec, floundering with my non-existent French, the whole French vs. English thing in the movie made things make a whole lot more sense. And there was hockey, of course. And there was Rick Mercer doing his Don Cherry imitation. It was laugh out loud funny.

When Elizabeth and I went out to the car afterwards, however, it was to find a parking ticket under Merlin’s windshield wiper. Since I’d not seen any no parking signs anywhere, that was a bit disconcerting. Also, when I tried to go online to pay it the next morning, neither the website nor the automated phone thingy would recognize the ticket number, and there was no way to talk to a human that I could find. I suspect it just wasn’t in the system yet, and I will try to remember to check it again before I leave Toronto, if I don’t lose the darned thing in the meantime. Anyway, it was more than a bit frustrating.

Elizabeth had a genealogy project (that’s part of what she does for a living) due yesterday afternoon, so I went ahead and left Ottawa yesterday morning, after stopping at an optician’s office that my friend Christine looked up for me. That was the other thing that went wrong this week. Continuing our theme of being nibbled to death by ducks, I lost my sunglasses the other day. I’m 99% sure they’re still in the van somewhere, but I can’t find them for love or money. They’re magnetic, made to fit my prescription glasses, and my prescription glasses are very small (I wear the absolute smallest adult frame size), so I hadn’t been able to find a clip-on pair to fit them (I find Fitovers very uncomfortable). Well, the ones the optician sold me are just a bit too big, but they work, and now I won’t get a headache driving the 3000 miles (not counting dawdling around) I still have to go to get home. Speaking of which, Merlin turned over 13,000 miles today.

Somehow I ended up on the wrong freeway headed west out of Ottawa, which actually turned out to be a good thing, because the drive was scenic, and it was six of one, half a dozen of the other which way would be faster to go to the provincial park I was aiming for that night, anyway. I like Ontario. I particularly like the fact that I can read the road signs [wry g]. But the scenery is lovely. Lots of rockfaces and woods and rolling hills and lakes. The provincial park was pretty, too, and the campground was very nice.  Somehow, however, the only three photos I managed to take that day were of clouds, and none of them are post-worthy.

This morning, I drove down to the main highway across southern Ontario, and then promptly got off it again to take a drive down along the lakeshore, on an island or a peninsula, the map wasn’t all that clear. Whatever it was, it was called Prince Edward, and it was peaceful and bucolic and pretty, and it was nice to see Lake Ontario.

A pretty little lake on my way down to the main highway yesterday morning.
A pretty little lake on my way down to the main highway yesterday morning.
A view from the top of a very tall bridge going down to Prince Edward County.
A view from the top of a very tall bridge going down to Prince Edward County.
I saw several sets of these quilt blocks decorating various farm buildings in Prince Edward County, which I thought were really cool.
I saw several sets of these quilt blocks decorating various farm buildings in Prince Edward County, which I thought were really cool.
A peekaboo glimpse of Lake Ontario from Prince Edward County.
A peekaboo glimpse of Lake Ontario from Prince Edward County.

Then it was lunchtime, and time to get to and through Toronto before rush hour. I was headed for Bujold listee and needlework friend Christine’s house in Mississauga, a western suburb of Toronto, and, she tells me, the sixth largest city in Canada in its own right.

Toronto has freeways like Crocodile Dundee has a knife. The one I was on had two sets in each direction, each set about six lanes wide. One set is express lanes, and the other has the exits, and they intertwine back and forth every couple of kilometers so you can get to the exits from the express lanes and vice versa. It’s very impressive. And I’m saying that as someone who grew up in Southern California. The traffic could have been much worse than it was, too.

I found Christine’s house without any trouble, and I’ll be here for several nights before I head north, and then on west again. We’re going to go to Niagara Falls among other things while I’m here, and it ought to be interesting!

August 27 and 28: Leaving Quebec, with a stop in Montreal and a trip to the hills

This morning I got up and out and made it out of the parking garage and Quebec City without any mishaps. Of course, the day I decided to leave, the weather turned off nice and dry and sunny and cooler, but oh, well.

I didn’t take a lot of photos. Basically what I did was drive down to Montreal, although I did get off the freeway for a little bit just to explore on some backroads. This did not turn out to be the brightest move on my part. Getting out of the tourist areas in Quebec has been problematic for me at best, and it was a challenge to make my way back to the highway, especially after I apparently got in the way of a fellow who backs around that particular corner every day and why didn’t I know that? (at least that’s what I think he was conveying with his gestures when I beeped politely at him because I was afraid he was going to hit me)

I have *never* seen a road sign quite like this one.  I didn't know signs could have accidents.
I have *never* seen a road sign quite like this one. I didn’t know signs could have accidents.

 

A pretty church in the little town where the guy almost backed into me.
A pretty church in the little town where the guy almost backed into me.

I spent the night in Montreal, and if you read my FB account, you’ll know I was dithering about whether to spend the next day there or to go up to the Laurentian mountains. By the time I went to bed I’d about decided to go to the botanic gardens and a fur-trading historic site in Montreal, then head on to Ottawa, but when I woke up in the morning, I changed my mind and decided to go up to the Laurentians.

Which turned out to be a very good idea. The Laurentians aren’t really mountains – as I’ve said too many times, I’m a mountain snob – but what they really reminded me of, in a very pleasant way, were the Adirondacks in upstate New York, which makes sense, as I don’t think they’re more than 150 miles north of the Adirondacks. Montreal itself is a lot closer to the U.S. border than I’d realized, only about 60 miles. I sorta did a doubletake when I turned on the radio in Montreal and found a station that was not only in English, but was doing weather reports in Fahrenheit [g].

Anyway, the Laurentians were really lovely, even when I noticed some of the leaves just starting to turn. Already! And it’s not even September! Rolling hills just covered with heavy woodlands, and rivers and lakes and a ski area (at Mont Tremblant) that really reminded me of Sun Valley, Idaho, or Jackson, Wyoming.

I found a campground in the little town of Brebaux, just south of Mont Tremblant, and I’m camped on a pretty lakeshore. The town has one of those “no franchises here, sir!” fast food joints, and I ate a smoked meat sandwich there, which sort of reminded me of pastrami, with lots of mustard. It was good. The town also has a really pretty waterfall right under the main road.

One of several ski areas in the Laurentians.  Looks like the black diamond runs are *really* short.
One of several ski areas in the Laurentians. Looks like the black diamond runs are *really* short.
A lake with an odd-shaped hill in the Lauentians.
A lake with an odd-shaped hill in the Lauentians.
The waterfall in Brebaux.  It looks much flatter than it really is from that angle.
The waterfall in Brebaux. It looks much flatter than it really is from that angle.
The view from my campsite.
The view from my campsite.

Tomorrow I’m off to Ottawa, and Elizabeth, who is yet another listee friend.  I’m looking forward to meeting her in person.

August 23: Two bouts of serendipity, and wishing for more than a few words in French

I woke up to a world that didn’t look like it rained a single drop yesterday. Not a cloud in the sky (for the morning at least – it did cloud up and shower just a bit this afternoon and started coming down good again about bedtime) and Goldilocks temperatures (not too hot, not too chilly).

I drove north on Trans-Canada Hwy. 2 until I saw a sign that said Grand Falls. That sounded interesting, so I got off the freeway (basically Canada’s answer to the Interstate) and drove down into a cute little town with an enormous waterfall right in the middle of it. A sign nearby said that during the spring freshet, the waterfall has 9/10ths of the volume of Niagara. Of course it’s late August now, but it’s still pretty darned impressive.

Grand Falls, New Brunswick
Grand Falls, New Brunswick.

My next stop was for lunch in the town of Edmundston, then a few miles almost to the Quebec line, where I saw a sign that said Jardin Botanique. Well, even I can translate that! The New Brunswick Botanic Garden, complete with butterfly house, was charming. Absolutely charming. The late summer flowers were in full bloom, the grounds were beautiful, and it was just the right size to while away a couple of hours on a perfectly sunny afternoon.

The entrance to the New Brunswick Botanic Garden, just outside of Edmunston
The entrance to the New Brunswick Botanic Garden, just outside of Edmundston.
Inside the butterfly house at the New Brunswick Botanic Garden
Inside the butterfly house at the New Brunswick Botanic Garden.
What the butterflies in the previous photo look like when they're in flight
What the butterflies in the previous photo look like when they’re in flight.

I had an interesting conversation with a gardener in the potager (kitchen garden) section of the place, my first real attempt at a conversation with someone whose English wasn’t much better than my all but non-existent French (northern New Brunswick isn’t quite as Francophone as Quebec, but almost). Anyway, I asked her what those berries in the photo were, and she told me they were related to blueberries, but needed to be cooked with a lot of sugar so they wouldn’t be disgusting (her word) [g].

 The subject of my first discussion with someone whose English was only slightly better than my French.
The subject of my first discussion with someone whose English was only slightly better than my French.
 An artichoke, which is apparently hardier than I gave them credit for
An artichoke, which is apparently hardier than I gave them credit for.

There were some rather odd sculptures, apparently a temporary exhibit, and a stonehenge, my second one of the trip (the first one was back in Washington state at Maryhill). And just a lot of lovely scenery.

The rose garden was pretty much over for the season, but the fountain was still pretty
The rose garden was pretty much over for the season, but the fountain was still pretty.
A view of the aboretum
A view of the arboretum.
Flocks and flocks of phlox
Flocks and flocks of phlox.
A sedum I'm not familiar with
A sedum I’m not familiar with.
Monkshood, which is one of my favorite perennials because it's such a true blue
Monkshood, which is one of my favorite perennials because it’s such a true blue.
 A view of the garden pond and gazebo
A view of the garden pond and gazebo.
 Isn't that an amazing dragonfly It's about 3 inches long and you can just see its transparent wings.
Isn’t that an amazing dragonfly? It’s about 3 inches long and you can just barely see its transparent wings.
 Looks like something out of Dr. Seuss, doesn't it?
Looks like something out of Dr. Seuss, doesn’t it?
My second stonehenge of the trip
My second stonehenge of the trip.

I crossed over into Quebec right after I left the garden, and all of a sudden everything was monolingual – in a language I don’t speak! I’ve never been to a place where my native language isn’t the primary language before, let alone driven there. It’s a good thing I had a couple of weeks worth of bilingual road signs before I arrived here, because at least I recognize most of the common road words (sortie for exit, convergez for merge, directions, that sort of thing). Anyway, buying gas (about 10 cents more a liter in Quebec than in the Maritimes) and getting a campsite were interesting exercises, too. The campsite is right on the water, and very lovely.

Now they're taunting me with moose in French!
Now they’re taunting me with moose in French!
The view from my campsite tonight, over the St. Lawrence Seaway at low tide.
The view from my campsite tonight, over the St. Lawrence Seaway at low tide.

I decided planning was the better part of valor, so I have reservations in Quebec City’s hostel for three nights starting tomorrow. That has me leaving QC on Saturday, Christine, Elizabeth and Marna, so it looks like I actually won’t get to Ottawa until at least Monday, and Mississauga after that, depending on whether I actually spend time in Montreal or not. I hope that works out for everyone!