ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Parks of Southern Ontario

ALGONQUIN LEGEND AND MAZINAW PICTOGRAPHS, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

Once there was a legend…

Before the creation of land there was only the expanse of boundless water, on which a large floating raft carrying all kinds of animals searching for land.  Great Hare, the chief among them all, urged the beaver to dive into the water and bring back a particle of earth.  The beaver went reluctantly into the deep deep water but after a long time came back exhausted and empty handed.  The animals then turned to the otter for the request but it too failed reaching the bottom.  The animals fell to despair amid fears of floating in the endless water eternally, then came the small and weak muskrat who was willing to give another go.  Off it went for a day and night and finally resurfaced unconsciously with belly up and paws closed.  The animals pulled the muskrat onto the raft, and opened its paws one by one.  Not until the last paw was opened then they found a single grain of sand.  The Great Hare dropped the sand onto the raft and the magic began.  On the raft, the sand started to grow larger and become rocks and then mountains and then the entire world where all animals could thrive and find their own food.  The first generation of animals lived happily since then and died peacefully.  The Great Hare then created humans out from the various animal corpses, such as the elk, bear and fish, each with their own dialect and tribal origin related to the deceased animal.

This version of a cosmogonic legend was passed down orally throughout generations of the Algonquians, the people who dominated pre-colonial Eastern Canada including the Atlantic Coast, Quebec, Ontario and the Great Lakes regions.  Their ancestors roamed over these lands since thousand of years ago, leaving vivid evidences of their beliefs with pictographs and petroglyphs discovered throughout the Canadian Shield.  The tale combining water, animals and Algonquin pictographs is the story of Bon Echo Provincial Park.  With the exact etching dates still unknown, the 250+ pictographs on over 65 cliff surfaces along Mazinaw Lake at Bon Echo Provincial Park is widely recognized as one of the oldest First Nations pictograph sites in the Canadian Shield region.  Etched with red ochre (a natural mineral of silica and clay with iron oxide), these pictographs of human, animal and abstract figures were applied onto the cliff surface by people on canoes.  Most of these rock art were used in search for helping spirits, or in rituals of shamanism, when the shaman used these pictographs for healing, prophesy and vision quests.

On a Friday evening in early summer 2013, we headed off to Bon Echo Provincial Park after work.  After over a decade since Angela first explored the park in a canoe trip, we decided to revisit this beautiful provincial park for its starry sky, pristine lake scenery, and mysterious pictographs on the 100m Mazinaw Rock cliffs.   After almost three hours of driving from Toronto, we arrived at Lennox & Addington Dark Sky Viewing Area south of Bon Echo.  Unfortunately half the night sky was covered with clouds.  We left disappointingly and headed for our accommodation at Northbrook’s Pine Grove Motel, about 15 minutes drive south of Bon Echo.  After midnight, the sky cleared up and we had some fine moments of stargazing outside the motel.  Early in the next morning, we drove north on Highway 41 and entered Bon Echo Provincial Park.  After a short walk along the shore of Mazinaw Lake, we rented a canoe at Bon Echo Outfitters to explore the lake.  We left the small cove at Lower Mazinaw Lake, passed the unique channel The Narrows, and paddled along the cliffs of Mazinaw Rock at Upper Mazinaw Lake looking for the Aboriginal pictographs.  At one point, we docked our canoe by the shore and hiked up to the summit of the rock cliff for a birdeye view of the park.  After canoeing, we returned to the Narrows where a bench and a lamp post offered a magnificent spot to enjoy the scenery of Mazinaw Rock.  We stayed at the Narrows for the rest of the afternoon, braving the cold water with our feet, taking time-lapse photography of the scenery, watching boats coming through the Narrows every twenty minutes or so, listening to the sound of gentle waves and occasional songbirds, and enjoying every tranquil moment of daydreaming under the warm afternoon sun.   It was the perfect picture of Ontario landscape, the legendary homeland of Aboriginal Algonquins, and one of the splendid settings of our delightful Canadian memories.

17That night, we were the only visitors staying at Pine Grove Motel in Northbrook.

18The sky cleared up after midnight, and we indulged ourselves with some splendid moments of stargazing under shooting stars and a faint Milky Way.

19That night was cool with mild wind. The dark sky was not entirely clear but we still got a glimpse of the Milky Way with naked eyes.

1The next day, we entered Bon Echo Provincial Park under the morning mist.

2We decided to rent a canoe to explore the vast Mazinaw Lake.

88_01Canoeing is the best way to enjoy Mazinaw Lake.

4Given the cliffs of the 100m Mazinaw Rock, Bon Echo is also popular for rock climbing.

9Aboriginal pictographs on cliff surface.

10We docked our canoe and walked up to the top of an island for its amazing view.

7We paddled by this quiet lone bench and lamp post at the shallow channel called The Narrows..

5The bench at The Narrows was the perfect spot to spend the afternoon.

6When there was no wind and boat, the lake was like a perfect mirror for Mazinaw Rock.

3We tried a few times walking into the shallow water in front of the bench at The Narrows as it seemed temptingly clean.  Despite less than a foot deep and the warmth of early summer, We couldn’t stand the freezing water for long.

11We stayed at The Narrows till late afternoon.

12The tree roots by the water at The Narrows looked sculptural.

13Peaceful Mazinaw Lake represents the beauty of Ontario landscape.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe low sun reminded us that it was almost time to leave.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATripod, lamp post and Calvin.

15Final view of Mazinaw Rock at The Narrows through the viewfinder.

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Read other posts on Parks of Southern Ontario
1.1 Land of Water and Forest, Algonquin Park, Ontario ( 1 of 3)
1.2 A Tale of Rocks and Maples, Algonquin, Ontario ( 2 of 3)
1.3 When Moose Meets Beaver, Algonquin, Ontario, (3/3)
2. Ancient Reef and Escarpment, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
3. Algonquin Legend and Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario

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ANCIENT REEF AND ESCARPMENT, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, Canada

Continuing on the accounts of our experiences at parks in Southern Ontario, this time we would write about the Bruce Peninsular National Park.  At Bruce Peninsular that separates the Georgian Bay from Lake Huron, Bruce Peninsular National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park are popular among hikers, adventurers, and tourists.  From Tobermory at the tip of Bruce Peninsular, regular tour boats take visitors out to Flower Pot Island to appreciate its unique rock formations, and Cove Island for its romantic lighthouse.  Adventure seekers also regard the Fathom Five National Marine Park, the area south of Cove Island, as a paradise for shipwreck scuba-diving.  Back on the shore of mainland, Tobermory is a hub for all activities in the area.  Regular ferry also departs from here to Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world.  Near Tobermory, the Bruce Peninsular National Park offers a well maintained natural reserve for nature lovers and hikers who either begin or end the 700km Bruce Trail that connects Tobermory to Niagara.

450 millions years ago during the Silurian era, a shallow warm sea covered a vast area of Northeastern United States and the Province of Ontario in Canada within a depression in the Earth crust known as Michigan Basin.  Known as the Niagara Escarpment, the northern edge of Michigan Basin is still visible today.  The Niagara Escarpment runs like an arch from the western edge of Lake Michigan up along the southern edge of Manitoulin Island, and from the Bruce Peninsular all the way down to the New York State, cutting through Southern Ontario between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie where the Niagara River makes the famous 50m drop at Niagara Falls.  For 700km from Niagara-on-the Lake to Tobermory, the Bruce Trail runs almost in alignment with the Niagara Escarpment.  It is the longest and oldest marked hiking trail in Canada.  Before hitting its terminus at Tobermory, the trail enters the Bruce Peninsula National Park where we visited twice in 2007 and 2011.

The first time we visited Tobermory, we spent a long time on the beaches at Burnt Point.  We were fascinated by the crystal clear water in gradient tones of turquoise.  The rocks at the beaches were light grey in colour, and were covered with small holes as if bombarded with rounds of shelling.  These unique grey rocks eroded by wave actions and layers of flat stone platforms in the turquoise water were fossil evidences of the prehistoric past at the Bruce Peninsula, when the tropical sea of Michigan Basin was full of marine life and coral reefs.  It was hard to imagine that the cool temperate Bruce Peninsular was once a tropical reef similar to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  During our second visit of the park we spent a little more time visiting its unique grotto and stone beaches, and walking its network of hiking trails where from time to time thousand-year old cedar trees and prehistoric reef fossils revealed the ever-changing natural landscape of our planet.

1In Tobermory, boat tour is popular from May to October.  Most boats depart from the Little Tub Harbour, where a cluster of bars and restaurants gather to serve the tourists.

2 big tub lighthouseThe Big Tub Lighthouse was declared a recognized heritage building since the early 1990s.  A major restoration to the the Big Tub Lighthouse was made in 1987 after a fierce winter storm washed away its shingle sidings and part of the foundation.

3]Near the Visitor Centre, there is a 20m tower structure which gives visitors a bird’s eye view of the park.

4Beyond the furthest point of the loop trail lies the beaches of Burnt Point.

5At Burnt Point, the turquoise water was beautiful especially under the warm sun. The light grey rocks were quite comfortable to sit on, which make a perfect spot for a short break after the hike.

6At Burnt Point, the water was so clean that the flat rock platforms under water could be seen clearly from above.  When the wind brew over the peaceful bay, the rippled image of the rocks produced a poetic Impressionist painting on the water surface.

7At Burnt Point, a large rock revealed its unique perforated surface above water.

8At Burnt Point, the soft-looking moss on rocks was actually very hard and rough.

9The orange moss added a little accent colour to the grayish-white rock at Burnt Point.

10At Burnt Point, erosion on the rock revealed interesting patterns.

11“Someone was here” – A visitor built an Inukshuk structure to mark his/her presence at Tobermory.

12Indian Head Cove Beach (background).  Many visitors love to explore the Grotto near the beach. The Grotto (foreground) can be reached on foot from the beach but it requires some simple rock climbing skills.

13Swimmer who chose to different route to enter the Grotto.

14The entrance to the Grotto (foreground) and Indian Head Cove Beach (background). Visitors have to climb down from the cliff top to reach the Grotto on foot. It isn’t an easy direct route but it still attract many visitors. Swimming from the Indian Head Cove Beach is another popular option to access the Grotto if the water is warm enough for a comfortable swim.

15Approaching the Grotto.  There were many visitors gathered around the entrance into the Grotto.

16 Inside the Grotto lies a pool of glowing  turquoise water. There is an opening through the rocks in the water that leads to the lake beyond.

17A view from the Grotto looking out.

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Read other posts on Parks of Southern Ontario
1.1 Land of Water and Forest, Algonquin Park, Ontario ( 1 of 3)
1.2 A Tale of Rocks and Maples, Algonquin, Ontario ( 2 of 3)
1.3 When Moose Meets Beaver, Algonquin, Ontario, (3/3)
2. Ancient Reef and Escarpment, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
3. Algonquin Legend and Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario


WHEN MOOSE MEETS BEAVER, Algonquin, Ontario, Canada (3/3)

The sky was grey and the air was moist when we first hiked the Mizzy Lake Trail in 2007.  After seeing a wild turkey dashing across our path, we followed the trail to an open area surrounded by spruce bogs. The trail cut right through the bogs, with peaceful ponds lying along both sides. It was 7:30 in the morning and we were all by ourselves. Soon we discovered footprints on the muddy path, some probably belonged to a fox, and some were hoof prints of a much larger animal.  We continued to walk forward until we saw a dozen or so bare spruce trunks sticking out from the water.  Reflection of their white trunks stood against the grey clouds in the tranquil water was occasionally disrupted by touches of water insects.  Somehow the imagery touched us like a gentle poem.  We looked at the scenery for a while and took some photos.  As we turned our head back onto the trail, we immediately spotted something tall standing ahead.  It had its back towards us, but soon it turned its head and looked right into our eyes.  It was a tall cow moose, our first ever sighting of a moose.  It stared at us for half a minute, then walked slowly down to the spruce bog on the left, crossed the water to the opposite shore, and disappeared into the spruce forest beyond.  Moose, the largest animal in the deer family, is popular for wildlife sighting in North America.  The English name “moose” is a word borrowed from the Algonquian language back in the 17th century.   Spreading their two large toes to keep them from sinking, moose has adapted well living in the environment of spruce bogs, where they can walk on the peat filled marshland to feed on aquatic plants.

We saw beavers several times in Algonquin.  Sometimes with sticks in their mouth, sometimes without, always in quick motion swimming across the water.  But more often, we saw traces of their existence: pointed tree stumps, trunks with bite marks, mud and timber dams, and mounts of timber sticks in the pond.  Back in the 17th century, when a large area of North America was owned by the Hudson Bay Company, beaver fur was one of the major exports from the New World.  Nowadays, beaver has become a national emblem for Canada, appearing on the symbol and coat of arms of many organizations, companies and government departments, from Toronto Police to Canadian Pacific Railway, and has officially designated as the national animal in 1975.  In Algonquin, beavers are probably the only animals other than humans that know how to alter a natural environment to create their desirable home.  As the second largest rodent, beavers use their large teeth to harvest timber.  Along with stones and mud, beavers use the timber to construct dams to alter stream flow in order to create wetlands known as the beaver ponds.  A peaceful beaver pond contains water warmer than running streams, an ideal habitat for many wetland plants, frogs and fish.  It also serves as a moat for the beaver lodge to prevent wolves and other predators.  The longest beaver dam in record exists in Alberta, reaching up to 850m in length.

Spruce bogs and beaver ponds are two of the five major habitats found in the Algonquin Park.  The other three includes the coniferous forest, deciduous forest, and rivers and lakes.  Spruce bog is a type of wetland common in the north.  Its water is quite acidic and full of floating vegetation that slowly accumulates into a thick layer of peat.  Many birds frequent the bog,  and so as moose which come to feed and drink.   Beaver pond, on the other hand, belongs to the story of beavers continuously transforming the natural environment by building dams and ponds, creating a wetland that benefits many species and also serves as a natural filtration and stormwater system for the area.  A pond may last until the death of a beaver, or until a fierce storm hits and damages the dam beyond repair.  By then, nature will restore the area back to its original conditions, until the arrival of the next beaver to restart the cycle all over again.

00Moose sighting is popular on Highway 60, especially in early spring when the animals gather at the highway ditches to indulge  in a feast of road salt from melted snow.

1The coniferous forest (ie. spruce) and deciduous forest (ie. maple) are two of the five major types of habitat in Algonquin.

07AL02-03Rivers and lakes represent another major habitat in the park.

2Reflection of autumn foliage in a beaver pond.

3BA small beaver dam made of timber, rocks and mud is a highlight at the Beaver Pond Trail.

4Many species, such as some waterlilies, frogs and birds, thrive in the ecosystem of a beaver pond.

5Spruce bog is the other major habitat at Algonquin.

6Life and death of spruce trees mark the boundary of a spruce bog.

8Reflection of spruce forest in the bog water.

07AL03-05Spruce bog near our moose sighting location in early morning (First visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2007).

7Remnants of once a thriving spruce grove at the spruce bog near our moose sighting location in late afternoon (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).

9Spruce bog near our moose sighting location in late afternoon (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).

DSC_2160Young moose shook off water after crossing a small stream (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).  That afternoon, we joked with each other and placed our bet on whether we would have the same moose encounter that we had five years ago. We waited patiently and dusk was approaching. When we were about to leave, we spotted this young moose. It was truly a magical moment for both of us.

11Young moose gazed upon us curiously (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012)..

12This curious young moose walked from the wetland onto the trail. It seemed to be interested in us as it was slowly walking towards us.  The cow moose that we encountered five years earlier at the same spot reacted differently. It walked away from us into forest after it made an eye contact with us.    (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).

DSC_2202-2_01Bull and cow moose kept their eyes on the young moose while the young moose fixed its eyes upon us. We have vivid memory of each encounter with moose at Algonquin Park. The encounter becomes special and personal as each time there were only the moose and us. Every time, when we spotted the animal, we would keep our voice low and keep a distance from them as we didn’t want to disrupt or irritate them.  (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).

13After we had some good moments of moose encounter, we got to rush out of the Mizzy Lake Trail before dusk fell. We walked so fast that we were like racing with the sun. We’ll keep this peaceful image of Algonquin Park with us in mind no matter where we go.

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Read other posts on Parks of Southern Ontario
1.1 Land of Water and Forest, Algonquin Park, Ontario ( 1 of 3)
1.2 A Tale of Rocks and Maples, Algonquin, Ontario ( 2 of 3)
1.3 When Moose Meets Beaver, Algonquin, Ontario, (3/3)
2. Ancient Reef and Escarpment, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
3. Algonquin Legend and Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario


A TALE OF ROCKS AND MAPLES, Algonquin, Ontario, Canada (2/3)

Two billions years has passed since volcanic lava hardened into rock formations that stretched as far as the horizon, covering over half the size of what we now know as Canada.  Millions of years of rain and snow gradually sculpted off the high peaks and odd spires, leaving behind a low relief of undulating rocky terrain mainly made of volcanic igneous rocks.  Being as some of the oldest rock formations on this planet, the Canadian Shield or the Laurentian Plateau is far older than any myths or tales being told in North America.  10,000 years ago, the last Ice Age came to an end, and the retreating glaciers carved out valleys, scraped away sediment and soil, and left behind thousands of lakes and rivers and bogs that make up the majority of Canadian landscape.  Part of the southern tip of the Canadian Shield is exposed with visible ridges and low plateaus.  Along with the myriad of lakes and rivers and bogs spreading over this tip of the rocky shield, and the relatively young forests of spruces, birch and maple, people found a charming beauty from this piece of ancient land.  Native people once resided here a few thousands years ago, then came the Europeans, then came loggers and the railway, tourists and the highway.  This is how the tale of Algonquin Park unfolds.

The Acer saccharum or Sugar Maple, from maple syrup to autumn foliage, is a major contributor that shapes the identity of Ontario, Quebec and Northern US.  Despite its vast distribution across much of the Northern Hemisphere, the maple and its leaves are commonly associated with Canada and the Canadian flag.  First being adopted as an emblem by a group of French Canadians in the 18th century, the maple leaf was then included in the coat of arms of Ontario and Quebec and later of the entire nation.  As a symbol of strength and endurance, the maple leaf was finally chosen and became the Canadian national flag in 1965.  Appearing on a number of Tom Thomson’s paintings, the sugar maples in the Algonquin emerged as the visual focus in this Canadian landscape every autumn.  Seeing the fire crimson maple crowns stand out against a backdrop of dark evergreen and golden birch trees reflected in the serene lake water has become an annual ritual for many, attracting uncounted numbers of tourists every October entering the gate of Algonquin and hiking one of the interpretative trails along the Highway 60 Corridor.  This is the moment when the unforgiving nature appears to be the tamest and easiest for human appreciation.  This is how the maple story intertwines with the tale of the mighty ancient rocks of Algonquin.

1Autumn foliage of sugar maple tree.

2Other than crimson maples, the golden birch trees and evergreen complete the colour palette of Algonquin autumn.

3We may not be lucky enough to have caught the peak of fall colour every year but we still enjoy every moments in Algonquin Park when the fallen leaves with various tones of red and orange pave the trail.

4We enjoy hiking in the fall without the hassles from mosquitoes or black flies; so we can focus on the natural beauty around us.

5Moss and roots and fallen leaves.

6At the lookout of Booth’s Rock trail, distant maple hills and the peaceful Rock Lake make up the stunning scenery of Algonquin. It was the most rewarding moment to reach the lookout overlooking the river from a high point.

7Rock Lake and the maple hills.

8Standing on the rock ridge overlooking the forests and lakes of Algonquin, observing the cloud shadow sweeping across the landscape, is remarkable.

9Stone cairns by the shore of Rock Lake.

10Fire red maples in contrast with the evergreen at the background.

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Read other posts on Parks of Southern Ontario
1.1 Land of Water and Forest, Algonquin Park, Ontario ( 1 of 3)
1.2 A Tale of Rocks and Maples, Algonquin, Ontario ( 2 of 3)
1.3 When Moose Meets Beaver, Algonquin, Ontario, (3/3)
2. Ancient Reef and Escarpment, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
3. Algonquin Legend and Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario


LAND OF WATER AND FOREST, Algonquin Park, Ontario, Canada (1/3)

From now on, not only will we continue to write about our current travel experiences, we are also going to revisit some of our past adventures and share them on the blog.  We hope that Blue Lapis Road will become a more comprehensive collection of our magnificent moments in life, at which we opened our hearts to see, listen and feel the world around us.  Before winter creeps in, we grew a little nostalgic here and decided to write about the Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada, a place that we frequented a few years ago for its vivid autumn colours, pristine bog scenery, elusive wildlife, and the sense of escape from busy urban life.

Located about 300km north of Toronto and 260km west of Ottawa, Algonquin has long been a tourist destination in the Province of Ontario since late 19th century.  Today, visitors go to Algonquin for all kinds of outdoor activities, including canoeing, camping, fishing, hiking, cross-country skiing, wildlife watching, horseback riding, mountain biking, etc.  Established as a provincial park since 1893, Algonquin has remained as a 7,600+ sq.km natural paradise in a transitional zone between northern coniferous and southern deciduous forests.  With over 2,400 lakes and 1,200km of waterways, Algonquin is truly a splendid land of waters and forests.

At dawn, the vivid skies project crystal clear reflections in the cold and tranquil water of Algonquin.  The rising mist and silhouette of spruce forest mark the distant horizon, separating the sky and the peaceful water.  Waterlilies float in the water like tiny brush strokes of an oil painting.  The sound of water made by the sudden movement of frogs, fishes or beavers occasionally break the silence.  As the sun rises, the vivid colour palette of the Canadian landscape emerges while the frost on timber boardwalk slowly disappears.  The haunting beauty of Algonquin’s misty landscape is so powerful that it lured us to get up early in the morning and ventured out there in freezing temperature with our cameras every time we visited the park.  The same dramatic scenery has touched the heart of many visitors, including famous painter Tom Thomson back in the 1910s, when he decided to move into the park to paint and lead a life of solitude after a few visits in 1912.  He resided in the park for five years and finished some of his most important works before drowning to death at Canoe Lake in Algonquin.

2Spruce Bog, a wetland system with accumulating peat and decaying moss, is a common scene in Algonquin.

3In many cases, spruce bog is submerged in water a few metres deep.

4Dawn at Spruce Bog Boardwalk in Algonquin Park.

5The Spruce Bog Boardwalk is a 1.5 km loop trail easily accessible from Hwy 60.

6Mist rises from the mirror-like lake in early morning.

7Much of the soil in Algonquin is saturated with water, allowing bogs and lakes to flourish.

8Early morning canoeing is popular in Algonquin.

9When driving along Hwy 60, the misty spruce bogs appear as occasional openings between dense woodlands.

10Perfect reflection of an utility pole in bog water.

11Dense spruce forest and peaceful misty water at Lake of Two Rivers in Algonquin.

12Vivid fall foliage at Lake of Two Rivers won’t disappoint any visitor.

13The peak moments for the fall colours are almost over.

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Read other posts on Parks of Southern Ontario
1.1 Land of Water and Forest, Algonquin Park, Ontario ( 1 of 3)
1.2 A Tale of Rocks and Maples, Algonquin, Ontario ( 2 of 3)
1.3 When Moose Meets Beaver, Algonquin, Ontario, (3/3)
2. Ancient Reef and Escarpment, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
3. Algonquin Legend and Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario