Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cape Breton Highlands

Location: Sydney, Nova Scotia

Yesterday we spent the day touring the Cape Breton Highlands -- an area filled with winding mountain roads, abundant wildlife, and drop-dead gorgeous scenery. Reminiscent of Big Sur, the coastal cliffs were high and dramatic, with pounding waves below and a ribbon of road snaking along the highlands.

Along the trip we saw bald eagles, finback whales, and moose. This cow and her baby were quite a distance away, but I managed to get this picture of them using a telephoto lens.

We stopped at an odd tourist attraction called Joe's Scarecrow Farm -- a huge circle of all manner of dressed figures, ready for ... who knows what. Watch the 34-second video to see the entire circle. Lots of people had their photos taken with them, and John found another doppelganger!

The 14-hour ferry crossing to Newfoundland is tonight. Of course, it is cold and windy today -- but I have my Dramamine, and I know how to use it!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Peggy's Cove and Nova Scotia

Hurricane Bill passed by our location in West Halifax today, leaving a lot of rain and wind in his wake. No major problems for us, just a day off -- the nor' easterners in Maryland were more nerve wracking than Bill turned out to be. The rain started around 9 a.m., and finished around 3 p.m. We made the right decision moving inland -- the wind was a lot higher on the shore, and the water accumulated on the lower elevations. Tomorrow we will resume our trip.

There are two memorials in the area worth mentioning -- first, SwissAir Flight 111 crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia on September 2, 1998, 5 miles from shore. Our campground was used as a staging area for rescue/recovery teams:

And second, on April 15, 1912, the HMS Titanic sank 400 miles south of Newfoundland. Many of the recovered bodies were buried in Halifax -- the granite markers show the names where known, or a number where the deceased could not be identified:

And here are some additional pictures of the lovely Peggy's Cove and surrounding area. The lighthouse is the smallest post office in Canada!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Hurricane Bill On The Way

Location: West Halifax, Nova Scotia

Hurricane Bill has forced a bit of a change in our plans.

Today, Saturday, was to be an off day. On Sunday we were supposed to travel 150 miles from Peggy's Cove to Sherbrooke along the Nova Scotia coast, but Bill had a huge bulls eye fixed on Halifax, just in between the two. So we moved 30 miles inland today, to the western side of Halifax, where we will ride out the storm that should start this evening. This not only gets us away from the tidal surges on the coast, but also keeps us all off the road during the expected high winds. We'll be skipping Sherbrooke, and on Monday will catch up with our itinerary by driving to Bras d'Or.

I have not been able to post anything lately as we have not had an Internet connection. If I still have one after Bill passes through, I'll let you know how it goes!

On the lighter side, we took a day trip to Halifax yesterday. In the harbor was this cute little boat named Theodore Tug that took the kiddies for a ride in the harbor:

Remind you of anyone you know?

Thanks for being a good sport, John!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bay of Fundy at Low Tide

Location: New Brunswick, CA

The Bay of Fundy with it's high, high tides has some very interesting sights during low tide when all the things that are otherwise hidden are visible:

Reversing Falls:

When the Saint John River hits the Bay at low tide, it cascades at the inlet like any river higher than the Bay would. But at high tide things change dramatically -- the amount of tidal water causes the Bay to be higher than the river, and the tidal waters actually force the river's water to flow backward. Hence the name "Reversing Falls," although you need to stick around for a long time to see the full cycle.

Boats in Alma, New Brunswick:

The term, "high and dry" comes to mind!

Hopewell Rocks (or Flower Pot Rocks):

These rocks have been subjected to the action of the waves for thousands of years, and now the bottoms are really starting to show their age! When the tide is out, it is possible to literally walk among them on the ocean floor. See the little people down there?

The park lets you know how much time you have before you will be stranded as the ocean rises -- today getting out by 6:40 was a really good idea.

Down on the bottom, rangers create stone art at each low tide, balancing rocks one on the other until the incoming tide topples them. The secret, or so they say, is to balance the pointy rocks on somewhat rough ones. Yeah, I'm sure that's all there is to it! Two rangers did all this in less than an hour and a half.

While this has nothing to do with low tide, this is one big lobster we had for lunch! John and I split this one claw, and still have the other claw and the tail to fill up one fantastic doggie bag!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Campobello Island

Location: St. John, New Brunswick

We traveled from Ellsworth, Maine to St.John, New Brunswick today with a side trip to the very interesting Campobello Island.

Campobello Island was the summer home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the place in 1921 where he fell ill to polio, contracted in a Boy Scout camp in New York. Once the polio struck, he ceased his frequent trips to Campobello and only occasionally visited.

Here is a picture of his retreat there, called the Roosevelt Cottage. There is a wonderful view of the Bay of Fundy behind the house:

Next we went to the tip of the Island, where the tides of the Bay of Fundy control access to a lighthouse on the point. The Bay of Fundy has the largest variance between high and low tides in the world. When the tide is low, one can cross on a sand bar that lies between the foreground rock and the rock with the lighthouse in the photo below. When the tide begins to rise, the water rapidly rushes over the sandbar (here it is moving from the right of the photo to the left and creating the small eddies on the bottom left), making crossing impossible. The water continues to rise until about half the cliff is covered -- the high water mark is seen here as a darkening of the rock. The rock in the distance on the middle left is covered with white specks that are actually sea gulls -- they will lose all but a tiny remnant of their perch when the tide is fully in.

We are all tired tonight -- while the drive was only 200 miles or so, many of the roads were in poor shape and traveling speed was greatly reduced. Plus we entered the Atlantic Time Zone and lost an hour. We will be staying here one more day, which will give us all a welcome rest!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Phantom Crane Fly

Location: Trenton, ME

We have been at the campground outside Bar Harbor for several days, and I have periodically seen black and white insects slowly drift into my field of view and then vanish. They were about half an inch long, with striped legs, and would move almost as if they were suspended from a thread.

It turns out they are Phantom Crane Flys (Bittacomorpha clavipes), and because they have huge (relatively speaking), concave pads on their feet they are able to catch air currents to "float" for short distances. Once they fly into shade, their coloring makes them very difficult to see, hence the "disappearance," and the name "Phantom."

For several days I have been trying to get a good photo of one, but as soon as I'd see one it was gone. One even landed on my leg while I was doing laundry, but I didn't have the camera with me! I finally got this one today:

Pretty interesting insect! Its range is the Eastern U.S. and Canada.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Another Image of the Seafood Cookers

Using wood-fired stoves and kettles filled with sea water, these outdoor cookers can handle a huge pot of clams or several lobsters in each pot.

I took this photo while our lobsters were cooking. It is processed as a high dynamic range photo, in which multiple images of varying exposures are combined to provide a range of lights and darks that is impossible to capture in a single image.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Bar Harbor

Location: Trenton, ME

Later this week, we will be off on our second Tailgunner experience for Tracks to Adventure. This one will take us through the Maritime Provinces of Canada -- Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador. We have now made it as far as Trenton, ME, which is the rendezvous point.

Lobster pounds are everywhere here. They are small seafood restaurants where lobsters (and other shellfish) are selected from a vat of the crustaceans, placed in large net bags, then dropped into wood-fired pots of boiling water. "Eating in" means taking the lobster, butter, and borrowed "nut-crackers" to a picnic table under a canopy. Taking it "to go" means the extremely hot lobster is wrapped in newspaper and placed in a plastic grocery bag. Here is one of the employees removing cooked lobsters from the pots:

Bar Harbor is only a few miles away, and we spent the afternoon there yesterday. I found it to be a cross between Duvall Street in Key West and the piers in San Francisco - trendy shops with clever names nestled next to lobster, clam, and oyster eateries all up and down the waterfront. Plus lots of ice cream places -- I tried the Maine Blueberry Gelato. Yummy!

John made a new friend -- the quintessential Bar Harborite!

Another few days here to get everything ready, do some last minute shopping, and meet the Trackers -- then off to Canada for 33 days!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Answer to "How'd They do That"?, posted on Wednesday:

Read the post if you haven't seen it yet, because the answer is below.

Answer: They waited until winter when the lake was frozen and they could drive the tow vehicle on the lake. Yes, really.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Life in the Fast Lane -- By the Numbers

It's the 2nd of August. Zoe and I have travelled over 10,000 miles this calendar year, and who knows how many miles I've logged since I started RVing over 6 years ago. I'm not claiming to be an over-the-road trucker (nobody's paying me by the mile anyway), but one does form observations about our amazing but imperfect Interstate highway system. Please allow me to ramble for a few lines.

President Eisenhower convinced Congress in the '50's that a new highway system was absolutely essential to the national security. We needed to move armies, missiles, equipment rapidly across country. The results were amazing! Not from the military aspect, but from what the system opened up for the American economy. The next time you slip onto an Interstate highway, take note of the "18-wheelers" out there. Then try to imagine all those rigs on a 2-lane road going cross-country with Mr. and Mrs. Old out in front of them in the ol' Buick going for a little drive in the country! And you thought the economy was slowing down now! You want it when??? So don't get too nostalgic for Route 66 and the good old days. Go back there and you're still shopping at that very tiny Mom and Pop grocery store that you remember from your childhood.

Here's a little info on the "system" as it applies in most of the country. Even numbers flow east and west; odd numbers flow north and south. East-west routes have the smallest numbers in the south; north-south interstates have the smallest numbers in the west. This is generally opposite from the US highway grid. I don't want to get too textbookie, so go look at a road atlas.

Now here's the really good part! All Interstate highways have mile markers along the route. They are there to help you navigate! I have been absolutely astounded at how many people I've met who don't have a clue what those little green signs with numbers on them mean! Maybe it's because they're from the Northeast. In a misapplied attempt at independence, the Legislatures/Highway commissions decided to not only do everything backwards, but totally convert the whole system to a meaningless numbers game.

Example. A state I know. If you drive into Iowa from Missouri on I-35 the border is MM0. When you continue on into Minnesota (don't know why, but maybe it might be bizness, eh), the numbers start over at 0 again and run up all da way ta Dulut, eh.

So you come from Nebraska into Iowa and no one stops you when you cross the Missouri River on I-80. You are at MM0, and the atlas shows you have 307 miles of beautiful rolling hills of corn and bean fields to go before you get to MM0 in the middle of the Mississippi River and 161 miles of very flat corn and bean fields and a whole bunch of the South Side of Chicago before you hit MM0 in Gary, IN. See, Iowa wasn't so bad after all, was it? Well, if you're tired of I-80 by now, you can seamlessly switch over to I-90 and continue across Indiana. You'll cross the state line at MM157 into Ohio. Ohio can be fun. There are hidden National Parks along the route, as well as stupidly designed touristy stuff like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (my visit there didn't give me a clue as to was actually inducted, but I'm sure that's changed since What's-His-Name died of unknown causes), but it's best to just scurry along. Anyhoo, at MM244 we enter that odd little clam neck that was obviously a political compromise to give the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania access to both Lake Erie and the Atlantic Ocean via Delaware Bay. But, alas, Pennsylvania only lasts for 47 miles.

Then all hell breaks loose! The first MM should be 0 -- but no! It's MM495 and the first exit is 61!!!Where is the sanity? For the sake of my own, I must leave you now, fellow traveler. I am so totally confused in this part of the country. I have to go find my GPS now so I can get to the toilet.

John signing off

How'd They Do That?

Location: A lake in Maine

The campground in which we are parked has a lot of permanent sites surrounding the lake. Here is a photo of a travel trailer and a fifth wheel parked at the lake:

How did they get the front of the RV, where the tow vehicle pulls it, next to the lake?

We had to ask. Post your ideas; answer on Friday.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Mt. Washington: The Second Cog Railway

Location: Mt. Washington, NH

There are three ways to get up to the top of Mt. Washington, at 6288 ft. the highest point in New Hampshire. One, you can drive it (and you've probably seen those bumper stickers that declare the owner's car made it all the way up). Two, you can hike it, usually on the Appalachian Trail (AT) which runs across the ridge line. Or three, you can take one of only three cog railways in the world. The image to the left shows Mt.Washington behind the historic Mt. Washington hotel. The slash on the mountain behind the hotel is the cog railway's track.

Constructed on hills that are too steep for traditional railways, cog railways have the normal two rails, plus a third running down the center of the track. This rail is slotted, and a gear connected to the engine fits into the slots to pull and brake the train as it ascends and descends. The other two cog railways in existence provide a trip up Pike's Peak, or a trip down to the entrance level at the Quincy Mine in Michigan, which we rode in July of this year.

The Mt. Washington railway runs two types of trains -- a modern, bio-diesel engine and a coal-powered steam engine. The trip takes 40 minutes, and at one point follows a 37.4% grade with a 30 degree turn. The steam engine uses 1 ton of coal and 1000 gallons of water on the trip -- but it's water tank only holds 700 gallons. So a water tower is located along the track for a fill-up. It needs no pumps to operate -- the tower is replenished by a natural spring.

After chugging up the hill, we got to the summit where the highest recorded temperature is only 74 degrees, the lowest 49 below zero, and permafrost exists just below the surface. We had a beautiful day -- sunny, 60-something, and almost no wind. And no wind is not all that common -- the average wind velocity is 37 miles per hour, and hits 75 miles per hour for half the days in winter. The highest wind velocity recorded was 231 miles per hour.

At this elevation the Appalachian Trail is marked by cairns, piles of stone that serve as trail markers in places where signs are difficult to erect and maintain. A tradition amongst AT thru-hikers (those going all the way from Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine) is "Mooning the Cog," which is exactly what you think it is! We did see several AT hikers, none of whom mooned us, probably because the local constabulary recently began arresting them for indecent exposure.

After debarking the train at the summit, we had about an hour to wander and explore. The scenery was fantastic, with a panoramic view in all directions. We made the final scramble up a small pile of rocks to reach the actual summit of Mt. Washington, where groups took turns taking each other's pictures. Here we are at the summit, and below is a short video I took of the steam train as it neared the summit.

Two Thoughts on Pollyanna

Location: Outside the Littleton, NH public library



Monday, August 03, 2009

New England Houses

Location: New England
Near Concord, Massachusetts, just about where Paul Revere was captured during his midnight ride to warn that that British were on the move, sits the Wayside House. It was the home of Nathanial Hawthorne and the childhood residence of Louisa May Alcott. It is the place where the young Alcott girls staged their plays:

And right next door is the Orchard house, where Louisa May Alcott wrote and set "Little Women":

In western New Hampshire, near Franconia Notch and Mount Washington, is the house where Robert Frost lived.

His house is now home to a poet-in-residence much of the year, but quiet walks on the grounds are permitted. Frost's porch looks out over flower beds and tiger lilies along the road, and a stunning view of the White Mountains in the distance. The back yard consists of walking paths, an overgrown well, and the edge of the forest -- including, of course, the birches and the dark, deep woods.