1 January 2015
Thwarted on two previous occasions I was elated when I finally located the grave of Captain John Dennison, an early pioneer who moved his family to Opeongo Lake around 1871 and there established farms, over two decades before Algonquin came into existence. Life was a constant struggle and not without tragedy; in 1877 two grandchildren died and were buried on the property. In June 1881, at the age of 82, Captain Dennison also died after a fatal encounter with a black bear. He was buried close to the children, his grave enclosed within a cedar rail fence and marked with a simple copper plaque. The surviving family members departed in 1882 and a century later a memorial was added by his grave, commemorating the deaths of all three members.
If a tree calls in the forest does anybody hear? If you subscribe to Bell Mobility you should be able to hear loud and clear when you are by Km 7, where at the parking lot and trailhead for Whiskey Rapids you can find a cellular tower disguised as a pine tree. The 97' tall monopine was erected by Environmental Integration in the summer of 2007 and with its 17' branches and realistic looking bark, blends in with its surroundings and fools many passing motorists.
Following the peak of the red and sugar maples along the corridor on the western side there is an encore when the aspens, birches and tamaracks on the eastern side turn gold, a period when the Opeongo area becomes Opeongold. After crossing Costello Creek, a short hike through the bush brought me to a ledge that offered this panoramic view of Sproule Bay, home to Algonquin Outfitters store and the access point for many people heading out on Opeongo Lake and beyond.
Cache Lake was once the hub of Algonquin and during its heyday was the location of Park Headquarters, the Highland Inn and Algonquin Park railway station. The last train to stop here was in 1959, to collect youth campers from Camp Tanamakoon, and the railway ties lifted in the fall of that year. The right of way is still discernable, flanked by forest, the hustle and bustle of a bygone era now replaced by stillness and silence on this winter afternoon. Established as a historic site, a series of five interpretive panels commemorate the past and the role the railway has played in the area and for tourism in the park.
By the end of October most of the deciduous trees are bare, as is the highway corridor of tourist traffic, and all of the lodges, youth camps and concessionaires are closed and winterized for the season, like this humourous sign I noticed and photographed while attending a recent workshop at the Harkness Laboratory.
Every autumn for one or more weekends, a combination of conditions: peak colours, beautiful weather and weekend daytrippers, converge to form a perfect storm. Traffic is chaotic, often backed up at the West Gate entrance and along the corridor drivers have to negotiate gauntlets of parked vehicles and distracted pedestrians, and every scenic trail is packed with people, jockeying for time and space at the summits for photo ops. The best place to escape these aggravations is out on the water as I was when I took this photograph, of Camp Northway's cabin with the vantage point at Post 7 from the Track and Tower Trail above it, crowded with people.
Despite claims of it being long since fallen, I set out to find the location and fate of the Smoke Lake Fire Tower, one of eight that formerly existed in the park and the only one that was built utilizing a tree, a ladder leading up to a wooden observation platform erected at the top of a white pine that towered above the surrounding canopy of hardwoods. Constructed by fire rangers Aubrey Dunne and Max Hubert in 1925, it was struck and killed by lightning in the 70s and its top later broke off. I found the lower fifty feet still standing, its bottom festooned with spikes and its ladder attached, the top rungs reaching up into the sky.
After portaging our kayaks to Wolf Howl Pond, we spent several hours exploring the flora and fauna on each side of the trail that bisects it. While photographing Round-leaved Sundew, we noticed several had random wings attached. At that moment a bluet damselfly appeared and as it hovered above, first one wing and then the other became trapped by the carnivorous plant. As it struggled to free itself its abdomen was snared by a third leaf, immobilizing it and demonstrating the effectiveness of the glue-like substance found at the tips of each leaf, that earns the plant its name.
When hiking the Mizzy Lake Trail you may often find marked turtles basking in Wolf Howl Pond and West Rose Lake, subjects captured and numbered by turtle researchers from the Wildlife Research Station. We encountered "turtlers" Damien and Tyler, who allowed us to handle a couple of Painted Turtles while educating us about them.
I was elated to find and buy from a thrift store, a rare copy of the first reptile booklet produced by the park in the late 1950s. It made for interesting reading with its archaic nomenclature and handling procedures however even more fascinating is that since then the number of species reported in the park has increased, with turtles doubling from 3-6 and snakes from 6-9. Although some species are rare and others no longer seen, it raises speculation about the factors between then and now.
A moose carcass, salvaged from an earlier road kill, was placed by park staff near Sunday Creek below the Visitor Centre, where visitors could observe it, close up via scopes, and hoped to witness nature's cycle in action. From death comes life, a wild celebration of renewal as it will be scavenged, distributed and reconstituted into other life throughout the ecosystem. When we attended the Winter in the Wild Festival, a couple of days later, there hadn't been any activity reported yet. Taken with my iPhone pressed against the eyepiece of the scope, the scene reminded me of a full moon, another of nature's cycles.
Leu is the name we christened a particular Black-capped Chickadee that we have spotted several times and on one occasion enticed it to feed from our hand. Our name for it is a contraction of its condition, known as leucism, a genetic mutation that prevents melanin and other pigments from being deposited normally on feathers, creating white patches on its black cap.
This stump at Brewer Lake captured my attention and made for an interesting photograph. What stumps park historians is the origin of its name. It appears on the GTR map of 1906 as Brewer’s Lake and as Brewster’s in some records. By that date the St. Anthony Lumber Company Railroad to Lake Opeongo had passed the lake, so may have been someone associated with that company. The name Brewer Lake appears for the first time on the CNR map of 1926. There was a ranger Carl Brewer on the park staff through the 1920s, and his name may have influenced the change, but he was not on the staff when first named before 1906.
I spotted this red fox sitting by the side of the road and pulled over across from it. My window wasn't working so I cautiously opened my driver's door to photograph it, hoping not to startle it. It startled me instead by bounding over and almost inviting himself into the cab, telling me that sadly he had become habituated to humans and was expecting a handout.
The 56 km section of Highway 60 that traverses the park from gate to gate was designated as the Frank MacDougall Parkway in 1976, in honour of his 35 years of service, ten years as park superintendent and twenty five as Deputy Minister of Lands and Forests, the highest non-elected position in the Civil Service. During his tenure in Algonquin from 1931-1941, he was known as the "flying superintendent" for introducing airplane service and was in office when construction of the highway began and was completed in 1937. I am often teased that 60 is the highway number not the speed limit as I am prone to drive slower through the park, hoping to spot wildlife and scenic views to photograph.
On the Opeongo Lake Road, north of Turtle Rock bridge and near the end of the straightaway, you can find this view of Costello Creek with Opeongo Ridge in the background. This scene was painted by A.Y. Jackson in 1967, in his painting called Beaver House, which you can view at the following website www.ayjacksontrail.ca
At 10 kilometres in length Centennial Ridges Trail is the longest of all the hiking trails, and a very demanding one with its multiple climbs and descents. Opened in 1993 to commemorate Algonquin's centennial year, it pays tribute to a number of people who played a significant role in the park's history and offers breathtaking views from its many cliffs.
You never know where and when you might encounter wildlife. I was hiking along the Mizzy Lake Trail when a cow moose suddenly crossed the trail in front of me and disappeared. A disturbance in the bush from the direction she came from alerted me to something else approaching and I stood motionless with my camera at the ready. Anticipating a calf I was surprised when a young bull moose emerged and paused, casting a glance my way. As it was nearing the rutting season, when bulls can become unpredictable and aggressive, I cautiously backed away and gave him the might of way.
I enjoy exploring the less known trails and portages from the corridor, to avoid the crowds and discover new places. From a sideroad at Km 52, one can follow an abandoned and overgrown railroad bed all the way to where it connects with the highway by Brewer Lake. Here you can discern the railroad beside West Smith Lake, which has a couple of gaps to jump over and a third longer one that has some planks spanning it.
The gnarled roots of this decrepit tree, draped with fresh snow, caught my attention as we drove by, a solitary sculpture surrounded by a blanket of pristine snow. I trudged over the frozen marsh to capture this image, the gap in the middle of the tree framing a small island with a copse of trees in the background.
Contrary to what many people believe, dogs not only see in shades of grey but also distinct colours. They lack the third colour receptor in their eyes that humans possess, which make them unable to distinguish certain colours, like those of the autumn leaves and the red of this hoodie, but like us, seem to be able to appreciate a beautiful scene.
I attended the Winter Fun Day festivities hosted by Algonquin Outfitters at their Oxtongue Lake location and while there, was attracted by the rows of canoes stacked away for the winter. Each is marked with their iconic logo featuring a Common Loon, with one different than the others.
I was fortunate to be able to take a trip to the park when the leaves were at their peak, according to the Fall Colour Report available on The Friends of Algonquin Park website. The park was a calvacade of colour, each turn in the road revealing another spectacular display. At km 21, a small lay-by overlooks a beaver pond, the access point for Source Lake, and it was here a row of vibrant red maples and their reflection took centre stage.
Opeongo Outfitters is the park's oldest canoe trip outfitter, operating the water taxi service on Opeongo Lake for more than 70 years. They have a fleet of four beautiful 19 foot cedar strip boats, which are locally handmade for them. These boats offer a smooth ride and can transport up to six people, three canoes and all your gear in one load.
My first crack at kayaking in the spring of 2012, threading my way through a pressure crack formed by recent flooding. Heavy rainfall, combined with melting snow that couldn't be absorbed by the frozen or saturated ground, caused severe flooding and damage to several roads in the park. Rising water levels formed moats of water around the edges of the frozen lakes and caused this pressure crack, the only lake along the corridor to be affected like this.
Whenever I come to the park, often my first stop for a photo opportunity is at Fisherman's Point on Smoke Lake, where its rocky promontory and pair of trees with their tangled roots offer an interesting foreground to the vista beyond.
I always check the view from both sides every time I cross the bridge over Smoke Creek, and on this morning the sun had just risen, touching the background trees with the colour and warmth of fire, in contrast with the trees in the foreground and their reflection, muted and frozen with ice.