Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Spruce Bog Boardwalk

Yesterday was a great day of catching up with friends and planning some fun things to see and do. Our first adventure was Spruce Bog Boardwalk located at KM 42.5 from the West Gate or 13.5 from the East Gate along Hwy 60. This 1.5 km barrier-free loop is considered an easy hike. The trail traverses two separate bogs introducing us to the history and ecology of bogs in Algonquin Park.
Due to the ease of the trail everyone including Susan, Kathy, Bob, the 3 dogs, and myself were in. We have 8 more days of hiking/exploring so starting slow and easy is a good thing. The weather was perfect, sunny with a touch of coolness in the air. No mosquitoes or black flies. It's a good day.

At each trailhead a sign and illustrated paper guides are available to introduce the hiker(s) to that specific trail. Now that's amazing.
At each numbered post along the trail Kathy acted as our commentator, reading the information from the trail guide.

What is a bog you ask! All Algonquin bogs started as either open water left behind when the glaciers melted 11,000 years ago or when beaver ponds formed since then. What was originally open water, along the edge, mats of floating sedges, mosses, and shrubs formed. Plants grew and died then sank into the mat. Semi-decayed plants fell to the bottom of the lake accumulating as layers of peat. Over time peat layers built up grounding the mat. Thus, forming a bog. Bog water is highly acidic, contains almost no oxygen, and has very few dissolved salts and minerals. Sunday Creek Bog owes its beginnings to beavers.
On the edge of the bog is a forest of spindly Black Spruce trees. Because they are in an acidic and nutrient-starved area, Black Spruce grow very slow. They produce small, slender branches that slope downward which bend under the weight of snow. Many on the smaller trees are over 30 years old.
As we continued along we came to Kettle Bog. This bog formed when a huge block of ice was stranded when the glacier continued to retreat 11,000 years ago. Today, there's no open water and Black Spruce occupy the outer edges. The bog mat consists of a thin layer with weak areas. Walking on it is strongly frowned upon. If you fell through your body would be preserved for thousands of years in the acidic, oxygen-poor peat nine meters below. Something to consider. Looks harmless but then so does a coral snake. 
A remarkable plant that once grew in the bogs of Algonquin Park is the Pitcher-plant. A serious problem facing any plant in the bog is a lack of nitrogen. The solution for the Pitcher-plant is to trap insects, digest them, and use their proteins to make Pitcher-plant protein. Our guide book said we would not see a Pitcher-plant because previous inconsiderate trail users have picked them. Bob found one. It was along the trail but I refuse to say where we found it. "People please don't pick the plants".
As we continued our hike the two pups were doing fantastic. Walking beside me, noses to the ground, wanting to chase chipmunks, and shying away from any water source. We all know they are not water dogs.
As we crossed the last bridge we could see Sunday Creek Bog in it's entirety. The slow moving creek, the two mats, the Black Spruce on the far side, and the lake created by beaver setting the stage for the development of the bog.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Algonquin Surprises

Waking up early to the sound of a loon is always a wonderful experience. Then continuing to hear it as you're downing your morning coffee is even better. That's the beauty of Algonquin Park, you never know what you're going to hear or see. Before everyone was up I went to investigate and was quite pleasantly surprised.
I walked back to the rig, woke everyone up, had breakfast then decided to hit the Old Railway Bike Trail. The trail is considered an easy family bike trail because of it's level hard packed surface. For 16 kms the trail follows the old historic abandoned bed of the Ottawa, Arnprior, and Parry Sound Railway. A park this size I would be lost without my bike.   
I decided after 10k to call it a day. Not because I was bored or tired but, because our friends are arriving today and I wanted to be back when they arrived. Besides I have a nice 10K ride back. 

A nice treat was watching this little guy fill his cheeks then scurry away. 

Algonquin Quick Facts:

  • the park is 7,653 square kilometres or 2,955 square miles
  • there are over 2,400 lakes and 1,200 kilometres of rivers and streams
  • 3 biking trails ranging from easy to very difficult totalling over 50 kms
  • over 260 species of birds have been recorded in Algonquin PP
  • for the canoeing enthusiast 1,200 km awaits you
  • there are 15 interpretive walking trails along the Hwy 60 corridor
  • 54 different species of fish have been recorded in the park
  • Algonquin is home to 40 types of mammals and 30 kinds of reptiles and amphibians

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Algonquin Here We Come

Waking up at 4 in the morning was not really in the plans but I'm so excited I can hardly contain myself. I made coffee downed 2 cups then decided that everyone else needed to share in my excitement. All the dogs are awake, it's hard to sneak around without them knowing. Susan is up, barely. The truck is hooked up and away we go.

Toronto traffic was Toronto traffic, need I say any more. Typical dead stop to a crawl where the 401 meets the 400. We stopped near Barrie for diesel, a doggy break, and to stretch our legs.

We finally saw the sign, we are here.

No sooner had we entered the park, a red fox darts in front of Precious. I guess it had a death wish, missed it but just barely. We arrived at Mew Lake Campground which is where we will call home for the next 11 days. Most provincial parks have electrical sites and one central location to fill your fresh water tank. The unusual thing about Algonquin, which I didn't know was the only location to fill fresh water was 5-7 kms down the road. Since we were already at our destination and there was a lot of construction we opted not to drive any further to fill the tank. Using a bucket to haul fresh water has become second nature to us

Our campsite was large the only problem was the location of the electrical outlet, 30 meters away. Thank goodness for a 30 amp extension cord.

We settled in then I went for a walk with the dogs while Susan had a snooze (navigating is a tough job). I checked out the bathrooms & laundry facilities because you never know. Note the laundry tub with both hot and cold water. I can get hot water there to do dishes. Bonus 😊

The beach looks great but no dogs allowed. I continued around the lake to find a place the dogs could swim or whatever they were going to do. Remember they are dachshund/chihuahua cross, not a mix known for their swimming ability.

A lone duck obviously use to people and dogs.

Where is Spirit (our friends black lab) when I need her most. No pictures I was rescuing two black pups who are totally non-swimmers. I think we need life jackets.

A great campsite right on the lake. However, I found fresh bear scat about 100 yards from this site. A sign at the entrance indicated bears are in the area. Do you think! They weren't wrong.

Another camping option in Algonquin is a yurt which comes from the turkic language meaning portable round tent. It comes equipped with 2 beds, electric heat, a grill outside, picnic table, and fire ring. Sounds cozy.

After an hour hike with the dogs they are tired, I'm tired, and I'm hungry. More exploring tomorrow. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Algonquin Provincial Park

As we sat around the campfire last year with our good friends Kathy & Bob (and an adult beverage) the discussion always leads to where are we camping together next summer. Yes, we always plan a year in advance. Why, as the activity director (LOL) I have to book the campsites and I also have to plan all the fun things we are going to do. Don't get me wrong, I love doing it.  The only stipulations in choosing a place are, it has to be a provincial or national park, we have to have electricity, and it has to have hot showers. We don't want to be roughing it to much.

So, last year we decided on 10 days in Algonquin Provincial Park. With all my travels throughout Ontario, can you believe I have never been to Algonquin. I'm so stoked. For us it's about a 5 1/2 hour drive through Toronto and all the traffic that comes with it. So I was thinking, if our site was open a day early why not go Sunday and beat the morning rush hour traffic which seems to last until the evening rush hour traffic. Low and behold it's available, I booked it then told Susan we are going a day early. Surprise!!!!

The RV is all packed, everything is in order, I reminded my boss I was leaving Sunday for 11 days, and Precious is ready to hit the road again. Algonquin here we come.

New Look

Yes it's the same blog with a different look. I got tired of the old so I made some changes. I'm also changing things up as far as the narrative goes, less talking and more pictures. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 3, 2017

CREW Marsh Trail

Time goes by sooooo fast when you're having fun. If you're wondering what has happened to us, we have been gone from Florida for well over a couple of months. I thought it was time to get my butt in gear and start blogging again. Before I talk about our recent adventures here is one hiking trip I participated in back in January. I just have to talk about this one. 

It was a gorgeous sunny warm Tuesday morning around 9 when I made my way to CREW Marsh Trail in Immokalee. I was meeting up with a CREW member, and I gathered others as well, to hike one of 4 areas owned by CREW. So far all is well. I arrived in time, about 15 hikers were present, the CREW member was present, and our hiking guide has arrived. So away we go.
Dr David Cooper,Volunteer
& Master Naturalist

The trails offer over five miles of hiking through pine flatwoods, hardwood hammocks, a pop ash slough, and sawgrass marsh. The trails are home to native wildflowers and plants, birds, deer, turkey, the endangered Florida panther, snakes, and Florida black bear.
The trails are open seven days a week sunrise to sunset and are free of charge. Brochures are available for self-guided hikes.
Nice wide trail

First of all what is CREW? CREW is 60,000 acres of watershed that spans Lee and Collier Counties in South Florida. Like a giant sponge, watershed is an area of land that absorbs rain and ground water and then sheds it into a wetland. This wetland area is called the CREW Marsh. This 5,000 acre Marsh holds the water it receives, protecting downstream areas from flooding during rains and stores water during a drought. The plants in the marsh filter the water, removing pesticides and other substances harmful to humans. After it is cleaned the slow moving water sinks into the ground, recharging the underground aquifer that is the source of drinking water for this part of Florida. The entire watershed also creates a habitat for plants ad animal. The Crew Land & Water Trust was formed in 1989 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the water resources in and around Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW). In December 1990 the CREW Marsh Trail was opened. This 5,000 acre sawgrass marsh is the headwaters of the Imperial River. This expanse of land holds water until it flows southwest and south, eventually ending up in Estero Bay or the Everglades.

Observation Tower
Looking out over 5,000 acres of sawgrass marsh
The aquifer is a layer of porous limestone rock that holds water in its numerous crevices. Most of the 55 inches of annual rainfall the marsh receives comes in the summer and fall. This time of year the marsh is fairly dry.Water in this ditch comes from runoff along Corkscrew Road and flows south into the sawgrass marsh. 
Okay now comes the really interesting part. Usually when I am hiking with a group I'm out front with the guide listening to everything he or she is talking about. However, this time I was mid pack about to take a picture of some plants. Then I hear that adrenaline stimulating single word "snake". Yes, it was a snake and to be more precise it was an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. As you can see it was lying halfway across the path we wanted to hike.
This is my first eastern diamondback I have ever seen while hiking. What a thrill. These snakes are the largest venomous snake in North America. They can reach 8 feet (2.4 meters) in length and weigh up to 10 pounds (4.5 kilos). This guy was still partly in the brush so we couldn't see the entire body. What we did see was big.

These snakes are pit vipers and generally live in dry, pine flatwoods and coastal scrub habitats from southern North Carolina to Florida and west to Louisiana. It seems I am in the perfect location. They are feared for being aggressive and deadly. In actuality they are highly averse to human contact and only attack in defense. Diamondbacks can strike up to one-third their body length. Their venom is a potent hemotoxin meaning it kills red blood cells and causes tissue damage. Bites are extremely painful and can be fatal to humans. If cornered, the diamondback will feverishly shake their iconic tail as a last warning to back off. This one did not shake it's tail even when it went into strike mode.

Note the bluish colour to this diamondbacks eyes. He is getting ready to shed his skin which can occur several times a year. They add a new rattle segment each time they shed so loosing a rattle won't matter. 

So how did we get past his guy. Well,  at first we were going to take a very, very wide berth around him but when he reared back the CREW organizer put a stop to that. So we took another trail which lead to the spots we came to see. That was amazing. I can honestly say I would not have seen it if I was in the lead. I am always looking up or into the shrubbery not the ground I'm walking on. That was a good wake up call. Bye the way he never did rattle.

As we were getting close to the end of our hike we did come across the biggest grasshopper I have ever seen. This lubber grasshopper can reach 3 inches in length and are flightless. They move from place to place primarily by walking but are capable of jumping short distances. Another great find.
Lubber Grasshopper

What an amazing day, thank-you CREW.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Koreshan State Historic Site

Several communal societies were established in the United State at the turn of the century. The Shakers built communities based on celibacy and communal property before 1800. Joseph Smith led the Mormons to Utah in the mid 19th century. George Rapp founded the Harmonists in Pennsylvania. The common denominator was the search for the ideal. Florida has seen it's fair share of early pioneers from far and wide but none as unusual as Dr Cyrus Reed Teed. Situated on the grounds of Koreshan State Park is the historic settlement Teed founded known as "The Koreshan Unity".

The Unity was a religious Utopian community originally founded in upstate New York by Dr Cyrus Reed. Later, it was headquartered in Chicago before making it's permanent home south of Fort Myers in Estero, Florida, on 320 acres of land where Teed intended to find the "New Jerusalem". Among the most interesting beliefs of Koreshanity was cellular cosmogony, or the hollow earth. According to the cellular cosmogony, the earth was not a convex sphere but instead a hollow, concave cell containing the entire universe with the sun at its center and people living on Earth inside the hollow cell. I still don't understand the concept even though it was explained a few times. Koreshan's also believed that God was both male and female. They also believed in reincarnation and equality for both sexes.

The Koreshan Unity became well established by 1904 with the building of several buildings including residences, a bakery, a machine shop, a general store, a publishing house, a Planetary Court, a power plant that produced electricity not only for the Koreshan community but also parts of southwest Florida. The Bakery would produce 500-600 loaves of bread per day not only for members but to sell in the general store. The Art Hall famous for it's plays, concerts, lectures, and religious activities is where my tour started.
The Art Hall, note the lack of vegetation and no 6 lane Tamiami Trail (US 41) yet
The Art Hall today, US 41 is 200 ft to the left 
Shell pathways throughout the settlement were used for several reasons. Crushed shells reflected light in the evening making it easier to maneuver around the settlement. It also made for a firm walking surface. Approaching footsteps could be easily heard.

How did Cyrus Teed, also known as Koresh acquire the land in Estero? Teeds first trip to Florida in 1893 was a bust, the price of land was way too high. Before leaving he conducted a series of lectures and distributed pamphlets. A German immigrant, Gustave Damkohler whom homesteaded on the Estero River in 1882 became very interested in the Koreshan Unity. He believed that Koreshanity was the next great religion. He sold Teed 300 acres of undeveloped land for $200. By 1907 the Unity owned 6,000 acres in southwest Florida.
The only building on the 300 acres was Damkohler's house
Gustave Damkohler

Before the construction of the Tamiami Trail (US 41), the Estero River was the main means of transportation for goods and people. Bamboo Landing provided a formal landing to the Koreshan Unity world.
Bamboo Landing
Back in the day one would arrive at Bamboo Landing via the Estero River and walk directly to the Founders' House. This building is the oldest surviving structure on the settlement built by the Koreshans. It was also built using milled pine siding instead of logs. Pine shakes also replaced the palmetto thatch roof.
The Koreshans developed gardens for aesthetic purposes as well as a place to nourish the spirit and not the body. Exotic trees and plants were brought in from around the world.

Monkey Puzzle Tree native to 
Washingtonia Palms native to 
South America 

Tulip Tree
Sausage Tree native to Africa

Tulip Tree Flowering

The land was a wilderness in 1894 but the Koreshians were able to carve beautiful gardens through the thick mangroves, scrub oak, and saw palmettos. Trellises, gazebos, benches fountains, and bridges dotted the settlement landscape.
Once the tallest structure in Lee County, the Dining Hall was three stories tall. The upper floors were dormitories for women and children while the lower floor would accommodate everyone for meals. The building was demolished in 1949, all that remains today is the dinner bell.
Dining Hall
Dinner Bell

The day to day affairs of the Koreshan Unity was governed by a council of seven women. All lived under one roof called the Planetary Court. Each person had a separate room which could be accessed from a central hall or the outside porches.

The Planetary Court

The entire tour took about 1 1/2 hours and was well worth the $2. I only covered part of this very interesting society. Today, all that remains of the original Koreshan Unity is the College of Life Foundation in Estero. Their mission is to educate and preserve the history of southwest Florida.