You can't tell the players without a program! - Sunday, August 3
Today we woke to a gusty wind and a heavy fog bank hanging low over the mountains. We disconnected and headed for an Acadian breakfast in Cheticamp.
It was still windy as we drove north several miles to Cape Breton Highlands National Park. In the park Visitor Center a nice young Ranger told us that this park is rated the second best park in all of North America. I asked her which park was rated Number One and she didn't know, but thought it might be Yellowstone. She played a good video for us and then we paid our admission and got on the road.
Cape Breton is so beautifully unique that it's hard to describe the experience of driving though it. The Cabot Trail road winds through the park in a long hilly loop, sometimes clinging to the cliffs above the water and sometimes diving into green canyons between the forested mountains. It is at once peacefully serene, and at the same time magnificently exciting.
On the west side where we are today, the water is the Gulf of St. Lawrence. On the east side where we're headed it is the north Atlantic Ocean. Both are vast and breathtaking, viewed from the high vantage points of the park.
There are many turnouts and we stopped at virtually every one. On the third turnout a family was standing out on the cliffs when we arrived, and they were excited about a whale they said they'd just seen several times. We watched with them for another ten minutes but it did not appear, so they left.
No sooner had they gone, however, than it reappeared headed in the opposite direction. From the distance it was hard to tell what kind of a whale it was, but it had a hooked dorsal fin like the Minke whale we'd seen in New Brunswick. It surfaced several times while we watched in excited fascination, then it made a long graceful arc and dove in a flash of spray. We watched for a long time, but did not see it again.
We took four hikes on our way north, the first at a sloping fen where a boardwalk took us over a peat marsh filled with grasses and flowers, and three species of carniverous plants. We only identified two, but there were lots of those. A plant called bladderwort has yellow flowers and grows in the water. When water insects contact it's stems they are sucked in and trapped where the plant digests them.
A second carniverous plant is the pitcher plant. It has a single large brown flower on it's stem, and insects are trapped in it's low growing leaves, where they slip down the steep inner surface and are caught in water trapped at the bottem. This plant is also capable of digesting them for it's nourishment. Kind of creepy, but fascinating and a integral part of this open and marshy meadow.
Our second hike was a mile out to a small lake. It is said to be a good place to see moose, and we did see a lot of deep tracks in the soft mud, but no moose appeared. Still it was a good hike, and it can't help but hold your interest when you're in a place where the tiny plants are carnivores, and the giant mammals are herbivores!
Our third hike was to a waterfall, and the fourth was through one of the largest and best preserved hardwood forests in Canada. In it were maples, red oaks, beeches and hemlock. It was also the site of a stone cabin built to memorialize the Scottish settlers who came here to fish and farm and cut wood in the early days of the province.
We finally descended to a small settlement at the north end of the peninsula, out of the park but close to it, where we found a quiet and secluded campground with the unlikely name of Hideaway Campground and Oyster Market. We settled in for a peaceful night of rain on the roof and some remarkabley good WiFi reception. What more could we ask, and with good memories to go along with it?