A lot of miles (and hills!) in our U-Haul van
Home: Cheticamp National Park Campground
A morning stop at a cute shop, for pastries and a Lavender Fog for Rett, which we drove out to eat at a beach where the red soil made the waves look like they were rolling in from an ocean of Coca-Cola.
A stop to see my lighthouse, and my grocery store, at Neils Harbour.
A drive into Big Intervale, the deep cleft of Cape Breton that improbably mirrors a similar geographic dividing line in the original Scotland. The fall colors in this hardwood valley must be overwhelming. We stopped for lunch at a parking area and this time left the van and set up our chairs, because we could sit in an enviable wooded glade with our feet inches from a quiet brook. The place had crowded up by the time we were done, but then we hiked up that brook, through the trees, to a waterfall, and nearly none of the tour-bus crowd ventured that far. While there was nothing spectacular about the hike or the waterfall, the “walking through a forest” aspect was particularly invigorating for Rett. The trailhead/picnic-area was also a non-reservable National Park campground that I had been too scared to count on (since we’d grabbed one of the last remaining sites at last night’s and tonight’s campgrounds), but given that the place had no defined sites, and no one who seemed to be set up anywhere yet, I guess we wouldn’t have had a problem!
From that cleft we headed up again, and again, this time up and down the two back-to-back climbs that had long ago convinced us that riding our loaded bikes on the Cabot Trail was a non-starter. Encountering the climbs in person confirmed for Rett that we’d made the right decision beyond any doubt, though I did miss the opportunity the bikes provide to stop and gawk at any point that catches my eye (and there were many such points!)
At the top of the second climb, we turned into a parking lot to hike the Skyline Trail, a trail so popular that a parking attendant discusses the situation with each arriving driver, and informed us that they’d had a period earlier in the day when they’d closed because the lot was full. Befitting an ultra-popular National Park trail, they’d manicured the path into a smooth crushed-stone route wide enough for an ATV to roll down (and one eventually did, to “rescue” a young woman (whose need for rescue seemed somewhat dubious)). We walked the loop version, and had it mostly to ourselves on the upper section. The open, stunted-tree landscape was beautiful and particularly Highland-like, but we as we walked, we learned that it was a bit of an unnatural situation, due to an overpopulation of moose who haven’t allowed the balsam firs to grow back since the last insect infestation that killed a lot of them off in the 1990s. So they’re experimenting with giant fences what happens if they exclude moose from large sqaure areas for years (so far, the areas inside the fences don’t appear appreciably different from those outside).
At the far end of the loop, we found the most extensive boardwalk/stairs I’ve ever seen (Nova Scotia loves its boardwalks, it seems!) Steps down, a platform, more steps, a platform, and on and on as we descended down a headland heading out to sea, with the winding Cabot Trail road on our left and the cloud-smoothed sea still far below on our right. We’ve heard people compare it to Big Sur in California, and now having been to both places, that’s certainly apt.
Driving down that Cabot Trail road we’d seen from the stairs continued the amazing California coast comparison, with the final rollers close to sea-level being almost as impressive as the views from the top (again, driving at van speed prevented any documentation). Cheticamp National Park Campground essentially ends our 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock counterclockwise traversal of the Park. Our late reservation in this low-privacy campground somehow lucked us into a relatively good spot for a second night in a row, though that luck ended when I fought wet wood for half an hour before the fire sullenly gave in and burned on its own.