My mom and I woke up and left the house a little earlier than yesterday, anxious to get a head start on the day. We decided to cut straight across to the West Gate and hike trails on that end, working back towards the East Gate and “home” by the end of the day.
Well, let me tell you that choosing to do so made all the difference.
Not long after entering the park we discovered an accumulation of cars – another moose! We were excited to see one so early and it proved to be a good omen for the rest of the day.
The first trail after the West Gate is the Whiskey Rapids trail, where once upon a time loggers who were supposed to be bringing a barrel of whiskey to their camp and co-workers, decided to partake early, drank a little too much, and ended up losing the whiskey barrel in the rapids, never to be recovered. That’s what one gets, I guess, for celebrating before it’s time.
Running water accompanied us the entirety of the trail, first as a babbling brook and then as small, but vigorous rapids. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous and the sounds of birdsong filled the air. In fact, we saw four different types of warblers plus White-throated Sparrows. Doing a proper search for the birds, pshing (making a psh sound at intervals tends to attract birds and bring them up where they are more visible), and then patiently waiting for them to respond and appear caused us to take three hours on a trail that should only have taken one and a half. It was amazing, really – it didn’t feel like so much time had passed.
Still, wanting to make sure we got as much in today as possible, we headed for the next trail called Hardwood Lookout trail. This trail features the towering presence of beech, maple, cherry, hemlock, and pine trees, all of whom had yet to produce or were just budding new leaves. Leafless branches means that the sunlight is better able to reach the forest floor, which results in the blooming of several delicate and beautiful flowers. We really came at just the right time of year to see these blooms, because most of them apparently only last for the month of May – when the frost disappears and the leaves are not yet out. In a couple more weeks, the sugar maples and beech will have leaf-filled branches and the forest floor will be covered in shade, so we are blessed to be able to have seen these precious forest ornaments.
Again taking longer than expected on this hike because of birding (we saw three species of woodpecker, more warblers, other songbirds, and a Spruce Grouse – lifer!!) and spending some time admiring the view from the cliff that marked the end of the trail, we found ourselves rather prepared to eat a late lunch.
Thankfully there was a store/gift shop not far down Highway 60 where we were able to grab lunch. The Portage Store also provided canoes for rental, either for the day or for multi-day trips. One of the owners explained to us how most beginner itineraries would look like – spend a day paddling until you reach a campsite, set up camp for the night, portage the canoe and your gear to the next body of water (usually not very far away), and keep on going. Repeat for as long as desired. It sounded so exciting to me, although my mom wasn’t too thrilled at the idea, and we wouldn’t have been able to do anything like that at this time anyways. But I already have ideas spinning in my mind of bringing a group of friends up here for a several day canoeing trip – that would be so much fun!
After entertaining ourselves by watching people attempting to get in and out of canoes for day trips and purchasing gas, we decided to run through the park to another store in search of beans for tonight’s dinner. Along the way, we saw several more moose and actually almost ran in to one that appeared rather suddenly on the road. It seemed just as startled as I was, as if it only noticed my presence at the same time I noticed his. Thankfully, nothing happened but I think both I and the moose were in a bit of shock for several moments afterwards. Gracious, that thing was big! I knew they were big, but seeing one that wasn’t knee deep in water finally gave me perspective on how massive of an animal the moose is. And that was a young bull with tiny antlers – I can’t even imagine was a fully grown, mature bull would be like!
The rest of our moose encounters were much calmer by comparison. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll see a female or a juvenile, all the ones we’ve seen so far have been young bulls.
After doing our grocery shopping, we ran the produce back to the house and decided to explore a road near the our accommodations. The road that we take to get to Algonquin is called Route 127, from which we turn left onto Highway 60 that runs through the park. Apparently there is an Old 127 that is a gravel road that is a bit of a scenic shortcut from the house to the turn onto Highway 60. It took us by a lake with houses on islands, marshland, spruce bogs, and tons of vegetation. Again, we were surprised to not see it teeming with life, but there were a few things we found along the way, like a sandpiper and a dove which I have yet to identify.
Overall, it has been such a good day with gorgeous scenery, much more wildlife, and absolutely perfect weather. I’m definitely falling in love with this park and will be visiting again and again.
Tomorrow we’ll try to catch some of the shorter trails in the middle of Highway 60 that we have yet to try and I’m hoping that we’ll see the last thing on my wishlist for the trip – a loon!
I’m hoping that the next post will tell you that I saw the loon, completing my southern Algonquin experience.
Wildlife count (today): 5 moose, 1 fox, 2 red squirrels, 3 chipmunks, heard one new specie of frog plus saw a tadpole, 20 species of birds.
(total): 6 moose, 1 red fox, 1 beaver, 1 woodchuck, 6 red squirrels, 5 chipmunks, 1 rabbit (hare?), 1 ribbon snake, heard 3 species of frog plus one tadpole, and 29 species of birds.