Thursday, 27 September 2012

Tommy Thompson Park (aka Leslie St. Spit) Toronto

I believe that the original 'Leslie Street Spit' has been in existence for a long time. However, over the past number of years it has become a 'dumping ground' for material excavated from new building sites in the downtown core. During the week (Monday to Friday) access to Tommy Thompson Park is restricted to dump trucks carrying excavated material but - on weekends and holidays - it is open to the public.

Tommy Thompson was a member of the much revered group of artists who painted up north in the Muskoka and Haliburton Districts becoming known as the 'Group of Seven'. He was from Toronto and his life ended in a murder which has never been solved.

I have been corrected - the park was NOT named after the artist but after another Tommy Thompson who was a Parks Commissioner for the City of Toronto.

There is a paved roadway extending about three-quarters of the way down the isthmus and there are well-used dirt paths following the shoreline. There are no formal gardens nor lawns but natural vegetation and the creatures who live in that sort of terrain. As I walked along I saw one of those creatures making slow progress across the roadway.
Yes - a snail. Often I have wondered if the creature made it safely to the opposite side - or was it annihilated by the wheels of a truck - or eaten by a predator stumbling upon it?

From material amongst the rubble left by the trucks some enterprising folk have created amateur 'inukshuks'. Interesting - but not as neat (to my eyes) as those created by the Inuit (Eskimo) people of the Far North.
The piece of land seen in the left background is a part of Ashbridge's Bay Park - also largely created from excavated material.

 I did notice a view that caught my eye - an interestingly shaped tree growing along the shoreline. If you click on the photo to enlarge it you will note a while speck at the end of one of the small branches. That was a seagull flying out over the lake presumably looking for something to eat.
During the hikes I witnessed one of the two animal phenomena that have not been received universally by the public. The first are cormorants - not naturally indigenous to this area - and a fish called 'alewives'. The latter are native to Africa and are suspected to have arrived here courtesy of bilge water being illegally dumped into the lake by a captain of a freighter. Cormorants love to catch and eat alewives but bring upon themselves the wrath of some people because they tend to strip the leaves off of the trees where they roost. The next photo is of a flock of cormorants flying in to land.
The following photo was taken across a marsh to a grove of trees where the cormorants were roosting. You will note that the branches of those trees are nearly denuded of leaves.
Continuing on my walk I came to a place where a small body of water nearly severs the spit. In that pond an industrious beaver had built its lodge.
As I continued my walk I noticed some great views of the downtown skyline.
This second view was taken further along near where the cormorants roosted.
Just as near the Brickworks, an iris bulb came along with a load of landfill and then took root.
Also, there was another blossom that must have 'hitched' a ride on a truck - I have just been informed that it is a zinnia!
These are wildflowers - and the white ones are - I believe - Queen Anne's lace.
The trail finishes at the end of the spit and at the foot of an abandoned lighthouse which is beginning to look quite derelict.
A closeup of the lighthouse.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Yosemite National Park

During the spring of 2008 my partner - Ric Reed - accepted an invitation from two friends to go with them on a day trip to Yosemite. Ric was very impressed. A few days later I received a message that my kid brother - Dan - had been killed in a single vehicle accident. There was to be no funeral so I had no opportunity to grieve. Ric thought that a solution to that problem would be for the two of us to go on a three day visit to Yosemite.

I flew out to Oakland on the usual milk run with a few stops along the way, spent the weekend with Ric and friends, and then - on Monday morning - we arose very early in order to be on the first BART train to Richmond where BART and Amtrak share facilities. Our train left right on time at 8:00 for the three hour ride to Merced. Because there were so few people in the car which we were in, there was no problem in securing a double seat with a table in between so we could spend the time by playing cribbage.

We arrived in Merced right on time and, within a few minutes. a bus pulled into the parking lot (there were about 20 of us on the train who were going to Yosemite). The drive up the valley - and through a canyon - lasted about three hours until we reached the Park Entrance. A mile or so further on the bus went around a bend and there was the iconic guardian of Yosemite - El Capitan!
We went around yet another bend in the highway and saw the vista of the Yosemite Valley. Yes - that is Half Dome in the distance.
El Capitan is not the only rocky peak - there are others (I believe that they are known as 'The Cathedral Rocks').
Before proceeding further I want to say that, within the main part of the park, there are city type buses that go around the perimeter and one can hop on and off at will. The park is so huge (and we visited only the western part) that the free transit was much appreciated! Also, the floor of the Merced River valley is relatively flat so, everywhere I looked, there were artists with their easels and paints. They were sitting on 'camp stools' with their feet on the ground. I wondered how many had wet feet as there is a large aquifer beneath the valley floor and the 'spring run off' had it filled to overflowing.
There are various types of accommodation within the park and Ric chose a neat one - a tent cabin. Here we are standing in front of it. We had delightful neighbors immediately across the pathway from our 'cabin' - a retired couple from Virginia! You will note the green metal box to my immediate right. Because of the prowling bears and their incredibly sensitive olfactory organs, it is forbidden to leave scented items like food, cologne. shaving cream, toothpaste, etc out as bears in their dens high up on the rocky slopes would smell it and come exploring. However, they cannot smell items kept in steel containers - nor do they know how to break the padlock which is underneath the lip of the bin.
As it was spring there were waterfalls in all directions (from trickles to cascades) and the most noteworthy are Yosemite Falls so that was where we went as soon as we were settled into our cabin. Most of the waterfalls around the park are fed by melting glaciers but Yosemite Falls are the exception - they are fed by the melting of the snow pack on the ledge above the cataract. Therefore - the best time to visit is in the spring when the spate is running at the highest volume.
The trail to the base of Yosemite Falls is a loop. At the base of the falls we saw a plaque (shown below) - the Scottish naturalist, John Muir, was one of the earliest visitors to what is now the National Park. He erected a cabin and lived there for some time.
It is obvious to any observant person that the creek has changed its course more than once and obviously some huge boulders came down when the torrent was at its height. Ric went exploring among those boulders looking for a way to climb up on top of the enormous boulder that he is standing beneath. There was no way he could accomplish that!
The falls descend in three stages but it is only from one spot that all three are visible - from all of the other angles the 'middle falls' are hidden by a rocky outcrop. The ideal spot is before one reaches the base of the falls.
Just behind the plaque commemorating John Muir was a part of a cedar tree that had been washed over the cataract.
                                               The remains of the tree are in the foreground.

Not only do mountaineers climb El Capitan and Half Dome but the escarpment by the falls as well.
As a part of the campground where we had our tent cabin there is a lodge where we went for breakfast each morning. While there we picked up a flyer with the itinerary of things to do each day. On the second day we were attracted to a 'Bear Talk' which was to be delivered by a Park Ranger at a camp ground near to where we were staying. We decided to attend.

The talk was delivered by a female Ranger who was very eloquent and for whom the bears in the Park had special meaning. One of the biggest problems there - and in all of the national parks in the mountains in the US and in Canada - are tourists who ignore signs and are caught 'feeding the bears'. The day that we arrived a woman was seen in the parking lot at Yosemite Falls feeding a bear pizza!

The bears appreciate the free handouts but the down side is that they come to depend upon it - and, if it isn't proffered, they can become ugly and dangerous. The Ranger had a backpack with her and, at the end of her address, she opened it and pulled out the skin of what had been a large bear. It had become so used to handouts from thoughtless tourists that it seemed to forget how to forage for its food. It had become such a pest that it had to be shot. She was virtually in tears when she finished her address.

The purpose of Ric bringing me there was to find solace for the loss of my brother. On his previous hike through the park he had been to Vernal Falls (on the Merced River but a mile or two up the mountain - and reachable by a well-maintained trail). Near those falls we looked back across the valley and could see Yosemite Falls!
The Merced River begins its life at a glacier on the California/Nevada border. The first cataract is Nevada Falls which is followed by Vernal Falls. We hiked the couple of miles up there but Ric's choice of the spot to hold our memorial was not in my comfort zone - it was upon a flat rock that slanted towards the cataract.
Vernal Falls - very rugged but beautiful. The following photo is of the Merced River racing downhill to the valley floor.
Not only did we see the major waterfalls but - everywhere we looked it seemed - there were the smaller trickles.
The bus route to our campground loops around the eastern end of that part of the park thereby I noticed another hiking trail. This one actually looped up Tenaya Creek and around Mirror Lake before returning to the roadway. Unfortunately, I did not have the time for the entire loop but here are some photos of what I saw.
These photos are of Tenaya Creek. The flowering shrub to the left of the creek is a 'dogwood'. That plant is indigenous to the rain forests along the B.C. coast as well. 
                      And the following shots are of Mirror Lake - aptly named, I might add!
The third photo shows the water from that very still lake tumbling into the creek.
The trouble with this format is that the different parts of the text become co-joined if not separated by a photo or two - thus the addition of the preceding photo - as well as the one following.
The Merced River as seen around the midway point in the park. I took the free bus to the western end of its route and then walked the rest of the way to El Capitan (where I held my tribute to the memory of Dan). This took me along the banks of the river and past some beautiful vistas.
This photo of the Merced as seen through the trees is one of my favorite shots.
The bears are not the only moochers in the park - this squirrel was doing a good job of begging as well.

I bought a taco sandwich for a snack before going to the coach for the drive back to the railway in Merced - and that proved to be a mistake! I developed cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. I was able to keep everything inside of me during the bus trip out to the railway but I most certainly had to use the facilities on the train. However, I was well enough to fly home in relative comfort on the following day.

The bus was delayed by the number of passengers from the park and the two towns between the park and Merced who boarded so many of us worried that the train would leave without us. We need not to have worried - the train crew and the bus driver were in radio contact with each so the train was slowed and it did not arrive at the station until we were standing on the platform!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Toronto's High Park

Most major cities seem to have at least one large signature park - in Toronto it is High Park in the west end of the city. Through much of the city, the terrain rises fairly gradually from the shore of Lake Ontario but, in the west, the topography is more rugged. Where High Park is located, it is separated from the shore of Lake Ontario by the Queen Elizabeth Parkway, Lakeshore Boulevard. and the railway tracks for the GO, passenger, and freight trains. The park is large and extends all the way from Lakeshore West to Bloor Street. Just north of Bloor is a station on the east/west Bloor/Danforth line and it is usually that station that I use when coming to and from the park. Upon entering - while the woods can be seen ahead and to the right and left - the immediate sight is of manicured lawns and flower beds.
It is April and these, of course, are tulips Nearby was another tulip bed with a weird sculpture planted at the edge of it.
While growing up I heard about the magnolia tree but only in relation to the South of the United States and it took a few years before I realized that the trees which I saw here with magnificent flowers for a short space of time in the spring were magnolias! I saw two such trees in High Park on that April visit and here is a photo of one of them.
This is a little one - a larger one was a few yards further on.
A little further on - and down in a little valley - is a small zoo. The current mayor wants to get rid of this zoo in his attempt to 'cut the gravy' but an outcry from citizens was loud and long (the main Toronto Zoo is miles away in the northeast area of the city) so this little zoo has been maintained. One criticism that I have is that the barrier fences are rather high and block some good photographic opportunities. However, I did take some photos.
Some members of the goat family but, unfortunately, I did not label the photo so to be able to identify them accurately.
A peacock
Mountain Sheep
A bison with her calf
Two Yaks
Not only were there tulips and magnolias in blossom - but forsythia as well.
A stream flowing past the new vegetation.
Near the southern edge of the park are cherry trees. As, in my mind, cherry blossoms are associated with Japan,. I felt that it was appropriate that I include this Oriental couple in the photo.
Beneath the cherry trees there was a fairly extensive patch of wildflowers growing in the lawn.
The three photos above are of a stream flowing through that part of the park and the vegetation growing beside the water.
Also seen around Toronto in the spring are these lovely trees - I have no idea as to the name.
An early arrival in Toronto - then named York - was a well-off English gentleman who built himself a fairly commodious house in what is now known as High Park. Upon his passing he willed his estate to the city to be maintained in perpetuity. The house is named 'Colborne Lodge'.
Another tulip bed.
More flowering trees and shrubs.
Almost the entire western side of High Park is occupied by Grenadier Pond. This is a great place to watch waterfowl - ducks, Canada geese and swans live there. I love it when I chance to witness some drama among the wildlife. For instance, a pair of swans had a nest among the reeds at the north end of the pond. While I watched, a gander swam over there only to be met by a very irate cob (male swan) who came charging out of the reeds with wings flapping, beak hissing and the water churning. Needless to say, the goose did not linger long!
Here is the swan after "Mission Accomplished" And, in a bush near where I took the last shown photo, was a red-wing blackbird
This is a photo of the marsh at the end of the pond - and one last photo of the vegetation reflected in the creek that appears to be the main source for the water in the pond.