Feeling a bit tired from all the wandering today and may be challenged to write an interesting story this evening, but I’ll give it a shot. Actually, I’m one day behind the actual activities so this is yesterday’s wanderings, which will make it even more challenging to remember all that took place.
Besides bald eagles and sandhill cranes and a variety of other birds, the most prominent wildlife on the island is the Sitka black-tailed deer. The deer were introduced to Haida Gwaii for hunting in 1898 and, with no natural predators, have thrived….to say the least. It is common to see several foraging along the side of the road in a short distance. They are much less “twitchy” than the white-tailed deer we’re used to on the prairies – they just kind of raise their heads and watch you roll by. Not that I’d stake my life on it, mind you. The deer are, as one might imagine, rather a problem now and a program of eradication has begun to allow the vegetation to recover. Sheesh – you’d think they would have thought about that when they introduced them way back when. What part of “no natural predators” did you not understand? Of course, for the average tourist, it’s kind of cool to see them and they stand still for photographs very nicely.
Today’s direction was south from Port Clements, to see if agates could be found on the beach and maybe check out some of the local art if anything was open on a Sunday. Timing departure for low tide, we arrived at the beach at Tlell where we expected to pick agates. The tide was indeed waaayyy out – I figure it was a kilometer to the ocean from the beach head. With a calm wind and the sun making an appearance, it was a very enjoyable hour beachcombing for agates. Didn’t find any, but using the binoculars to peruse the beach, we did spot the shipwreck we had heard about a couple more kilometers down the beach. Only the hull of the boat still exists and I imagine with the right light, it would make quite the picturesque scene. It was a bit further than could be walked before the tide was back in. We were surprised to see how far in it had come in the short time we were there.
Toodling down the road again, we found the turnoff for the Crystal Cabin. This was begun many years ago by a man who was into the energies and properties of stones and started the business. When he died, his daughters continued. Outside of the Crystal Cabin is the Tlell Stone Circle. This is a circle of different rocks, mounted in welded formations to represent 62 million years of Haida Gwaii geological history. The display includes thunder eggs, rare fossils, ancient wood and island crystals. According to the Haida Gwaii visitor’s guide (which has become my go-to source these days), the creator, Dutes Dutheil, aligned the circle energetically with a Gwaii Haanas vortex which connects Haida Gwaii with other power spots such as the Egyptian pyramids, Canmore Banff, and Mauna Kea in Hawaii. My Tracey would have loved the Crystal Cabin and its stone circle!
The Crystal Cabin itself is full of stones and jewellery and carvings from local artists. Despite my protestations of not wanting stuff, I got sucked in by a small bear carved from rhyolite with a striking fire opal in its structure. Sigh. Damn stones.
Even though the museum wasn’t open in Skidegate, we had determined to go down there and see if we could spot any whales. Apparently, a pod had been through over the past few days. The girl at the Crystal Cabin told us of the Anvil Trail along the way and so that was added to the route.
The Anvil Trail turned out to be a gem as well. A shady, forested walk, the trail is well marked with arrows and markers to help you stay on track. It’s a good thing too – there are many opportunities to go astray if you aren’t paying attention. The walk is a study in forest succession, beginning with an area of early forest succession, marked by a dense population of Sitka spruce saplings and western hemlock. The closed canopy doesn’t allow much light to reach the forest floor, and frankly, it looks more dead than alive, with a bed of needles and little greenery. Carrying along the trail, there was plenty of insect life and I graciously cleared the trail of cobwebs for anyone who was to come behind me! Noticing some striking black and yellow centipedes, I stopped to take a look and there were a whole bunch of them writhing around in a little built up bunch of needles and soil in the middle of the path. I assume there were “rituals” going on, but took a couple of pictures anyway. After all, it’s not like they’re going to go viral as an adult video. As we walked the trail, we began to see a lot of these little episodes. Wondering out loud at the wisdom of the centipedes, creating their little orgy pits in the middle of the trail, Peter’s comment was “Yeah. Get a room”. 😊 But I digress….
The next stage of forest we passed through was, as one might imagine, in the middle succession stage, where the trees have become taller, a natural thinning has occurred and more light is reaching the forest floor. Enter more evidence of greenery – ferns, thick moss, and shrub undergrowth. At this point, the trail was approaching the Tlell River. A little rest stop was in order to walk along a fallen tree trunk and admire the pretty scene. Thought the water is not tempting to drink, being brackish and brown, it makes a picturesque contrast to the intense green of the forest around it. It was while descending to the river that we noticed a red-headed woodpecker banging away on a big spruce. I got out the camera with the good zoom lens and had just caught him in my sight nicely when he scooted around the other side of the tree. We played this "round-the-Sitka-spruce" game a couple of times, but I waited him out and finally got a reasonable shot, though it is not in the nature of a woodpecker to sit still for long.
Starting to feel the grumblings of hunger, we took the shorter trail back and, lo and behold, passed through the mature forest. After a huge forest fire in the 1800s, this part is fully recovered and in mid-to-late succession, characterized by large Sitka spruce, western hemlock and cedar. We made our way through the peaceful and fragrant forest, carefully following the markers and trying to avoid the humps of writhing centipedes as we went. A quick stop at the Crowsnest Café and Country Store for a bite to eat and we still had time to get over to Skidegate for whale spotting.
Behind the Haida Cultural Centre, there is a bench overlooking the inlet between Sandspit and Skidegate. Upon arrival, there was quite a chittering of birds on the rocks below. Striking birds with black bodies, white wing feathers and the brightest orange webbed feet! Turned out to be guillemots and a very entertaining crew. Whether it was mating rituals or males competing, we weren’t sure but there was a good deal of calling, flapping and carrying on, in and out of the water. During one of these episodes, we were watching two of them having it out in the water and all of a sudden, the ones on the rocks flew to the water. A split second later, they all dived as a bald eagle came swooping over the water, making a big circle and clearly hoping for a quick lunch. Miraculously, I had my phone on video and caught the event. After an hour of watching guillemots, seeing the ferry crossing the inlet and waving at a couple of kayakers, we gave up on the whales and went for our reservation at the Haida House for dinner.
We have been dismayed at the lack of interesting food on Haida Gwaii. Having expected a plethora of fresh seafood and being confronted with pub food, burgers and fish and chips, we were looking forward to dinner at the Haida House, which the locals said is where you go for a “nice meal, but expensive”. In truth, it was no more expensive than anywhere in the city and the meal was indeed delicious. Somewhere along the road in the morning we had remembered that it was an anniversary and the Haida House brought my dessert with a little chocolate “Happy Anniversary on it”. It’s almost like they know me…. 😊
Full to the brim, we headed back to Port Clements. The owners of the guest house had invited us over for a beach party they were having and we headed over there to say hi. Met a bunch of locals and had a good time yakking and enjoying the company. Great bunch of folks who all love where they live.
Well, so much for having nothing to drag out of my tired brain.....apparently I just can't help myself. Still a couple more blogs to go for this little junket, so if you have been entertained at all, stay tuned for Day 4 tomorrow!
There’s no denying the evidence of ancient civilization of Haida Gwaii. Archaeologists have discovered spear points and butchering tools dating back 12,500 years. In Haida mythology, the Raven is one of the most powerful creatures. Legend has it that Rose Spit, on the northern tip of Naikoon Provincial Park, is where the Haida people originated. The Raven was lonely, and one day, heard noise coming from a clamshell. Looking inside, he saw tiny little creatures hiding within. He convinced them to come out and join him in the world and these became the first Haida people.
This story is one of many little gems uncovered in a day of discovery. Having heard about Masset Harbour Day, we headed north to participate in the Lions Club pancake breakfast. There, at the entrance to Masset, is a big sign indicating Mile 0 of Highway 16. Seeing it there gave me the itch to come back with Fury and start at Mile 0 of Highway 16 and ride the Yellowhead all the way to its end at the Junction of the Trans Canada in Manitoba. A future endeavour, to be sure. The main road on Haida Gwaii are good pavement, for the most part and lots of nice curves. Across the road from the Mile 0 sign, was the hitchhiker’s thumb that Kelly had told me about the evening before, so had to stop and take a photo with that, too. 😊
The pancake breakfast was like old home week, sitting and eating amongst the elderly, the young and a lively bunch of babies and toddlers. Could have been Small Town Anywhere, Canada. After breakfast, we toured the town on foot, admiring the gorgeous murals painted all over town buildings. The maritime museum was closed, but peeping through the windows showed a nice collection of marine culture as well as some European and Indigenous displays. Carrying on down the street, we met Ellis and a couple of his buddies. Friendly locals, they gentlemen are some of the crew maintaining the parks on Haida Gwaii. After having a chat with Ellis, it was time to pick up a couple of sandwiches from the Island Sunrise Café. Ham and swiss on homemade brown bread would fill the chinks later in the day.
The tide tables are a critical part of planning the day on Haida Gwaii. Some events require a high tide and some a low and it is important to plan activities accordingly. Having been told about the “blowhole” at Tow Hill and the agate picking at “north beach”, we headed north after breakfast. Of the 26 or so kms of road between Masset and Tow Hill, about half of it is well-maintained gravel. It is a drive of green, peaceful loveliness, earning its name of Fairytale Road.
Parking and packing up the sandwiches, we headed up the trail to Tow Hill. Presented with an easy boardwalk trail through beautiful forest, it didn’t take long to arrive at the beach base of Tow Hill. Tow Hill rears up in a steep cliff face created by lava cooling in the throat of a volcano. The surrounding lava flow cooled in a combination of weirdly shaped rock formations and what looks like the vertebra of huge sea monsters or dinosaurs. The dark volcanic rock shore is like an alien landscape.
It was while marvelling at this wonder that we met Kevin, from Germany. Kevin had been travelling Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii and Vancouver for a couple of weeks and loving everything he saw. He told of his encounter with a black bear on a trail which gave him a good adrenaline jolt and made him question the wisdom of travelling alone, and of seeing grey whales so close he could almost touch them, rubbing up against the rocks where he was watching them. After a nice chat, it was down to the beach. The tide and waves weren’t coming in strong enough to make the blowhole “blow”, though it was apparent where it was as the water could be seen rushing in and being sucked down again. It was a windy day, but the sun made an appearance and we enjoyed our sandwiches out there on the alien landscape while the tide was out. The tidal pools were interesting, but didn’t have the variety of sea life that could be seen in Botany Bay on Vancouver Island.
Leaving the beach area, it seemed foolish not to climb to the top of Tow Hill for the view. At least it seemed foolish until we began the climb…. In truth, it was not that arduous, as the boardwalk and stairs continued. It was, however, a steady climb 900 meters to the top and I realized then and there just how out of shape I have become! Close to the top is a viewpoint of Rose Spit, as aforementioned in the Haida legend. A little further up, is the peak of Tow Hill with a panoramic view of the ocean and island. Very beautiful and worth taking the time to catch your breath and try to forget that what goes up must go down. The down was easier than the up though, and the trail branches off to a sort of short cut back to the parking lot. Hoping back in the car, we drove a little further down the road where we found the end of the road and Hiellan Longhouse Village. The beach is beautiful here, as is the surrounding campground and cabins. Wandering the beach and soaking up the sun was a welcome treat after the exertions of the trail. By this time, the chance to look for agates at Agate Beach has passed, with high tide having arrived during the afternoon’s adventures.
Making a brief stop at what was labelled as a wildlife sanctuary turned out to be a road that ended at the quaint Masset cemetery. The graves did not appear to be dug into the ground, but appeared as heaped hillocks. It felt more like a nature walk than a cemetery and I couldn't help but think how Tracey would have loved it.
Another brief stop on the way back was a viewing platform at a roadside pullout, where we could watch the sandhill cranes picking away at whatever they were finding in the field. Dozens of them and they did not seem to care one bit that they were being watched.
Somewhere along the way, we were told of a “fish fry” at the Masset Legion, to round off Harbour Day. This sounded a fine idea to replenish the fuel tank, so we headed back to Masset. It turned out to be a fish “bake”, which was even better. Huge fillets of salmon, smothered in mayo and dill and lemon and baked to perfection. Add a baked potato, some coleslaw and a Sailor Jerry’s rum and coke and the world was a fine place once again. Plonking down at a table, we had a nice visit with a couple of women who had been camping up at Agate Beach and kayaking here and there around the island. They had come up by vehicle on the ferry from Vancouver Island and were planning to meander back along Hwy 16 to the Rockies before heading home.
Having arrived back at Smillie’s Guesthouse, it was time to spend some time writing yesterday’s blog before trying to catch the sunset. Peter caught the sunset picture of the day (included here) and had a conversation with Lorette, one of the owners of Smillie’s, which resulted in an invitation to a beach party a couple of doors down for the next day. All in all, a successful day. I hope you will join me for tomorrow’s story!
Hello everyone. Long time no post. After a few weeks of hectic work schedule, it was with enthusiasm that I checked out of work early on Friday to spend an extended May long weekend on Haida Gwaii.
Arriving by plane and renting a car, we travelled the short distance to Port Clements (pronounced cle-MENTS) to Smillie’s Guesthouse. This is located on the Masset Inlet, steps from the water. Port Clements is more or less smack in the middle of the Graham Island portion of Haida Gwaii. This makes it a fairly ideal location for exploring in either direction.
Known as Canada’s archipelago, according to the Visitor’s Guide, Haida Gwaii is home to flora and fauna unique from the mainland due to the glaciers missing a portion of the island during the last ice age. Discoveries of new species and subspecies on the islands are a regular occurrence.
The Haida Gwaii Visitor Guide also reveals that it was a fur trader by the name of George Dixon who dubbed the islands the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1787 upon his discovery of them. The following colonial practices reduced the Haida population from tens of thousands to 600 by 1900. In 2010, the Haida Nation officially returned the name Queen Charlotte Islands to the crown and gave the islands their name of Haida Gwaii - Islands of the People. They have since been actively engaged in reclaiming their culture, language, and art.
Haida Gwaii is comprised of more than 400 islands between 50 and 130 kms off the coast of mainland British Columbia. There are a variety of ways to access it via ferry and air. The two main islands are Moresby, to the south, and Graham to the north. The southernmost tip of the Haida Gwaii is the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, which is accessible only by seaplane or boat. Unfortunately, May long weekend is a little early for most tour companies. Fishing, crabbing, kayaking, hiking are key activities on the islands.
The attendant at the car rental kiosk told the story of a beached whale that could be seen on the way up to Port Clements. It apparently washed ashore only the day before and she advised a stop at the Crowsnest store and ask directions. Having done so, it took only 5 minutes of back tracking to find the site. It was a young grey whale, that marine biologists suspect had died from parasites. The beach was deserted and it was possible to walk right up to the poor beast. While sad to see its demise, it was also fascinating to see the creature up close, its baleen exposed and the size of it, despite its young age.
Finally finishing up in Port Clements, the owner of the guest house suggested the Yakoun River Pub was open for dinner until 8:00 p.m. Since it was already almost 7 p.m., we skedaddled over there to grab food. A few folks came and went and before leaving, I approached a table and asked the people there what a person should consider that isn’t in the tourist guide. Kelly, Sarah, Jean and Angela were very friendly and we had quite the home-town chat. Always on the alert for funny and interesting stories, I made note of Kelly’s comment that the only traffic light on the island is at the ferry junction and it only changes when the ferry comes in. She also told me to be sure to take my photo at the “hitchhiker’s thumb” up at Masset where Mile 0 of Highway 16. There is a lot of hitchhiking on the islands and due to its sparse population, the odds are pretty high that a hitchhiker will know the person that is picking them up! Kelly said Tow Hill was a must-see and there were a couple of lovely trails right in Port Clements. Jean and Angela confirmed that the Golden Spruce Trail was beautiful and Agate Beach was a great place to go beachcombing. Lorette, from the guest house also said that Masset Harbour Day was happening on Saturday and was worth checking out.
So with something of a plan in mind, it was time to retire in the peaceful environment of Port Clements, and hope to rise in good time to go exploring. I'm a day behind in telling my stories, but stay tuned for more Haida Gwaii adventures.