Sunday, September 30, 2012

Haliburton in the Fall

Looking east from the Dorset Tower

View from the "Scenic Lookout" in Minden
Sarah's birthday is fast approaching—the middle of next month, actually—and she asked that an early "present" be a drive up north to see the fall colours, something we hadn't done—not really—in nearly seven years, since shortly after we moved into our current apartment. We set our sights on this weekend a while back; as it drew closer, though, the weather forecast began to look more and more contrary and we worried that we would not really get that far out of town after all. When this morning dawned bright and fresh, however, we decided to throw caution to the wind, 70% P.O.P. be damned, and let Babar whisk us away to the spectacular autumn carpet of the Haliburton Highlands. We made arrangements with our wonderful neighbour, Sophia, to come in and give Addie her dinner so we didn't need to rush back; then it was time for the obligatory fuel-ups—us at Tim Horton's, Babar at the Esso near the Parkway—and away we went. Every heartless directional aide we consulted—Google Maps, Nokia Maps, even our car's GPS—wanted us to travel west, up the 400, and come into Dorset (our main destination) from that direction; however, we were not to be swayed. We knew the purpose of our drive wasn't simply to get to the colours but rather to pass through them. We decided that the best way to do this was to drive east first and then head up Highway 35, which would take us through Minden and the Kawarthas before tiptoeing along the border of Muskoka and Haliburton counties. This is a beautiful drive on any day of the year; once the colours have begun to change it is positively breathtaking. We were not disappointed in our decision; in fact, had we gone the other way we would have missed the "Scenic Lookout" in Minden altogether. As you can see from these pictures, the colours were pretty impressive in this region, although we knew they were only going to get more spectacular as we approached Algonquin Park.

Sarah and Grumpy P take turns...
...posing in front of the fence by the bluffs
And then we completely ignored the fence...
...and took much better photos!

The view from the bridge: note Robinson's on the left
After this short rest stop we continued to head north to Dorset. Not too far south of the town itself there is a property that the Grade 7 and 8 classes from UTS used to make an annual pilgrimage to, during our "Inter-Semester Activity Week" every February. If memory serves, it was called the Forest Technical School; however, results of rudimentary searches under that name give me the impression the property may be used for something else these days and that the school itself has been relocated. In any event, we blew right past it on the highway without warning and traffic was such that we couldn't easily turn back to take pictures. That was a bit of a disappointment, but a relatively minor one. At least I know the buildings are still there. Not too much farther up Highway 35 we turned left and headed into downtown Dorset, home of the decently-famous Robinson's General Store (voted "Canada's Best Country Store" a generation ago but still pretty impressive for the region). We stomped around in there for a little while, then headed across the "Humpbacked Bridge" to poke around down by the docks and watch a float plane come in. We then headed back to the car and tried to decide if we wanted to walk all the way from the Dorset Heritage Museum up to the base of the Dorset Tower before climbing it, or if we should drive up to the top of the hill first. Last time we walked. This time...the option to drive won out.

Also applies to tiny dogs, apparently
The Tower was a hive of activity this time, in stark contrast to our visit of seven years ago. (Upon returning home, we checked the dates on our pictures from the last visit and discovered why: in 2005, we visited Dorset on November the 7th, quite a bit later in the season.) The wind was not as strong as the last time, though, and it never did rain at any point, despite the threatening forecasts. Seven years ago it was so windy and drizzly that I had to take off my glasses and store them in my pocket for the final part of the ascent. This time I more cleverly wore my contact lenses so that was never a concern. The traffic coming down the stairs at us, though: that was a concern. The climb is steep, the stairways are narrow and open to the air (even the steps themselves do nothing to block one's sightline to the ground) and the manoeuvring was a bit tricky, but we eventually made it. We passed quite a few people on the way that gave up the ghost partway up; some of them at least made it to the "rest station", which was at about the two-thirds point of the climb. We paused at that point as well and took some pictures, then clambered up the rest of the way to the very top, about 100 feet above the ground (or roughly half as high as our apartment balcony sits in the air). There were a couple of families at the top when we reached it, but they soon headed back down and we had a few moments of peace and quiet to take some pictures (the very best of which I posted at the top of this post) and soak up the incredible view.

Beauty near and far
Looking south towards Dorset

From inside the top of the tower
This could be a Donovan album cover

The view straight down
All of a sudden the peace and quiet were broken by the sound of a bus' engine straining hard as it climbed the hill to the tower's base. We didn't want to rush back down the stairs, so we decided to wait and see what happened. Bad, bad mistake. Within a couple of minutes several dozen Chinese tourists arrived at the top of the tower and packed it solid. There was almost literally no place to go. Sarah and I had staked out a spot at the railing, luckily, because I think Sarah would have had a bit of a panic attack had she been stuck in the middle of that horde. As it was, there were people pushing and bumping us, reaching past our heads to take photos of the landscape and acting as if we weren't even there. It was a nightmare; Sarah remarked later that I should have taken a picture of the packed enclosure at the tower's top (which looked like a campus stunt gone wrong: see how many people you can pack into one little room) but neither of us thought of it at the time. We spent the next twenty minutes or so just staring out at the mosaic of colours laid out in front of us, waiting for the bus to start up and signal the crowd to head back down to the ground once again. I spent much of that time reflecting on what the maximum allowable weight was for the structure and trying to force that thought process right out of my mind. It was an extremely unpleasant experience—really, the only low point of the day—but eventually they did all disappear and we were offered a few minutes to decompress (literally) and recapture the feeling of peace we had upon first reaching the top. Eventually we each reached an equilibrium and headed back down. We chose our timing well because, on the descent, we passed several people heading up (who had obviously waited out the bus group), including a woman who was making the climb with a small dog in her arms. Boy, if there's one thing a dog loves, it's a view from a great height with throngs of people around it. I just cannot believe the stupidity of some people who consider themselves to be pet lovers. But we just shook our heads and continued down the stairs...

No lookout is complete without giant novelty binoculars
At the base of the tower sits a sculpture of sorts: a pair of giant "binoculars" propped up on spindly legs so that the "eyepieces" sit at about eye level. If you peer inside one or the other of the "lenses" you will see a 3D scene installed at the other end, enhancing your view of the landscape with either spooky roots and clouds (I think) or majestic pines depending on which side (right or left) you choose to look through. Your view is enhanced in no other way; these are not functioning magnifiers but rather just a sight gag within a sight gag. Still, no trip to the Dorset Tower is complete without stepping up to the giant binoculars and gazing through to the other side. Who knows? If you're lucky, you might even catch sight of one of these mythical creatures lurking amongst the roots or trees...


The binoculars also lend themselves to this hilarious staged photo, so clever that we recreated it from seven years ago (note the incredible similarity between jackets because it's the same one):

It was funny in 2005....
....and it clearly never gets old

Western Visitor's Centre, Algonquin Park
There were still a few hours of daylight left when we got back in the car and we were only about 35 kilometres from Algonquin Park, so we headed up there before we made the trip home. We didn't venture very far inside—just to the first Visitor's Centre where I took this picture—but the colours in Algonquin were almost indescribable. Unfortunately, other than at that Visitor's Centre there wasn't really any place for us to pull over and take any pictures of the incredible scenery, so you're just going to have to take my word for it. I can tell you for sure, though, that the images are locked away in our minds for a long time to come. Incidentally, you can probably tell from this picture that the flag at the Visitor's Centre was at half-mast; we wondered about this and I decided to look into it when I returned home tonight. Apparently today is "Police and Peace Officers' National Memorial Day" and flags at all Ontario Government buildings across the province were to be lowered for today in their honour. I had heard nothing about this at all back in Toronto.

It was approaching 4:30 and the traffic heading the other way seemed to be getting heavier. We reluctantly turned back and headed for home—this time using the "suggested" routes as they were faster and we didn't think we would be seeing anything more spectacular than the forests we were leaving behind. We got home right at twilight, thanked Sophia and collapsed onto the couch for the evening. The experience was worth a trip several times longer than the one we made.

I love this time of year.


  1. We really are amazingly lucky to live in a country with such beautiful tracts of forest. I hope we will strive to preserve it so that future generations can enjoy the Fall colours!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Nat! Coming from you that is very high praise indeed. :)


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