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Monday, July 29, 2013

St Johns… The Sheltered Harbor

Monday July 29
I knew St John was the largest city in Newfoundland, but I didn’t expect it to be so difficult to navigate. Most eastern cities on the east coast have no sense of having their streets located North and East and West. No, they all started with the port as their centers. Streets would go in every direction from the hub, very similar to a wagon wheel. Once you run streets in this fashion and begin to add streets in a block fashion, the game is lost and so are you.
St Johns Harbour

We finally made to Cape Spear Lighthouse for a geocache. This cache would be the most eastern geocache in North America.I picked up a geo-coin and will move it along. The wind up there was blowing at 50 miles per hour. It was dangerous to be venturing close to the cliffs. We didn’t want to even camp there fearing the camper would be rocking. We would head back to town and find a campground. Pippy campground nearly in the center of town is located in a forested area. It was naturally pricey, but with excellent WiFi, we stayed the night.
Sun was shining this morning, but the temperature at first was only 52 degree. A must see in St. Johns is “Signal Hill”. This is were Giovanni Marconi received the first Trans Atlantic radio waves. Signal Hill, a mountain that overlooks the city harbour and in the opposite direction the ocean. St Johns was a very important place during several wars. This included 1812 war, World War I and World War II. The United States had 500 troops here guarding against German invasion. The reason St Johns is so important is its location in relation to the distance to Europe and most importantly its harbour. If you closed your hand and imagined your palm as the harbour with just a small channel between your index finger and thumb as the entry channel, you could see how protected it is from North Atlantic storms. Now the biggest ship to enter the harbour was 700 plus feet long and 30 feet wide (an oil tanker).
Today; the harbour is filled with several different types of ships, but mostly working ships that maintain the oil rigs off shore. None of these oil drilling rigs visible from shore. Signal Hill is a very popular jogging place. It is uphill all the way for a couple of miles…good for them! There is a tall stone building on the top with placards depicting Marconi’s accomplishments. We spent a couple of hours enjoying everything it had to offer.
On dissenting the mountain, the downtown was next for our attack on the city. Water Street and Duckworth Street were the ones with all of the “tourist” shops. I am glad that we did stop and shop because of our conversation with this wonderful, shop owner, lady. She had her shop filled with a lot of birding stuff. She said, “ you should visit ‘Cape St. Mary’s” Ecological Reserve,” it is on your way to Argentia to catch the ferry. 
Soon we said farewell to St Johns and headed for the down Avalon Peninsula. This ride would take four to five hours of driving, stopping here and there to explore the different coves and small communities. At the bottom of the peninsula, there are two spur roads that lead to the ocean. The first is to the town of Lance (the name of our truck/camper manufacturer). We had to do this one to get that “Lance” logo to match with the camper. This small town of maybe two dozens houses, at the cove, with its citizens going about their daily lives. A couple of young ladies were jogging the long narrow road to town. Four middle aged guys were having a beer around a four wheeler, they all waved at us as we drove by. They were probably wondering why we would come all the way down this isolated road. I was wondering why anyone would want to live all the way down this isolated road. The answer to both questions is because “we want to”!
The next road spur was to Cape Mary’s Ecological Reserve. I said to myself, “It better be worth it.” At the end of the road, the always present information center was open and a very pleasant park ranger greeted us and explained the rules. The first thing he said was that we were very lucky because Cape Mary  is usually in the fog. The next thing he said is beware of the guide stakes along the path. There are hundred foot drop-offs very close by. We started out the back door to the marked trail. A young couple walked towards us. Smiling ear to ear, he said, “you won’t be disappointed, in just a hundred feet you will get the tease”. Sure enough there about a mile away was a rocky cliff hundreds of feet high peppered with white dots. At least, they looked like white dots.
Another older couple said, “ you won’t need a telephoto lens. You’ll be able to get within 50 feet or so.” The trail now made a long sweep around the drop off. The trail was also mowed very short, probably from the heavy foot traffic. The rest of the meadow was filled with tall grass and wild flowers (purple Iris and little yellow butter cups).
A flock of sheep also were grazing close by. We had to be careful on the trail from stepping in the sheep droppings. It was a moderately paced walk, as we were a little anxious to see what the birds were going to look like close up. The 300 feet of the trail descended gradually to the point of land. It wasn’t a difficult descend, but one had to watch your step as many ankle breakers were present. Also, I could see a orange tackle box (actually a first aid kit) halfway down. This made us even a little more cautious of getting injured.
Now, here we are about a hundred feet away from the cliff edge and from a dead silence to an audible roar of thousands of birds squawking away. We see three other humans at the cliff’s edge photographing intensely. We approached cautiously as the drop-offs are on each side. I am taking pictures with my normal lens, but  I want to switch to the telephoto 300mm. I want to see in their eyes… ever so cautiously getting closer to the edge. It is so high! I can’t even see the water below! I don’t even feel comfortable standing anymore. I must sit to regain my focus on the birds. There are so many birds… some with what I’d call a high wing similar to a C
130 military aircraft. Others are flying like fighter planes in a aerial dog fight. It’s ironic, that I am comparing man made things to mother nature’s. We, man that is, have copied their moves to learn to fly.
The lady to my left, sitting also, is studying the birds directly in front of us. She switches lens on her Nikon to something that is two and a half feet long. She does have a tripod of heavy construction planted firmly between the rocky crevasses. I started to talk to her husband sitting directly to my right rear. Helen, in the mean time, is standing 10 feet behind me taking pictures of the birds and of me working my camera. This activity lasting for a half hour before we retreated to safer ground. This is by far the most intense encounter with the animal world I’ve ever had!
The walk back to the camper was very slow as we contemplated exactly what we just experienced. The last shot that I needed from there was a photo of the working light house with the light flashing directly toward us. Finally, after three shots…mission accomplished! Back at the Visitor Center, which was now closed, we met a women who was alone and looking outward towards the nesting bird area. “Did you go?” I said. “No” she replied. I said “ you must go” and proceeded to show her a few of my photos. “Is it a hard walk”? “No” I replied. She walked over to her husband around on the Visitor Center board walk. She was trying to convince him to go. He said he was a smoker. I said “Take your time. Stop often and have a cigarette,” He laughed and they were getting her camera out of the car as we left.
Back, when we arrived… the Park Ranger had told us that we couldn’t park here over night, but if we just drove a few hundred feet, we would be off park land. We drove about a half hour before we settled on a comfy little spot overlooking the bay. I grabbed a few sunset pictures before going to bed.
That is what we saw did!

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