Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Bruce Peninsula Part I: Intro

 *Part I* *Part II* *Part III* *Part IV* *Part V* *Part VI* *Part VII*
As mentioned in my recent posts since coming back from the blogging dead, I have more than enough topics to catch up on. The biggest one of all is my sensational week long trip up to Ontario's Bruce peninsula last early June. In fact, I was up there at exactly this time last year and figured what better time to reminisce than now? I have tons to share and have decided to break them up into a series of posts that will make them easier to digest and enjoy. I'll be sure to link each and every one at the top and bottom of each post for easy movement between them.

View from atop Cave Point on the Bruce's rugged eastern shoreline. 

This first post will set the table for the rest of the series and serve as a nice introduction. I first discovered the beauty of the Bruce peninsula, or 'the Bruce' as I'll come to call it from here on out, back in mid June 2011. I had an incredible time that only whetted my appetite for more with a promise to return sooner than later. I missed out on a number of plants I had the highest hopes of seeing and resolved to arrive earlier in the month to catch them all this time around. I certainly achieved that and so much more!

Location of the Bruce peninsula within the Great Lakes region (courtesy Google Maps)

When I mention the Bruce to most folks, their first question is usually where in the world is this place? The Bruce is an extension of the geologically significant Niagara Escarpment that helps separate Lake Huron's main body and the Georgian Bay on its southern end, as seen in the map above. The peninsula's southern end is comprised of a mostly flat landscape with some rolling hills and dominated by pasture and agriculture, while the more wild northern end is dominated by forest and countless wetlands. The Bruce provides southern Ontario with its largest remaining tracts of forest and natural habitat and contains two national parks and numerous nature reserves protecting priceless globally rare habitat.

Closer look at the Bruce and major areas of exploration during my trip marked on the map (Courtesy Google Maps)

The aforementioned Niagara Escarpment is a major geological player in the Great Lakes basin and forms the backbone of the peninsula. The escarpment's bedrock strata is comprised of dolomite limestone, much like my beloved Adams County, Ohio's prairie barrens, that is of Silurian Age in origin and laid down over 400 million years ago. Despite being thoroughly scraped and carved flat by glaciers over the millennia, the Niagara Escarpment has provided the Bruce with some stunning topography in its dramatic lakeside cliffs/bluffs, rugged shorelines, alvars, and waterfalls as you'll come to see.

Pit stop at a bog in SE Michigan to see the Dragon's Mouth orchid (Arethusa bulbosa)

The trip started with your narrator making the initial drive up to Detroit, Michigan to pick up good friend and fellow botanist/trip member, John Manion at the airport. John lives/works in Alabama and had it planned to join me for the rest of the drive up to the Bruce after flying in most of the way. It was a good thing he did, as our quick, albeit out of the way pit stop at a wonderful sphagnum bog near Ann Arbor produced a life plant for John in the mesmerizing dragon's mouth orchid (Arethusa bulbosa). It was a harbinger of amazing plants, places and things to come!

The Bruce Crew! L to R: Stefan Weber, Drew Monthie, Rob Routledge, John Manion, and your narrator

The rest of the crew met up at our lakeside cabin we'd rented for the week. All four other gentlemen were exceptional field botanists/naturalists and even better human beings! I can honestly say having the pleasure of experiencing the Bruce's splendor with all of them and the memories, laughter and camaraderie shared was second to none. Each one of us brought something unique and valuable to the table, but I must single out John's penchant for cooking as perhaps the best of all. We ate like royalty while up there and all pitched in to take his dish and meal ideas from paper to plate. I can't recall a better week of eating before or since. John, I'll never forget those honey drizzled, prosciutto-wrapped stuffed figs. Bliss!

One of our daily tributes to Jackie for being unable to join our trip due to a sudden knee injury

The only dark cloud to hang over our trip was the loss of our friend, Jackie. She was originally part of the Bruce Crew but suffered a fall and shattered her knee cap shortly before our departure that required surgery and lots of rest. Jackie is a dear, dear friend of mine whom you may recall has her own splendid blog, Saratoga Woods and Waterways. She's also graciously opened her home and favorite areas of upstate New York to me on two trips that I often still think about years later. Jackie was never far from our mind and we made sure she knew that by arranging her name in a variety of different items each day and sending her a get well email. My favorite was the one pictured above made of forget-me-not blossoms that abounded outside the cabin (no worries, it's a non-native species, so no harm done picking the plants!).

Our secluded cabin right on the Lake Huron shoreline nestled among the cedars, pine and spruce

I'd be remiss if I didn't take a moment to show off the location of our dreamy rented cabin. It resided in a secluded area on the western shorelines of the peninsula's northern end near Dorcas Bay. The interior was nicely furnished, comfy and quite spacious but nothing could beat the huge back deck and its phenomenal view. The surrounding coniferous woods and cobble shoreline was full of exciting flora and the morning serenade of warblers galore singing their hearts out outside my window is an alarm clock I'll never best or forget.

Keying out plants while drinking a beer was a favorite evening activity of mine

That gorgeous back deck saw lots of action with several nights of expert grilling by Rob; plenty of beer drinking and cigar smoking (at least for Rob and I); and provided a scenic spot to work out the day's unknown plants we collected/came across.

The Bruce Crew's combined naturalist library

Speaking of figuring unknown things out, our group was hardly in short supply of relevant literature and/or resources while up on the Bruce. Between the five of us, our combined library was impressive and came in handy. If anything, it provided a hands on chance to check out books I've yet to add to my naturalist bookshelf. In many cases, at least one of us already knew what most anything was others drew a blank on but with so many books it seemed like a lock we'd be able to nail down an ID on any mystery organism, no matter its place on the tree of life.

The adult sand hill crane is an obvious spot but can you find its little chick too?

The Bruce isn't just a botanist's dreamland but a birder's, too! I'm a casual birder at best most of the time with my attention usually fixated on the ground. It's easier to focus on plants and merely pay attention to the songs and calls filtering down from the canopy than actively seeking birds out with my binoculars. But I'd been a fool to not take advantage of the returned neo-tropical migrants and northern species rarely seen/heard in Ohio while up in Ontario. The highlight for me was stopping along a grassy meadow to observe a pair of sand hill cranes, only to realize they had two chicks with them! That was a new experience for me! Can you find the chick in the photo above?

Lake Huron sunset from the back deck of our cabin. Not too shabby, eh?

I know this wasn't the most exciting or captivating of posts but rest assured the next half dozen or so to follow will more than show just how unique and majestic a place the Bruce genuinely is. It's one of eastern North America's best kept secrets but certainly famous and popular with those who know and experienced its beauty. I hope you'll stay tuned and come back as I reminisce on one of the most fun and rewarding weeks of my life. Thanks for stopping by!

- ALG -


  1. Really looking forward to this! And so nice to hear of visitors like yourselves appreciating the 'Bruce'! I will enjoy every single picture. I first went to the Bruce on a naturalists weekend with my mother when I was 14, in 1964, and have been going ever since. We currently have our trailer parked up near Cabot's Head. Several years I took groups of students up, and I volunteered with Ontario Nature's Nature Reserves Program, so I know Dorcas and Petrel Point really well. Glad you enjoyed your visit with us!

  2. Oh my gosh! Tears stung my eyes when I saw this photo of all you guys together, but I wasn't with you! What a trip of a lifetime I missed out on! But my regrets are supplanted by my joyful expectation of seeing you and John Manion again this summer and of the botanizing we can do out here in New York. Won't be quite as concentrated with rare plants as on the Bruce, but hey, who knows? Rare plants have a way of turning up unexpectedly around here. I can't wait to see more of your photos from last year's Bruce trip, since I already love the ones you've already posted.

  3. Impressive library and one of the most gorgeous water photos ever. Well done! I just found you via the Ohio Nature Blog. Beautiful work.