Friday, March 31, 2017

The Bruce Peninsula Part III: Rugged Shores of the Georgian Bay

 *Part I* *Part II* *Part III* *Part IV* *Part V* *Part VI* *Part VII*

I hope my previous post on the phenomenal Singing Sands at Dorcas Bay was enough to whet your appetite for more of the Bruce peninsula because this series is just getting started. The region is such a memorable and botanically, geologically, ecologically etc. fascinating place that I'd be doing it a genuine disservice to not share an in-depth look at it. Plus, I'll be honest and say that this is a bit personal and a fun way to reminisce on one of the more exciting weeks of my life. Really, I can't sell the perfection of the Bruce enough!

Crystal clear aqua water and rough shorelines of the Halfway Log Dump area

Part III on this series takes us to the opposite side of the northern Bruce's shoreline. While Dorcas Bay and the western shores have been worn and weathered away, the eastern side sits in the calmer, more protected Georgian Bay. This makes for a rather dramatic landscape complimented by boulder-strewn beaches and breathtaking cliffs as you'll come to see. Your blogger is of the opinion that these stretches of coast are as gorgeous and scenic as you'll find in the entire Great Lakes region. In this post we'll stick to an area locally known as Halfway Log Dump and the botanical treasures that reside within.

Twinflower (Linnaea borealis)
Twinflower (Linnaea borealis)

The drive through the interior of the peninsula to its eastern shores takes you through a mosaic of wetlands, coniferous forest, marsh, and alvar pavement. Next to no development; just preserved and undisturbed wilderness. The northern flora takes full advantage of this with plants like the charming twinflower (Linnaea borealis) a common sight on the hike to Halfway Log Dump's aqua waters.

Striped Coral-root (Corallorhiza striata var. striata)

The Bruce is perhaps best known to plant folks for its staggering diversity of native orchids in such a small geographic area. It shouldn't come as any surprise that this fact was the catalyst for my initial visit years ago. Some species are so locally common that you'd have a harder time not coming across them, like the striped coral-root (Corallorhiza striata var. striata). Also known as peppermint stick orchid, this striking myco-heterotroph loves to appear in the drier upland coniferous woodlands bordering the Bruce's wetlands. Striped coral-root ranges widely throughout the Mountain West but persists in a disjunct, rare fashion in the Great Lakes.

Dewey's Sedge (Carex deweyana)
Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera)

The walk through the woods to the Georgian Bay's shoreline was very fruitful and gave me the opportunity to enjoy plants I'd never get to see back home. Looking down along the trail I noticed Dewey's sedge (Carex deweyana), a species long extirpated from Ohio's soils; and then looming directly above it was the Ohio endangered balsam popular (Populus balsamifera). Both won't get much of a look from local botanists but to a 'southerner' like me they were plants to cherish!

Bleached limestone cobble along the aqua waters of the Georgian Bay

Upon breaking out of the forest and onto the coast you are rewarded with a sight like something out of a dream. An endless beach of bleached limestone cobble melts into the most pristine crystal clear water for as far as the eye can see.

Perfect waters of the Georgian Bay

If you didn't know any better you'd seriously think someone transported you to the equatorial waters of the Caribbean or Indonesia looking out across the Georgian Bay. The aqua shallows quickly dive into the dark blues of deep water just off the coast in a fashion similar to continental shelves in the oceans. This becomes much more apparent when viewed at a higher elevation as photos to come will show.

Halfway Log Dump along the shores of the Georgian Bay

Halfway Log Dump always gets a bit of a chuckle out of me when I read, hear and/or see the name, especially considering just how beautiful the landscape is. The name comes from the beach being used as a 'dump' or staging area for lumber during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was much easier to amass cut timber here and float the logs up and down the coast to mills for processing. There's no evidence of this practice left, at least as far as I could tell but the name stuck.

Northern Bog Violet (Viola nephropylla)
Ancient white cedar

The harsh conditions of the beach do a good job of preventing much plant growth overall with sun-baked summers and ice-covered winters but a number of species manage to do just fine. The most noticeable and distinguished are the ancient white cedars (Thuja occidentalis) growing from the cobble and cracks in the limestone pavement. More on them and their incredible story in a future post! On a smaller and much more ephemeral scale is the northern bog violet (Viola nephrophylla). It grew in just about every seepy crack and crease on the beach.

Halfway Log Dump with Cave Point in the distance

The further north you explore along the shores of Halfway Log Dump, the larger and larger the boulders become with some reaching house-sized proportions. In places the beach is a literal labyrinth of limestone and a challenge to successfully navigate. This draws rock climbers from all over and makes this beach one of the region's most popular bouldering areas. But be careful where you do your climbing because a stretch of this shoreline is off limits as it hosts one of the continent's more rare wildflowers.

Huge boulder polka-dotted with Lakeside Daisies
The federally threatened Lakeside Daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea)

If you know where to look and time it right you might see some of the larger boulders polka-dotted yellow with the globally rare and federally threatened Lakeside Daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea). It's endemic to select spots of the Great Lakes' alvar habitat and currently only known from The Bruce; nearby Manitoulin Island; Ohio's Marblehead peninsula; and the Straits of Mackinaw area of Michigan. It curiously occurred in the past in a couple limestone gravel barrens in NE Illinois, too.

The federally threatened Lakeside Daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea)

Halfway Log Dump is hardly the only, nor the best spot on the Bruce to see this stunning bloomer in early June but it's hard to beat these particular plant's view of the Georgian Bay atop their boulder homes. Stay tuned to a future post where I'll share the alvar pavement ecosystem of the Bruce and the sensational displays of lakeside daisy they produce.

Incredible view north across the Georgian Bay and Cave Point

As incredible as the shorelines of Halfway Log Dump are to explore and botanize, you'd never get the full experience of the place without making your way to the top of the coast's dramatic cliffs. The views are unbeatable and give as good a representation of the Niagara Escarpment as can be seen. Recall how flat and tame Dorcas Bay was? Hardly the same situation here! And how about that water now? It's even more vivid and blue in person. At the back of the photograph above is Cave Point, which I think I recall reading is the tallest vertical cliff to be found on the peninsula at nearly 300' above the waters.

View from atop Cave Point looking back the way I came

Above is the view from Cave Point looking exactly back where the last photo was taken. The famous Bruce Trail winds its way along the bluff tops at this location and allows for numerous unbelievable vista views across the landscape. Mind your step, though! It's a long way to the bottom and a bit too close and personal a relationship with that perfect water.

Rock Sandwort (Minuartia michauxii)

As mesmerizing as the scenery and views are from the top of the Niagara Escarpment's bluffs you can't forget to look down. The botany is exciting up here as well! The dainty and fairy-like rock sandwort (Minuartia michauxii) thrives in the dry, sunny conditions and literally clings to existence at the very edge of the bluffs.

Northern Comandra (Geocaulon lividum)
Northern Comandra (Geocaulon lividum)

In fact, the botany along the bluffs of Halfway Log Dump is so exciting that one of my favorite and best plant finds of the entire trip occurred there. It may look lame and the epitome of unmemborable to many but what northern comandra (Geocaulon lividum) may lack in showiness it more than makes up for in rarity and uniqueness. It's only known to occur sparingly in less than a dozen states; all bordering Canada, where it's more frequent. It grows in cold coniferous forests on stabilized dunes and bluffs, and on rare occasions in bogs/fens in the Great Lakes region. It's much more conspicuous in fruit when it trades its small green axillary flowers for a striking orange-red drupe. 

Wider view from Cave Point looking southeast towards Cabot Head

I'll end this post with one more look down the coast from atop Cave Point. Even if you aren't much of a plant person, I think this blog has shown what else the Bruce has to offer and how it's worth anyone's time who's interested in the wild, untamed beauty of the Great Lakes. Speaking of untamed beauty, amazing botany and geology, and the Georgian Bay's aqua bliss, stay tuned for my next post dealing with the magical Flowerpot Island. Seriously, there's nothing and nowhere else like it on Earth! Thanks for reading and come back soon!

- ALG -


  1. Spectacular photos, as good as I've ever seen. It's the combination of the two so different shorelines that makes the whole region so interesting. But even with no botanical knowledge, a hike along the easten cliffs is an amazing experience. Looking forward to the rest of your posts.

    1. Thanks, Gnome! That means a lot coming from someone so familiar with the area and, I'm sure seen many a photo of the place. Glad to have you along for the rest of the ride, too!