The Niagara Gorge is rich in history. From the disasterous assault by American militia on Queenston Heights to the geological record in the Gorge’s rock there is no shortage of things to see and learn about.
Of particular interest to me was the story of the short and disastrous life of the Niagara Gorge Railway. It runs along the bottom of the American side, just above the river. It is said that the construction was the most costly stretch of railway ever to be blasted. And not only was the line costly in money, but there was a heavy price in human life as well.
Amongst the more memorable disasters for the Niagara Gorge Railway were the sewage pipe explosion beneath the tracks, where passengers were showered in raw sewage, and there was also the huge landslide that killed 9 people. As mentioned in a coment about a recent accident in the gorge, NenaSan says, “The Gorge is a beautiful but unpredictable place that needs to be both feared and respected”. true enough, several helipads are marked out beside Devil’s Whirlpool for the recovery of injured hikers and the all to frequent bodies that are fished from the river.
Pictured above is the boiler of an old train that we found while hiking in the Niagara Glen. It lies beside the Niagara River just across from the spot where the landslide wiped the Niagara Gorge Railway from existence – oddly, I suspect it might not have been the train that was used on that line.
Leaving from Jeff’s house in Guelph, the three of us braved the winter evening and followed a secret tunnel to a place that is known as Dracula’s Garden. The garden is really a secret room beneath a city in Ontario. The trip there and back was exhausting. We were underground for just over 2 hours, crawling, duck walking and stooping. We waded through an old and crumbling passage that is known as the blood sluice – and at the end, a most incredible place that is decorated in soda straws and various other formations that are usually found in caves.
Jeff found a strange green marble that we called the “Dracula’s Eye” and SNAFU discovered a symbol part way along the hidden passage that was etched into the wall; I say it is for the Illuminati, but that is only wild speculation.
Most intriguing about the speleothems in Dracula’s Garden is the fact that they have formed so incredibly quickly.
Soda straws, curtains and stalactites are composed of calcite that has been leached out of the soil and rock above and re-deposited within an underground cavity. The basic process is that carbonic acid dissolves the calcite as acid laced ground-water passes through calcium rich substrate. Cool temperatures, lots of water and the presence of organic matter adds to the concentration of the acid. By the time the carbonic acid rich water reaches an underground cavity, and is is heavily laden with dissolved calcite, it gases off carbon dioxide and becomes super-saturated with calcite, thus it dumps this at the edge of a speleothem and grows it as some fantastic lacy rock pinnacle or curtain or cave pearl.
In Dracula’s Garden the speleothems have grown with amazing rapidity. Decorations like those seen here are usually thousands of years in the making, these formations are pure and white and hard and yet they could not be older than the cavity in which they’ve formed – about 100 – 160 years in age. Conditions for speleothem growth must be ideal. I had once seen a single soda straw in a sewer in Hamilton (Stairway to Paradise), but it was puffy and porous – more like tufa than the pure and well formed soda straws in this spot.
Two hours of crawling and duck-walking leaves my legs in agony today. I can barely walk and I’m sure my companions are suffering some similar pain as well – SNAFU more his knees being a problem as being the tallest he found the height most dehabilitating and he crawled more than duck-walked. In the video you can hear this strange whump, whump sound in the background, that’s him crawling in his hip waders. As it is now dark I think a little hot tub therapy might ease the pain – standing after sitting is the worst and going down steps is almost impossible (I have to go down backwards on my hands and knees).
we stayed in our usual hotel, the Punta Posada Piedra, spent time learning Spanish from Santiago, the night watchman, watched turtles crawling up on the beach to lay eggs – and one that changed its mind. We visited the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and to me, most significantly visited several local cenotes and snorkled in them.
Cenotes that I have documented on the video link above are Gran Cenote, Cenote Calavara (Temple of Doom), Manati Cenote and Dos Ojos. Of course there are plenty of others, but those are the ones that are most easily reached from Tulum.
Looking for caves we spent a long hot day slogging through the forest near Toronto. The bugs were really bad and we were pretty much disoriented for a significant part of our search. Jeff had located some deep conical sinkholes on a high-rez aerial photo. It appeared that here were 4 or five of these pits somewhere out in the bush. we began by following fields, then a fence line that disappeared in the forest and then finally, just us, the mosquitoes and a bear.
Not having drunk enough water, this creepy looking tree seemed to have qualities other than just natural ones. I imagined it as some sinister kind of entity, inhabited by all sorts of odd figments of my imagination – but sinkholes and finding caves, were those a figment of our imaginations?
We descended by cable ladder into the cave that we call the Death Bell. That morning we had no idea what we would find. My greatest fear was rattle snakes. I have come across the Massasagua rattle snake in caves before, but being in Ontario, we are fortunate that the Massasagua is the only poisonous snake.
We cleared loose rock from the lip of the shaft and Greg joked that it was like an episode from the X – Files where Skully and Mulder found the black slime alien in a cave much like this one.
As we followed into the cavern – down the swinging ladder it soon became apparent that this shaft was like no other that we had visited. You step off the ladder onto a boulder that is perched atop a 10 foot high mound of bones. Some of the bones were those of animals likely thrown in, along with some garbage from a nearby farm, but by the size of the mound you would imagine that it would have taken thousands of years to grow and depending upon the initial depth of the shaft, the pile might go down well beneath ten feet.
A tunnel led off at the deepest point, following downward along a joint. I crunched through a sediment of tiny black nuggets similar in appearance to charred rice. A puff of wind blew from the terminal pinch-point. Possibly the tunnel goes onward, but it has been blocked by the crunchy fill-in. I believe it must be the casings of a thousand years of maggots that have feasted on the ever-growing heap of corpses from fallen animals.
I am optimistic that this is a solution cave as opposed to a sea cave. Sea caves in Ontario; Rover Cave or Grieg’s Caves for example are generally wide mouthed and narrowing like a funnel. This cave seems to have no surface connection but the porthole in it’s roof, and that hardly provides a suitable portal for erosion.
Whatever the case, an animal that falls in to the Death Bell is doomed to a slow and lingering death – there’s no way out. And for a human, much the same without a ladder.
This is what a burn site looks like – typical of the kind of terrain a tree planter works in.
The planter is a guy called Don who was a film student in Ryerson, he carries ‘container stock’ and is using a pottie (potty) to put his trees in the ground.
The idea is that you take your seedling out of your planting bag – roots neatly encased in a little cardboard roll – and drop it down the red tube that Don is holding. At the bottom of the tube is a spike that is driven into the ground. The measure of a well planted tree is whether the duff (organic matter) has been kicked out of the way first. Stomping on a lever at the bottom of the pottie, the spike opens up and the seedling is dropped into the hole that the spike has made.
Don looks pretty clean so either he was bathing in the swamp near the camp or I took the picture within about five minutes of beginning work. I remember by the end of that two week contract we were totally black and nobody bathed, firstly it attracted bugs and secondly the leaches in the swamp were these huge ribbony things that would flitter through the water toward whoever was in it.
One of my jobs was flagging the land and I would be out there marking off the planting areas for the next day long after the planters had all gone back to camp. I remember one evening I was way off in some burn site and the sun had already set, it was real spooky and I was convinced that there was some creature following me – maybe it was a bear or coyote or something, but at the time I was thinking it was a Sasquatch.
I believe this burn site was somewhere near Bancroft.
Well, Rockwatching has been up and running for a number of years now (5 to be exact) and I believe it has contributed significantly to the interest of people like myself who like caving, rocks, the outdoors, gems and minerals in Ontario.
We are just a few short days from 2011 and I believe it’s high time we made some resolutions -all of us (you my loyal fellow bloggers as well).
So in the interests of all involved a few ground rules to follow on Rockwatching from now on
1) Lets not carry a personal vendetta onto this site which is meant to be a forum where like minded enthusiasts can interact in a positive way.
2) Lets respect each other and try not to get personal when we are frustrated.
3) Lets respect the basics of conservation and eco-minded thought.
4) Lets not assume stuff we don’t know for sure (hence the survey at the bottom of the post).
5) Lets keep in mind that this is all about enjoyment.
6) Lets keep in mind that just because the topic is on the table, every single aspect that pertains to it is not an open book.
7) Lets respect people who are not on the site, private property, reputations etc. Just because there is discussion of a site or feature does not mean permission has been granted to go there.
8) Lets not get petty, self righteous or important. Stop correcting my grammar, spelling or use of terms. I am a writer at heart and so I believe I can use the language as I please (providing it’s in good taste, or if I choose, not in good taste).
9) Lets not waste my time by having to re-direct you to one of the above rules.
Just recently Maggie and I had spent the day walking around the walls of the ancient Roman city of Chester – the town from which her father came and in which her mother had worked as a nurse. Apparently the two of them met when her father was choking after an appendix operation and her mother applied her nursing skills.
We had visited Chester some twenty years ago and had stayed in a bed and breakfast down on the banks of the River Dee.
This ruin was situated above Chester’s Roman Wall and it is part of the structure of the church of Saint John the Baptist. Set up into the wall there is a most unusual feature – a medieval coffin of solid oak. It looks like the coffin was cut from a solid tree trunk and inside it is inscribed “ashes to ashes.”
Nobody really knows the exact story behind the coffin but there are many theories – everything from, “it was bought from gypsies,” to “somebody dug it up while digging another grave.”
It would seem that I get a lot of hits for people looking for tunnels under the University of Guelph. I cant say that I have any experience there, but my wandering has taken me here.
I took this picture while knee deep in water in the middle of winter. I believe this must be somewhere under the railway line as it passes through town (Guelph). I am not alone, greasy furred creatures of some kind had initially plopped into the morass and disappeared from view. I think they must have been rats.
There’s lots of history beneath foundations. Look at Rome and the explorations that have been done in those ancient Roman sewers – “Cloaca Maxima” I think the main one’s called – fascinating. I’m off to London in about a month. Hopefully I can see a little of the forgotten side of the city.
Too bad that we only have a century or two to play with here in North America. I like the feeling underground. It’s like you touch the past. I believe this was once above ground. It was part of an old River system.
New Ireland – Papua New Guniea – Malagan mask by Anne Gordon
This picture was taken by Anne Gordon (The well known travel writer) see her blog in the travel section of my links (Travels with Anne). The carver wears his mask and the tongue comes separate – she was kind enough to bring this back for me (both the tongue and mask) .
The malagans are distinctive to the tribes that make them and they along with the various other adornments and implements are all part of a funerary right and are collectively known as “malagan”.
It is common for one side of the mask to differ from another and they are sometimes worn to attack the property of the dead person several years after their death to clear the world of their influence. Interesting how this stuff develops. I suppose it helps people forget if sad memories keep hanging on. my mask was specifically made by the carver (Fabian P.) for sale to foreigners. Fabian is an apprentice under a master mask carver in Papua New Guinea (PNG) Most specifically an island called “New Ireland”.
While on the subject of New Guinea, The Underground Atlas” talks of its cave potential as amongst the most exciting in the world – enormous underground rivers and depth potential that can exceed a thousand meters. Very little has been explored, but there is a growing local caving scene. New Ireland – where the picture of the malagan was taken apparently has extensive karst formation – like Jamaica, cone karst and extensive dolines.
I suppose you can guess where I am hoping to take a holiday some day. Check out Anne’s blog for further New Guniea stuff (travel link to the lower right).
Following the release some time ago of my book "Rockwatching; Adventures above and below Ontario", I am pleased to announce the release of my new book "Tamarindo; Crooked Times in Costa Rica". It is a story of opportunity. Edgehill Press is the publisher. (www.edgehillpress.com)