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Mega Road Trip to Far-Eastern Canada, June 08
june 08

Day 18 -- June 08, 2014. Sunday. Baie-Comeau, QC, north into Wildlands

After checking out of our fine hotel and a most civilized breakfast at McDonald's-Canada, we topped off the gas tank, checked the oil, and turned north on Highway 389, towards Labrador City, heading into the vast and largely unpopulated north. The area was glaciated during the last ice age, and now is a land of granite domes covered with trees and valleys filled with trees, lakes, bogs, and beaver ponds. In the more southern parts, many birch trees and willows mixed with the conifer trees, creating a nice mixed forest, but farther north, the only broadleaf trees are along the road and other disturbed areas.

We had nothing to do but drive and watch birds, so we stopped many times during the day. Some stops were pretty quiet, but none were worthless. At an early stop, Liz caught a toad, and as we were preparing to photograph the little specimen, Liz noticed two bears atop a 10-ft cliff about 100 yards off. One bear pushed the other off, then the two commenced fighting savagely. After the fight, one bear sat tight at the base of the cliff, but the other charged towards us as if we were the next threat! We ran for the van and jumped in, but never saw either bear again. Liz would not let me go out and look for the toad again. I'm concerned that this "probably unusual" incident might affect the way we enjoy the wilds up here.

At other stops, we heard strange noises in the woods. One turned out to be the clucking of a female Willow Ptarmigan, another turned out to be the loud and raucous breeding song of the tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Familiar with this bird on its wintering grounds (including our backyard in Las Vegas), we had no idea it could make so much noise. We also learned the songs of Tennessee Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, and Philadelphia Vireo.

At another stop, we tried to visit a huge meteor crater, but we are too early for the tourist season. It would have been interesting. A meteor struck this area some 250 million years ago and left a round crater with a peak in the middle. The crater filled with water to form a circular lake with a round mountain in the middle. Leaving there, we made dinner at a pullout with some odd, hand-painted signs (in French) and trails leading into the woods. One trail led to a nice campsite, and the other led into the woods to a weird collection of "north woods art." Exploring the artwork (few dozen pieces), we came upon a house and decided to clear out of there. We weren't sure if we'd be invited in (heaven forbid) or run off by dogs, but we didn't want to chance either.

Towards the end of the day, we encountered a forest fire that ran for several miles along both sides of the highway. It might have started last fall and smoldered under the ice all winter because it was just too big for this early in the season. We saw no ground crews, but two air-tanker bombers were working hard. We stopped to watch the planes, and one laid a line of water right next to the van! I got some amazing photos of the water drop, but with the telephoto, I couldn't get the car in the photos too. During the air attack, we heard Boreal Chickadees calling from nearby woods.

We did some 250 miles today, passing the 4,000-mile-mark about mid-morning. Much of the driving was hard with steep winding roads full of potholes and lumpy patch. I'll have to check the numbers, but we also had about 30 miles of gravel road. In some ways the gravel was better than bad pavement, but it was slow and dusty, and we were overtaken many times by big-rig trucks driving much faster than we thought safe. At the end of the day, we found fresh, new pavement -- what a delight!

Roads are hard on wildlife. We've seen signs and heard tales of moose on the road (saw one 2 days ago), but today was slaughtered porcupines day. We were lucky enough to find two live ones on the side of the road. They are skittish when approached, and while waiting for one to come back onto the road, we were surprised when a woodchuck popped up instead!

We eventually stopped for the night near mile-post (kilometer) 350 in what passes for a roadside rest area up here -- a pullout on the side of the highway. This is a remote industrial (hydroelectric, logging, and mining) region with no amenities to attract or service tourists.

June 08
Birding over a beaver pond in the Great Northern Forest
June 08
Two Black Bears moments after they stopped fighting
June 08
Trip odometer: passing 4,000 miles
June 08
Visiting an unusual north-woods art gallery (one of many pieces)
June 08
Laying a water drop next to the car (with Liz inside)
june 08
Wild camping in the far north

Note: All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
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