Five Islands Provincial Park, Nova Scotia. Or, This Trail Smells Like Curry.
Because I had dallied away much of the morning at Five Islands Lighthouse Park, by the time I reached the provincial park the tide was coming in – and rather quickly. I wanted to walk the popular beach route in front of the cliffs but was directed by the ranger to not go as far as the Red Head formation at the far end of the beach and to be sure to be back around the point of the Old Wife formation before 1pm. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the tides in the Bay of Fundy (and the attached Minas Basin) are the highest in the world, and will rise a foot per minute near the extremes of the tide cycles everyday. There are only limited places where beach access is possible, making getting caught between the cliffs and the tide a very real concern in many places. Because I personally tend to wander for significant distances, I always consulted both the tide chart and a ranger or local information guide who could provide me with landmarks and beach access points. I’m definitely glad I did at Five Islands since I was deceived into thinking I had much more time than I did when approaching the Old Wife on my return trip. Because I pushed the 1pm recommended deadline an additional 25 minutes as it was, I barely made it over onto dry sand the far side. At high tide, the point is flooded, leaving only the spire of the Old Wife above water.
After talking with a ranger I set off at a fast clip from the trail head, traversing the mucky sand flats towards the Old Wife in about ten minutes. Once I climbed over the basalt point, the famous Red Cliffs came into view. The Triassic sandstone was formed at a time when Nova Scotia was located in hot, arid desert; cliffs very similar in appearance in Morocco tell of a time when the two land masses were joined. The visible diamond-shaped red sandstone is beautiful and made more striking in contrast to the Jurassic basalt that caps the cliffs. It’s fantastic as is the whole beach, really. I tried to keep moving at a fast pace but I was constantly stooping to examine the fossils and quartz that litter the beach as well as pausing in amazement to gaze out to the islands or up at the cliffs.
As I said, I ended up pushing my luck, because the closer I got to Red Head at the end of the beach, the more I wanted to see the sandstone up close. The rounded forms of the eroded red sandstone are incredible and are made even more so by the hyper-green algae that clings to the lower rock. Once I got to Red Head I walked just around the point and was able to see even more terrific formations beyond, but I didn’t dare go past Red Head since that point was within ten minutes of going underwater. My route back down the beach I hugged the cliffs and once again indulged in way too many stops to look at rocks.
After I made it back from my shoreline excursion, I hiked up to the nearby campground from which I set off on the Red Head Trail that would essentially retrace my path along the beach, except from on top of the cliff. The trail cut across the headland of The Old Wife and so began by crossing forest, but as soon as the trail began to parallel shore I found myself traversing meadow that had been ravaged by wind and storms, leaving its trees stripped and for dead. Interestingly, about a mile and half into my hike I began to smell the distinctive smell of curry and my stomach began to growl, reminding me of my delayed lunch. Because I was walking through meadow and had no view of the shore I unconsciously started to calculate the time before I reached the trail terminus, determining I had less than a half hour before I’d reach a luncheon spot. But then I suddenly realized that the smell of curry was most likely – and thinking about it logically, definitely – wafting from my pack, alerting me to a leaky container of curried quinoa and zucchini. Luckily I only lost some seasoning, and not any actual quinoa.
The trail ended at the Red Head formation; from atop the sandstone cliff I could see just how far the tide had come in during the past hour and I continued to watch the beach disappear as I ate my lunch.