A Weekend in A Camper

Over Labor Day weekend we decided it was time to take another camper trip. To be honest, I’ve been kind of itching to get back into a camper, get out into nature, and take some massive steps back from the world. There’s just something about being in a camper, disconnected, in nature that really just works for me. It gives me that much needed “silence the world” feeling. 

Now, last year when we did our camper trip it was in October to the Lake Placid area, and it was glorious- the beauty of Autumn in the Adirondacks is unparalleled and unreal. You can read that HERE. It was our first time in a camper, and we fell in love (if you can’t tell). 

This time we decided to go to another famed region of New York- Letchworth State Park. Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East” it is known to be one of the most “scenically magnificent areas” of the eastern part of the country. It is home to a lot of hiking, horseback riding, white water rafting and kayaking, hot air balloon rides, as well as a variety of lodging right within the park. 

We decided to stay outside of the park, mostly because most of the spots were already reserved when we looked (these spots, both, book up FAST). We chose a KOA campground on the southern end of the park and we’re actually very pleased with it! I know that in some instances KOA’s can get a bit of a bad rep, and sure being as close to neighbors isn’t like…great, but our experiences thus far have been great. We arrived in the afternoon on Friday and spent the first few hours getting settled in, unpacking, letting the kids run free and wild. 

The next morning dawned bright and clear so after breakfast we headed out to Letchworth State Park. Letchworth State Park follows the course of the Genesee River for about 17 miles as the river goes over a total of 3 waterfalls and cuts a gorge through the landscape. It crosses two counties as well as 5 cities. The park dates back to 1859 when William Pryor Letchworth started purchasing the land. He started with the land nearest to the Middle Falls, built his home and then started to look beyond. In the end by 1906 he had 1,000 acre’s that he bequeathed to the state of New York. The park contains three waterfalls, Upper, Middle, and Lower. Each are unique, each are located within the southern section of the park (yes there is a southern/northern line, and it is marked within the park-it is THAT big). Upper Falls has an active Railway arch bridge above it, creating quite the photo backdrop, but also historic as that railroad bridge path dates back to 1875. Middle Falls is the highest of the three waterfalls at 107-foot drop and is just the powerhouse you expect it to be. Lower Falls is exactly what you would think from the name, a lower “calmer” fall over several levels, with a stone bridge just below. There is one smaller, ribbon waterfall, however most of the time you are not able to truly see it. 

My initial thought was to hike the distance between the three waterfalls; HOWEVER, this is a 7-mile hike and is listed as a “moderate” level hike but has a steep incline/decline that we didn’t know about until we overheard some hikers speak about it. We decided at the middle falls that hiking the full way was not feasible with two little kids on an 80 something degree day. This is fine as not only can you drive the entire park, but you are also able to stop at more than enough spots to get out, take in the gorge, the river, and the falls. There are two parking lots for the falls, one located in between upper and middle, and then one close to lower falls. (To be honest- I was also ok with not hiking as most of the hike is above the river, rather than within the gorge.)

I think that the park itself is incredible and definitely worth a visit, and the amenities for camping or staying within the park are great, but if you are looking for river/waterfall/gorge hiking, I would recommend Watkins Glen State Park. Obviously, these are two VERY different parks and I hate to even put the comparison there, but I would definitely say I preferred that one to Letchworth if we are talking about water adjacent hikes/locations. 

We basically spent all day within the state park, as planned, and just decided that when we were done, we would head back to the campsite. The KOA campground had live music both nights right near our site, so we had an enjoyable evening next to the fire. 

We slept in a bit the next morning and it was a bit more overcast than Saturday. We knew there was a possibility of rain later in the day (hence the State Park on Saturday), so we decided to choose things a bit more…low key. We gave the kids an option of two activities, both geared towards their interests (but we would enjoy too). The first was a train ride that would span the countryside, the second being an animal safari. It was a tough decision, but they ultimately chose the animal safari. 

Now, let me say this first- I am always wary of the animal sanctuary/roadside zoo style places. I tend to…avoid or research the practices prior to visiting. I just wanted to share that before getting into this. I think, like anything else, there are good places and bad and it’s up to us to look into each place before we visit. 

So, we decided to spend a couple hours at Hidden Valley Animal Adventure. We opted to do the safari they offered, in their vehicles with a tour guide, rather than our own. We did a more mid-day tour time and our tour guide ended up being one of the animal care takers. So, we not only learned what the park was like, but the specifics in how they care for the animals and how they manage heards, relationships, and the like. Not to mention how they…simply maintain and provide the best for the animals. We were able to see quite a variety of animals, but I never felt like they were animals that were…inappropriate or overly exotic for the location. We did get to feed them which was cool, and the guide was incredible in passing along knowledge and letting us know when to step away. After the safari you are able to walk up to the petting zoo and feed the goats or down to the Koi Pond and feed the fish (or both really). It was a great couple hours.

Thankfully the rain held off until after we got back to camp and didn’t properly start coming down until later in the evening. We started up the fire to try and enjoy one last one, cooked up some dinner, and just relaxed. When it started to rain, the pitter patter created quite the perfect ambiance for us and the live band for the evening were great! 

That really wraps up our weekend. It was a much needed, very relaxed, leisurely weekend unplugged and away. One of my goals in the coming years is to make these Camper trips more than a once-a-year occasion. We really enjoy them and, eventually, want to get a camper of our own. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2022 – Sudbury, Ontario

The next stop on our trip was a bit of an “place to stop on the way” kind of stop, but we were pleasantly surprised with the city of Sudbury. It has a lot of history, a lot of mining history, it was actually such a good spot to stay for a night or two. We learned so much not only about the city itself, but actually about mining, its history and its effects on our world, as well as what we can do to protect it. Whew, we might go a little deep in this post, but this city is such a…surprise.  

Quickly before we get too deep into the Sudbury history and stop, we did make a short stop at Onaping Falls.

So, the thought is that about 1.85 billion years ago a meteorite hit Earth and this crater, that has since been filled with all sorts of debris and formed and re shaped by nature, is where the A.Y. Jackson Lookout and Onaping Falls is. Sudbury City Center lies at the south, this lookout at the north. We started at the Lookout with a view of the Onaping River and High Falls- a drop of 46 meters of several falls. From there we hiked down through the rocky terrain (which I somehow did in my Birkenstocks- possible but not recommended) and up over to the bridge. The bridge is right on the rim of the crater and offers views of the river and falls. It was a great stop and a way to stretch our legs all while being right in the heart of both outside the planet and the nature of earth. 

From there we headed into Sudbury. So, a little history…

Similar to our previous stop in the region, Sudbury was initially inhabited by the Ojibwe of Algonquin People some 9,000 years ago. However, in 1850 they struck a deal with the British Crown (the Robinson Huron Treaty) that they would share the region with the Crown if they were paid a tax. The first French Jesuits established the Saint-Anne-des-Pins- coincidentally the patron Saint of minors. A little foreshadowing for the area possibly. 

During the excavation and paving for the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1883 high concentrations of nickel-copper ore were found in the rock that formed Murray Mine. Nickel-Sulphide Ore was also located in the region. This led to a boon of workers and opportunity both in the mines, but also for railway workers trying to establish and run the railway. Thomas Edison (visiting as a prospector) found an ore body in Falconbridge. Through this boon to the region, two companies emerged, Inco (1902) and Falconbridge (1928). They went on to become two of the largest employers of the region as well as two of the world’s leading producers of Nickel. 

Because the region was so rich, they were able to bounce back from the Great Depression much quicker than many other places in the world- in fact, the problems that they dealt with during the Great Depression ended up being a lack of infrastructure to meet the rapid growth of the city and industry. The Frood Mines produced 40% of all the nickel in Allied artillery production, as well as was a main supplier to the U.S. during the Cold War. It’s hard to make clear just what the impact of these mines were on the region- at one point Sudbury was the wealthiest and fastest growing city in the country. 

However, for all the wealth and good economic value the mines brought to Sudbury, they also completely destroyed the green life in the city. The slag heaps, open coke beds, and various logging caused almost all the natural plants to die. Not only that, but they experienced the left-over rocky outcroppings turn charcoal black and acid rain. An environmental crisis caused by the mines. 

Not to catastrophize, because this story has a “happy” ending in that the once the Inco Superstack was built (in 1972 to help disperse the the sulphuric acid further distances to cut down on the acid rain) they were able to bring in a team of environmentalists and ecologists to help find solutions. They started in the early 1970’s by putting lime on the charred soil, laying wild grass seed, and planting trees (9.2 million planted as of 2010). With that initial push completed, they went to work on the slag heaps- rehabilitating them with biosolids (basically compost), as well as grass seed and trees. In fact, we learned that the mines are the perfect greenhouses- but more on that a bit later. The city of Sudbury has actually been recognized by the United Nations for its regreening and improved mining practices. They have a long way to go though, there are still 74,000 acres of land still to be touched by rehabilitation. 

In 1978 there was a strike at Inco over production and employment cutbacks. This strike completely shuttered Sudbury’s economy and since then they’ve been trying to diversify the local economy…which is where we get into what we did in the city. 

One quick fun fact before we go, quite a bit of the famous Canadians come from Sudbury- like Alex Trebeck! Sudbury has also produced something like 81 National Hockey League players- the largest of any European City, and several NHL Hall of Famers. 

So, first off, we visited Dynamic Earth and the Big Nickel. Well…technically first we visited Bay Used Books, but I don’t think I really need to go into details on that- if you’re in the area give them a visit! 

Dynamic Earth is an Earth Sciences Museum opened in 2003 that focuses heavily on the geology and mining activities of the region. Not only were we able to tour an underground model mine that showed us the different forms mining took over the years (and it’s gone through A LOT of changes), but we were also able to learn about how the local city and mines are trying to repair the damage done to the environment and nature of the region. We learned about how a mine is actually the perfect greenhouse (with some light and such) for plants as it stays the same temperature year-round. So, the mines use unused tunnels as greenhouses in an effort to grow the number of trees to rehabilitate various parts of the grounds. Once you finish with the tour of the mine (which is an optional addition to the museum that I would recommend), you are able to walk through a short video presentation that goes through what happens after the rock is mined. This shows how they manipulate the rocks and get the nickel and other metals out and then, further, what those metals are used for. A very kid friendly, but good for adults too, style video. Within the museum you are also able to use the tools that would be available to miners, both for kids and adults. For the kids there is a soft play style playground that has everything an old mine would have, the carts, the belt up and down, as well as a variety of tools and “rocks”. The adults are able to manipulate an actual drill located deep within the model mine. You are also able to pan for gold, explore and learn about all sorts of different kinds of rocks and stones in the exhibits. One final piece of importance about Dynamic Earth- it was the first museum in Canadian history where a private enterprise and public education collaborated to provide on-site training. 

Inside the museum was easily my favorite part and I really enjoyed learning about mining, where it started, and what companies are realizing is harmful, but I couldn’t deny that the statue outside is one of the biggest draws to the area…The Big Nickel. 

The Big Nickel, a 9-meter replica of the 1951 Canadian Nickel, is a world-renowned landmark that turned Sudbury in to a tourist stop. The idea came from Ted Szilva when the city was soliciting for ideas to celebrate the Canadian Centennial. The city, of course, did not like his idea, but he persisted. His full idea was to have the nickel, a mining center, and an underground mind. He faced quite a bit of back and forth (and opposition from the city), but finally opened the Big Nickel for visitors in 1964. He picked the 1951 nickel for three reasons: commemorate the 200th anniversary of isolating nickel into a metal, show where Sudbury’s wealth came from, and to honor the mine workers of the region. His dream didn’t stop there as he had Maclsaac Mining and Tunneling Co build the very same mine we toured in 1965 (they then expanded it in 1969). 

His final dream was to form the Sudbury Science Centre – later known as Science North- though the city initially opposed that too as it was proposed to be a private enterprise. However, much like the Big Nickel, after some time and some fierce determination, he succeeded and now known as, Science North came to be. 

Science North is Northern Ontario’s most popular tourist attraction- an interactive science museum. And it deserves every bit of that hype as it is such a cool spot to spend some time. In fact, you could easily spend a whole day just within the complex. The complex consists of two buildings connected by an underground tunnel sitting on a geographic fault. The buildings were not initially built on this fault; however, it was discovered when they were building. The first portion features an IMAX theatre and planetarium, as well as a boat tour and board walk. The second building is the museum itself which consist of a wide variety of exhibits from the natural region of the area to more STEM related exhibits. Our favorites were easily the insect pavilion where you were able to see different varieties of insects with far too many legs (belaugh), the Animals of Lakes & Rivers, as well as Northern Forests which featured rehabilitated animals like a porcupine, turtles, snakes, and a beaver. We also highly enjoyed the BodyZone, which dealt with the body and all of its’ functions and wonders, as well as the Space Place which had a “fly your own plane” exhibit, as well as a mechanical arm where you could practice your grabbing skills. 

I think if you are going to these two places, start early early at Dynamic Earth and plan on spending ¾ of your day at Science North. Once we finished at both, we walked along the Boardwalk for a little way before getting dinner and heading to the hotel for a swim and bed. 

Which wraps up our time in Sudbury. As I already mentioned- this city was a surprise to both of us. We knew there were things to do, but we didn’t know how rich the history was of the city and how big a role Mining played.