Skyline – Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia (part I)

If Prince Edward Island was near the top of the list of places I never thought I’d go, Nova Scotia was a close second. Before planning this vacation, I didn’t know anything about Nova Scotia except that it’s way out east and the capital is Halifax. But once I saw pictures of Cape Breton Island – the easternmost part of the province – I knew I had to go there. The red sand beaches of PEI were very unique, but Cape Breton was my favorite part of this vacation.

Our ferry from PEI docked in Caribou, Nova Scotia and – after a quick grocery run and super classy picnic lunch on the trunk of my car in the Walmart parking lot – we headed off towards Cape Breton Island. It’s only disconnected from the mainland by a thin stretch of water, but it’s an island nevertheless.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park covers a substantial portion of Cape Breton Island. Traversing the island’s perimeter is the Cabot Trail, a 300-mile road that’s been labeled one of the most scenic in Canada. It’s easy to see why. The road hugs the coast for much of its journey, cut into the side of the bluffs that rise out of the sea forming the Cape Breton Highlands. Continue reading


Red Sand, Green Gables, and the Meeting of Tides – Prince Edward Island

When it came time to start planning summer vacation 2013, we didn’t really know where to start. We knew we wanted to take advantage of me being on the east coast, as this was an area we’d never gotten to explore. But since we weren’t very familiar with the area, we didn’t really have a list of places we wanted to go.

Somehow, we ended up honing in on the Canadian maritime provinces. And thus, our trip was born.

First up: Prince Edward Island (PEI). With traffic and customs, it’s supposed to be about a 12.5-hour drive to PEI National Park, located on the northern coast of the island. When sheets of rain are falling from the sky, however, it becomes a 15-hour drive. And, with the change into the Atlantic Time zone, it may be dark when you arrive. Which is precisely what happened to us.

We headed north out of Connecticut, stopping at rest areas in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine so my sister could put her feet on the ground in these states for the first time. We also stopped at the New Brunswick Welcome Center just across the border from Houlton, Maine, where we got to place the first (and only) map pin in Montana! From there, we followed the Trans-Canada highway through New Brunswick and across the 7.8-mile Confederation Bridge that connects PEI to the mainland. From the bridge, there are supposed to be wonderful views of the Northumberland Strait. Thanks to the rain, we saw absolutely nothing. Continue reading

Summiting a Real New England Mountain – Monadnock State Park, New Hampshire

In June 2013, my roommate (who had just graduated and moved to Massachusetts) called me up to invite me on a camping trip with her fiancé and 3 of their friends. The destination: Mount Monadnock, New Hampshire.

So I packed up what little gear I had and headed up to her house on Friday night. From there, we all crammed into 2 cars and headed up to Monadnock State Park. We arrived fairly early in the day, too early to check into our campsite, in fact. But that wasn’t a problem because we were planning to summit the mountain first.

Interesting fact – Mount Monadnock is actually one of the most summited mountains in the world. Probably due to its fairly central location within New England and the fact that it’s not excessively tall (elevation 3165 feet, prominence 2150 feet) and therefore relatively simple to climb.

Don’t get me wrong – it was still a steep hike. But there isn’t any mountaineering involved, and there are a variety of trails for people of different fitness levels. Continue reading

How To: avoid an awkward encounter with a bear

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you’re probably well aware that I love my home state. I’ll defend Montana until the day I die. Well, most of the time. I’m not proud of the fact that we top the list for number of drunk driving-related deaths. I don’t always agree with the majority of the state in terms of politics.

And I’m also not proud that we have such a widespread misconception that one must bring a gun into the backcountry as protection against bears.

Now, I have nothing wrong with people owning a shotgun or going hunting, and this post isn’t meant to start a dispute over gun rights. My point here is that defending oneself against a charging bear by using a gun rarely works. There’s research to back me up on this. One bullet isn’t usually enough to stop a bear and, in the heat of the moment, the chance of actually sinking the bullet into a place that will severely wound or kill the bear is very low. It’s more likely the bear either won’t notice the bullet or you’ll mildly injure it and upset it even more.

Bear spray has a much higher success rate and is therefore a much better option. But of course, doing everything you can to avoid a bear encounter in the first place is really the place to start. Continue reading

Exploring Connecticut’s State Parks

My first summer in CT, I learned an important lesson: grad students don’t really get a summer. Sure, we aren’t taking classes…but there’s still plenty of work to be done. Science doesn’t do itself.

Fortunately, I was still very early on in my grad school career so I did at least manage to have some free time most weekends. And my advisor gave us each a couple weeks of vacation time.

With weekend sunshine and my family 2,300 miles away, I assembled a new hiking crew: the fellow grad students in my lab. Over the course of the summer, we visited quite a few local state parks. Here is a little bit of information about each one.

1. Devil’s Hopyard State Park – East Haddam, CT
This park has a somewhat ominous name that perhaps paints a misleading picture. In reality, the main attraction here is Chapman Falls, located on the Eightmile River. The falls used to power an old mill, and a former landowner used to grow hops in the area, hence the hopyard part of the name. There are multiple theories as to the origin of the devil portion of the name.

Chapman Falls tumbles about 60 feet and can be seen with just a short hike. We continued on the orange-blazed trail out to Vista Point Cliff for some views. Continue reading

Sightseeing and History in Boston, Massachusetts

When I was a kid, our vacations rarely included cities. Aside from stopping to gas up and restock our cooler, we usually just stayed out in nature. And while nature is always going to be my preferred destination, in recent years I’ve been able to spend some time visiting some US cities. And I’ve realized that I really enjoy it.

I’m still not a city person, and I don’t want to live in one for any extended period of time. But I do enjoy exploring them.

Case in point: Boston.

I live just a couple hours away so I’ve been able to visit the city 3 or 4 times in the last few years.

In 2013, my aunt was in Boston for a conference so I headed up for the day to see the city for the first time and spend some time with her. I met up with her outside the Convention Center and we walked up to Quincy Market for Brunch. I don’t remember the restaurant we went to, but I do remember that their French toast was delicious! Continue reading

Thanksgiving in North Carolina

By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, I was still struggling with this whole living in New England and being a grad student thing. Actually, school was going okay. Living in CT was not. I got along well with my roommates and the other students in my department, but I missed my family and friends back home. And I was in serious mountain withdrawal.

Fortunately, I had a few days off for the holiday and a good friend who was also adjusting to grad school life down in North Carolina. Neither of us could afford to fly home for the week but we both were in need of a break and a familiar face. So I bought a train ticket and headed off on a 12-hour journey down the east coast.

I’ve always loved train trips. They’re so relaxing and it’s great to not have to worry about driving and sitting in traffic. Instead, I could look out the window and catch glimpses of many east coast destinations that I’d never seen before. Continue reading