We along with Stephens went ahead with our plans to camp in the Algonquin Provincial Park and celebrate the Thanks Giving Day of 2015. (Please click here to read more about Thanks Giving Day). The children were excited about the camping and visit to the park to view the fall colours, especially after the good times they had in the summer camp in Northern Ontario.
Algonquin Provincial Park, about 7,600 square kilometres in area, is located between Georgian Bay and the Ottawa River in Central Ontario, Canada. Over 2,400 lakes and 1,200 kilometres of streams and rivers, formed by the retreat of the glaciers during the last ice age, are located within the park. The park is in an area of transition between Northern coniferous forest and Southern deciduous forest. There are over 1,200 campsites in eight designated campgrounds. I booked the Campsite # 45 at Achray Campgrounds in July for the October camping. Most camping sites are booked well in advance as only the early birds will catch the prey. The best time to view the fall colours in the park is during the Thanks Giving long weekend and the traffic on the roads are heavy with campers and tourists. After this weekend, the camp is closed to visitors and campers.
(Image Courtesy Google)
Achray Campground was selected because it was well into the interior of the park with no electricity and cell-phone coverage and also for the view it offered. Achray Campground is located on the East side of Algonquin Provincial Park at the southeast end of Grand Lake. The drive from Toronto took about 7 hours with the last 50 km accessed via a gravel road.
On entering the park, all vehicles and visitors have to register at the main gate and obtain necessary permits and passes. The park staff will brief about the rules to be followed, Do’s and Don’t’s, procedure for garbage disposal, etc. After the registration, we drove about 25 kms on the gravel road to the Achray Campgrounds. The store in the campground, the ‘Stone House’, was part of a railway depot complex that was built in the 1930’s, made with stone quarried on the opposite shore of Grand Lake. The store offers canoe rentals, ice, firewood, chips, chocolate bars, camper’s supplies and park merchandise.
We settled down at our campsite and after a sumptuous lunch, embarked on to the Jack Pine trail, in search of the place where Tom Thompson painted his famous painting ‘The Jack Pine’ which hangs in the National Gallery. Thomson worked as a fire ranger at Achray in 1916. We reached the spot marked with a plaque where the pine was (tree has since died), which inspired the artist.
The walk up to the plaque was mesmerising with the vivid red, yellow and orange colours the leaves of the deciduous trees – maples, birches, poplars, tamarack, etc – had turned into. The coniferous trees with their green needles added variety. The varied colored leaves and the brown pine needles that had fallen on the ground and in the cracks in the rocks provided an interesting view.
The green leaf colour comes from pigments of chlorophyll, used by the trees to make food with the help of sunlight. There are other pigments namely carotenoids and anthocyanins present in the leaves, but are overshadowed by the chlorophyll in the spring and summer. Carotenoids create bright yellows and oranges like in corn, carrots, and bananas. Anthocyanins impart red colour to fruits like cranberries, red apples, cherries, strawberries, etc.
In the fall, trees break down the green pigments and nutrients stored in the leaves. The nutrients are shuttled into the roots for reuse in the spring. Some tree leaves turn mostly brown, indicating that all pigments are gone. Trees respond to the decreasing amount of sunlight by producing less and less chlorophyll and eventually stops producing chlorophyll. Now the carotenoid in the leaves show through and the leaves become a bright cascade of various shades of glowing yellows.
The fall season being characterised by short days and longer and cooler nights. When a number of warm, sunny autumn days and cool but not freezing nights come one after the other, the Maple leaves produce lots of sugar, but the cool night temperatures prevent the sugar sap from flowing through the leaf veins and down into the branches and trunk. The anthocyanins are now produced by the leaves for protection. They allow the plant to move down the nutrients in the leaves to the roots, before they fall off. The nutrients stored in the roots help the trees to sprout out their leaves in the coming spring. During this time, the anthocyanins give leaves their bright, brilliant shades of red, purple and crimson.
In a maple or a birch tree, the tender thin leaves, made up of cells filled with water sap, will freeze in winter. Any plant tissue incapable of living through the winter must be sealed off and shed to ensure the tree’s survival. As sunlight decreases in autumn, the veins that carry sap into and out of a leaf gradually close. A layer of cells, called the separation layer, forms at the base of the leaf stem. When this layer is complete, the leaf is separated from the tissue that connected it to the branch, and it falls. Coniferous trees like pines, spruces, cedars and firs, don’t lose their leaves, or needles, in winter. The needles are covered with a heavy wax coating and the fluids inside the cells contain substances that resist freezing. Evergreen leaves can live for several years before they fall off.
It is easy to track the changing colours on the Ontario Parks’ website with suggestions for the best viewing locations and links to ‘Great Fall Drives’ around each park. There’s also the Ontario Tourism’s fall colour report starting soon at http://www.ontariotravel.net.
In the evening, we celebrated the Thanks Giving with a dinner – but not with the traditional Turkey Dinner, but with chicken barbeque.
As per the old military adage, I decided to take a different route on our way back home the next day. The route was mostly through the country roads up to Peterborough. The roads passed through many townships, all dependant on agriculture and diary interspersed with few timber mills to convert the abundantly available wood into lumber. The region was hilly with many streams and small lakes and again a spectacular display of fall colours.