GTA Tripping: Scenic Caves Nature Adventures
On the cooler side of the Niagara Escarpment and well outside the usual boundaries of this column there is a village called Blue Mountain. The first thing I'd like to say about Blue Mountain is that when you drive there from Toronto rather quickly, your windows gushing wind and your speakers blasting opera, the air all around you gradually becomes a finer, more delicate thing.
The town overlooks Georgian Bay, and though it is famous mostly for being a skiing place, there is one more tourist attraction that people everywhere should consider, even if only by reading this story. The place is Scenic Caves Nature Adventures, a privately-owned piece of historically-significant mountain speckled with spelunkable caves, gifted with pause-causing vistas and bedazzled with a series of modern "light adventure" facilities allowing visitors to zip-line, "treetop canopy walk" and pass over a locally-famous suspension bridge to nowhere.
The first and only downside to this place is that it is a tourist attraction. This means that it is attractive to people engaged in tourism, but more than that it means that somebody owns this attractive thing and thus we must pay them to see it; twenty-one dollars per adult, to be exact, for the privilege of walking around this bit of nature, and to play on some of the facilities. It's not an unreasonable cost - the owners have invested a lot of time and energy to make this place easily navigable to those interested in the lighter side of adventure - but this place would be so much better if it were still the attraction that had attracted so many for centuries before the land here was introduced to the notion that someone standing on it could own it.
(I've heard that to the various native peoples who inhabited and warred over this place over the centuries - the last being the Ojibwe who handed it over to the British by signing a piece of paper in 1818 - this concept would have seemed uncomfortable and alien. From our modern perspective it just might feel analogous to a situation like this: Imagine someone from a distant world coming and choosing an interesting friend of yours, sticking a flag into his/her flesh and then charging admission for you to hang out with him/her.)
The first thing we checked out was the bridge. This week's GTA Trippers and I are firmly afraid of heights, so we thought we'd get the tough stretch of the journey over with while we still had the nerve. The bridge stretches 300 meters over a gorge on the side of the mountain with Georgian Bay a billion miles below.
Our inner duels with acrophobia here were made more complex by the trees below us. Each one, mostly outstretching, graceful oak trees, reached almost to the platform of the bridge, and so rather than feeling like we were suspended high in the air, it felt more like we were suspended on a soft bed of safe green, gold and red leafiness. But then we'd catch the odd glimpse of the forest floor through the holes in the canopy and our stomachs would fall right through, sucked into gravity by nauseous vertigo, crashing into the undergrowth below.
But then on the other side of this adventurous and action-packed suspension bridge in the middle of the wilderness all we found were five signs and a lot of trees. Four of them said things like "If you build it..." and "Owner Rob Thorburn has visited suspension bridges all over the world...". The fifth sign said, "Turn around now and go back."
On our way back up the mountain heading toward the caves, we visited a small wood cabin devoted to the zip-lining and treetop canopy walk (and a hip hop and you don't stop) tours. Inside we spoke to a woman who told us we needed to register in advance and pay $95 if we wanted to join this type of tour. We decided that this would probably be a fun thing to do when we become older and have more money, but just then an elderly woman approached us. She came at us like a soothsayer out of the mists, her blue eyes blazing with some bit of key information she believed we would be requiring to complete this long mission called Life. The treetop canopy walk, she said, was a very memorable and affecting experience and we really ought to experience it. We believed her.
Munching apples we found scattered all over the grounds, we finally arrived at the top of the escarpment and to the famously scenic caves. All of the caves were along a trail that looped through the forest and they varied in depth and penetrability.
Each cave had a name telling us about its defining characteristics: Ice Cave retains snow and ice until the early fall; Natural Refrigerator is next to Ice Cave and as such is much colder than the world around it (we could see our breath in here despite the t-shirt weather outside); Fern Cave has ferns; Bear Cave was a possible former home to some bears. My favourite, Fat Man's Misery, is a cave in the form of a tunnel that gets progressively narrower until you are wedging your side-turned body, its heart pounding, up through a 36 cm crack in the world.
Though the cave names are perfectly fine and work well for avoiding confusion among light adventure adventurers like us, we did find ourselves giggling about how unimaginative they seemed to us. But then on the way home we noticed that this unimaginative naming of things is common in this part of the world. First there was the place we were visiting, Scenic Caves; the road we took to get there, Country Road 124 (which runs over Pretty River and intersects Golf Course Road); a shop along the way called Doorland (they sell doors) and a neighbouring village that was clearly not Ottawa calling itself Nottawa.
Before we left, we stopped for a little tuckered-out time at a spot along the trail called Lover's Rest. Here we met a coin-operated set of binoculars named Hi-Spy Masterview II. It may have just been the oxygen ratio in the crisp, clear air, but in that moment it looked to us like a sadder cousin of famous robot Johnny Five, except where there should have been mobilizing treads there were only bolts affixing him in place, a prisoner. We gave voice to the character, doing our best impressions of what we thought he might like to say, and then we gave him a hug and thanked him for his hospitality.
Photos by Petia Karrin