THE RED HILLS OF ONTARIO (Cheltenham Badlands)

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I knew we would probably be covered in red mud by the time we finished our exploration of the unusual rolling hills. Knowing that on this chilly, early spring day, the sun could be warm enough to liquefy the dirt, I made sure I brought some towels. I was surprised to see snow covering some of the ground, though I shouldn't have been as we were a bit farther north of home. Other than the small parking area, the mud was minimal. Maybe I could actually keep Tessi somewhat clean if I could move her past the red mire surrounding the car. Queenston Shale and Iron Oxide Cheltenham Badlands, north of Toronto, in the Caledon Hills is an unusual sight in Ontario. The land is made of Queenston shale, turned red from the presence of iron oxide. Greenish bands seen throughout the hills come from groundwater that has transformed the rock to green iron oxide. The 36 ha (90 ac) area once existed as farmland. Overgrazing eventually left the land exposed, resulting in what exists today. Helen, Tessi and I arrived at our unusual destination early in the morning. The sun, still low in the sky, was throwing its beautiful lighting across the badlands, emphasizing its undulated terrain. Tessi enthusiastically jumped around, exploring the landscape while Helen and I took pictures. A loose dog should have reliable call-back since a secondary highway borders the area on one side. I didn't have to worry about Tessi and the highway. After deciding that the mostly barren hills had little to offer her inquisitive nose, she kept sneaking off towards the woods bordering the other three sides. A Young Visitor Tessi didn't get muddy, besides her paws, until a 10 week old lab named A.J. showed up with his owner, Ingrid. They had stopped for a break on their way to Collingwood. A.J. chased Tessi around, covering themselves in red muck in the process. I offered Ingrid a towel; however, she had one with her. While she wiped A.J. off, she commented that she hoped he would snooze during the rest of their journey. Before leaving ourselves, we had wanted to go for a hike on a trail skirting the badlands. The only one we could find was closed off, which I later found out was because of erosion. When we mentioned to Ingrid our disappointment, she informed us of another one farther up the highway. We would easily see a bridge, which is where the trail traverses the highway. An Old Rail Line The Caledon Trailway, once a rail line, is about 36 km (22 mi). After taking pictures from the middle of the overpass of the traffic below, we continued west. Our pink muddy footprints left evidence of our route for the first few steps. The flat landscape made for an easy walk. The trees were still bare, yet the clear sky and warm sun made it a pleasant day to be out. I let Tessi run free for parts of the walk. A fence accompanied a section of the trail, so I didn't worry about her wandering too far. I leashed her again when we crossed an old railway bridge spanning a fast running, swollen creek. I not only worried about its swift moving water, but also its depth. I also leashed her when people were nearby, knowing she can be too friendly. We only encountered a few and only a couple of them had dogs. (In my research, I found a website listing comments by people who have used the trail. One comment was a complaint about dogs not on leashes: Canada Trails.) We walked until we came to a crossroad, where we spotted a donkey farm. Before we headed back, Helen, being the animal lover she is, walked over to chat with one of the donkeys that had been watching us. The day's outing satisfied our cabin-fevered souls. Though I enjoyed the trail, the unusual rolling hills turned out to be the wonderment of the day. Tessi's pink-stained fur would fade back to white long before our memories would fade. For More Info

(c) Cheryl Smyth, 2009

In my follow-up research, I found that the Bruce Trail Conservancy prefers visitors refrain from any activities on the badlands that could harm it, such as riding vehicles, horses or toboggans on the hills and staying off them in wet conditions.

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