Sunday, August 26, 2007

Lake Superior Circle Tour -- Day 14

We woke up in Canada feeling the effects of losing an hour to Eastern Time and a late night watching strange television programs. And, I still couldn't figure out what the weather was going to be. The word on the street was we were in for a cold spell and I was welcoming the prospects of actually feeling chilly.

We drove around for a bit, looking for a place to eat, but couldn't find any restaurants that weren't fast food or some kind of lounge, so we headed out of town. Along the way, we spotted a truck-stop-type restaurant and gift shop, so we decided to have breakfast there.

I learned some things rather quickly. In Canada, you don't get jelly with your toast. You get marmalade, honey and peanut butter to choose from. Weird. Boyfriend Extraordinaire ate all the peanut butters before the meal arrived, then slathered honey on his toast. I had plain toast. Also, toast comes in colors, not types of bread. "Do you want white or brown toast?" Brown toast? Again, B.E. jumped right in with the brown toast. I had white toast. Plain. American fries are not available in Canada. They have home fries, which are the same thing. I guess it's their patriotic version. Who knew breakfast would be such a learning experience.

Oh, and we had the following conversation.

B.E.: So, why haven't you been watching The Weather Channel here?

Me: Um, well, it's The Weather Network up here, and it's all in Celsius. I don't understand.

B.E.: There must be a formula. We'll have to look it up.

Me: I bet if you ask the waitress she'll know.

B.E.: Why would the waitress know?

Me: Because we're in CANADA! People are smarter here! I bet that waitress knows more than most of the people we consider "smart" in the US do. I'm telling you, don't discount her because she's a waitress in the middle of nowhere. I bet she knows.

B.E.: [looks at me with deep skepticism]

So, the waitress came over and we asked her if she could tell us the temperature in Fahrenheit. She said she had no idea what the temperature was. B.E. looked a little triumphant, but I had to clarify. I explained that I knew the temperature was 18ºC, but I didn't know what it was in Fahrenheit.

She said, "OH! Yah, it's Celsius times two plus thirty-two! So, the temperature today is supposed to be 18ºC: 18 x 2 + 32 is 68ºF."

B.E. was impressed. Here we had a waitress who not only could easily recite the formula for converting Celsius to Fahrenheit, but she could do mental math and spit out the answer like she didn't even think about it. (Yeah, it was easy, but she never hesitated for a second.) Not to insult any waitresses in the US, having known many and having many friends who have waitressed, but I have known enough Canadians to know that what passes for an average joe there is often a scholar here.

Anyway, we finished breakfast and set out to mine some amethyst!

Last time around, we went to the Amethyst Mine Panorama, which was awesome, but there is another mine nearby, so we decided to give that one a try.

Big mistake. It was a one-man operation and there was a pit that he let people dig in, but they had to have their own tools. We had no tools. We couldn't even see any amethyst in the pit, and it looked precarious enough that we decided to pretend just to be spectators, and quickly departed. Heading back to the Panorama, we laughed at the idea of a tourist attraction that really required the tourists to have mining equipment.

Honey? Did you pack the dynamite and jackhammer?

At the Amethyst Mine Panorama, it was as I have come to expect tourist mining to be! EASY!

This cute little building is where you pay, and the mine is way in the back, off limits to visitors.

Photo taken by Boyfriend Extraordinaire

What they do is blast the hell out of a vein in the mine, bulldoze it into the back of a dump truck, then haul it over to a huge area where it's dumped, and people can pick through, clean, and dig up chunks of amethyst. This is a small view of the area where we dig. We are provided with a bucket and a short metal rod with a loop on the end. The proper way to use this tool, I'm still not sure of, but it rips into your hand as you use it to dig through the quartz shards, rocks and clay. It's not as easy as it seems, but it's still easier than mining it out of the pit yourself.

Photo taken by Boyfriend Extraordinaire

The area itself is really gorgeous, but I didn't have any time to sight-see. I had a mission. My mission was amethyst. B.E. strolled around the property and took pictures, taking in the views.

Photo taken by Boyfriend Extraordinaire

My method of extracting the amethyst was a messy one. B.E. picked a pile that we'd just watched being dumped by a mine truck, and we attacked it before anyone else got to it. He found me a hose and I made myself comfortable on the hill (literally, laying on the hill on my belly), and began unearthing the crystals buried in the clay. Using the hose to wash the top layer of clay away, I was able to spot the dark purple crystals in the water. The most highly-prized crystals are the six-sided tips, and the darker they are, the better. Together, I think B.E. and I dug up at least two dozen tips, from a half-inch in diameter to the full size of my palm. Some were so raw and freshly exposed that the mineral content almost obliterated the quartz. Most amethyst is a nice purple color, but the more iron there is in the quartz, the darker it gets until it turns a deep maroon with black speckles. CHA-CHING! We also found many with other minerals present. I have one tip that has almost pink-ish coloring.

When I was completely tuckered out, I took my bucket to the cleaning table and began scrubbing them with a brush to see what was under some of the filth. I immediately put my big huge tips into a bag for sure purchase and sifted through the smaller shards. Most of what you see here I left behind because it wasn't good enough. I'm telling you, we struck it big with the quality and color of the pieces we got, and I am crediting B.E. for it all for finding the fresh dump we dug in.

Photo taken by Boyfriend Extraordinaire

I took these photos more recently, after scrubbing the amethyst with a variety of chemicals to remove the excess mineral deposits stuck to the surface of the crystals. This is one of the largest chunks I got, a tip that is missing a small point, but it reveals the deep red on the outside and the gradual shades of deep purple inside. I love this piece.

This one probably has little value, but I just thought the slice into the crystal, showing the bottom rock it grew from, and the shades of purple leading to the tips was really something special. It's special to me, anyway.

This is one spectacular piece, tip intact, so dark purple that it's utterly opaque and almost black it's so dark. B.E. found this one and it might very well be the most valuable piece we have. Not that I would ever sell them!

From the mine, we drove the 10 or so miles back to the highway and B.E. wanted to stop to see something that caught his eye. Being an astute amateur tracker he spotted these prints in the recently hardened mud.
Photo taken by Boyfriend Extraordinaire

They might appear to have been created by a dog-like creature, but B.E. taught me something key about differentiating dog-like tracks from cat-like tracks. Dog tracks will always have the claws present and cat tracks will not have claws visible in the track because they have retractable claws. Hmmm...

These tracks were huge, and no claws.

Mountain lion? Bobcat? We may never know.

Photo taken by Boyfriend Extraordinaire

With a brief stop in Red Rock, we were greeted with a tiny town having few businesses, but an absolutely gorgeous view everyday of their lives. I took this picture of a young guy fishing, not so much for art (because it's composed badly), but for documentation of the view that this little harbor provides when you're just out fishing. Standing on a pier, you have lapping waves of the lake and hilly islands all around you. It's really beautiful.

This, my friends, is what the Canadian side of Lake Superior looks like everywhere you go. Everywhere. Canadian Shield. Earth carved viciously by the glaciers right down to the rock, gouging even the the rock surface. Precambrian rocks. These rocks are older than mankind, hundreds of millions if not billions of years old. They're astonishing. They're open, obvious testimony to the power of the glaciers. And home to some fascinating creatures and big, beautiful pine trees.

We spent the night in Nipigon, Ontario, in a roadside motel without a view or much in the way of amenities. We had dinner at another truck-stop-type place that gave me some mild food poisoning (quality time in the bathroom doing crossword puzzles, without vomiting or fever, but in danger of dehydrating). Nipigon is a great town and the harbor is more beautiful than that of Red Rock's, but my health was declining and I didn't take any photos of Nipigon. Humble apologies. In fact, I took fewer and fewer photos from this point on in the trip because my health was going down hill fast. I guess it was just too much to try to do at this time.

Sweet dreams were had in Nipigon, though.

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