On Christmas night, we found ourselves zigzagging our way down the South Outlier Trail at Mono Cliffs Provincial Park. The last sunlight had already slid behind the cliff and the much-hyped rare Christmas moon hadn’t made its appearance yet so it was pretty dark, especially under the thick cover of a cedar forest. We did bring a couple of flashlights with us so we could at least see roots and rocks under our feet. My friend, who decided to join us on our adventure, wasn’t particularly excited about this development and proclaimed that it was about 20% too much adventure. I think that percentage shot right up when we heard some distant howling.
But let me backtrack a little.
Elliott Tree Farm on Christmas Eve
We kick-started our celebrations on December 24th with a trip to the Christmas tree farm to cut our own tree. I know you probably think that we are procrastinators who put away getting a tree until the last minute. But the thing is we celebrate Christmas on January 7th and then there are a few more holidays after that. So getting a tree as late in December as possible helps it survive the holiday-filled January.
This year, we had a bit of a discussion as to whether we should go to the farm to cut our tree or simply buy one. With no snow and spring-like weather, cutting a tree didn’t seem to be as much fun. But our kids reminded us that it was a tradition and we couldn’t break it just because the weather didn’t cooperate. And since the forecast promised 15ºC on December 24th, we decided it was a great day to spend outside and that’s how we ended up cutting our tree on Christmas Eve.
We usually go to Drysdale Tree Farm just south of Barrie. Yet when I called them to check whether they’d be open on December 24th, their reply “someone will be here” didn’t sound too convincing. So I started looking for another place and found Elliott Tree Farm north of Caledon. Both their website and Facebook page promised they’d be open, plus they offered a $5-off coupon. Needless to say, we were the only people at the farm that day but staff showed no surprise at our arrival.
It was a beautiful sunny day although the wind was a bit chilly. Choosing a tree always turns into a big production. There are so many aspects to consider: height, width, thickness, symmetry. Although I should say we usually disregard that last one because our trees somehow always end up a bit crooked. I guess we like them naturally imperfect with a bit of personality.
Once we selected the tree, my husband got down to work while our younger son had fun with a sled proving that you don’t need snow to play with one.
Once we cut down the tree and hoisted it onto our car, we decided to take a walk around the farm. There is a trail running around the property leading to the 1850s Settler’s Cabin. So in the end, going to the farm was a great decision: we got a tree from a local Ontario grower, a nature walk and a bit of history during our visit. Can’t say the same thing about buying one in the city.
On our way back home, we took a wrong turn and ended up by Cheltenham Badlands proving that it is great to get lost once in a while. This small but beautiful example of badlands formation is currently fenced off to prevent further erosion. But I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures from behind the fence.
Mono Cliffs on Christmas Day
The next day, we were back on Highway 10 heading up to Mono Cliffs. This day-use provincial park has been on my radar for a while. But every time I mentioned it, my husband would remind me that it was a 60-minute drive away. He couldn’t refuse on Christmas, though. And I should say it was worth the drive: diverse habitats, beautiful cliffs and rock crevices, spectacular views from the top and lots of hiking trails, including part of the Bruce trail. The park is part of the Niagara Escarpment and is famous for its unusual diversity. It boasts over 50 vegetation community types, way more than is typical for an area this size. It also has around 450 plant species, including some rare ferns. There are lots of panels around the park offering all this interesting information. Unfortunately, as always, there was very little information available about human history of the area prior to 1800s. Apart from “Aboriginal peoples used to visit this area,” we couldn’t find anything else.
We started with the Carriage Trail passing through one of the oldest, intact cedar forests in North America and a sun-lit milkweed meadow.
We eventually got to a set of stairs that took us to the top of the cliff past deep-green, moss covered rocks.
Once on top of the cliff, we followed the Cliff-Top Side Trail until we got to the platform that provided beautiful views of the valley down below.
A little further away was our favourite part of the hike – a place known as Jacob’s Ladder. This boardwalk set between a 30-metre cliff face and small outliers looked like something from Lord of the Rings according to my friend. As we were admiring the beautiful rocks on both sides of us, a couple showed up and offered to take a picture of us. That’s how I’ve got a rare group picture with me in it. We then took a picture of them, talked a bit about the unusual weather, sang praises to Mono Cliffs, and exchanged information about other great trails we hiked.
Once we were done with the Cliff-Top Trail, we followed the Walter Tovell Trail past a small pond the striking colour of emerald and towering limestone cliffs that looked like giant impressionist paintings.
Eventually, the trail connected with the Bruce Trail, which took us to the South Outlier Trail. By that time, the sun was already setting down casting golden and pink streaks across the sky.
By the time we got to the side trail that would take us back to the Carriage Trail, most of the light was gone, and that’s how we ended up on the slope in the dark on Christmas night. I wish there was more to this story, like a miraculous escape from a pack of wolves. But we never found the source of all that howling (was it a dog? a coyote?) and were soon back at the parking lot, safe and sound. By then, the moon popped up from behind the clouds and followed us all the way home.
So we got lots of nature on Christmas and that was the best present I could wish for. Did you manage to fit in some nature over the holidays?
By the way, here is our imperfectly beautiful tree, all dressed up waiting for the January round of celebrations. Happy Holidays!