• Walking The Tablelands
  • Iceberg Beer And The Newfoundl And Insectarium
  • Two Days In Yosemite


Walking The Tablelands

Gros Morne has three dominant features: Bonne Bay, Gros Morne mountain, and the Tablelands. We had expected epic fjords and rocky forested mountains – but we hadn’t expected the Tablelands. In the middle of green and damp Newfoundland, the Tablelands looked like a chunk of Arizona or perhaps even Mars.

It turns out that this is because the Tablelands are a piece of the earth’s mantle that was shoved up to the surface by plate tectonics. It’s heavy in iron, so it’s rust-red like the surface of Mars. It’s also low in nitrogen and other plant-friendly nutrients, so the plant life is very sparse, and mostly consists of tough lichens and carnivorous pitcher plants, scattered about with pretty purple flowers.

The Mars connection was especially on my mind since the Mars Curiosity rover had just started sending back pictures of very similar-looking landscapes from the Red Planet.

Two Days In Yosemite

Every year I visit my family in California in late March, and every year we try to find something new to see or do. This year, we decided to see Yosemite National Park. In a lifetime of visiting California, I somehow never managed to make it there. I’ve flown over it several times, but it’s hard to see much detail from 30,000 feet.

My mother and I drove eastwards from the Bay Area, passing whole hill-sides of windmills:


The valley grew steeper and rockier, eventually coming right up to and sometimes even over the road:

Finally we came across a large cliff face and a rocky bend in the river, with small waterfalls in the distance.

As with every other first-timer, we pulled over and took a lot of pictures, not knowing what was waiting just a few miles ahead.

We drove through a small forested area and then out into open pastures – and I realized what the big deal was with Yosemite. I’ve seen my share of impressive scenery, but this was jaw-dropping:

We got to the hotel just as the sun was going down. We were staying at the Awhahnee Hotel – the only hotel that’s actually in the park, and one has to pay a big premium for the privilege of the location. The place made me a little uneasy for some reason, and it wasn’t just that I’m not used to staying in such expensive lodgings. Then I saw the elevator:

While the original story of The Shining was based on a hotel in Colorado, and the exteriors for the movie were shot at the Timberline Lodge in Oregon, the set designs were heavily based on the Ahwahnee – including that elevator.

Needless to say, I was always a little nervous whenever I pressed the “Up” button. However, only the right door opens, it’s a bit smaller than in the movie, and it’s actually quite pleasant inside:

The next morning, I realized why the hotel cost so much. This is the view you get from your bedroom window:

Because I really like reviewing my travels on my computer and phone and iPad, and even more so because my GPS pictures can automatically make a daily map in Remembary, I tend to take a lot of pictures whenever I’m visiting a new place. I realized that this was going to be a big few days for pictures. I started early, setting up my little travel tripod:

After I actually got dressed and had breakfast, we drove through the Valley, stopping at various interesting spots to go for short hikes – or just to gawk at the scenery.

Yosemite is a long twisty valley, with cliffs that rise straight from the flat valley floor. It was carved out by glaciers, and reminded me a bit ofNewfoundland’s Western Brook Pond – but taller.

We got very lucky with the weather: the forecast had been for thunderstorms and rain, but those only happened at night while the days …

Iceberg Beer And The Newfoundl And Insectarium

Most of our time in Gros Morne, the weather was spectacularly sunny and warm. We had packed for rainy weather, so had started running low on appropriate attire. On the second-last day, we hiked to a lovely set of waterfalls:

 And on the way back got caught in a torrential downpour. Funnily enough, this is the one time we hadn’t brought our full raingear, and we got thoroughly soaked. My Gore-Tex enhanced boots ended up getting soaked from the inside by water wicking through my socks from my water-saturated trousers. We gave up on the campground and got a hotel room in Rocky Harbour. We abused the hair dryer and hung our clothes and damp camping gear all around the room. I bought some Quidi Vidi beer, made from icebergs.

Our flight out was in the late afternoon, so we had some extra time in Newfoundland. We bid farewell to the fjords and cliffs of Gros Morne and headed back towards Deer Lake. Near the town, we discovered the Insectarium and Butterfly Garden – and we just had to check it out:

The heart of this museum is a greenhouse / butterfly garden. It turns out that butterflies only live a few weeks, so they’re constantly importing new ones, mostly from South America. Near the entrance is a big cabinet full of near-hatching cocoons. Further in is a large greenhouse full of lovely coloured butterflies.

A New Start

Andrewburke.ca has been my personal website and blog since late 2005. It’s so personal, in fact, that I built the entire thing myself. However, back in 2005 I was mostly working in PHP and Java, and had only just started using Ruby on Rails, so andrewburke.ca was built in PHP. 2005-vintage PHP – which in software years is like a house built in 1900, with original knob-and-tube wiring and no insulation.

So I’ve upgraded the site all the way from old PHP to the latest version of Ruby on Rails, 3.2.13. I also moved the database from mySQL to PostgreSQL. In the unlikely event of massive sudden popularity, every page is memcached and the whole site is hosted on Heroku, where adding extra server power is a matter of moving a web slider or typing in one short command.

Right now most of the pages are still using the same old layout, also vintage – almost charmingly so, in fact, with gratuitous tables and inline CSS. This will be changing soon as well. I’m going to be using this site to get caught up with more modern layout and interface techniques. Look for cleaner, better-looking page layout, custom fonts, and mobile-friendly responsive design, coming soon.…

Road Trip 2012: Quebec

In May 2012, my mother-in-law gave us her old car – but we live in Halifax and the car was in Edmonton. So we flew there and drove it all the way back to Halifax. We had great weather and I had a new camera. This is part 14 of a series of blog posts about the trip.

(All of the photos are hosted on Flickr – click on any to see bigger versions and browse the full set.)

We left Montreal in the morning, after trying to find my parents’ first Montreal apartment near the McGill campus.

We stopped in Québec City for lunch. It was a crowded Sunday, and so instead of daring the lovely but touristy old town, we wandered around the neighbourhood just outside the walls, which is quite nice as well. There is a lot of great Art-Deco and Beaux-Arts architecture, and even the Brutalism is scaled down and interesting-looking.

After lunch at Le Commensal, we crossed back to the south side of the St. Laurence and continued eastward.

Quebec has some great place names. Some of this is due to Catholic settlers wanting to give each town its own distinct saint name and so having to dig quite deeply for obscure Greek and Byzantine martyrs with exotic names. Some of this is also because of the layering of ‘official’ French names on top of old English or even First Nations settlements, but often keeping both. Some of my favourites from along the road:

  • Salaberry-de-Valleyfield
  • Saint-Zotique
  • Saint-Polycarpe

But I think this might be the best single sign with not one but three great Québec town names on it:

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