What is the first thing that springs to mind when it comes to fall? I usually think about change. Not only the obvious fall colours but also the way nature slows down and the hush that coats the earth as it prepares for winter slumber.
Unfortunately, living in a hub of activity that never pauses means you sometimes miss that transition. At times fall colours barely register, let alone the rhythm change. That’s why getting out of town on Saturdays becomes even more important. And even though my desire to stay indoors grows as the temperatures drop, so does my appreciation for our weekly microadventures.
It is during those bundled up sporadic excursions that I notice variations in leaf colours, fall’s signature crunching sounds under my feet, its earthy smell. And even though I sometimes spend too much time pondering over our next microadventure trying to choose a destination we haven’t visited before, at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter as long as there is a forest and a trail running through it.
We spent two of our most recent microadventures in Kelso Conservation Area. Conservation Halton parks, like Rattlesnake Point, Hilton Falls and Mount Nemo, are among our favourite Saturday destinations. Kelso, however, remained untouched by our hiking shoes up until recently. I have vague memories of picnicking here with our friends during the first years in Canada. I remember a tiny beach overflowing with people and our son splashing in a lake in a close proximity to strangers. Those memories kept us from going back to Kelso. Until a few weeks ago when we needed a quick getaway. It was already late in the day after we made our usual trip to the farmers market and finalized our meeting plans with Fancy Boots. The weather forecast was uncertain. A quick internet search produced Kelso and we decided why not. It is close by, it has lots of hiking trails and we haven’t been there in years. And once the curse of bad memories was broken, it didn’t take us long to return to the park.
Kelso Conservation Area is only about 30 minutes away from Toronto. It can be seen from Highway 401, especially in the winter when its ski hills are up and running. You can even make out tiny dots zigzagging down the white slopes. There were no skiers, of course, when we visited, and the hills were sitting green and slightly soggy awaiting the first powder. The ski lift, however, was running offering rides to the top. As fun as it looked, we opted for a walk up the hill. That way we saved $4.50 per ride and burned a few extra calories.
Kelso, just like Rattlesnake Point, sits on top of the Milton Outlier. It was once part of the Niagara Escarpment until it got cut off by an ancient river. Now there is a different kind of river running through the valley that separates this outcrop of rock from the rest of Ontario’s great wall. We could see this glistening stream of cars from a number of lookout points along the way. And hear its mighty roar too. Although the sound quickly faded away once we veered deeper into the forest.
The top of the outlier is a tightly woven network of hiking and mountain biking trails. Most of the trails are shared; some are dedicated just for bikers. There are even all sorts of built obstacles because, I guess, roots, rocks and constant ups and downs aren’t enough.
We found the trail system a bit confusing at times but in the end we made it out safe and sound, even if it was almost dark when we got back to the car on our first visit. And some of the trails names were quite imaginative. On our second trip we went through Fire to reach the Gateway to Heaven, only to find ourselves on the Declined path. I guess a trip to heaven will have to wait.
Some parts of the park offered reminders of the times when the area was used for farming and lime production. We across two massive lime kilns, remnants of buildings and old farming roads.
We also found traces of much older history etched into the limestone rock of the Escarpment: cracks and fissures carved by glaciers tens of thousands years ago.
Only three weeks separated our microadventures at Kelso, but the differences were striking. The mostly green canopy of the forest transformed into yellow, orange and red. The trees along the edge had been stripped of their foliage and looked vulnerable and exposed in their nakedness. Their once gorgeous outfits were lying on the ground, carpeting our path, their crunchy melody accompanying our every step, whispering of change and the upcoming winter.