The Phoenix Nest

Arm of Gold Campground, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Arm of Gold Campground, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

A Stop on the Phoenix's Grand Fossil Tour

By Jim Fulton

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Abstract

I spent a week at Arm of Gold Campground, near Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, in order to have ready access to the ferry to Newfoundland, as well as a base for exploring eastern Nova Scotia. The journey through the island province was definite worthwhile: the Cape Breton highlands were sublime, and they revealed a wealth of geological treasures that my previous research had not led me to expect.

Page Prerequisites
Page Specifications
Id Flights_GFT_2018_0626
Title Arm of Gold Campground, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Subtitle A Stop on the Phoenix's Grand Fossil Tour
Keywords Cape Breton, Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia, Arm of Gold Campground, Cape Breton Fossil Centre
Author Jim Fulton
Author's URL https://fenixnest/Phoenix/
Copyright 2017
Status Published: 2018/8/29
Last Revised 2018-09-08

Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Arrived 2018/6/26 2018/8/3
Day of Tour 339 377
Nights Stayed 7 4
Departed 2018/7/3 2018/8/7
Map miles from last stop Ferry: 17
Road: 209
Ferry: 340
Road: 3
Mileage on arrival 39,200 41,449
Actual miles from last stop 404 39
Accumulated miles for trip 20,683 22,932

I twice passed through Cape Breton Island, the northeastern part of Nova Scotia, on my way to and from Newfoundland, each time coming from an island, thus requiring three ferry trips ($$$):

  1. From Prince Edward Island to Nova Scotia (Journey 1 below).
  2. From North Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Port aux Basques, on the southwestern corner of Newfoundland. (This journey is reported in my entry for July 7, Codroy, Newfoundland.)
  3. From Argentia, on the Avalon peninsula of Newfoundland, back to North Sydney, much the longest of the three (Journey 2 below).

Cape Breton, however, turned out to be more than just a way-stop: The Cape Breton Highlands, which I visited my first time through, were sublime, and they revealed a wealth of geological treasures that my previous research had not led me to expect, much less to plan for. The second time I visited the Cape Breton Fossil Centre in Sydney Mines, which has a wealth of plant fossils from the Carboniferous Period, a time when plants were just learning to reproduce by seeds rather than spores.

Page Contents

Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Cape Breton Island is the northeasternmost quarter of Nova Scotia. The Cape Breton Highlands form the north arm of a gigantic, wiggly 'U', wrapped around the huge, twisted Lake Bras d'Or that almost cuts Cape Breton Island in twain. I don't know whether the tectonic forces down below are spreading or collecting the various pieces of the island.

The French term 'Bras d'Or', which is used in the names of the lake, the town, and many other things in this region, translates into English as 'Arm of Gold', which is the name of the campground where I stayed. If you prepend a French article to the French name, you get a word that sounds like le-bra-dor or 'Labrador' (the 's' is silent), so I wondered if I had found a clue to the origins of the name. I checked out Labrador on WikipediaWikipedia, and they offered a completely different etymology. But the entry for Lake Bras d'OrWikipedia included that explanation among several options. Of course, who believes Wikipedia?

The Journey to Cape Breton from Prince Edward Island

In my first trip to Cape Breton, I took the ferry from Wood Island, PEI, to Caribou, Nova Scotia. I had to be at the dock by 9:30 in the morning, and it was an hour’s drive, so I did some of my shut-down the evening before, woke up early, and hustled through the rest of the shutdown. I didn’t want to miss the boat. So I ended up arriving by 8:30, the first of the RVs in line.

The ferry ride itself took about an hour, followed by a 4-hour drive to the Arm of Gold Campground in Little Bras d’Or, Nova Scotia. I had gotten quite used to seeing road signs in both French and English throughout New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. And they continue to be bilingual here in Nova Scotia. But at least here on Cape Breton Island (the eastern third of Nova Scotia), they are mainly English and Gaelic, with a few First Nations signs thrown in.

The countryside in Nova Scotia is pretty much the same as Prince Edward Island, probably to be expected of two adjacent islands, but I seemed to be climbing higher as I got into the Cape Breton Highlands.

Map and Photos

Cape Breton
Route of Journey to North Sydney, Nova Scotia, from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
The Ferry I Didn't Take
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
The Ferry I Didn't Take
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Leaving Behind the Ferry I Didn't Take
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Leaving Behind the Ferry I Didn't Take
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Wood Island Lighthouse
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Leaving Behind the Ferry I Didn't Take
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Leaving Behind the Ferry I Didn't Take
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island

The Journey through Newfoundland and back to Cape Breton

The second time to Cape Breton, I took the ferry from Argentia, NL, to North Sydney, NS. This was a much longer trip, about 16½ hours, and I splurged on a stateroom to avoid a long, uncomfortable doze in a lounge chair. This embarkation was at a much more reasonable time of 5 PM (the trip to Newfoundland departed at midnight; talk about red-eyes!). I had to be at the dock by 3; I arrived at 2 (having gotten grudging permission from the campground manager for a late checkout), and found myself in the middle of several long lines of RVs. Murphy was feeling charitable, though, and by the luck of the loading draw, I ended up at the very front of the ship, and was the second vehicle to disembark, with only a 10-minute drive to the Arm of Gold Campground.

Rather than include merely a map of the ferry route from Argentia to North Sydney, which would be trivial due to the shortness of the drives on each end, I've specified a map of my entire loop to, through, and back from Newfoundland.

However, the map below, if you view it between September and May, is inaccurate. I actually took the ferry from Argentia directly to North Sydney, which the map does not show. That ferry runs only in the summer months. This, however, is a live Google Map, and in its wisdom, it shows only routes that are currently possible. Return to this page next summer, and you will see my actual route.

Map of Newfoundland Journey
Photos of Ferry Trip back to Nova Scotia

Cape Breton
Route of Journey through Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland
Journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Ferry to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland

Arm of Gold Campground

I chose this campground in large part for its ready access to the ferry to and from Newfoundland, and in part because there were few campgrounds in the area as well reviewed. It extends over a grassy knoll overlooking an arm of Lake Bras d'Or that opens northeast to the sea. Except for one huge cottonwood and a grove of smaller trees around the house next to the office, the campground is mostly treeless. Nothing to block either sun or the ever-present winds off the ocean. I had to listen to the constant creaks and groans of my trailer as it flexed in the stiff breeze. However, the wind was never so severe that I felt unsafe inside. That being said, the views are spectacular!

The campground itself was all grass, but for the gravel lanes. I had full, 30-amp hookups. The pull-through sites were large, and reasonably easy to get into, since there was no expectation of keeping the trailer within the edges of the lanes.

Reservation management is somewhat mediocre. In my advance planning, it always took a couple days for them to respond to my emails, and the person who checked me in was young and seemingly not quite sure of himself. However, the campground manager was always helpful and friendly.

Since my mobile hotspot does not work in Canada, I'm having to rely on campground wifi systems to access the internet. Arm of Gold provides a wifi service that's protected only by a common public password, not nearly as secure as a private password issued to each guest, but acceptable, since I use VPN as an additional layer of security. The service was oddly uneven. I got good to fair, if somewhat intermittant, internet access on my computer, somewhat worse access on my phone, and almost no access on my table. On my return, perhaps because of being in a different site, I got no better than fair connection, and frequently worse.

Photo Gallery for Arm of Gold Campground

Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Arm of Gold Campground
Address 24 Church Rd
Little Bras d'Or NS B1Y 2Y2
Canada
Home Page https://armofgoldcamp.com/
Phone (866) 736-6516‬
Associations
  • none
Rate (net US$) $30
Features
Amenities
Sewer Fire-Ring
Picnic Table   Paved Patio
Pull-through   Back-in
  Paved Gravel
 
Site Type
Lane Surface
Site Surface
  Paved   Gravel Grass    
  50 30   20
Playground   Swimming   Golf
  Tennis   Waterfront   Other
Power
Play Areas
 
Reviews (as of 2018/6/30)
Reviewer
 
Rating Out of
(Highest: Best - 1: Worst)
RV Park Reviews 8.3 Good 10
Good Sam 8.5 10
KOA n/a 5
Tripadvisor 4.5 5
Phoenix 7 10
Attractiveness 8 10
Tree Cover 2 10: Dense - 1: Treeless
Site Size 9 10
Ease of Access 8 10
WiFiPhoenix 4 10
Pros
  • Gorgeous location overlooking Lake Bras d'Or
Cons
  • Constant wind
  • Public password-protected wifi

Points of Interest

I took a day to drive the Cabot TrailWikipedia around the Cape Breton HighlandsWikipedia, the northeasternmost part of Nova Scotia, much of which is included in the National Park of that name. I found myself fascinated by both the natural beauty and the geology of the highlands. Maybe in another lifetime I will return to examine this area more closely with the appropriate tools and skills.

On my return to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland, I took an afternoon to visit the Cape Breton Fossil Centre in Sydney Mines. I had on my first stop here learned of its existence from the campground manager, but deferred an exploration until I came back. It was well worth my time.

Cape Breton Highlands

I seen the Cape Breton Highlands on maps, and I had heard others mention the Cabot Trail while I was waiting for the ferry, but it was not high on my list of things I planned to do. But the Thursday of that first week was open on my calendar, so I decided to make the trip.

It was a long ride, 250 miles or about six hours. The weather was gray and ominous, with only a rare appearance by the sun. I had checked my weather app to choose the best day for the trip, and based on its forecasts, Thursday was it.

The highlands were beautiful, even in the overcast. Much of the Cabot Trail highway is coastal, winding around inlets and estuaries and coves, fed by waters of all kinds: rills and brooks, rivers and falls. Away from the water, the hills rose steeply in their lush, green, blanket of trees.

Because this is such a beautiful region, I've attached links to the photos to higher resolution images, in case you want to look more closely. Click on in the caption, not on the photo, a change from prior practice.

Photo Gallery for Cape Breton Highlands

Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Possibly the oldest rocks in North America, outside of Greenland!
Cape Breton Highlands
Possibly the oldest rocks in North America, outside of Greenland!
Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands

Geology in the Cape Breton Highlands

The bones of the highlands are not high, as mountains go. They form a ridge or plateau down the center of the island, but not a ridge as you might have seen most often elsewhere, with a sharp, undulating fold at the top, dividing north from south. Instead, it seemed to me that under its forest blanket lay broken, rocky dominos, stacked on end, the product of eons of tectonic shifts that lifted the layers of the highlands out of the continental crust. Of course, I might be entirely wrong in my interpretation of the ridge. The forest obscures too many details.

More direct evidence of the orogeny, the mountain-building, is found in the rocks themselves: masses of granite striped here and there with rock of a distinctly different color. These are not sedimentary layers; granite is uplifted continental crust, not sedimentation. My understanding is that these stripe are not layers but dikes (or dykes, as they call them in Canada): cracks in the granite that formed under the pressures of the uplift, then were filled with much younger mud that hardened later to form the rocky dike. Were I a paleogeologist, I would have enjoyed analyzing the rock in those dikes. I suspect they would reveal an abundance of microfossils, or at least a chemical composition, that would reveal their age rather precisely.

According to the web page for the National Park [https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ns/cbreton/decouvrir-discover/environ/geologie-geology/ile-island], "The oldest rocks in the Maritime Provinces form the Blair River inlier which is found in the northeastern corner of Cape Breton Island. They can be seen on North Mountain as you drive up from Pleasant Bay. These rocks were formed 1,500 to 1,000 million years ago during the collision of continental plates that resulted in the supercontinent Rodinia." Sadly, I read this after the fact, and wasn’t looking for these rocks during that part of my drive. (It was very late in the day!)

I'm including photos of these rocks in the Fossils section of this issue. Technically they're not fossils, though there might be microfossils in some of them, and I have no basis for dating them, except very roughly to the Appalachian orogeny. But they do belong in a biography of Gaia, so here they are.

[To see higher resolution images, click on in the caption, not on the photo, a change from prior practice.]

Photo Gallery for the Geology of the Cape Breton Highlands

Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Highlands
Diagonal dikes in the granite.
Cape Breton Highlands
Diagonal dikes in the granite.
Cape Breton Highlands
Diagonal dikes in the granite.
Cape Breton Highlands
A slate seam in sedimentary rock.
Cape Breton Highlands
A slate seam in sedimentary rock.
Cape Breton Highlands
Dike in crumbled granite.
Cape Breton Highlands
Dike in crumbled granite.
Cape Breton Highlands
Dike in crumbled granite.
Cape Breton Highlands
Dike in crumbled granite.
Cape Breton Highlands
Crumbled granite shoreline.
Cape Breton Highlands
Crumbled granite shoreline.
Cape Breton Highlands
Strange patterns.
Cape Breton Highlands
Strange patterns.

Cape Breton Fossil Centre

This museum is small and locally (that is to say: under-) funded. I almost decided to ignore it, despite the campground manager's encouragement. I'm glad I didn't. The Centre provides an excellent example of curation under severe budget constraints. The trick to meaningfulness is to stay focused. In this case the focus is plant fossils from the Carboniferous Period that were found in the coal mines of Nova Scotia. No expensive casts of T-Rex or Triceratops to attract the kids but dilute the message. Almost everything is local. Almost everything is a fossil plant. Almost everything is from the Carboniferous. What makes that intriguing to a generalist like me is that they have ample specimens of all the genera they've collected. No having to generalize from a single specimen what a fern or a tree looks like. They offer a wide variety.

If I have any complaints, it has to do with the labeling. They often name a specimen by its type of leaf rather than is taxonomic genus. Plants with pecopterid, that is, alternating, leaves are often labeled Pecopteris, as though that were a genus of fern. Plants with annularid leaves, that is, leaves that branch multiply from a single point, are often labeled Annularia, as though that were a genus of tree. Professional paleobotanists would not be troubled by ambiguity of cross-cutting nomenclature, but in order to understand what was going on, I had to puzzle through the labels for quite a while, and seek frequent assistance from Wikipedia, itself with huge inconsistencies in its taxonomies. I am still unsure of the abbreviated taxonomy into which I have cast my photos of these specimens, but it will do until I find something more authoritative (which no one else will agree with).

Photo Gallery for Cape Breton Fossil Centre

Cape Breton Fossil Centre
Cape Breton Fossil Centre
Alethopteris_davreuxi
Seed Fern
Cape Breton Fossil Centre
Cape Breton Fossil Centre
Calamites
Fern with Annularid Leaves
(multiple leaves branching from a single point)
Cape Breton Fossil Centre
Cape Breton Fossil Centre
Cordaites
Cape Breton Fossil Centre
Cape Breton Fossil Centre
Lepidodendron
Scale Trees
Cape Breton Fossil Centre
Cape Breton Fossil Centre
Sigillaria
Seal Trees
Cape Breton Fossil Centre
Cape Breton Fossil Centre
Sphenophyllum emarginatum
And Other Fossil Plants
Cape Breton Fossil Centre
Cape Breton Fossil Centre
Sphenophyllum emarginatum
And Other Fossil Plants
(Labeled to Show Different Types of Leaves)
Cape Breton Fossil Centre
Cape Breton Fossil Centre
Planolites
Trace Fossils
(Fossil Burrows)
Cape Breton Fossil Centre

Onward

My next stop after leaving Cape Breton the first time was Doyles, Newfoundland, where I begin a month on that remote, fossil-rich, easternmost corner of North America (excluding Danish-controlled Greenland).

The second time through Cape Breton I headed to Halifax, Nova Scotia, the capital and largest city of the province.

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