A great escape, with eyes on the sky and feet on the ground!
Getting away from it all, changing things up, breaking out of the daily routine … That’s more or less what happened on my recent day-long road trip in the Pontiac. As I followed Highway 148 along the Ottawa River, admiring the spectacular views, I felt as if I were a long way from home, yet the odometer clearly indicated that I was only a few kilometres from my house!
After stops in Shawville, at the Félix Gabriel Marchand covered bridge and at the historic George Bryson House, we visited Coulonge Falls Park and went for a walk in the historical park. All along the hiking trail through the woods, displays of artifacts and interpretive panels trace the history of the log drive. There are also several lookout points for viewing the falls. Though they’re less impressive at this time of year than in spring, when the water is high, the falls are still something to see, and it’s a perfect spot for a picnic.
When the daylight started to fade, we headed for the Vallée des Rosiers astronomy observatory (which operates Escapade Eskimo dogsled tours in winter) to do some stargazing through their brand new, ultra-powerful telescope. Did you know that Otter Lake is Quebec’s southernmost dark sky site? That means you can observe lots and lots of stars—a dazzling display we city folk don’t often get to see.
We were met by Caroline and Sylvain, the friendly owners, and their two children, who enjoyed telling us all about the estate. Between you and me, 200 acres in the heart of the countryside really is quite an estate!
They gave us a tour of the beautiful site, including the vineyard, the orchard and the cosy B&B. And no visit to the Vallée des Rosiers would be complete without stopping by the kennel to say hello to the sled dogs, most of which are enjoying a well-deserved vacation!
As dusk fell, we strapped on our headlamps, put on our fleece jackets and headed for the “convertible” shed housing the massive telescope. Our hosts explained how the telescope worked, and what we would be looking at that night: the rings of Saturn, Mars, the double star Albireo, the impressive Antares, various coloured stars, a nearby galaxy (a mere 2.5 million light years from Earth), the Milky Way … Yikes! No wonder it took them over a year of research and effort—with the help of astronomer Daniel Rollin, formerly of the Canada Science and Technology Museum—to get this wonderful astronomy project up and running!
Since my visit, I’ve been looking up at the night sky more often, and even without a telescope I’ve managed to identify several of the stars and planets we saw at the Vallée des Rosiers. After all, you’re never too old to appreciate the majesty and mystery of our infinite universe!
Cover photo : La Vallée des Rosiers