The following is a description of a true gem found in the wilderness of Nova Scotia. This is truly a unique place that not a lot of people have seen or heard about. Let’s give it the respect it deserves. Now that I got you hooked with those first few lines….the hike will take you to a natural land bridge and associated limestone solution cave(s).
I had seen a reference on this natural feature found south of Upper Stewiacke in a speech from the Nova Scotia legislature in 1996 by an MLA describing the beauty of Colchester County. The exact location of the natural land bridge was not described but it was said to sit atop of Dawson Mountain in Upper Stewiacke. A quick look at new and old maps of Upper Stewiacke did not reveal any mountains of that name although some old maps from the early 1900’s showed the name of settlers in the mountains south of Upper Stewiacke having the Dawson last name. There is also mention of the natural land bridge in a few documents in the Canadian Caver magazine and related speleological newsletter from Nova Scotia and Philadelphia. I even got hold of a map published in the 1970s showing the cave to be located south of the R. Patterson’s farm…while another written account gave the location of this feature to be on Mr. Kennedy’s farm.
I ended up bushwacking over 20km in the different hills, valleys and canyons north and south of Upper Stewiacke to some limestone, gypsum and karst feature I could detect either from aerial pictures or from surficial geology maps…..but I had no luck finding the natural land bridge. I finally had the opportunity to reach someone who had been there before and this person very kindly sent me in the right direction. A few days later, I left my car on the side of the road and entered the woods. After about 30minutes, I finally reached the natural land bridge and OMG what a spectacular site. Funny thing is that I had been about 150m from the bridge/cave on my last exploratory trips in those woods but nothing gave me any indication to have a look in that direction and I had completely missed this feature.
Park on Stewart Hill Rd and follow the dirt road as it goes up and down a small hill in a immature birch/beech forest. At the base of the hill, you should be crossing a small brook (2ft across) and entering a mature conifer forest. There is some kind of hunting blind to the right so be sure to wear orange in the hunting season. Follow this road until you come down a small hill and the road continues into the woods instead of following the side of the hill. At this point you should be able to see the ravine to your right which I explored and described as Black Brook Canyon. Cross Black Brook and go through an annoying patch of small beech/birch trees. After no more than 300m you should come out of that patch of small trees and into a mature evergreen forest yet again.
I made most of these trips in winter and I was able to follow a dedicated deer track in the snow. The deer track basically follows the contour of the hill on your right and this is pretty much where you want to walk to stay on track. Don’t go up the hill too much and don’t stray from the base of the hill either. Word of caution; this was the area where I found lots of clumps of deer fur and some blood trails from, I can only speculate, a coyote/deer encounter. You will come out of the mature evergreen forest into another annoying batch of small trees and then end up on a fairly new logging road (you can see it in Google earth). You can see from my track that this is the area where the track splits in two different paths. The one to the north was the route I followed in to the cave while the route to the south is from my return trip. Either are good but the more northern route follows a series of water feature which eventually gives rise to the stream which is actively creating the cave system so it’s guaranteed you will make it to the cave if you follow that route. So from the logging road make your way to the north (your left) and follow the small stream at the bottom of the hill in an upstream matter. After a few minutes you will come up to a small pond. Most topo map of the area show the pond as the headwater of the stream you have been following. Interestingly there is a second outlet to the east of the pond and if you follow this one, you will make your way to the cave.
Just east of the small pond, you will see a dramatic limestone cliff. At the base of the cliff are the entrances to the cave. From the entrance you will make your way down some large boulders and finally to the even ground of the cave where the stream flows carving new passages. You will go down a few metres worth of elevation to the floor of the cave. It’s hard to describe this natural feature to do it justice. Hopefully the pictures will suffice. From the bottom of the cave you can still see the sky in a narrow slit in the rock and turning 180 degrees you can explore the rest of the cave. There are many areas where you can stand up since the roof is fairly high. There were some neat icicle stalactites/stalagmites when I was there and you can explore the numerous different entrances of the cave system. I went into at least four different entrances but I am sure there are even more. Make your way to the top of the cliff and you will see the remnant of an old road. This is a narrow land bridge between two valleys. There was some flagging tape running to the north possible all the way to the agricultural field but I did not follow those. There is another nice waterfall just east of this area in a deep ravine created by Archibald Brook. I’ve posted a picture of it on panoramio at its approximate location.
In Upper Stewiacke, turn right (south) and cross the bridge over the Stewiacke river. Turn right on Stewart Hill Rd. Park by the logging road located 850m past the Meadowvale Rd. Follow this road…..
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