Today’s post comes from Grace McGarry and Meghan Drake, Discovery Program staff at Neys and Mark Puumala, Resident Geologist at the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines.
Neys Provincial Park is a special place. It has so many qualities that stand out compared to other parks.
One of these qualities is the park’s Bajo el Volcán trail. This impressive trail runs entirely along the shore of Lake Superior.
This trail has some interesting features waiting to be discovered. Let’s take a look at what makes this trail special.
To begin with, the name says it all. This trail takes you along the route of what was once an active volcano where the shoreline of Lake Superior now lies!
Under the geology of the volcano
The rocks exposed along this hiking trail contain billions of years of Earth’s history.
About 2.6 billion years ago, in the early Precambrian (or Archean) era, the northern shore of Lake Superior was home to one of the oldest continental rock formations on Earth, which now forms the core of the Canadian Shield.
Just over a billion years ago, these archaic rocks began to break apart during a geological event called the Midcontinent Rift.
In the vicinity of Neys, magma began to rise through cracks and holes forming in the Earth’s crust and began to cause swelling of the ground surface. As the magma pushed upward, it eventually accumulated in a large magma chamber near the Earth’s surface that fed an active volcano that has long since been eroded.
From the volcano to the trail
A few million years after the volcanic eruptions ended, the magma left beneath the volcano slowly cooled to form the coarse-grained igneous rocks that are found along the trail and dominate the park’s landscape.
Although most of the lava flows had already disappeared, parts of the volcano’s walls collapsed into the magma chamber. This preserved some large blocks (or xenoliths) of volcanic rocks that can still be seen in the area.
The glaciers left their mark
Over the last billion years the landscape has experienced many changes due to erosion.
The most recent geological event occurred when the area was frozen by the glaciers that covered North America approximately 10,000 years ago. As these glaciers retreated, they exposed the ancient magma chamber and left striations and vibration marks as evidence of their passage through the rocks.
Vibration marks on rocks look like crescent- or wedge-shaped scratches caused by rock dislodgement. The crescents usually point in the direction in which the glacier was moving.
Glacial striations, like vibration marks, come from glaciers moving across the rock surface. These marks differ from vibration marks in that they look like long parallel indentations in the rock, often in multiple lines.
What does this trail offer?
Beneath the Volcano Trail not only are there many interesting rock formations and history, but there is life too. During your walk, look for different types of plants that can grow in these difficult places, as well as critters that have adapted to the landscape!
Please note that while hiking the trail it is important to conserve the area and take only photographs, leaving the natural features and wildlife as is!
Before you head out, grab a trail brochure at the sign-in box to help point out different species of plants and animals, as well as glacier markings along the way.
Timber remains of the past
At the beginning of the walk you will see remains of historic logging ships. From 1941 to 1946 there was a World War II prisoner of war camp at Neys housing approximately 500 prisoners. During their stay, they were employed by the Pigeon River Timber Company and logged the surrounding area.
Logging boats from around 1940 used by prisoners of war
The boats were used to transport prisoners along the coast and up the Little Pic River to work sites. Be careful with these as they are an important piece of the park’s history.
Arctic-alpine disjunct plants
Arctic-alpine disjunctions are plants mainly found further north than Neys. However, due to Lake Superior’s cold, windy, harsh conditions and the cooler microclimate it creates, these plants can thrive here as well. This includes the delicate bird’s eye primrose, common buttercup and bog bilberry.
Bird’s eye primrose
Be careful with carnivorous plants.
You will also find plants that rely on insects as a food source. A pair to keep an eye out for is the common butterwort and the round-leaved sundew.
The Common Butterwort has sticky leaves and curls around insects that land on them, digest their bodies, and uncoil themselves to get rid of their exoskeleton. While the sundew attracts insects and then traps them in its sticky sap.
A touch of vibrant color to the landscape.
The bright orange flowers called Wood Lillies are hard to miss when walking along the coast and can be seen along the trail. Keep an eye out for them in mid-July as they will be flowering around this time.
keep your eyes open
Along the trail, look at the pools of water between the rock necks and you may see tadpoles, frogs, and even salamander larvae.
Hear the call of the Boreal Chorus frog! Its call sounds like running your fingernail through a plastic comb.
Boreal Chorus Frog sunbathing on the rocks
Tips for safe walking
The Under the Volcano Trail is a 2.5 km linear hike (5 km round trip) along the Lake Superior shoreline.
We recommend wearing good, solid footwear as the rocks can be slippery and rough. Avoid hiking this trail in wet weather or when large waves break on shore.
Be sure to bring snacks and water to stay hydrated and energized. Additionally, it’s always important to tell someone where you’re going, when you plan to return, and who you’re going hiking with.
Lastly, have fun and enjoy nature!
Come visit Neys Provincial Park to explore the Under the Volcano Trail and discover the history of the park!
Neys Provincial Park is located 3 ¼ hours from Thunder Bay and 30 minutes from Marathon.