December 22, 2012 — They were only cheap Sketchers, but the loose, brown mud wanted my boots bad. Each step was a disgusting, sucking mess, and my efforts at walking flung it as high as the tail of my shirt, making me wish modern fashion allowed for the inclusion of mud flaps. But I didn’t really care. I was walking on the bottom of the ocean.
At least, that’s how the marketing materials described it.
Hopewell Rocks is a group of rock formations at the northern tip of the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, Canada. Known as “flowerpots,” the dark, reddish sandstone columns and arches rise up to 70 feet, and get their names because the continual ebb and flow of the ocean tides erode them into vase-like forms topped by trees and other plants. At low tide, they’re like air islands. At high tide, when most of the rock is submerged, island-islands.
And it only takes billions of tons of water rushing in at eight vertical feet per hour twice a day for millions of years to create them. Do it as a science project with your kids. Your great-great-great-infinity grand kids.
In addition to the speed and volume, it’s the height of the water that’s really impressive/terrifying. The Bay of Fundy is rinsed by the highest tides in the world, with water rushing in to attain heights of fifty feet. That means (relatively) dry land becomes (relatively) deep ocean fast and daily, and the area is in a constant, dangerous flux.
But it’s cool if you want to go down there and check it out.
According to its website, we had about a six-hour window between high tides before getting trapped. Possibly drowned. It’s like that scene in every other movie where water fills a room to the point where the protagonist has to balance on the back of a chair and sip air bubbles from light fixtures…and then multiply that by the Atlantic Ocean.
The place has official hours, with a visitor’s center and cafeteria and such, but anybody can visit the flowerpots any hour of any season. And sometimes the timing of the tides makes it smart to do so. You just have to be mindful of a few things, most importantly that the path to them can be difficult in the dark or snow. Also that they dismantle the stairway access to the beach in the winter. Basically, your chances of wet, lonely death increase if you go at this thing on your own.
We took the more conventional route, hit it during open hours, and timed it for approximately the lowest tide. Because we’re wusses, sure, but also because I wanted to take advantage of that whole walking on the ocean floor thing.
From the visitor’s center, it’s a brief walk through a cliff-edge forest. Every so often a trail would diverge that dead-ended at a lookout point over the flowerpots. Worth doing for the perspective, and if you’re there at high tide, it’s probably the only way to experience it.
Eventually you arrive at the top of a tall set of stairs that lead down to the base of the formations.
On my visit to the Peter Iredale in Oregon, I exulted in the fact that I could walk through the ribs of a 100-year-old shipwreck in situ without having to put on a wetsuit. Same here, except without any real artifacts for evidence. No seashells, no beached fish, no strange creatures flopping in tidal pools and wondering pathetically if life was no more than that. Just mud, rocks, and shag carpets of slimy rockweed. Still, that was more than James Cameron saw at the real bottom of the ocean.
But the tides have carved some absolutely master landscapes. Shallow caves and hourglass pillars, frame-like arches and balanced columns decorate the mile of exposed beach. And all of it surrounded by steep, red cliffs that form the walls of the basin. Every once in a while sections of the base were roped off to bar access to the more unstable areas.
Some of the formations have names: Dinosaur Rock, Mother-in-Law, Castle Rock, and even one named E.T. Actually, with their brown color, oblong tops, and thin necks, most of them kind of all looked like E.T., at least as an Impressionist might paint him.
It’s a magnificent natural wonder, and, with its shaped rocks and record tides, make me wonder why I never heard about it until (and I’m divulging trade secrets here) I specifically Googled “Bay of Fundy” and “awesomeness”. Canadians just don’t boast enough, I guess.
To ultimately experience the grandeur of Hopewell Rocks, you’re going to want to be there at low tide and stay through to high tide, watching as your deep footprints (and possible the boots you left behind) rapidly get covered with water until the whole place is ocean. It’s like watching millions of years of environmental change compressed into a few hours.
Or you can just watch the whole thing time-lapsed here.
Want to read about some more OTIS trips to rocks? Well, you're weird, but here'go:
Madison Boulder (Madison, NH)
Dighton Rock (Berkley, MA)
Cliffs of Moher (County Clare, Ireland)
Vasquez Rocks (Los Angeles, CA)
The Burren (County Clare, Ireland)
Haystack Rock (Cannon Beach, Oregon)
Giant's Causeway (County Antrim, Ireland)
Dungeon Rock (Lynn, MA)
Skull Cliff (Lynn, MA)