Gros Morne National Park World Heritage Site, Canada
September 19, 2009
French for big (Gros) and the Creole word for a small rounded mountain standing alone (Morne) describes Gros Morne National Park. In French morne also means dismal or gloomy so although Gros Morne probably means big isolated hill, when the clouds drift across the mountain top the gloomy description is also fitting and that was our introduction to Gros Morne National Park, rain and heavy cloud cover. However, when the skies did lighten we could see the outline of the surrounding mountains rising steeply from the South Arm of Bonne Bay and the trees beginning to show their fall colors through the mist.
A number of small fishing communities spread out along the road ending at the village of Curazon. Near the end of the road a spur climbs steeply to the Tablelands and on to Trout River revealing a very different landscape as we travel through a broad valley. On the south side of the road barren mountains rise to 719 meters with scree slopes to the edge of the valley while on the north side the densely forested Lookout Hills reaching 598 meters.
This area is one of the best and most accessible examples of the earth’s mantle and the Tablelands are actually a slice of the ancient ocean floor.
Trout River is a sleepy community this time of year with not even a restaurant open for lunch so we head back to the South Arm. Near Woody Point we hiked to an overlook of South Arm through a mixed forest with the colors of fall, bronze ferns, red and golden maples, birch and a few remaining wildflowers lining the trail, purple asters and white pearly everlastings.
Rocky Harbor appears to be the central commercial hub of Gros Morne National Park offering a few dining and rental accommodations. The town sits in a cove with Salmon Point on one end and Lobster Point on the other. Salmon point is unremarkable with the exception a pleasant old cemetery sitting at the tip of the cove; a picturesque and peaceful final resting place for those who have lived by the sea. The lighthouse commands the bluff at Lobster Point, sitting at the end of a headland laced with trails and stairs leading to a rocky beach and exposed tide.
We were a bit disappointed at Arches Provincial Park; the sea arches paling in comparison to the ones on our own coast but we did spot this little yellow-leg.
Broom Point did not disappoint. It is an outdoor classroom in plate tectonics with rocks jutting up at odd angles having been thrust up by violent collisions of the earth’s plates in the distant past. A typical fishing outpost has been recreated along the shore here and depicts a very lonely existence indeed.
We reserved a day to explore the Western Brook Pond by boat and it turned out to be a gorgeous day! The pond, located within the park, is part of the Long Range Mountains and the park’s largest lake, 16 km long and reaching depths of 165 meters. A pleasant hike into the pond follows a trail and boardwalk through forest over a large bog where WE FINALLY SAW A MOOSE, a real one, not just a caution sign. The big guy was sauntering across the bog just as we crossed it. He was a distance away but we were so excited to finally see one that I snapped a photo . . . he’s the dark blob in the distance.
Everyone we spoke with had seen moose, on their hikes, next to their cars, along the road, “oh yeah, they are everywhere, you will see some, don’t worry”. Well, we have been out walking at night around the ponds and marshes all the places you would expect to see moose munching but no moose; we were beginning to think that we had mixed moose repellant into our shampoo or something because they were avoiding us like the plague so this was great cause for celebration even if he looks really tiny in the photo.
Back to the tour, two boats awaited us at the dock and the question on everyone’s mind was how did the boats get here. Well, one came in winter on a sled over the bog when it was frozen and the other was airlifted in four pieces and then put back together in a little boatyard on the shore of the pond.
We boarded the boat and as we crossed into the fjord which were carved from the surrounding plateaus by glaciers we are awed by steep billion-year-old rock walls rising 600 m on both sides. The the last glacier melted, the land rebounded and the fjord was cut off from the sea. The trapped saltwater was eventually flushed leaving pure fresh water. The catchment area, composed of igneous rock, has a relatively thin soil so the waters feeding the Western Brook Pond are low in nutrients giving it the ultraoligotrophic classification; the water is crystal clear. It is home to Atlantic salmon, Brook Trout and Arctic Char as well as an unusual colony of cliff nesting gulls. Waterfalls cascade off the high plateaus and the dramatic scenic beauty of this place awes us. It is reminiscent of Milford Sound in New Zealand but about half-scale.
As we near the end of the fjord the boat stops at a dock to let off a young couple with 60+ pound backpacks to begin their week long round trip trek to Gros Morne mountain and back to be picked up by the boat upon their return. Someone on the boat asked the guide if the couple might encounter problems with bears to which he replied “oh no, the terrain will kill them long before the bears”. The boat ride is well worth the cost for the in your face experience.
After the awesome boat ride, we stopped by the wreck site of the SS Ethie, a steel hull cargo ship driven ashore by a violent storm with surprisingly no loss of life. Today, only a few pieces of hull and machinery remain strewn along the pebble beach. The return to Rocky Harbor for the night was interrupted by a visit to nearby Norris Point. Evening light was favorable for some nice pictures and we decided to eat dinner. Alas the waterfront pub was closed when we arrived and we were directed to a restaurant. Just across the street from the gas station we were told. The building was strange with numerous doors with no one door looking like the entrance. We walked in to a one room seating area much like an institutional lunchroom, plain and simple. Award plaques for good food were on display. A simple menu with local specialties was offered. Nancy had fish and chips; I went for the salmon dinner. After a long wait, dinner was served. Nancy – good fish average French fries. George – a huge piece of grilled salmon about a pound or so. All simply prepared, but delicious. Nancy approved of what she said was a remarkable clean and well-organized kitchen.
Today’s plan was for a couple of hikes back on the South Arm in the Tablelands. Along the way we decided to check out a campground which may be our last at Gros Morne. A long drive on a rough road brought us into an area which had been a lumber mill at one time and a small community of workers for the mill. The area was eventually incorporated into the National Park when the mills closed. The morning light and a windless day gave the most beautiful glow to the soft grasses, golden leaves of aspen and a mirror image quality to the water and pebble shoreline. After we photographed the area and fell under the spell of quiet solitude, it was a no brainer to say we should stay and be charmed by the beauty and solitude. A most wonderful day in a most wonderful park to end our stay at Gros Morne.
We head off to Port Aux Basque as planned under gray skies and rain showers. Along the way, we thought we would take a look at the nearby Bay of Islands. Bad idea, bad day, bad road and clouds over the surrounding hillsides turned us back to the TCH. The drive seemed endless and the weather was just nasty. Finally, weary, hungry and bored we stopped for lunch in Stephenville, a WWII airfield town; the only restaurant we could find open was in the local Holiday Inn; it proved a welcome lunch stop and resting spot for the night.
Morning clearing brightened our mood and we drove West to explore the Port au Port peninsula. Bad weather continues to follow us and the road seemed endless. Time to turn back and get on our Southward trek. At a site we had passed earlier, we stopped to look at a display of fishing boats and found a coastal pathway along an area known as The Gravels. This area was settled by the French several hundred years ago and seems to have been the heart of French families ever since. The bluff pathway was quite well done and featured rocks of curious rounded shape and deeply fissured with fine crevices. This area is connected to Newfoundland by a narrow causeway which has been breached twice in recent history, by earthquake and by flood, being rebuilt each time.