A Good Morne-ing

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

THE BIG CHILL, Chapter 7:  

Days 8 & 9:  Gros Morne National Park

Brilliant blue skies greeted us Tuesday morning as we left Deer Lake, driving north on Highway 430 toward Gros Morne National Park on Newfoundland's west coast.  We had built in two days for exploring this 700-square mile UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its unique geology and exceptional scenery.

Gros Morne National Park (photo from internet)
The park is conveniently bisected by the long reach of Bonne Bay, so our plan was to visit the southern section on Tuesday and head north the following day.  Though disappointed to learn there were no trail guides or even maps, we pressed on with our hiking plans Tuesday morning.  Tablelands Trail, a 2.5 mile stroll through gentle terrain, follows an old road bed through a barren orange/brown landscape with a Martian vibe.

Geologists say that millions of years ago, a collision between the African and North American continents shoved this expanse of the earth's mantle from the ocean floor to the land surface.  Its heavy iron content colors its appearance, while the lack of plant-sustaining minerals like nitrogen limit plant life.  At the terminus of this short trail, we planted our second letterbox in Newfoundland.

Green Gardens Trail
Tuesday afternoon we set off on the Green Gardens Trail from the Long Pond access, expecting we would scale the rugged 1,000-ft. hill and be rewarded with a view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence at the top.  Instead, the trail persisted in veering east across the face of the hill.  Finally, after almost two miles and still a long way from the summit, we decided to call it done.  The hour was getting late, and completing the loop would involve descending the other side to the shore, climbing back up and another descent to our car, or another four miles.  Though we enjoyed what we hiked of this much-hyped trail, in our estimation any number of trails in the North Carolina mountains offer a superior hiking experience in terms of scenery, variety and trail design.

Coastal Trail
Our last hike in Gros Morne was on the Coastal Trail Wednesday afternoon.  Skirting the Gulf of St. Lawrence, this four-mile return trail took us between the cobbled beach and a dwarfed tuckamore forest—stunted spruce and fir trees battered by the sea and wind.  Though the temperature never exceeded the 70s, we grew quite warm in the open sun until a helpful couple we met on the trail tipped us off about a shaded trail running parallel on the other side of the tuckamores, an escape that provided a welcome respite from the heat for the second half of the hike.

Trout River waterfront
Hiking and nature are only part of the Gros Morne appeal.  A series of quaint coastal villages, most with a population below 600, decorate the fringes of the park.  We have come to understand that calling a Newfoundland village picturesque is stating the obvious, an exercise in redundancy.  Effortlessly, these tiny hamlets exude a charm and comeliness that beg to be photographed or painted.  Dilapidated fishing huts convey an aura of history, not decay.

Woody Point Lighthouse
Woody Point is a perfect example.  Situated on Bonne Bay near Gros Morne's waistline, Woody Point is home to fewer than 300 souls.  From its winsome little lighthouse to the historic waterfront, Woody Point entices visitors to linger and savor the view.

At the Woody Point harbor, we chanced upon an exciting local event.  A fishing boat had just come in with the season's first catch of capelin.  When the waters grow warmer in June, billions of capelin, a small silvery fish, flock to the shallow waters around Newfoundland to spawn.  High tides carry the fish onto the shore where locals scoop them up in buckets or nets, an event known as the capelin scull.  Seeing this boat bringing in a catch offered the townspeople the frisson of knowing this year's scull won't be far behind.

Capelin catch!
During our two days at Gros Morne National Park, we failed to locate the vista pictured in the iconic GMNP photographs—the image used in all the park's promotional materials (the one at the top of this post).  Finally we asked a park ranger, "Where can we see that famous view?"  Without hesitation, not even needing to ask what spot we meant, he explained that this special point is located on the Long Range Traverse hiking route above Western Brook Pond, accessible only by way of a five-day hike.  Yes, five days.  Not five hours, five miles, or five kilometers.  Five days.  Never mind.

The two days we devoted to Gros Morne were well spent, even though we didn't—and won't—reach that special spot.  Tomorrow we'll continue up the west coast to St. Anthony and the site of a thousand-year-old Viking settlement.


Tablelands Trail
Trout River
A private home in Woody Point
Lobster Cove Lighthouse