Seeing the earth’s mantle up close in Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland

On the 150th anniversary of Canada becoming a nation, annual national park passes were mailed out free that year to any resident who asked for one. We ended up getting a lot of use out of ours, and none more so than on our trip to Newfoundland. Gros Morne National Park is considered one of the best national parks in Canada, and we were not disappointed.

We landed in St. John’s in August and drove around the province for a few weeks before eventually made our way over to Gros Morne. Located on the west coast of Newfoundland, the park covers 1,805 km2 (697 sq mi) and holds a great diversity of geology and wildlife.

We stayed in a small town called Rocky Harbour, a good central location for exploring the park that included various options for accomodations as well as food options. From there we did a few day hikes in Gros Morne including the popular Tablelands hiking route as well as the Western Pond Boat tour.

Inside the park on the way to the Tablelands

One of the unique things about Gros Morne is its geology. As we entered the Tablelands area, the landscape changed dramatically from the green forested hills and grey mountains to a rocky, desert-like landscape with browns, dark greens and yellows in the rock.

The reason is that this unique area was originally part of the earth’s mantle, and was forced up from deep in the earth hundreds of million years ago. The rock is high in iron, lending the earthy colour to it. it’s also low in nutrients so little can grow on it. This Youtube video gives a quick explanation from a Parks Canada officer.

Looking out at the Tablelands it was impressive to think that they are the remains of an ancient ocean floor that was forced upwards during the collision of the continental plates of Africa and North America.

Entering the Tablelands

The Tablelands trail goes 4 km (2.5 mi) on paths and boardwalks around the base of the mountain, although it’s possible to climb up on top as well. The trail is very easy to access as the parking lot connects directly to the trail.

After walking the gravel trail between the mountains we eventually went off the trail to climb up and check out the streams and views. As we started to climb it was fairly easy. Further up it required some scrambling over the larger boulders but the climb wasn’t too difficult.

The climb started with a gentle slope
People in the distance heading to the top

The colour and texture of the rocks in the Tablelands were quite unusual. Most of the rock is peridotite, an igneous rock that dominates the upper part of the earth’s mantle.

Looking back down. You can see the contrast between the greens of the distant forests and yellowish-browns of the tablelands
As we went higher there were more boulders and larger rock formations
Almost over the first ridge

We were now in a kind of bowl above the first climbing area and still far below the top. We stopped at a stream that made its way down from the top.

The streams could be seen all the way to the top

It seemed to be a lot easier going up than going down, but we made our way back and eventually returned to the trail.

Heading down
Back on the trail

We walked the gravel trail for a distance before we came to a boardwalk. From there we did one more short section before the end of the regular trail.

Boardwalk section
This part the boardwalk was a dividing line between the green scrub and the Tablelands rock
The end of the boardwalk section

It’s possible to do wilderness hikes deeper into the park, but these generally require camping equipment for multiple night stays. For us it was the end of the trail and we headed back.

While staying in Rocky Harbour, we rented in a fully-equipped cabin located near the local sports arena. One evening, as I was on the back patio barbecuing and having a few of the local beers, I noticed a large number of cars and people passing by our cabin on the way to the arena. Curious, I walked down the road to check it out as Kim chose to stay at the cabin.

It seemed like most of the town was going into the arena, and I soon discovered that it was the draw time for the big local lottery called Chase the Ace. This lottery had become wildly popular in the region with people coming out during draw nights in hopes of a win. The stands were full with people of all ages, and there were more people in rows of chairs organized on the floor of the arena. I stood in the doorway next to the stands and watched the opening draws, seeing people cheer as their ticket was drawn from the huge drum in the middle of the arena. It was almost time for the final draw when one of the organizers noticed me and, recognizing that I wasn’t a local. asked me if I wanted to do the final big draw of the night.

I thought “Why not?” and went forward. They led me to the centre of the arena in front of the giant steel drum. All eyes were on me as they told me to reach deep down into the drum, swish around the tickets with my hand and take one out. At this point I suddenly realized that I was about to make one family very happy and the rest of the town very unhappy. I pulled it out, the announcer read it and there were groans around the arena as the lucky winner came forward, though they didn’t seem as excited about winning as I expected. The draw was suddenly over and a large number of disappointed people began streaming out of the arena back into the fading light of dusk.

As for me, I did my best to get out as quickly and quietly as possible through the crowd while avoiding eye contact with everyone. At least I had a good story to tell Kim when I returned!

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