A Weekend in Gros Morne

Today is a holiday in Newfoundland — Orangemen’s Day — so I thought I would share with you what I did on my last long weekend (which was just last week, actually), when the Pie and Gren and I went with Miss Awesome and Ranger P (formerly P-with-an-E) to camp in Gros Morne National Park.  What a trip!

While not a fan of car rides, Gren was a trooper for the trip.

We were only there for five days, and two of those days were spent traveling to and from the park (it takes about 8 hours, with pee breaks, to get from St. John’s to Gros Morne), so our time there was short.  We were also limited in the places we could go, because Gren is still young and doesn’t yet have the stamina he will develop when he’s full-grown.  There are also places in Gros Morne that dogs are not allowed (like on Gros Morne mountain itself), so we had to choose carefully how we would occupy our time.  In addition, though the weather forecast predicted rainy days with a high of 15°C, we ended up getting full sun every day and highs nearing 28°C, so we were all hot and tired after even our short hikes.  None of us thought to bring shorts.  Summer just isn’t like that in St. John’s.

So anyway, a bit about the park.  Established as a reserve in 1973, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, and then recognized as a national park in 2005, Gros Morne is the second-largest park in Atlantic Canada, and the mountain itself is the second-highest in Newfoundland, belonging to a branch of the Appalachians and dating back about 1.2 billion years.  “Gros Morne” literally translates from the French as “big sombre,” but “morne” is also understood to mean “large mountain standing alone.”  In Portuguese, “morne,” roughly translated, means bleak and dismal, and considering that the mountain in question is rather bald and often enshrouded in cloud, the name fits.

The park plays host to a number of natural and historical wonders.  The geology of the park is incredibly varied across the breadth of the park, and often serves as a benchmark for geologists seeking to understand the way the earth works.  Many geological features in the park offer supporting evidence for plate tectonic theory, while others provide clear examples of the process of glaciation.  In one afternoon you can go from barren desert to lush peat bogs to stunted tuckamore forests to glacier cut fjords.  All in one spot.  And if you’re lucky you might see a moose.  From a safe distance, of course.  And the flora in the park is just astonishing.  I saw so many plants that I had never seen before.

So now, our trip, in as few words as possible.

Berry Hill Pond

We stayed at the Berry Hill campground, near the wee village of Rocky Harbour.  On our first morning, the Pie and I took Gren on a morning stroll around Berry Hill Pond.  The trail is really not much more than a moose track, winding its way around the 2km circumference of this still pond, but in the quiet of the early morning, even the mosquitoes were tolerable as we got our first taste of the western coast of the province — which is as different from the east coast as another planet.I simply adore these rocky shores.Gren on the moose track, surrounded by crackerberries (not to be confused with crackberries).

Woody Point

We stopped here to have a bit of a wander and enjoy a quick picnic.  First settled in 1849, Woody Point displays to best advantage many historical buildings.  What’s neat is Woody Point is one of the many enclave communities within the park and yet separate from the park.It’s definitely a picture-postcard kind of town.

The Tablelands

From Woody Point we headed to the Tablelands, a section of the earth’s mantle thrust up to the surface.  We got to take a little GPS video thing with us.  You can watch it here.  Because of the chemical composition of the peridotite forming the mantle, it is hard to support life in that area.   Weathered peridotite is brown and rusty-looking, while unweathered rock is dark green and kind of waxy.

It is amazing, however, what can survive in the harsh surroundings.  These rare yellow ladyslippers are most commonly found in areas containing lime.Barren conditions mean that plants have to work hard to get all the nutrients they need.  These wee carnivorous plants were about the size of my thumb.

And let’s not forget the official provincial flower, the pitcher plant.

Creeping juniper is Newfoundland’s answer to the bonsai tree.Newfoundland Zen garden:

It was like being on the moon.  We were all absolutely gobsmacked by everything we saw. 

We went off-trail and followed a glacier-fed stream up to its fall point.

Gren tried to save us all.

And followed the trail into a canyon.  It was extremely windy.You should go there.

Norris Point/Neddies Harbour

Next day we headed out to Neddies Harbour, an offshoot of Norris Point in Bonne Bay, to visit Miss Awesome’s Auntie, who is pretty awesome in her own right.  She took us down past the Neddies Harbour Inn to a wee beach, where we enjoyed some sunshine.It was a very relaxing day, and after saying our goodbyes to Auntie Awesome, we headed up to the Norris Point Lookout to see the whole town.

Western Brook Pond

On this day we had to say goodbye to Miss Awesome.  She had to head back to Town to go on with her lawyer job.  It was just the dudes now, and me.  We had been told that Western Brook Pond was not to be missed, and, although we couldn’t afford the boat tour (nor did they allow dogs on the boat), we could readily enjoy the 3km hike to the dock and back.

The vistas on this trail, from the very beginning, were absolutely breathtaking.  We joked that we expected to hear the Jurassic Park theme playing while dinosaurs grazed in front of us.  The pond is in a fresh water fjord surrounded by peat fens and everywhere you look there is something beautiful.

Lush vegetation.


Even in the peat fens.  These are dragon’s mouth orchids.When we got to the pond itself, Gren had a great time splashing about in the wavelets and rolling in the sand.  It was a great way to cool him down after the walk in the blazing sun.And then of course we all took pictures on the way back of things we’d taken pictures of on the way in.  There was so much beauty we’d forgotten what we’d already seen.

Lobster Cove Head

With some time on our hands after the short Western Brook Pond walk, we headed to the historical Lobster Cove Head and its teensy lighthouse, which guards the rocky and unstable shores in the area.  If you’re interested, the flags on the pole in this photo spell “SHIFT”.

The lighthouse grounds also play host to a miniature tuckamore forest, stunted balsam firs beaten (but not broken) by the harsh winds and the salt spray.And then we ran out of time, and had to go home.  You could easily spend a month in Gros Morne and not see it all.  We’ve got to go back.

You can check out more of my many, many pictures of our weekend on my Flickr site here.

For more information on Gros Morne, check out these links:

Encyclopedia of Earth: Gros Morne

Gros Morne: Wikipedia

Gros Morne National Park: Wikipedia

Gros Morne Teacher Resource Centre

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