Bucket List Item: Walk on the Earth’s Mantle
Of Newfoundland’s many wonders, Gros Morne National Park is the heavyweight champ.
One reason it’s heavy, as in sixties hippie talk “heavy man,” is because this is one of the only places in the world where humans can set foot upon rocks that have risen from deep within the Earth’s mantle.
As a prime example of plate tectonics, sometimes called continental drift, the area known as The Tablelands gave us a look into what’s going on below the Earth’s crust.
Hundreds of millions of years ago, when the continents of Africa and North America were close neighbors, so close that they were smashing into each other, the resulting upheaval brought to the surface these rocks from far beneath the ocean floor.
The handy GPS guide we picked up at the Discovery Center near the trailhead explained the amazing geology as we hiked up the valley.
The rock is called peridotite, and is unlike most any others found on the Earth’s surface. It has very little calcium, a high magnesium content, toxic amounts of heavy metals, and a great deal of iron.
This combination causes two things that contribute to The Tablelands unique landscape. The lack of normal nutrients in the soil prohibits most plant life, making for a barren dessert-like look; and the iron gives the rocks their rusty color, in fact it is actually oxidation, better known as rust. We discovered the true color of peridotite by looking inside one of the brittle rocks, revealing a dark green interior.
Despite the look, this is actually a fairly wet area, as we could see across the valley where the soil is composed of more typical minerals. Lush forests grow on the mountains and along Wallace Brook below.
Still a few hearty plants eke out an existence in the harsh ground, some even get carnivorous. The Provincial flower of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Pitcher Plant, finds a way to survive by trapping bugs and extracting their nutrients.
At the end of the trail the little voice in our head(phones) told us about the water flowing over these rocks in Winterhouse Brook, the land’s odd composition gives the it a pH balance more alkaline than bleach, and it holds very little oxygen.
Not good for sustaining life, but there are theories that this may be what water on Mars would be like. Come to think of it, that’s the description we’d been looking for… the whole area looks Mars-like.
Fjord Has a Better Idea
But barren outer space landscapes are only a small part of Gros Morne’s championship qualities. The last Ice Age left behind formations that are more than just lovely to look at, they are textbook examples of the forces of nature.
Glacial valleys and cirques are the definitive features throughout most of the park.
Some of the most profound specimens are found along the shores of Western Brook Pond. The nearly twenty mile long “pond” (in Newfoundland speak any body of water smaller than the ocean is a pond) is actually a fjord.
Unlike most fjords, Western Brook is fresh water. When the ice melted around 10,000 years ago, it caused the land to rise with the removal of all the weight. That lifted the fjord slightly above sea level and cut it off from the ocean.
The pond is surrounded by incredibly rugged mountains, making it extremely difficult to see other than by water. There’s no radio-guided walking tour here.
Good thing for us Bon Tours offers boat excursions that cover the entire thirty kilometers of scenic awesomeness.
As the boat entered the water-filled canyon we could easily see evidence of the glacial carving that left behind sheer cliffs dropping directly into the fjord. Between the rock faces there are numerous hanging valleys, where smaller glaciers carved cirques that were then sheered off by the main ice flow.
Streams cascade over the canyon walls forming waterfalls that drop hundreds of feet, some over a thousand, before splashing into the fjord.
One of those thousand-footers punctuates the spectacular box canyon end of the pond, Pissing Mare Falls. No word on where the name came from, or who’s responsible, but that must have been one big horse.
We have yet to see the famous fjords of Norway, but it is hard to imagine anywhere more visually stunning than Western Brook. It reminded us very much of the Yosemite Valley — the same forces had a hand in creating both — if it was filled with pristine water. Newfoundlanders can call it a pond if they like, we call it fantastic!
Rockin’ “The Rock”
The term national park can conjure up images of roughing it out in the wilderness, eating charred bits of food after they’ve fallen into the campfire, and scaring off bears.
That’s all available in Gros Morne, but the park is fairly new to protected status, being named a reserve in 1973 and a national park in 2005, so there are also many non-primitive accommodations to be found within the boundaries.
We stayed at the locally famous Ocean View Hotel in the picturesque fishing village of Rocky Harbor.
The reason for their fame is not so much the lodging, even though it was above and beyond wonderful in every way, but in the twice-weekly performances of Anchors Aweigh in the Anchor Pub.
The band is practically an institution, for twenty years they have been entertaining in typical Newfoundland fashion, a blend of traditional music, comedy, and spinning some yarns about life on “The Rock.” We left feeling like we could start to understand Newfoundland.
Whatever understanding might have been missing, we found next door at Fisherman’s Landing when we ordered two of the most traditional Newfoundland meals possible, Jiggs Dinner, and Fish & Brewis. Both date back way before refrigeration, so they are based on salted meat.
Fish & Brewis is made with salt cod and hardtack, boiled, broken up, and mixed together. It tastes way better than it sounds… or looks.
Jiggs Dinner features salt beef, and is a variation of good ole Irish corned beef and cabbage. What sets it apart are the carrots, turnips, and especially pease pudding. Pudding being the British use of the term, almost like a dumpling made from split yellow peas.
Bill Cosby, pudding aficionado, might not approve — and it’s not something we had ever tried before — but after one bite we got properly jiggy with it.
The menu also proudly listed moose burgers and moose stew, but since there is no such thing as moose, we didn’t see any way that we could possibly eat one.
It’s a Bug’s Life
Leaving the park, going south, we came across an interesting diversion, The Newfoundland Insectarium.
What we thought might be a quick stop turned into hours as we took in one fascinating exhibit after another.
We lost ourselves watching leafcutter ants working, bees busily building their hive, and most mesmerizing of all, walking through The Butterfly House surrounded by hundreds of beautiful blue butterflies.
The colorful winged insects flew all around us, sometimes even landing on us. In fact, several of the displays are hands on. We got to hold creatures that looked exactly like leaves, or sticks, or alien beings.
We even got to touch the skin of a devil – a Thorny Devil to be precise. All of this was overseen by the museum’s director, Lloyd Hollett, who captivated us with not only his knowledge, but his exuberance. We’ve heard that his schtick about the beehive is becoming legendary.
WATCH: Veronica frolics with butterflies, handles some pretty intimidating bugs!
What the Heck is a Pudding Sock?
Within a few days of leaving Gros Morne we were missing it, so we decided to try our hand at making a Jiggs Dinner to reminisce.
We looked it up and had no problems with the recipe at all, until it said to put a split pea mixture in a pudding sock and throw it in the pot to boil with the rest of the stuff.
Shocking as it may seem, we did not have a pudding sock handy on the motorhome, and we weren’t really willing to try a sweat sock substitution.
At the risk of seriously offending some Newfoundlanders… Jiggs Dinner without the pudding is still delicious.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com