Trout Pond time travel
Aug 9, 2008
|A boat tour unique in all the world - Saturday, August 9
We got up to another quiet campground. This Provincial Park campground is laid out in the woods with a lot of trees between the sites, and there is a real feeling of privacy and solitude here. At 8:00 we broke that solitude and started our generator to recharge our batteries, but the spaces are far enough apart that the noise was not obtrusive to our neighbors.
By 9:00 we were ready to leave and we got back on Highway 1 and headed north. Out destination today is Gros Morne National Park, which is located on the western shore of Newfoundland about half way between Port aux Basques where we landed Thursday, and St. Barbe Bay where we’ll catch the ferry to Labrador next week. Gros Morne is a big park and it’s at the top of the list of places in Newfoundland that you do not want to miss.
On the Trans Canadian Highway it’s an hour drive to Corner Brook, the third largest city in Newfoundland. The highway bypasses it but we could see it off to the left. It’s built on the hills overlooking a large fjord that comes in from the sea. They are hosting the Newfoundland Labrador Games this weekend and northbound traffic was the heaviest we’ve seen it. The city looks good and normally we would take the time to check it out, but we want to spend more time at Gros Morne so we continued on.
Another hour brought us to Deer Lake where we stopped for 3/4 of a tank of $5.308 gas. Not the most we’ve paid in Canada, but close to it. Deer Lake is where the Trans Canadian Highway turns east for it’s long trek to Saint John’s (the drive from Port aux Basques to St. John’s is the equivalent of driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco) and this is where we leave it.
We headed north on Highway 430, and half an hour later came to the junction of 430 and 431. Highway 430 continues on up the peninsula and takes you to the north end of the park, but before doing that there were some things we wanted to see on the south end. Highway 431 goes to places like Lomond, Glenburnie, Birchy Head, Winter House Brook and Woody Point where we had another heavenly lunch of cod bits and homemade fish chowder.
From Woody Point we took 431 to Trout River, stopping first at their excellent Discovery Center for an hour. Trout River is at the end of the road, and it is here that they do one of the park’s boat tours - this one of Trout Pond. The Discovery Center sells tickets and we tried to buy tickets for the 4:00 PM tour, but they need six people to make the tour pay, and there were not enough people signed up yet. They asked that we come on to their office and by that time they would know whether or not the boat was going out.
We did, and it was, and with two nice young couples from Ontario we embarked on a boat tour that is certainly unique in all the world. Gros Morne National Park has been designated as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. This rare honor is the result of Gros Morne’s contribution to the scientific understanding of continental drift. Here the continents of North America and Africa were once attached, and the geological and fossil evidence found here solved that mystery and made that case conclusively.
Gros Morne Park is a stunning collection of mountains overlooking deep fjords and ‘ponds’ (the Newfoundlander’s term for lake). Most of these mountains and valleys are covered in forest, but at the southern end of the park Trout River Pond separates two mountainous ridges that look totally unrelated, both to each other and to the rest of the park. This is the mystery the boat tour addresses, and it is a fascinating story.
Trout River Pond is a long inland lake that is formed by two lakes really, a small and relatively shallow one about 30 meters deep, and a larger lake that goes to 140 meters deep. The two are joined by a shallow ‘narrows’ that is only a meter deep and has to be dredged to allow the boat to make the passage between the lakes. Looking east down the length of the lake the difference between the two sides is something of a shock. The south side, which is on your right, is formed by a high mountain ridge that meets the lake in precipitous walls that are almost vertical in places. This side is green and thickly wooded like the rest of the park.
In stark contrast to the south side, the north side of the lake is almost barren and is composed of yellow and orange-brown striated rock that is totally different from anything else found in the rest of the park. This is peridotite, and it is rock from the earth’s mantle some 7 kilometers beneath the ocean floor. This deposit of it is said to be one of the best and most accessible examples of exposed mantle material in the world. This is called ‘tableland’ because the tops of the mountains are flat, and it is barren because the rock contains material that is largely toxic to plant growth. At first glance it looks arid, but the tour showed us springs fed by water pouring off the sides of the mountain, so it is obvious the barrenness is not from lack of rain.
Near the lake the lower slopes do have some low growing vegetation and here we saw an occasional moose grazing or resting. The wooded side of the lake looked like it would be prime habitat for eagles, but none were to be seen. The girl guiding the tour said they are not often seen here, where the fish are probably at a depth where the eagles can not easily get to them.
Our guide was young, the fifteen year old daughter of one of the park’s campground rangers. She was inexperienced and had to read the prepared material, but she was knowledgeable about it and could answer questions well. The two couples from Ontario were all teachers on holiday, and they were very personable and friendly. The two and a half hour tour was an awesome trip back through time, when the pressure of two continental plates coming together caused volcanoes, and pushed mantle material to the surface from deep inside the earth. Our guide Becky said efforts to drill down to this layer have been mostly unsuccessful due to the depth at which it lies. But here it is on the surface, and here we got to see it for ourselves. A once in a lifetime opportunity.
We continued on to the campground after the tour, and there we met Becky’s father who checked us in. He said his daughter was lucky to have found a job at such a young age. He said there are not many opportunities here, and she had been hired because she could speak a little French. We found a nice site and settled in for the night.