The magic of Gros Morne in two parts – Part II: Journey to the centre of the Earth

We drive through a small fishing village of Trout River, and the paved road turns into packed ground. “Are you sure this is the right way?” asks my husband. “Of course,” I reply trying to sound more confident than I feel. We can’t afford to get lost now. It’s almost six and I know the Tablelands visible from the Trout River campground look best in the late afternoon light. With rain in the forecast for the next two nights, this might be my only chance to witness this sight.

As soon as we check in at the campground, I grab my camera and head down to the Trout River Pond but not without promising to help set up when I come back. I follow a short trail down to a small pebble beach. There are a couple of kids skipping stones, a lone kayaker disturbing the otherwise perfectly smooth pond, and across a long, narrow strip of water rise the golden slopes of the Tablelands. Imposing and otherworldly, they are admiring their reflection. And who can blame them. Bathed in the evening light, they are spectacular.

Tablelands across the Trout River Pond

The Tablelands admiring their reflection in the Trout River Pond

I spend more time here than I originally intended, after each picture promising myself that this is the last one. It’s not until the sun slides behind a cloud and the gold of the Tablelands turns to brown that I head back. My husband and son are almost done setting up. Luckily they are not the types to begrudge me this time to myself. Plus I can always make it up to them with a delicious meal. I set up the stove and get to making dinner. And so begins part II of our Gros Morne visit.

Two weeks and what feels like months of adventures separate us from the four days we spent at the park’s Berry Hill campground at the beginning of our Newfoundland trip. The return is bittersweet. We are happy to be back to explore the southern part of the park. This, however, will be our last stop before we head back home. But we try not to think about that just yet. As we finish dinner, we talk about trails we want to hike and places to visit. I can’t wait to see the Tablelands up close. Our son can’t stop talking about the last two caches he needs to find to get his geocoin. One is at the end of a short Stanleyville trail. The other one will require more work. It’s about five kilometres in along the seven-kilometer Trout River Pond trail and that’s just one way. With a 14-kilometre hike on the itinerary, something else will have to be scratched off the list. I guess Green Gardens will have to wait till next time.

After dinner, we explore the campground. With a little over 40 campsites at the end of the road, the Trout River campground creates a sense of coziness and close-knit community we’ve rarely encountered before. That becomes especially apparent on the second evening of our stay when the rain drives us into the kitchen shelter. There, we find about a dozen fellow campers at various stages of preparing or consuming dinner. The wood stove is on and the conversation is sizzling. Seasoned campers, hitchhikers, a couple only here for a day. All exchanging tips on best trails and must-see places. Eventually, the conversation roams into the other parts of the world, and we end up spending over two hours basking in the warmth of burning wood and human companionship. But I am getting too far ahead. Let’s backtrack to the beginning of the second day.

Climbing up to the middle of the Earth

We start the day with a visit to the Discovery Centre in Woody Point. There we learn about the off-the-beaten track hike up the Tablelands. And also confirm that only four out of five geocaches are required to get a geocoin. Which means only one more to go before our son can finally wrap up his quest. I know he’d love to do it right away but he agrees to visit the Tablelands first.

Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland

The Tablelands are a facinating and otherworldly sight

The Tablelands is one of the few places on Earth where you can walk on exposed mantle, normally found far below our planet’s crust. The rusty terrain, made up mainly of peridodite, contains little nutrients required to support plant life and has toxic amounts of heavy metals. Only the toughest plants survive in this harsh environment.

peridodite - the main rock making up the Tablelands    peridodite - the main rock making up the Tablelands

peridodite - the main rock making up the Tablelands    peridodite - the main rock making up the Tablelands

Perododite, the main rock in the Tablelands, is beautiful up close

plants in the Tablelands, Gros Morne, Newfoundland

plants in the Tablelands, Gros Morne, Newfoundland    plants in the Tablelands, Gros Morne, Newfoundland

Only the toughest survive the inhospitable environment of the Tablelands

pitcher plant on the Tablelands, Gros Morne, Newfoundland   pitcher plant in the Tablelands, Gros Morne, Newfoundland

Pitcher plant, Newfoundland’s official flower, is one of the few that call the Tablelands home

plants in the Tablelands, Gros Morne, Newfoundland

There is an easy four kilometre return trail running along the foot of the Tablelands but we decide to forego it in favour of a more exciting adventure. With the map we got at the Discovery Centre in hand, we turn our steps upwards. There is a barely visible path running along a narrow stream, and we try to follow it the best we can.

hiking up the Tablelands in Gros Morne, Newfoundland

Off the beaten path, up the Tablelands

Eventually, we get to a large round impression known as the Bowl. There is more vegetation here and we admire tenacity of the plants that manage to push their way through the rocks.

The bowl in the Tablelands, Gros Morne Newfoundland

The Bowl is slightly greener than the rest of the Tablelands

We cross the Bowl and keep climbing up. By now we’ve lost the path and just make our own way through the rocks. After another half an hour of scrambling, we decide to stop and turn around to enjoy the view. The sky is purple blue unleashing its pent-up fury over the Long Range Mountains and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. The storm presents a spectacular sight if you are not the one caught up in it. So far, apart from a few drops, we’ve been spared the sky’s displeasure. We turn back to make sure we get down before it changes its mind and goes after us. Plus, as our son unfailingly reminds us, we still have a geocache to find.

view from the Tablelands in Gros Morne, Newfoundland

View from the Bowl

hiking up the Tablelands in Gros Morne, Newfoundland   hiking up the Tablelands in Gros Morne, Newfoundland

Just a little more up

view from the Tablelands in Gros Morne in Newfoundland

The storm is beautiful to watch from the distance

hiking the Tablelands in Gros Morne, Newfoundland

Time to head back

We drive towards the Stanleyville trail and right into the rain. The trail starts at the Lomond campground, one of the most popular campgrounds in the park. I can definitely see the appeal. There are several campsites right on the shore of the Bonne Bay. But with no trees or bushes, there is very little protection from the elements or neighbors’ eyes.

Lomond Campground in Gros Morne, Newfoundland

Lomond campground on the shores of Bonne Bay

We arrive at the trailhead. The rain doesn’t show any signs of letting up so we take a deep breath and get out. The scenery couldn’t be more different than what we’ve just experienced at the Tablelands. The trail runs through a thick forest with the tallest trees we’ve see in Newfoundland. No wonder this used to be the site of a thriving logging business. The trail takes us to a small pebble beach with a couple of backcountry campsites. It would be a great place to camp if it wasn’t for a noisy road across the Bonne Bay. Our son quickly locates the geocache and we turn back.

pebble beach at the end of Stanleyville Trail in Gros Morne, Newfoundland

This beautiful pebble beach at the end of Stanleyville trail is a great place to camp

With meager two kilometres to go, this could have been a pleasant walk in the woods. Instead we have the Discovery Centre closing time looming so we rush through the wet underbrush. Visions of dry socks and warm soup keep us going. And the geocoin, of course. We storm into the Discovery Centre right before it closes and a couple of minutes later our son re-emerges a proud owner of the Gros Morne geocoin.

geocoin at Gros Morne National Park newfoundland

The quest that started at the beginning of our Newfoundland trip is finally complete

Green Gardens

With the geocoin business out of the way, we are free to choose any trail we want. I wouldn’t mind hiking the Trout River Pond trail if we had more time. But my sights are set on Green Gardens. Combined with the Wallace Brook trail, it was supposed to be an 18-kilometre hike. Unfortunately, a big portion of the trail has now been closed to avoid further erosion so our hike is reduced to about five kilometres one way. Ironically, the trail no longer passes through Green Gardens, a site after which it’s been named.

looking at the map of Green Gardens trail

Studying the map: our hike has been reduced in half

We start with wading through water across mostly bare terrain but it quickly transforms into a tuckamore forest as we start going down towards the ocean. There are endless sets of stairs and I try not to think about how much climbing up we’ll have to do on the way back.

Green Gardens trail   Green Gardens trail

Green Gardens trail goes from bare terrain to low-growth forests

tuckamore tree in Gros Morne Newfoundland   tuckamore tree in Gros Morne Newfoundland

Famous Newfoundland tuckamores, dwarfed and gnarled fir trees tristed into whimsical shapes by harsh growing conditions

We can hear the ocean before we see it. And then we get to the ragged edge of the cliff and a blue expanse opens up in front of us. We can see a pebble beach down below with sea stacks rising up in the middle and sun-patched emerald slopes looming in the distance.

Old Man cove

Old Man Cove down below

We take rickety wooden stairs down to the beach where we discover a waterfall and have lunch.

old man cove along the Green Gardens trail in Gros Morne

Beautiful emerald slopes

old man cove along the Green Gardens trail in Gros Morne

Pebble beach and sea stacks

watching a waterfall in gros morne, Newfoundland

Taking a break by the waterfall

Many people turn back from here but we decide to explore a bit further. The trail takes us through lush seaside meadows as we navigate animal scat. It looks like sheep’s, which makes sense with all the grass. Somewhere halfway we run into the culprits grazing by the side of the trail. We try to pass quietly by the big woolly animals giving us suspicious sideways glances and continue on our way. Until we hit the “trail closed” sign, which is our clue to go back.

Green Gardens trail in Gros MOrne, Newfouldland

Beautiful views along the Green Gardens Trail

Green Gardens trail in Gros MOrne, Newfouldland    Green Gardens trail in Gros MOrne, Newfouldland

sheep along the Green Gardens trail in Gros MOrne, Newfouldland

Lush seaside meadows along the Green Gardens trail is a great place for sheep

Green Gardens trail in Gros MOrne, Newfouldland    Green Gardens trail in Gros MOrne, Newfouldland

views from Green Gardens trail in Gros MOrne, Newfouldland

View of Green Gardens in the distance

Green Gardens trail in Gros MOrne, Newfouldland

Time to go back

Green Gardens trail in Gros MOrne, Newfouldland    Green Gardens trail in Gros MOrne, Newfouldland

What goes down must come up: our hike back is an endless set of stairs

Green Gardens trail in Gros MOrne, Newfouldland

Once we get back to the campground, we head to the Fire Circle program led by Mi’qmaq interpreter Kevin Barnes. He takes us through the stories of the land, tells us about the four sacred medicines and talks about the importance of living in harmony with nature rather than insatiably consuming its resources. It is the most spiritual and inspiring ending to our trip. And then, as if that is not enough, after the Fire Circle is over, Kevin produces his guitar, one of the park guards brings his ugly stick, and we end the day with a music party the Newfoundland style. The warmth of the Fire Circle, the richness of Kevin’s stories, the joy of Newfoundland tunes are woven into a vibrant tapestry of our Gros Morne visit. A rich quilt of Newfoundland memories we take with us as we leave this beautiful island.

playing guitar and ugly stick in Gros Morne Park in Newfoundland

We end our Gros Morne stay with a Fire Cirle and music party

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