Monday, September 07, 2009
West Coast Adventures - Gros Morne National Park
With summer coming to an end and fall weather already sneaking in among the warm days, we were eager to get to the last of our summer adventures - camping among the Long Range Mountains at Gros Morne National Park. Described by some as "Scotland on Steroids", the west coast of Newfoundland is an outdoor adventurer's dream. Kayaking through Western Brook Fjord, or hiking the eight hour trail up Gros Morne Mountain are highlights of camping on the west coast, but our adventures this trip would be much different. We were camping with the kids.
The adventure started with the eight hour drive to the park. By hour six we were hearing a lot of "are we there yet?" and "how much longer?" Thankfully the wonders of modern technology provided us with a means of keeping the kids occupied with video games and movies for most of the drive. When they tired of that we fell back on the old car trip stand-bys of I Spy and The Sign Game.
Several of the Gros Morne campsites allow campers to pre-book a site, therefore guaranteeing you a place when you arrive. We opted to camp at the Lomond site. With no pre-booking option we ran the risk of not getting a site, but the view from this campground was worth that chance. As it turned out, the traffic through this campground was slow, so we were in luck. We arrived in the late afternoon and immediately picked a site and set up camp.
Tenting in Newfoundland poses a unique challenge - getting the tent pegs into the ground. The soil here is so rocky it is difficult to get the pegs in deep enough to hold the tent in place. This campsite proved especially difficult and it took much longer than usual to get set up. After much rearranging the tent placement, several corkscrewed pegs, and some questionable word choices from Jonathan, we had everything ready and we set off to explore the area.
Lomond campground is situated directly under Killdevil Mountain which provides a breathtaking view from anywhere on the grounds. We wandered down to shore, letting the kids skip rocks on the pebbled beach. As we neared the dock, a flash of black moving over the large rocks caught my eye. A mink stood only a few feet away, curious enough to stop and give us a good look and a sniff before disappearing into a hole between the rocks.
Our walk was cut short as the sky darkened and the rumbling of thunder could be heard in the distance. We just made it back to our site when the first rain drops began to fall. For an hour and a half lightening lit up the sky and thunder echoed off the hills. The rain lasted all night but thankfully our tents were mostly waterproof. There was only a minor leak in the older of the two. I spent the night in a sleeping bag with our three year old, listening to the patter of the rain and the shuffling sound outside the tent. I had visions of a black bear barging in, but it was most likely a fox curious about the new smells.
Our plan on the first morning was to take a swim and then go for a hike on the Berry Hill trail. Just as we were leaving the campsite for our swim we had an unexpected visitor. A magnificent bull moose wandered across the meadow adjacent to our campsite. He stopped and watched us for a moment, then continued grazing before moving on into the trees. These up close glimpses of nature, of wildlife so stunning and powerful, is worth the bent tent pegs.
Camping with the kids meant that quite a few of the outdoor activities would be too difficult, but there were still many things to do that made the trip interesting for everyone. There are trails for hikers of every level. We chose two of the less strenuous trails.
The first walk was on the Berry Hill trail. This was a steep hike, but even the littlest one made it up with no problems. Stairs made the steeper areas easier to climb, and we took advantage of some of the rest stops along the way. The view from the top of the hill was magnificent; "Pine clad hills" spread as far as the eye could see, dotted with shimmering pools of blue.
The second trail we hiked was very different. The tablelands walk was flat and barren, home to rare vegetation and rugged vistas. The landscape is quite alien, and our eight-year-old commented that it looked like Mars. Tiny shrubs and bristly flowers poked defiantly through crags, offering tiny spots of colour along the barrens. I found the return trip most interesting as you could see the divide between the hills, barren rock on one side, green hills on the other. It was quite inspiring to walk along rocks that had been pushed to the surface by the collision of continents.
We took the one rainy day to do some sightseeing in nearby communities. This included a stop to see the Old Man in the Mountain, a unique formation in the side of a cliff face that resembles a man looking down toward Shellbird Island. The story goes that pirates buried a treasure on the island and the old man is a marker for that treasure.
Another stop on our rainy day was the Insectarium - a three story building dedicated to bugs of all sorts. Displays feature mounted bugs as well as live specimens including an entire level dedicated to spiders, a working bee hive, and a butterfly observatory. The kids had a fantastic time and were thrilled to have to opportunity to hold a variety of stick bugs and a hissing cockroach. Little hands gently held stick bugs and didn't flinch when tiny hooks refused to let go. Even the teenager was captivated by the many legs and antennae.
Our evenings were spent near the campsite, watching the numerous birds that perched and sang nearby. We saw an abundance of warblers, sparrows, chickadees and finches during our short stay. They woke us each morning and sang us to sleep each night. After supper we would walk to the beach for pebble throwing contests and stayed combing the shores for as long as the mosquitoes would allow, finding treasures of sea glass and driftwood pieces. Of course, no evening would be complete without a campfire complete with smores, hot dogs, and Jiffy Pop popcorn.
Gros Morne is rugged and beautiful and endlessly exhilarating. For us it was the perfect place for a family vacation. Camping here means being flexible with your plans and expecting the unexpected, but who doesn't mind a little extra adventure?