Almost defeated by the terrain and strong wind, I hugged the rugged Tablelands hillside in relief. We had reached what would be our highest vantage point expertly guided by Parks Canada interpreter extraordinaire, Cedric Davignon. The surreal, red rocky panorama in all its grandeur lay before us, in stark contrast to the surrounding green mountainous terrain. There are only a few places in the world where one can walk on the earth’s mantle, and here in Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park, a world heritage UNESCO site is reputedly one of the most notable locations.
Before we set off, Cedric exuberantly shared the geological history of the region and explained how one of the earth’s interior layers found its way to the surface from the depths of the planet, hundreds of millions of years ago. “Your lives are going to change forever.” He should know. He fell in love with the area (and a girl), married and settled nearby, and it’s apparent that he finds new joy in his surroundings each day. His young kids are experienced Tablelands rock climbers.
In his delightful French accent, he said “Let me just grab my miniature planet. I’m going to feel like Atlas today”. He summarised a pretty detailed explanation saying, “That section used to be five to ten kilometres below, under an old ocean but because of a continental collision, thrust up and got exposed above the earth.“
Looking out at the alien landscape, I felt like a space explorer about to step onto Mars. Cedric said, “I brought a few rocks, and you see the real colour of these rocks is not orange. If you look carefully at a freshly broken piece, the real colours are dark green, brown, almost black. The orange is only a thin layer so what could be the story here? “ “A chemical reaction?”, I ventured. “Yes”, he said, “and something pretty common. These rocks are rusty, actually extremely rich in “HEAVY METALS!” He loudly emphasised those last words. No bored pupils here!
“Enough talking and more exploring! We walk on the earth’s crust every day except today!” Our charismatic guide confidently instructed our group to follow him on a shortcut – straight up. Looking at the hill you might not suspect the difficulty, but walking on loose rock on a blustery day is no easy feat. Thankfully, Cedric shared one of his walking sticks with me.
We stopped every so often to view specimens that our teacher had described – like serpentinite, a transformation of periodite from water rich in magnesium that creates spidery white lines. That’s as close as you’ll get to a serpent here in a habitat that is mostly toxic to life; only a few insects, spiders and small plants have adapted.
By now climbing with both hands and feet, I dropped with gratitude when we reached our destination. Sitting on the rocks we were safer from the winds, and as we settled in, Cedric surprised us and shared another passion. Ah, he’s a fellow foodie. And my, oh my, he had mastered the art of presentation on this grandest table of all, the Tablelands. He shared moose jerky, his own creation; poured little cups of steaming Labrador tea, made with leaves he picked in Labrador himself; and we indulged in a box of Newfoundland chocolates, laced with screech. I slowly savoured everything.
Families need not be discouraged by my personal difficulties with wobbly knees and ankles. We were being guided off of the actual trail which can be an easy one hour hike. There was never any danger, and younger explorers scamper these hills with ease. Indeed I promised myself that I would return to better conquer this marvel of nature another day.
Hike it with a guide or brave it on your own schedule. For more information, visit: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/nl/grosmorne/activ/experiences/tablelands