Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland – Late Summer 2016 Road Trip – Day 12

In all of our adventures it is really amazing that the weather doesn’t impact us more than it does, but on this day we woke to a foggy rainy day which was disappointing because we reserved seats on a cruise into the gorge at Western Brook Pond, a fresh water fjord carved out by glaciers during the most recent ice age.

The landscape at Gros Morne during our drive to our hotel yesterday was stunning with views of mountains and steep cliffs dropping into the ocean and gorge that we wanted to see up close.

After leaving our motel in Cow Head, we drove to the trail that led to the boat tour where other tourists waited hoping for the weather to improve. Visibility was only about 50 feet with poor conditions to see anything so we decided to skip the boat ride and went to the fishery at Broom Point.

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The tour guide had not arrived yet so we explored the area on our own but it was windy and foggy, providing an excellent photo op of an ocean front privy held up with wooden boards and only one other building stood in the park so we left.

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We had to drive to Rocky Harbour to cancel our boat reservation and it turned out to be a scenic ride that presented lots of opportunities for photos, because amazingly we popped out of the fog. The ladies at the boat tour reservations desk however have a web cam back at the boat and they assured us it wasn’t going to sail that day because of the fog.

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Having finalized the decision not to wait for a boat tour that wouldn’t occur, we continued to the Tablelands, an environment so different from where we started that morning. Most of Newfoundland that we have seen was green with water everywhere in forms of fjords, rivers, waterfalls, countless ponds and lakes, also with mountains and ridges covered with evergreen trees; but the tablelands looked more like a barren desert with prickly brush.

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The Tablelands were a rocky mountainous landscape where we hiked a two kilometer trail up the hill to a lookout to see straight into the pass between the mountains. It was incredibly windy making it hard to walk along the trail.

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We did see two waterfalls from the trail that ran down the mountain range beside us. Returning to the car, we headed down the road a short distance climbing almost 900 feet in only minutes to Green Gardens for a better look at the mountains. Even with the clouds and fog, the view was very pretty.

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Gros Morne National Park is a spectacular place, far off the beaten path, but with scenery to match the best in the United States. We felt it was every bit as impressive as many of the parks out west, and definitely the best in the eastern half of the continent.

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We left the park for lunch at the Deer Park Motel and Restaurant, where we had very good clam chowder and a hot turkey sandwich. Well nourished, we headed out onto the TCH again for the four hour drive to Port Aux Basques ferry terminal.

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On the way we passed Corner Brook, which I knew well from the in flight maps on all the trips I had taken back and forth to Europe. When I saw Corner Brook pop up on my map on the airplane I knew we were back over land, which always gave me a sense of relief. The city of Corner Brook is clearly an industrial town with a port, as we saw one of the largest piles of logs ever ready to be shipped.

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The road between Corner Brook and Port aux Basques is 120 miles of trees, mountains and damn few people, so we sailed along admiring the scenery, except during the intermittent rain showers, which always seemed to occur when we would go through areas signed ‘significant moose activity – be alert’, complete with 12′ high fences along the roads, however we went 1000 miles through the northlands and never saw a moose, other than the plastic one at the rest area in Maine.

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Not long before we reached Port Aux Basques we came upon Cape Race, which has a nice lighthouse. It is located in a small town but important because it is here where the trans-Atlantic cable connected from St. Johns, Newfoundland to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and then to the North American mainland crossing borders to New York City. The cable is now replaced with modern electric lines but a historic marker is erected in front of the lighthouse on the edge of the shore.

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The wind produced a steady line of waves that crashed onto the beach for some great photos. Small homes lined the street to the lighthouse and also stood along the pretty shoreline. Mountains sat in a beautiful backdrop of shanties for homes. It was a thousand dollar house with a million dollar view.

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We took our time driving the rest of the way to Port aux Basque. When we arrived in the town, we stopped at the Historic Railroad Museum. The Railway Heritage Centre consists of a replica of the original 1898 passenger station and a restored nine car train. The train is made up of a snowplow, diesel locomotive, two tank cars from World War II, a Newfoundland boxer, sleeper, two baggage cars and a caboose. The museum was closed for us to go inside but I think we saw the main attractions outside.

After a visit to a quirky little shop for a Newfoundland T shirt, we had a leisurely dinner at Pizza Delight. 

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Just down the road was the Port Aux Basque Marine Atlantic ship terminal to board the ferry to Nova Scotia, where we arrived 3 hours early, spending the time hanging out in the modern terminal editing the photos from the last few days.

Since we were on another over night crossing, we had again reserved a cabin with a private bath. At 10 p.m. we drove the car onto the Marine-Atlantic ferry with hundreds of other cars and semi-trailers, and headed to our cabin for a quick night’s sleep.

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Newfoundland – Late Summer 2016 Road Trip – Day 11 – Across the Province

New founKnowing we had a long drive today across Newfoundland to reach Gros Morne National Park at a reasonable time, we left the chic hotel for breakfast at McDonald’s. Although we got our usual McDonalds breakfast, we did notice lots of new choices offering a healthier menu than in the states. Egg on bagel, wraps, and a case of fresh pastries looked yummy. The locals with their Irish slanted accent greeted us a warm welcome and a good day as we left. Newfoundlanders like to talk and are very friendly.

On the way across Newfoundland we took a brief detour to see Dildo. Yes there is a town in Newfoundland called Dildo, which seems to have come upon hard times. Located on a picturesque inlet, there is not much there except the Needs Convenience Store, the Dildo Post Office and the Dildo Interpretive Centre, which was closed so it will remain a mystery what they interpret.

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Oh yes, apparently once a year they have the Dildo festival. Supposedly it was once used for a long fairly thin pin stuck in the edging of a row boat to act as a pivot for the oar. Regardless after about 10 minutes we had had enough and moved on.

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As we continued across Newfoundland we continued to be amazed at how much traffic there was for a province the size of California with less than a half of a million people. But the Trans Canada Highway (the TCH) was well built, with numerous third lanes for passing the trucks. We made a brief stop at Terra Nova National Park to stretch the legs and enjoy a beautiful overlook, complete with two Red Chairs, which are a Canadian tradition.

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Our next stop was in We drove to Gander, Newfoundland to see the Gander International Airport. Gander is well know as a stop off in the early days of aviation for flights going to and from Europe made a fuel stop here. While it is still an active airport, their famous international lounge has been closed off  from use, but still visible from an upper level overlook.

Decorated in the mid-century design that looks pristine yet today, complete with a 72-ft mural of people and birds representing hope, wealth, and peace was painted across the top portion of the wall. The blocks of colorful terrazzo floor spanned the large room. A wooden sculpture of a bird stood at one end of the room; supposedly kissing the top of the head of the bird gives you good luck.

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Gander is near the great circle route between U.S. East Coast cities and London. On September 11, 2001, with United States airspace closed due to the terrorist attacks, Gander International Airport played host to 38 airliners, totaling 6,122 passengers and 473 crew members. With not enough hotel and restaurants to accommodate the stranded flyers, Gander’s residents hospitably brought homemade bagged lunches to the flyers as they stepped off the plane and converted schools and large buildings for temporary shelters. Some residents offered their homes as additional lodgings when the public buildings were filled. To thank the town for its role in helping thousands of temporary transients in the wake of the attacks, New Yorkers gifted Gander with a piece of steel from the World Trade Center’s south tower.

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Finally we reached Gros Morne National Park on the western side of Newfoundland, where we had to go another 60 miles to get to our hotel in the town of Cow Head, giving us a preview of what we would see tomorrow. It is amazing to see the mountains and fjords, and realize you are on the east coast, not west coast.

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As we made our way north we stopped at a number of overlooks, as well as Lobster Head Cove, complete with a lighthouse.

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We paused for a time at an area where you could look back at Western Brook Pond, and the 2000′ high cliffs that line it. Unfortunately it was a few miles off in the distance, but I had made boat tour reservations for the next day to see it up close.

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Finally we arrived in Cow Head, and checked into our room at the Shallow Bay Motel, with our ocean view room – literally 5′ out our window. The motel also had a restaurant and theater.As you can imagine there aren’t many restaurants in some place called Cow Head, Newfoundland, so we had dinner at the hotel.

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St Johns Newfoundland – Late Summer 2016 Road Trip – Day 10

NAt 7:30 a.m. the restaurant on the ship opened for breakfast and we were waiting. The breakfast buffet was overpriced; the hot food was only warm and not good. Since we still had a couple of hours to go we went for another walk on the top deck to get some exercise. We walked eight lengths from one side of the ship to the other side guessing that it equaled one mile, not to mention a great sunrise.

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At last – Newfoundland! Driving off the ship onto the road, we followed an old drunken Newfoundlander in a truck who swerved to the right nearly off the road and over the center line in front of oncoming cars, but fortunately we were able to quickly get past him, hitting neither him nor any moose, of which there were plenty of warnings.

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The 90 minute drive into St. Johns, Newfoundland went without incident. As soon as we reached town, we headed back out to the east to nearby Cape Spear to be at the easternmost point in Canada and North America (no more further east landmarks on this trip!).

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Because of its proximity to convoy routes during the Second World War, a gun battery was installed at Cape Spear to defend the entrance to St. John’s harbor. The bunkers and gun barrels offer a sheltered view of the ocean. Barracks and underground passages leading to the bunkers were built for the use of troops stationed there. The gun barrels and bunkers are still there which we explored a bit.

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The Cape Spear Lighthouse is the oldest surviving lighthouse in Canada, operating since 1836. The structure consists of a stone light tower surrounded by the lightkeeper’s residence. In 1955 a new lighthouse tower was built on the site using the active light from the original lighthouse. The historical park gave us a glimpse into the life of the keeper. Glass chimneys were kept upstairs of the keeper’s house so that the lightkeeper could clean and replace them on a three hour regular schedule. The life of a lighthouse keeper seemed isolated and hard.

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Next we drove to Quidi Vidi (pronounced by the local residents, as “Kiddy Viddy” a neighborhood in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. The neighborhood is named for both Quidi Vidi Lake and Quidi Vidi Harbor – known locally as “The Gut”.  Located in Quidi Vidi is the Quidi Vidi Battery Provincial Historic Site, which had significance as a battery during the War of 1812.

Quidi Vidi was known for once being a historic fishing village dating back to the 1600’s and still maintains the look of a fishing village today. This tightly tucked in a ravine village is also home to Newfoundland’s largest microbrewery, the Quidi Vidi Brewing Company which seems to be the only business in the town.

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St. Johns is listed as the oldest English settled city in North America but there is dispute in that Jamestown, VA could be the oldest English settled city also. Our next stop was at Signal Hill which overlooks the city of St. Johns, high on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and St John Harbor.

Due to its strategic placement overlooking the harbor, fortifications have been built on the hill since the mid 17th century. The final battle of the Seven Years’ War in North America was fought in 1762 at the Battle of Signal Hill, in which the French surrendered St. John’s to a British force under the command of Lt. Colonel William Amherst. Lt. Colonel Amherst renamed what was then known as “The Lookout” as “Signal Hill,” because of the signaling that took place upon its summit from its flagmast.

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Historical military barracks are nestled in the hill and the tour guide explained the life of a soldier stationed at the Queen’s Battery Barracks during the 1860’s when the barracks were built. The barracks furnished fold up cots and British styled table and benches of the era and a fireplace. The guide showed us the high-waisted trousers and short jackets worn with a tunic and leather shoes that the soldiers had. The shoes had metal plates fastened with ten tacks to prolong their wear since each soldier was only issued items annually.

Large cannons set at the front of the barracks protected the harbor below. Ruins of gunpowder storage once stood within thick walls and thin roofs in case of accidental explosions. We hiked the trail back up the hill to see Cabot’s Tower.

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Located at the highest point of Signal Hill, overlooking the entire city and the ocean, Cabot Tower is a Gothic Revival style of architecture. Built of red sandstone, it is a two story, 30 foot, square structure with a three story, 50 foot octagonal tower. The first transmissions received in North America by Marconi were at Signal Hill, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador in 1901 and Glace Bay, Nova Scotia in 1902.  In 1933, a Marconi station was opened on the second floor of Cabot Tower, which operated until 1960. In 1920, one of the first wireless transatlantic transmissions of the human voice was made there.  A few items honoring Marconi were displayed on the second floor the tower.

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We walked onto the open deck of the roof of Cabot’s Tower for a look of the city. It was extremely windy, so windy in fact; it was difficult to open the door to get back into the building. As soon as we entered the building again, the staff closed off the roof for safety reasons.

Leaving Cabot’s Tower and driving into the city allowed us to see the colorful houses. Each wooden-sided home was painted a bright color different from its neighbor. The city of St. John’s is well known for its jellybean row houses that started in the 1970’s as a way to inject new life back into the declining city. Residents jumped onto the idea whole-heartily and spread the colorful palette outward so that the majority of the city is a jellybean row house street.

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We found our boutique hotel, The Jag, in downtown St. Johns near the convention center. After check-in we walked the streets a bit and opted for an early dinner since we missed lunch. We went to Green Sleeves, an open bar cafe with pub grub, with a beer and burger for dinner. They servered us in a Rolling Rock glass etched with the familiar 33 words which begin “from the glass lined tanks of Old Latrobe” but because we were in the bilingual country of Canada these words were also etched in French on the glass. I explained to the waitress the significance of Latrobe to our family, I asked her if I could buy the glass as a souvenir.

After checking with the bartender she said that if the glass was not there when she returned to clean up, oh well. We got the hint and the glass seemed little compensation for the very long wait that we patiently had for our food order.

It was fifty minutes before our food arrived. The restaurant gave us a discount on the food and apologized for the delay while they catered the wedding upstairs. When we got back to our hotel, the housekeeper knocked on the door to deliver us chocolates. It was a nice gesture and a good ending to a busy day, and as example of how our trendy hotel in far off Newfoundland was the best of the trip.

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