A BRIEF VISIT TO MARS (Tablelands Trail, Gros Morne National Park)

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The day after we climbed the Lookout Trail (see Look Out, We're Climbing a Mountain), we set out early in the morning for the 4 km (2.5 mi) Tablelands Trail. Its "gentle terrain" description would suit my climb-weary legs with an easy walk at the base of mountains. This is where we'd exchange the lush green vegetation of Partridgeberry Hill for orangey-brown landscape with scrubby bushes and stunted trees. Where is Our Mars? Parking and the trailhead sit off Route 431 between the Discovery Centre and Trout River. We headed out early to avoid the tourist rush. A thinly clouded sky provided a comfortable walk. Only our footfalls and a whisper of a breeze interrupted the vast silence. The forlorn landscape drew us, and our leashed dogs, into its otherworldly existence. I could easily imagine we had travelled all the way to Mars; yet, we merely stood 4 km (2.5 mi) away from the climb of the day before. Reminding us of our earthly location, in addition to the meager offering of vegetation, was civilization in the form of the nearby highway and its accompanying hydro lines. Peridotite is the substance covering this region. It is rich in iron and magnesium, having been thrust up eons ago from the mantle of the earth. The colour results from surface oxidation. Fight for Life Chiseled jagged rock patterns stood out amongst the scree and detritus layering the slopes skirting the trail. The bushes and trees scattered around us looked like they have been fighting a constant battle to survive their harsh reality, with some bare branches as evidence of the battle lost. Trailing shrubs, such as the ground juniper, lie like tentacles reaching for sustenance. We came across assorted flowers, including the pitcher plant, all looking pretty against the starkness. I was sent this information from Parks Canada: "These junipers are actually some of the oldest plants in the Tablelands, with some living to be up to 300 years old! As ice and grit have damaged its bark and disrupted the flow of water and nutrients, the shrub is indeed struggling to survive and will grow much slower." There's Water in These Barren Lands We passed over several small streams carving their way through the tough rock and came across a narrow waterfall rushing down a hillside. Unfortunately, the hydro lines altered their route from hugging the highway to stretch across our view of the waterfall, cutting it in half - a common frustrating occurrence for photographers. Occasionally, I allowed Tessi a bit of untethered freedom, though I kept the durations brief. The bushes were small enough for her to stay in sight and I could easily see there were no large creatures loitering. She blended in quite well with the rocks because of her fur of the same colour. (From later research, I would learn that visitors are to stay on the path to protect plant growth. Of course, the fact we were still in the park meant dogs are to be kept leashed anyway.) A Boardwalk to Amazing Eventually a boardwalk overtook the dirt trail. At the end, a lookout platform in Winterhouse Brook Canyon awarded us a 180 degree majestic view of mountains. I spent a bit of time taking pictures of a cascade beside the boardwalk before stopping to appreciate the scenery so impressive it left me feeling insignificant in its presence. Helen and Missy had already started heading back leaving Tessi and me alone in this magnificence. We were fortunate to experience this version of Mars by ourselves, not running into anyone until our return walk. By the time we reached the parking lot, vehicles and the onslaught of people filled its capacity, which took away from the unworldly feel of the Tablelands and reminded us of our existence on Earth. For More Info

(c) Cheryl Smyth, 2011

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