Limestone Barrens, the wreck of the Empire Energy, and south to Gros Morne
Thursday, June 23
Our exploration of the northern tip of Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula was almost over. I wanted to check out one more spot as we started our journey southwards. I'd read about a unique terrain type known as limestone barrens. They occur in a few places about the world, but on the tip of the Northern Peninsula, there are large stretches of it. There's very limited plant growth in the barrens, and what plant life there is is often quite unique to the area. Due to the soluble nature of limestone, it often consists of patterns of grooves, cracks, and the formation of hoodoos. Sounded neat.
The most extensive section of limestone barrens occurs along the western edge of the northern tip of the Northern Peninsula. A section of the barrens is preserved in a protected area called the Watts Point Ecological reserve. On a map (google maps, in fact) a minor secondary road that seemed to lead through this area, right along the coastline. As a bonus, this route more or less followed along in the direction we wanted to go. It would be another interesting attraction along our road trip.
So, instead of simply following highway 430 south from the L'Anse aux Meadows area, we turned off at a point near Pistolet Bay (there were literally tons of moose around here, just popping out of the woods on the side of the road every few minutes!) and headed briefly north, then west onto the narrow, gravel secondary road I had located on the map. A few bumpy kilometres later, we approached the coast and entered our first section of limestone barrens. Fortunately, and finally, the windy and rainy weather had started to lift. It was still gray out, but it wasn't raining, and it wasn't nearly as windy.
The barrens, at least on an overcast day like today, are a ghostly black-and-white sort of place. The landscape here is very flat, and the nature of the limestone here was of an endless plain of small, jumbled rocks. It looked rather like a bunch of concrete rubble had been evenly laid down for kilometres and kilometres. A bit post-apocalyptic feeling.
As we bumped and jolted down the old gravel road through the barrens, we came across an interesting looking bunch of rusted old wreckage along the beach. A shipwreck! We stopped for a few snaps, but for whatever reason we decided to press on. However, we were soon halted at the abandoned village site of Big Brook. It would appear that google needs to update their maps, as the bridge that used to cross big brook was no longer there.
This put a little hiccup in our nicely-planned alternative drive down the coast. We now had to backtrack back up to near Pistolet Bay, then take the usual highway 430 route. Ah, well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained... right?
Although this meant extra delay, our forced turn-around made us once again consider the interesting-looking shipwreck, and this time, we decided to get out and actually explore it.
Andrew shipwreck exploring
I've not explored many shipwrecks, and I still find them fascinating. These broken structures always seem a little sad; once proud, functioning machines with names and personalities, they slowly decay as the rough seas tear at them, day after day.
Jenn explores wreck
This particular ship, although interesting to me in the way of unfamiliar machines, seemed rather utilitarian. It was leaning only slightly, with its shoreward-facing side mostly intact, reasonably far above the water line.
Post-trip, it took a fair bit of searching to dig up the story behind this ship. However, I eventually pieced the important bits together: She was last named the Empire Energy, a 6,500+ Gross Tonnage cargo ship. It was built in Rostock, Germany, in 1921, and launched under the name of Grete. It was sold in 1934 to a company in Naples, Italy, and renamed to the Gabbiano. It was seized by the allies in June of 1940 during World War II, renamed the Empire Energy, and put into service in the merchant marine.
On the 5th of November of 1941, the Empire Energy was part of a supply convoy headed to Europe -- apparently carrying a load of corn. There was a lot of German U-Boat activity around Newfoundland at that time, and apparently the Empire Energy was being pursued and in danger of being torpedoed. The captain chose to deliberately run the ship aground here along the coast rather than be sunk. Interesting story.
After finishing our exploration of the wreck, we continued backtracking through the barrens, eventually coming back onto the paved highway. Soon we were back on highway 430 and headed south again -- this time with a pretty good feeling that the road ahead would not be blocked. Through occasional bouts of drizzle and rain, we headed south, the Gulf of St. Lawrence usually visible off to our right. On our left, the high, steeply-sided plateaus of the Long Mountains gradually came into view. It is these mountains that help make Gros Morne National Park, now only a few hours ahead of us, so spectacular.
Alongside the Gulf of St Lawrence
Before reaching Gros Morne, though, there are a number of sights to be seen along the way. We stopped at one of these -- a place known as "The Arches" -- along highway 430. The Arches is a tiny provincial park that has as its focus a single huge block of limestone on the edge of the sea. This limestone block has been eroded from below, creating a series of arched openings.
Multiple Arches at The Arches
After exploring around, on, and under the formation, we continued south, hoping to arrive and stay at a campground in Gros Morne National Park. This would position us well for the next few days, which were allocated to exploring the park.
We reached the boundary with the National Park around 7pm, and soon after, pulled into a park campground at Shallow Bay. The place was nearly deserted, and we had our pick of spots. We didn't feel like setting up the tent in the still wet weather, so we again opted for a sleep-in-the-car night, even though we had a nice campspot.
Fisherman's Huts at Parson's Pond