Newfoundland-Gros Morne National Park


Boulders of 1.25-billion-years-old granite at Gros Morne National Park tell of violent geological events when tectonic plates under continents heaved and collided, destroying the ancient North American rim and leaving the ocean floor atop it.

So dramatically clear is the rocky historical record that this insular 697-square-mile (1,805-km2) U.N. World Heritage Site on Newfoundland’s west coast is important to scientists everywhere.

It is equally important to woodland caribou, lynx, arctic hares, red foxes (here multicolored), black bears, moose, mink, and others. All were brought here or came under their own steam— swimming, flying, or walking on winter ice or snowpack in the 15,000 years since the last ice age.

Habitat ranges from coastal lowland with dune formations up to 100 feet (30 m) high, to alpine plateaus, waterfalls, deep fiord valleys, and glacial lakes.

Wild newcomers keep arriving. Coyotes showed up in 1987. And there are snowshoe hares, ermines, an occasional drop-in polar bear, and some 235 arctic, boreal, and pelagic bird species with strays from both sides of the ocean. It is an important migratory shorebird stop, and significant breeding site for rare, beautiful harlequin ducks as well as blackpoll warblers, arctic and common terns, rock ptarmigans, American tree sparrows, and bald eagles.

Harbor seals colonize the coast. Pilot, minke, and finback whales swim by. Atlantic salmon and arctic char spawn here after a life at sea while other species, including brook trout, fill the streams.

Alpine bearberries and azaleas coexist with purple-fringed orchids and carnivorous sundews in wet meadows among a remarkable 1,000-species array of plants (700 vascular, 300 mosses), some exceedingly rare and delicate (the park urges visitors to stay on established trails).

Some plants have developed into distinct island forms, different from those of mainland cousins from which insular lives have separated them.

Black bears tend to be bigger here. Red foxes can be black, silver-tipped, yellowish, or a patchycalico mixture. (Some have lost fear of humans, perhaps from illegal feeding, which is dangerous if they come to resent a human without food. Some such animals must be destroyed—thus the park warning: “A fed fox can be a dead fox.”)

Weather can be cool but pleasant through October, though always unpredictable. Hypothermia can occur in any season.

A ferry goes to Newfoundland from the mainland. Air Canada flies to nearby Deer Lake, where rental cars are available for the 50 miles (80 km) to park headquarters. There are miles of paved roads and hiking trails, and campsites and motels in nearby towns. Snowmobiles, popular in this snowy, beautiful place, are permitted in winter, but may conflict with wildlife on trails.

 Nowhere in nature are predator-prey destinies more intertwined than furry lynx and snowshoe hares, which closely resemble one another in dense pelage and broad, spreading hairy paws, able to support both species in snow. When hare numbers rise, lynx females ovulate more, mate more often, more successfully, and have larger litters of which more survive. When hare numbers plummet, lynx decline and so do their offspring, even when alternate prey is available. Lynx live deep in coniferous forests and mountains of Canada and the northern United States.Arctic fox fur has the highest insulation value of any mammal, useful in treeless arctic tundras where they live in Eurasia, North America, Iceland, and Greenland. Soles of their feet are covered entirely with fur—hence their scientific name, LAGOPUS or “rabbit foot.” Small, rounded ears restrict heat loss. Long, thick, bushy tails reach around them like fur stoles when they curl up to sleep, able to endure temperatures of –70oF (–60oC). No other canid species lives so far north.

Nowhere in nature are predator-prey destinies more intertwined than furry lynx and snowshoe hares, which closely resemble one another in dense pelage and broad, spreading hairy paws, able to support both species in snow. When hare numbers rise, lynx females ovulate more, mate more often, more successfully, and have larger litters of which more survive. When hare numbers plummet, lynx decline and so do their offspring, even when alternate prey is available. Lynx live deep in coniferous forests and mountains of Canada and the northern United States.Arctic fox fur has the highest insulation value of any mammal, useful in treeless arctic tundras where they live in Eurasia, North America, Iceland, and Greenland. Soles of their feet are covered entirely with fur—hence their scientific name, LAGOPUS or “rabbit foot.” Small, rounded ears restrict heat loss. Long, thick, bushy tails reach around them like fur stoles when they curl up to sleep, able to endure temperatures of –70oF (–60oC). No other canid species lives so far north.

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