Newfoundland/Labrador Day 21: An Interesting Rock
The more I learn about Newfoundland, the more interesting it becomes. I had a full first day in the St. John’s area and apparently experienced pretty typical St. John’s weather: Cloudy, windy, foggy, rainy, 10 degree temperature drops. But it was a good day and the weather never got bad enough that I rummaged through the saddlebags to find rain gear or heated gear.
I guess I can return home now that I’ve got what I came for. Went to the Harley Davidson store and got a t-shirt. Small store and not much selection, but the back of the shirt says “Mile 1 Harley Davidson, St. John’s, Newfoundland.” Mile 1 because it’s at the beginning of the TransCanada Highway. I also noticed that the 2014 Ultra Limited here was priced at $30,500. Ouch. Tri-Glide was $43K.
Once I packed away my prized shirt in the tour pack, I had the rest of the day to explore the St. John’s area and headed first for one of the iconic sights in the capital city: Signal Hill. Signal Hill sits high above the city center and the city’s amazing harbor and has been an important site since the French and English began fighting over it in the 17th century. It traded hands a couple of times, but at the end of the Seven Years War (1755-1762) the British finally gained control of it and it never changed hands again. So why was it important? From the top of that hill, a watchman could see far out to sea and signal the town via flags and cannon fire whether approaching ships were friendly or unfriendly and a small garrison on the side of the hill could defend the entire harbor against intruders.
In 1897, to mark the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s initial “discovery” of Newfoundland and the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign, they erected the Cabot Tower on top of the hill and it can be seen from just about anywhere in St. John’s. The tower was used as a signaling center as late as the 1950s and they still fire a cannon every day at noon, a tradition in place for hundreds of years. I happened to be there for it today as the red-coated re-enactors touched off the powder to let the town know it was noon.
The entire site is run by Parks Canada, and, naturally, they do an outstanding job, making it available and preserving its integrity. Lots of hiking trails on the site, but I only took advantage of the one going up to the Cabot Tower.
Next stop, just down the hill from the Visitor’s Center, was the “Geo Centre.” I wasn’t sure what it was, but thought it was worth taking a quick look at. Turned out to be long look. It’s a mostly privately funded geology and science center that explains about as well as possible the unique geology of Newfoundland, which was at the heart of helping scientists first understand plate techtonics and continental drift. The mountains I was in several days ago on the west coast of Newfoundland are the northern end of the Appalachians, while much of the island’s geological properties more closely resemble North Africa than North America. Newfoundland, it seems, was not part of North America when it separated from Europe as the mega-contintent Pangea split up and the continents began drifting about 540 million years ago. It was a separate land mass that migrated north until it bumped into North America. All very fascinating and extremely helpful in explaining why the scenery in Newfoundland is so special. Two hours there and then off to the next stop: The eastern most point in North America at Cape Spear, about 20 miles south and east of St. John’s.
If you stood on the final rocks that jut into the ocean at Cape Spear, picked up one of those rocks and threw it very, very hard, you would hit Ireland, about 1,800 miles distant. There was a small display there but mostly signs warning visitors not to get close to the cliffs in order to get a few feet further east because it was about a 100 foot fall to the rocky shore.
They also had two lighthouses; a current one, automatically warns ships today of the coastal danger and an historic one is open for tourists (but the tower has weakened since it was built in 1847 and they wouldn’t let anyone go to the top). Fog and rain came in while I was there. When I first got there I could see the Cabot Tower, about 7 miles away in a straight line. After the fog settled in and the temperature dropped 10 degrees in 15 minutes, I could just barely see from one lighthouse to the other, a distance of about 200 yards.
Final stop: George Street in St. John’s for supper and some Irish/Newfie music. George is a three-block long street that has nothing but clubs, bars and restaurants and almost all of them feature live music nearly every night. I couldn’t stay long or partake of adult beverages since I had a 25 mile ride in the foggy dusk back to my B&B, but George Street looks like the kind of scene many towns–including Jacksonville–would love to duplicate.
Back at the B&B, I’m having trouble with the wifi connection. Hope I get this posted tonight.
Watch out for drifting continents and I’ll do the same.