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Newfoundland and Labrador has long been renowned for its magical coastal waters where icebergs drift by and whales frolic.

Newfoundland and Labrador has long been renowned for its magical coastal waters where icebergs drift by and whales frolic. But it’s high time the world appreciated the wonders that abound in its geology, says Dr. Jack Matthews.

“Newfoundland and Labrador’s geological treasures span much of earth’s history, from some of the oldest rocks in the world to fossils of the first animals,” says Dr. Matthews, honorary associate at Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

“The stunning coastlines for which the province is famous hold more than just beauty. They tell us where we came from and how our planet has evolved.”

Treasures in the landscape

The Dungeon Provincial Park

For anyone who yearns to travel through time and connect with ancient landscapes, Newfoundland and Labrador is a destination not to be missed. Throughout the province, visitors can see, stand on and touch rock formations that formed the world we inhabit.

Weldon Schloneger, a resident of Ohio, has been a fan of the province’s extraordinary geology for nearly five decades. In 1969, Schloneger and his wife, Florence, moved to the province to help fulfill a teacher shortage in outport communities. Although they returned to the U.S., they fell back in love with Newfoundland and Labrador in 1983 when they visited Gros Morne National Park with their two young sons.

“A highlight of that trip and perhaps our ultimate Newfoundland highlight is the day we climbed Gros Morne Mountain as a family,” says Schloneger, referring to the 800-metre, flat-topped mountain at the heart of this awe-inspiring UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“At the top, we brought out the lunch we had packed and gazed in wonder at the rugged landscape around us.”

Listen

Weldon Schloneger talks about why the rocks and fossils of Newfoundland and Labrador keep drawing him back to visit.

In one of Schloneger’s photos, the layers of the earth appear to thrust upward instead of horizontally.

Weldon Schloneger

Schloneger says he’s always been fascinated by rocks, ever since he was a young boy growing up on a farm in Ohio smashing pebbles with a hammer to see what was inside.

“The rock interiors were so different from one another that I wondered about the origin of each one. It was clear to me that each rock had its own story,” he says.

Newfoundland and Labrador proved the perfect place to revel in such stories. Schloneger and his family have returned to the province several times over the years. On a recent trip, he took stunning photos of geographical features and posted them in a virtual book in the Story Exchange (a platform for travellers to share their experiences).

Highlights include the hollowed-out “eyes” of collapsed sea caves at Dungeon Provincial Park, multiple layers of shale and limestone at Green Point Geological Site, unusual bun-shaped thrombolites at Flowers Cove (formed when ancient microbes synthesized their food) and beautifully preserved fossils at Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Whether you’re a rock enthusiast like Schloneger, a student of history, or just someone who appreciates the beauty of the natural world, a trip to Newfoundland and Labrador provides an opportunity to see the Earth as you’ve never seen it before.

Fossils at Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve

Leaving no stone unturned

Fortune Head Ecological Reserve

In almost every part of the province, geologically-minded travellers will find plenty to explore. You can even follow a road trip itinerary that specializes in unique landscapes from coast to coast.

On the southern tip of the Avalon Peninsula, Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site boasting the oldest fossils of complex multicellular life found anywhere on Earth. Here, you can visit the Edge of Avalon Interpretive Centre and take a 6-kilometre guided hike to see first signs of life preserved in 565-million-year-old sea floors.

Over on the Burin Peninsula is Fortune Head Ecological Reserve, boasting 540-million-year-old fossils representing the first skeletal creatures.

Half a billion years in the making, Discovery UNESCO Global Geopark on the Bonavista Peninsula invites you to visit a wide range of astounding geological formations. Highlights of the Geopark include the Devil’s Footprints (imprints in the rock that resemble cloven hoofprints) and the red-hued sea arch at Tickle Cove.

On the province’s west coast is one of the few places in the world where visitors can walk on the earth’s mantle: The Tablelands. Formed 400 million years ago when ancient continents collided, this orange, otherworldly landscape is as close as you’ll get to walking on Mars. Close by in Gros Morne National Park, the glacial-carved fjords of Western Brook Pond will bring you to another planet completely, of lush mountains, wildlife and pristine waters – the outstanding natural beauty that helped earn Gros Morne a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.

Learning to think like a geologist

Tickle Cove

The geology ambassadors of Newfoundland and Labrador are as known for their ability to tell tales as they are for their knowledge of rocks.

Paul Dean, a geologist with Adventure Canada Tours and Fogo Island’s Geology at the Edge program, is an accomplished author and storyteller. Dean’s tours aren’t just about geology, but a history lesson and a crash course in human relationships too.

Fogo Island’s Geology at the Edge is a unique program for the eco-conscious traveller. Guests immerse themselves in the windswept landscapes of this offshore island on a 3-hour guided hike with a geologist. Topics might include the history of the Earth and the formation of the continents, the types of rocks found on the island and how locals navigate the landscape in their daily lives. Visitors might also learn how to identify wildlife and “read” the landscape.

Listen

Geologist Paul Dean discusses why the geological features of Newfoundland and Labrador are so unique and fascinating.

Layers of rock at Lobster Cove near Rocky Harbour, photographed by Weldon Schloneger.

Paul Dean. Credit: Dennis Minty

Even if you don’t know a lot about geology, “If you know what questions to ask, then the rocks have a story to tell,” says Dean. “Not unlike some of the questions you’d ask on a first date,” he laughs. “What family are you from? How old are you? Have you gone through transformation? What are your faults and folds?”

Dean says the connection between geology and storytelling is important because in order to be a geologist you have to be a bit of a detective – combining the pieces of data that you find with your creative imagination in order to put the story together. “The good geologists that I know are not pure scientists. A lot of my friends are musicians, poets, writers,” he says.

Dean says one of the most challenging things for guests to grasp is the concept of geological time, or deep time – the awareness that the earth is 4.5 billion years old.

For example, four hundred million years ago in Newfoundland, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and landslides were quite common. It can be difficult for visitors to reconcile that with the grazing caribou and sea-cliff footpaths they see today, he says.

“We’re teaching our guests that the earth is dynamic, has always been changing and is always changing,” he says.

As for Weldon Schloneger, he has a couple pieces of Newfoundland and Labrador at home to remind him of its unforgettable landscapes.

“On the windowsill in front of me is the absolutely smooth beach rock I rescued from Logy Bay near St. John’s and the razor-sharp rock I took from Fogo Island,” he says.

Ready to travel 500 million years in the past? The fossils, sea stacks, mountains and rocks of Newfoundland and Labrador have stories to tell.

The Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

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Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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