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Our trip through Labrador picks up on Sunday morning as we depart the Paradise River Rest Area. The bridge over the river is a long metal bridge and it was talking to us as the morning sun began to warm the cold metal structure. As the metal expanded there were occasional loud metallic bangs that echoed through the canyon of the Paradise River. We crossed the river and continued on our way. Traffic on a Sunday morning was very light. I counted five vehicles in the first two hours on the road. The condition of the road was excellent for a gravel road. We made good time with few delays. Later in the morning the construction crews were out again and we had numerous short delays. We began seeing construction crews for a private company. They were assembling the poles for a electrical distribution line from a new dam being built near Goose Bay. Near the north end of Highway 501 we encountered paving crews. It was only the last 20 miles but we were glad to see paved road. Highway 501 ends at Labrador Highway 500. A right turn takes us about 20 miles into Happy Harbor and Goose Bay. We stopped in Goose Bay for fuel. Fifty gallons of diesel at $3.53 per gallon (conversions from liters to gallons and Canadian Dollars to US Dollars) topped off the tank for the remainder of the trip. From Goose Bay to Labrador City Highway 500 is paved road in good condition. We left Goose Bay about 3:00 and got to Churchill Falls about sunset. We had hoped to tour the Churchill Falls Power Plant but everything we heard indicated that the tours were no longer available. The Churchill Falls Hydroelectric Power Plant is completely underground. The town of Churchill Falls is a company town, built to support the building and operation of the dam and power plant. We found a vacant lot and parked for the night. The next morning we set out for Labrador City. The trip took about four hours with a short stop to take pictures of a black bear that crossed the road ahead of us. Arriving in Labrador City we found the Grenfel Hotel where we turned in the Satellite Phone we had picked up in L'Anse-Au-Claire. We had parked at a large parking lot for a shopping area just across the street from the hotel. It was now about noon so we had lunch in the motor home. As we were finishing our lunch there was a knock at the door. Opening the door, I saw a couple, an older man and woman. They were just curious as to what brought us to Labrador City. This isn't a place that attracts many visitors. Labrador City is a mining town. We talked for a while, gave us some tips about the road ahead and answered several other questions for us. One of their tips was a suggestion for a stopping place for the night. There was really only one suitable place to pull off the road and spend the night. That was an abandoned mining town. The town had been a thriving town until the company decided to close the mine. With the stroke of a pen, the town disappeared. The only thing left are the streets. I looked it up on the internet, Gagnon. Labrador City is on the western border of Labrador. Leaving Labrador City the road turns south and we cross into Quebec. As this happens the road becomes a gravel road again. In fact the road was now more like an operating mine road. The road was rough and heavy truck traffic was constant. We could manage little more than 15 to 20 miles per hour and we had about 40 miles to go. We had also been warned that the road would cross railroad tracks a dozen or so times. Most of the crossings were rough. Completing this gauntlet, we arrived at a stretch of paved road and made better progress. We arrived in Gagnon shortly before sunset. The pavement divided into a boulevard with numerous side roads visible. Most of the roads are now overgrown with trees. All the buildings are gone, removed, salvaged, not decayed. The sidewalks are there, visible in places. This mining ghost town sits on the edge of a large meteor crater, Manicouagan which has been dammed up and now forms Reservoir Manicouagan. The crater measures 60 miles across and was formed about 300,000 years ago. The iron and nickel being mined in the area were likely associated with the meteor though I don't know that for sure. At any rate, the dam has produced a large circular lake which can easily be seen on a map of Quebec. The highway, Quebec Route 389, skirts the eastern edge of this crater. To the south of the crater the outlet is dammed by a dam identified as Manic 5. It is the first (or last depending on how you view it I guess) of five dams across the river on its way to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It was the only dam we saw, the others are away from the road but there were signs for the road to each of the remaining four dams. Quebec Route 389 is partially gravel and mostly paved. The road runs through rough mountainous terrain with curves, climbs and descents which makes for slow travel. The road is also heavily traveled by truck traffic in support of the mining and power generation industry to the north. We learned that signs indicating Traveaux meant road work or detour in French! There were many traveaux along the way. We drove from Gagnon to Baie-Comeau in one day which completed our exploration of the loop through Labrador and Quebec. We had driven the entire route, approximately 1030 miles, in four days. Each of our three nights we boondocked where we could find a place to park. There were few places to stop and no tourist activities. This area is poorly mapped, our mapping program only shows the roads we traveled if we zoom in very close and then many of the features are not labeled. There were biting flies in the remote areas which made outdoor activities very unattractive. So why go there? I learned a lot about the area by simply seeing the terrain and activities along the route. This is a very remote area to visit and being able to tour any remote and little explored area is exciting in its own way. I would love to go back and spend more time if the roads were all paved and there were more facilities for tourists, RV parks, scenic viewpoints, information signs, and parks. I don't think these will be available any time soon and if they were, they would destroy the very wilderness nature of the area.
After our three day stay at L'Anse au Claire we set out on a drive across Labrador. We had some idea of what we faced but only the journey would really tell us what was ahead. I had queried numerous people about the nature of the road and received many different assessments. Depending on personal perspective and the vehicle being driven the same road may get widely varying descriptions. That was certainly the case for the road from Red Bay to Goose Bay. Labeled as the Labrador Coastal Highway, it connects coastal villages from L'Anse au Claire to Goose Bay via road routes. This is a recent development. These villages have historically been connected by boat and ferry. A few of the villages have airfields and all are accessible by helicopter today. Leaving L'Anse au Claire, Labrador on Saturday morning, we drove north on NL Hwy 510. As in our previous trip north from L'Anse au Claire we drove about 10 miles in dense fog. Then suddenly the fog was completely gone, the sun was shining. Once we reached Red Bay the paved road turned to gravel. We were facing about 328 miles of gravel road. The road started out very wide, probably 40 or 50 feet wide. We were able to meet vehicles without getting too close together. The gravel was small and the road was smooth as a gravel road can be. There was nothing to reduce dust however and we generated our own tail of dust as did every other vehicle on the road. With a large vehicle there is almost no speed at which you won't raise a dust cloud. Dust would plague us for the entire 328 miles of road. About 30 miles from Red Bay the road began to narrow. Just 95 miles into the gravel we encountered our first challenge. We had a flat tire. I'm going to describe this flat tire as a lucky flat tire. The tire monitoring alarm sounded just as we were passing the road to Charlottetown. I slowed immediately and pulled into a clearing at the roadside. It was the outside dual on the drivers side. We got out, heard the leaking tire and immediately disconnected the toad. Once that was done I backed the motorhome into the clearing to get it completely off the road. Then I set out in the toad to the fishing village, Charlottetown, just 12 miles from the motor home. Reaching Charlottetown I drove almost all the way through town before finding the general store. I went in and explained my situation. A conversation between two ladies and a young man resulted in the name of the person in town who could fix our tire. The young man said he would lead me to Ivan's place of business. He did so and introduced me to Ivan. While I was talking to Ivan, he was on his way back to work. Ivan had several reasons why he couldn't come right away to do the job but as soon as his daughter returned with his truck he would come fix the tire. He said about two hours. I returned to the motor home trusting that Ivan would show up sometime in the afternoon. Two hours later Ivan pulled up next to the motor home and proceeded to fix our flat tire. It was a 1 1/4 inch metal screw that punctured the tire. Before leaving us, Ivan advised us that the next place to get off the road would be just before we crossed the Paradise River. He seemed to be encouraging us to continue on to that rest area. He also advised us that we could get internet access at any of the highway department garages along the route. You see what I mean when I call the flat tire a lucky flat tire. Being 4:00 in the afternoon now and only about 150 miles for the day we decided to take Ivan's advice and continue on to the Paradise River. The ride was uneventful until about 20 miles before the rest area. Those last 20 miles were extremely rough, potholes and large rocks dotted the surface. We drove slowly and still gave the rig a good shaking. We reached the rest area about the time the sun set. We had now completed 150 miles of our gravel road challenge, We had driven about 200 miles since leaving L'Anse au Claire that morning. During the day we have been accompanied by a variety of vehicles from large trucks to small cars. Traffic was never heavy. Many times there was no traffic in sight and other times we might meet several vehicles in a row. Cars and large trucks were able to pass us relatively quickly so we never had a group of vehicles in trail for very long. The scenery along this section of road was typical of what we had seen in Newfoundland, lakes and forest. We saw many a small camper parked in the brush alongside a lake. Usually there was only one camper, as if people preferred to be the only person at that lake. If you love to fish, this must be near ideal. There were roadcuts that indicated the glaciers had been here. We saw numerous cuts through eskers, deposits of water worn stones that were from rivers that flowed within the glaciers. When the glacier melts, it leaves these are snake-like ridges and the road cuts through them show the rounded boulders and gravel of water born rocks. Charlottetown was located on one of may fjords along the Labrador coast. Goose Bay is at the western end of the largest of these fjords on the eastern coast of Labrador. Along the way we were seeing a great deal of road work. Much of the work seemed to be widening the road to match the roadway we started on. Being so remote, the rock for road construction and repair was being quarried on site from the roadcuts, hauled to a nearby rock crusher to be processed to size and then hauled back to the site where needed. We saw mine size trucks and equipment, much beefier than the typical road repair equipment we see in the US. In most places traffic was stopped by a flagger and the delays weren't too long due to the sparse traffic. I believe I mentioned the flies which are abundant and quite a pest in Labrador. Many of the flaggers wore fly nets covering their head and neck area and had gloves on so that there was a little skin as possible exposed.
It has been almost a month since we finished our trip to Newfoundland and Labrador. I needed the time between the trip and this post to put it all in perspective. We had a wonderful interesting and sometimes challenging trip through Newfoundland. On the 22nd of August we took the motorhome on the ferry from St. Barbe, Newfoundland to Blanc Sablon in Quebec. While waiting to board the ferry we were treated to a very interesting event. A moose swam across the bay from the far shore to St. Barbe. After shaking off some water the last we saw of the moose she was strolling into St. Barbe. It was quite a long swim but there wasn't a hint of panic or tiring, she just kept stroking away until she reached the shore. The trip across the Strait of Belle Isle was interesting. The ferry was tacking against the current all the way across and it was noticeable in watching from the deck as we approached the landing at Blanc Sablon. We were to learn later that many shipwrecks occurred in the area due to the strong current. I enjoyed watching sea birds and the villages on the Labrador coast. Once we reached Blanc Sablon, QC, we drove north about six miles to L'Anse au Claire, NL. We stayed at an RV park associated with the Northern Lights Inn in L'Anse au Claire. The park was very humble, utilities were at the rear of the coach, the surface was gravel and our 40 footer was by far the largest vehicle in the park. We were happy to have full hookups and internet service. We traveled north to the Point Amour Lighthouse one day and enjoyed climbing the Lighthouse to the top for a great view of the coast. Stories of lighthouse keepers are most interesting and this one was no exception. The lighthouse owner bought a Ford Model T which was the first vehicle in Labrador. There are pictures of the lighthouse keeper and his family and other items from the late 1800's. The lighthouse itself has walls constructed of local stone and has walls that are six feet thick. The next day we drove north to the Red Bay National Historic Site. The drive was quite instructive. We had been socked in fog all night long. Driving north we drove out of the fog about 5 miles north into bright sunlight. The road meanders north from one bay to the next. Between bays the road goes up and over high hills. Each bay hosts another small village. Red Bay is a small town and the site of 16th century Basque whaling camps. Recent excavations on land and underwater resulted in discovery of a large ship for transporting whale oil back to Europe. There was also a small whaling boat known as a chalupa recovered. That chalupa is on display in the welcome center. Imagine a chalupa that has been on the bottom of the bay for close to 500 years. Artifacts from the camps and the large ship are on display in a visitors center. The archaeological work that was done is amazing. We took a boat across to an island that was the site of several whaling camps. Walking a trail we saw the remains of various buildings or shelters where whale blubber was rendered and whale oil was put into barrels for shipment. Before leaving Red Bay we drove north just a few miles north to scout out the next part of our trip. From Red Bay north toward Goose Bay there is a single road, the Coastal Road. The road is entirely gravel until you reach the area of Red Bay. The final 20 miles into Red Bay are paved. If all you want to do is see a little of Labrador I would recommend that you take the toad to Sablon Blanc and stay at the Northern Lights Inn. The Inn looks quite nice and has a restaurant. Another possibility would be to take a tour which would include bus transportation to the tourist sites mentioned above as well as a stay at the Northern Lights Inn. We wanted to do more than this so we brought the motor home over on the ferry. After three days in L'Anse au Claire we set out to see the rest of Labrador. I'll describe that journey in my next posting.