The geology of Mad Rock
“Thick beds of turbidite tilt along the shoreline at Mad Rock near Bay Roberts.” Who would have ever known? Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not a geologist, nor the son of a geologist. What I’m doing is quoting Martha Hickman Hild, whose geological adventures have taken her to Europe, Africa, Greenland, and elsewhere, obviously including Mad Rock.
In her recent book, “Geology of Newfoundland: Touring Through Time at 48 Scenic Sites,” she takes readers on a captivating journey through millions of years of Earth history. We visit locations both on and off the beaten path, tracing the island’s story of vanished oceans, colliding continents and ancient life, captured by the appeal and drama of the rocks at each site.
Some years ago, I found my own Shangri-La, a paradisiacal utopia. In our occasional need to escape life’s demands, my wife and I drive to the local haven known as Mad Rock. We either remain in the car and “view the landscape o’er” or meander the Shoreline Heritage Walk, to seek solitude, to commune with Nature and with God, to renew our minds, to revamp our vision, to revitalize our life, and to reorganize our thoughts.
I must admit, though, that on our forays into this idyl, I have never given serious consideration to the actual rocks that make up the site. That is, until I picked up Hild’s field guide.
“Mad Rock and the rest of the peninsula at Bay Roberts,” she points out, “are part of a group of sediments called the Drook formation that were deposited in such a basin as turbidites. All this happened following the abrupt end of the Gaskiers glaciation.” Time for a definition. Turbidite is a sedimentary rock type deposited in deep ocean water by turbulent, avalanche-like currents of liquified sediment flowing down the continental slope.
In her recent book,
“Geology of Newfoundland: Touring Through Time at 48 Scenic Sites,” she takes readers on
a captivating journey through millions of years of
The reason this site has been intensively studied is because, in Hild’s words, “it was part of the environment in which Ediacaran life forms evolved and lived.”
Indeed, the Three Sisters natural rock formation, a well-known landmark on the Shoreline Heritage Walk, are the eroded remnants of a turbidite layer from the Ediacaran period. Enough geology for now. The appeal of Hi ld’s book is enhanced by the inclusion of such practical matters as driving directions, where to park and walking directions.
So, in order to reach Mad Rock, “From Route 70 in Bay Roberts, follow Water Street all the way along the peninsula. Signs for Scenic Mad Rock point the way. The road emerges into an open landscape near the parking location.”
Hild even pinpoints the parking location: N47.61769, W53.21505. “There is,” she says, “a gravel parking area at the end of the paved road. (A gravel road continues from there to additional parking at the point.)
“From the parking area, follow the gravel track to the point and around to the right as it follows the shore. Just before the track crosses a stream, there is good access to the cobble beach. Walk left onto the beach and double back along it to the outcrop location.
“The paths at Mad Rock are part of an extensive system of trails in Bay Roberts, the Shoreline Heritage Walk. Maps of the trail system are posted at access points along Water Street.”
I don’t regard myself a greedy person, so I’m more than willing to share my Shangri-La – Mad Rock – with the general public.
Perhaps Mad Rock won’t appeal to you as it does to us. Then, why not plan a trip around another location in this book? Perhaps the Humber Zone will pique your interest. Hild calls Flower’s Cove a tropical paradise. If you decide on Rocky Harbour, you’re “ahead of the plow.”
The Dunnage Zone reveals such varied sites as Moreton’s Harbour (the scene of eruptions and intrusions) and Goodyear’s Cove (a fiery cauldron). The Gander Zone opens up Margaree (tectonic taffy) and Greenspond (melts in motion). Finally, the Avalon Zone exposes Manuels River (in the basement) and Bell Island (Farewell, Gondwana).
Whichever site you choose, Hild is an indispensable and reliable guide to the rocks that make up our island home.
“Geology of Newfoundland: Touring Through Time at 48 Scenic Sites” is published by Boulder Publications of Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s. Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His column appears in The Compass every week. He can be reached at