The Mingan Sorcerer

The timescales of geology are fickle artists. Some of the planet’s great features require millions of years to craft; other spots arise in the blink of a universal eye. Of course, on human scales, both these poles are unfathomably large.

On the northern shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Quebec, a master sculptor spent the last 10,000 years or so creating sublime statues.

Mingan Archipelago in red - Map created by Parks Canada

Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve is one of 48 nationwide units designated by Canada as national treasures. Though the etymology is not certain, historians believe the name Mingan comes from the Innu-aiman – the language spoken by the Indigenous Innu people – word maikan, which translates to English as “timber wolf.”

During the last ice age and many times previously, this region of the world was covered with gargantuan glaciation. In the understatement of the millennia, glaciers tend to flatten anything they cover. The midsection of North America is a prime example; glaciation produced relatively flat, rolling tracts.  But there’s another feature of the power of glaciers that we don’t often imagine. Called isostatic rebound or post-glacial rebound, when the pressure of the ice leaves a spot on the planet, sometimes the crust begins to rise because the force holding it down is now gone. It’s like a delayed-reaction-Newton’s-third-law.

The map below displays the regions on Earth that were particularly affected by isostatic rebound; the areas in blue and purple rose the most:

Graphic by Erik Ivins/NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The region of the Gulf of St. Lawrence was subject to some juicy rebound. Because this rebound occurred in an area with a sea something rather fantastic transpired.

As the continental crust rose, islands started to appear in the basin. Over the course of thousands of years, the Mingan Archipelago materialized; Approximately 40 islands made of limestone dotted the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

As we learned at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan, when rock and water constantly meet, incredible beauty might emerge from the hard medium. The foundation of Pictured Rocks is sandstone; in Quebec, the rocks of the Mingan Archipelago are limestone. Over the last several thousand years, the limestone eroded, thanks to constant work from waves, winds, and seasonal thawing

The result is a glorious set of monoliths that tower over the seas.

Mingan Monoliths - photo by Zach Baranowski
Limestone sea stacks at the Mingan Archipelago - photo by Michel Villeneuve
La Grande Dame monolith - photo by Paul Gierszewski

Some of the individual sculptures receive names from visitors. The photo above profiles La Grande Dame. Though a catalog of “official” titles from these monoliths does not seem to exist, a smattering garnered interesting names.

One such denizen of the archipelago apparently merited a magical moniker. Behold the Mingan Sorcerer:

The Mingan Sorcerer - photographer unkonwn

The outline of the head is unmistakable: a furrowed brow oversees a pointy nose, which hangs over a protruding lip. Perhaps the horizontal sections on the side of the face represent a wizard’s wand?

Though the results of this specific pareidolia – the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern and certainly a future topic for the newsletter – might be a bit of a stretch, it does seem an apt metaphor for the grandeur of the monoliths in Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve. The artistry of the elements might be the work of an ethereal sorcerer, conjuring statues from limestone. The wizened wizard stands over the tides, raises his magical wand, and directs the water and the wind to chisel until his miles-long gallery is filled with masterpieces.

In addition to stonework, this area is rife with another favorite natural wonder: puffins!

An Atlantic puffin at Mingan Archipelago - photo by Zach Baranowski
Puffins hide in the long grass - photo by Zach Baranowski
A puffin on Ile aux Perroquets - photo by Zach Baranowski

The archipelago is a haven for puffins, who love to nest there. Of course, additional critters roam these islands, as well, including a slew of other birds, beavers, otters, bears, moose, and foxes, while seals, whales, dolphins, and porpoises populate the neighboring waters.

If we could ask a sorcerer to create the perfect blend of living and geologic resplendence, it might look a lot like Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve. This place immediately earns a spot on the official The Mountains Are Calling bucket list!

Further Reading and Exploration

Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve – Official Website

The Mingan Archipelago: A land shaped by time – Canadian Geographic

Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve – National Geographic

Glacial Rebound: The Not So Solid Earth – NASA

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