I cross the inter-provincial bridge from New Brunswick into the province of Quebec and turn right onto Hwy 134. This road encircles the entire Gaspe Peninsula, however I am only going along part of the east side, which is cradled between a mountainous bluff and the islands dotting the Restigouche River. It is a beautiful drive but with limited shoulder, and only small openings in the stands of birch, photo opportunities blur by and I have to etch the scenery in my mind rather than photograph it.
Even though my main destination is Miguasha, I will get to check off a new national historic site at Pointe-à-la-Croix, which is on the way. The Battle of Restigouche represented the last naval battle between the French and the English for possession of North America. The site is where the wreck of the Machault has laid for over 200 years, a relic of that time.
The national historic monument is close to the road, near the parking area, and I get out and snap a few photos of it for my collection before walking up to the site.
The building is up a set of stairs and has a balcony that offers a view of the grounds and the river beyond and, of course, Sugarloaf Mountain, Campbellton, New Brunswick on the left.
I can’t take photos in the museum but several artifacts and interpretive plaques describe the battle and lifestyle of the people in 1760.
I finish with my tour and come away understanding a lot more of the history and a place I’d only just heard about from the lady at the visitor center in Campbellton area, New Brunswick.
I leave the highway to follow the Miguasha signs in the area of Escuminac, a small farming community made picturesque by abandoned farm machinery and wooden barns weathered to a silvery gray. Sparrows dart from the scrub brush draping over the side of the narrow road, flying so close to the front of the truck I worry I will strike one, and I slow down.
The modern architecture of the museum stands out in this landscape and there is no doubt that I have arrived. I park the truck and head to the entrance. Pulling open the door, my eyes have to adjust to the dimmer lighting.
It is laid out like a maze, angled corners and narrow passages lead to a larger room with interpretive plaques and panels filling the walls. I wait in the line up to pay admission.
“Bonjour” says the man from behind the counter, I step forward with a smile and say “Bonjour, admission for one please” He hands me an information brochure.
“You have just missed the tour, there is another English one at 3:30 pm.” Too long a wait for me.
“I will just do my own thing if that is ok?” “Of course, follow the hall way to your left,” he points and I depart.
The Restigouche River has been revealing secrets of the Devonian Age since the 1800’s and this is the premier place to learn about fish and plants species from that era.
I carry on from room to room, so many display cases filled with wonders. I had read that the world’s oldest shark fossil was found in Campbellton area, New Brunswick. Called a bothriolepsi, it has been dated to 409 million years old and is being preserved on-site but I’m not sure if it is on display. Another major evolutionary find was the Elpistostege watsoni, a species of a finned fish that shows the transition from aquatic to terrestrial life.
I enter a small theater and watch a short documentary but the fossils can’t hold my attention any longer. I am eager go down to the fossil cliff and walk the shore.
Down the metal staircase, I head directly to the bank and kneel down, inspecting the cliff. I imagine how exciting it must be to piece together the earth’s puzzle from so long ago. Checking that no one is watching, I do a quick finger sweep of some layers to see if I can find any fossils. The fragile bits of shale and sandstone are so brittle they crumble from the bank under my touch.
I leave foot print impression in the fine particles on the sea floor as I walk. I keep my head down, not wanting to miss any finds. A man with a hat and a name tag on his shirt approaches, I feel his presence and look up as he says “Hello.” I greet him back but keep walking by. I spend another fifteen minutes picking up bits of rock and turning them over, examining them, then head back up the stairs, to find the trails through the woods. Interpretive plaques are placed randomly, describing the flora and fauna. I stop at an opening in the trees that gives a lovely view across the channel. A cool breeze blows in from the water, giving me goosebumps, a foreshadowing of the fall weather closing in.
Completing the walk I go to my truck and get my lunch, then sit at the picnic table to read the brochure while I eat my sandwich. A family with a little girl laughs and plays nearby. Miguasha isn’t just a UNESCO world heritage site but also a park to be enjoyed. The word Miguasha in Mi’gmaq means red earth, a fair description of the mountains of the area. I deposit my wrapper in the wastebasket and take one more look around the grounds and snap of picture of the UNESCO flag flapping in the breeze. Somewhere down the road is another adventure and I have no doubt I will find it.
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