It's early in the year to go rock hunting, but the weather had been favorable for the past few days. I had the idea of going for a road trip in Nova Scotia to check a few sites. My friend Matt Stimson was interested to tag along and was in Halifax for the weekend. I had offered to go pick him up in town and from there we could plan what sites to visit. The weather for that day (Saturday April 7th, 2012) had changed and they were predicting heavy snow falls late in the evening. We weren't sure if we still wanted to go, but in the end we couldn't pass on the opportunity to go rock hunting!
Site #1 - Blue Beach, Hantsport
Site #2 - Joggins
The tide for that day wasn't favorable to us unless I left Moncton extremely early Saturday morning. The first stop we had agreed on was Blue Beach in Hantsport, and low tide was set at about 8:30am. To be able to have enough time to be on the beach, I would have to pick up Matt in Halifax around that time. It takes pretty much 2 hours and 30 minutes from Moncton to Halifax, and about 30 minutes to reach Hantsport from Halifax.
I woke up at 4:30am and couldn't fall back to sleep, so I got myself ready and was on the road by 5am. At that point I was running on 4 hours of sleep! I was just too excited to hit the beach. By the time I hit Truro, Nova Scotia it was sunny and only a few clouds dotted the sky. I arrived in Halifax a little before 8am. We got his stuff in the car and did a few pit stops before heading North on the 101 for Windsor.
The plan was to check Blue Beach, stick around for a bit and then go for a bite in the area during high tide. From there, we'd then track back and drive back towards Cumberland county and check the Joggins fossil cliffs.
Entrance to Blue Beach
We arrived at Blue Beach at around 10am. High tide was gonna peak at around 2pm, so we still had some time to hit the beach. I parked the car, got the backpacks out, and proceeded down the trail. We wanted to check the makeshift museum but the owner wasn't around. I'll will be definitely coming back sometime during the Summer to come check it out.
Blue Beach (North)
If there was any doubts about the weather, they were gone at this point. The sky was blue and there weren't many clouds. The temperature was surprisingly comfortable, probably around 10oCelcius. On our walk we were joined by a black dog, making his way down the beach alongside us rock hounds, occasionally looking at us and wagging its tail. He looked like an old fella, and had a strange habit of eat the loose shale that lay on the beach. It was an interesting companion to say the least.
We reached our first serious looking outcrop and checked the shale and sandstone littered close to these cliffs. It didn't take long for us to find some interesting features on some of them.
Diplichnites, or representing an arthropod in movement, or 'walking'
The first features we found were a series of tiny trackways, shown in the picture above as two lines or series of dots parallel to each other. These trackways, usually called diplichnites, are 'usually' associated with an arthropod called a trilobite, but not necessarily true in this case. The culprit in this case could have been another arthropod that lived at the same period in the Carboniferous as the trilobite, such as a horseshoe crab, which interestingly still perseveres to this day. Tracing the trackways to the left, you come up with this...
Resting trace, Rusophycus, or the actual animal?
The image above shows either the resting trace of the animal, called Rusophycus, that made these tracks, or the remains of the animal itself. The couldn't identify the animal at the moment, but does show signs of a 'carapace' or shell.
Possible culprit, the Horseshoe Crab!
This was just the first sample of many types of invertebrate trackways found that day on the beach. The diagram below helps to illustrate the different positions and tracks an arthropod can leave based on its movement, behavior, or position.
Adapted from the Treatise of Invertebrate Paleontology, Part W. Trace Fossils (Revised)
Note to Self: I need to get my hands on either a portable ruler or something to gauge proportions for comparison when I take pictures with my camera. Reference is key!
Cliff where the tracks possibly came from
Amongst the loose shale and blocks of sandstone on the beach were some that sported some features like this one, pictured above. The round depressions, or pits, were more than likely rain drops, but what's interesting here is the strange 'S' shaped feature that runs vertically in this photo. This could have been a fish dragging its tail on the bottom of the water body it lived in. The water level was ever changing, and there are many clues on the beach that indicate likewise.
Slab that shows various arthropod behaviors
such as resting, feeding, and walking
Invertebrates, such as arthropods, weren't the only ones leaving their mark on the beach. We came upon a few sets of trackways made by vertebrate animals such as tetrapods, ancient amphibians that dominated the period around 300 Ma (million years ago).
Multiple arthropod trackways, running vertically
What could the various tracks of those small arthropods that we found littered on the beach indicate as the environment they lived in, or what type of behavior would they have adopted? An interpretation of it could be that these animals would leave the safety of water for various reasons, such as mating, or even nesting. Question is what type of environment would they have lived in? What could cause the water levels to have been reach all sorts of levels (not counting tidal activity). That I will leave to the experts to wrap their brains around.
Cliffs where the previous set of trackways possibly originated from
Possible parts of a ribcage
Other things we would find on the beach beside trackways are actual parts of the animals such as scales, teeth, and bones.
Slab containing various bone fragments
More bone fragments, scales
This piece of sandstone shows an interesting feature. The recess shows a 'U' shape obstruction. This could have contributed by a change in water movement. This could be interpreted, possibly, as water movement such as a tide, and not simply as wave action. That's what comes to mind so far. Same thing I said before, I'll leave that to actual experts.
More arthropod trackways
Marks made by some type of pine cone
(lycopsids are distant ancestors of conifers)
Possible feeding trace (Cruziana - center),
with resting trace (Rusophycus - top)
This old dog hung out with us pretty much the whole trek. You could hear him cough once in a while and chewing some shale rocks. He stayed a little distance from us but never too far away. A couple passing by asked if the dog was friendly, which we replied he was. He didn't mind the attention. When it was time for us to turn back, we whistled to the dog and he followed us back up the beach. That day we had had our personal Blue Beach bodyguard. =P
One section of the beach had a stratum, or layer, that extended from the cliffs to the bay. This layer of sedimentary rock had rounded cavities randomly spread across it. These cavities indicated the location of trees that would have had been growing. The traces of this ancient forest came in various sizes, from a couple centimeters to about a foot in diameter.
More arthropod trackways (bottom right, close to hammer)
I'd say when we were done, it was probably close to 1pm when we got back to the car. We put our equipment in the trunk and headed to Windsor to gas up and for a bite to eat. We drove a little bit downtown until we found a fast food joint, ate a quick meal, and proceeded back on the 101 South towards Halifax. I'm not gonna say much about my GPS Navigation device called 'Maggie the Nagging B@#$%', but lets just say that at one point it was better to watch the signage than to refer to its reference on the maps. Hopping back on the 102, we made our way North pass Truro and then jumped on the 104 towards Amherst.
We did one site and in the Cumberland area, the tide had peaked at around 1pm. It was about 3:30pm when we got close to Amherst. It was still early in the afternoon, so we decided to take a left and head to Joggins. Might as well get as much rock hunting done in a day, right?
Dawson 1868a, p. 179
We made our way towards Lower Cove, a little ways North of Joggins. I parked the car close to the bridge that passes over Little River. Not long after we set foot on the beach and made it a few hundred meters heading North, my buddy Matt got a text on his phone from our friend Brian Hebert that lives in the area. We could see him run in our direction. He recognized my car that was parked at the bridge.
I came to Joggins about 2 weeks before and the beach was very hazardous with all the flying rocks and harsh winds. The weathering of the cliffs since then was pretty extensive, as some of the trees and plants I had noticed then were pretty much covered in piles of loose sediment. I will make a post of that short trip very soon.
We found some similar type of trace fossils at Joggins that we found earlier at Blue Beach across the bay. At this location, plant material was more prominent, at least visually.
Horseshoe Crabs trace fossils
Ferns (I rarely find any when I come to the cliffs)
Ferns up close
Old mine shaft from the old coal mines (turn of the 20th century)
Branching Stigmaria (tree roots - lycopsids) with rootlets
Lycopsid tree with bark (top of tree)
One of many eagles we sighted flying over us. The high winds will sometimes push small rodents off the cliffs and result in their untimely deaths. This proves easy pickings for those winged predators. We had a guardian dog at Blue Beach, might as well have some guardian Eagles at Joggins. Those were incredibly BIG birds, over a meter in width easily.
Hardscrabble Point (with Brian in the foreground)
One of many trees exposed in the cliffs
View from the car on our way back
By the time we chit chatted with Brian a bit and the time he took off, it was close to 8pm. We stopped at a local restaurant to grab a bite to eat and chit chat with friends. We stayed a bit, enough time for me to enjoy some cinnamon goodness. Oooooh sooo good!! Matt had given Don Reid a call but he wasn't there. We stopped at Gloria's house, Don's daughter, and his car was there. We had a great time at their house. I love coming to Joggins where you'll find some of the friendliest people. Great hospitality!
By the time we said our goodbyes, it was close to 11pm and it had started to snow. We took the road and let me say that, visibility was crap. If it weren't for the wind, visibility would have been just fine, but it was like a blizzard. Good thing my car was still winterized, but there was nothing to worry about for the road were in good condition. Driving on country road was nerve wracking, but the highway proved a bit easier. Still, I didn't dare driving more than 80km/hr as sometimes I had to use the lines on the road as guides. As soon as we hit Moncton, it stopped snowing.
All and all, this was an excellent trip. Tired, but oh so very freakin well worth it. I was extremely happy to get this type of road trip done this early in the season. I can't wait for other treks in the following weeks, where weather will even be more favorable. We've done a short list of sites we need to check as soon as possible, so we'll have that to keep us very busy for the next little while.
I'll be adding a few more posts, so I'll be getting back in the groove.
Till then, cheers!