The Roar of the Bay

The Roar of the Bay
The Roar of the Bay

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fossil Track Expidition in Southern NB [Part 2]

As you've read in the previous post, Part 1 described the discovery of the trackways that we had found on September 9th, which was on a Friday. Part 2 is the culmination of our efforts and attempt to extract the chosen trackways on the following Sunday, that also saw us go back the morning after. We had planned on the to do's and hows' for the day, but as I quickly found out, you basically make decisions on the go once you're there. We also made sure to bring all the equipment needed for our field trip, including some plaster to create a cast if we're unable to extract the trackways.

We arrived on site very early in the morning. Matt had thought that we would probably be done sometime in the afternoon, but that the nature of field work can throw curve balls. We were greeted by friends of the person that owned the land where the beach access was. We told them the purpose of our visit and gave them basic information on the importance of the finds made on this beach. They seemed genuinely interested on the trackway we had found. We happily invited them to check us out later in the day at the work site to check these trackways up close.

We didn't hold them up for too long as the tides were gonna reach their peak real soon. Knowing that the tides would be high and that we could be stuck for a couple hours, we had the choice of going out for lunch, or head out to the work site and work through the high tide so that we could be done early. Matt had told me that we were expected at the Cape Enrage Interpretation Center by the staff if we wanted to head over there for lunch and meet the staff. Matt had done some work and research for them in the past. They knew that we were in the area and might probably drop by the work site to say hello.

The work we were gonna do would be the attempt to extract two trackways. One of them would require breaking it into segments for ease of transportation due to the size. The other trackway would be trickier. The plan would be to rotate the block that had the trackway into an horizontal position so that we could create a plaster cast. The cast would be a 'plan b' if we did attempt to extract the trackway. If anything would happened to the integrity of the trackway, making the recovery impossible, we would at least have the cast.

Right from the start we knew that the trackway, which we would need to be cast in plaster first, would be the most challenging and time consuming. That would be our first task. As we got to our location and set ourselves for work, the tide had fully come in. As we were stuck there trapped by the tide, we decided to get right to it.

The first thing we had to do is to get the block that the trackway was on leveled. We took our tools and cleared some of the loose rubble away so that we could get some leeway to be able to twist and turn to a favorable position. Once that was done, we chiseled away some of the excess off the block to make sure it wouldn't move while we applied the plaster on the surface.

Matt getting ready to move the block

That chunk of sandstone was heavier than we anticipated. We managed to rotate and set it into a somewhat flat, leveled position. While we were taking a breather, we took some putty out and made the borders that would hold the liquid plaster to form the mold.

While we were working away with the putty, we received some visitors. The people we had met when we first arrived came to check on our progress. Matt had great fun talking with our youngest guest Liam about animals and fossils.

Matt and our new friend Liam

Preparing the plaster mix!

The pouring

Let the drying begin!

After the plaster was poured and strengthning material applied (cloth to help solidify the mold), we picked up our tools and headed back West to the other site. We were hoping that by the time we are done extracting the other trackway, the plaster cast should be dry. The Sun was at its peak so this should help speeding up the drying process.

Second trackway site

As pictured in the above diagram, most of the visible tracks are located on one section (East). The plan to retrieve these tracks were to take them off in pieces. Matt had reassured me that it would be easy to put back together, just like a jigsaw puzzle (I saw these tracks a few days later and he did a great job putting them back together). The following photographs show shots from right to left (East to West) to give you a general idea of the surface.

First set of tracks located on the far right of the slab

Second set of tracks

Close up featuring some tracks from the second set

Multiple sets located near the middle of the trackway slab

Transition zone showing activity



Toolmarks from left edge of trackway slab

Side view with top pointing West

Rain drops(?)

Closeup of smaller set of tracks

Backdrop shows cliff that the trackways originated from,
possibly from the upper layers (exposed sandstone stratum, or "layer")

Working away on the trackway

Working on this trackway proved easier than the other set. This was just a question of collecting the pieces and worry about putting it back together later. We identified the tracks that we wanted to recover and managed to chisel carefully sections without any major damage (intentional or unintentional). We made sure to recover any small bits that flaked off by storing them in sample bags so that they could be reassembled with the bigger pieces.

After the final piece was removed, we wrapped all the pieces carefully so they wouldn't damage each other and put them in two backpacks for transportation. These bags were heavy, REAL heavy, but we managed to carry them to a short distance from the vehicule. We didn't want to put them in the car before we decided what to do with the other trackway further East where the plaster mold was still drying.

After depositing our backpacks at a dry location, we walked back to the first site to see if the cast had dried. We took our putty knives and carefully, inch by inch, lifted the cast off the rock. It had mostly dried up, but still felt damp due possibly by the water from the rock.

Final result of cast

The cast ended up being good for what we had to work with. The details weren't excellent, but the definitions were there. We had at least something that could be easily carried out in case we would try to retrieve the original trackway, which we ended up doing.

We both decided that it would be worth the trouble trying to retrieve that trackway, no matter how difficult. We started to get pressed for time, so we got right to it by chiseling away as much matrix as we could. At one point we noticed that the trackway had cracks in it, accentuated by the plaster that had filled the gaps. The thing ended up in the end cracking and splitting in three pieces. At first we were ticked at what had happened, but thinking on the distance we had to walk to bring the fragments, it was a blessing in the end.

Split in smaller fragments, these weighed like hell. We had a dolly to help us carry it, but the terrain was extremely harsh as we had to make our way through a beach lained with boulders. We had to ease the biggest fragment carefully on the dolly and strap in on tightly, but that proved difficult to say the least. What was worse is the fact we had to roll it, or drag, across the beach.

At the pace we were going, we would have never made it by sundown. We decided to cut through the seaweed at the high tide line and try our luck on the sand by the water line. After a period of time that seemed like an infinity, we managed to make it to the sand. What looked like sand at most places was actually silt and mud, making the dolly feel like dead weight. We started to feel desperate and the thought of abandonning the fragment on the beach came to mind. I had the idea to drag the dolly where the water ran between the mud and the rocky seaweed. The water usually carries off the sediment and leaves coarser and grainier sand. The gamble paid off as the wheels didn't sink as much.

We made our way close to the beach entrance and the car was parked close by. It took almost every ounce of energy we had to drag that piece of rock over a large sandy hump. That done, we took a breather for a minute or two. Tired as we were, we still had two more fragments AND two backpacks full of sandstone to carry out.

We were running out of time and out of daylight. We had less than an hour of sunlight and we still had lots to carry to the car. We went back to retrieve the two fragments we had left behind, which were a lot smaller and could be lifter by a single person. By the time were arrived at the car, the Sun was disappearing behind the tree line. Matt dashed out to the site to grab the equipment we had left behind. I took the opportunity to carry some equipment and a backpack filled with sandstone to the car. With all the equipment and samples at the car, the Sun had set and it was dark.

We loaded the car with the backpacks and two of the three fragments. The car was already under a lot of weight with what we had already loaded and we didn't want to push it. We made the decision to leave the fragment at the beach entrance, agreeing to come back to retrieve it soon. I told Matt that I was only working in the afternoon, so we could come back the next morning to retrieve it. We agreed and hopped in the car, exhausted but glad it was done. We had been there from a little after 8AM, and left the area around 8:30PM.

The next morning I picked up Matt and we head down South towards Cape Enrage. I was sore like there was no tomorrow. We arrived at the beach and loaded the trackway fragment in the back of my car. Matt asked me if we had time to stop by the Cape Enrage Interpretive Centre.

We met up with some wonderful people working there. We had great discussions and we showed them some of the work we did in the area. It was great to see the interest they had in the subject and promoting it. The site is beautiful and the work they did was amazing. They still have the cliffs you can repel down, the restaurant and the lighthouse. What's missing is an interpretive center for the local geology and biology, which would be a great asset to the tourism. We left vowing to come again soon, hopefully to work with them on some project, which would be great.

I dropped Matt at his house along with the remaining fragment of trackway. He asked me if I found all this hard work worth it. It was all worth it. I've been able to contribute to something like this, it was worth every minute of it. I would do it all again! Now I'm hoping that these trackways can be displayed so that everybody else can enjoy them.

Till the next trek. Cheers!


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