Mud Monster - Riding the Tantramar Marshes

Most people find the muddy upper Bay of Fundy less appealing than the rocky or sandy areas of the bay.  Mud, in general, is disapproved of from the time you learn how to walk, so the mudflats and silty channels of the upper bay are not well regarded.  We are looking to change that, which is why we enlisted Mount Allison University student Taylor Crosby and some friends to visit the mud at the best possible time and trade some stories about it.

Muddy stream channel and old wharf on the LaPlanche River. Photo credit: Craig Norris 

We biked out late on a fall afternoon, across the Aulac dykes, Taylor explains, “As long as it is not too windy, the dykes are a great way to experience the expansive Tantramar dyke lands, and they take you right up to the coastline." Our destination was the Amazing Place on the dyke near Fort Beausejour, where we can gaze directly down the axis of the bay.  In the Maritimes, wide open spaces like this are the only way to get a little taste of the big prairie sky.  This is why we have come, to take in an epic open sky sunset during low tide over the mud of the empty Cumberland Basin.

Sunset on the Aulac River. Photo credit: Craig Norris

The last rays of sunshine beaming through the fields and marsh grasses are a glorious sight, but Taylor is much more taken by the mud.  "It is wet, shiny, covered in drainage patterns, unusual topography and it reflects the sky’s light back in so many colours, but it is more than that,” she says, “the smell of the salt marsh, the mud and clay, it is so cool, such a beautiful scene.”   The full spectrum of light raining down on the wet mud and cord grasses makes the scene absolutely hypnotic with its fully saturated palate of colours.

Moments after sunset from the dyke overlooking an empty Cumberland Basin. Photo credit: Craig Norris
Muddy stream channel and old wharf on the LaPlanche River. Photo credit: Craig Norris

While taking in the view, I ask Taylor if she has ever been mud sliding.  She has a defensive response, "Don't knock it until you try it!"  Taylor is a person who loved her mud sliding experience, "You can slide all the way down to the water, just don't stand in one place too long and don't go in the water too deep," she warns.  Besides all the fun, Taylor says it is a workout climbing back up the mud, and it is a challenge to get clean.  "You hope for a nearby generous person who'll lend you their hose; otherwise it turns into mud-monsters marching home through the streets,” she cautions.

Taylor and Anna after mud sliding. Photo credit: Sylvan Hamburger

Standing on the edge of the dyke lands listening to Taylor’s mud-sliding story, there seems like no better time to discuss the 7000 years of sea level rise it took the Bay of Fundy to build these mudflats and marshlands.  According to cores drilled in the marshes, this outer dyke location sits on 35 meters of mud layers; enough to completely bury a ten story building.  We feel like tiny specks on this landscape, standing here for a short flash in time.  Several important portage routes came through the Tantramar Marshes, and it is interesting to think about how different this landscape would have been as the Mi'kmaq watched similar sunsets from their campsites here hundreds or even thousands of years ago.

Taylor soaks in the last moments of the day. Photo credit: Craig Norris

While day changed to night, the full moon rose behind us to light our way back.  “Biking under a full moon on the dykes is beautiful in a different way, there is no light pollution out here, the air is cool, and the reflections have turned to shadows,” Taylor describes, “And the sea floor is such a weird place under the moonlight."

The Edge of the Tanramar Marshes at low tide under the full moon. Photo credit: Craig Norris

The Bay of Fundy has many hidden opportunities to experience strange and exhilarating landscapes.  The Amazing Places Challenge is encouraging people to get out and visit all 50 Amazing Places in the Fundy Biosphere Reserve to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday.

This article is the fifth of seven in the Amazing Places Challenge series. 

Financed by The Government of Canada

Wolf Brook

Coordinates: Lat 45.482986°N, Long 65.243719°W

Wolf-Brook Description: The moderate-sized brook mouth here meanders through several partially vegetated gravel bars as it flows out from a lush valley.

Nature Notes: This site has an interesting geological and human history, which are somewhat intertwined. The brook cuts through some richer igneous (volcanic rock) formations upstream, so it carries some semi-precious stones and others containing copper ores and even (very rarely) some gold. As is the story with a few sites along the bay, some attempts were made here long ago to pan for gold. Remnants of three logging water retention and diversion structures can also be observed here.

Image by Marc Leger

Waterside and Dennis Beaches

Coordinates: Coordinates: (Waterside Beach) Lat 45.627575°N, Long 64.812131°W; (Waterside Marsh) Lat 45.626611°, Long 64.797279°W, (Dennis Beach) Lat 45.630285°N, Long 64.849762°W, (Red Head) Lat 45.624738°N, Long 64.833150°W

Waterside-and-Dennis-Beaches Description: A 6 km long, sandy strand divided into two distinct beach areas by a spectacular red sandstone outcrop (Red Head). The Waterside Beach section is backed by a vegetated dune system and a large salt marsh complex (Waterside Marsh) west of Long Marsh Creek.

Nature Notes: This site has been a nesting area for Piping Plover (an endangered species and one of the FBR’s Amazing Species) on a few occasions over the last couple of decades, but the site is impacted by ATV use and other human disturbances and the birds have had trouble here, likely even more so than in other parts of the Maritimes. Geologically speaking, Red Head is a Triassic rock outcrop which dates back to the beginning of the age of dinosaurs!!! Waterside Marsh and Rocher Bay are very good spots for rare birds, ducks and herons in particular, during both spring and fall migration.

Image of Red Head by Ben Phillips

Wolfe River Gorge

Coordinates: Lat 45.587441°N, Long 65.08341°W

Wolfe-River-Gorge Description: A marvellous, scenic access point to the Wolfe River Gorge far upstream of its mouth, found along the Bennett Brook trail.

Nature Notes: This region is located in the heart of the Wolfe River Gorge. While the entire gorge is an amazing place, the confluence is perhaps one of the very best vantage points to “take it all in”. Another impressive sight close by is the Bennett Brook waterfall, located about 50 m upstream from the confluence, along Bennett Brook (the right-hand branch of the river facing north).

Image by Ben Phillips

Upper Salmon River Estuary

Coordinates: Lat 45.599523°N, Long 64.947871°W

Upper-Salmon-River-Estuary Description: The mouth of the Upper Salmon River is a well-sheltered estuary with an important intertidal zone with lots of rich salt marsh that harbours a wide diversity of bird life.

Nature Notes: Historically, an important logging mill was situated alongside the river in the estuary. Logging was once one of the main economic drivers of the region; today, remnants of old dam related to logging activities can still be seen up river from the park entrance, at the end of the intertidal zone.

Image by Brian Townsend/Parks Canada