Travel Guide to Canada - - Table Of Contents - BY BARB & RON KROLL

How can a place that holds a key to the evo­lu­tion of life be named Mis­taken Point? Lo­cated on the south­east­ern tip of New­found­land’s Avalon Penin­sula be­tween Por­tu­gal Cove South and Cape Race, Mis­taken Point is a two-hour drive south of St. John’s on Route 10, the Ir­ish Loop Drive. Early sailors of­ten con­fused the Mis­taken Point promon­tory with Cape Race, so it was named Mis­taken Point.

Why did UNESCO des­ig­nate the Eco­log­i­cal Re­serve as a World Her­itage Site in 2016? The 146-ha (361-acre) prop­erty and its buf­fer zone pro­tect fos­sils of the old­est com­plex mul­ti­cel­lu­lar life forms found on Earth from the mid­dle Edi­acaran Pe­riod (580-560 mil­lion years ago).


The UNESCO site’s 17-km (11-mi.) strip of coastal cliffs rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone in the his­tory of life. Af­ter nearly three bil­lion years of mi­cro­bial evo­lu­tion, these large mul­ti­cel­lu­lar or­gan­isms ap­peared in deepsea com­mu­ni­ties. The more than 10,000 known fos­sil im­pres­sions, now ex­posed by ero­sion, range in size from a few cen­time­tres to nearly two me­tres (6.5 ft.) long.

De­po­si­tion of vol­canic ash helped cre­ate ex­cep­tion­ally well-pre­served im­prints of the soft-bod­ied crea­tures, where they lived and died on more than

100 sea floor sur­faces—in what has been called an “Edi­acaran Pom­peii.” The 20 fos­sil species at Mis­taken Point vary from fronds to a sponge-like or­gan­ism. Re­searchers be­lieve that the site con­tains more Edi­acaran Pe­riod im­pres­sion fos­sils than in the to­tal col­lec­tions of all the world’s mu­se­ums.


At the Edge of Avalon In­ter­pre­tive Cen­tre in Por­tu­gal Cove South, vis­i­tors can watch a video about Mis­taken Point Eco­log­i­cal Re­serve and the global sig­nif­i­cance of its fos­sils. Ex­hibits in­clude fos­sils and a cast­ing of E sur­face, one of the most im­pres­sive fos­sil beds. Vis­i­tors learn about reg­u­la­tions to pro­tect them­selves and the fos­sils dur­ing tours, such as bring­ing ap­pro­pri­ate footwear, rain gear, sun­screen and in­sect re­pel­lent. Dogs, ve­hi­cles— in­clud­ing bi­cy­cles, and col­lect­ing rocks and fos­sils are all pro­hib­ited.


The only way vis­i­tors can view the fos­sils is on guided tours which de­part from the in­ter­pre­tive cen­tre daily from late May to early Oc­to­ber. In-per­son or phone reser­va­tions are re­quired (tel: 709-438-1011).

Parks and Nat­u­ral Ar­eas Di­vi­sion in­ter­preters lead four-hour tours to the fos­sil van­tage point. Par­tic­i­pants drive their own ve­hi­cles on a gravel road, fol­low­ing the guide to the trail­head. The six-km (four-mi.) round-trip hike is mod­er­ately dif­fi­cult be­cause the trail can be wet or muddy, with some in­clines and a shal­low river cross­ing with step­ping stones.

Dur­ing their walk, vis­i­tors see some of the 150 plant species recorded in the re­serve, such as cloud­ber­ries, blue­ber­ries, cran­ber­ries and in­sec­tiv­o­rous sun­dews. Hik­ers with binoc­u­lars may iden­tify some of the 180 bird species that have been sighted, in­clud­ing black-legged kit­ti­wakes, other cliff-nest­ing seabirds and mi­grat­ing Arc­tic-nest­ing shore­birds. Short-tailed swal­low­tail but­ter­flies, red fox, wood­land caribou, moose and other mam­mals in­habit the re­serve.

Off­shore sight­ings of hump­back and minke whales, har­bour and At­lantic grey seals and har­bour por­poises also de­light par­tic­i­pants.

Wildlife view­ing is an added bonus to ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a fos­sil snapshot of life on the sea floor a half-bil­lion years ago.

MIS­TAKEN POINT ECO­LOG­I­CAL RE­SERVE • NL TOURISM/BAR­RETT & MACKAY More in­for­ma­tion www.env.gov.nl.ca/env/parks/wer/r_mpe/ www.parkscanada.gc.ca/mis­tak­en­point whc.unesco.org/en/list/1497

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