The trail that brought us here is less than a kilometre long. But it has taken us to a point in time nearly a hundred million years ago.
In the near-dark, the trail was more challenging to follow than it would have been in the day, but there’s a reason why we’re heading down here after the youngest’s bedtime.
In the lights of a single lantern, the trackways—nearly invisible in the daylight to untrained eyes—leap from the rocks, cast into sharp relief. The kids gasp, and then begin to ask questions excitedly. My husband smiles at their enthusiasm, at the sheer joy of it all, but I know he is as excited as they are. After a while, their questions peter out and they begin to explore the slab of rock on the edge of the Wolverine River, looking intently for undiscovered trackways with their own flashlights, and my husband moves in to talk to the young man with the Quebecois accent who guided us down here.
Above us and downstream, the sounds of a lonely vehicle making its way rises above the quiet babbling of the river, it’s headlights lighting up the bridge but not penetrating down here. “What was that?” asks Thomas, the middle child.
“Maybe it was an ankylosaurus,” jokes the guide. He continues on this way in mock seriousness for a few moments before Miranda, our eldest, points out that it was just a car passing by on the highway. As if to make her point, a moment later another vehicle passes.
The guide (and my husband) continues to pretend as if it was a real dinosaur, but now Thomas, in on the joke, will have nothing to do with it, and protests strenuously that it was just a car.
But if you look away from the bridges behind, upstream towards the canyon, it isn’t hard to imagine a dinosaur coming out of those woods for one last drink before bedtime.
And too soon we make our way, back along the trail, over the train track, back to the vehicle. Back to the present day.