The Tantramar eco-zone stretches from Berry Mills, just west of Moncton, east to the Nova Scotia border. The rock formations include red and grey sandstones, siltstones and conglomerates left over from the Ice Age. The forests in this zone are stunted, primarily because second growth forests (following either harvesting or from fires) lack the shelter from the coastal Fundy fogs and winds, which run double the speed of winds further inland. In drier sites you will see jack pine, white pine, white spruce and red spruce, while in wetter areas you will see black spruce and tamarack.
The route from the NB-NS border to Cape Breton originally followed the route of what is now Trunk 4. The original Trunk 4 followed terrain curves for cost effectiveness, and connected and drove through the province's established towns and cities, back when vehicle speeds were slower.
In many sections, that road has been superceded by a four-lane twinned expressway that has limited access and interchanges, travelling through more isolated and pastoral parts of the province (which makes land acquisition cheaper), and with much smoother curves and better road grading for higher speed.
From the inter-provincial border at Fort Lawrence, the highway runs east for 48 kilometres (30 mi) past the towns of Amherst and Oxford to Thomson Station. This section had been built in the 1960s as a 2-lane freeway, and was upgraded to a 4-lane divided freeway that opened in 1993. this section has a posted speed limit of 110 kilometres per hour.
The coal mines in the Springhill area (made famous by sdeveral songs about the 1956 Springhill Mining Disaster) are the result of swamps of tree ferns and horsetails that covered the area over 350 million years ago (along with giant insects and the first reptiles, when the oxygen content of the atmosphere was much higher). Over eons, the accumulations of layers of plant material, compressed under pressure from layers of more plant materials, layers of sediment and rock above, compressed everything into burnable coal. Springhill has an excellent mining museum.
Oxford has a lake as salty as the sea (and, not surprisingly called Salt Lake), just north of Highway 104. Several hundred million years ago, the area was a shallow arm of the ocean, protected from many tides which enabled evaporation of seawater creating massive rock salt and gypsum deposits. Groundwater has seeped down to these deposits, which dissolve creating numerous sinkholes in the area, as well as creating ponds with very brackish water.
The Cobequid mountains are 3 times older than the Rockies, and 200 million years ago were the same height at the Rockies, but have since been eroded down to their current 300 to 400 metre (800 - 1200 ft) heights.
From Thomson Station the highway runs southeast for 45 kilometres (28 mi) to Masstown (just west of Truro). This is a tolled section built as a 4-lane divided freeway and known as the Cobequid Pass Toll Highway which opened in 1997. It has a posted speed limit of 110 kilometres per hour, except at the toll booth (between KM 72 and 73). Lat/long: 45.4902808,-63.662827
Prior to this new alignment, Highway 104 ran east from Thomson Station for 53 kilometres (33 mi) to Masstown on the present alignment of Trunk 4 through the Wentworth Valley. This 2-lane uncontrolled access section included climbing Folly Mountain and was nicknamed "The Valley of Death" due to an increasing number of accidents and fatalities over the early to mid 1990s. Political pressure made it possible for the cash-strapped provincial government to consider toll financing for the realignment through the Cobequid Pass.
The Cobequid Pass Toll Highway was built for $66 million in private financing and $55 million in government financing The private financing loan is being paid back through tolls.
NOTE:Cyclist Tip: Cyclists should take the old route (#4), which takes a lower pass through the hills. This route takes you through Wentworth Provincial Park and past Mount Wentworth ski hill.
Exit 12: about 5 km north of the highway is the town of Debert, location of the 1963 discovery of Paleo-Indian flint tipped spears and arrows that date back about 9,000 years, and are one of Canada's earliest traces of human habitation.
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