The Riviere Manicouagan, or Manicouagan River, flows southward, from eastern Quebec, into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Economically speaking, its main purpose is to provide Quebec with hydro-electric power, but it also provides a route of access into northern Quebec.
At the river's mouth, there lies the city of Baie-Comeau, which is an average North American city, complete with a Wal-Mart and a Poulet-Frite Kentucky. Indeed, as long as one gets to this city by way of its Gulf shore from the nearest large city, La Ville de Quebec, as they say in Quebec, the entire trip is only moderately interesting. However, if one approaches or departs this city via the shores of the Riviere Manicouagan, the trip becomes more exciting.
The highway which parallels the Riviere is Quebec Provincial Highway 389. It is 565km long according to its highway signs, and can be described in four parts of roughly equal length, though not equal travel time, as follows:
The southern part is fairly well paved, but uninhabited except for five hydroelectric plants and the people who work at them. At the southern entrance to the road is a sign, advising whether the road is open further north; it closes during the winter. There are two hotels along this southern stretch, with names like Hotel de l'Energie and architecture as though the entire hotel was shipped in trucks (which they both probably were). One can find French-speaking people sitting on the hotel steps drinking beer on a Saturday afternoon.
Next lies a stretch of dirt road, though as dirt roads go, it is nicely groomed. There is one petrol (gas) station with some cabins for rent. One suspects the station is family-owned; the attendant at the time of writing was about nine years old. Just past this station is the gate which is shut and locked when the road is closed.
North of that lies another nicely concrete-paved stretch of road, entirely uninhabited. The mining town of Gagnon used to lie there, but when the mine went dry, the town was stripped bare by the remainder of Manicouagan and nearby Labrador. The story goes that the last man out had to continually tell people he was still in residence, lest they tear their house down. Ironically the name Gagnon means 'winner' in English.
Farthest north, it's dirt road again, uninhabited and very poorly maintained. It crosses a railroad track frequently. This railroad supplies the mining town of Fermont (French for 'Iron Mountain'), which lies at the end of the highway. Properly speaking, this area is not part of Manicouagan, but one must drive through it to get there.
All along the highway, there is forest with some spectacular views. The most spectacular view is of the hydroelectric dam Manicouagan-V, which fills the horizon from a quarter of a mile away. The trees get shorter as one goes north, though. In northern Canada, it can take a tree 200 years to grow ten feet.
Insect life abounds along this highway during the summer. In the southern part, mosquitoes predominate. From the site of Gagnon northward, black flies are heavily in evidence. Unlike the garden-variety, black flies that occur in some relatively southern places, the bites from these flies tend to swell up greatly, and then ooze.