Spirit Sands Hike September 2013

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Reid Dickie

I love the Canadian prairies. Here’s a few more of the thousands of reasons why.

A brisk south wind blew in warm temperatures about 25 degrees C. The clear sky beckoned me westward along Hwy #2, past the parade of little towns I’ve come to know so well. When I arrived in the parking lot of Spirit Sands, I was alone, the only vehicle. Two hours later there were a dozen cars and half tons lined up, people grabbing onto a hot day in September for the rarity it is.

SPIRIT SANDS SEPTEMBER 2013 031Stripped down to cap, shorts and hiking boots, I headed out on the trail. Through the mixed forest at the start of my hike, the flora was beginning to take on fall colours. The greens are paler, less convincing. Some of the trees are fading to yellow. Scattered everywhere and the most colourful thing in the park today are the arrays of yellow-red-orange poison ivy.

Shy against the sand, the glossySPIRIT SANDS SEPTEMBER 2013 025 red hips of wild roses gleam out, the eerie white berries of creeping juniper and the bright red fruit against the shiny green leaves of bearberry add small blasts of colour.

Overhead goose music filled the sky several times, most other birds now gone. A few murmurations of blackbirds propelled across the sky on the drive out.

The dunes in autumn are at their lushest, a growing concern for some people as the open dunes succumb to ground cover, mainly big bluestem, which is drought hardy, and wolf willow, the silvery shrub. Assorted sedge, SPIRIT SANDS SEPTEMBER 2013 023cinquefoil and such have found purchase on the open sand, too. Though less abundant this year, horsetail abounds in damper areas like the oasis.

The problem, as seen by some in the tourist industry with stakes in the state of the dunes, is that the open dunes need to be freed of the growth, plowing it up and taking it away. This would restore the open sand, the wind would continue to move the dunes forward toward the forest and the unique tourist attraction of a desert in the middle of the prairie would be reinstated.

SPIRIT SANDS SEPTEMBER 2013 016There are several “Wow it’s a desert” places to enter the dunes: at the top of the two log ladders from the eastern trails and out of the mixed forest trail on the south side. This area is where the covered wagon rides first approach the dunes. In the last five years the first dune face the tourists see from the wagon has become almost completely overgrown, diminishing the effect of the open sand. The same holds for the log ladder entrances. Vistas of the dunes now include large overgrown swaths, especially noticeable on the three rows of dune faces. It isn’t anything like a desert anymore.

Traditionally, since Duff Roblin established the system, provincial parks have been sacrosanct places where interference with natural forces is taboo. Apparently, and ironically, Shilo, the military base which uses the dunes just north of the park, rousts out the flora with its training exercises enough to have more open sand than the park.

So, what are the options? Leave it as it is and let Nature do the do. Sounds fine with me. Plow up the overgrown areas (tricky on some of those steep faces), clear-cut the place basically and let the wind do its do renewing the desert. Sounds fine, too. It really doesn’t matter what we little humans do in our hurry and scurry, using our big brains to try to control everything. Nature bats last. Always has, always will.

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I suppose the next step is in the hands of the provincial government. Heaven help us! This bunch of past-their-due-date burn-outs are spinning, clueless and unruddered, in one spot where their banality is  surpassed only by their irrelevance. Unfortunately if the NDP are the whoopee cushion, the PCs are the exploding cigar. The usual choice!

However, now that the “problem” at Spirit Sands has been identified, the “solution” must be studied and studied to make sure lots of money gets into the hands of the correct consulting agency. What better way to end a rant than with a truth for every day of our lives: “We are governed by the least among us.” – Terence McKenna.

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Filed under Earth Phenomena, Spirit, spirit sands

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