Click the pic to watch my 2 minute video of a 360 degree panorama from one of the tallest dunes at Spirit Sands in Spruce Woods Park.
The temperature soared to 26 degrees today with clear skies and slight breeze – perfect hiking weather. I enjoyed the 2 hour drive out Highway #2 today with a few fields already being seeded. I had the whole Spirit Sands to myself when I arrived about 12:30. Stripped down to hiking boots and shorts I headed out on the new beginning to the old familiar trail that I’ve hiked at least 200 times in my life.
The new trail begins with a set of stairs to the top of a ridge. In the picture above you can see the top of the new stairs on the left and a bit of the old sand trail on the right.In the foreground is the newly ground trail. Long time hikers will recognize the split spruce tree as The Sentinel.
Many nice views along the ridge and, due to the heat and the freshly hewn brush, the air was redolent with the rich aroma of juniper and spruce. Mauve crocuses poked out of the dun understory on south slopes. Not much bird song and no bugs at all, not even wood ticks…yet. I watched two young chipmunks tussle over a cashew I threw them at the first shelter.
The dunes were as welcoming as ever today. I hiked to our spot and sat on the balcony for awhile. Linda and I used to sit on this little ridge on the edge of the dune face that overlooks the spruce and aspen forest which we called the balcony. It was perfect there today.
On the way back a park interpreter was taking a group of high school students on a guided tour. At the trailhead I talked to Max, the interpreter, saying how I liked the new trail route. We chatted about the changes. Lucky guy gets to live in the park all summer! I find all the staff at Spruce Woods Park friendly and always helpful plus it is among the best maintained provincial parks. It’s one of the best day trips in Manitoba with some of our most interesting hiking trails and unique attractions.
The reason for the new trail route relates to the covered wagon rides offered in the summer. A team of heavy horses pulls a covered wagon seating about 24 to the dune face where you can de-wagon and climb to the top of the open sand. The wagon proceeds to the punch bowl, a pond of eerie emerald water, then returns through savanna and mixed spruce forest. The previous wagon route was cutting precariously close to the eroding escarpment above the Assiniboine River. For safety the new route uses some of the old trail and veers off into the bush eventually meeting up with the old route. The wagon ride is a memorable family experience that reveals several of Manitoba’s hidden gem attractions. Plus you’ll get to meet Larry Robinson, a real cowboy, who operates the wagon rides. He’s a terrific guy!
There! Have I convinced you to hop in the car and find Spruce Woods Park yet? No! Here’s six other posts and videos about the park plus a map of how to get there:
September hike post
Moonlight hike on Spirit Sands post
Yurting at Spruce Woods post
Yurt #4 Spruce Woods video
Dog Day Harvest Flies on Spirit Sands trail video
Spirit Sands hike video
How about now? Great! See you on the dunes!
Here’s a map to help you get there.
I made my first foray to my favourite park over the last two days. The Assiniboine River is staying within its banks in the park. I saw no flooding anywhere at Spruce Woods. Further upstream there is some typical flooding of low lying areas around Brandon but the park is dry.
The south facing slopes are dotted with shy purple crocuses these days. I saw flocks of blackbirds along the road and even a few raptors have returned.
The big change in Spruce Woods Park is a reconfiguration of the hiking trail to Spirit Sands. Heavy equipment was cutting a swath through the bush around the trailhead when I was there yesterday. I asked the operator what was happening. Apparently the route the horse-drawn wagon rides take cuts close to the river bank and there is significant erosion so the wagon trail has to be rerouted. It was a surprise to see the pristine area around the trailhead broken and busted up to create the new route. The picture above shows the junction where the trail to the punch bowl goes left, the dunes trail right.
Subsequently the hiking trail to Spirit Sands has been redesigned starting with a new set of stairs that takes you straight to the top of a tall dune a little to the east of the original trail. The picture on the right shows the new structure. Though rather vague on the ground, the new trail is marked with direction signs. I only hiked the first few hundred yards of the new trail so I’m not sure where or whether it rejoins the original trail. The bit I hiked felt more strenuous than the original route. I’ll report fully on the new design when I hike the trail, hopefully next week.
The view below is from the top of the new stairway looking down on the buildings at the trailhead with a glimpse of the Assiniboine at the top of the picture.
Other trails in the park appear to be open and in good condition. I couldn’t tell if the lower campground and day use areas will be open or not this summer. The park office is still located at the upper campground and yurts area.
On Monday there were no cars in the Spirit Sands parking lot, yesterday there were four when I arrived. It’s still $5 daily to use the park facilities. The 2015 annual park passes are available now, $40 for the year. MLCC locations now sell the annual passes.
The first activity at Spruce Woods Park happens on April 25. The poster above about the Seton hike appears on the bulletin board at the trailhead. Carberry has a museum devoted to Ernest Thompson Seton and his work in the area. Check out The Seton Centre for more on the man. Carberry is 28 kms north of Spruce Woods Park on Hwy #5.
At my old friend Terry’s suggestion we trekked north out of Winnipeg into the Interlake so named due its location between Lakes Manitoba and Winnipeg. Our destination was the red-sided garter snake dens just north of Narcisse on Hwy #17 though neither of us are particularly fond of snakes. It was the phenomenon we were looking for.
The day was cloudless and warm, a perfect day to escape the Hive. Immediately upon our arrival a friendly and informative snake lady who works for the site gave us some information about the most active dens – today it was 2 and 3. There are four dens. The late spring has put the emergence of the snake population back about a month, she explained, so we can expect snakes to still emerge for the rest of May into June. She mentioned the wood ticks are out so stay on the trail. I just did a tick check of my body and turned up none. The limestone trails to the dens are an easy hike across flat land and completely wheelchair accessible. The viewing areas sets the visitor above and apart from the dens below, well out of each other’s way. Snakes moving in the dry pit created a constant low rustle.
Although the snakes haven’t eaten since last summer, their first imperative is biological – to mate. For that purpose male garter snakes wait to the mouth of the den for females to emerge. They throng the female creating a passionate mating tangle that moves across the ground, up the side of the pit then tumbles back down. Today there were small clusters, no large mating balls of hundreds of snakes.
We passed two school buses of kids coming from visits to the snake dens and there were at least a dozen cars in the lot. But there was no crowd, just the happy, enthralled voices of kids discovering the snakes.
As Terry pointed out, we seldom get to see the ancient pivotal moment in another creature’s life when they are governed by The Old Rules of procreation. We found our phenomenon.
I shot a 2 minute video of the snakes today. Watch it here.
My earlier visit to the snake dens in 2002 prompted this report.
Current information on the Narcisse Snake Dens.
Shirtless in the 20+ degree C afternoon I sat at the top of one of the park’s highest dunes yesterday and the scene above spread out before me. The bright yellows of the poplar and aspen glowed against the ever-elegant evergreens beyond accompanied by the subtle music of autumn on the prairies.
Overhead, late for the sky, Vs of migrating geese sang their urgent pleas harmonizing with the gentle clatter of changing leaves in the afternoon breeze. Atwitter with lively applause during their green days, aspens and poplars intoned a more sombre tune against the wind sighing through conifer boughs. Though most birds have flown south, blue jays squawked and an occasional chickadee punctuated the sunshine with its familiar song as crickets counted down the days til winter’s sleep.
In fall it’s striking how overgrown with various vegetation the dunes have become as you can see in the picture above. The shot below shows a new dune created by the prevailing northwesterlies.
For the eighth or ninth time this summer I took the leisurely drive home from Dauphin yesterday through Riding Mountain National Park. The day was partly cloudy. The park is spectacular this week with autumn painting the landscape with a glorious panorama of colours. Around every bend a new flourish of yellow and scarlet intertwines with subtle variations of orange, brown and red against a palette of greens. It’s a salad for the eyes!
I always enjoy the drive through the park although in a few places the highway makes it seem like all four tires are going flat. The speed limit of 80 kph is appropriate and allows for sudden stops to view wildlife along the way. Trucks with three or more axles are not allowed to drive through the park.
The road now bypasses what was colloquially called “soapstone hill” – a short section on a steep hill near the north entrance. For decades the highway over the soapstone was unpaveable because the asphalt slid down over the slippery stone. Next to the bypass, there is now a new parking and viewing area that affords a gorgeous vista of the old lake bed below and Dauphin beyond.
This is the weekend for a day trip through the park for a full measure of Manitoba’s fall colours.
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.
Stripped 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 glossy 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, cinquefoil 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.
There 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.
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.
I made it back to the Stockton ferry during its hours of operation this week and hitched a ride across the river and back. Catherine, the ferry operator, said she does about 30 crossings in an eight-hour day. The Assiniboine River has gone down substantially over the last ten days so the landings are a little tricky.
There has been a ferry across the Assiniboine River at Stockton since 1887 after the Manitoba South Western Colonization Railway reached Glenboro. At one time about 150 river ferries operated in the province. The Stockton Ferry is the last river ferry in southern Manitoba.
The ferry is free and operates on limited hours: Monday to Friday from 7:00 to 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. with no service on Saturday and Sunday. Click the pic to watch my 2:52 video of the crossing.
As you can see in the above picture taken in late August 2013, the Stockton Ferry is back in the water and spanning the Assiniboine River. This is a picture of how the ferry looked two years ago – beached by floodwater.
In 2011 the ferry was pulled from the surging river and spent two summers on land, its infrastructure a tangle of steel beams and cables. Today, its support system rebuilt, the ferry plies the river once more connecting two gravel roads used primarily by locals.
The ferry is free and operates on limited hours: Monday to Friday from 7:00 to 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. with no service on Saturday and Sunday. The site includes a small area where you can camp and fish in the Assiniboine. Facilities are limited.
Stockton is located 11 kms west of Glenboro on Hwy #2 and 3 kms north on signed road. The ferry is past the community across the tracks. Watch for signs.
Click on any picture to watch my 1:20 video report from August 2013.
I spent the last day of July hiking to Spirit Sands at Spruce Woods Park. Dog day harvests flies (similar to cicadas) were sawing the air, dragonflies danced on the updrafts and the prairie grasses were dotted with magenta and purple flowers. Plenty of rain has furred the dunes with vegetation this year.
Since the devastating flood of 2011, Spruce Woods has rebounded extremely well. Though virtually wiped out by the Assiniboine River two years ago, the lower campground is now partially restored and open for camping. The park office which stood next to the campground was destroyed by the flood. Today the park office is still in a trailer in the upper campground. All the park’s trails are open and accessible.
One of the park’s best features are the horse-drawn covered wagon rides to the dunes and the punch bowl. Operating daily at 10:00, noon and 2:00 during July and August, they offer an easy way to transport the whole family to the park’s most interesting phenomena with minimal hassle and maximum interest. The wagon, pulled by two Belgian heavy horses, stops at the base of the dunes. You can climb the dunes, get sand between your toes and witness the spectacular views of the dunes. Back on the covered wagon to the punch bowl, an intriguing pool of blue-green water, you can explore the site then ride back to the trail head. The horses travel at a leisurely pace and cowboy Larry Robinson, who has been operating the rides for about 20 years, provides rich commentary on the history of the park and its denizens during the 90-minute ride. It’s a memorable family experience. Tickets – $14 for adults, $8 for youth – are available at the wagon office and can be reserved at 204-526-7727.
I noticed a sundance going on this weekend in the park. Sundance, a no alcohol, no drugs event, is open to the public. Access is off the Epinette Creek trail head. Watch for signs.
Twenty minutes north of the park is one of Manitoba’s heritage gems – Carberry. The first annual Carberry Heritage Festival takes place August 9 and 10 with lots of things to do and see. Check out the details here.
This was shot on May 1, 2013 by Saskatchewan Water Security Agency personal while doing river recon. An ice surge, the leading edge rising to about ten feet high, is a rare occurrence and even rarer to catch such great documentation of it. This happened on Codette Reservoir on the Saskatchewan River near Nipawin. Click the pic.
This is a well shot 3:52 video of the drive over the Atlantic Road off the coast of Norway. The highway links several islands in a archipelago that stretches into the Norwegian Sea. Just over five miles long, on a blustery day, it would make a formidable commute to work. Click the pic and see for yourself.
“I’ll be driven, eyes always moving, riveted to the task…”
– Gordie Downie
My list of heritage sites to visit and record all over Manitoba has largely been satisfied. More organized than ever, it was a highly productive summer of “working the list.” I just calculated my mileage for the season and the mighty Avenger and I, well, myself and three mighty Avengers, have logged almost 23,000 kms, all but 1,000 of them in Manitoba. I got to see amazing country this year, discover special places that few Manitobans know about then report them here on my blog. Thanks for reading my blog, by the way. I am grateful every day for your attention.
With my trusty, battery-sucking digital camera by my side, I’ve captured some odd, surprising and occasionally astonishing images along my path. Here are a dozen of them with brief commentary about each one.
Old Cook Stove in Abandoned Stone House
Sure, I haunt the occasional tumbledown farmhouse out in the middle of now here, sure I do. I’m not usually the first to satisfy their curiosity about what’s inside the old place. A little stone house sits atop a small rise along Hwy #21 south of Hartney. I’ve seen this old house most of my life since my grandparents homesteaded nearby. This summer I stopped at it for the first time for pictures and video. Beyond the Keep Out sign, this old wood stove was the first thing I saw through the door. I took a few shots of the interior, largely wrecked. The inset is a shot of the house. Expect more about this place on my blog and YouTube channel.
Stillborn Graves at Camp Hughes Cemetery
The little cemetery at Camp Hughes has but 26 graves in it dating from 1916. Sadly, more than half are the graves of children. Some died in infancy, others stillborn and unnamed. Several graves are simply unknown.
Strange Cloud on Prairie Horizon
No, it’s not an atomic bomb test. It’s a gigantic cloud of smoke slowly rising from a field of burning stubble. This is a common sight in late summer, ominous and beautiful at once, most are not this spectacular. I shot this traveling south out of Winnipeg along Hwy #75 in late August. I watched it for miles as the cloud grew and changed shape.
Criddle Vane in the Rain
One hot afternoon during one of my dozen visits to the Criddle Vane homestead this summer, a prairie thunderstorm came over with plenty of lightning and thunder, a little rain but no wind, just a smooth calm passing. I took this picture of the Criddle Vane house through the rain-spattered windshield of the Avenger. Percy Criddle was very wary of storms and prided himself on the lightning rods, imported from England, that adorned the roof of this house. The inset shows the house after the rain.
Wind Sculpted Formation at Spirit Sands
During a hike on Spirit Sands with my dear friend Chris Scholl, we came upon this beautifully sculpted arch on the upslope of a dune. We’d had variable winds, that is, winds from directions other than the prevailing northwesterlies, which may have accounted for this small miracle in sand.
Assessment Roll Information for Negrych Farm 1901-1930
If there was one site I visited this summer that left me in awe of how our ancestors lived and survived on the harsh prairie, it was the Negrych Homestead north of Gilbert Plains. Its ten original log buildings date from the late 1890s when the family arrived there, most of them in Ukrainian vernacular style. Each building houses materials the family improvised and used for decades. This assessment roll information traces the family’s assets for thirty years from 1901 until 1930. Click on the picture to enlarge.
Old Headstone in Wawanesa Cemetery
Humble and plain, corroding against the weather and the years, this little stone caught my camera’s eye in the cemetery at Wawanesa. What story could this stone tell?
Gathering of the Clans Picture
Being a full-blood Scotsman, this nicely framed illustration of the Gathering of the Clans had special meaning when I discovered it in one of the buildings at the Fort la Reine Museum in Portage la Prairie. Click pic to see entire image.
This isn’t my photograph. My friend Kevin Uddenberg took this picture using his smart phone which has HDR (High Dynamic Range) technology. The quality of the colours and the definition of the images is almost three-dimensional. By contrast look at the inset which is my picture of the same angels taken on the same day and time as Kevin’s picture. The difference is obvious and substantial.
Rewilding W. C. Fields for smartass purposes with bashful aplomb. During my summer travels, I noticed that the only area of the province that concentrated on growing hemp in any quantity is north of Riding Mountain around Dauphin. This verdant crop you see was growing directly behind my hotel and stretched for acres to the horizon. Besides being easy to grow and low maintenance chemicalwise, there is another sound reason why so much hemp is grown in the area: the Parkland Industrial Hemp Growers Coop is headquartered in Dauphin.
The Staircase That Killed Percy Criddle
We return to Criddle Vane homestead to wind up this odd excursion. Insufferably brilliant or brilliantly insufferable, whoever Percy Criddle was, the beginning of his exit from this life was a tumble down the stairs you see here. After moving both his families from London, England to a patch of sandy soil south of present-day Shilo in 1882, Percy spent 35 years eking out a living largely due to the true genius of his children. During a severe blinding case of Erysipelas that Percy acquired in the spring of 1918, he groped his way to the top of these stairs and tumbled the full length of them, injuring himself terribly. He died ten days later at age 73 and is buried in the family cemetery a couple hundred yards from his house. This is Percy’s headstone.
In just over two months, the mighty Avenger and I achieved our first 10,000 kms together this week. A pleasant Spirit Sands visit on Sunday with friends Liz and Kenn resulted in pictures of the latest flora along the trail. This is a beautiful wood lily. They dot the green landscape with vibrant orange and black, a favourite of butterflies.
Manitoba has two cacti: prickly pear and pincushion. In the transition zone between the mixed forest and the sand dunes, pincushion cacti are just coming into bloom, their scarlet buds a mere taste of their bright open blooms. The blossom will be replaced by a brown nut that tumbles off the round cactus, landing next to it and germinating there. Frequently, clusters of pincushions form as a result, some with dozens of individual cacti. Pincushions are delicate and usually die if stepped on.
2011 Flood Update: Souris Will Swing Again! Many areas of Manitoba continue to recover from last summer’s floods. One result of the raging Assiniboine River was the strategic cutting of the historic Swinging Bridge in Souris, MB. The Town of Souris announced this week that the bridge will be replaced and work restoring one of the town’s major attractions is expected to be completed by the summer of 2013. The new bridge spanning the Assiniboine, to be built by Stantec, will be 184 metres in length. This is an artist’s rendering of the new swinging bridge.
During my 1960s youth, one of the highlights was seeing rock bands at the Brandon Summer Fair, the biggest attraction in southwestern Manitoba. Buddies and me drove the hour to see Witness Inc. (Kenny Shields) sing their first hit Harlem Lady in 1968, watch the grandstand show with an assortment of up-and-comers and down-and-outers performing.
Brandon fairgrounds had three large display buildings: Buildings 1 and 2 and the long building. Building 1 is gone but Building 2 remains, though much worse for the wear. It’s four distinctive gleaming domes dominate the grounds. A cherished federal and provincial heritage building, the old place is getting a complete restoration. Significant for numerous reasons – you can find out much more about the building’s history and restoration project at http://www.brandonfairs.com/Display_Building/index.php?pageid=477 it’s heartening to see the grand old place reclaiming its former glory. And good on Brandon for its stewardship and recognition of heritage as an important contributor to their quality of life. I find it rather ironic but hopeful that Brandon, a city with runaway, out-of-control residential and commercial development, maintains a healthy connection with its past and finds value there.
My most vivid memory of the building is walking in the wide front doors and smelling lavender which was sold fresh in sachets by a vendor next to the entrance every year. Display Building #2 will be restored for the 2013 fair, a hundred years after it first opened for the 1913 Dominion Fair.
There’ll always be a Ninja, no, that’s Ninga.
Thrift shop find-of-the-week was at the MCC in Brandon which turned up a set of four 1950s glass tumblers with multi-coloured tulips on them in mint shape for 75 cents apiece.
This week I am Criddling and Vaning, hiking the moonlit sands and day tripping with an old friend so will have much to report next weekend. Happy trails, every mile a safe mile.
I was never quite sure what an alluvial fan was until I visited one. The last remaining alluvial fan around Riding Mountain National Park is located off Hwy #5. The site is well signed right from the highway. Specific directions to alluvial fan: it is off Hwy #5 between Ochre River and junction of Hwys #5 & 10, turn south on Road 104W (there is a sign in the ditch along Hwy #5 that says Alluvial fan with an arrow, also watch for small signs at mile roads for their numbers), drive 4.8 km (3 miles) to Road 137N, turn east for 1.6 km (1 mile), turn south on Road 103W for 1.6 km (1 mile), east on Road 136N for .8 km. Watch for large sign at Crawford Creek. Follow the boardwalk to viewing deck. Now I know what an alluvial fan is and you can too. I made a short video about my visit.
It was almost exactly a year ago that several acres of a timothy field turned into a huge sinkhole on the north boundary of Riding Mountain National Park as you can see in the picture. My reports and video footage of it remain some of the most-frequented posts on this blog and my YouTube channel. I returned to the site this week and shot a short video update about the sinkhole.