Tag Archives: campground

Out There It’s Summertime

Reid Dickie

I’m just back from a eight-day ramble on the prairies, mostly in the Missouri Coteau and Cypress Hills areas of southern Saskatchewan. I visited half a dozen new sites, revisited some familiar ones, shot almost 2 hours of video (expect plenty of reports from afar as a result), met wonderful new people and spent time with some old favourites. My intuition quickened, Spirit whispered through the trees in Pine Cree Park and Old Souls aided and abetted me along the way. My reward for the 2800 kms and ensuing events is serenity, a renewed sense of purpose and a bolstering of my humanity. You get what you intend.

The trip began with a perfect Saturday at the Regina Folk Festival with Linda’s cousin, Mike Panko and his beautiful partner, Brenda. Mike’s an Old Soul and a ton of fun. Here’s Mike and me at the fest.

A day of great music culminated with an energetic set from k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang closing the evening concert which also featured Taj Mahal. k.d. is in fine form these days with a new band, high energy, great new songs from her Sing It Loud CD (buy it if you haven’t already) and a back catalogue that would be the envy of any singer with perfect pitch. The show began with the lead-off track from the CD called I Confess, to my ears a Roy Orbison homage of high order. (That was one of the Tunes of the Tour as was Moonglow because Wendy Thomson performed it beautifully with the moon rising above her on the second floor balcony at The Convent in Val Marie. Both tunes sift through the inattentive spaces in my mind as the miles go by.) k.d. covers two songs on the CD and performed both of them: Heaven “by that great country band, Talking Heads,” as she introduced it, led eerily, perfectly into a new arrangement of Hallelujah; and she swung the Little River Band hit Reminiscing. She sang Miss Chatelaine, Western Skies, ending the show with a rockin’ version of her now-evergreen Constant Craving. To end the encores and evening she sang Neil Young’s Helpless.

After a restful night on Mike’s futon and a long, leisurely breakfast with him and Brenda, I was westbound onto the Missouri Coteau. The Coteau stretches from the northwest in central Saskatchewan south between Moose Jaw and Swift Current into South Dakota. It’s the next step up on the prairies after the Manitoba Escarpment and features lots of hills and gullies, some of Saskatchewan’s best scenery and worst highways, friendly people and endlessly changing vistas that surprise and enchant the curious seeker. It’s one of my favourite places to drive. The highways are lonesome and long, the sky runs ahead of me just as far as it extends behind me and there’s enough room to think, to evolve, to expand my awareness and discover what’s there. I head south from Moose Jaw to Assiniboia then west toward Pine Cree Park, my camping destination for the night.

Located in the foothills to the Cypress Hills between Shaunavon and Eastend, over the years Pine Cree Park has sheltered my little tent more than any other campground on the praires. This is a shot of the South Fork of Swift Current Creek, which runs right through Pine Cree Park; its pleasant burble can be heard from most campsites in the park.

Set in a deep mysterious coulee on a Continental Divide, Pine Cree Park is a truly rustic camping experience. There is no other like it in southern Saskatchewan. Soft-shell camping is encouraged, the park is non-electric, the width of the road and bridges prevents any unit longer than 28 feet from using the park and weight restrictions on the bridges apply. It gets extremely dark. Great for stargazing. Here’s another shot of the little stream through the park.

The little park has custodians this year, something new. Joan Hodgins and her nephew Darcy tend the park and live in two trailers just at the entrance. Both wonderful helpful people. I bought a generous tailgate load of firewood for $5 delivered. Joan offers outdoor programs at the park and both her and the lad demonstrated a great love for and understanding of this sacred place. Joan helped me understand the significance of a gift Spirit gave me just after I arrived in the park. I will have a video report on the gift soon.

The next night I moved from soft shell camping to luxury on the prairie, staying at The Convent Country Inn in Val Marie. A former convent saved from demolition by Robert and Mette Ducan about 15 years ago, this is my favourite bed and breakfast out there.  Other guests included Wendy and Eldon Thomson from Saskatoon who’d also attended the Regina Folk Festival and were out for a drive on the Coteau. Up on the second floor balcony, Wendy serenaded us with her lovely singing and guitar playing until way past dark. The balcony affords a wide view of the Frenchman River valley, Grasslands National Park beyond and the star-filled night sky. The Convent is for sale, a bargain at $525,000. Video coming soon. UPDATE: Watch my video tour. Here is a picture of me in front of The Convent.

Two more shots of The Convent: the first floor breakfast room and the second floor sitting room.

The next day I took the eco-driving tour of Grasslands National Park. There is some development occurring in the park. A small, primitive campground has been set up at the Belza Place which has a vast view of the Frenchman River valley, and closer to the prairie dog Dogtown, another development is being built. Spend a couple of minutes with the prairie dogs in GNP. Here’s a shot of the vista from the Belza campsite.

After a night at the Stage Coach Motel in Willow Bunch, I took a private tour of the Big Muddy Badlands offered through Coronach Tourism. Tillie Duncan, who’d lived in the area her whole life and knew it like the back of her hand, was my guide. She took me through the Sam Kelly Caves where outlaws like Dutch Henry and Butch Cassidy hid the horses and cattle they rustled back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We also visited two sacred sites that were new to me: a ceremonial circle and a turtle effigy, both high atop a butte on the Giles Ranch which is private property and accessible only through guided tours. Though elderly, Tillie was spry and full of vigour, offering countless entertaining anecdotes about the area. She still farms 13 quarters, growing durum and lentils this year! I recommend her highly for the Big Muddy tour. Here’s a shot of me taken near the turtle effigy.

A night in the Country Boy Motel then I re-explored a couple of the accessible sites Tillie had shown me, like the 1902 Big Muddy North West Mounted Police barracks and the family cemetery of an early pioneer, James Marshall, all with magnificent vistas of the huge Big Muddy valley. I revisited Castle Butte and took some great video of the place. Again coming soon to a blog near you. The only rain of my eight-day journey occurred Friday morning when I awoke in Weyburn. By the time I got to Manitoba, the sun was shining again. I was thrilled to discover Hwy #5 through Spruce Woods Park is now open and the park is slowly getting back on its feet. This is my report on the park’s current status.

I arrived home feeling rejuvenated and fully in touch with my humanity. The mighty Avenger and I will travel the prairies for another month. There is always room in the virtual passenger seat for you. Hope you are up to the drive all the way “out there” and back. Come on along.

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Filed under Accommodations, Ancient Wisdom, Natural Places, Parks, Pioneers, Prairie People, PRAIRIES, Sacred Places, Saskatchewan, Spirit, spirit sands, Video

Big Beaver, Saskatchewan

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Reid Dickie

As the sign says, there actually is a place called Big Beaver, Saskatchewan, located on the Missouri Coteau at the western end of the Big Muddy Badlands. The 2006 census said there were 20 people living in Big Beaver, maybe a couple fewer today. In its heyday – the 1920s – Big Beaver boasted 300 people, a six-room schoolhouse and four grain elevators, including, in 1925, the biggest inland grain terminal in the British Empire.

Today Aust’s Store is the hamlet’s only business. A classic country general store – their motto is “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it” – Aust’s offers the full gamut of merchandise. Groceries, farm supplies, stationery, clothing, garden supplies and a myriad of stuff you need fill three large joined wooden boxes. Each room has its own distinctive odour, rich and rural. There is even a “coffee shop” with classic advertising and a few locals who love to jaw with strangers. Have a cool drink, relax and chat in Aust’s. Then have a boo in the Big Beaver Museum and Nature Centre which offers sandstone concretions, native hammers, hatchets and pemmican stones along with a collection of stuffed local critters. They have a very good softbound book with area history that is worth buying at about $14. Big Beaver has a small campground, a rodeo every July and is right in the heart of the Saskatchewan Holyland. This is my video panorama of downtown Big Beaver.

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Yurting at Spruce Woods Park

Reid Dickie 

Watch my 3:17 video tour of Yurt #4.

I spent Thursday and Friday of last week at Spruce Woods Park, staying in one of 13 yurts they rent out to not-quite-campers. It was a quiet stay. The park has been ravaged by the flooding Assiniboine River since break-up this spring and most of its amenities are inaccessible. There isn’t much to do except enjoy the outdoors and catch up on cloud watching.

Kiche Manitou campground is a shadow of its former self due to this year’s flooding. Only the upper campground and yurts are in use this summer with a makeshift camp office set up to process visitors. The lower campground has been under water for months. Just two other yurts were in use on Thursday and just five on Friday. It’s been a slow year, park staff told me. The detour map from the provincial parks website was easy to follow to the campground on good gravel roads. To cut down on noise, motorized vehicles are prohibited from getting close to the yurts. To haul your camping stuff from car to tent, the park provides good quality red metal wagons. Here’s a shot of my wagon.

Every yurt is electrified with a nice porch – mine faced northwest – fire pit, picnic table and chopping area.

The yurts sleep five and, although the days were very hot – both about 30 degrees C – the yurt has a domed ceiling that opens to allow hot air out. The place cooled quickly and adequately at dusk resulting in pleasant sleeps both nights.

I wasn’t completely alone for the two days. A little red squirrel adopted me and defended our territory against other squirrels, chipmunks and even a crow. I named it Tenacious. I think it was my constant supply of Spanish peanuts that ensured the critter’s loyalty. Here’s a shot of Tenacious.

Friday began with an intense thunderstorm at dawn. Heavy rains and a wild light show resulted but I stayed cozy and dry in the yurt. The rest of Friday was a perfect prairie summer day, hot and clearing. I caught up on my cloud watching and made this time-lapse video of the afternoon cloudscapes from my porch.

For the third year in a row, there is no entry fee for Manitoba provincial parks though camping fees still apply. In the case of the yurts, the charge is about $54 a night all in. Very economical for a family. If you are interested in a quiet getaway experience this summer, rent a yurt at Spruce Woods. Respite from the weary world, peaceful trees and easy accommodations await you. For information and bookings, the provincial parks website is http://www.gov.mb.ca/conservation/parks/

Today in Winnipeg the temperature is 34 degrees C or 93 degrees F, add in 63% humidity and it feels like 48 degrees C or 118 degrees F. Thunderstorms are predicted. Our precious prairie summers!!

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Spruce Woods Park Flood – Video Update

Reid Dickie 

I just spent two days in Yurt #4 at Spruce Woods Provincial Park and brought back three video reports of the damage the little park sustained. It’s sad!

The main access road – Hwy #5 – is a broken highway with washouts fifteen feet deep and spanning hundreds of yards. The bridge over the Assiniboine held but serious washouts occurred on both sides of it. The prospects for doing anything other than camping or yurting at the park this year are dim. One park attendant told me there is a slim possibility Spirit Sands may be accessible before the year is out but I’m not counting on it, judging by the condition of the highway, access roads and the continuing high water levels. Although full moon night was clear and warm and would have been perfect for a midnight hike on the sands, alas I was only able to watch the moon rise and listen to the surging river from the porch of my yurt.

My first report shows the Assiniboine’s damaging effect on the park road which leads off Hwy #5 to the lower and upper campgrounds and yurt area. The road is washed out as you can see in this short video report.

The second report shows Hwy #5, closed and barricaded, and the some of the damage it sustained. This is a long shot looking from the south taken on a hot prairie morning. You can see the heat waves rising from the asphalt.

The third report shows in detail the extensive damage and washouts along Hwy #5 near Marsh Lake in Spruce Woods Park.

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Spruce Woods Provincial Park Flood Update – June 24, 2011

Reid Dickie

There has been little change in the status of Spruce Woods Provincial Park since my last update. Most of the park’s amenities remain closed and inaccessible due to flooding, including Spirit Sands and Punchbowl, Ispuitinaw Trail, Marsh Lake, the lower area of Kiche Manitou Campground, concession stand and canoe campground.

The upper campground and yurts at Kiche Manitou Campground are open and accessible with the parks call centre taking reservations. Access to these campground sites is only via Hwy #2 from the south, but not the Trans Canada Highway. This map shows the detour. By the way, for the third year in a row, there is no entry fee to visit Manitoba’s provincial parks. They are free! Great deal! Camping fees still apply.

There’s not much to do this year at Spruce Woods but a few of the trails are open or partially open. Using Carberry and TCH access from the north, Epinette Creek is partially open, that is to cabin #2 and Juniper Loop but the trail is closed at start of Tamarack Loop. Arriving from the south, the Hogs Back Trail is open, Spring Ridge Trail is partially open with some flooded sections. This trail has been expanded. Warning signs are posted. The Trans Canada Trail east of upper campground is open, equestrian trails are open with some sections flooded and the main equestrian campground is open.

The prognosis for the park reopening is not good. Ominously, the Souris River joins the Assiniboine just upstream from Spruce Woods and, with the volume of water rolling down the Souris today, it is conceivable Highway #5 through the park will remain closed for the summer, and, depending on the extent of damage, possibly for the year. Though the bridge is still holding, there is massive wash-out of the highway on either side.

As one who hikes Spirit Sands at least a dozen times every summer, I’m having hiker withdrawal this year not being able to walk the land. Linda’s beautiful photographs of the sands in this post will have to do for now. The Assiniboine has probably inundated the low-lying Punchbowl but the sands themselves are at a much higher elevation and escape flooding. I’m imagining how pristine and pure the untrodden dunes must be, how delicately the rivulets of water have drawn their paths down the sloping trails and how the log ladders are buried from disuse.

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Filed under Ancient Wisdom, BEAUTY, Carberry, Family, Flood, Linda, Natural Places, Parks, Sacred Places, Spirit, spirit sands

Spruce Woods Provincial Park Flooding – Tuesday, May 24

Reid Dickie

It appears my favourite provincial park won’t be hosting many visitors in the near future as the Assiniboine is having its way with the little place. According to Manitoba Highways, Highway #5, which passes through Spruce Woods Provincial Park and provides its major access route, is still closed between Carberry and Glenboro. Though the bridge is holding, the road north and south of it has been washed out. The department is hoping the bridge holds and will be safe for use after the river subsides. Regardless, the section of Hwy #5 through the valley will have to be resurfaced.

Manitoba Conservation in Carberry told me today there is currently very limited use of Spruce Woods Park with just the upper campground and the yurts accessible and available. Six of the thirteen yurts were in use over the long weekend. Access to upper campground and yurts is from Hwy #2 using Steel’s Ferry Road. See the map.

There isn’t much to do in the park because all but a short section of one trail, Spirit Sands, Punchbowl, Marsh Lake and lower campgrounds are closed due to flooding. The park office is still flooded with water almost to the eaves. Re-opening the park depends on when the water subsides, the amount of damage the flooding caused and how long it takes to complete repairs to roads, buildings and sites. Most of the park will be closed until July 28 when the situation will be reevaluated. Reservations are being taken for yurts and the upper campground at the provincial parks call centre: 1-888-482-2267 or 948-3333 in Winnipeg. Good luck.

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Spruce Woods Provincial Park Manitoba Flood Update – Friday May 13, 2011

Reid Dickie

The Assiniboine River runs through Spruce Woods Provincial Park and not only has its flooding closed the park indefinitely, Highway #5 which runs through the park is closed between Glenboro and Carberry. Water is over the road and some of the highway is washed out. The lower areas of the Spirit Sands and Marsh Lake are water covered and there is more on the way.

The lower campground at Kiche Manitou campground in Spruce Woods Park is under several feet of water and all buildings have been severely damaged. Yurts are on high ground and unaffected by flooding. Manitoba Conservation is hoping to re-open the park to camping in the lower campground by the end of July! That’s right, the end of July! Some aspects of the park are expected to open in mid-June but there is an enormous amount of water to move first. Many provincial parks are affected by flooding. Check here for updates on campground closures and delayed openings.

In Brandon, the dikes are under heavy maintenance, another foot is being added to most of the dikes as water flows are expected to increase. Saskatchewan has had heavy rains and the Qu’Appelle River, which drains into the Assiniboine at St. Lazare, MB, is swollen. Everything downstream from there is under flood watch. The final stores have closed in the Corral Centre and Paddock. The last evacuees are expected to be gone by this evening and the city waits. The crest, once thought imminent, is now predicted for the middle of next week. The Saskatchewan rains and subsequent surges are making crest predictions extremely difficult. One certainty from Manitoba Water Stewardship is to expect higher than predicted crest levels along the Assiniboine. This announcement resulted in the new endeavours to raise Brandon`s dikes by at least a foot.

At Portage the military is working to raise the Portage Diversion to move more river water into Lake Manitoba to the north. Tonight there is more water in the Portage Diversion than in the Red River Floodway around Winnipeg! The Trans Canada Highway remains open today through Grand Valley west of Brandon where the ditches are being re-enforced with stones. Structurally the two bridges that span the river at Grand Valley are sound and uncompromised by the rising river.

The proposed “controlled” breach at Hoop and Holler Bend has been delayed again, now scheduled for early Saturday. There are 122 provincial roads affected by flooding, 73 closed. There are approximately 750 municipal roads closed. Though Brandon is predicted to get a little wet snow tonight, the forecast for the Assiniboine region including its headwaters in Saskatchewan is for clear sunny days ahead with no precipitation for a week. That would help immensely!

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