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Spruce Woods Park Rebounds, Open This Weekend

Reid Dickie

In this post a year ago the flooding Assiniboine River had a destructive hold on Spruce Woods Park. Hwy #5 was washed away through the park, campgrounds and buildings were covered with eight feet of water and the summer looked bleak.

Today I had my fourth hike to the Spirit Sands in the last two weeks and have great news to report. As I arrived today, a work crew was taking down the detour sign to the upper campground. That was exciting and promising! The low road to the campground, the one that had about two hundred yards of it washed away by the surging waters last year at this time, has been rebuilt with tons of fill and finished with gravel for now. The badly-damaged lower campground is still off-limits but the park staff are to be commended for their efforts to rejuvenate the rest of the park.

Most of the debris strewn helter skelter about the park by the river has been cleared away, signage has been restored, trails opened, the river-broken trees have been cleaned up and guaranteed there will be no shortage of firewood this summer in the park.

It was evident today that the day use area with beach, Pine Fort, picnic and displays will be open for the long weekend. They have resanded the beach on the oxbow. See how murky the water is before you swim in it. Use caution. Remember the swimming area is largely river water washed in last year containing everything it picked up along the way and it has sat stagnant.

There are plenty of things to do in the park. The trail system, including Spirit Sands, Punchbowl, Marsh Lake, Epinette Creek etc are all open. The covered wagon rides to the dunes and punchbowl are back this year but I’m not sure if they will be available for the long weekend. The upper campground is virtually sold out for the weekend, the yurts are booked solid all weekend.

I was heartened to see many western painted turtles sunning themselves on downed trees today along the edge of Marsh Lake. The turtles were disturbed by the sudden flood but have bounced back, even though the waters of Marsh Lake are still cloudy with mud. The floating bridge at the apex of Marsh Lake Trail has been replaced though the little island it accesses was devastated by the flood leaving mostly broken trees. Painted turtles can also be seen around the punchbowl.

Go for a hike. There are several different terrains and habitats to choose from. The trail on the way to Spirit Sands offers some lovely blossoms these days. The bearberry is turning from red to glossy green. Hoary puccoon (above) speckle the grass with its bright deep yellow flowers. Three-flowered aven (right), their hairy heads drooping sadly, add touches of mauve and rust to the speckle. I saw all kinds of butterflies on my hike today and the air was alive with the buzz of insects and sweet tweets from the trees. Abundant as ever in the shady areas and along the stairs is poison ivy. Barefoot hikers take heed.  The other danger is wood ticks and I recommend a thorough tick check of your whole body after a hike.

The weekend will be hot and hotter on the dunes by up to 10 degrees. Carry water, wear a hat and don’t wear stupid shoes. Maybe the cool evening suits you better. Take a sunset hike and hear a choir of coyotes echoing over the dunes as you watch the sand redden into black and the fireflies sparkle around you.

Remember: no more free parks this year. The three-year moratorium on park fees is over. Buy an annual pass for $30, save a lot of time and cash and relax. Canadian Tire and fishing/hunting stores sell the passes.

When you see the park staff, let them know they’ve done a great job getting Spruce Woods back on its feet so quickly. I look forward to my next twelve visits to it this summer.

Watch my video of a hike I took to Spirit Sands last year. Check out more Manitoba day trips on my Day Tripper page at the top. Have a wonderful weekend. Every mile a safe mile.

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Pictures of Spruce Woods Park Flooding

Reid Dickie

These are from July 14 to 16, 2011. This is the low road to the campground, flooded with washouts.

Access along the low road flooded out.

Here in the bottom of the valley the Assiniboine River is almost two miles wide.

Super sandbags couldn’t hold back the mighty Assiniboine.

At a bend in the river, the low road is completely gone.

This is the temporary park office set up to handle the sparse customers for the yurts and high campground.

These are shots of Hwy 5 on the north side of the park. Boulders and gravel piled down the middle of the highway above Marsh Lake.

Destruction caused by the surging river water.

At the entrance to Marsh Lake, the highway lies in ruins. Just past the bend on the right in the distance was where the entrance to Spirit Sands used to be. The road is gone now.

Marsh Lake – overgrown and reverting back to the wild.

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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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Kiche Manitou Campground Update, June 2, 2011

Reid Dickie

I just received the following email from Manitoba Parks regarding the status of the lower campground and infrastructure at Kiche Manitou Campground in Spruce Woods Provincial Park.

Dear Camping Customer:

The campground closure for Kiche Manitou Lower Campground in Spruce
Woods Provincial Park has been extended to include the remainder of the 2011
camping season. 

Buildings and infrastructure have been submerged by flood waters for
nearly two months.  Now in early June, water levels have still not fully
receded.  Clean-up and re-building is expected to be substantial.  The upper
level campground that includes nightly campsites, yurts and group use will
continue to be in operation.

Customers with existing reservations in the lower campground may
cancel or make changes on-line at manitobaparks.com or contact our call centre
directly at 1-888-482-2267 or in Winnipeg at 948-3333.  

We truly regret the inconvenience that these closures may mean to
your holiday plans, but feel it is our responsibility to let you know as soon as
possible so that you might make alternative arrangements.  If we can be of any
assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us through our call centre or at
945-4344.

We appreciate your patience; and, as always we look forward to seeing
you in one of our provincial parks in 2011! 

Yours truly,

Manitoba Parks

Highway access to Spruce Woods Provincial Park is still closed as Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure tries to keep ahead of road closures and repairs. It will be at least two more weeks before the highway reopens. Park attractions like Spirit Sands, Punchbowl and hiking trails all remain closed and off-limits due to flooding.

For the latest information, check Manitoba highway closures and conditions on an interactive map here.

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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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12 SACRED PLACES

12 SACRED PLACES

DAY THREE

BUFFALO BUTTE CEREMONIAL SITE

August 31, 2010

“Excited to get inside”

            Val Marie, SK is a small village with a large history situated at the western end of Grasslands National Park (GNP) and offers the Park office. During my first visit to Val Marie in August 1999, I saw the archeological surveys of the park done in the mid 1980s. The woman at the office mentioned a site had been “discovered” nearby but outside the park. Robert Ducan of The Convent Country Inn can tell me more about it, she says. I introduce myself to Robert, we hit it off and 20 minutes later, we are heading to the site in his half-ton.

            Another wild desolate location! The swoop of the land south and northward away from the site is dramatic. Off down the distance, gently rolling hills spill away in all directions. To the east 70 Mile Butte, a steel-grey monolith in GNP, dominates the landscape. Ragged as a meteor, 70 Mile Butte rises against the sky with subservient hills all around bowing in homage. The site lies south of the continental divide.

Buffalo Butte Ceremonial Site. Cinderblock hut and tower are obvious. Less so, the circles in the grass in the foreground. You can see a bit of an arc left of centre. At the extreme left, the geodetic survey marker is visible.

              Buffalo Butte Ceremonial Site, a long high ridge, is dominated by two huge concentric stone circles, one 120 feet across, the other 90 feet across. The circles lie in a slight indentation two feet lower than the hilltop. It has a wonderfully enclosed feeling though the indentation is slight. This area was at one time on the hilltop but the land sank. Inside the circles are a birthing arc opening east, where mothers came to give birth, and a dying arc opening west, where elders came to die. These are extremely rare in North America, somewhat more common in Europe.

            The ridge displays evidence of long usage, tracing the history of the region. To the west of the circles is an area that felt like the location of several burial platforms, reused for decades, perhaps longer.  At the top of the hill next to the circle is a small oblong enclosure of stones that is a vision quest site. It opens to the south, the heat, the visions, the hope.

            There are several tumbledown cairns, two of them, I sensed, signified water and were visible from different directions. A snake effigy seemed to materialize but I will have to recheck this. It may have been state-specific. I’m certain of the geodetic survey marker from the late 1800s though.

            Southeast of the large circle is an odd rectangular shape of stones with what appears to be letters inside, maybe ME or MB, WE or BW., possibly graffiti left behind by some bored survey crewmember, North West Mounted Police officer or wandering wrangler.

            A hut made of cinder blocks next to a tall red and white tower sit at the top of the ridge. An electrical line runs over the pasture to the hut but I have been unable to discover its exact usage. Three guy wires hold the tower in place. A deer had scuffed off its antlers by rubbing on the wires, its four-prongers lay on the ground. The tower doesn’t interfere with the ambience much and serves as a too-handy landmark to locate the site. The land is rented Crown land with roaming cattle and cow plop everywhere, though I see no cattle today. The day is warming quickly.

             During the hike over two-miles of rolling pasture, I watch for rattlesnakes and notice how my mood has improved vastly from my sad morning drive. Tipi rings litter the hills. I check downwind often to make sure I am still at the top of the food chain. Up the final hill, I’m tingly with holiness, welcomed and exhilarated. I am excited to get inside.

            In a light trance, I recognize the long-time ritual use of the place as much as 9,000 years before present. The arcs are a very old aspect of the site. They are also rare. They come from the imaginal realm in my dreaming. My feeling is that the people who used them are, as a race, now extinct; lost shards of human action, their world gone, even their mythologies now mute except for these stones.

 

My rough hand drawn map of the site made after my first visit. I hadn’t added the inside circle yet. Suggests the numerous uses of the place. Click to enlarge.

                 The required presence of mind one needs at this place is intense and sharp. There is very serious and powerful intent at work here, not to be toyed with but to be respected and honored. The illusions of time and death dissolve into the present here, a perfect Witnessing place.

            “Balancing change” broadly describes the emotional temperature of the place.  All manner of flux and mutability occurred here, some easy and organic, some difficult and deadly. Transformation and transcendence are soaked into the earth under my feet. A Overhead a red-tailed hawk cries, “Every moment sacred.”

            Standing in the birthing arc I hear a vague turtle shell rattle, its dry brittle sound complements the landscape. During my 2 ½ hour stay I often hear voices traveling on the wind. Sometimes they are conversations, often a bit of shy laughter. No agony, no pain on the wind today – only the bliss of place and life. Voices often come out of the earth. I walk past a richly lichened rock and a crackle of communication arises from it, the groan of the stone. Attracted by one such voice I realized I am looking at a disturbed turtle effigy.

            Spiritually, the site provides easy access to soul via the present and benevolent spirits alive to the needs of those seekers who come here. There was a time when this place was used almost exclusively by shamans who created special conditions so people could move in and out of life in a place and fashion they knew. Shamans were born and died here, heyoka arose out of contracted consciousness to live their duality here, women who would be matriarchs were born here only to return and give birth themselves.

            Tucked between two stones in the centre of the dying arc are signs of recent medicine making: a brown and white hawk feather and a small bundle of sage bound with grass. Beautiful! 

            Though not used ritually by any present day aboriginals the place is visited by tourists, many of a spiritual nature who stay at The Convent Country Inn. Robert and Mette often speak of the power of this site to their guests. Access is now limited to hiking in, no vehicles allowed. More shamans than archeologists have visited here. Apparently, no archeologist has ever visited the site, leaving it virtually unstudied.

Prairie Rock Graffiti. Stone rectangle with initials inside. 

                I find this spot fascinating not just for its active and helpful local spirits, but for its long and varied usage. A power place re-interpreted often over the millennia, this is a list of uses from the present back:                         

                                            Cow pasture

                                            Transmitting/receiving tower?

                                            Geodetic Survey Marker

                                            Graffiti in rocks

                                            Campsite

                                            Platform burial site

                                            Turtle effigy and cairn site

                                            Vision quest site

                                            Rites of passage initiated/celebrated

                                            Rituals performed

                                            Birthing and dying arcs

                                            Big stone ceremonial circle

                                            Animal trail

            On my little digital recorder as I am leaving Buffalo Butte, my voice is quavery and hushed. “I’m alive! I’m alive! Here, there and everywhere. Linda is alive! Here, there and everywhere. Wherever there is beauty, that is where Linda lives.”

DAY TRIPPING

KICHE MANITOU  CAMPGROUND YURT #4

September 24, 2010

             My first yurt experience proved to be damp, cold, warm, fuzzy and not without many magical moments.  It rained most of the afternoon as soon as I arrived. The park gives you two keys: one for the yurt and the other for your little red wagon! Chained up to a railing at the parking lot are ten oversized red metal wagons with inflated tires that you use to haul your crap to the yurt since you can’t drive right up to it. An excellent idea! 

            Yurt #4 (of ten, three more added for 2011) at Kiche Manitou Campground in Spruce Woods Provincial Park, just a hoot and a holler from the high dunes of the Spirit Sands, is a fine little affair. Sixteen feet across with hardwood floor raised on a short foundation, the yurt has ample room, both floor and headspace, that even three adults wouldn’t feel crowded. It opens into a large dome that lets light and tree laughter in. The proportion and angle of the ceiling gives the room airiness.

            Furnished in rough hewn natural wood, heavily shellacked, the yurt has a comfy futon (my bed for the night), a lamp, a round table with four chairs, each weighing fifty pounds, a coat rack, the curtain rods, a bureau and bunk beds, double on  bottom, single on top. The beds have the hardest mattresses I’ve ever laid on. The room has a small wall heater, which ran all night and barely kept the dropping temp at bay. The yurt has a roofed wooden porch/deck with cooking area and electrical plugs. The view from the porch is spectacular with the yellowing oak leaves and the Assiniboine River flowing by below.

            The strangest part of the yurt was the diamond-shaped lattice that covered every interior wall space, even the windows. The lattice is used in the basic structure of the place but exposed 340 degrees around you (the door isn’t covered), sometimes the room would start to spin. In my peripheral vision, it would move but stop when I looked that way. Somewhat disconcerting at first but an easily-won tolerance to tacky design.

 

             When I first arrived at the yurt, I heard a sighing sound coming from under one of the three windows. After a few times, I named it Debbie as it had a definite human resignation to it. I suspect it was some communal scrapping of nature and yurt but Debbie offered her small sounds many times during the night, changing from startling to reassuring.

            Coyotes gave several insane choir recitals in the night, making me laugh every time. It was the full moon and I was sorry I wouldn’t see it for the rain. About 5 o’clock I got up for a pee and the clouds parted and the full moon shone heavy and gorgeous, illuminating the area around my yurt with a mix of shadows and sensation. A little smile from Linda. Beautiful!

            Yurts are for non-campers who still don’t mind smelling of wood smoke for a few days. The accommodation for the price – $54 all in – was more than fair, for a family, very economical. It would be most enjoyable on warm summer days and nights. The view of the stars off the porch would be grand.

             To make moonlight hikes on the Spirit Sands much easier with a place to come home to, I thought I would try to book a yurt there every full moon next summer. This can be done online starting in February. From Mongolia to Manitoba, yurts are funky!

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