Archive for October, 2009

Buffalo Pound Provincial Park   7 comments

Posted at 11:08 am in Uncategorized

During last year’s westward trip, I crossed the Canadian prairie region in about three days. On the return home, I drove it in two days (which was utter madness). This year, I was determined to make time for side trips here and there along the way. Unfortunately, weather prevented me from doing so in Manitoba, but that just means I have some exploring to do on my next crossing. In Saskatchewan, it was a different story. Just before reaching Moose Jaw, I turned north and drove to Buffalo Pound Provincial Park.

When crossing the prairies, the landscape seems flat for miles in every direction. In autumn, golden wheat, or the stubble of harvested fields, stretches off to a vanishing point on the horizon, broken only by the occasional combine, or a small windbreak grove of trees around a house and farmyard. However, turn off the main highway and travel a few kilometers in any direction, and soon enough, you’re likely to encounter a steep valley cut through at the bottom by a creek or small river. In these places, you may find undulating hills, stands of trees, tall grasses, areas of marsh, and many birds and mammals. That is precisely the case at Buffalo Pound Provincial Park. During the approach, you see only wheat fields until almost at the visitor center. But just beyond, the tops of the tallest trees appear, trunks rooted in steep ravines in the valley below. Soon, you crest a hill and begin to descend, only to find yourself in a grassy valley, surrounded by shady groves bordering the shoreline of Buffalo Pound Lake.

Being so late in the season, I hoped the park would be almost deserted. It was. When I arrived, the only activity seemed to be a truck removing vending machines from a building. I toured the campground, soon determining that I would have the place all to myself. During peak season, it would not be the kind of place I would choose to spend time as it’s quite “developed” with many electrical sites for RVs and large travel trailers, several service buildings, a concrete wading pool, a couple of beaches, a boat launch ramp, and so on. While these are considered amenities to some, for me, they’re the markers that warn me to steer clear and search elsewhere for a place to camp. However, with the air turning cool, and a stiff breeze raising whitecaps on the lake, I was quite sure we would be alone for our overnight stay. I pulled the van into what is probably one of the choicest RV spots “in season” and proceeded to get out the propane camp stove to make our dinner. I stood cooking and just at the very moment when I was thinking how pleasant it was to be in this place all alone, I heard the familiar chug of a behemoth RV descending the road to the lake. I uttered a disgusted “aarrrrgggghhh”. Soon the RV came into view, poking its big nose into the area of the campground where the dogs and I were settled in for the evening. It toured the loop and came to rest a short distance away. Perhaps the driver picked up on the “Go away!” psychic waves I was directing his way. Whatever, after several suspense-filled minutes during which he was probably contemplating whether or not to risk pissing off a hermit with two dogs, he slowly cruised off and chose a campsite at such distance that I could just barely make out the ever present RV outdoor lamps that remained lit the entire night (arrrrgh!).

By morning, strong winds had moved into the region and my van rocked pleasantly, rather like a cradle up in the tree tops. However, while making pancakes for our breakfast, the weather situation deteriorated considerably, to the point where I found myself studying the big limbs on the surrounding trees, wondering which ones had the potential to crack off and crush the van. After cleaning up and loading the van, we moved on, but not without stopping to visit the herd of bison that occupy a large plot of land near the Nicolle Flats wetlands. The photo up above (click on all photos for larger view), gives some idea of the terrain down in the valley by the lake and wetland. Picture climbing up those hills to find flat wheat fields stretching off as far as the eye can see and that will give you some idea of how deceptive the landscape can be in this part of the country.

I had studied a map of the hiking trail system in the area and rather than walk to the bison viewing trail, intuited that the herd was probably taking refuge from the strong winds back in the yard in a canyon away from the marsh. A quick trip up to the observation tower on a nearby hill confirmed that’s just where they were. The surrounding wetlands must see huge numbers of migrating birds in spring and autumn. However, I was a little on the late side, and with the strong winds that day, most stragglers were probably either hunkered down in a sheltered area, or moving on. I did see a couple of large flocks of Snow Geese landing on the waters momentarily before lifting off to fly with powerful winds pushing them onwards.

Leaving the park, I took a somewhat different route back to the Trans Canada highway to fill up the gas tank at Moose Jaw before continuing westward. I stopped to photograph a lonely wooden church surrounded by a small cemetery. One stone caught my eye – that of a two year old child. Looking around, I soon found several others for young children – a couple of those familiar children’s stones – the ones topped with small stone lambs, and others less obvious.

By this point, the wind became so strong that it was almost impossible to walk in a straight line. Returning to the van, I found that the door was being held open with such force that it took a good thirty second of bracing myself inside, tugging at the handle with both hands, before a tiny lull allowed me to slam it shut. As the van struggled southward, slammed and buffeted by what were probably the strongest winds I’ve yet driven through, I reflected on how it must have been out here on the prairies during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s. Doubtless, some of the gravestones back in the church cemetery are linked to events of that time.

In Moose Jaw, I found a few signs blown down and marveled at how one intrepid man was managing to ride his bicycle along a roadway while carrying a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Later, driving westward on the Trans Canada, I caught sight of a young man traveling eastward, bike laden with packsack, tent and sleeping bag, straining hard at the peddles, suspended almost motionless as he faced the full force of the gale, all the while holding his arm out as he attempted to thumb a ride from the passing motorists. I wondered if he might be wishing he were any place else but here. Later that night, I received a note on the blackberry from my brother. He had seen a news report about the terrific winds in the area I was traveling through. Apparently, a roof or two had been blown off buildings around Moose Jaw. By then, we were far away, soon to meet up with the same winds again – but more about that in the next post.

Written by bev on October 14th, 2009

autumn comes to Sleeping Giant   7 comments

Posted at 10:42 pm in Uncategorized

If you’ve traveled the western end of Lake Superior near Thunder Bay, you’ll know the profile of the “sleeping giant”. It’s a peninsula that juts many kilometers out into the lake and is so conspicuous as to be impossible to miss. From wikipedia, here’s a description of the geography:

The Sibley Peninsula is 52 kilometres (32 mi) long and 10 kilometres (6 mi) wide. It projects into Lake Superior from the north shore, separating Thunder Bay to the west and Black Bay to the east. The peninsula can be separated into two physiographic areas—highlands and lowlands. The highlands dominate the western half of the peninsula, and rise to 380 metres (1,247 ft) above the surface of Lake Superior. The lowlands of the eastern portion of the peninsula rise to only 75 metres (246 ft), over an area 3 to 6 kilometres (2 to 4 mi) wide. Sleeping Giant Provincial Park occupies most of the peninsula.

Don and I had long wanted to camp and hike there, so I made a point of staying a couple of nights on my way west after leaving Pukaskwa National Park. Much can be said about the biological diversity of this peninsula. There seems to be a little or a lot of almost every type of habitat to be found in Ontario up atop the peninsula – lakes, bogs, alvars, coniferous and deciduous forest — it’s all there. A terrific system of hiking trails makes it possible to visit most of these areas. Sabrina, Sage and I hiked several of the shorter trails during our stay. The timing of our visit must have been just right as we never met another human soul on the trails, but did meet deer, fox and a bear (it was at Sleeping Giant that we saw the fox featured in a recent post). It felt like we had the entire peninsula to ourselves. When we arrived, most of the leaves were still green, or just turning to yellow. However, after a couple of nights, everything coloured up — as evidenced by the photo of Sabrina and Sage up above. This was to be the pattern on so much of our trip across Canada — we would arrive in a place just as the warm weather ended and the first frosty nights signaled the coming of autumn. When hiking the trails of Sleeping Giant, I found it hard to get my mind around the fact that we were far above the surrounding Lake — especially as we hiked around other lakes that must be several hundred feet above Superior. I did visit the lookoff, but am so afraid of heights that it was impossible to walk out onto the observation deck that juts out beyond the cliffs. However, I did shoot a little video clip from my “safe” vantage point a little in from the edge. Here it is for what it’s worth. More pleasing, although a bit shaky, is this little clip of a forest stream. Advance apologies for the “shaky cam” effect, but trying to shoot little videos with feet balanced on damp, mossy, slanted rocks, while Sage tugs at her leash, makes it next to impossible to get smooth footage.

Written by bev on October 9th, 2009