A Wagon Ride

Spirit Sands

Spruce Woods Provincial Park

July 17th, 2000

As we
have traveled across Canada starting in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to Brandon, Manitoba, we have seen beautiful countryside filled with lush green forests and then fields filled with every type of grain you can imagine. So when we read about a place where they offered covered wagon rides through desert area we were intrigued. We called the Spirit Sands and made reservations. After driving some 45 miles south-east of Brandon we arrived at the Spruce Woods Provincial Park. After we paid for our fares we went out to meet Larry (our driver) and the two Belgian horses, Mack and Zack. These were sturdy built horses, obviously built for hauling heavy loads. The area around the loading area didn't look much different from what we have seen all over. No desert. We boarded the wagon along with about 8 adults and 9 kids. As we drove along Larry pointed out various plants growing alongside the roadway. One of the flowers he pointed out was called Bergamot, which he said was the herb used to make Earl Grey Tea. Then we came to a large patch of Silver plants which he called "Wolf Willow." He was telling us that he had some aborigine girls on the ride who said that they used to help their grandmothers collect the seeds from this plant and make beads out of them. As we approached our first stop, we started to see the changes in the landscape; such as, more evergreen trees and sand starting to appear on the ground. Then we stopped, got out and Larry pointed out a Pin Cherry bush, which we were allowed to pick. The cherries were very small, possibly 1/4 of the size of a regular cherry. They had a very tart taste. I had a hard time picturing a bear eating enough of these to satisfy his appetite. It was cute to watch the children taste them, because the faces definitely reflected how sore the cherry was that they picked. Some of the kids really liked them, and kept looking for more. As we left the area where the horse and wagon were parked and went down the patch we came to the sand dunes. It was like we had gone into a whole different world. Larry told us that the sand dunes were constantly shifting due to the winds and moved anywhere from 1-2" a year. After trudging up the side of the sand dune I stood and watched some of the more limber trudge even further and some go sliding down the side of some of the dunes. I think the nice thing about getting "more mature" is that I don't feel that I have to prove something by climbing each and every sand dune that presented itself. One was quite enough, thank you. Well, back to the wagon and on to the next stop. As we drove along Larry was quick to point out the multitude of poison ivy that grew next to the roadway. It seemed like it was everywhere. You would certainly have to be careful if you were hiking in the area. The next stop was the Devil's Punch Bowl. This was a basin of water that was formed by various springs that came up from the bottom. The interesting part is that these springs actually move slightly each year. Larry explained to us that it was important to stay on the trail in this area as there were some areas around the Devil's Punch Bowl that were quicksand and could prove very dangerous to the lone hiker, if he was not careful. Back into the wagon, and heading back in, we found out that the part of the park that we were in was actually a part of the Shilo Military Base prior to 1972 when the park was formed. The area we were driving through was utilized by the military for tank maneuvers. You could actually see some of the tracks that were used by the tanks still going through the brush. (I know I kept thinking that I hoped they didn't do a lot of artillery firing and forget any.) Larry also pointed out that one of the natives of this area was a Hog Nose Snake (which is a relative of the Rattlesnake) and a lizard called a Skink.

A Skink if it is in danger from a predator can actually detach its tail, which continues to wriggle for about 5 minutes, thus distracting it enemy and allowing the Skink to escape. Unfortunately it was a bit cool the day we went and we didn't get to see any snakes or lizards. It was a leisurely ride back with Zack and Mack picking up speed a little as they realized their day was almost at an end. As I alighted from the wagon I felt that I had seen a part of Canada that wasn't seen by everyone. It was rugged but beautiful in its own right.

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