Sunday, April 26, 2015

Manitoba: Spirit Sands Desert

I've walked through some very impressive deserts in my time including the Kalahari in Botswana, the Sahara in Egypt, and the Thar in India. They are incredibly hot (roughly +45C when I was in the Thar). The Serengeti, although not a desert, was extremely hot when I was there as well. 

Manitoba by contrast, is the other extreme with temperatures reaching lows of -45C (last winter and the winter before at -50C). No one would ever consider that there are places in Manitoba that could reach desert-like temperatures, let alone have a desert where the temperature can reach +50C. Well, as if by serendipity (but not really), I finally "discovered" Spirit Sands and Devil's Punchbowl only 180km from Winnipeg. 

I heard there was a desert in Manitoba, one of the very few in Canada but never visited it. We attempted many, many years ago when my kids were young but we didn't make more than a few feet past the trailhead. It was an incredible hot summer day and we were not prepared for walking in a desert. 

Thanks to Prairie Pathfinders, a hiking club in Winnipeg, I got to enjoy a 3.5 hour hike through the sand dunes of Manitoba. It was a perfect day for a hike - sunny with an expected high of +18C. We packed a lunch and headed out at 11am only to arrive at the trail head to light drizzle. With no raincoat, we improvised - me in Robin's jacket and he in a "trail" raincoat. Hey, it kept him dry! 

We started at at 1:30 sharp (Wendy the leader is pretty punctual) and headed up a steep incline and about 50 stairs. Soon after that the rain stopped and it was cool but comfortable. 

By the time we were 10 minutes into to hike, I shedded my bit of plastic I had on my back and soon after another set of stairs, the jacket went. It's amazing how quickly you can heat up when you are climbing up a somewhat steep hill. 

Most people think that Manitoba is a vast flat land of prairie as far as the eye can see - and so it is - but we also have beautiful rivers, streams, forests, hills, mountains (Riding Mountain in the Minnedosa area), obviously deserts complete with sand dunes and a plethora of terrain and landscapes to enjoy. Here is what I mean: we get to the top of the hill and there below us was a picture-perfect river valley with a light fog. 

Some more walking brought us to the famous Spirit Sands Sand Dunes. Thank goodness it was heavily overcast and cool or we would be burning up trudging in the ankle deep sand. I am going to feel it tomorrow for sure! 

Then more steps and even more... 

Did you know the Manitoba flower is the crocus? I knew that but had often wondered why "they"would pick a crocus because I had never seen one anywhere (well except for a pot in a greenhouse).  There were dozens and I was glad someone pointed them out because I would have missed them. I would have noticed the light mauve coloured flower with a bright yellow centre but I would not have known it was our very own official flower. Judging from the yellow stigmas at the centre of the flower, I can see why saffron (which is the red stigma of the saffron crocus) would be the most expensive spice in the world - as high as $5,000 per pound. Apparently it takes about 75,000 flowers to get one pound. I prefer to see my crocus in the wild - take a picture and leave the flower for someone else to appreciate.   

After the dunes, we headed to the Devil's Punch Bowl. I wondered how much longer it would be after the dunes but the walk was totally worth it. We rounded a bend in the path and there below was the Punch Bowl. We had to walk down a long path and a lot of stairs again but it was worth the extra effort.  

Crossing the bridge across the Punch Bowl and some more stairs and there was a gentle stream running in another valley just below us. I wanted to stay and enjoy the scenery but we still had another 3 kms to go back to the trailhead. The rest of the group was going to a community supper in Treherne and since we didn't know the path, we followed the group back. 

All in all, it was a great hike - almost 13 kms which translated to about 20,000 steps including over 1500 stairs (or uphill walking).


  1. Did Robin know their was a snake on his walking stick?

  2. Yes Indeed Eddie. Brought that back all the way from Egypt as a gift to my dad. Robin inherited it when he passed.


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