Our Trav­els: Man­i­toba Peaks

There is a lot more to this ‘flat’ land­scape than first meets the eye!

More of Our Canada - - Contents - by Ron Schirlie, Win­nipeg

Most peo­ple think of Man­i­toba as be­ing flat, but—sur­prise!—it’s not.

When she first moved to Man­i­toba from Que­bec, my wife Sue was a rather re­luc­tant Prairie girl. She was used to see­ing hills mainly from the front porch of the fam­ily cot­tage. In or­der to in­tro­duce her to both me and Man­i­toba, I made a point of show­ing her ev­ery hill I could find in my home province. Luck­ily, she en­joyed ex­plor­ing and hik­ing, or the next 25 years would have been a lot less in­ter­est­ing!

Most peo­ple think of Man­i­toba as be­ing flat, the way farm­ers like it. That’s not the whole story, of course. If you look at a pro­vin­cial map, you’ll find parklands pasted over patches of higher ground with names end­ing in “moun­tain,” such as Rid­ing Moun­tain, Tur­tle Moun­tain, Duck Moun­tain and Por­cu­pine Moun­tain.

The parks fol­low the Man­i­toba Es­carp­ment, which is the western shore of the an­cient glacial Lake Agas­siz, and the source of sev­eral scenic sur­prises.

Rid­ing Moun­tain Na­tional Park, for ex­am­ple, is known for the re­sort area around Clear Lake, which is enor­mously pop­u­lar dur­ing sum­mer­time, but we think the best times to visit are in fall and win­ter. Those fab-

ulous fall hik­ing trails be­come cross-coun­try ski trails in win­ter.

Sue and I first ex­pe­ri­enced Rid­ing Moun­tain in the fall of 1992, when we pic­nicked at Lake Audy, shar­ing a late lunch with the whiskey jacks that ate crack­ers out of our hands. After sun­set at the lake, we en­coun­tered the res­i­dent bi­son herd, which had de­cided to occupy the road that night. All we could see were their eye­balls, seem­ingly danc­ing in the head­lights.

We re­turned later that win­ter for some cross-coun­try ski­ing and were fas­ci­nated to watch a moose kneel­ing and lick­ing salt from the road­way.

The es­carp­ment ac­tu­ally starts in an area known as the Pem­bina Hills in North Dakota, where it is known as the Pem­bina Es­carp­ment, and runs north­west through Man­ito- ba into Saskatchewan. The scenic Pem­bina Val­ley is a lit­tle-known gem in south cen­tral Man­i­toba. Pem­bina Val­ley Pro­vin­cial Park of­fers a splen­did tenkilo­me­ter hik­ing trail, which we en­joyed in 2005.

Tur­tle Moun­tain Pro­vin­cial Park shares an In­ter­na­tional Peace Gar­den with neigh­bour­ing North Dakota. The nearby hill known as Tur­tle’s Back was an­other hik­ing ad­ven­ture for us in 2001, dur­ing which I was forced to prom­ise never again to start an uphill hike in 30°C weather. Ad­mit­tedly, this is a prom­ise that has been bro­ken on oc­ca­sion.

Tur­tle Moun­tain is home to painted tur­tles. We were priv­i­leged to watch one of them bury­ing her eggs in the sand at the side of the road. In the park­ing lot, I tried to res­cue one by gen­tly re­mov­ing it from the pave­ment, al­though I got peed on for my ef­forts. Ap­par­ently, leav­ing wildlife alone is al­ways a good idea.

Duck Moun­tain Pro­vin­cial Park houses the

high­est point of land in the province—a big bump known as Baldy Moun­tain. You can drive over the moun­tain along the road through the park and be for­given for not notic­ing that you were at the top of a hill, but a short walk from the side of the sum­mit will take you to an over­look that re­veals the hid­den high­light. The el­e­va­tion here is 2,730 feet, which Sue was sur­prised to learn is higher than the 2,480-foot Que­bec peak Owl’s Head, where I pro­posed to her in 1993, after co­erc­ing her to hike to the sum­mit. As I said, it’s a good thing she likes hik­ing!

Near the Saskatchewan border, the es­carp­ment runs through the Ases­sippi ski area. Here the Shell­mouth Dam at the head­wa­ters of the Assini­boine River forms Lake of the Prairies.

Far­ther north, the es­carp­ment reaches Por­cu­pine Moun­tain, fea­tur­ing a wilder­ness area with fewer guest fa­cil­i­ties, of­fer­ing ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­plore and ap­pre­ci­ate an un­spoiled nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.

Whether you head north for the lakes and forests, or en­joy the rolling farm­land far­ther south, if you only stay on the Trans-canada High­way as you pass through Man­i­toba, you’ll be miss­ing the high spots. n

Clockwise from top: Canola field at Ases­sippi; Sue at Rid­ing Moun­tain; sun­set on Lake Audy; a bi­son at Rid­ing Moun­tain.

Clockwise from top: In­ter­na­tional Peace Gar­den on the border of Man­i­toba and North Dakota; a rain­bow near Tur­tle Moun­tain; Ron at Clear Lake in Rid­ing Moun­tain Na­tional Park.

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