Day 05: Manitoba Beauty, in All Sizes

After breakfasting this morning with several dozen Rotary members, who are a rabble-rousing bunch, we hit the road by 8:15am.  We had a lot to do, a lot of ground to cover, and only so much time in which to do it.  So we were off!  Well, sort of.  It was the morning rush hour and there were a lot of Peggers on the roads, all in a neat and orderly fashion, of course.

A not-so-shy red-sided garter snake

A not-so-shy red-sided garter snake

The drive out of Winnipeg took us past a long row of nothing but gas stations and then like *that* we were back into flat farmlands for miles with Winnipeg in our rearview mirror.  We were heading due north along Hwy 7, the blue skies were filled with geese heading due south, the sun was shining bright, and all was well.  Eventually the farmlands yielded to vast expanses of birch forests with green, yellow, amber, and burgundy leaves.  It was stunning.

We drove just north of the town of Narcisse to the world famous Narcisse Snake Dens.  Each Fall thousands of red-sided garter snakes come from up to 20km away to over-winter in these limestone dens, making it the largest concentration of snakes in the world.  They then form their hibernacula (snake balls) until spring, when they mate and head off in separate directions.  I imagine by the beginning of Spring they are sick of their denmates and can’t wait to get outta there for some peace and solitude.  They’d better choose wisely who they ball up with.  No one likes a space hog.

Snake balls!

Snake knot

The wide and well-maintained pathways wound through birch forests to the marked dens.  As we neared each den there would be snakes darting off here-n-there (they are pretty shy), but many were out and enjoying this gorgeous, sunny day just as we were.  This stop was well worth the 2-hour detour we took to get there.

Continuing on, we took the very rural-but-scenic Hwy 68 west past Lake Manitoba.  It was the kind of route where you needed a full tank of gas and an empty bladder, because there weren’t many roadside amenities.  In fact, we’re pretty sure people are milling their own wheat for flour and whatnot because it seemed you could drive an hour or two in any direction and still not hit a grocery store or neighbor.  Or even a Tim Horton’s.  It was also very flat, and at one point we saw rain clouds in the far distance but for all we knew they were two days away over Edmonton.

RMNP (mooseless) prairie

RMNP (mooseless) prairie

Besides the snake dens, the other big stop of the day was to Riding Mountain National Park (RMNP).  You can see it for miles, as the land takes a notable upturn in the otherwise flat terrain.  It’s not known as the Manitoba Escarpment for nothing.

We dropped into RMNP from the north entrance and once you enter the park you are welcomed by large swaths of scenic beauty.  Once again (and stop me if I’m being redundant), the fall color was a bright festival and the Caution: Moose Crossing signs had our eyes peeled.

It was time.  Time to go moosing.

Lake beauty

RMNP lake beauty

As we’d been in the car awhile, we decided to stretch our legs with a quick 1.5km hike through some prairielands, skirting a forest.  No moose were sighted, but we weren’t exactly delicately tip-toeing along the trail and they might have heard us coming.  Next we drove down and stopped at Moon Lake then Grayling Lake, and both were absolutely eye-catching but no moose.  Jimmy did see a red squirrel, though, which heightened our wildlife senses.  But, and certainly no disrespect to the red squirrel, we were hoping to see some large ungulates today.

We carried on down to the southern entrance in the town of Wasagaming, procured our National Parks Pass (CAD$136.40; valid for 1 year), then drove up to the Wishing Well to make a small donation and fervently wish to see some large animal action.

This is a bison. He doesn't care.

This is a bison. He doesn’t care.

Up next was about a 50km roundtrip drive on a gravel road out to the Bison Range at Lake Audy, where we were fortunate enough to see two bison grazing and completely oblivious to our cameras snapping away.  They seemed so much less excited to see us than we were them.  I guess when you are as large as a 1-ton truck you don’t let much get under your skin.

We headed back out to the main road (Hwy 10) to drive north through the park once more, still looking for moose.  But being the experienced moosers we are (from the one other time in Maine), we knew that the sun was still a little too high in the sky at 6pm for the real action to begin.  And unfortunately we left the park mooseless but found it well worth the visit, nonetheless.

An industrious beaver built this lodge

An industrious beaver built this lodge

After leaving RMNP we stopped for dinner at Mr. Mikes Steakhouse Casual in Dauphin, because with a population of over 8,000 people it was the largest town for miles.  Then we hit the road for the final 90km to the Harvest Moon Inn in Roblin, MB.  We arrived after 8pm, which meant we’d been out touristing away for almost 12 hours and were beat.  Soon after arrival we hit the hay – all of that moosing took it right out of us.

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