November 27th – 29th, 2009
I pulled into Riding Mountain National Park at around 5:30PM. It was quite dark but the moon lit up some of the road as I made my way around the turns and hills. The park sits on the Canadian shield and hosts many lakes on either side of the highway. Usually a park pass is needed to visit but since the season is over, no one is there to collect the toll.
I was looking for Moon Lake. It felt like I was driving for a long time after Clear Lake. Denis had told me to keep my eyes peeled about 10 minutes past this point and I should find it there on the right. I rounded another corner and came upon two big moose on the left shoulder. I slowed almost to a stop as they looked ready to cross, of course, my camera was tucked away and can’t show you but I made sure to take a mental picture as the moment passed. A big bull moose and a cow, much bigger that any moose I’d seen in Ontario. I was told the animals in the area were huge because the park is immense and protected, though sometimes frequented by poachers. One of the biggest recorded black bears in the world was killed at this park only a few years ago simply for it’s gull bladder.
I drove a little further down the road but hadn’t seen the sign yet and was starting to wonder if, in my scenic distractions I could of missed the sign, then I saw it. Home for the night, I thought, and I drove down the untraveled snow kissed side road to an information booth. I parked the van and walked up to the booth. It was a self registration counter, and so I thought I’d keep up with the Good Faith Tour and self register for the nights. It was only 15 dollars a night and since I’d be taking advantage of the park for the next few days I slipped the money in the envelope and chose the best lot. As I got out of the van I noticed someone had left some firewood and even though I had brought some of my own, I saw it was oak and would burn a lot longer than the spruce wood I had with me. I started a fire and took out some cookware to prepare my dinner. I had gone to the bulk barn in Brandon to get some dry supplies like pasta and rice for the weekend. I cooked up a batch of shelled noodles with some pasta sauce for dinner and boiled water to make tea for my thermos. After dinner I thought I’d walk around the site a little and check out what animal tracks I could find with my flashlight. To my surprise I found black bear tracks, about a day old. This alarmed me a little as I thought they would be in their dens by now, but since our fall has been so warm they hadn’t gone into hibernation yet. I would have to make sure to clean up after my cooking and leave any garbage or leftovers in the van. I also saw some moose and deer tracks. Fox had also been around the site and I saw some bird tracks too along my walk. The park was very populated with animals it seemed and so I hoped to get some on camera the next day.
I got back to the fire and sat by it for a while, enjoying the dark and quiet night with the sounds of the wood crackling in the pit. I was instantly reminded of home, I use to spend some of my summer nights around a campfire playing guitar with friends or just camping out for the weekend.
I jumped back in the van and ran it for a little bit to get the chill and humidity out. I was tired and went to bed early that night, wanting to take advantage of daybreak to see what my serene surroundings looked like with the morning sun’s glow on the snow covered lake, just a short walk downhill away from the campsite. I slipped into my sleeping bag and closed my eyes, hearing but the wilderness as the trees spoke sometimes louder than the small animals’ scurry.
When I woke the next day I could feel the cold outside of the sleeping bag. Inside it I was warm with no desire to leave it. I could see my breath and when I did get up to start a fire I started the car, it was -9 Celsius, brisk but still not too cold. It was slightly overcast but I could see the lake and my surroundings much better now than the night before. I checked the site for any new tracks but no new bear or moose tracks had come in the night. Only a few squirrel and what looked like field mice tracks were new near the fire pit.
I lit the propane stove to boil water for coffee and to make breakfast. I stated another fire for radiant warmth at the snow covered picnic table. I had a piece of cardboard in the van and used it to scrape off the snow and to sit on at the picnic table while I was eating or sitting by the fire. I woke up slowly with my coffee but thought once I was done with cooking and cleaning I could go for a walk and fetch some water. I had brought fresh water with me but I didn’t want to use this for cleaning dishes or boiling pasta.
I went for a little drive as the lake was frozen over, I wanted to find a running creek with open water. I brought my hatchet which had been gifted to me in Brandon and a gallon jug. I drove to a hiking trail in the park and stationed the van. I walked for a while down the trail. It was a getting a little warmer and I was due for some exercise. I crossed many open streams along the way but thought I’d grab water on the way back so I could just carry it to the van. I decided to turn around about halfway through the trail, I was seeing fresh bear tracks, maybe even from morning. Again, these tracks were not small, I was only wielding a hatchet and was off the beaten path if I were to need help. Though black bears aren’t usually aggressive towards humans, I didn’t want to surprise one rounding a corner on the path.
I stopped at a stream on the way back and filled up my gallon. I went back to the Moon Lake site and walked around there for a little while. I saw new car tracks on the road leading down to the lake but no one had visited my site. I walked along the beach, along the road which led to other lots and then back to mine in time to cook dinner before dusk.
A little field mouse came by to visit me while I was eating but he didn’t stick around too long. Again, the night had fallen and I was sitting next to my roaring fire. Before I retired for the evening, I sat in the van and did some writing while charging my phone and laptop batteries. I listened to CBC radio blues show and then, with the van warm and dry, I slid into my sleeping bag for the night. I would be heading to Dauphin in the afternoon. Knowing fair well that it would be a challenge to find a gig on a Sunday in a small community or even midweek at
that but I was curious to see what would come in the next week.
I woke up to a completely sunny day on Sunday, very appropriate, and after cleaning up around the campsite a little, I set off for the half hour drive to Dauphin. I was amazed to see what waited for me ahead as I reached the top of the prairie mountain and could see Dauphin in the distance.