Tag Archives: hiking

Riding Mountain National Park’s Mount Agassiz Day Use Area

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Last Sunday we awoke to a lovely warm sunny day that was beyond inviting. October is a weird month up here on the 51st parallel. It can be warm as summer and as cold as winter in the same day. Smart people take advantage of nice weather because chances are it won’t be nice the next day or in a few hours. Even though it was a lot earlier than I would normally care to be moving in the morning, we packed up the dogs and drove to one of our favourite places. We live on the east side of Riding Mountain National Park. It’s not a true mountain. It’s a long escarpment at about 732 metres (2400 feet) rising abruptly about 100 metres (320 feet) above a really flat plain going down to Lake Manitoba. From our house about 45 km (30 miles) away we can see “the mountain” clearly.

There used to be a ski resort on the east side. The nearest town of McCreary has as it’s statue symbol a funny cartoon fellow with downhill skis. In places like British Columbia the old Aggasiz Ski Resort would barely be a bunny hill and “the mountain” likely wouldn’t even have a name. On the Manitoba flat plain, this is a startling and steep place. Many years ago the old ski resort went out of business and the road up to the lodge was rarely used by anyone except the odd bunch of horse trailers bringing in riding horses for trail riding. We saw both white tail deer and elk on the drive in. Last trip we saw several bears. It is a wild place. More recently the Federal Government has decided to develop this spot. Very little on the east side of the mountain is accessible and so it has been designated as a day use picnic area. We took advantage of the lovely weather to take a hike.

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The only facilities are garbage cans, recycle bins, an outhouse and a big wood pile. There are several picnic tables and a typical “warm up” shelter, a place that in winter is sheltered from wind with a big wood stove to provide heat. There are some paved trails that follow a small creek.

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Because it was late fall, the deciduous trees were bare and the native plants were long since brown and finished. People mowed lawn was the only thing still green and that not by much.

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The narrow creek is lined with round glacial boulders. It was recently made over and so no sand has accumulated in the creek bed. The flow is constant from a flat plateau above that is a large swamp marsh. All of the water runs down into this valley and from there wanders out of the park onto the plains. It’s not a big creek. You can almost jump over it and it was barely ankle deep on this. It is a novelty here though because it is not a typical sluggish green ribbon a most creeks on the flat plain are. It is a genuine babbling laughing creek running merrily over pretty rocks. There is a small bridge over the creek at the end of the path. From there you can start climbing uphill.

The land is clear on wide trails of what used to be the old ski runs. It is a steep but easy trail up to the tops of the old ski hills on either side of the creek. This is the view looking north. We took the south side. We stopped for about twenty minutes to watch a huge flock of mixed Canada and Snow geese circling above in a lazy flock that never quite made proper Vs. We also saw three ravens chasing an golden eagle out of the area with many indignant caws. Except for chickadees we did not see any song birds. The chickadees flocked nearby and then moved off to other things.

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The trail was lovely climbing up the hill. It was wide and easy and dry. Soon we were high above the creek and the valley floor. The sun was bright and the breeze was light and the dogs were having a blast. I resisted the temptation to let Misty off the leash. There are a lot of animals in this park including bears, wolves, cougars, skunks and porcupines and it is just not safe for an enthusiastic puppy. Even so, she had a great time looking at all the plants and sniffing a whole world of new scents I can only imagine.

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At the top of the hill the trail thinned down to a little track suitable for a deer or horse. You would not get lost following it but the footing was a bit more precarious. Even as we admired the view and contemplated continuing, heavy clouds came rolling in from the west and lowered ominously. Soon the sun was covered. We decided to head back to the truck and call it a day.

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Looking into the rapidly disappearing sun, we could see that our trail followed an old cut for electric supply to the ski resort. It would have been fun to continue but with the weather changing fast, not wise. We were not dressed for cold and had no survival gear.

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By the time we got back to the truck, the wind was really roaring, the sky was completely covered and the dark grey clouds were low on top of us. By the time we drove out of the park and into McCreary, a cold fall drizzle had started. We just made it. Oh, it was a lovely time enjoying the sun on a fall day before the weather turned and we plan on going again once we get back home in the spring. A full Alberta clipper blizzard has hit us since our trip to Agassiz and the ground here is covered with snow. Full winter is here. We head south soon, so we won’t be back to Agassiz until spring.

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Migration Home – Seventh Stop, Cedar Lake Campground, Ouchita National Forest, Oklahoma

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We headed north after our long week in Beaver Bend State Park. According to the Army Corps of Engineers the state of Oklahoma has taken over and runs all their campgrounds. Because of this the Corp campgrounds are the same cost as state parks. We were aiming for another state park, Wister Lake State Park. I knew there were several Ouchita National Forest Campgrounds on the Oklahoma side but I assumed they were being run by the state as well. That turned out to be wrong.

I spent a long time checking the map and Google earth satellite about the trip. Mountain driving scares me and my truck is underpowered for mountains. If I am not really careful the transmission overheats and I have to go very slowly uphill in low drive to avoid that. I am still afraid from when we cooked our break system coming out of Death Valley. I didn’t want to do that again. Thus, I was nervous about going through the Ouchita Mountains but we decided to give it a try. I am so glad we did! There was one particularly hair raising multi hair pin loop downward into the town of Big Cedar but the road was otherwise not especially challenging for me or my truck.  We stopped at the Oklahoma Ranger District on highway 59 far above the tiny town of Hogden and we were delighted to note that there was a National Forest Campground nearby that was not run by the state of Oklahoma. State parks cost us about $25-$30 a night, still much cheaper than a private campground and often much nicer. With the senior pass a nice National Forest stop can be a little as $8. When we got to Holson Valley Road we turned left and we ventured in to check out Cedar Lake. What a lucky detour that turned out to be!

Cedar Lake has three campsites. Shady Lane has several full service creekside campsites for $18 and we needed to do laundry for which we need a sewer hook up. Rain was predicted. Shady Lane is in a flash flood warning zone and there were signs all over reminding us of this fact. The weather forecast was for thunderstorms over the weekend so we decided we would move. After settling in we unhitched the truck and took a drive to see all the other campsites. The North Shore campsite is actually the prettiest and nicest part of the campground but it doesn’t have any hook ups. We can make do without an electric hook up but we prefer the electric if we can get it, especially in rain. I just don’t like cooking with propane inside the trailer. The Sandy Beach campsite is up high on a hillside and it has electric and water sites and washrooms with running water and showers. We checked out the equestrian campsite as well. It was interesting to see campsites with corrals but you could only stay there if you had horses.

When we arrived, Sandy Beach was full except for three walk in sites and two others that were too short for our trailer. The sites are half first come first serve and half reservable. In the morning, I dressed early and dragged out our “guest room” tent and put it in the truck.  I watched the road. As soon as I saw a big rig leave I jumped in the truck and raced up the hill and put up out the “guest room” tent on an exceptionally lovely site among the first come first serve sites which had just been vacated. This site was the highest in the campsite and overlooking the lake with the prettiest view. Even though it was up high, it was sheltered by a ridge and had no really big trees making it a good spot to ride out thunderstorms. As soon as the tent was up I raced down to the pay station and paid my fee and got the tags and raced back up. By this point there were four other rigs driving around looking for an empty spot and two of them asked me if I was leaving that day. Sorry, no. We had the lower site until 2:00pm checkout so we got our laundry done and then moved up into the higher campsite. We ended up staying five more days for $10/night with the senior pass and it was easily the best campground we stayed at for the entire trip.

Just a side note on the practicalities of trailer living. If we have a full hookup, sewer water and electricity, life is not much different from a city stick house. If we have water and electric and can fill at need we only have to worry about black water and grey water tanks being full. We can empty the tanks by either moving the trailer to the nearest dump site or by using our “honey wagon” which is a small portable tank that pulls behind the truck. If we don’t have water handy, we can either move and fill up directly or we can haul water in our big tank. In this situation we had a five day stay planned and we didn’t want to be bothered with hauling water or using our honey wagon every other day. We used the honey wagon in Beaver Bend State Park because they had coin showers and it was so crowded the showers were either full or there was no hot water. At Cedar Lake we showered in the nearby showers. They had warm and abundant hot water without having to plug coins in every few minutes and we usually had the showers to ourselves. We can typically go five to seven days between emptying the tanks under such circumstances and that was one of nice things about Cedar Lake.

The rain and storms predicted for the weekend went north of us. We had lovely weather every day including afternoons nice enough to be out in just a t-shirt, all but two bright and sunny. We went on long walks and rode our bikes. We got the canoe into the water and had a wonderful couple of hours paddling around the lake. Migrating birds caught up with us and we saw eagles, herons, egrets, cranes, wood peckers, nuthatches, blue and grey jays, wrens, warblers, loons, cormorants, and many others. These are the birds that nest at our Manitoba home and we welcome so enthusiastically so it was lovely to note they had caught up with us on their migration north. While out in our canoe we saw two species of turtles. We saw a male ‘fence lizard’ in his bright blue bellied spring mating colours which was a first for both of us. Their favourite food is ticks making them one of our special favourites as reptiles go. We even saw a small rattlesnake subtly moving off the trail as we approached. There were wildflowers carpeting the ground and the trees were in bloom especially several large eastern red buds with the glorious pink/red. The southern maples with their brilliant scarlet were stunning. We saw huge numbers of water striders doing some kind of giant communal mating swarm which was also a first for us. We built a campfire and sat and talked until it burned itself out almost every evening. From our campsite we could see and hear trailer loads of horses going to the equestrian site and we got many glimpses of horses and heard their whinnies often. The angle of our place up on the hill meant we got to enjoy spectacular sunrises and sunsets over the lake. There were a lot of ordinary folks from the area who were happy to talk and we learned a lot, especially about fishing and how bad the economy still was in this area. There was no internet or TV so the days were quiet and stress free and we relaxed. It was beyond lovely. On our last day we took the three miles long (about 6km) hike on a well marked trail around the outside edge of the lake. Most people take under an hour to do it. We went slowly, stopped for rests and looked at all kinds of fascinating things and ended up taking three hours. It was worth every minute.

On a practical note, we drove to a Choctaw Nation run casino/gas station/deli in Poteau every other day because they had unlimited free internet. The food was reasonably priced and very good. I lost $40 in their slot machines. The town of Poteau is typical of what is so callously referred to as “flyover states” by people living on the east and west coasts. Poteau was full of empty buildings, empty factories, empty warehouses and an entire historic downtown district of empty stores in what had once been a thriving small city in a thriving community. There were Trump signs everywhere. The few people left in the area were older and underemployed and had not one nice thing to say about Democrats. We drove to see Wister Lake State Park on one trip and it was nowhere near as nice as Cedar Lake. It was satisfying to know our detour was the right thing to do and we had ended up in a nicer spot.

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My Review

Cedar Lake Campground Ouchita National Forest

Sometimes you pull into a campsite and your heart sings and your spirit lifts and you think “This is why I do this!” That’s how I felt coming to Cedar Lake. Cedar Lake is a small lake with a color like a glacial lake, pale blue/green and gorgeous. It is fed by two creeks. There are three major sections for camping. The east side has many lovely unserviced campsites. There is a section of serviced campsites including some with sewer on the south side on of the two creeks. There is a third group of sites above that on the west side of the lake that have water and electric. The upper area overlooks a lovely brown sand beach suitable for swimming. Half the sites, including all the sites adjacent to the beach, are reservable. Half are first, come first serve. Everything about this campsite was perfectly suited to my tastes. Big, spacious, private, paved drive, fire pit, barbecue, picnic table, and two places to hang things. We started with a lower level campsite with sewer in order to get our laundry done. We moved to a west side campsite high over the lake on the ridge where we could see both sunrise and sunset the next day. There is a three mile hike around the lake that is a delight. There are numerous other longer hikes. The west campground is adjacent to an equestrian camp so we got to see horses coming and going. Two caveats. The lower campsite with sewer is in a flash flood zone. Part of why we moved up the hill was because the forecast was for thunderstorms. Also signs say the lake can be contaminated with toxic blue green algae in hot weather. During our stay, it was just heavenly. Abundant wildlife, birds, turtles, beavers, and deer and blissful long paddles around the perimeter of the tiny sheltered lake, hikes on pathways with blooming wildflowers and the sound of creeks. During the weekend it got a bit noisy and busy so go weekdays if you have a choice.

And this is our trail after almost three weeks and seven moves. Next stop Cherokee Landing State Park and the Cherokee Heritage Centre.

Day Seven

Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park was a real surprise to us. We were thinking Yellowstone, lots of wild spaces with a few boardwalks so you could get close to hot water. Hot Springs National Park is entirely different. For one thing, all the hot springs come out of the side of the same hill in a cluster. Since the place was originally found, the hot water has been used as a bathing area both for cleanliness, for treatment of illness and just plain comfort. One of the consequences is that all the hot springs were long ago capped and all the hot water pooled in one big aqueduct system. There is a central row of original bathhouses with a lovely outdoor walking plaza. All the hot water comes out in controlled civilized structures. These are fountains, waterfalls and grottos. There is one spot where there is a spring in a lawn, probably because some pipe is leaking. You can walk around and see all the hot springs in a couple of hours and it is a pretty walk. We had the good fortune to have the park’s water specialist and biologist show off the spring area to us. We are interested in sampling the hot water’s green goop to see if it has any hot water acclimated diatoms. The park is supportive of the idea so we got visiting royalty treatment and we really appreciated it. We will be trying to get the permits in order for sampling for a fall visit.

One thing that was a big disappointment is it is a very developed place where the actual hot water is. There are two spas you can go into to swim but they are not swimming pools. They are full out spas. The cheapest visit is $20 each to just sit in the huge hot tub and it goes up from there. The full spa treatment with the works will cost you over $600 each for four hours of massage, aroma therapy, hot stones, facial and foot treatments and everything else before you get into the hot water. I walked in, and being scent sensitive, I found the aroma therapy quickly made the place a no go zone for me, never mind the price.

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The rest of the area around the Hot Springs reminded me most of Niagra Falls. There was even a wax museum and a Ripley’s believe or not type place. It is a rather exclusive sort of place for all that, with a suburb of charming homes and some lovely bike paths. There was abundant free parking in the parkade one block off the main street and it was even tall enough to accommodate our pick up with canoe. Bonus!

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We stayed at the national park’s campground and I can highly recommend it. It is small. It is in a ravine with a small creek complete with trout and full babbling brook sensoround. The campground is small with only about 50 sites altogether. Most back onto the creek for a very pretty view. There are no reservations and the number of full service and part service sites is limited. About half the sites are no service for tenters. We got a full service site for $13 a night since my husband has the senior pass. There were no open sites on the creek so we took an interior one but it was very nice anyway.

One of the best things about the campground is that the ridge between the campground and Hot Springs townsite is a ridge covered with lots of trails. They criss cross and you can walk from the campground to the springs and main part of town. Since we arrived just as the trees were budding, the trails were visible. We did not do the full walk due to Dick still recovering from his long walk off a short dock, but we did do some of the less than one mile trails that lead from the campground. They are really nice trails, quite demanding with steeps stairs in some places and wide and open with room to walk side by side in others. The rock formations are multicoloured and SO beautiful.We also took the winding road in our truck to the top of the ridge so we got to see the view from the top in spite of Dick’s still recovering knee.

We really enjoyed our stay at Hot Springs National Park and we will definitely go again if we can, “God willing and the crick don’t rise”.