Tuesday, September 29, 2020

A return to Newfoundland and the Boreal : Powerview-Pine Falls to beyond Stead

Today was a gorgeous, warm, sunny, fall day that took us straight back into the landscape of Newfoundland. It made us realize both how quickly time flies, and how far we've come since taking our leave of The Rock.

We began the day by walking out of Powerview and into the neighbouring community of Pine Falls. This amalgamated town was created as a paper mill town in the 1920's. The mill was originally owned by the Manitoba Pulp and Paper Company, then the Abitibi Paper Company, the Pine Falls Paper Group, and finally Tembec, who shut down the mill in 1998. 

Adjacent to Pine Falls are lands occupied by the Sagkeeng First Nation. The Sagkeeng Reserve, which was once called Fort Alexander, is located at the North and South shores of the mouth of the Winnipeg River. In the Ojibwe language the name 'sagkeeng' means 'at the outlet' and 'winnipi' means 'murky waters.' Some members of this Anishinabee First Nation are descended from the ancient copper culture that existed in the area many thousands of years ago. Copper points and artifacts have been found around the Fort Alexander fishing, hunting, trading, and meeting grounds of this ancient culture. Today, the youth of the Sagkeeng First Nation achieved renown when their dance troupe, Sagkeeng's Finest, won the the first and only season of 'Canada's Got Talent' in 2012.

We threaded our way through the treed subdivisions of Pine Falls, whose streets were named after various tree species, walked past the school and the medical complex, and made a quick stop at the grocery store on the edge of town. Just outside the shop was a beautifully restored and preserved steam engine. Locomotive #30 was built in 1924, and was operated through Pine Falls from 1954 to 1963. It was the last steam engine to run daily in Western Canada, and it now stands as a reminder of the mill and all it meant to the community.

After crossing the highway we picked up the Whistle Pig trail. How can you not love a trail with a name like that? It turned out to be a gravel ATV track that we followed for the entire day. In many places it was regular gravel, but in a few sections it was covered in very large, rather sharp, rocks that we sunk right down into - just like on Newfoundland's T'Railway Trail.

The plaque at the edge of Powerview-Pine Falls said the Winnipeg River created a dividing line between the Boreal Shield and the Manitoba Lowlands, and indeed we found ourselves in a vast, open landscape that was very different from the shield landscape we've been walking through so far.

The track was bordered by cattail marshes, open bogs, and beaver ponds, many with light grey snags marking the spots where living trees used to stand. Beyond these wet areas the tall, distinctive shapes of black spruce banded together in small stands of trees. The edges of the trail were bordered with the feathery shapes of tamarack, their light green needles just beginning to turn yellow.

In other areas the trail took us through stands of aspen and birch. Their brilliant yellow canopies were glowing brightly in the strong fall sunshine, making a striking contrast with the reds of the understory.

As the afternoon progressed we walked among stands of dense spruce and balsam fir. The forest floor in these stands was covered with a deep, luxurious carpet of bright emerald green moss that made us want to find a sunny spot to lie down and nap on.

We walked this pleasant track all day, seeing only one other person on an ATV as we passed through the collection of homes that made up the community of Stead. Otherwise we walked alone beneath the bright blue sky with its conglomeration of billowy and interesting looking clouds.

 As we walked today we saw a plethora of Garter/Ribbon snakes. They were lying on the trail attempting to warm up, but although the afternoon was warm, many of them were very sluggish. We enjoyed watching them tasting the air with their long, forked tongues. Especially when we moved around they would flick their bright red tongues in and out, showing us the black tip as they 'tasted' the air.

We also saw a variety of woolly bear and other caterpillars, many of whom seemed to be hurrying across the trail. They were joined by quite a few grasshoppers, and we were struck by how quiet the grasshoppers are now - they've completely stopped singing, which must mean mating season is over for them.

 As we walked we scared many small groups of Wood Ducks up out of the trail-side ponds and puddles. They would be hiding among the logs and grasses and then take flight in a huge kerfuffle of wings as we approached. The second most prevalent bird was the Canada Jay. Groups of them would fly from tree to tree down the trail ahead of us, teasing us with their wide variety of calls and noises. We were also accompanied by small flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos, a Turkey Vulture circling lazily overhead, and a Palm Warbler feeding frantically in a tamarack tree at the side of the trail.

One of the highlights of today was finding a geocache. Sean spotted it by chance as we were walking past, and we decided to log it. We've made it a point to find a geocache along the trail in each province we walk through. So far we haven't been doing too much geocaching as a Covid precaution, but today we logged find number 501! It turns out this trail is loaded with caches about every 100 m, so it would be a great place to go geocaching while exploring the Boreal.

As the warm sunny afternoon turned to evening we began looking for a spot to pitch the tent. It felt so nice to just be able to stop and camp when we felt like it! We were looking for a dry sheltered spot since tonight we are supposed to get rain and up to 70 kph winds. So far we've had one rain shower, which was accompanied by some high winds and a drop in temperature, but otherwise it has been pretty quiet. As we lay here in the dark we can hear waves of Canada Geese flying past overhead. 


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