by Heather Hinam
Heather is the owner of Second Nature Adventures in Discovery, a tour company which offers visitors customized Interlake Experiences. She can be reached at 204-619-4119 or by visiting www.discoversecondnature.ca
I have always been driven by the desire to explore new places and discover new things, whether I am in a different country or my own backyard. Questions like: Where does that trail go? or, What’s around that bend? can fuel hours of engaging adventure. Here in the Interlake, there is no end to the fascinating people, places and things you can unearth if you are willing to take yourself off the beaten track. To spark your imagination, here is just a tiny sampling of some of my favourite Interlake hidden gems and where you can find them.
Take your travels off the main highways. A particularly fruitful journey is the one just up Provincial Road 224. This winding gravel road branches off Highway 8 between Riverton and Hecla. Marked with signs denoting a winter road and Pine Dock, it doesn’t really give you any hint to the treasures you might discover along its 80 km stretch.
Enjoy a picnic and panoramic views of Lake Winnipeg’s Washow Bay, at Beaver Creek Provincial Park, before heading further north. You can then venture way off the beaten path and pick a trail over the rocks, going south from the town of Pine Dock. When the water levels are low, you can scramble along the shore to a whole new world. The further you go, the taller the cliffs get. Suddenly, crevasses open up, inviting you to explore the hidden nooks and crannies in the limestone, from small caves to high-walled corridors, reminiscent of Tolkien’s Road Under the Mountain.
Once you pull yourself up out of the caves, this road still has more secrets to share. Continue north and eventually you will reach the water’s edge. It may seem like the ends of the earth, but you can still venture further. Hop aboard one of the only cable ferries left in Manitoba and discover Matheson Island.
This fishing community of about 100 people offers a picturesque combination of yawls, buoys, gulls and the occasional eagle as you travel along its shore. Come in the fall and watch hundreds of bald eagles as they take a break before winging their way south for the winter.
Actually, shorelines all over the Interlake offer up all sorts of hidden treasures, not the least of which is Sandy Bar. This thin strip of land curves out into the lake just east of Riverton, reaching its fingers over to a matching isthmus that stretches down from Hecla Island. Strolling along the shore on a late summer’s day, you would swear that you had been transported to the Caribbean. Just take care to hold off your visit until August to avoid disturbing any nesting shorebirds.
As a resident of the eastern Interlake, I sometimes forget that we actually have two lakeshores to explore within our region. For a taste of something completely different, head northwest to Steeprock. Although they are carved out of the same bedrock, the waves of Lake Manitoba have left the Steeprock cliffs rounded and smooth, unlike their jagged counterparts to the east. To get there, follow Highway 6 north of Moosehorn and turn left onto Provincial Road 239. The cliffs can be found by hiking south of the docks. It’s well worth the trip as you weave your way through tunnels and crevasses and clamber up to the top of the cliffs to view a stunning sunset.
Timing can make all the difference when searching for new adventures. Sometimes places we know well can offer up a whole new experience when we visit them at a different time of year. When you think of the Narcisse Snake Dens, most of us envision the yearly spring pilgrimage made by thousands of people in May to view the slithering masses of mating, Red-sided Garter Snakes before they disperse into the surrounding scrublands for the summer. A spring visit can be a little overwhelming, especially on weekends, with busloads of almost as many people as there are reptiles.
However, if you swing by the dens in September, you’re in for a treat. Most people forget that the snakes have to return in the fall. They have yet to discover the wonder of spending a warm late autumn afternoon marvelling at the equally large masses of snakes soaking up as much sun as they can at the mouths of their dens before having to slip into the darkness for the winter. If you time your visit on a weekday, you can sometimes have the place to yourself and take in the spectacle at your leisure.
While getting off the beaten path, both in terms of time and space, are great ways of finding hidden gems, you actually don’t have to go very far to make amazing new discoveries. Sometimes, just adjusting the way you look at things can reveal a wealth of new discoveries. Take aspen for example. We see these trees every day in the Interlake, white trunks a bright contrast against the green leaves of summer. However, there is a lot more to these ubiquitous and, to some, unremarkable trees, than meets the eye.
As you stroll among their trembling leaves, you’re actually walking among clones. Trembling aspen reproduce by sending out runners beneath the ground, shooting up new trees. Entire woodlots are often one organism, with all the trunks genetically identical. While each individual tree might only live a hundred years or so, the entire clone can exist for centuries. Some are thousands of years old. So by shifting your lens ever so slightly, you can go from a simple walk in the woods to communing with the ancients.
But how do you know where to look? How do you decide which trail to take and where do you learn about those special little details that can shift the context of your experience entirely? Talk to people. Locals know and are often more than happy to share their insights into the places they call home. The fishers, farmers, artists and everyday people, all have stories to tell and many are willing to share them. Ask around and you might be surprised by the places you’ll be inspired to visit.
Take advantage of technology. With GPS units finding their way into most peoples lives, it’s easier than ever to explore some of the lesser known corners of our region. Searching for geocaches is a great way to find new areas to explore. Geocachers often place their treasures in unusual areas and more communities than ever are using geocaching to promote their special places. Check out geocaching.com to find the hundreds of caches awaiting your discovery in special locations all over the Interlake.
Get a guide. Publications put out by groups like the Interlake Tourism Association, Travel Manitoba and Manitoba Parks, and the H2O Guide you are holding in your hands, are all full of great ideas for places to begin your journeys and can be used as a springboard for more detailed explorations. There are also tour companies in the Interlake geared to helping people reconnect with the world around them and discover the people, places and interesting details that make this region unique.
So, whether you go it alone or you have help, just remember to keep your mind open to new possibilities, your sense of adventure and your inquisitive nature primed and you will be certain to enjoy yourself as you explore the fascinating hidden gems of Manitoba’s Interlake.
Story originally published in the 2012 edition of the H2O Gimli and Beaches Adventure Guide.