Stories in the snow – March wandering

This past weekend (March 5, 2011)…

we had the pleasure of taking a couple of guests out on our Earth Rhythms Stories in the Snow day adventure program. What’s involved – some driving to look for owls and signs of winter birds; looking for fresh tracks of wolves and elk; wildlife viewing and digital nature photography tips; and a snowshoe outing. We had a great day traveling by vehicle, walking and snowshoeing in and around Riding Mountain National Park.

In two separate locations, we found overnight wolf tracks that were superb, fresh, and we were able to track them over long distances. Fresh elk, coyote,  and bison tracks all provided comparison size opportunities. While the main herd of bison were a distance away, we were able to watch them through our spotting scope. A short snowshoe outing took us off-trail into 1 metre deep snow. We were rewarded at the end of the day with a beautiful view of a red fox hunting. The slide gallery captures a few of the images from our day of exploring stories in the snow.

Here are a few images from our Stories in the Snow outing as well some other scenes that we may see on any given day that we head out on one of our Stories in the Snow outings.

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Chipmunk harvests seeds

Canada thistles ©Celes DavarOn a beautiful autumn day in Riding Mountain National Park, Monika and Rainer Hamberger and I walked on and off trail, discovering wildlife and unique fall nature events that were taking place. Monika and Rainer, with the support of Travel Manitoba are traveling through Manitoba on a 15-day itinerary collecting experiences, photographs, and insights from which they will write and publish articles for magazines and online media within Germany. We are grateful for their interest and love of “Canadian experiences in Manitoba”.

It was a warm and sunny day. Fall activities in the national park were in full swing. By that, I mean that wolves were howling early in the morning. Bull elk were bugling to keep their harems protected from other suitors. We spotted four bull moose. Wandering along elk trails, we discovered plenty of evidence of the previous night’s skirmishes and group activities.

On the return trip, a western chipmunk was stuffing its cheeks with Canada thistle seeds from a recent prescribed burn in the park.

Jenn Cassin and partner Joel sparkle about snowshoe experience

Now, here’s a testimonial we received today that we just had to share with you.  Jenn and Joel had escaped from Winnipeg for the weekend, to enjoy an Earth Rhythms’ Riding Mountain Infusions package offered through their partner Elkhorn Resort & Solstice Spa.  I asked Jenn if she would mind sharing her thoughts about the morning experience.  There is nothing more authentic than the words and emotions offered by those who have personally found delight in an experience that matches their interests and needs….

“Starting off on a beautifully still and frosty morning, with an enthusiastic, welcoming, and very informative guide, we made our way across the crunchy snow of a lake in Riding Mountain National Park.  The hoarfrost lay on the pines and tamaracks like fine lace, creating a beautiful monochromatic landscape.  The stillness belied the obvious presence of coyotes, wolves, and elk, and we didn’t have to search for long to find evidence of their activity.  

Wandering up a small ravine revealed the winter beauty of the Weeping Forest – the layers of ice created by the water seeping out of the hillside lay like multicoloured puddles of wax, building up atop one another and freezing in amazing shapes and tones.  It was a fantastic experience – connecting with Manitoba’s natural wonders with a small group allowed great conversation, a relaxed atmosphere, and the ability to enjoy the outdoors on a very personal basis.  

The pictures taken could only capture a single frame of the gorgeous panorama, but they’ll always lead to stories and memories. The wonderful homemade muffins and herbal tea only added to the personalized and welcoming outing!

How fortunate we are to be able to have the beauty of Riding Mountain National Park revealed to us by such a personable, intelligent, and ecologically-conscious entrepreneur!  And no matter how much you think you know about the outdoors, Riding Mountain always has something new to show you – don’t miss it!”
Cheers, and all the best!!
Jenn Cassin and Joel

Morning light on layers of ice in Riding Mountain National Park

Morning light on layers of ice in Riding Mountain National Park

Canadian elite athlete sees culture as a key element in “the travel experience”

The person who sat beside me could be called a “celebrity”. After all, she is one of three elite athletes in Canada – a Canadian junior Pentathlon competitor. In 2008, she was the Junior National Champion, Senior Provincial Champion and represented Canada at the Junior Worlds in Cairo. The Modern Pentathlon website provides a more comprehensive insight into this gruelling event – five sports in one day. Competitors earn points for their performances in each of the five disciplines: pistol shooting, epee fencing, swimming, riding (equestrian show jumping) and cross-country running. Rachael is the recipient of the 2007 Stacey Levitt Women and Sport Scholarship.

Rachael Gardner, at once humble and wistful, smart and gracious consented to my request to ask her a number of questions about her global travels, and how those experiences have helped her to travel experiences, as a Canadian. After all, we had seven and a half hours from Montreal to Zurich….we were travelling. She to take part in a fencing competition in Budapest. Me, as a Canadian representative going to Austria to present a workshop about experiential tourism in an OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) tourism seminar in Bregenz, the capital city of the province of Vorarlberg. You can download an excellent paper “The Impact of Culture on Tourism” here.

“Culture is the reason I like to travel.” Well, that opening line was amazing…because I was travelling to an OECD seminar, where I would be contributing to a discussion about the links between culture and tourism. “I like seeing the way people do things.”, she continued. ” I love the way people greet each other…In North America, a handshake. In Switzerland, three kisses, alternating cheeks. The French, two kisses, and in Mexico, one kiss.” Taxi drivers are amazing. They have stories to tell.” Listening to Rachael was both an exercise in being pragmatic and hopeful.

She loves travel, and understands and is concerned about the planetary impacts of travel. She shared some of her observations about sustainable practices in different countries, from low flush toilets to eating locally. “We are going to have to find a new source of energy for travel. I can’t see people stopping travel. There is no turning back. We will either disintegrate or make it (travel) sustainable.” That statement stopped me coldly. Pretty much it!

What are three things we can do immediately to travel in ways that emit less carbon, I wondered aloud?  Rachael suggested the following:

  1. When travelling locally in a foreign country, take public transit. Don’t rent a car. 
  2. Carry a water bottle (stainless steel) rather than buying plastic bottled water (where it is possible), a bowl, and spoon to eat locally. Go to the market and find local foods. Don’t buy packaged goods. 
  3. Take every means to go self-propelled. Go for a walk in the market. Seek out self-propelled experiences. Rent a bike. Walk, hike, canoe, take a gondola. . 

As she looks back at her country, through her eyes as a modern Pentathlon athlete and Canadian resident, she looks forward, with finger on her chin, and muses……”Travel makes me feel I know my own country better. We are polite. We are tolerant. We have pride in our toughness to our cold weather. We are hospitable to others. I have a disillusionment with conventional tourism. What I remember are marketplaces, not resorts. I love the taxi rides. I’t s not about the pyramids; it’s the Cairo feeling. I admire Europeans for their capacity to learn and be fluent in so many languages……South Americans are very friendly. Always, in travel, it’s the small things that I remember.”

As tourism leaders in Canada, let’s keep practising what Rachael suggests above. It’s who we are. It makes us authentic in the eyes of travellers. Let’s not get caught up in “selling stuff”, “selling hotel rooms”, or listing things on websites. As tourism business leaders, can we ask ourselves …”What’s the Toronto feeling? What’s the Riding Mountain feeling? What’s the Canadian folk music feeling? What’s a walk in a Canadian forest feel like? How does it feel to walk on water (snowshoe) or put one foot after the other on a beach at night on the north shore of Prince Edward Island?”

The Canadian experience is about feeling Canada, not selling stuff. The quicker we realize this, the quicker we will find guests travelling to Canada for the right reasons, to the right places in Canada, and for the right reasons. By integrating responsible tourism practices into every aspect of our business, we will be a world leader in sustainable tourism – that’s good competitive positioning as well! Download the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s (TIAC) Green Business toolkit now to find out easy steps to take to make your tourism business a green business leader.

Thank you Rachael, for your company on the plane flight. Thank you, also, for helping me to focus on making sure that I keep finding ways to keep “the Canadian experience” alive in every aspect of my tourism operation. I feel that we have a great representative for Canada, for the voice of youth, consciously making choices that opt for sustainable travel.

Earth Rhythms offers customized travel experiences in all seasons for travellers into Riding Mountain National Park.  We find ways for our guests to enjoy the Canadian experience in Manitoba.  Sustainable golfing, behind-the-scenes learning to make cane furniture, making Easter Breads with the Babas in Dauphin, or snow-shoeing off trail to track elk, moose, wolves, coyotes, and sometimes the ghostly traces of wings from owls or ravens.

Lab at Riding Mountain National Park centre for scientific research


Dissecting Lymph Nodes from White-Tailed Deer to assess for diseases

Dissecting Lymph Nodes from White-Tailed Deer to assess for diseases

[Photo by Cate Watrous]

Roxanne Grzela, a technician at the lab in  RMNP  examines  the  lymph  node  from a white-tailed deer shot east of Onanole  earlier  in  the  day. Grzela is part of a team of researchers who work  at  the  lab  to  monitor wildlife health in deer and elk populations living in and around the park.


From November to January, staff at Riding Mountain National Park (RMNP) receive up to 50 samples of white-tailed deer and elk daily from hunters participating in the wildlife health monitoring program. For the general public, this may be the only work that the lab at the Maintenance Compound does that they are familiar with, but this facility is involved in many other research projects as well.

RMNP with its varied ecosystems is an ideal location for scientists to examine species within their natural habitats. The lab serves as a hub for Parks Canada Agency (PCA) initiated studies about the Riding Mountain area, as well as for visiting researchers who use it as a remote base for processing samples collected in the park.

Since an expansion to the lab in 2002, this facility has played a role in studying a variety of wildlife species: wolf, deer, elk, coyote, beaver, fish, songbirds, waterfowl, and insects. Also coordinated through the lab are research projects on plant species. In these plant studies, field sampling plots are monitored for signs of environmental change as well as for the effects of fire.

Clear Lake Project – This past summer, as it has for several years now, monitoring Clear Lake has been an important part of the work done by RMNP staff. In their water sampling program, they are looking at water chemistry, total phosphorus and nitrogen content, as well as checking for pathogens and water clarity. It is hoped that this data will provide a snapshot of the health of this very special lake, and help RMNP, along with its First Nations partners and community stakeholders, to develop strategies to keep the “clear” in Clear Lake now and into the future.

Wildlife Health – From November to January, the lab processes deer and elk samples brought in from Game Hunting Areas (GHA) 23 and 23A. It also acts as a depot for the many check stations that surround RMNP, including McCreary, Dauphin, Grandview, Russell, Roblin, and Rossburn where hunters in those areas can drop off their samples. RMNP technicians examine these samples for signs of disease. They also coordinate elk population surveys, blood test programs, and elk movement studies as part of a larger strategy to manage wildlife health in the Riding Mountain Area.  

The management of RMNP is an important responsibility involving consultations with partners and discussions with stakeholders. Planning for the protection of the ecological integrity of the park is enhanced by the monitoring and research being done by RMNP’s Resource Conservation staff.   The science-based information that they gather helps to make sound decisions about how best to preserve and present the natural and cultural heritage for present and future generations of Canadians.

-Information Bulletin from Riding Mountain National Park

Night adventure – wolves and elk

Guests learn about wolf feeding behaviour at Riding Mountain National Park.

Guests learn about wolf feeding behaviour at Riding Mountain National Park.

During the annual Christmas Bird Count a couple of years ago, everyone received notification by noon that wolves had just taken down a cow elk.  By 1:00 PM, we were observing an autopsy.

Diagnosis:  Lactacting cow elk; unlikely to have any TB lesions based on a cursory examination of in situ lymph glands; pregnant with calf; killed by wolves.  That was on December 22.

When we returned a few days later, the entire carcass had been consumed except for a the skin, ribs, muzzle, and a few other bits and pieces.  During that winter, we had the opportunity to guide many guests on a guided GPS adventure quest to discover the story of how wolves kill elk; find the site; try howling for wolves; and enjoy the night air.

This photo was taken with multiple light sources – an underexposed (-2 stops) flash on my camera, the headlamps on the snowshoers, as well as the red light from my own headlamp.  To take a photo like this, remember to take a ski or hiking pole that has a threaded camera mount in the top of the hiking staff.  These are available from Leki, as well as other sources.  Makes taking a photo which requires a fairly still moment for a slow exposure like night time quite possible.

Earth Rhythms provides guided night snowshoe outings.  

Call 1.204.848.4680 to plan your outing.