Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park: Great for people, stinky for dogs

In Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park the Boardwalk and Portage Trails offer spectacular views of the falls, and even when you can’t see them, their gentle murmur follows you as you hike.kakabeka 1 These trails are cleverly integrated into the landscape in a way that invites you to notice the waterfall, not the path or the people. The people we did meet were vocal about Milo’s handsomeness and good manners, which is enough to make me love walking barefoot on hot city pavement. Add lovely scenery to this sort of Milo admiration and you, or at least I, are in store for a pleasant afternoon.

kakabeka 2

The park has a dog beach/ off-leash area on the river above the falls. There is a people beach as well. The people beach is unremarkable, and the dog beach is icky. Milo left tracks three inches deep in smelly mud, slimy algae (I hope it was algae) clung to the entire shoreline, and the water was not deep enough to wash any of that green muck off. Milo and I walked there, took one look, and left. This did not please Milo in the slightest. He wanted to swim. Mud, slimy scum, stinky water–for him they are features, not bugs. I tried to convince him that he should blame the beach rather than me for his unfulfilled desire to swim, but he was too irritated to listen to reason.

danger at kakabeka

“Danger!” It means nothing to Milo the AwesomeDog, literally.

It is easy to get to Kakabeka Falls, the park is just outside of Thunder Bay, and the Trans Canada Highway runs right through it. If I were visiting again, I wouldn’t camp. I’d buy a pass and spend an afternoon checking out the falls and the trails. This park made me feel a little bit like Chevy Chase at the Grand Canyon because really, there is only so much time you can spend looking at a waterfall.

Fitness and flourishing: The benefits of attending to your dog’s mental health

They say that a tired dog is a good dog and, generally, they’re right. This is a little bit concerning because although this summer with its camping and hiking and swimming has been good for both of us, Milo is getting physically fitter than I am. Each day the gap between what I can do to tire him out and what it takes to tire him out gets a little bit wider.

tired dog

Milo and I have been camping for 11 weeks now. He started out strong and is getting stronger–swimming more days than not, playing a vigorous game of fetch on most days, and hiking almost every day. He’s a great big muscle with outstanding endurance.

I’m sure I’m much fitter now than I was at the beginning of this trip too. First of all, Milo never hikes alone. Many hikes have the word “lookout” in their name. I guess people like a view, and you need high ground for that sort of thing. So, lots of this summer’s hikes involved an uphill trek. I grew up in a part of Canada that’s so flat that people say you can watch your dog run away for three days. As a result, whenever I put on any vertical metres it feels like a serious (and somewhat exotic) workout. It seems like I’ve been walking uphill all summer, and I’ve noticed that it takes more to get me huffing and puffing than it used to.

German shepherd sitting on a rock looking out over a deep blue bay

Milo at Lookout Point.

There are other ways my daily activity has increased. For one thing, Milo and I travelled across the country which means I’ve hitched and unhitched my trailer many many times. Setting up the trailer involves deploying five, yes five, jacks, and none of them is electric. I’m getting some serious pipes.

Playing with Milo provides a good workout as well. When we play tug, there are times when I am yanking on my end of the toy as hard as I can. He is strong enough to pull me over, and I have to pull back. It is fun and exhausting and we’ve been doing lots of it this summer.

Except for my Fitbit saying that my resting heart rate is nine beats a minute lower than it was at the beginning of the trip, I don’t have a way to measure my increased fitness. But I know I feel good, and that is better than numbers.

However, even though I feel great, I get tired before Milo does, every single time we play or hike or swim. We are often a tired person and a slightly winded dog duo. This has not turned out to be a problem though because although it is true that a tired dog is a good dog, a mentally fit dog is a good dog too.

I’ve been thinking about physical fitness in terms of how much exercise it takes to make me and Milo tired, but fitness also includes mental fitness, or psychological well-being, or mental health, or whatever you want to call it. This summer our mental fitness has been improving in step with our physical fitness, and that helps him be a good dog and helps me be a good person.

 

German Shepherd laying on a grey rock.

Milo’s the good dog.

 

In addition to getting more exercise, we’ve been eating good food, spending time in nature, enjoying long hours of restful sleep, and experiencing very little stress. Milo has a guardian who is more centred, and I have a dog who is calmer. It seems like neither of us is sweating the small stuff as much as we used to.

For example, the last people who used the campsite we’re in right now left a week’s worth of stinky trash and recycling in the fire pit. That is the sort of thing that used to make me fume. But this time I just thought “some people make it easier to leave the place better than I found it than others.” It only took about 90 seconds to clean it up, and now I’m enjoying a campfire. Milo is laying on the ground beside the picnic table I’m using as a desk.  He’s keeping tabs on the neighbours, and paying attention to dogs walking by in a way that’s alert but relaxed. In other words, he’s being a German Shepherd Dog.

It’s not that he’s too tired to get in trouble, it’s that he is physically and mentally fit. His needs are being met and his life is full enough for him to enjoy being good–good in the sense of being well behaved, and good in the sense of flourishing.

This trip with Milo has helped make my life full enough to enjoy being good too!

Caliper Lake Provincial Park: Quick notes on the campground​

The campground at Caliper Lake Provincial Park was small and intimate, but better suited for tents than for RVs.

The electrical, pull through sites are smaller than most I’ve seen and don’t give a camper any sense of seclusion. For example, my breakfast view was dominated by my neighbour’s red Dodge Ram pickup. They’re good looking trucks.

If I come back, I’ll aim for sites 9, 17, 19, or 21. They have lots of shade, and given that my camper door opens on the passenger side of the vehicle, they offer pretty good privacy. The pads are a bit rough and not particularly level, but they’re manageable.

If you need a pull through site and can forego electricity, then try to get site 68 or 69. Those sites seem a bit bigger and are surrounded by trees.

And if you’re tenting, then you’re in car camping heaven. Seriously, there are some sites tucked right in beside the lake and you’ll be sleeping closer to your canoe than your car.

 

caliper lake tent campsite

It was hard to get a good picture in this odd light, but these tent sites are beautiful. Milo and I had a nice swim right here.

 

I enjoyed my time at Caliper Lake, but mostly because I liked the lake and the trails, and the other campers were quiet.

 

Caliper Lake Provincial Park: Needs hobbits

I lived in North Carolina for six years, and while I was there, I dated a forester. He was cute, and a kind man, but (not and) was a bottomless well of tree trivia. I guess that my back porch offered a view of about five kinds of oak trees, as well as cedars, spruce, and pines and he was keen on teaching me all about these trees:

“Carla, what kind of tree is this one here? And this one? And that one?”

The trouble was that although my interest in the forester was high, my interest in the forest was low. To amuse myself, I developed my own tree taxonomy:

What kind of tree is this one?

Christmas tree.

What kind of tree is that one?

Not-Christmas tree.

Things didn’t work out with the forester.

 

As I was hiking along Caliper Lake Provincial Park‘s Nature Trail, I realised that I’d developed another binary taxonomic system, one didn’t involve passive aggressively needling a boyfriend. You see, I saw a spot and thought, “that spot there, would be a perfect place to have a second breakfast.” At that moment I realised that there were Elf forests and there were Hobbit forests and that I was in a Hobbit forest. What made it a Hobbit forest was the abundance of nooks and crannies ready-made for naps and picnics.

 

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Milo’s good at finding comfy spots.

 

This second breakfast spot was a cosy cubby, nestled beside a boulder and blanketed with thick, soft, dark green moss. The sun shone through the leaves of a Not-Christmas tree, creating a dappled shade that promised good napping after breakfast.

This forest has trails winding through a thick understory. If you explore the Nature Trail, you’ll clamber over slippery rocks and scramble up a couple of steep hills, so wear good shoes. And bring a breakfast or two.

 

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Although not a hobbit, Milo does enjoy a second breakfast.

 

 

Riding Mountain National Park: Forget the Bison, it’s the Fescue Prairie that’s cool

Bison are about as charismatic as megafauna get and are an iconic Canadian species. You might remember a series of public service announcements, Hinterland Who’s Who, produced by the Canadian Wildlife Service in the 1970’s. I loved these clips and thinking of their flute soundtrack still makes me smile. Here is the one-minute announcement about Bison.

Riding Mountain National Park’s 500-hectare Bison enclosure sits near Lake Audry, Manitoba. The enclosure is a drive-through affair and visitors are warned to stay in their vehicles as they check out the Park’s herd of 40 Plains Bison. You can get a great view of the herd from your car, sometimes they even stop right beside the road.

 

It’s easy for these great big Bison to distract us from an even more exceptional element of this picture, which is the Fescue Prairie they’re standing on. While the Bison are no longer threatened, the Fescue Prairie is.

Yellow grass and blue sky, with a line of green trees at the horizon

I find this picture more interesting than the last one, but then again I grew up in Saskatchewan.

Professor Joe Shorthouse, in his paper “Ecoregions of Canada’s Prairie Grasslands,” writes that

Unfortunately, the fescue grasslands are some of the most threatened plant communities in the Canadian prairies. Concern about their loss as a result of development, woodland encroachment, the introduction of exotic species, and overgrazing has increased because only 5% of the grasslands remain in pre- settlement condition.

However, the fates of the Plains Bison and the Fescue Prairie are intertwined. According to Shorthouse, “[t]hese grasslands have high spring protein and digestible carbohydrate content and are the main reason bison once overwintered here.” This ecological connection is playing itself out in the Bison enclosure at Riding Mountain National Park (RMNP), too. The park website tells us that

[b]ison play a significant role in the natural processes happening within the rough fescue prairie ecosystem in RMNP. Ensuring their protection as well as the protection of the rough fescue prairie goes hand in hand.

About two dozen Bison are laying and standing on a field of yellow grass. There is a blue sky and a line of green trees on the horizon.

You have to put the previous two pictures together to get this sort of ecologically important relationship.

Riding Mountain National Park is big, and there is a lot to do. I’m glad I took some time to check out the Bison and the Fescue Prairie.

P.S. Here’s what the Canadian Wildlife Service has to say about Canada’s Grasslands:

Riding Mountain National Park: It’s big

After being on the road with Milo for nearly eight weeks, I’ve turned us around and we’re meandering back to Ontario. This means we have to traverse Manitoba. I don’t have anything against Manitoba, but if I’m going to be on the prairies I feel like I ought to be at my Mom and Dad’s place in Saskatchewan. So Manitoba ends up being the province I sprint across. On Milo and my trip west, we spent a night at a truck stop outside of Winnipeg. On our way back east I thought it might be nice, instead of trying to sleep to the low rumble of a Peterbilt, to listen to some laughing loons. We traded a sleepless night at the Husky for a few days at Riding Mountain National Park.

black and tan German shepherd dog standing in profile against a green forestThe first thing to know is that Riding Mountain National Park is big. It covers almost 3000 square km, and has 400 km of hiking trails, a bunch of lakes, and a whole town where you can buy gas, groceries, and ice cream. There are also 14 million cabins. I didn’t actually count them, but if I had to guess I’d say 14 million. The developed part of the park feels like a resort. There is smooth pavement and clear signage, and flower arrangements mark the campground entrance.

Although the park is big, most of the people are in a tiny part of it. Happily, you don’t have to go that far to get away from them. As a result, the dog situation here is really different from other places I’ve visited. I asked at the guy at the campground kiosk about a dog exercise area. He looked at me like I was from Mars.

No there aren’t ‘off leash areas.’ Just go where there’s no people. Of course, you might wanna think twice because of the bears.

Well, OK then. It seemed like I’d have to use my own darn common sense.

The size of the park is overwhelming, almost paralyzing. It’s hard to know where to start, and so it’s hard to start at all. Milo is a big help here. He has to move, has to walk. So we just picked a direction, and went.

I was hoping for solitude and we found it right away. We discovered a warm, clear little lake and spent the whole afternoon playing in the water. By the way, then name of the place is actually Clear Lake.

Milo must have been a retriever in a past life, or maybe a seal. The dog just wants, even needs, to swim.

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“What on earth is this toy doing just sitting here in the shallow water?”

Finding this spot made the first day of our stay at Riding Mountain a success.

 

 

Rowdyism in Provincial Parks

Did you know that “rowdyism” is a thing? It is, and it is also against the law in Ontario’s Provincial Parks.

The Grundy Lake Provincial Park 2017 Information Guide says that you are engaging in rowdyism when you

  • Use discriminatory, harassing, abusive, or insulting language or gestures
  • Make excessive noise
  • Disturb other persons
  • Operate audio device in prohibited area

The minimum fines for the first three items on this list is $150.00. That’s right, a person can be fined $150.00 for using discriminatory language. That is great.

But, a person can also get fined a $150.00 for using abusive or insulting language. @#$% that. Just kidding. I’ve limited the amount of time I spend listening to the news and so have really cut down on my cussing. I’ll be fine.

The Guide explains that

You cannot disturb any other person or interfere with their enjoyment of the park at any time of the day or night.

I am on board with this. I want my parks quiet and discrimination free, and a prohibition against rowdyism pushes, I hope, in that direction.

Milo as GSD ambassador to Big Hill Springs Provincial Park

My sister, Ondrea, took Milo and me hiking at Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, which is just outside of Calgary, Alberta. You can learn more about the park by checking out her blog, Walking Calgary.

A gnarled stick with green moss on it.

After spending the entire summer with Milo, I’ve come to appreciate a pretty stick!

It’s always good to have a local guide, and even better when that guide is Ondrea! As you might guess from the name of the park, it has a big hill and a spring. Ondrea started us out on a steep ascent. This was smart because we got the difficult climbing out of the way right off the bat. Of course, Milo is always a big help on the uphill sections of hikes. I give him a little “hup, hup” and he gladly returns to the days of his leash pulling youth. This makes those steep grades easier for me and has the added benefit of pooping him out just a wee bit more.

As you might expect of a place this close to Calgary, there were quite a few people on the trail. Early in the hike, we passed a woman who froze, clearly terrified, when she laid eyes on Milo. I did what I always do on a narrow path or sidewalk. Milo and I took two steps off the trail and I put him in a sit-stay. As this poor woman slipped by, I made sure she could see that the leash was short and I stood between her and Milo.

school picBeing Canadian, and a woman, I apologized to Ondrea for making her wait for the 20 seconds it took to complete this manoeuver.

All she said, “I appreciate how considerate you are of how other people may react to him.”

That was a kind thing to say.

Even though Milo is the apple of my eye, I know that he is big and strong and can look scary. I also know that there are some irresponsible breeders who produced dogs with nervous and unstable temperaments, and that some German Shepherd guardians never learn to properly handle these powerful dogs. As a result, there are circles in which this breed has a bad reputation. I work hard to help people see that German Shepherds can be great dogs.

Every time Milo is polite, like he was on this hike, it is a win for German Shepherds in general. I try to help him be a first-rate ambassador for the breed.

When Ondrea noticed this, it made my day. And that good feeling stayed with me for the rest of our hike.

big hill springs

Big Hill Springs is full of pretty little waterfalls.

The tail end of the hike was wonderful. Ondrea ushered us along a gentle descent graced by a series of little waterfalls. The stream and the falls are fed by cold, clear spring water and we often stopped, watched, and listened to the water cascading alongside us as we walked down the hill.

If you get the chance, I recommend taking a couple of hours to check out Big Hill Springs.

It is lovely.

Our first Rally trial: Wish us luck!

Crazy Tails Canine Services is hosting a Canadian Association of Rally Obedience trial later this month in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Milo and I will be in it!  It will be our first trial.

headshot of a black and tan German shepherd with bright amber eyes and a big smile

Hey guys, I’m going to a CARO trial!

It feels like this roller coaster is just about to head down that first breath-taking plunge and Milo, silly boy, is laying at my feet snoring—it’s probably a good thing he doesn’t realize just how exciting this is or he’d be pacing around looking for what’s got me all aflutter.

We have two weeks to get ready and we’ll need it. There are three organizations with sanctioned Rally trials in Canada: the Canadian Kennel Club Rally, the United Kennel Club Rally, and the Canadian Association of Rally Obedience (CARO). The rules and exercises are a little bit different for each organization, and CARO is the one I’m least familiar with. I’ll try to line up a lesson or two before the trial just to make sure that we’re on target.

By the way, Saskatoon is my home town, and there is a good chance that my family will come out and see Milo and I strut our stuff.

If you have any advice for our first trial I’d love to hear it.

 

Aaron Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

This park was stinky. Literally. I pulled into a campsite generously decorated with dog poop. While I was cleaning up it occurred to me that I had a neighbour who either lets their, evidently large, dog run loose, or is the sort of person who watches their dog poop in someone else’s campsite and thinks, “I’m just gonna leave that sitting right there.” I was looking forward to meeting this person, and their dog. It was going to be great. I knew it.

Sure enough, on Milo and my first walk two retriever-ish looking dogs galloped toward us while their owners yelled from their camp chairs, you guessed it, “don’t worry, they’re friendly.”

I yelled back, “I’m not.” It just popped out, no mincing of words at all. And at that moment, it was true. “Those dogs need to be on leashes.”

The indignant response was, “I don’t know why you’re upset. We haven’t had any problems.”

I saw this as invitation to describe the poop, and, you know, the law, which didn’t go over so well. Who would’ve thought? The best part was when they explained to me, and my fabulous gigantic German Shepherd Milo, that if I didn’t like dogs, I probably shouldn’t go camping. Oh boy, time to walk away. That time was actually long past, but as they say, better late than never. Some people.

In case you are wondering, here are some relevant bits of law:

Domestic and other animals

6. (1) No person in control of a domestic animal shall permit the animal to be,

(a) in a provincial park unless the animal is secured on a leash that does not exceed two metres in length;  …

(4) No person shall permit a domestic animal, while in a provincial park, to

(a) make excessive noise;

(b) disturb other persons;

(c) damage Crown property or vegetation;

(d) chase or harass wild animals or birds;

(e) injure, or attempt to injure, a person or other domestic animal.  O. Reg. 347/07, s. 6 (4).

(5) The person in control of a domestic animal shall immediately dispose of excrement from the animal in such manner and at such location that it will not cause a health hazard or public inconvenience.  O. Reg. 347/07, s. 6 (5).  …

I am sure these people are not a permanent fixture at Aaron Provincial Park, but I let them colour my experience of the place more than I should’ve. Thank heavens I discovered the group campground, a grassy field with picnic tables, empty. Milo and I spent a lot of time there romping, playing tug, training, and reading magazines (Milo didn’t read magazines as much as sat there and chewed a toy).

a black and tan German shepherd dog looking up at the camera. Fis shiny black nose is the highlight of the picture.

I can’t stay mad when I look at this big happy nose. Also, notice the leash…

Aaron Provincial Park is conveniently located on the Trans Canada highway just East of Dryden, Ontario. It lacks a sanctioned off leash pet exercise area.