Archive for February, 2016

July 5, 2015 Rowley Rural Ramble – Cycling/Aspen Parkland Feature

February 14, 2016

Day 2 of 2 – Car Camping

On the next day of car camping at the Rowley ghost town, I managed to find a window of time to explore a loop route I had scouted on maps before the trip. The route would take me past the expansive and intriguing Mudspring Lake — and on one of the few back roads through the largest remaining undisturbed tract of aspen parkland in Canada, about one mile west of the Rumsey Natural Area. This area is described as follows on the government website:

Together with Rumsey Ecological Reserve, this natural area protects the largest remaining undisturbed tract of aspen parkland in Canada; hummocky morraine (knob and kettle) topography; in wet years, the kettles fill with water; resulting potholes become some of the most productive waterfowl habitat in North America. Rumsey protects plants, birds and mammals at both the southern and northern extents of their ranges.

Just north of the Rumsey Natural Area is the Rumsey Ecological Reserve, which is described as:

Rumsey Ecological Reserve protects the largest remaining tract of aspen parkland in Canada. […] Spanning the transition between Grassland Natural Region and the central parkland sub-region of Parkland Natural Region, Rumsey Ecological Reserve and Rumsey Natural Area protect plants, birds and mammals at both the northern and southern extent of their ranges. The area contains several flat-topped hills. There are extensive woodlands along the northern boundary, as well as numerous wetlands through the centre of reserve. The most common upland vegetation is rough fescue.

I grew up on a farm in an area of extensive aspen parkland in Saskatchewan, so the landscape feels like coming home for me. As a child I spent countless hours riding my bike along a one mile trail through an aspen forest and hiking through the bush to investigate every wetland, hill, rock pile and abandoned piece of farm machinery of interest. I often came home with a lot of scratches — my mom regularly sewed patches on the knees of my pants — and a lot of ticks that had to be removed at bed time. The scents and sights of the aspen parkland elicit in me a primal sense of connection with the land more than anything else.

1988 The Trail

A much earlier cycling trip with siblings and dogs through native aspen parkland on “The Trail”. This area is now converted entirely to cropland.

1987 Datsun 510 - first car

One of many favourite play places — an abandoned car in the aspen parkland

Along with the native prairie grasslands, the aspen parkland is one of the most modified landscapes on the Canadian prairies and could benefit from additional conservation. Most of the native aspen parkland on the farm where I grew up has been converted to cropland, including a section that had preserved old wagon trail ruts from the early settler days.

Previously undisturbed areas are also being significantly altered by invasive species, transported by human migration or intentionally planted by settlers. One of the most pervasive is smooth brome grass, which has significantly changed the look and feel of the aspen parkland by supplanting most of the native grass species and many other wildflowers and other plants that lived in the native grasses.

Smooth brome was thought to be a superior forage for livestock, but some studies suggest native grasses could provide some additional benefits, such as “extending forage productivity and the grazing season into the late summer, fall and winter. Native species contribute to biodiversity, reduce nonforage invasive species problems, and enhance wildlife habitat in this region. They may also contribute to increased soil carbon sequestration, and increased ecosystem stability despite increasing aridity due to climate change.”

The first photo above shows the shorter native grasses, whereas the second photo shows the taller, invasive smooth brome grass.

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OK, back to Rowley. Unlike the previous warm sunny day, the next day was cloudy and cool. I set off around 9:30 a.m. heading east on Township Road 324. The road was under construction/renovation, although no machinery was active this day. The gravel on the road was relatively thin, making for easy riding. The Rowley cemetery makes for a nice stop along the way.

However, turning north on Range Road 202, I encountered thicker gravel and was back to second gear in the front chain ring and third gear in the rear cassette, moving at a similar speed as along the Natural Linear Park south of Rowley (sorry, no speedometer).

iphone photos don’t turn out so great in cloudy weather, I plan to take a better camera next time.

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I encountered a young bovine that had escaped the pasture fence and was watching me approach with concern. I slowed down, after which it ran along the fenceline and eventually pushed back inside the fence. I guess I saved the rancher some work for today!

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The scenery was amazing, I would love to do this ride again on a sunny day. Around 10 a.m. I turned west on Township Road 331 at a high elevation with stunning views looking north out of the hills. This section of road did not have much gravel and was a bit muddy, but not enough to gum up the wheels.

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Heading west on a somewhat muddy Township Road 331

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View to the north looking out of the ranges of hills

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Approaching the expansive Mudspring “Lake”, currently an extensive salt marsh.

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Looking north at Mudspring Lake, and a rain shower heading my way

I was hit with light rain and put on my rain jacket. In which I became drenched in sweat pushing through the muddy road. The rain stopped and I took off the jacket again. A much heavier shower was heading my way from the north, so at this point the camera phone went into a sealed pouch not to be removed again while I raced back to Rowley south down Range Road 204, narrowly missing the shower.

On the way back I discovered the abandoned rail bed north of Rowley has a “no trespassing” sign, which was disappointing. It would be great to see more rails to trials through this area.

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Abandoned railway bed looking north past Rowley

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I arrived back at Rowley around 11 a.m., having travelled about 17 km in 1.5 hours, including numerous stops for photos.

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The sun soon came out, just in time to dry out camp while packing up to go home. I’m excited to return next year to explore more of the area.

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