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devils punch bowl

Airstream road trip to Devils Punch Bowl, Spruce Woods, Manitoba Canada


Joining the “Most Overrated Attraction” list, Devils Punch Bowl in Manitoba is described in the Spruce Woods trail guide as thus: “Sand slips and slides down a bowl-shaped depression 45 metres deep and disappears into an ever-moving, eerie pool of blue-green water.” That’s worth a two-hour hike in the hot sun, right? 


After a long uphill slog on sandy soil, we reached an elaborate footbridge and a platform overlooking…some trees. Ralph actually hiked back to the trail marker to make sure we had come to the right place. To compound matters, poor Ralston (recovering from surgery) simply flopped down on a shady patch of sand and quit hiking, refusing to make the return trip back to the Airstream. 


As if on cue, a covered wagon arrived and disgorged a listless family who had come to see the alleged punchbowl; Ralston and I gratefully hitched a ride with them downhill. Along the way the driver pointed out items of interest (I use that term loosely) and named the berries of Manitoba (like Harlan Pepper in Best in Show). I asked him what gives: no bowl! No sand! No eerie blue-green pool! “Well, it used to look like that, back in the fifties,” he explained. “I seen pictures.” Canada must have lax truth-in-advertising laws.  

2 Responses to “devils punch bowl”

  • Rick H.:

    My father and I used to travel what was then a sandy rut road that threatened to tear the muffler off our car, to meet up with a WWII vet who lived in Spruce Woods in an old trailer. He would cut poplar for the furnaces of people in Carberry (no natural gas in 1958!) and spend other days walking the woods. Among his discoveries were dozens (perhaps hundreds) of fulsom points and other rare artifacts from the inter-glacial period about ten thousand years ago. These were ultimately donated to the archeologists at Manitoba’s universities.

    The three of us would continue down the somewhat hazardous road until we reached the Sand Hills. They really were covered in sand left behind by glaciers back then, and the walk through the hills to the punch bowl was exciting. It was as pictured, like an oasis in the middle of the Sahara. To a ten year old kid, this was an adventure which I still remember vividly. The smell of the spruce trees, the ground cedar covering the sand, bamboo grass, birch trees once used to make canoes, and the long trail that only our friend knew well – all left me with a life-long love of nature. Few people even knew about the punch bowl at that time and it seemed as a secret that we were lucky enough to share. Of course Ernest Thompson Seton, the famous naturalist introduced the area to his readers. “The Trail of the Sandhill Stag” among other writings described this unique country and its inhabitants in Seton’s inimitable style that left young “Indians” dreaming of teepees, bows and arrows and deerskin moccasins.

    Today, of course, the sand is overgrown, the trail has become a tourist beaten path, and the rut road from Carberry is a paved highway. There are still areas in the Spruce Woods that aren’t on the tourist map, tamarac swamps and secret bends in the river,with abundant wildlife far from human encroachment, places I could show you even today with arrowheads lying on the ground as if the Indian camps had just moved on, but these are only for the hardened woodsman and not for the weak-kneed citified weekender. Some of the wilderness has been lost to Parks “development”, but then that’s always how it goes. Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon were much more beautiful before a million campers came every summer, but what is nature’s beauty without someone to see it. Still, it is too bad you didn’t visit the Spruce woods fifty years ago.

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