Last Updated on January 3, 2023

The Carberry Sandhills, also known as Spirit Sands, Carberry Desert, or Manitoba Desert, is a unique landscape located in the southwestern part of Manitoba, Canada. It is one of the very few areas of sand dunes in the country.

Despite its name, the Manitoba Desert is not a true desert, but rather the remnant of a sandy delta of the Assiniboine River that formed during a time when the river flowed into glacial Lake Agassiz.

Canada is in fact home to a number of pseudo-deserts that are relatively dry but not enough to be classified as actual deserts. The only true desert in the country is the Arctic desert, which is a cold polar desert.

Carberry Sandhills (Spirit Sands). Manitoba Desert, Canada
Spirit Sands, Manitoba Desert.

The Manitoba Desert: A Rare Ecosystem in the Heart of Canada

The Carberry Desert is a small, isolated pseudo-desert ecosystem located in the southwestern part of the province. It is a relatively recent formation, having formed over the past 5,000 years as a result of changing climate and land use patterns.

This rare ecosystem is home to a number of unique species, including the Great Plains skink, the western hognose snake, and the threatened rattlesnake master plant.

The Manitoba Desert is a popular destination for recreational activities such as hiking, birdwatching, and photography. It is also an important area for research and conservation, as it provides insight into the impacts of climate change and land use on sand dune ecosystems.

The Spirit Sands: The Seven Wonders of Manitoba

Spruce Woods Provincial Park: Spirit Sands & Devil’s Punchbowl

Located two hours west of Winnipeg is Spruce Woods Provincial Park, a hidden desert and “reverse oasis” in Manitoba.

The park is home to a number of unique features, including the Devil’s Punchbowl, a deep, bowl-shaped depression filled with sand that is a popular spot for hiking and picnicking.

In addition to the Devil’s Punchbowl, the park is home to a number of other attractions, including the Spirit Sands Trail, a 8.5 kilometers long trail that is classified as moderately challenging. It passes through a variety of landscapes, including grassland prairies, forests, parkland, and sand dunes.

Within the park you can also admire a number of plant and animal species, including cacti, wildflowers, and rattlesnakes.

Spirit Sands and the Devil’s Punchbowl are a popular destination for hikers, nature enthusiasts, and photographers. Spruce Woods Provincial Park is also an important area for conservation, as it is home to a number of threatened and endangered species.

Spirit Sands and the Devil's Punch Bowl. Spruce Woods Provincial Park, Manitoba Desert.
Spirit Sands and the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Spruce Woods Provincial Park, Manitoba.

A shrinking desert

In a world that is facing the threat of desertification due to climate change, the Manitoba desert is experiencing a strange phenomenon: it is slowly shrinking as vegetation begins to take over.

According to a study from the late 1990s, the Spirit Sands dunes have shrunk by as much as 10-20 percent over each of the previous four decades due to the encroachment of vegetation. Experts believe that this process, known as natural succession, is a result of changes in climate and land use in the region.

Read also: Deserts and sand dunes of Canada logo icon

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