Spirit Sands is a place that’s held great spiritual meaning to First Nation tribes since its discovery. The Anishinaabe believed that one of the first creations of the Great Spirit (Gitche Manitou) was sand. Since sand was one of the first elements, they believed that being in Spirit Sands brought people closer to the Great Spirit. Any area with open sand was a place of great reverence. Rituals were performed before entering Spirit Sands in the hopes that the sands would bring about guidance and visions. Spirit Sands is considered hallowed ground by many.
On native Medicine Wheels, each cardinal point (north, south, east and west) have special significance. North is a place of wisdom. South is a place of plenty. East is the place of beginnings while west is the place of endings.
It is fitting that the trail through Spirit Sand starts at the east as the landscape changes from forest to desert like terrain.
Spirit Sands has slowly changed over time. What was once 6,500 square kilometers of open sand is now only four kilometers. The sand dunes move at a pace of 20 to 30 centimeters a year. Since the wind normally comes from the north west, sand is picked up from the back slope of the dune and pushed to the top and then deposited on the south west side.
For the sand to continue to move, the hills must remain at a 30° angle. Human activity, like walking and running down the hills can cause the angle of the hills to shift, slowing down the movement of the hills. If the hills stop moving, vegetation starts to grow upon the hills causing the sand dunes to disappear and the sacred heritage to be lost.
The first plants to grow on these hills are called pioneer plants. Skeleton Weed and Sand Dock are examples of this. They are very hard plants, and usually the first to grow upon the dunes by taking advantage of areas hidden from the sunlight. Skeleton Weeds have very narrow leaves which prevents a loss of moisture while Sand Dock have thick leathery leaves that are resistant to high temperatures and blowing sand.
After these plants claim the sand as their home other shrubs and grasses appear, followed by larger plants and trees which causes the sand hills to disappear forever.
Not far from the sand dunes lies the Devil’s Punch Bowl. At 30 meters deep, it sits at stark contrast to the sand dunes. While there was once sand here, now it has collapsed into a bowl like depression due to the underground streams eroding the surrounding sand hills. The water is a blue-green color caused by the clay silts in the water.
While the sand dunes change slowly over time, at the Devil’s Punch Bowl nature is truly alive. Here all the sounds of nature can be heard; running water, chirping birds, buzzing insects, and if you’re lucky the growl of a black bear.
The hike to the Devil’s Punch Bowl is longer than the journey to the Sand Dunes, but not as strenuous. It mainly contains solid terrain, which is a lot easier to walk on than the soft sand.