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Wilderness camp offers array of adventure

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GROUARD, Alberta - Have we become so caught up with the fast pace of life that we don't have the time to wait for a cup of tea to cool down?

This question, which wasn't intended to be rhetorical, was posed by the instructor during an evening introductory lesson in northern Alberta about First Nations. Designed for tourist groups who wish to learn some of the basics about Aboriginal traditions and artifacts, Bob Miracle speaks with the rapidity and zealousness of an energetic salesperson.

With two dozen people in the room, most of whom are Europeans, Miracle implements the large writing pad and describes some of the basic Native philosophies including the importance of the number four, such as the four elements, four seasons, four directions, etc. He then satisfies the curiosity of his audience by passing around the handmade objects that were arranged on a table behind him and explaining the rationale and symbolism of why they were created.

For many of the travelers this is their first introduction to Indians. To witness their reaction about the depth regarding Native beliefs and handicrafts begins to dispel certain myths. Especially for those coming from overseas, in just two hours the notion of all Indians wearing war bonnets and brandishing tomahawks is erased.

"Just to give them awareness that we are a people with culture and we're a feeling people like anybody else," Miracle said when asked about the most important information he hopes to impart.

Miracle, who has a degree in Theology from the University of Manitoba, is one of several speakers available for presentations to visiting groups when he isn't running the treatment center in Grouard. These discussions complement what travelers will encounter when they enter the remote Kapawe'no First Nation property along the shore of Lesser Slave Lake, approximately 150 miles northwest of Edmonton. Narrows Cultural Resort is a sparse campground with rustic cabins, a conference and dining room with the intent to promote the simplicity of life while permitting an intimacy with Mother Earth.

Set among a forest of birch and evergreen trees, the 530-acre site invites its guests to just relax and get back to nature. With sand underfoot, there are several walking trails with a reward of hundreds of trees and bushes bearing delicious fruit including Saskatoon (or otherwise called June) berries, pin cherries and blueberries.

Amidst this splendor, animals can also be frequently viewed.

"When we were setting up the elders' tent one year, one bull moose came by every morning to go to the water and you could set your watch to him," Miracle recanted during a fireside chat.

That's why Miracle stresses to take time and "smell the roses" or at least wait until your hot drink cools down when you come here. He goes onto explain how steam, according to tradition, is life from the Creator and how dare we blow it off as it's better to let the tea cool naturally.

The campground is the hub of all trips arranged by Narrows Cultural Resort. Groups are encouraged to create their own adventures within the wilderness offered by the lake, the forested area and from several local outfitters. To arrive at the site by water requires either a trip by barge or an approximately three-hour kayak trip to cross Lesser Slave. Paddling allows the chance to see the millions of tiny plankton and grasses that skim the water's surface.

To reach the resort by land (in the spring, summer and fall seasons) requires a trek through the backwoods. In contrast to the aerobic and slower-paced activity of kayaking, the 30-mile journey from Grouard is often completed on quads. Using a route through Hilliard's Bay Provincial Park, this path was one used by voyageurs who portaged their canoes through the Lesser Slave Lake area to get to the waterways linking to northern Canada.

Now this section is part of the Trans Canada Trail, a 10,000-mile all-natural (or historical) link of the nation's three oceans. Zipping along at 30 mph there is a wonderful scent to the spruce trees that are only feet off the track. The quick pace for the first half of the trip literally bogs down once the tour hits the muskeg.

Axle-deep mud requires a snail's pace to slosh through and provides the most laughs from the group. Although there's a concentration needed to stay on a specific target of the previous rider's tracks, the minimal speed and proximity to otherwise inaccessible ecosystems offers another glimpse of nature from a different viewpoint.

"It's such a vast untapped area and I'm glad that's it's still there and why we like to bring people out to show them," said Tony Gellings, co-owner of Adventure Alberta that rents out the ATVs.

Gellings mentioned that around the lake there are thousands of miles of trails so that each backcountry trip in the area can be different. Adventure Alberta can offer its services in conjunction with Narrows Cultural Resort that offers excursions from one to seven days. The variety of all-season tours is numerous including a week-long camping trek around Lesser Slave Lake; snowshoe hikes and an overnight survival session equipped with only a penknife.

To contact Narrows Cultural Resort, visit their Web site www.narrowsculturalresort.com or call (888) 751-3800.