Tagged with " dempster"
Aug 21, 2010 -

Driving the Dempster: Inuvik

Inuvik, ‘place of man’ is a hot and gritty industrial town. Its edges are worn and the whole place feels dirty and run down. It is most certainly not a ‘tourist town’, not even with it being a destination. I expected the town to be flat and barren, but it’s actually hilly and surrounded by trees as far as the eye can see. The biggest surprise, given the appearance of the town, is just how friendly the locals are.

It’s a peculiar place to end up after all the excitement of driving the Dempster to reach it. There are no museums or other cultural attractions, no shops worth mentioning, no restaurants. The only real thing to do is to get out, by plane or boat. Inuvik’s motto is apt: the end of the road is only the beginning.

The town is a planned community conceived in 1953 to serve as an administrative centre that would replace Aklavik, prone to flooding. Inuvik gained village status in 1967, became a town in 1970, and was linked to the rest of Canada via the Dempster in 1979, making it the northernmost community that can be traveled to year-round by car. The population is just over 3,000, of which the majority are Inuvialuit and other First Nations.

One of the most famous features of the town is its Utilidor system. These above-ground pipes carry potable water and sewage to the buildings in town. By having these pipes above ground two things are achieved: 1) the permafrost is not disturbed and 2) the pipes are easy to get to if anything needs to be fixed.

utilidor system going into a house

The most famous landmark is the Our Lady of Victory Church, shaped like an igloo. I was unable to tour the inside, but the exterior is most impressive!

another shot of the Igloo Church

While not tourist-friendly, the town appears to be very livable. There are a new hospital, a dentist, an impressive rec complex, schools, a community greenhouse, and two supermarkets. Coming from a town that has only boutiques, not stores, I was quite jealous of the ‘Northmart’ which sells everything one could want at reasonable prices. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the price of groceries in Inuvik, but coming from Dawson I found no reason to complain! Things do become much more expensive in the winter, however; a loaf of bread can cost $5!

Homes in Inuvik run the gamut, from shacks to pretty bungalows that would not be out of place in the best neighbourhoods ‘Outside.’ Most homes and buildings are on pilings to keep them from melting the permafrost. Most people seem to have pick up trucks or SVUs, but there are a few other brave souls who do the Dempster in sedans and sub-compacts.

I spent my first two nights in Inuvik at the Happy Valley Campground. It claims to be ‘downtown’ but is actually ‘within walking distance of downtown.’ The whole installation is a contradiction. The RV electrical hookups are obviously kept up, but the tent area consists of a few tent pads haphazardly set up on a fairly level patch of dirt (at least, the area has a splendid view of the Mackenzie river). The showers sparkle, but water is kept out by curtains black with mould. The grass is kept trimmed, but the entrance has potholes you could drop Canada into. At $15 for a tent, though, it is a bargain, considering that the other campground with showers is outside of town and more than $20 a night!

tent set up at Happy Valley

My first stop in Inuvik was the visitor information centre where the attendants are super friendly and helpful. There are some interesting displays there about the Inuvialuit and Gwich’in people, as well as Inuvik and the Mackenzie Delta. There, I got information tours to Tuktoyaktuk and then I found myself wondering how I was going to spend the days and hours until my tour when I realised that beyond getting out of town, there wasn’t much to see or do.

First things first, I made inquiries about Tuk tours and decided on Arctic Adventure Tours because they had a few lined up. I wanted to give myself as many opportunities as possible since I’d come such a long way! I was tentatively booked for a Wednesday 3PM tour and was heading out of the info kiosk, located across from the Igloo Church, when I witnessed a spectacular accident–a Jeep plowed straight into a parked car!

After that excitement, I went off in search of dinner/groceries (so glad I had the ability to cook for myself), drove around town for a bit, and went to bed early.

Wednesday’s Tuk tour was canceled because not enough people signed up. I wiled away the hours driving around town, checking out the few shops, and spending time sitting in a chair at the campground with a pot of juniper tea while overlooking the Mackenzie’s east channel. Wednesday was a true ‘vacation’!

Thursday, I moved to the Arctic Chalet resort, just outside of town. The folks who operate this b&b and cabin property also run the Arctic Adventure Tours. The owner, Judi, offered me a room for $60! At that price, it was worth getting at least one night in a proper bed! The room was beautiful and bright, with a private deck overlooking a lake and a kitchen and bathroom shared with one other guest. It’s one of the nicest places I’ve ever stayed. What a bargain! I spent a few hours reading and then it was time to leave on the Tuk tour.

my room at the Arctic Chalet

I was beat when I came back and it was so nice to be able to make a proper meal, have a hot shower, then sit out on a deck with a book. I even watched some television before bed! The bed was soooo comfortable and I got in a solid seven and a half hours; the best sleep I’ve had in months. I left the Arctic Chalet around 9:30 on Friday and the rest of that day will follow two posts from now.

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Aug 21, 2010 -

Driving the Dempster: Eagle Plains to Inuvik

I was up insanely early at Eagle Plains (sleeping on the ground will do that to you). I made some coffee and oatmeal, broke camp, and heading off around 7AM. There’s a time zone change to Mountain Standard Time when you hit the Northwest Territories, so I figured an early start would make up for the lost hour.

This second half of the Dempster has a lot of milestones. The first was, of course, the crossing of the imaginary line known as the Arctic Circle. We humans make such a fuss over other imaginary things like time and mathematics and borders, so why not a line around the earth? 🙂

Next, I crossed over into the Northwest Territories! I just have one province and one territory left to visit! Shortly after that, I had the second grizzly sighting of my life. I didn’t see much wildlife on this trip, but a grizzly more than made up for that!

A couple hours after Eagle Plains, I hit the first of the two ferries, that at the Peel River. The approach to it was incredibly steep and I scraped the whole bottom front of my car getting on. It was annoying to be getting the ‘hurry up!’ motion while I was trying to avoid making any damages worth mentioning! This ferry runs on a cable, shots of which I got on my return trip, so I will be returning to this place in a few posts.

After the ferry, I pulled into the Nitainlaii Territorial Park entrance to use the outhouse. Since I was there, I figured I might as well go into the interpretive centre and see what was what. The door wasn’t even open yet that I was cheerfully greeted by an Elder who was obviously eager to chat with someone new. We talked about road conditions and then he uttered some of the most beautiful words in the English language: “I have coffee.” I had a cup with hazelnut creamer and set back off.

I then came across the community of Fort McPherson, known for its canvas products such as tents and bags. The factory wasn’t open yet for public viewing and there wasn’t much else to see in this tiny town, so I pushed on towards the second ferry crossing.

The tiny village of Tsiigehtchic, at the confluence of the Arctic Red and Mackenzie Rivers, is a sight to behold; so picturesque with its white church and set against emerald greenery. I had thought to detour there, but the ferry approaches being what they were, I wasn’t too motivate to risk damage to the car.

This ferry crossing features a larger boat which travels in a triangular pattern: south shore of the Mackenzie, then Tsiigehtchic, then the north shore. As a side note, the Arctic Red River should not be confused with the more southern Red River that passes through Winnipeg.

The wait for this ferry was much longer than for the Peel River and I also had to detour to Tsiigehtchic to let off a car. When I saw that it had trouble getting off, I decided I’d made a good decision to not get off, too.

The Mackenzie River is the longest in Canada and the eleventh longest in the world. This is a fact that was drilled into me in my elementary geography classes and I was not disappointed by the river in the least! It is big and wide and most impressive.

There’s a nice view point (or veiw point according to the NWT) shortly before Inuvik. I enjoyed the short walk up to the lookout platform, where I was awed by all the trees! Where was the barren Arctic I’d read about?!

Some more kilometres passed and then, just like that, I hit pavement and the Inuvik airport. I felt so accomplished at knowing that I’d made it through the Dempster unscathed, but I never forgot that I’d have to do it again!

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Aug 21, 2010 -

Driving the Dempster: Eagle Plains Lodge

Eagle Plains is a complex located on a plateau. It was built in the late 1970’s at about the same time the Dempster highway was completed. It is completely self-sufficient and self-contained. There is a service station, motel, lounge/bar, restaurant, apartments for highway workers, and a campground. It must have been a remarkable establishment back in its day, but now it is showing the signs of age and isolation. Still, the facilities are clean, if shabby, and the staff is friendly. A tent site cost me $15.75, including free hot showers, and remarkably good food is available at the restaurant at reasonable prices. A beer with a fancy chicken burger (real breast meat with fried onions, cheese, and BBQ sauce), fries, dessert, tip, and taxes came to $23.

I spoke to the server at the restaurant about life at Eagle Plains. She’s a student for whom this is her third summer at the lodge. She says she never gets bored, what with work, hiking, and photography to be done. I asked her if she is more likely to go north or south on her days off and she said north, claiming the scenery is prettier and that there are more services in Inuvik than Dawson.

It was very windy at Eagle Plains, with the evening, night, and morning being quite cool, but comfortable enough for sitting out while dressed in a reasonable number of layers.

I got gas before going to bed and blanched at the cost–$1.39!

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