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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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Canada, Northwest Territories, Travel, Yukon    3 Comments
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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Canada, Travel, Yukon    2 Comments
Aug 21, 2010 -

Driving the Dempster: Klondike Corner to Eagle Plains

The first half of the Dempster highway winds and wends its way through the Tombstone, Ogilvie, and Richardson Mountains. I have many times heard people say that the section between the end of the mountains and Eagle Plains is boring and not beautiful. I don’t think we were driving the same road…

Having previously driven the first 150km of the Dempster twice, as far as Two Moose Lake, it wasn’t until after that point that I really felt that my adventure had begun. I still stopped to retake old photographs just to test out my new camera!

This first portion of the Dempster is the most isolated. There are really no services between the Klondike River Lodge and Eagle Plains, just a lot of wide open country, the Tombstone interpretive centre, and a highway maintenance camp.

It’s really a good idea to bring a spare tire or two, but I really don’t see the point of bringing extra gas unless you plan to zip past Eagle Plains when the gas pump is closed. I filled up at AFD Petroleum in Dawson for $1.12 when I set off and had nearly a half a tank left by the end of the day. It would have been the same had I been traveling with Miranda.

This first 400km or so was in reasonably good shape; dry and recently graded. I still had to watch out for pot holes, pointy bits of shale which are known to shred tires beyond repair, and speedy drivers throwing up rocks. All of this meant focusing more on the road than on the landscape; it might be nice to do this trip again as a passenger. 😀

I left Dawson City at about 11:45 am and, even though the drive hadn’t been that difficult, when the oasis of Eagle Plains came into view at quarter to seven, I was very grateful and more than ready to stop!

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Canada, Travel, Yukon    4 Comments
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