August 11, 2004

Yellowknife to Fort Nelson

August 26.   Yellowknife was the northernmost point we will reach on this trip.   About 3 hours drive south after leaving there we bought what might have been the last gasoline available for 150 miles, viewed the old Catholic church at the village of New Providence,

cautiously photographed a buffalo bull so close we were ready to duck into an adjacent shed in case of belligerence, ferried across the MacKenzie one last time, and turned west on a long lonely dirt road, of excellent 60 mph quality.   On arrival at Fort Simpson for the night, we discovered why it had been easy to make a reservation at "The Only Full Service Hotel in Fort Simpson" (population 1237).   It was the only hotel, and the quality was not high.   The hotel restaurant and the Chinese restaurant had closed early.   The hotel's "Joe" suggested the adjacent grocery store might be open, but we convinced him to sell us soup and sandwiches.

August 27.   Ice coated the car, and we told the clerk our room had been only a little warmer than the car.   He said that last year new thermostats had been installed, backwards.   Of course the wires could have been reversed at 5 minutes per thermostat, and oral or posted notices could have been provided.   We adjusted the thermostat without result, and the clerk admitted the heat hadn't been turned on at all.   We had come there for a charter flight to Nahanni National Park, a World Heritage Site, legendary to kayakers and hikers, but quit the hotel and decided to leave town.  However, we checked at the airport, found there were luckily two flight seats available, and there was a superb B&B near town.   Our Cessna 206 on floats held the Quebec pilot and Dick in front, Margery and a young Mountie next behind, and his mother in back.

 We crossed a hundred miles of swampy scrub and suddenly were in surroundings of such beauty that neither I nor Google nor pictures can make much progress in conveying its magnitude.   Morning fog had vanished, leaving clouds around 5,000 feet and new snow on the jagged peaks above 4000 feet.   The Cessna approximately followed the many twists of the Nahanni River below, banking so close over ridges that we could see the mountain sheep below.   We came in low over Virginia Falls, which is twice as high as Niagara and spectacularly split by a buttress, and landed above the falls.
We walked about a mile on a boardwalk and difficult tundra where the boardwalk will soon be extended, to the top of a cliff directly above the falls, and a little beyond.   Wow !   On the way back to the plane Marge caught her foot on a root, and so injured her leg that it was difficult to walk.   I Dick am writing this, and say I have a very courageous partner.   Perhaps the fall was due to hurrying, because the weather was deteriorating. The pilot took off and flew in light rain at 3000 feet descending to 2000 feet, more closely following the river, with the canyon walls high on both sides, and often with an apparent closed white wall ahead. This resulted in a longer flight path than our approach, so when we landed back at Fort Simpson the 2 gas tank, one registering empty and the other below 1/4.   The pilot agreed that "Pas beaucoup d'essence ?" (not much gas).   We asked and were given a $100 (Canadian) rebate because the worsening weather had prevented a scheduled landing at an especially beautiful lodge location.   We have never seen a more beautiful place, and only regret that we couldn't travel it at 2 mph not 120 mph.   Our B&B was delightful, an architect's dream, with the confluence of the Liard and MacKenzie rivers outside our bedroom window.  (can't erase these sudden underscores put there by capricious Blogger).

Then we ferried back across the Liard, drove 38 paved miles, and 136 dirt miles. Recent rain kept the dust down, but made mud and filled potholes.   We went about 50 miles without seeing a car or any structure except occasional "emergency shelters", each with a door, wood stove, and bench.

We saw many buffalo, alone and in groups.   Once when they blocked the road we got some good pictures.

   We went 3 miles on a side road to Fort Liard, population 588 of mostly Dene.   We had almost switched to that place for our previous bedding and flight, and wanted to check the details.   The Nova Scotian proprietor of the general store said that the town's only restaurant had closed, so although he had simple rooms for $135, we would have to bring our own food.   At the airport we found the pilot charged almost as much as we had paid for the previous flight, and would provide a much shorter flight. There we saw our only bear so far, a black one.  So that will be our last visit to Fort Liard

We had made no reservation at Fort Nelson, since the peak of tourist season was past, and booked 2 nights at the nearly new Super 8, nearly the best motel we have ever used.   We were told that the town is mainly a support center for the mining and oil industries, that heavy truck traffic surges through late in the year when ice roads start to be usable, and AK Highway businesses that cater mostly to tourists are apt to shut down September 1.   And we were headed north.

Sunday August 29.   Marge washed laundry, and Dick washed much of the Northwest Territories from our car, turning it from brown back to silver.   We visited the local museum, a very informal display of artifacts worthy of a much larger town or city.   That's apparently the result of more enthusiastic support than money.   About 30 people were holding a supper, to which we were warmly invited.   So we ate, and met several very nice folks, with stories to tell.   We met the founder and chairman, who sported an old-timers long beard and had contributed several of the 20 cars from the '20's and '30's.


Blogger Brian said...

Hi Dick & Marge,
Exciting to catch up with you again on your blog. Your trip sounds amazing. So sorry to hear about your foot Marge.
Look forward to reading again soon.

7:16 PM  
Blogger Daniel Watson said...

I am so glad to hear that you got to do the flight out of Fort Simpson -- do you know if you got near Little Doctor Lake. It's the lake where you hit the very first mountains and see where a 3 or 4000 foot glacier once tore through the mountain before melting and leaving the lake. Very sorry to hear about Margery's foot. Hope it is getting better.

Most fascinating to read your travel descriptions.

Enjoy the rest of your trip!

(We met in Regina on the morning you left and talked to you about Yellowknife, flights at Fort Simpson, chocolate pie at Paynton, Saskatchewan, etc.)

Daniel Watson

2:58 AM  

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