The Long and Dirty Dempster

We were warned. “It is rough and dusty.” “There are over 730 km of dirt road”. “Make sure you carry a spare”. We headed up the highway expecting the worst. The warnings met the expectations. It is dusty. it is rutted and it is long.

We left a trail of dust

It is also exciting and full of life and colour and beauty. This is the road that winds north to the Mackenzie Delta in the North West Territories. We drove about a hundred kilometers the first night before we found a place to camp. It was after eleven when we went for a walk and watched the sun sink below the mountains. The roadside is lined with flowers

and a beautiful Foxtail Barley grass that I have fallen in love with. I love the colour and the delicate fringe.

hiking at sunset

We woke up very early. There is a long twilight but no darkness at this time of year. We ate a quick breakfast and continued the journey. The road travels through valleys and over the top of the mountains.

The gravel is very thick to insulate the permafrost so that it does not melt. We wove in an out the treeline. We stopped to walk on the tundra. It looks easier than it is. It is very mossy, lots of lichens, grassy patches and the ground is very uneven. Each step was a mystery. Sometimes I could feel my foot sink deep into the bog, other times I would roll on a clump  of grass. It was a test that my waterproof Columbia hiking boots passed with flying colours. I loved it. The colours are vivid and glorious.

We saw a lot of birds on the way, including a lot of ravens, a few grouse and an owl.

A short eared owl (I think)

Rock Ptarmigan

As the evening drew near we came across a Grizzly and her cub. She wandered on up the hill as we watched.

Grizzlies in the sunlight

The mostly treeless, rounded mountains put on a beautiful show. Some were green others black or grey or red, all fascinating.Crossing the Arctic Circle is an exciting milestone. They have a marker and a pull off for a photo or two. It was quite late when we crossed over and very windy on the ridge.  The Dempster follows the high ridges and the view of the tundra is awesome. The road descends to the valley and we drove along the Red River for a while. The water is actually red and stains the rocks.

We watched the sun as it sank in the west. The colours in the sunset were brilliant. We were in a valley and could not see the sun. Suddenly, John pulled off the road into a gravel pit. We scrambled through the gravel and up a huge gravel mountain.

It was worth it. The sun set in a blaze of glory.

In the morning, we had to cross two wide rivers by ferry.  The Peel River and the MacKenzie. As we approached the Mackenzie the settlement of Tsiigehtchic came into view.


There were only two cars on the ferry. As we drove on, they noticed the Ontario plates and invited us to climb up past the “crew only” sign to get a better view.

The view included our filthy van. It has never been dirtier. We were on the last leg. The road along the Mackenzie delta was flat and straight. As each truck came into view, I had to remind John to put up his window. It did not help. Dust settled on everything, including us. We were in desperate need of a shower.

The cloud of dust covered everything even with the windows rolled up tight.

Finally, after a day and a half, we arrived in Inuvik, North West Territories. We are visiting with my nieces, Danae and Sarah. It is wonderful to visit and rest. They are perfect hosts.


About Maggie L R

I want to add colour to my life, I want to take each day and make it my own. I love simple pleasures. A hot cup of coffee in the early morning on the deck watching the dog chase the ball. The expressions on the faces of my grandchildren. I love to explore, to take a road I have never been on and see what unfolds. I love to travel. I love a challenge. I have decided I want to live a long and healthy life so I have challenged myself to get into shape both physically and mentally.
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7 Responses to The Long and Dirty Dempster

  1. Aaron Rowe says:

    Grizzly bear Cub was really cute and the mother looked really huge. Sorry to hear about the 750km drive 😛 but I’m glad you guys made it to NWT and the Yukon without any large difficulties! I can’t wait to read your next blog, ESPECIALLY the ones with Yellowknife! Keep enjoying your trip! The Arctic sounds amazing!

    • Maggie L R says:

      Yellowknife soon, We are in Dawson City now and are heading back to NWT and north to Great Slave Lake and Yellowknife where we will be looking for your special gift.

  2. Maggie L R says:

    Yes, drive on, drive off at no cost… they are very short crossings, just a couple of minutes. It is cheaper than bridges because they have to deal with the permafrost.

  3. was the ferry free? as in part of the highway? What wonderful pictures, thank you!

  4. absolutely beautiful!

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