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.
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
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.
As the evening drew near we came across a Grizzly and her cub. She wandered on up the hill as we watched.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- An “engaging day” at the Arctic Circle – Grímsey Island, Iceland (travelpod.com)
- Journeys: ‘We There Yet?’ When ‘There’ Is the Arctic Circle (travel.nytimes.com)