August 26

August 26

Jeannine took the wheel for today’s drive south to High Level, Alberta in beautiful sunny weather. Before leaving the Northwest Territories, we made a stop at Alexandra Falls on the Hay River and spent a pleasant hour there:

This magpie was there to bid us farewell (after feasting on bugs from my bumper).

We reached High Level in mid-afternoon and made Tim Hortons our first stop. We were pleased to see that they operate an “equal opportunity” drive-thru:

“Four “oat” meals please.”

“What did you guys order?”

Moving on to the pick-up window. “I think someone’s “tail”gating us.”

We did some laundry, then sat out in a meadow area just behind our campsite and watched the sunset.

August 13-25

We have finally emerged from behind the dark side of the internet moon, so I am able to post our doings over the last couple of weeks; feel free to take a bathroom break when needed!

August 13-25

August 13

We woke up at 9:00 this morning to an eerie sunrise. Smoke from some of the BC wildfires has drifted in and caused a thick haze, resulting in a sun the colour of a blood orange. We haven’t noticed a smoky smell or found any difficulty breathing, but it was still a bit disconcerting. We drove into town to top off the fuel and post yesterday’s blog entry, and were on our way by 11:00, retracing our steps back down the lonely road toward Hay River. We made a quick pit stop about halfway at this quaint pulloff area:


Is it me, or is there a certain irony about the “Keep Clean” advisory?


Many pulloffs have these shelters. This one contained nothing but a long bench along one wall and a rusted-out horizontal drum to light a fire in, minus its chimney. Presumably they are there to act as shelters for stranded motorists during the winter.

Prior to reaching Hay River, we turned left and headed north toward Fort Providence and Yellowknife. Just before turning off the main highway to head into Fort Providence, we crossed the infamous Deh Cho bridge across the Mackenzie River (“Deh Cho” means “Big River” in the Dene language):


We have a nice campsite at the Territorial Park, although we are only here for one night before pushing on to Yellowknife tomorrow.


On the banks of the Mackenzie.


The Deh Cho bridge looking upstream. We are actually quite close to where the river flows out of Great Slave Lake.

Here is some info about the bridge (it may be easier to read if you click on each picture for a larger version).




Fort Providence is officially designated as a hamlet, since there is not much here. We did, however, spend a bit of time investigating Our Lady of Providence Church:




Before returning to the campsite, we stopped to fuel up at the last gas station before Yellowknife; needless to say, the fuel prices reflected that fact! As I pulled up to the pump, I was quite taken by these two ravens, busy picking bug bodies off the bumper of the truck on the other side of the pump island.


Just one more example of the cleverness and ingenuity of these birds.

We’ll leave you with these, taken from our campsite:


Sunset on the Mackenzie


August 14

Jeannine took the driving shift today, as we headed north to Yellowknife. Cooler temperatures, but smoky conditions, due to some fires burning on the south side of Yellowknife. While the entire 300 plus kilometres of the highway is paved, the last 100 or so kilometers into Yellowknife is a bit of an adventure, with stretches of construction and lots of potholes and dips, most of which are not marked. It was not without things to see, however:


Came across this guy hitchhiking to Yellowknife. (Un)fortunately, we didn’t have a seat big enough to fit him.

We arrived safely in haze-shrouded Yellowknife around 2:30 and made our first stop at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, which also contains a nice museum. There is a nice walking trail around Frame Lake, which gives access to downtown and the Legislative Buildings among other attractions. We wanted to go to the City Hall, so we took the walkway towards downtown:


This part of the path is bordered by the flags of every community in the Northwest Territories.

The reason for the visit to City Hall was to see if could visit with the Mayor, who is related to a friend of Jeannine’s. Turns out he is on vacation until the end of August, but we will probably send him an email. Took this picture before we left, since it is highly unlikely we’ll ever see either of them in their natural habitat:


Arctic Fox and Polar Bear


Looking from City Hall down to Frame Lake

As we made our way back to the van, we came across this lovely spot:




We found our hotel (basic but clean) a couple of blocks from the main downtown area, and spent the rest of the evening planning the next couple of days, which will include visits to the Old Town area, a tour of the Legislative Buildings and a visit to a local artisan market (Somba K’e) held on Tuesday evenings. The weather for the next few days holds a bit of rain and cooler temperatures, which will be a nice change. Hopefully the smoke situation will improve.

August 15 – A slight hiccup

This morning we realized that the fridge, which has been running on propane, was not functioning properly. I managed to track down a place in town that agreed to look at it at 1:00, so we decided to go to the Legislative Assembly building, a beautifully designed circular structure facing Frame Lake. We were a bit too late for the morning tour, but did look around the reception lobby.


Original Mace of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories


Mace currently in use


With some time to kill, we returned to the Heritage Centre to have a look at the Museum.

Trivia: “Yellowknife” comes from the name given to a long-vanished tribe of Dene who lived on islands in the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, who apparently carried yellow-coloured copper knives (hence “Yellowknives”).



Sculpture of the North



Northern Rhythm


The Legendary Sky Diamond

After covering about half of this beautiful Museum, we had to leave for our 1:00 appointment. We left the van with them and walked about half an hour south towards a Walmart and Tim Hortons, stopping at a Home Hardware and Canadian Tire along the way. We had lunch at Timmy’s, wandered around Walmart, then caught a taxi back to the repair place. The verdict was not as bad as we had feared; they cleaned out the gas lines, put everything back together and tested it out. The fear was that it might have been a faulty gas valve, but so far the fridge seems to be working fine. Fingers crossed.

In the evening, we walked down to the Somba K’e Yellowknife Farmer’s Market, held every Tuesday evening on the waterfront beside the City Hall. It is a delightful world of ethnic food vendors and artisans, accompanied by live music. We spent an absolutely delightful hour and a half eating a dinner of ribs, mac n’ cheese and brown beans, (a combination that worked surprisingly well), and listening to the music.




United in Celebration sculpture

We returned to the motel just in time to avoid the showers, which had been threatening for a while. We will check out tomorrow and pay a return visit to the Museum, take the tour of the Legislative building and drive into Old Town. I’m hoping to be able to post this to the blog at Timmy’s.

August 16

Checked out of the hotel and headed for Timmy’s for breakfast. The wifi, however, was pretty much non-functional. We later found out that all of Yellowknife has been affected by a cut cable somewhere, so am not sure when I’ll be able to post this blog entry, but will keep writing nonetheless. After breakfast, we refilled the fresh water tank at a municipal dump station, then headed to the Territorial Legislative Assembly building to take the 10:30 tour. The tour of this really impressive building was wonderful. Here are a few highlights:


Lobby area


Caribou carved from a single neck vertebra of a bowhead whale


An official portrait of Nick Sibbeston, the Senator we met in Fort Smith. Prior to his senatorial appointment, he served as Premier of the Territorial Legislature. His son painted the portrait.


A quilted wall hanging done by 20 Dene women over 8 months. The designs on and between each panel are done in tiny, hand-sewn beads.


We were quite taken by this painting.


Original Speaker’s Chair, which was taken from community to community for sittings of the Assembly, prior to the establishment of the present-day building in Yellowknife

Trivia: Aside from English and French, there are 9 other official languages in the Northwest Territories


Hanging on the wall of the Caucus Room are 9 original paintings by Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson


The Legislative Assembly Chamber


The story behind the Polar Bear rug on the Chamber floor; a Dene community was being troubled by a Polar Bear, so the community approached their MLA about it. He did not see it as a problem that affected the Territories as a whole, so did nothing about it. The community decided to solve the problem themselves; they shot the bear, skinned it, and presented the hide to their MLA. He then gifted it to the Assembly and it has been on the floor of the Chamber ever since, serving as a reminder that MLA’s always need to listen to their constituents!

After the tour, we returned to the Prince of Wales Heritage Center to finish our tour of the Museum. There was so much to see, watch and read about that we spent the next 3 hours there, winding up with an absolutely delicious lunch in their cafeteria.

Although we enjoyed everything in this, one of the best museums we have ever encountered, I think the two really special memories will be a display of nature photographs by Adam Hill, originally from the Maritimes, but a convert to the photographic possibilities of the North. Please take a few minutes to check out his work at:

The following picture is of “The Last Mooseskin Boat”, the subject of an NFB documentary of the same name. This large mooseskin boat was made from eight untanned skins, sewn with moose sinew and stretched over a spruce frame.


The original “Last Mooseskin Boat”

You can read watch the documentary (28 min.) here:

We made the ten-minute drive to the Fred Henne Territorial Park, where we will be for the next four nights.

August 17

The weather was cool and breezy, but perfect for our foray into Yellowknife, armed with our list of to-sees. We started with Old Town and The Glassworks, a funky little store specializing in taking old wine and liquor bottles and creating all kinds of glassware from them. We bought four blue drinking glasses, etched with local animals. This was followed by visits to some unique arts and crafts stores, stocked with high-quality works from across the North, along with a walk-through of Weaver and Devore Trading Ltd., in operation since 1936. The best description of it is “little bit of this, little bit of that”. One of its primary roles is to fill “bush supplies” lists for people working in the mining and other camps.

We had developed an appetite and thirst, so where else would one go but the NWT Brewing Company, a craft-beer pub; we had a wonderful lunch there. Before leaving Old Town, we visited the Yellowknife Cultural Crossroads project:



And “The Rock”:



Yellowknife Bay


Back Bay

Our last stop was The NWT Diamond Centre downtown, which features an interpretive exhibition of the Diavik and Snap Lake mines.

Trivia: Canada rates 3rd in the world in diamond production, after Botswana and Russia.

We are planning to return tomorrow for a diamond polishing demonstration.

In the evening, we attended a cultural activity at the campground, put on by local Dene artists. We spent much of our time with a young lady who was demonstrating the beading technique for creating “Dene Daisies”. Jeannine did the work; I supervised:





We also sat with a woman who in part creates mukluks and moccasins.  She was showing another lady from Ottawa some embroidery stitches.  She then told us about the tops for the footwear she had on display pictured here.  Dene elders, some of whom live in seniors homes stitch these bead creations in their homes and sell them to the lady we were talking to.  The tops take a couple of days to finish and they only receive about $35 each.  She then does some of the work to create the footwear and other artisans do the finishing.  She explained that many people work on one set of moccasins or mukluks because different skills are necessary to complete the pair.  Hunters who hunt the moose, people who are skilled at skinning, stretching, tanning and smoking the hide, cutting, shaping and working the pieces are all part of the process   Then the bead work, pleating the top of the hide and sewing and finishing are all part of the project.  That’s why a pair of moccasins can run between $400-500, and mukluks $600-800.  They are beautiful though.


We also spoke to an artist who creates pieces of dyed fish scales.  Fish scale art is very popular.

We stayed up until midnight in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights, which apparently had been visible last night. No luck, unfortunately. We will try again at Prelude and Reid Lakes where if the weather clears there won’t be so much light pollution.

August 18

Awoke to a cloudy morning and a bit of rain, so spent the morning doing some cleanup of the van. We went back to the Heritage Centre to have a delicious brunch at their cafeteria, then returned to the NWT Diamond Centre to watch a diamond-cutting and polishing demonstration. The operations are carried out on a cast iron wheel, spinning at very high RPM’s and covered in a thin layer of diamond dust. I got to try my hand at it:


Carefully analyzing the diamond


An expert cut and polish job!

Not to worry; the diamond itself was only worth $40.00!

We returned to the campsite around 5:00. The weather had cleared up somewhat, so we spent some time reading, and Jeannine did some sewing at the picnic table.

August 19

The weather today was cloudy and rainy, and since we had seen everything we had wanted to see in Yellowknife, we decided to kick back and spend the day relaxing. We are headed north and west to Reid Lake Territorial Park for 2 nights (about an hour from Yellowknife), then backtrack down Highway 4  to Prelude Lake Territorial Park for 2 more nights.

August 20

We left the campground at (9:00 AM) and headed into town for 10:00 Mass at St.Patrick’s, which has the Stations of the Cross done in stained glass, something we have not run across before. They were quite striking:



After Mass, celebrated by Fr. Marek, we grabbed some breakfast at the Golden Arches, fuelled up and headed up Highway 4 north and east of Yellowknife, headed for Reid Lake Territorial Park. The hour-long drive is rated as a scenic route by AAA, and it lives up to its billing, as you pass by a necklace of small, very pretty lakes. Set as they are on the edge of the Canadian Shield, they are very reminiscent of Muskoka, save for the much smaller size of both the deciduous and coniferous trees.


We got established at our campsite just before rain set in. We put out the awning and spent some time sitting under it and reading, until we got a bit chilled and moved inside, although not before a visit from one of the locals looking for dinner:



The weather is supposed to start improving over the next few days, so here’s hoping.

August 21

The weather continued to be partly cloudy, although a bit warmer. We moved to a vacant campsite with a nice view, where we spent the day relaxing:



After a brief rain shower in the afternoon, we were treated to this:



It was actually a double rainbow, but the second one doesn’t show very well in the pictures.

The skies cleared as night came on, and we went outside at midnight, to be greeted by the Aurora Borealis. We watched for about half an hour as curtains of green constantly shifted, dimmed and brightened against a starry background, and we reflected on how lucky we were to be able to see this beautiful spectacle.

August 22

We left Reid Lake in the late morning under cloudy skies for the brief drive to Prelude Lake. The skies cleared during the afternoon and we walked down to the lake. There is a boat launch and small marina, and is adjacent to the entrance of a half-kilometre “panoramic trail”, which we intend to tackle tomorrow. The Aurora made its appearance again, and I took a few pictures. It was not quite as impressive as last night, but this will give you an idea:



August 23

Late this morning, we tackled the panoramic trail, which lived up to its name. It turned out to be an easy hike on a well-maintained boardwalk and gravel trail, and offered some lovely views of Prelude Lake:


Prelude Lake Marina


We’re not usually into selfies, but we liked this one.



A couple of examples of the local wildlife:



Find the ptarmigan having his lunch.


Can you see me now?

We were hopeful that we might get another chance to see the Aurora, but a thunderstorm rolled in about 9:30, so we were out of luck.

August 24

We went into Yellowknife for breakfast at Tim’s, filled up on fuel and propane and picked up some groceries before heading south to Fort Providence again. On the 3 ½ hour drive, we saw one more bison plodding along the tree line, the last one we are likely to see on this trip. After 2 nights here, we will leave the Northwest Territories behind and head for High Level Alberta and, hopefully, a chance to post this lengthy blog entry. We have contacted Kathryn Rambow and made arrangements to meet her for dinner in Edmonton late in the afternoon of August 30th, before heading for Lloydminster for a couple of hotel nights. This seems to be the spot for sunsets:


August 25

It clouded over and we had some rain last night, so again no Aurora. Since we pretty much exhausted the sights of Fort Providence last time we were here, we stayed at the campsite. We had a late breakfast, then I read and Jeannine did some quilting stuff during the afternoon. A workboat made its way downstream pushing a barge, moving quickly with the swift current:


and returned a couple of hours later, moving a lot more slowly.


Again, no Northern Lights tonight, but on this, our last night in the Northwest Territories, we feel very fortunate to have seen all we have seen and to have met all the wonderful people we have met! Tomorrow we turn south and east for the next stage. We will be meeting up with Kathryn Rambow in Edmonton in a few days, so we are looking forward to that.

August 12

August 12

This morning we awoke in time for showers and headed off to the Long Term Care home to attend Mass with Fr. Joe. We arrived at the same time as Fr. Joe and helped him set up the makeshift altar. Both Chris and I acted as sacristan. First time for Chris to be sure! Jeannine was to pour the water from the sink into the little vial then pour the sacramental wine into the little jug. The wine was poured from what looked like an empty but cleaned yogurt bottle labeled Mass Wine. Chris arranged seats and basically did what Fr. Joe asked. We all greeted the residents, some of whom had no idea who we were or what we were saying as some only spoke Dene or the local dialect Slavey. It was truly an honour to meet these elders of the community, and they seemed to appreciate our interaction with them. We were then joined by another couple, Karen and Nick Sibbeston, who were to provide the music for the Mass. Nick is currently a member of the Senate for the NWT and is due to retire in a couple of years. His interest is primarily in First Nations People and he speaks fluent Dene. He of course is First Nations himself and has lobbied extensively for First Nations as a member of the Legislative Assembly and now as a Senator. His music style is interesting as everything he played was in 4/4 time regardless of the time signature. Try to sing Hosea (Come Back To Me) in 4/4 time. At any rate he was a great addition to the mass along with his wife. They are a Marriage Encounter couple and brought ME to the NWT for many years.

So as a few more residents were wheeled in it was time to start Mass. Picture this: the altar is a very small square end table with white cloth, small crucifix, two battery powered candles, tiny credence table at the side. So Mass begins with the hymn On This Day O Beautiful Mother in 4/4 time. Try it… After the song things got very interesting and moving at the same time. Mass is in the common room. The medical and janitorial staff went about their business with no apparent sense of occasion, passing back and forth attending to their responsibilities and talking as needed. In another corner of the room the TV is on and ironically, an old John Wayne war movie is playing with the volume low but audible. (Have you ever noticed that even in the middle of a tropical jungle, John Wayne never sweats?)

But our attention remained with Fr. Joe and he started Mass by introducing us and asking one of us to stand and speak to the crowd, such as it was, about who we were and where we were from. Chris did the honours and spoke about 5 sentences. No sooner had we sat down when Nick turned to the residents and translated what Chris had said into Dene for the residents. It was just so wonderful to hear that language and see the residents nod their heads as they heard what had been said. Fr. Joe continued with the Mass and after two or three prayers Nick would turn to the people and translate. That continued for the entire Mass. The gospel reading was the only reading and again every two or three sentences was translated for the residents. Same with the homily which was quite good and thought provoking. Fr. then asked if anyone wanted to share their thoughts on the gospel and the homily and three of us did again with Nick translating. The Eucharistic Prayer was in Dene, The Lord’s Prayer was read in Dene and then said in English. It was truly a humbling experience to see this member of the Senate translate for these elders. During the kiss of peace we all greeted one another and all the residents present and Communion was brought by Fr. Joe to all the residents and one in a room off the common room. When Mass was done we helped put the room back in order as lunch was being served. It truly was an experience we will never forget.

After all was done Fr. Joe, Nick, Karen, Chris and Jeannine went to a local restaurant for lunch and to continue our discussions about aboriginal issues in the North etc. Something we found interesting came to light during the discussion: Nick pointed out that there are no native Reserves in the Northwest Territories, with the exception of one in Hay River. His observation was that, in his experience here, the Federal Government’s policy of integration, rather than separation, has worked very well, as it has more or less forced the differing cultures to work together to solve issues. We certainly found his comments food for thought. What a great day.

Later on we took some pictures of the Mackenzie River and of the location where Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass under the giant TeePee pictured here.

Mackenzie River (largest and longest river system in Canada, second only to the Mississippi)

The Teepee housed the altar for John Paul II’s visit here in 1987.

Land of the People monument to John Paul’s planned visit here in 1984, which was cancelled due to fog preventing his plane from landing. He returned for a 5 hour visit in 1987 on his way to the U.S.

Tomorrow we leave for Fort Providence for one night, then on to Yellowknife, where we have booked the first two nights in a hotel for a little break from RV’ing. The next 3 nights will be spent at Fred Henne Territorial Park.


August 8-11

August 8 -11

We left for Sambaa Deh in late morning, after making sure our fuel was topped up, as there are no services between Hay River and Fort Simpson, including cell service. I think we both felt a bit nervous as we travelled the 280 kilometres of lonely gravel road with nothing but bush on either side, with the occasional turnout with garbage receptacles and the odd washroom. We went long stretches without seeing another vehicle. The only constant was ravens and dragonflies, both of which are plentiful up here.

Sambaa Deh Territorial Park is located beside the Trout River, with access to two sets of waterfalls, one upstream and one downstream from the park. On our first day, we took the 25 minute hike along a bush trail to Coral Falls:

We spent the afternoon relaxing at the campsite.

The next day we decided to hike downstream to the Sambaa Deh Falls:

The Trout River

After returning upstream, we were quite hot (the weather here has been in the mid to upper 30’s since we arrived two weeks ago, with only a couple of periods of rain.) It’s OK though; it’s a dry heat. The river is very fast-flowing and turbulent, so swimming in it was out of the question. However, there were a number of side pools out of the main current where the water was quite warm:

We spent a very pleasant couple of hours there. Since we had pretty much exhausted the possibilities of the area, we made the decision not to spend the planned third night there, but to push on to Fort Simpson, a couple of hours up the road. We left around 1:00 the next day, but not until we had returned to the river for a last soak:

Toranaga taking the waters. The geisha had just left to fetch more saki.

The last 150 kilometres to Fort Simpson went by quickly, helped by the fact that the last 100 kilometres is paved. Fort Simpson itself is built on an island at the confluence of the Liard and Mackenzie rivers, so we took the Liard River Ferry across:

The Liard Ferry

The village itself is quite small and provides services to the oil, gas and mining industries. We stopped at the information centre (which doubles as the City Hall) and got the lay of the land, such as it is. We refueled, got a few groceries, then drove the short distance to the campgrounds. Although we were a day early, our reserved site was available. I tried to refill our fresh water tank at the potable water tap, but discovered quickly that it had a flow rate of about a gallon a day, so had to drive back out to the info centre to refill there. Once that was done, we discovered that we were right across the road from the IceBreaker Lounge/Panda Restaurant and took it as a sign from the camping gods. We were the only customers there (the big crowds must come in later). We had some very nice Chinese food and watched the Blue Jays game.

After returning to the campsite, we made the acquaintance of Father Joe, the local priest, who is camping in the park until his new church and rectory is finished in a few weeks. We sat and chatted with him for an hour (turns out he is a big Bishop Remi de Roo fan, for those who understand the reference). We told him of our encounter with “Brother John” in Fort Smith; he hadn’t heard of him, but is going to ask around about him. During our conversation, a Park Warden came by to warn us about a black bear that was roaming around; we actually caught sight of it a few hundred feet away. A mother bear and her two cubs have apparently been hanging around here for about two weeks.

Since have power here, we were able to turn on the air conditioner to cool the van down, so we slept quite comfortably.

The next morning, we got talking to a lady named Maryanne, who is travelling by herself, and gave us some useful information about Fort Providence and Yellowknife, our next two destinations. She mentioned that she had seen one of the bear cubs while walking her dog earlier in the morning, a lovely Labradoodle rescue, whose first act was to kill her cat. It then became a serial killer, dispatching the neighbour’s cat next. (I don’t know about y’all, but 30 seconds after the first catrocide, that psychopathic pooch would have been in the car for its last ride to that Big Kennel in the Sky.) Apparently it really likes other dogs, but some dogs don’t like him. Go figure.

Later in the evening, Father Joe dropped by for a while, and asked us if we would consider coming to a Mass that he celebrates at the Long Term Care home in town. We told him we would be happy to come, so it will be interesting to see how it turns out.

August 6-7

August 6-7

We decided to go to Mass in Fort Smith before returning to Hay River. It is actually a cathedral, indicating that Fort Smith is the seat of the Diocese, which at first seems odd, considering that Yellowknife is much bigger and the Territorial capital, but then we realized that Fort Smith was founded many years before Yellowknife. There were about 40 people in attendance, although the cathedral can probably accommodate 10 times that number. The Nigerian priest gave an enthusiastic homily, but we both felt that 45 minutes was a bit too long. “Mass is ended” – well, not quite. Since this was his 20th anniversary of Ordination, we were treated to a detailed summary of his calling, starting with his birth and ending with his current posting to Fort Smith, careful not to miss a detail along the way. When Mass finally ended, we were invited downstairs to a brunch.

On the road back to Hay River, we stopped to have a look at the Angus Sinkhole, some 60 feet deep, caused by the erosion and collapse of the overlying limestone into an underground river below. This kind of sinkhole occurs all over the park.

Angus Sinkhole

We were also treated to the sight of another bison standing in the middle of the road:

Why did the bison cross the road? Because he had the right of way.

After a quick stop in Hay River for a few groceries and a burger at the Doghouse Pub, we arrived at the campground at about 7:00 and checked in. When we arrived at the site, it was occupied by a tent. When we went back to the office, we found out that the occupants (who were not there), had apparently paid for Friday night, but had decided to stay on without paying. The Park Manager had left several phone messages, which went unanswered. While we were there, she left one more message saying that she was going to remove their stuff from the site. We followed her to the site and helped her throw everything (expensive tent, air mattress, hatchet, clothing and suitcases) into her truck. We were a little concerned that they might show up later and make a fuss, so I got a couple of emergency contact numbers from her. As it turned out, they eventually contacted her and weren’t happy, claiming they had only received one message and that some things had been damaged, but the Park Manager thinks that they were saving a bit of face because the grandmother had come along with them and had ripped a strip off them because of their stupid behaviour.

After cleaning up the van a bit and doing some laundry, we spent the rest of the afternoon down at the beach, enjoying a sunny but breezy day, capped off by a nice evening around a campfire, serenaded by an enthusiastic native drum circle from two campsites over. All part of the authentic Hay River experience, I guess.

We are headed for Saamba Deh Territorial Park tomorrow for 3 nights. Looking forward to seeing some new sights, including some waterfalls.

August 3- August 5

August 3- August 5, 2017   The ABC’s (Anniversary, Bison, Camping)

We left for Fort Smith/Wood Buffalo National Park in the late morning and arrived at Fort Smith in mid-afternoon after an uneventful 3 ½ hour drive on a combination chip-seal/gravel highway, which was in very good shape. We drove down to the Parks Canada information office and picked up all the to-do maps and brochures, booked a tour to the Salt Plains, then drove to Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park and settled in to the campsite. Who knew we would be spending our 43rd wedding anniversary here?

“43 years…some of them happy!”

The next day, we headed downtown and spent an hour or so in the very well done local museum. The following picture is of “Canus” (Canada/US”), a Whooping Crane with a fascinating history: follow the link below the picture, it’s well worth the read!

We then gathered with a couple from Oregon to take the Salt Plains tour with a couple of Parks Canada guides. The Salt Plains are actually formed over the bed of a sea that covered this area about 230 million years ago, and is now fed only by groundwater that comes to the surface and evaporates, leaving salt deposits behind, which attract the wood buffalo and their predators, the wolves. Here are a few pictures from our somewhat strenuous hike:

The Salt Plains, shrouded in smoke haze from some forest fires burning about 30 kilometers away

Bark rubbed off by buffalo

Funnel web spider. The surrounding red plants grow only in saline conditions; when chewed, they taste like salty Granny Smith apples!

Very recent buffalo hoof print

Wolf paw print

“The red chairs” (placed in every National Park)

When we returned to town, we were driven to the top of a trail down to the rapids; I went down (because I’m an idiot), but Jeannine wisely declined. This will give you some idea why:

Rapids of the Drowned –named in memory of sailors who drowned when given the wrong information as to when to approach the rapids safely – the white pelicans gather here to nest and feed on lamprey eels

We arrived here on the weekend of the “Paddlefest”, which is a celebration of anything that floats, particularly white water canoe and kayak paddling races. We decided to attend the Community Dinner, hosted by the local First Nations in the arena, where we feasted on fish and bannock. We shared our table with one of the local characters, named John.

John…quite a character. In the ‘50s he was an Oblate Brother who was given his walking papers because he didn’t quite get along with the Bishop at the time. While in the order he took his pilot’s license and was the only one who could fly the plane owned by the order. That meant that only he could make the decision whether to fly to outbound missions and the Bishop didn’t like that he had that much power so he axed him. Now John is what you might say a rather conservative Catholic. He announced that he didn’t go to mass because a “proper” Mass hadn’t been said for 60 years. The last “real” Pope was Pius X, Pope John 23rd ruined the Catholic Church, and there hasn’t been a “real” priest since. He was quite comfortable with his opinions and expressed them in such an amusing way that we just shook our heads. I said to him “I guess you are not a fan of Pope Francis” he just looked at me like I was crazy. Very pleasant, very engaging, we enjoyed ourselves immensely shook hands when we parted and I asked him if we would see him at the little cathedral on Sunday and that’s when he announced that mass hadn’t been said for 60 years. He was quite something and very pleasant. He wasn’t mad or anything just wanted to live in the 50s when the church was soooooo engaging. What a riot.

The next morning (August 5), we awoke to clearer skies and decided to drive to Pine Lake (actually in Alberta), which was highly recommended. It is actually formed from a series of 5 sinkholes that have collapsed into each other. (This whole area is karst/limestone topography, although it is right on the western edge of the Canadian Shield). We were not disappointed, as it turned out to be perhaps the highlight of our trip so far. It was about a 45 minute drive down a dusty but well-maintained gravel road to the Pine Lake Day Use area. Along the way, we were lucky enough to see these wood buffalo:

He appeared out of the undergrowth and ambled along beside us for a while, before crossing the road

Indulging in a dust bath to escape the horseflies

Once at the Day Use area, we were totally alone and spent a wonderful afternoon;

Lucy at Pine Lake

Jeannine swimming in Pine Lake

What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon!

On the way back, the experience just got better, as we were stopped by a herd of 20 more buffalo.

Guess who has the right of way?

What are you looking at?

July 31-August 2

July 30 addendum

Here is Jeannine swimming in Lesser Slave Lake; as proof of how unexpectedly warm the water is, I also went in!


Swimming in Lesser Slave Lake

July 31-August 2

We were on the road by 7:00 AM, and after stops in Peace River and High Level Alberta for fuel and sustenance, we crossed into the Northwest Territories in late afternoon.


Checked off the bucket list

The drive up the Mackenzie Highway was long, but the road is in very good shape and there was little traffic, although we had several minor delays due to extensive repaving projects. Much of it was bordered by endless fields of canola in full bloom:


We arrived at the Territorial Park at about 6:30, and were pleasantly surprised by the fact that we did not feel as tired as 9 hours of driving should made us!


Crossing the Hay River

The campground is impressive, nicely treed with excellent facilities and (surprise!) very few bugs. Apparently August is the time to come here, as most of the bugs are gone by the end of July.  After hooking up, we took the short path to the beach:


The weather continues to be sunny and warm (mid-20’s), so after taking a tour around Hay River, a small but vibrant community, we visited their impressive little Museum. The young man running it was very knowledgeable, and gave me some interesting background on the Mackenzie River Bridge, completed a few years ago. It spans the Mackenzie River between Fort Providence and Yellowknife, and replaces the old ferry system. Like any government project, it was considerably  over-budget and delayed in its construction. The company that started it went bankrupt after installing several of the support piers, and the job was ultimately finished by two other companies, who worked from either end to the middle (can you sense where this is going?). As the two ends approached each other, everyone had an “Oh sh*t” moment as they realized that they weren’t lined up properly. Consequently, the bridge has a bit of a zig-zag in it. It gets better; the next unforeseen problem was that the local bison population found that the bridge beat the heck out of swimming. Apparently there was no money left in the budget to install proper Texas gates at either end, so someone had the brilliant idea to set up cardboard cutouts of wolves, complete with pots of wolf urine purchased from the Calgary Zoo. They were partly effective, but provided the locals with endless fodder for jokes. Texas gates have now been installed.

In the afternoon, visited a local public beach, where Jeannine checked off another bucket list item; swimming in Great Slave Lake.


Swimming in Great Slave Lake

Ironically, although it is the deepest lake in Canada, the water here is quite warm and very shallow; note how far out one has to go before being able to tread water! Like Lesser Slave Lake, sandy beaches and warm water were not even close to what we had envisioned.

We spent the afternoon and evening back at the campsite.


Quilting “en plein air”

Some of the local fauna dropped by:





We had a nice fire, and although it stays light enough outside to read until close to 11:00, we went to bed around 10:30.

We spent this morning doing some laundry and cleaning up the van a bit, then headed back to the public beach we were at yesterday, to indulge in a swim (both of us!) and an afternoon of reading and enjoying the very warm sunshine and a cooling breeze.


With the warm temperatures and sandy beach, it could just as easily have been a beach in Mexico (except for the logs). Hard to believe we are “north of 60”! We will have a last fire here tonight, then head for Fort Smith/Wood Buffalo National Park tomorrow, about a 3 ½ hour drive.