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Old 09-14-2013   #1 (permalink)
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Yellowknife & the Deh Cho Circle

After returning from an amazing trip to Playa last March, I made summer plans to drive the Dempster Highway across the arctic circle to Inuvik, Northwest Territories.

Unfortunately, professional commitments and other constraints resulted in my available vacation time being slowly nibbled away until I no longer had sufficient time for a 9,000 km road trek. A Plan B had to be found. After a bit of stewing and some research, I made up my mind to drive up to Yellowknife, capital of the Northwest Territories, then complete the Deh Cho Circle, a part-paved, part gravel highway route through northwest Alberta, the southwestern NWT, and northeast British Columbia, five nights and six days:


Over the space of six days, I would encounter some offbeat, unique places, endless landscapes, and abundant wildlife. Compared to better-known northern drives such as the Alaska Highway or the Klondike Loop, this region attracts relatively few travellers. The roadside bison far outnumber the RVs in this part of the world:




Coming up: the first two days to Hay River, NWT.

Last edited by Y2YTraveller; 09-14-2013 at 12:35 PM..
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Old 09-17-2013   #2 (permalink)
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Day 1: Vancouver, BC to Grande Prairie, AB

The first day started off very early in the morning as I drove familiar roads through central and northern BC, before heading to the Peace River region and crossing the border into Alberta.

Some 13 hours after leaving home, I arrived at the oil boomtown of Grande Prairie, Alberta, where the local Best Western became my stop for the night. An excellent Italian dinner at the hotel restaurant topped off the day and I was ready for bed.

Most of Grande Prairie looks as if it was built within the past 15 years:







Day 2: Grande Prairie, AB to Hay River, NT

Early the next morning, I checked out of the BW and headed north on Hwy 2 towards the town of Grimshaw, Mile Zero of the Mackenzie Highway, which leads north towards the Northwest Territories:




Farmland gradually gave way to white spruce forest as I drove north for the next 3-4 hours, eventually arriving at Alberta's border with the NWT:










After a brief rest stop at the border, it was time to continue through the flat, spruce forest to the shores of Great Slave Lake and the town of Hay River:




Hay River has the distinction of being the northernmost point on the contiguous North American railroad system. It is the main shipping point for barges and freighters serving communities around Great Slave Lake and along the Mackenzie River:








My destination for the evening was a campsite among the trees in Hay River Territorial Park, preceded by a trip to the local pub for a burger and the evening's CFL game. After setting up camp for the night, I spent some time listening to the loons on the lake before slowly drifting off to sleep.

Coming Up: Yellowknife
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Old 09-18-2013   #3 (permalink)
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Day 3: Hay River, NT to Yellowknife, NT

After leaving Hay River, my route took me west beyond the outlet of Great Slave Lake, north over the Mackenzie River, then northeast around the north arm of the lake to the territorial capital of Yellowknife.

Until late 2012, the highway crossed the Mackenzie River by means of a ferry during the summer months and an ice bridge during the long winter. No crossing was possible for several weeks at a time during freeze-up and break-up, thus making land access to Yellowknife impossible during those periods.

That all changed last November with the completion of the $300m Deh Cho Bridge (Deh Cho is the Dene native name for the Mackenzie River), a two-lane cable stayed suspension bridge more than 1 km in length:






Once across the river, it was time to refill my tank at the small village of Fort Providence. I arrived at the gas pump to find it surrounded by a near-opaque cloud of black flies and mosquitos. It was time to really put my clip-on bug repellant to the test. I turned it on for a couple of minutes inside the truck before opening the door, hoping that it would create enough of a cloud of repellant to keep the bugs out when I opened the door.

After a minute or two, I took a deep breath and opened the door. I was immediately surrounded by bugs. I'm sure some of them recognised friends and relatives among the thousands of smears along my windshield and front bumper and they seemed intent on revenge.

I'm happy to say, however, that the repellent did its job - no insect got closer than 6". I filled the tank right to the threads and headed off on a long, boring drive along straight road, northeast to Yellowknife.

I grabbed these shots of the north arm of Great Slave Lake when stopped for a break at North Arm Territorial Park:




An hour or so later, I arrived in Yellowknife, capital of the NWT and self-styled Diamond Capital of North America. Once dependent on gold mining, Yellowknife's economy is now driven by a series of remote diamond mines accessible only by air, or by winter ice roads. (Fans of Ice Road Truckers and Ice Pilots will be familiar with this ).

As the highway proceeds further north, the trees thin out and become more stunted. Bedrock is increasingly visible and the pavement buckles and heaves as the road approaches Yellowknife, finally arriving in mid-afternoon:


I spent some time poking around the city's main landmarks, including the Territorial Legislature:


The Miners' Memorial:


The infamous Wildcat Café:


And Bullock's Bistro, famous for its fish & chips:


Then on to Yellowknife's most famous street:








Coming up: more of Yellowknife, then on to Fort Simpson.
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Old 09-21-2013   #4 (permalink)
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Day 4: Yellowknife, NT to Fort Simpson, NT

The next morning began with a lingering golden-orange light, of a hue particular to far northern regions, which made for a great opportunity to get some final shots of Yellowknife before hitting the road once again:
















This "Cultural Crossroads" monument is actually carved into the rock and then painted:


Yellowknife being more or less at the end of the road, leaving town necessitated retracing my steps southwest towards Fort Providence, where I faced another similar encounter with the black fly cloud at the gas pumps. Then it was back over the Deh Cho Bridge and south to the Mackenzie Highway once again. I then continued west, through the smouldering remains of a recent large forest fire, down the Mackenzie valley toward Fort Simpson.

Shortly before arriving at Fort Simpson, the highway crosses the Liard River by means of a free ferry operated by the NWT government:






From the ferry, it was another 15-20 minutes to Fort Simpson, where I arrived in the middle of the wind and rain.


I refilled the tank, grabbed a cold dinner, and headed off to my campsite for the night.

Coming up: Fort Simpson, NT to Moberly Lake, BC
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Old 09-21-2013   #5 (permalink)
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What beautiful country! Thanks for sharing, sorry you had to have a cold dinner on a windy/rainy night . I so want to go and get fish and chips!
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Old 09-23-2013   #6 (permalink)
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Day 5: Fort Simpson, NT to Moberly Lake, BC

Fort Simpson is one of those places that the rest of the world is mostly unaware of. About the only time that Fort Simpson gained any sort of international attention was in 1987 when Pope John Paul II paid a visit, commemorated by this teepee structure:


The morning started cloudy but dry as I left Fort Simpson and retraced my steps back over the Liard River ferry. When I reached the highway junction, I turned south onto the Liard Trail (NWT Route 7) which follows the river towards British Columbia. The Liard Trail is all gravel, and the previous day's rain had made the surface quite slippery for most of the 200+ km between the junction and the BC border.

Along the way, I stopped in at Blackstone Territorial Park along the Liard River, for my first sight of mountains in 4 days; the Nahanni range is visible across the river:




The bison became much more numerous as I continued south:








Upon arriving at the BC border, the slippery gravel promptly ended and I drove smooth, brand-new asphalt down BC Hwy 77 to it's junction with the Alaska Highway just north of Fort Nelson, BC. I headed south and spent the night camping at Moberly Lake Provincial Park near Chetwynd, before heading home the next day.

I hope you enjoyed this brief tour of a section of Canada's far north. While lacking the majestic and highly photogenic mountain scenery of the Yukon and Alaska, the NWT still had its own rugged, unique vibe that makes it worth a visit. Uncrowded highways and abundant wildlife await the traveller in this huge region, and I left knowing that a number of side routes still remained to be explored. I will be back. In the meantime, I remain determined to drive the Dempster Highway next summer; stay tuned.

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Old 09-23-2013   #7 (permalink)
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Great report and photos!
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Old 09-24-2013   #8 (permalink)
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Thanks so much for the report!

My mom and stepfather used to do relief work in both Yellowknife and Inuvik for a few years....6 months in, 6 out. They loved it up there, it's a whole 'nother world, for sure.
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Old 09-24-2013   #9 (permalink)
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Quote:
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What beautiful country! Thanks for sharing, sorry you had to have a cold dinner on a windy/rainy night . I so want to go and get fish and chips!
Glad you liked it! The fish & chips at Bullock's are unique: Arctic Char, grayling, jackfish, etc - whatever came fresh out of the lake that day....
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Old 09-24-2013   #10 (permalink)
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Great report and photos!
Thanks! The generally unco-operative weather limited the photographic opportunities, but otherwise this was a very relaxing and enjoyable trip.
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Old 09-24-2013   #11 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Rissask View Post
Thanks so much for the report!

My mom and stepfather used to do relief work in both Yellowknife and Inuvik for a few years....6 months in, 6 out. They loved it up there, it's a whole 'nother world, for sure.
Glad you enjoyed it! It's definitely a unique part of the planet. Nothing in the far north is quite what you expect it to be

Hopefully I'll make it to Inuvik next year...until then, it looks like we may have to wait until June to return to Playa...
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Old 09-28-2013   #12 (permalink)
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Here are a few more bison shots worth sharing. Enjoy!:






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Old 09-28-2013   #13 (permalink)
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The bison are huge and very unfriendly looking! In the 3rd shot, you can see hundreds of flys buzzing around them! Looking at the last photo you can see it definitely has attitude! Kare they like cows and will move away from you or are the more confrontational? (If you don't know, please don't try to find out, lol!)
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Old 09-30-2013   #14 (permalink)
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The bison are huge and very unfriendly looking! In the 3rd shot, you can see hundreds of flys buzzing around them! Looking at the last photo you can see it definitely has attitude! Kare they like cows and will move away from you or are the more confrontational? (If you don't know, please don't try to find out, lol!)
They're usually fairly mellow and more interested in grazing than in passing traffic. However, they are wild animals and will get aggressive if they feel that they or their young are threatened. They can move at tremendous speed and most of the tourist guidebooks recommend remaining inside your vehicle when they are around.

The biggest danger they pose is to night-time drivers. These animals can be quite difficult to see at night and the highway to Yellowknife (NWT Route #3), most years, sees at least one fatal accident resulting from a bison strike. The bison herds in this area have grown quite a bit over the past 10-20 years and have begun to move into new areas, which has increased that risk.
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Old 10-01-2013   #15 (permalink)
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Wow... Great photography!!!
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