Posts Tagged ‘Mackenzie River’
We woke clean and refreshed to a breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast and coffee. Moe and Brenda then took us on a driving tour (in one of their two big diesel pickups) around the town to see views, to meet Moe’s eldest sister Elizabeth (making ground moose) in her house, to see the elevated and heated ‘utilidor’ service system and the igloo-shaped church.
After our tour Kristi and I went for a walk in the lovely sunshine (noting our long our shadows were at noon) into various gift shops and such in the ‘downtown’. We ended up only buying some cards (to thank our house sitters) and some postcards (which we wrote and mailed promptly).
The best part of the day, and likely the highlight of our trip, came in the mid-afternoon. Moe invited us to visit his family cabin up the East Channel. The five of us (Shadow the lab retriever joined us) hooked up the boat trailer and headed to the river. The boat was launched and we piled it. We were treated to a beautiful 45-minute ride upstream by the channels and islands of the massive Mackenzie Delta. Shadow stood nose in the wind, ears flapping, doing circles of excitement as we motored past ice-eroded banks and the spruce trees of the delta.
The cabin sat next to the ancient cabin of Moe’s granny on a lovely piece of land overlooking a bend in the river. It’s a series of old and new structures – cabins, outhouses, sheds – set in a clearing above the riverbank and bordered by spruce and willow trees. A swing set and toys suggest the grandkids are brought up a lot. It’s used year-round; accessed in summer by boat and in winter by skidoo.
We spent a wonderful afternoon there, hitting golf balls into the river (with Shadow chasing down the ones that didn’t make it that far), driving cider and red wine, playing horseshoes, and grilling delicious moose burgers over a fire pit. The most reluctant to leave was Moe, even though he’ll likely return tomorrow.
We took the long way back, detouring up narrow channels to visit Minto Lake, to see beaver (successfully), and to search for moose (no sign). The sun had ducked behind high clouds and we were chilled by the time we returned to Inuvik, but we were thrilled with our experience and Moe and Brenda’s generosity.
We relaxed at the house, chatting and warming up, then shortly after dark drove the short distance to Elizabeth’s house. Elizabeth and Frieda, another sister, were there, and they put on a spread of Inuvialuit delicacies: dryfish (smoked and dry from the river), chunks of caribou, and muk-tuk, which is beluga whale skin. We tried them all (how could we not?), and I’d have to say the dryfish and caribou were very tasty. Caribou is a strong meat, a bit like roast beef and venison together. The muk-tuk I was less a fan of (hard to put the image of a beluga out of my mind). It was chewy and cold and fatty. Moe loves the stuff, however, and ate most of the plate himself. Elizabeth also gave us a jar of her delicious home-made local cranberry jam!
Tumblers full of Gato Negro red wine were poured and consumed (Frieda had rum and cokes), the guitar came out, plus spoons from Moe, and songs were sung, starting with ones from their childhood in Aklavik, then into others about po’ folk and then some Johnny Cash.
Around 11pm, it was decided it was time to head to the Mad Trapper, one of two bars in town. A very wobbly Moe was talked into giving up the keys to his truck to Kristi and we drove downtown (1km?). The Trapper is an unpolished place stocked with locals (there are only locals in Inuvik after August). A band played classic rock covers and enthusiastic folks danced. Kristi and I were forced up for a few numbers, and I had a few dances with Frieda. Moe and Brenda showed us how it was done with some two step action. Kristi was asked to dance a couple of times by a local girl (perhaps a relative). We stayed long enough to drink a couple of rounds. Moe was wobblier and unbelieving when it was time to go, and Frieda (the only one to go to work the next morning) was disappointed it was all ending so soon.
The hotel was on an island surrounded by clouds when we woke up. We decided to treat ourselves to a breakfast in the hotel restaurant. The server/cook whipped us up a couple of delicious veggie omelets with toast and coffee for a pretty reasonable price given the remoteness of the hotel. After settling up, we perused the lounge, stuffed full of stuffed critter – moose, bear, lynx, caribou, and so on. We gassed up and headed on our way.
We quickly dropped down to the Eagle River, climbed a bit, then emerged from boreal forest into tundra as we contoured around the Richardson Mountains to our right. The mountains are completely unglaciated, a grassy oasis during the last ice age called Beringia. They are rounded, eroded only by streams and wind. The rolling tundra is part of the migration route of the Porcupine caribou herd although we didn’t see any on our drive.
We climbed up to the Continental Divide for the third and final time on the Dempster. At the Wright Pass we stopped to gave over the tundra and the mountains of the divide, then crossed the border into the Northwest Territories. About 1km later I spotted a fat male grizzly waddling across the land. We stopped and scoped him with the binoculars as his rump made its way away from us.
The tundra gave way to the Mackenzie Lowlands when we dropped down to the ferry crossing at the Peel. After this short ride, the land returned to boreal forest and the roads improved somewhat. The land rolled only gently from her to the end of the road.
After about 10kms we came to Fort McPherson, a ramshackle little place where we stopped for gas and mailed a postcard. We’d be told we could empty our tanks here, but the only option to do so was out in the “Nuisance Yard”, a.k.a. the dump, just past the town. We pulled the van up next to the fetid sewage lagoon and emptied the hose into it.
Sixty kms further we came to the Mackenzie River, one of the 10 longest rivers in the world (1600kms). One-fifth of Canada is the river’s watershed. It was monumental, rolling its grey way to the Beaufort Sea. We had considered it a possible turn-around point, but Inuvik seemed so close (125kms), the day was long, and the weather was gorgeous, so we drove onto the ferry and continued on. It would have been very disappointing to have turned around, and we would have missed out on an incredible experience, which I will get to.
The rest of the Dempster was easy driving – well-graded, straight, and relatively flat. About 10kms outside of Inuvik we hit asphalt (!) for the first time in 700kms. The town itself is clean, colourful and attractive, nicely situated on the East Channel of the Mackenzie. It even has a traffic light (!). We drove through the town to the territorial campsite on the edge of town, but found it closed down for the season, which was somewhat surprising and disappointing. All the campsites leading into down were closed too. Not only did we need a place to stay, we needed water for our tank; it was almost empty. Plus we wanted showers.
We drove around looking for options. We dropped by a hotel to consider prices, and we scouted around for possible places to just park for the night. We returned to the closed campground and seriously considered just parking in the driveway in front of the locked gate.
Kristi ducked under the gate to scout around, and I stepped out of the van. In the distance I heard a man’s voice, but wasn’t sure where it was directed or where it was coming from. When Kristi came back, we heared it again. “It closed on September 1st!” he said. “Come on over here and park in my driveway!”
So we did, and this is how we met Moe and Brenda.
When we pulled into his driveway, Moe came down the stairs and introduced himself, and said that we were more than welcome to bunk at his place – have a shower and sleep in their guest room. It was a wonderful example of northern hospitality.
Moe brought us inside and gave me a goblet of wine, and sat us down on the couch to chat in front of the TV. Which we did. After some time, Brenda, his wife, emerged from the bedroom after a late-night nap, and was somewhat surprised to find us there, but also very welcoming. We had showers and slept in clean sheets in warm room.
We learned more about Moe and Brenda over the next day and a half. Moe is half Danish and half Inuvialuit. He is young for a grandfather, grew up in Aklavik on the Peel River side of the Mackenzie Delta on of twelve kids in a one-room cabin, and has a warm sense of humour. He’s a hunter and an outfitter. Brenda’s parents were teachers in Inuvik, but have since moved south to Vancouver. They were married about four years ago in the Bahamas, and many of their vacations are spent in the Caribbean.
They are some of the nicest and kindest folks I’ve met.