Inuvik and Back

Inuvik Travel Blog

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Arctic Circle
The drive out of the States was fast and straight forward.  I avoided Interstate-5 throughout California and stuck to Hwy-101 through the heart of San Francisco, across the Golden-Gate Bridge (where on average one jumps off every two weeks, but I just saw joggers along the span’s promenade), through Marin County, up to Eureka (102F), Crescent City, and into Oregon, ending at Grants Pass.  The next morning I submitted to I-5 until Portland, then detoured east to Multnomah Falls (stopped to hike the one mile trail up to fall’s head), crossed the Columbia Gorge above Bonneville Dam, and returned west along the river’s north bank to Vancouver (that’s Vancouver, Washington).
Dempster Highway
  Day three took me north to Seattle, where I had made a low-ball priceline.com reservation to stay at a five star hotel.  But the hotel overbooked, so they put me up for free across the street at a two star Red Roof Inn, which suited me fine since the travel style was geared to be more on the cheap (I carried a large cooler filled with bread, peanut butter, fruit, milk, etc. into which I would replenish free ice from the motels).  That afternoon was spent walking around the city.  I took the monorail to downtown and the fish market off Elliot Bay, saw the original Starbucks (was disappointed that the inside was refurbished to look identical to all the chains), then went back to the hotel.  I woke up early the next day to get out of the city before rush hour, but took the wrong exit when heading north which wasted thirty frustrating minutes while trying to regain course, crossed into British Columbia at Sumas, and checked in with Immigration while the car was searched.  “Where are you going?”  “How long will you be here?”  “Who are you staying with?”  “Any firearms?”  “Any tobacco?”  “Importing any items for wholesale?”  “Where are you going?”  (Yes, they asked that twice.)  Drove east, then north along Canadian Hwy-1, through Hope (“Welcome to Holidayland” -roadside sign) and into the Fraser River Gorge, which looked amazing with breathtaking views of upper vistas.  Between tall canyon walls the highway and railroad were channeled north in search of the river’s glacial source.   It was hard to drive and look at the same time along this twisting passage.  But the landscape eventually faded into a high desert motif with sage brush, reddish brown clay, and speed traps.  The day finished at Prince George, British Columbia (Gramma’s Motel offered the best ice during the whole trip).  Since I was making good time, on the fifth day I took a less direct path and headed northeast for Dawson Creek, in order to take a photograph of the "mile-0" marker on the Alaskan Highway, then I joined ranks and headed north by northwest (“All those who hate speeding tickets, raise your foot”).  North of Prince George, the ranchers’ fencing along the highway eventually tapered out and the wilderness opened, guarded by spruce and fir.  Before nightfall, I rolled over Summit Pass, met a grizzly cub, and saw beautiful mountain lakes, some of which were created by beaver dams, though I did not see any beavers.  But that evening I did see a lot of wildlife - the most for one day.  There was a small gray wolf (at first I thought it was a coyote, but when I saw two coyotes later in the trip, I figured it must have been a wolf, or possibly a stray, disguised as a wolf), several moose (meese?), and Dall’s sheep (big horns) with fawn.  Spent the night at the Northern Rockies Lodge on a shore off Muncho Lake, squeezed between the mountains near the Continental Divide.  The sun was starting to set noticeably later, slinking away around eleven o’clock.  Up at dawn, I walked to the lake’s edge to ponder (Californians use the word meditate, but they are a flaky sort), then drove up to Yukon Territory, passing a black bear, wild herd of bison, and a sprinting fawn along the way.  Lunched at Watson Lake, where I explored the sign post forest for forty-five minutes to discover Austin, Lampasas (where my mother grew up on a farm), and San Jose.  Afterward, I left the Alaskan Highway’s caravan of caravans and headed north on Yukon Hwy-4, the Campbell Highway, which was a gravel road less traveled, which I would use as a trial run.  If I survived this route, then I should make it to the end of the line - but I almost didn’t.  The early afternoon and evening was very peaceful.  Except early onto the road when I passed a few construction trucks and a motorcyclist, all heading south, I was alone the whole time.  Need a washroom?  No need to pull over - just stop in the middle of the road.  Want to take a picture of the endless forest?  No need to pull over - just stop in the middle of the road and climb on the roof of your car to see as far as you can see.  I glimpsed either the massive MacKenzie Mountains in the distance, or the dwarfed Logan Mountains in the not so far distance.  Arrived in Ross River to spend the night.  Ross River turned out to be a depressing First Nations town (First Nations is one of Northwest Canada’s larger Native American clans).  After filling up at the best (read only) gas station in town, buying milk at the best (read only) general store in town, checking into the best (read only) motel in town, and eating dinner at the best (read only) restaurant in town, I walked down to the best river in town (the Pelly, which begins where the Ross and Hoole, the other two rivers just outside town, meet).  The river had a cool suspension footbridge that was roped across late during the Second World War by the US Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to build a direct pipeline from the Norman Wells oil fields because of the uncertainty over the war’s duration.  The project was abandoned after The Bomb, but the bridge remains, and still works (I tested it four times!).  While exploring it, I was accosted by a drunk First Nationnite (Nationer?) who proceeded to ask the same set of questions to which I had already deposed my answers with the border agent.  One peculiar question he asked, to which I must have responded correctly, was whether I was with the others?  (no.)  He then wanted me to get in his car so he could drive me around.  He did not seem to appreciate that I had been in a car for eight hours already that day.  In my mind, I was not prepared to meet the best (I wouldn’t read only) graveyard in town.  A similar occurrence happened on Easter Island, and I've learned to never mess with anyone who has nothing left to lose.  Then, miraculously, I was saved by Jesus.  A group of high school missionaries from Minnesota who were in town to rebuild the church arrived at the river with poles in hand, no longer fishers of men.  Safety in numbers, I stuck with “the others.”  There were about a dozen kids in all, and for some reason, because I was holding a camera, each one when introduced would ask with awe if I was a photographer (with difficulty, I refrained from inquiring whether they were fishermen).  We crossed the Pelly with their First Nations guide, Sharon, who hiked us to Old Ross River, where the First Nations local tribe lived before the footbridge was built (the Canadian government moved everyone south of the Pelly in order to provide better basic medical services).  The former town was now a field with one cabin left standing.  We saw that Old Ross River (the town) was located off the Ross River (the river), and that the new Ross River (the town) retained the original name despite being located off the Pelly River (the river).  After casting around Ross River (the river) for a few hours we headed back to Ross River (the town).  As we approached, we were greeted by loud music, and crossing the bridge we could see our local hero now joined by three buddies drinking it up while listening to the car stereo.  Landing off the footbridge, the kids led me up a back trail through the woods and away from the party, being held where the main road dead-ends at a ferry landing.  After winding through the forest to the pastor’s house, I gave thanks and quickly departed.  I had to hurry past two more blocks and cross the main road to reach the motel in broad ten o’clock daylight.  When I reached the motel, I could hear my stalker’s car cruising around.  I dodged behind the building and hid opposite each side of the motel to avoid detection as the car searched the circumference of the square.  He (they?) drove away after circling the block once.  I quickly entered my room, on the first floor, bolted the door, and vowed not to turn on any lights.  Luckily the lot where the car was parked was away from the entrance to my room, so it would not signal my hiding place, but I was frightened that the California license plates would attract vandals during the night.  Resigned to fate, I dressed for bed.  But just as I was to lie down, someone started wrestling with the door handle outside.  “I can’t get it open!”  “Try again.”  “No it won’t work.”   Nervously, I called out for who it was, and to my relief, it was the proprietor’s husband trying to check in a late arrival.  He did not realize that my room was already taken.  But in those few banging seconds I thought I was to meet my maker.  I raced out of bed by five o’clock the next morning and got the hell out of there, and with a full tank of adrenaline over the fact that the car was not tampered.  Back on the Campbell Highway, I collected different leaf samples (eleven in all) while heading northwest to Carmacks (where paved road was regained), then up to Dawson City, north along the Klondike Highway (Hwy-2).  Dawson was the best town discovered during the whole trip, and a welcome repose from the previous evening.  This was the main mining town during the Yukon Klondike gold rush.  Following in the footsteps of Jack London, I explored a preserved town of mud streets and boardwalks.  Several residents, including the town drunk, though for him perhaps not by choice, were dressed in character, like at Williamsburg, Virginia, but circa 1897.  I didn’t take the opportunity to visit the saloons or can-can dance halls, but visited the arts and crafts shops, London’s restored (and relocated) cabin, and the general town layout, which was nestled between a mountain ridge and the joining of the Klondike and Yukon rivers.  The drive so far had been through thousands of hectacres of spruce, fir, maple and pine.  And though the tree line was still active at this latitude, a lot of the area outside of town was laid to waste from the miners’ dredging operations.  This was more depressing than the observed forest fires and tree harvesting - miles of rubble alongside the road from which nothing can (or has over the past fifty plus years) regrow.  On the eighth day, I began the last leg of the journey north, and started rolling down (up?) the Dempster Highway (Hwy-5), named after the Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman who found the remains of the “lost patrol”, a troop of RCMP that became disoriented and perished in a blizzard in the early twentieth century.  The Dempster Highway is notorious for being unforgiving, and though I saw spectacular views of Tombstone Mountain, an adult moose, and distant forest fires, such sites where paid for with a destroyed tire, cracked headlight, and pocked windshield.  I crossed the Arctic Circle after lunch, and was then windswept into the Northwest Territory and over the grassy Richardson Mountains, which were obscured by clouds.  A drizzle started and continued for the next three hours.  The road became slippery in the areas where gravel was not used.  I had to reduce speed to avoid sliding off the road's embankment.  After thirteen hours (not counting the crossover into the Mountain Time Zone), I arrived at the Arctic Chalet outside Inuvik.  This nice cabin resort was run by Judi and Olav, whose other business was training sled dogs.  Finally, I had arrived to where the sun wouldn’t set.  I fought weariness to stay up past midnight in order to take a picture of the kennels, and then crashed.  The road ends at Inuvik during the summer because the permafrost becomes too boggy on the surface and any road further north would be too expensive to maintain.  The following morning was spent joining a tour group and chartering a flight across the last hundred-twenty kilometres to the Arctic Ocean.  The tour group was five in number, and we traveled twenty minutes in a small plane tossed and whipped by the polar winds, which encouraged me to leave half my stomach in a bag.  The coastal village where the pilot landed us was Tuktoyaktuk.  We arrived by four o’clock, and an Inuit Tuk resident, Ricky Mas, picked us up and showed us the sites, which included an Anglican Church, a Roman Catholic Church, and a Pentecostal Church (we stopped and were allowed inside all but the Pentecostal church).  I asked our guide (who turned out to be Pentecostal) what traditions were followed before the missionaries arrived.  He replied Medicine Men and Shamans where used, but that romanticized way of life “was abandoned long ago.”  We were brought to the ocean, and everyone duly dipped their toes in.  Oh boy, it was cold!.  We all received certificates signed by Mr. Mas authenticating our venture.  When we flew back, I left the other half of my stomach in another bag.  In Inuvik, no one had the right tire size that I needed, so I settled with a used odd-ball that was at least the same height, but an inch wider.  Unfortunately, much of the return trip down was spent searching for an exact fit, and it wasn’t until I returned to Seattle that I was able to end the quest at a dealership.  But between then and Inuvik, I jogged down to Whitehorse and relaxed in Yukon’s capital for two nights, seeking out all of the museums and tire stores, skirted through Carcross, and landed in Skagway, where I ate dinner at the Red Onion, a restored brothel from the gold rush days (took the five dollar tour upstairs with the Madam), and then jumped aboard the Alaskan Marine Highway ferry.  Adding a southern voyage through the Inner Passage to the trip allowed me to relax from driving.  I read a lot in my cabin berth, and attended several of the Tongass National Forest Service lectures in the observation deck, spotted several humpbacks, one porpoise and one bald eagle, and chatted with an elder Swiss couple whom I had bumped into twice previously, once at a roadside ice cream stand (Penny's at Pelly Crossing, which sported an eclectic outhouse with phrases pasted on the inside walls like, “Have you ever just ignored directions and followed your heart” and “Do what works for you”) and again along a short hiking trail leading from the Klondike Highway down to the Five Fingers Rapids on the Yukon River.  My car was loaded first onto the ferry, so for departure on the second morning I was the first to roll away onto the harbor at Prince Rupert, British Columbia.  I was checked by a black bear and her cub as they crossed the road while I drove back to Prince George to check into Gramma’s again (gotta love that ice).  A tire dealership in Whitehorse had called ahead to Prince George and verified that a tire would be waiting for me in Prince George in four days.  But I arrived on Sunday, and the following Monday turned out to be BC day.  I found this out when the checker in a grocery store asked, “Are you enjoying your three day weekend?”  What!?  I turned to a gruff man behind me and asked if he thought the tire store I sought would be open tomorrow.  “Not a chance in hell.”  So I went to bed early at eight o’clock in order to wake up at four o’clock the next day (34F).  I wanted to arrive in Seattle in time to reach the dealership before the service center closed, which I did.  So other than the ferry ride, the way back was distracting because of the tire search, which seemed to dictate the direction for each day.  I would have like to cut into upper Alaska and maybe have reached Fairbanks, or travel further east through Jasper and into Northern Idaho when heading south (but that wouldn’t have been possible anyway because of the conflagrations that were spreading all across Southeast British Columbia and Northern Idaho that summer).  While returning south, the Fraser River Gorge wasn’t so spectacular anymore; where did all those billboards and power lines come from?  In Seattle, I stayed at a friend of a friend’s house, drove across the Floating Bridge to Bellevue and photographed the apartment my parents lived in when I was born (now occupied by a first generation family from China), and returned to Seattle to explore the park around the Space Needle.  Tuesday I drove southeast in order to pass through Roslyn, Washington (aka Cicely, Alaska from Northern Exposure television fame), entered Oregon by recrossing the Columbia River, this time at Biggs, raced with truckers across the rolling high prairies and forested volcanoes of central Oregon, and slid into California at Dorris, where I was able to keep my last apple and tomato because the agriculture inspection station was closed!  The last night on the road was spent in McCloud, under the shadow of Mt. Shasta, at the property owned by my San Jose neighbors, who drove up to meet me.  We spent the next day touring their favorite fishing holes.  By two o’clock we parted, and I booked home.  Home!!!  Ahhhh.  And so, months later I've finally recuperated enough to write this down and relay it to you.



Oh, I also saw these creeks:

 Moose  -  Dry  -  Willow  -  Clear  -  Dick  -  Mink  -  133  -  Crooked  -  158  -  Flat  -  Beaver Dam  -  Göring  -  Meadow  -  Rock  -  Glacier  -  Benson  -  Red  -  Engineer  -  Davies  -  Stone Boat Swamp  -  Joey  -  Neilo  -  McCabe  -  Tatchun  -  Legate  -  Big Oliver  -  Little Oliver  -  Flint  -  Boulder  -  Trout  -  Price  -  Robertson  -  Spring  -  St. Croix  -  Bregen  -  Igneous  -  Cowley  -  Wolf  -  McGregor  -  Bear  -  Lewes  -  Swamp  -  Dall  -  Summit  -  Log  -  Talus  -  Antogonish  -  Inver  -  Kleanza  -  Margonish  -  Marble  -  Basalt  -  Mason  -  Agate  -  Backwater  -  Sour  -  Fishtrap  -  Johnson  -  Ebony  -  Stone  -  Silver Hope  -  4 Mile  -  10 Mile  -  Texas  -  Soda  -  Witney  -  Squaw  -  Jewett  -  Thomes    Mud  -  Gay    Brannin  -  Moore  -  Wilson  -  Rice  -  South Fork Willow  -  Burbank  -  Buregh  -  Schram  -  Hambright  -  Selah  -  Hall  -  Lmuma  -  Cache  -  Dawson  -  Walnut  -  Danger  -  James  -  Frog  -  Cabin  -  Caribou  -  Cambell  -  Hunker  -  Mill  -  Watson  -  McDonald  -  Tom  -  Lucky  -  Simpson  -  99 Mile  -  Caesar  -  Money  -  Light  -  Vanvibber  -  Finlayson  -  Little Campbell  -  Horton  -  Starr  -  Bruce  -  Little Ketza  -  Beautiful  -  Grew  -  Buttle  -  Bearfeed  -  6 Mile  -  Pea Soup Creek  -  Ying Yang  -  Cash  -  Scout Car  -  Grizzly  -  Foxy  -  Rusty  -  Sulphur  -  Big Engineer  -  Fly Camp  -  1st  -  2nd  -  3rd  -  4th  -  5th  -  Pooley  -  Conrad  -  Horse  -  Deep  -  Partridge  -  French  -  Bear  -  Beaver  -  Bougie  -  Adsett  -  Jackfish  -  Raspberry  -  Steamboat  -  Peterson, #1  -  Prochniak  -  Washout  -  Teeter  -  Army  -  Lequil  -  Contact  -  Iron  -  Hayfield


October, 2003
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Arctic Circle
Arctic Circle
Dempster Highway
Dempster Highway
Inuvik
photo by: cvanzoen