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Day 4 of our roadtrip began at the Lady Evelyn Falls Campsite in the Northwest Territories (NWT). It had rained heavily during the night and so the day started out quite cool, which was fine as it kept down the flying insects. We were planning to make it to Yellowknife on this day, even with John and Ian driving the limit (110 kph / 65 mph), and agreed-upon frequent stops for photos, food, etc.
By this time, my co-travelers, who are coffee mavens, had devised a way to make coffee they liked by using the means they had: boiled water slowly poured into fresh coffee grounds that John brought, which were housed in a filter cased by a plastic funnel.
After breakfast and packing up our gear, we headed back onto Highway 1 North. The mileage (okay kilometers) is indicated on the side of the road all the way and the directional signs are clearly marked, making it easy for this navigator. My lap was filled with maps and info, and we traveled along a good road. However, someone appaarently managed to clip a road sign on the far side. We all speculated on how that could have happened
We were still in the parkland forest, heading toward the shield, and the trees were not sparse, but were much thinner and shorter than they had been even yesterday.
Passing through Kakisa (NWT), we switched over to Highway 3, known as the Heritage Route.
We rolled up and joined the queue for the Mackenzie River ferry. The Merv Hardie is a good sized boat that can hold four full factor trailers. When we crossed, there was only one trailer (parked directly in front of us) and the rest was cars. The ferry runs regularly and has no fee, which is wonderful. As this service is the only connection to the north on ground level, it is well kept and runs smoothly. It takes about 1o minutes to cross the river, and we roamed the ferry for the duration taking photos and stretching our legs. How much longer the ferry will run is in question as the province is building a bridge to replace the summer-only service (over the winter, once the ice sets, people just drive over the river on an ice road, though there is a month or so during setting and melting where the river is uncrossable). From what I understand it has taken years to get to where they are on building the bridge due to frequent workers strikes and short summer season availability, so when it will open is still in the "eventually" stage.
Once over the Mackenzie River, the road was now adjacent to the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary, which ran about 80 kilometers (50 miles) along the road. We were ready to see some buffalo, and hoped that would happen.
Ft. Providence was the first town, but we decided not to check it out, and stopped off at the Big River service station for some highly priced gas (and a snack). The station had a scary looking motel and bar (the latter was closed, and seemed to have people waiting for it to open). Outside the service station, three local teens sat and smoked, checking out the visitors).
After the fill-up of the car and the emptying of the bladders, we started on our way. Warning signs about buffalo started to appear often. As the visitor's guide says, "...the road is the northwestern edge of this huge range set aside for free-roaming wood bison. They are commonly seen along the highway... Treat these animals with respect; they may look slow and docile, but can move with amazing speed and aggression."
After about 20 minutes, sure enough, there was a bull just calming walking along the road. We drove on the wrong side (keeping attention for any oncoming traffic, which did not come) to give this majestic animal some room, and took pictures as we very slowly passed. I nicknamed him Cheektowaga, in honor of my friend in Buffalo, NY.
A few miles further, we came across a herd. This included a few bulls, more cows, and a number of calfs, who were still nursing. The young ones' horns had not come in yet, but they were starting, as there were black spots where the horns would emerge. The group seemed very nonplussed by our snapping away (we exited the of the car, but did not stray from it in case they charged). Ironically, perhaps, they were lounging across the road from the buffalo warning sign.
After many photos, we kept going, happy and chatty that we had the opportunity to see some wild bison. These wood bison are bigger than the prairie bison more common in Saskatchewan (on farms). Except for the occasional deer and rodent (e.g., squirrels, chipmunks), we didn't see much wildlife on the drive, not counting roadkill.
Just south of North Arm Territorial Park, we pulled over to enjoy the sea of wildflowers that grew along the road. The Great Slave Lake, which we had been circling around since Hay River, could be seen in the background. It was a lovely day that was clear and warm, but not hot. We were all very happy.
After crossing a steel double-hump bridge, we stopped off to check out the settlement of Edzo, located on the shore of Marian Lake (which feeds into Great Slave Lake). It was a small place, and we drove down the road to the river. We passed a couple of homes with tepees in front, a beat-up warehouse, and a series of houses in a row that would become similar sights in many of the towns we saw. From a dock on the lake, we could look back and see the bridge we had just crossed.
And, of course, back on the road, there was the inevitable construction. There is a joke that Canada has two seasons: winter and road repair; this appears to be truer the further north one goes and the shorter the season that infrastructure can be worked upon.
At the next town, a few miles off the main road, the larger Rae (also known as Edzo-Rae, and Behchoko), with a population of about 1500, we decided to drive through, and perhaps find a place to have lunch.
The community hall is run by the local Dene Dogrib Nation. The town was obviously not a rich one, and from what I understand to be plagued with drugs, but driving through it seemed like a peaceful - albeit financial struggling - place.
What I found amusing about this picture is the image of the hawk to scare away birds, and yet there is the seagull resting on the chimney.
This centre/center is run by the community, and is a help space, where the locals can get aid with employment, see counselors, and other social services.
Right next door is a restaurant. We saw it on the way into town, and figured if nothing else turned up, we could go there, which we did. Imagine our surprise when we entered and found out it was a Chinese restaurant. Along with general food, such as "pizza" and whitefish (which is what we three chose), there was also a range of Chinese cuisine. I found the restaurant interesting in the mixture of First Nations and Chinese imagy side by side. Most of the former material was for sale, the latter not. We did not buy any souviners, but we did enjoy what we ate. To be honest, we were a bit nervous about eating fish, but it proved to be pretty good (battered and deep fried). The gentleman who runs the place, who is also was the cook, is friendly and accomodating.
Back on Highway 3, you'll never guess what we found...
After we had passed over the bridge near Edzo, the road was surrounded by more and more large rocks, much of which had been blasted through to make way for the road (as is common to see in the Catskills and the Burkshires). We were entering the Shield.
There were signs warning of bears, but we never saw any, even on the side of the road. I had seen bears years before in Jasper (Alberta), and knew what to do: stay in the damn car!
Finally, we reached Yellowknife, and the first thing we did was to go to the campgrounds to set up, before going into town to explore and pick up some provisions. We went to the Fred Henne Park Campgrounds, which is right by the airport just on the outskirts of town. It was actually a very lovely spot. We were right next to a huge rock formation. John and I went climbed over the rocks and found ourselves at a beautiful beach, right on the campgrounds property (though we found out it was easier to walk around the rocks in the future, as the entranceway near us was locked, so we had to go to the far side to get in). Long Lake Beach is a private one, but anyone could buy a day pass, and many locals did just that.
Just beyond the far end of the fence is the rock formation that was near our tents.
We were worried about this guy sleeping on the beach. He was pale as a ghost, and we were speculating that he was going to be hurting when he woke up. But the seagull was certainly happy for the chance to grab some chow while he napped.
We took the Old Airport Road (aka, the long way) into Yellowknife so we could go all the way down the main road, Franklin Avenue, and see as much of the town as we could. We drove straight through downtown, and saw that the core was actually a pretty modern city with a population of about 20,000. We drove east, towards what's commonly known as Old Town.
Old Town is at the west end of a peninsula, and continues over a bridge to Latham Island, also known as Ndilo, a Dene-dense area. Just over the bridge in Ndilo, we got a little confused by the one way streets, and ended up at a dock on Mitchell Drive, which was actually a beautiful spot on the south shore. There was a dock filled with boats and seaplanes. Tindi Air is the main airline servicing the areas outside of the city, only accessible by plane in the summer. The seaplane below was being loaded up for a camping trip (note the canoe).
This building looks like it's sliding down the hill, but it is actually built that way (note the windows on the side). We were saying we would love to see the inside, and how it is designed. There is a lot of interesting and innovative construction in this city.
Seaplanes were abundant, as were houseboats.
Great Slave Lake is a tourist haven in the summer, with camping, boating, and hiking available. We were doing the sightseeing part, though we all agreed we wish we had the time to take some of the hiking trails. It was about 27C / 80F degrees while we were there.
Crossing back over the bridge onto the mainland, we stopped at the Pilots Monument, dedicated to avaitors who helped build the northern areas. Generally, it is known simply as "The Rock" (I'll wait while you work through your Dwayne Johnson puns). It is one of the highest natural points in the city, and the view is spectacular, and worth the climb.
The monument at the top is subtle, and modern looking (this version of it was installed in 1999).
This is looking back at the dock where we took some of the previous pictures (below the red and white Tindi Airlines building), and in fact, the plane taking off is the very one we saw getting loaded.
The view to Lathem Island in the east shows more rocks, a smaller community, and lots of water.
This view is western, leaning towards the south. Downtown can be seen in the distance, beyond the harbors for the recreational and fishing boats. The rest of The Rock dominates the bottom of the image.
To the south is the large Jolliffe Island, with smaller islands beyond, all of which are accessible only by boat (during the summer). The islands are scattered with small houses, and houseboats are a common site, in all shapes and sizes.
A woman and her dog gently and lesiurely paddle their way back to the mainland.
The Rock is one of the major tourist spots in the area, and rightfully so. This is one of my favorite pictures that I took in Yellowknife, also known simply as YK.
Another tourist magnet, very close to The Rock, is the Wildcat Cafe. It is a wood cabin restaurant that was built in 1937, serving the local population and pilots. After some repair in 1976, it was reopened as it appears today, a hotspot attraction. We decided to go in and check it out. It was hot and musty inside, with about six long and shared tables. There was one small table near the door and we grabbed it. A waitress came over for our order and I chose an iced tea, while John and Ian inquired about varieties of beer available. "Will you be having lunch as well?" she asked. When they said no, she informed us that we could not be served alcohol unless we had a meal, as well. So we left. I was not sorry to go, as I could see the beer was $10.50 a glass. Seems the Wildcat Cafe is also a tourist trap so they charge premium prices for a place that is crowded with no air conditioning. I don't mind touristy places, but cannot stand when they charge a premium for the "priviledge" of eating there. You hearin' me T.G.I.Friday's in Rockafeller Center (NYC)?!?!
As we drove back west down Franklin Ave. towards the supermarket, we found that even here there are tools. Check out the license plate:
In case you can't make it out, it says: "for you to envy." My response? For you to bite me.
After picking up some veggies, fruit, and the like for dinner at a supermarket on Old Airport Rd, we went back to the campsite. As we had our supper, a raven called out from the tree across our way. After we ate, we decided to walk back down to the beach, as it was getting late (around 10 PM). The sun was low, but would not set for hours yet, but it gave us a longer "golden hour," as the light shone though the flowers along the way.
We were not the only ones who decided to take in the late hour at the beach, as it was not crowded, but there was still plenty of people enjoying the longer day. Unfortunately, this also included some noisy jet-skiers.
The birds were making short work of the munchables left at the blankets while the people were in the water.
There was a sudden loud noise above us, and I swung the camera up just in time to get this shot of a plane heading toward the Back Bay of Greak Slave Lake, just over the ridge. Fortunately, as with many small cities, flights usually start more in the morning than in the evening, so we were not disturbed by the planes as we slept, even though we were right near the airport.
It was the end of another beautiful day.
We had driven 436 K / 271 miles today (including around town) and had come a total of 2244 K / 1394 miles so far on this journey. Tomorrow would be the half-way point, when we stay in town and explore a bit more of Yellowknife. It will be the only time we remain camped in one place for two nights in a row.