Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Nahanni ~ our flight-seeing tour

Nahanni National Park Reserve is the best known Northwest Territories park, and was the highlight of our visit there.

It is located in the southwest corner of  NWT, in the traditional territory of the Dehcho peoples.

We had heard of this beautiful natural area of deep river canyons, mountain ranges, huge waterfalls, hotsprings, and lakes...having read several books by Dick Turner set in the Nahanni. 

The park was originally established in 1972 with a total area of 4,766 square kilometres, became one of the world's first Unesco World Heritage sites in 1978,  and was expanded to 30,000 square kilometers in 2009.  UNESCO calls the Nahanni 'one of the most spectacular wild rivers in North America.'

The only way into Nahanni National Park is by helicopter or float plane...or maybe by foot, if you are a little crazy. We booked our flight months in advance with Simpson Air based in Fort Simpson and planned our vacation around it.

Our pilot for the day was Ted Grant, owner of Simpson Air. What a privilege to have him both at the controls and as our tour guide, with his vast knowledge of the area and decades of experience.  He came to Fort Simpson as an RCMP officer originally, fell in love with Nahanni and bought Simpson Air in 1981. His goal is to become the world's oldest bush pilot. I think he might just accomplish that.

We boarded the Cessna on the banks of the Mackenzie River, where we met a couple from Ontario who were our flight-mates for the day.  As it turned out, there were three float planes doing the 'Nahanni all-day tour' that day...and we met up at each of our stops.

We left Fort Simpson behind and then soared westward...

...over low swamplands and boreal forests

...and on to the canyons of the Nahanni.

The Nahanni River begins in the Mackenzie Range and winds it way through mountains and valleys before it empties into the Liard River.

We landed on the river just above Virginia Falls.  All was calm and peaceful here!

From there we walked to the falls...

...with a park ranger as our guide.

Virginia Falls drops some 96 meters (302 feet)...twice the height of Niagara Falls.  It was really quite spectacular!

We had lunch on a rock with a view...with a thundering river providing background music.

After lunch, we flew within arms length of the Cirque of the Unclimbables, a group of several cirques with 9000' granite peaks that drain through an alpine garden. First visited in 1955, these jagged rugged peaks were thought to be unclimbable.  Now they are a challenge to expert climbers from around the world.

There were hotsprings, geothermal ponds and Rabitkettle Tufa Mound...the largest tufa mound in Canada, standing thirty meters tall.  Thousands of years old, the mound is formed by thermal springs that bubble up from the volcanic ground, leaching calcium carbonate that hardens into a crust of tufa.

Our next stop was Glacier Lake.

Peaceful. Tranquil.

Until three float planes arrived.

It was also a fuel-stop.  Unless they gassed up, we would not be returning to Fort Simpson! That cabin-shed on the shore had a good supply of fuel...brought in by the barrel before the tourist season.  All that was needed was a Canadian Tire bucket, a funnel and a strong arm to fill up the tank. 

Oh, and one more thing.  Something on the wing needed fixing!  The owner sent the young Aussie pilot up to do the job.  And then, we were good to go.

We 'shared the chairs' at Glacier Lake, skipped rocks on the water, built Inukshuks,  and by the time the planes were serviced, it was time to go.  On to Little Doctor Lake...

...and Nahanni Lodge.  The lodge is nestled among the trees on the shore of  lake...a remote, private wilderness retreat.  It is owned and operated by Ted Grant, our pilot and the owner of Simpson Air.
A couple from Victoria, BC were staying there for several days, and came out to greet us as we landed. They were having the time of their life...and thought it would be a fabulous place for a family reunion.

As the day came to an end, we climbed back into our plane for the last leg...a flight of 100 kms. back to Fort Simpson.  Below us was the  Ram Plateau...grassy plains, deep canyons, as well as hoodoo and karst formations. We saw a group of Dall's sheep above the cliffs.

It was evening by the time we landed in Fort Simpson.  Our 6-8 hour day trip was extended to 10 hours.  And a most delightful 10 hours it was!

With only about 1000 visitors per year, we feel especially privileged to have had the opportunity to visit Nahanni National Park as Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

North of Sixty

The spectacular Northwest Territories...as they are billed...deserve another post.

We crossed the border into NWT and followed the 'waterfalls route' north.  We saw so many waterfalls that the names escape me already.  That is one reason why I need to blog our road trips...
when the memory fails, there is still a record!

Waterfalls #1.  Alexander Falls is the third highest falls in NWT and is n the Hay River in Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park.

We followed a two kilometer trail along the river and through the aspen groves...

Waterfalls #2:  Louise Falls

We spent the night in Hay River, known as 'the hub of the north'...

...where the Hay River empties into Great Slave Lake.  The first buildings in the town of Hay River were erected in 1869 by the Hudson's Bay Company.

Waterfalls #3:  McNallie Creek Falls was a short hike from the picnic area of a Territorial Park.

Waterfalls #4:  Lady Evelyn Falls will always be the 'falls of the bug plague' in our memory.  We hiked the trail, saw the falls and retreated in a big hurry!

At Fort Providence, we took a detour off the Mackenzie Highway and headed north to Yellowknife.  We were warned about this very rough stretch of highway, but found it better than expected. The highway passes through the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary...

...home of a free-ranging herd of the large wood bison. 

Welcome to Yellowknife...where an old Ward Air plane is suspended on a pole next to the highway.  The freighter was used to transport supplies to remote trading posts and was the first plane to touch down at the North Pole (in May of 1967).  Max Ward of Yellowknife was was the owner of Ward Air, which was once one of the largest airlines in Canada.  I remember flying on a Ward Air flight to Hawaii in the late seventies...and being served dinner on fine china.  Ward Air later became Canadian Airlines.

One of our first stops was the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, a museum that has it all---from biplanes to mining memorabilia and moose-skin boats.

It was a good way to meet all the northern animals face to face!

We arrived in Yellowknife on a Tuesday and checked out the weekly farmer's market in the town square.  We sampled Indian food and beef BBQ and shared a table with a student from Oxford university who had spent the summer in a remote Dene village of 40 people and was on her way back to England and civilization. We chatted with a couple from northern Alberta and discovered that we knew people in common. Spending a night in the city square on 'market Tuesday' was a great way to connect with both the visitors and the locals.

That evening we drove up the hill to Pilot's Monument, a popular lookout above Old Town with a fabulous view of Great Slave Lake.The monument itself is dedicated to the bush pilots who have lost their lives flying in the wilderness skies of Northwest Territories.

There is a 'houseboat village' out in the bay, and we chatted with another tourist from B.C. who was staying at a houseboat B&B.

The monument is high up on a rock...the great views are only for those who are willing to climb the hundreds of stairs.

Prospector's Trail is an easy two-hour loop trail  next to Long Lake that starts in Fred Henne Territorial Park, our headquarters while in Yellowknife.  Gold was discovered here in 1935, and the interpretive trail is a look into that time.  I can't say I have ever hiked trails before that were entirely over the rock.   Thankfully, the trail was well marked since it was impossible to see where anyone had walked previously!

We took in a free tour of the legislative assembly...a beautiful glass-domed building on Frame Lake.

We learnt a lot...about their government, the history, and even the building itself.  We saw the nine oil-paintings by A.Y. Jackson (featuring scenes from around Great Bear and Great Slave Lake) which have been hanging on the wall for years. They were donated to the territories in the 1940's and '50's and are priceless works of art.

We carried on past Yellowknife along the Ingraham Trail...to the waterfalls 'at the end of the road'.

Waterfalls #5: Cameron Falls was worth the trek out there.

We followed a trail along the Cameron River...

...where some were wading in the pools and others were fishing.

Above the falls, we crossed the river on a suspension bridge.

Prelude Lake is another lovely spot along the Ingraham Trail near Yellowknife.

After spending three delightful days in the Yellowknife area, we headed back towards the Mackenzie Highway.

We camped on the banks of the Mackenzie River and watched the barges moving cargo.

Waterfalls #6: Coral Falls along the Trout River is named for the fossils that are washed down the river each year.

Waterfalls #7: Sambaa Deh Falls is also on the Trout River and lies right beneath the bridge on the main highway...photo taken from the passenger window!

Next stop...Fort Simpson, where the Liard and Mackenzie rivers converge.  With a population of 1200, this is the largest community in the region. 

From beach volleyball on the river, to historic buildings, lovely gardens and ancient cemeteries...we enjoyed our walks about the town.

We observed that every vehicle is a truck.  Most drive a Ford.  No vehicles are clean. There is only one place to gas up.  There is only one place to buy anything...from soup to nuts to the kitchen sink.  It would take some getting used to...living in such a remote location.

The highlight of our time in Fort Simpson was our flight into Nahanni Park...which I will save for another post.

To come and go from Fort Simpson requires a ferry trip across the Liard River.  As you can tell, it wasn't too busy when we crossed.

Once we left Fort Simpson, we began the journey southward and homeward.  It's not something everyone would enjoy...driving hundreds of miles on gravel roads through northern forests.  But we did!

Seeing herds of bison roaming along the road was quite an amazing sight.

This post is plenty long enough, so let me leave you with one last shot...that of the sun setting on the Mackenzie River.