The Year-Round Road to Tuktoyaktuk Is Finally Complete

Long-time readers may remember the heady days of my Klondike summers, when I finally fulfilled my dreams of seeing Canada’s far north. Oh, those days seem so far away now, but they are some of the months I will remember most fondly in my old age. They taught me that dreams really do not have deadlines and that achieving them is particularly sweet after you’d given up hope. I may never again drive the Alaska, Klondike and Dempster Highways again, may never again see a show at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s or fly over Tuktoyaktuk’s pingos, but I did it!

Exploring the north is going to get a little easier for tourists because this coming Wednesday, November 15th, 2017, after years of delays, the all-year gravel road between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk is finally going to open. For the first time in Canada’s history, it will be possible to drive year-round to each of our three coasts.

I would like to invite you reread my series about Driving the Dempster Highway and to revisit the towns of Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk. I feel privileged to have done so and to have spoken to locals so that I know that while this year-round road will change life in Tuk, in some ways not for the better, this road is ultimately a Good Thing worthy of celebration.

Standing in the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, August 2010

Driving the Dempster: The Road Back Home Again

Being so sore from climbing out of the ice house, I was glad to have a comfy bed Thursday night! I slept well and late, figuring that I was in no rush since I was only heading to Eagle Plains and didn’t want to get there too early. But soon as I stepped out onto the deck with my coffee Friday morning to see a heavy, dark cloud cover I realised that I might have to change my plans.

I headed back into town to the visitors’ centre to get a road report. I found out that it had rained heavily at Eagle Plains a few days prior, but had since been dry, and that it would be raining from Friday night onward for at least three or four days. There was only one thing to do: squeeze through this window of good weather and decent road conditions and head straight home!!! I knew that a best case scenario would get me home in 12 hours. I bought some snacks and hit the road at 11AM. I’d bought gas the morning before, at 1.49!!!

My attitude on Friday was that I was going to get where I was going to get in the amount of time it was going to take and I wasn’t going to rush, stress out, or otherwise set myself up for an accident. Yes, I would be tired, but it was better to be fatigued in good circumstances than it would be to have a poor night at Eagle Plains and then be tired in bad circumstances.

To my surprise, the time passed quickly even if the kilometres didn’t and I took the time to make a few stops, stretch my legs, and talk to people. Every single person I spoke to was worried about my car making it through a stretch past Eagle Plains, but was also in agreement with me that my making a run to Dawson was a good idea.

At Eagle Plains, I took the time to get fuel, have a coffee, and be warned, yet again, about a bad stretch of road upcoming. I was getting pretty stressed out by this point, but had definitely reached the point of no return.

It didn’t take long for the gravel to turn to a muddy track. I slowed to a crawl and tried as best as I could to stay in the ruts laid by other vehicles. When I couldn’t, the car just slid around and I used my winter driving skills to stay in control. It wasn’t an awful experience, though, not like that one stretch of construction on the way in that had me driving over rocks just a bit taller than my car’s ground clearance (thunk, scraaaaaaaape, THUNK!). When I was pretty sure that stretch was done, I pulled over for a snack and then pushed on. Buying those new tires in Whitehorse really paid off on this drive!

Until this point, I’d literally been outracing storm clouds to the point that if I stopped for a second, I’d start to get rain splatters. Finally, the sky cleared and the sun came out in full force. The final stretch home, in familiar territory starting at Two Moose Lake, was easy. I emerged triumphant at the Dempster corner, tired, but not excessively so, and thrilled to have made such a difficult drive without incident. I pulled into home at 10PM, bang on 12 hours from my departure in Inuvik (remember the time zone change!).

dark skies heading out

dark skies heading out

even darker skies

even darker skies

the Mackenzie River ferry

the Mackenzie River ferry

the gal at the Inuvik visitor info centre said that Tsighetchic has a sign on the hill 'just like Hollywood, only smaller'. She was right. :D

the gal at the Inuvik visitor info centre said that Tsighetchic has a sign on the hill ‘just like Hollywood, only smaller’. She was right. 😀

waiting for the Peel River ferry

waiting for the Peel River ferry

the Peel River was quite choppy on the way back!

the Peel River was quite choppy on the way back!

fairly good shot of the Peel River cable

fairly good shot of the Peel River cable

good shot of the ferry cable

good shot of the ferry cable

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I somehow missed this 'veiw' point on the way in

I somehow missed this ‘veiw’ point on the way in

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after Eagle Plains, the gravel highway became a muddy rut for about a 100km.

after Eagle Plains, the gravel highway became a muddy rut for about a 100km.

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last of the big storm clouds

last of the big storm clouds

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kind of looks like a castle!

kind of looks like a castle!

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heading into a lunar landscape?!

heading into a lunar landscape?!

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the details my new camera captures boggles me!

the details my new camera captures boggles me!

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Three of these guys were having a party in the middle of the highway. They scattered when I showed up, but he came by and obligingly posed for pictures.

Three of these guys were having a party in the middle of the highway. They scattered when I showed up, but he came by and obligingly posed for pictures.

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so good to not be outracing the clouds anymore!

so good to not be outracing the clouds anymore!

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done!

done!

Driving the Dempster: Eagle Plains to Inuvik

I was up insanely early at Eagle Plains (sleeping on the ground will do that to you). I made some coffee and oatmeal, broke camp, and heading off around 7AM. There’s a time zone change to Mountain Standard Time when you hit the Northwest Territories, so I figured an early start would make up for the lost hour.

This second half of the Dempster has a lot of milestones. The first was, of course, the crossing of the imaginary line known as the Arctic Circle. We humans make such a fuss over other imaginary things like time and mathematics and borders, so why not a line around the earth? 🙂

Next, I crossed over into the Northwest Territories! I just have one province and one territory left to visit! Shortly after that, I had the second grizzly sighting of my life. I didn’t see much wildlife on this trip, but a grizzly more than made up for that!

A couple hours after Eagle Plains, I hit the first of the two ferries, that at the Peel River. The approach to it was incredibly steep and I scraped the whole bottom front of my car getting on. It was annoying to be getting the ‘hurry up!’ motion while I was trying to avoid making any damages worth mentioning! This ferry runs on a cable, shots of which I got on my return trip, so I will be returning to this place in a few posts.

After the ferry, I pulled into the Nitainlaii Territorial Park entrance to use the outhouse. Since I was there, I figured I might as well go into the interpretive centre and see what was what. The door wasn’t even open yet that I was cheerfully greeted by an Elder who was obviously eager to chat with someone new. We talked about road conditions and then he uttered some of the most beautiful words in the English language: “I have coffee.” I had a cup with hazelnut creamer and set back off.

I then came across the community of Fort McPherson, known for its canvas products such as tents and bags. The factory wasn’t open yet for public viewing and there wasn’t much else to see in this tiny town, so I pushed on towards the second ferry crossing.

The tiny village of Tsiigehtchic, at the confluence of the Arctic Red and Mackenzie Rivers, is a sight to behold; so picturesque with its white church and set against emerald greenery. I had thought to detour there, but the ferry approaches being what they were, I wasn’t too motivate to risk damage to the car.

This ferry crossing features a larger boat which travels in a triangular pattern: south shore of the Mackenzie, then Tsiigehtchic, then the north shore. As a side note, the Arctic Red River should not be confused with the more southern Red River that passes through Winnipeg.

The wait for this ferry was much longer than for the Peel River and I also had to detour to Tsiigehtchic to let off a car. When I saw that it had trouble getting off, I decided I’d made a good decision to not get off, too.

The Mackenzie River is the longest in Canada and the eleventh longest in the world. This is a fact that was drilled into me in my elementary geography classes and I was not disappointed by the river in the least! It is big and wide and most impressive.

There’s a nice view point (or veiw point according to the NWT) shortly before Inuvik. I enjoyed the short walk up to the lookout platform, where I was awed by all the trees! Where was the barren Arctic I’d read about?!

Some more kilometres passed and then, just like that, I hit pavement and the Inuvik airport. I felt so accomplished at knowing that I’d made it through the Dempster unscathed, but I never forgot that I’d have to do it again!

30 minutes from Eagle Plains, I crossed the fabled Arctic Circle

30 minutes from Eagle Plains, I crossed the fabled Arctic Circle

about the Arctic Circle

about the Arctic Circle

about the Arctic Circle

about the Arctic Circle

view at the Arctic Circle

view at the Arctic Circle

view at the Arctic Circle

view at the Arctic Circle

when I bought this car, I had no idea that it would take me to such wonderous places...

when I bought this car, I had no idea that it would take me to such wonderous places…

about the Arctic Circle

about the Arctic Circle

about the Arctic Circle

about the Arctic Circle

view at the Arctic Circle

view at the Arctic Circle

text about pingos (more on those in a later post)

text about pingos (more on those in a later post)

view at the Arctic Circle

view at the Arctic Circle

about the Arctic

about the Arctic

yet more about the Arctic Circle

yet more about the Arctic Circle

still more views at the Arctic Circle

still more views at the Arctic Circle

entering the Northwest Territories!!!

entering the Northwest Territories!!!

the Northwest Territories at last!

the Northwest Territories at last!

standing between the Yukon and the Northwest Territories

standing between the Yukon and the Northwest Territories

first glimpses of the NWT

first glimpses of the NWT

first glimpses of the NWT

first glimpses of the NWT

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grizzly!

grizzly!

grizzly!

grizzly!

grizzly!

grizzly!

on the Peel River ferry

on the Peel River ferry

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approaching Fort McPherson

approaching Fort McPherson

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Tsiigehtchic

Tsiigehtchic

confluence of the Mackenzie and Arctic Red Rivers

confluence of the Mackenzie and Arctic Red Rivers

the mighty Mackenzie

the mighty Mackenzie

waiting on the Mackenzie River ferry

waiting on the Mackenzie River ferry

waiting on the Mackenzie River ferry

waiting on the Mackenzie River ferry

waiting on the Mackenzie River ferry

waiting on the Mackenzie River ferry

this unfortunate spelling error was to be found at other points in my journey...

this unfortunate spelling error was to be found at other points in my journey…

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never thought I'd see trees like that this far north!

never thought I’d see trees like that this far north!

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and then, just like that, PAVEMENT!

and then, just like that, PAVEMENT!

and lane markers!

and lane markers!

what a drive!

what a drive!

Driving the Dempster: Eagle Plains Lodge

Eagle Plains is a complex located on a plateau. It was built in the late 1970s at about the same time the Dempster highway was completed. It is completely self-sufficient and self-contained. There is a service station, motel, lounge/bar, restaurant, apartments for highway workers, and a campground. It must have been a remarkable establishment back in its day, but now it is showing the signs of age and isolation. Still, the facilities are clean, if shabby, and the staff is friendly. A tent site cost me $15.75, including free hot showers, and remarkably good food is available at the restaurant at reasonable prices. A beer with a fancy chicken burger (real breast meat with fried onions, cheese, and BBQ sauce), fries, dessert, tip, and taxes came to $23.

I spoke to the server at the restaurant about life at Eagle Plains. She’s a student for whom this is her third summer at the lodge. She says she never gets bored, what with work, hiking, and photography to be done. I asked her if she is more likely to go north or south on her days off and she said north, claiming the scenery is prettier and that there are more services in Inuvik than Dawson.

It was very windy at Eagle Plains, with the evening, night, and morning being quite cool, but comfortable enough for sitting out while dressed in a reasonable number of layers.

I got gas before going to bed and blanched at the cost–$1.39!

This tiny tent is the one I use when I'm setting up and taking down daily. I have one that's almost bigger than my RV for extending camping in one location.

This tiny tent is the one I use when I’m setting up and taking down daily. I have one that’s almost bigger than my RV for extending camping in one location.

these rocks represent latitude marks, including the Antarctic and Arctic Circles, and the Equator

these rocks represent latitude marks, including the Antarctic and Arctic Circles, and the Equator

motel

motel

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service station

service station

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view of the motel

view of the motel

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What a neat RV! I love how much ground clearance it has. The licence plate appeared to be German.

What a neat RV! I love how much ground clearance it has. The licence plate appeared to be German.

5:30am at Eagle Plains

5:30am at Eagle Plains

5:30am at Eagle Plains

5:30am at Eagle Plains

breakfast at Eagle Plains (that little stove and I have done some serious traveling together!)

breakfast at Eagle Plains (that little stove and I have done some serious traveling together!)