These two days fit perfectly into my blog photo lesson “Water”:“A source of life. A place of recreation. A calming presence, but also a destructive force…We have different relationships to and stories about water: how it has saved or defeated us. How it reminds us of family vacations, outdoor adventures, or the hot summers of our childhood. How it might also symbolize a place we’ve left behind, or a location we dream to go….How will you interpret this theme? How can you tell a story with water?”
My story today is about the waterfalls of the Deh Cho Route (Dehcho mean’s Waterfall in the Dene (South Slavey people) and Métis language) . Along this route here are numerous places to pull of and find these magnificent falls. I never expected to see canyons in this area.
Sambaa Deh Falls
I was taken by the beautiful sights but the dogs kept themselves busy sniffing and exploring. I should have predicted that Nickel would find dead vermin to entertain herself. She was determined to tease Eureka and TinTin with it.
I think it was a muskrat.
The next day we came across an even larger fall. It was quite spectacular. Some of the Poodle Petroglyphs were taken here.
Lady Evelyn Falls
can you find the Poodles below?
Evidence of a variety of wildlife living on the river. I couldn’t believe the teeny mouse tracks… followed by the fox tracks!
We found a way down to the river but the poodles decide that it was too steep and scary. I think they read the signs.
You can see Eureka’s concern by her yawn… a typical sign of stress in a dog.
Steps to the river
→Exploring the Burn Area←
I never thought that I’d want to walk through the gray chars of a ravaged forest, but as the Poos and I settled in I became more and more curious. To my surprise I didn’t find it depressing but somewhat mystical and certainly fascinating. There was an unusual open and airy quality to this forest and because of this I felt comfortable letting the dogs run without restriction. Normally I take my backpack with at least a compass, water and jackknife but considering the obvious clear view of the camper I decided simply keep an eye on it as we explored. The skeleton of the forest was captivating with its unexpected art created by burned and sooty forms.
→Poodle Color Pallet←
This was a hike more rich in texture than hue and my curiosity propelled me further in to the woods. The fire had triped even the rocks of their shrouds, leaving what looked like carved veins where roots might have been and a labyrinth of loose sand and skeletal rock formations where even the soil had been melted away. Like a cat, my curiosity pulled me into the microcosm and macrocosm of this depleted forest. Despite my presumed wilderness experience I finally looked up and realized that the 360 degree view of charred tree trucks around me all looked the same. I was lost in the midst of 100s of acres of wilderness. In a childlike attempt to be rescued by my dogs, I instructed them to “go home,” “find the car” and “Load up.” The dogs leapt forward with inspired enthusiasm only to be quickly distracted by some new smell. They were useless. I walked a few hundred yards in each direction North, South, East and West. No view looked familiar and in fact every direction looked identical. I returned to my original spot to think. I assessed my options: it was probably around 3pm and I had at least 5 hours of light, I had plenty of time to find the camper… or plenty of time to wander even deeper into the hundreds of acres of abandoned burned out forest and the temperatures were mild. I knew that the most critical thing was to not go further until I got my bearings. The sky was over cast preventing me from calculating direction by the sun’s position. Just as was feeling the stirring of panic, I heard the distant sound of a semi approaching from my left. I might not hear another one for the rest of the day and knew this was my chance. If I could find the road I could hike up it to the camper. Considering the acoustics, it took a little effort to pin point it’s location before I lost it. I moved forward with hesitation because the sound was telling me to go in the opposite direction that I thought I should go. Wow was I turned around! After about 10 minutes I crested a hill and saw the very tippy top of the smooth white camper. Never have I been so happy to see that ugly old eye sore. I was lost for only about a half hour but it felt like eternity. So I learned a valuable lesson, one that I thought I had known and respected decades ago. Don’t leave the sight of the truck without my gear, not one step. Not one, “I’m just going to check around that bush ’cause I know exactly where I am.” Period.
→We call it a Day←
A rare bridge in these parts
made almost entirely of wood
We’re now on the East-West Highway (Highway 1) that will bring us to YellowKnife. This is a part of the loop that joins the Liard and Mackenzie Highways.
Click the map
The red lines above represent the connecting roads that make up some of the Deh Cho Route. I ended up traveling the entire loop minus the Alaska Highway portion between Dawson Creek and Fort Nelson (which was also the only section of the Alaska Highway that I haven’t traveled). The upper portion is the last of this loop that isn’t paved.
If you’re interested in traveling this gravel section of the Deh Cho Route you’d better do it soon. As we speak, they are paving the road. I’m sure it’s great for the truckers and locals who come through here, but I find the pavement worse to drive than the gravel and much less interesting.
Due to all the freezing and thawing
the paved roads are a series of bumps, jumps and undulating rolls.
At the northern intersection of highway 1 and the Liard Trail I had the choice of either heading west (60 miles out of my way) toward Fort Simpson or head East toward my objective. It might seem like a no-brainer, but I KNEW there was gas in Fort Simpson and not sure if the only town en route eastward would. This has been a concern in other areas of Northern Canada. I’ve made an effort to fill at every opportunity and I’ve still had a few close calls despite getting about 300 miles to a tank. So here I sat trying to decide what to do. I’d only travelled about 50 miles since my last fill up, but how far would the next station be? According to my map, there is a small town another 30 miles east (going in the direction I want to go) and I assume there will be gas there.
I decide to skip Fort Simpston and continue on my way. Little did I know that the ‘Little Town” marked on the map was an ancient and CLOSED gas station.
Last year multiple large fires swept through this area. One was so fierce it was able to jump the 3 mile wide Mackenzie River. Here are a few pictures of what this area looked like ablaze. The devastation was obvious as we traveled the road. There wasn’t a bit of green on the trees and the area was void of wildlife.
The poodles and I decided that 4 hours on the Liard Bump and Grind was plenty so we called it quits for the day. We stopped for the night in a burned clearing. Of course we didn’t get to bed without a good hike in the ‘woods.’
To Be Continued…
The Liard Trail = 237 miles of gravel road
“The Liard Trail is an all-weather gravel road (392km/ 236miles) maintained by the Government of the North West Territories. Services are limited: carry extra fuel and supplies, make sure tires and equipment are in good condition.”
During the last section of the Alaska Highway, before the turn off to the Liard, I finally saw a small herd of caribou. I don’t know what makes them so special to me except maybe some of the encounters I’ve had with them in Alaska. On one trip Phil and I took to the Wrangle mountains we were lucky enough to share some time and space with a few small herds. We were there to attempt a first route on Mount Drum and the trip began with a unique plane drop off. We had hired a bush plane to bring us to the base of the mountain where we’d begin our multi day hike to the beginning of the climbing route. The drop off point was about 100 miles in the middle of no where and the pilot wasn’t exactly sure which gravel bar he’d use for landing. He explained to us further that, between the weight of Phil and me and all of our climbing equipment he’d have to make multiple trips, taking one of us at a time. a I decided to be the lucky first. I repacked our camping equipment into my backpack and left the climbing gear with Phil. This way if the pilot couldn’t make it back that day I’d have everything needed for an overnight stay and since weather was questionable it was a real possibility. It didn’t seem odd to me as I loaded my pack and myself into the small bush plane nor during the 45 minute flight over vast wilderness toward a destination in remote Alaska. I did start to question the decision as I stood watching the plane turn into a small toy in the sky, then a tiny dot and finally disappearing with a wink. Sitting down on my backpack holding a large can of bear spray in one hand and a tiny bear bell in the other I suddenly feeling very alone and very vulnerable. This was back in the day before cell phones so there was no way to know if Phil would be meeting me there that day until I saw that plane 2 hours later in the distance heading my way. Needless to say, it all worked out because here I am, 25 years later, writing about it.
What does this have to do with Caribou? It was during that same trip we had numerous caribou following us along the rivers. Since we were very in a remote and protected area the caribou had no reason to be weary of people. As far as these animals were concerned we weren’t a threat and blended into their environment. One young bull in particular seemed enamored with Phil and without fear followed him for miles. I think the ski poles sticking out of his backpack looked like a grand set of antlers and the caribou was convinced that Phil was a mating prospect. Phil was constantly shooing him away. Others simply migrated around us, clomping along in the goofy cartoonish way Caribou move. They have a gentle way about them although if push came to shove they could be as dangerous as any cloven ungulate.
Perhaps it’s the early imprinting of Santa’s reindeer that draws me to them as well.
Unlike the caribou around Mount Drum, the caribou here are extremely timid. Even in the car it was impossible to get close enough to photograph them. of course, with Eureka trumpeting her presence there was no sneaking up on them anyway.
They are prehistoric looking creatures, seemingly clumsy in their movement with feet look that look too big for their bodies.
As far as road travel, caribou are easy. They quickly leave the road and disappear out of sight, into their background. Buffalo, however, move onto the road and stand there. This gave the poodles time to build up into a frenzy of whines and barks. What you don’t hear are the portions of the video where I’m loosing my mind and yelling at them to shut up.
I thought Nickel was going to jump out the car window when she saw this small herd. They were totally unconcerned about the Eureka’s and Nickel’s racket. Standing just a few feet away, they simply glared back at the truck, daring us to pass. There’s nothing to do but sit and endure the tin tabulations since I couldn’t move forward until the bison got off the road. You can see that they are powerful animals just by their ease under the circumstance. I can’t imagine what would happen if the dogs encountered one of these animals in person.
It was our first night on the Liard Trail and in Bison territory. I was more worried about encounters with bison than bears. The poodles seemed to have a respectful concern about the bears while their interest in the bison is pure prey drive. I found a pull out for the night and the were forced to remain inside the camper for the evening.
I found a quick pullout for the night. It was a gravel patch large enough for the camper next to a meadow. I cautiously released the poodles for their evening potty (before their night’s confinement) and I could tell that there was Bison musk all over the place. I envisioned a beast charging out of the surrounding woods.
It was a quiet nondescript night but to my surprise we awoke to snow!
I hadn’t even thought about the ramifications of heavy snow on the slide out and what damage the weight might do. There was at least 4 inches that I needed to clean off. The snow removal was a sloppy wet job but it certainly made for a gorgeous drive.
A reminder of the frigid winters and unstable ground for building. There are very few bridges here and most river crossings in the summer are done by ferry and in winter over the frozen water.
We seemed to leave the snow behind as we crossed the Liard River into the NWTs. Once again the weather here seems to be an enigma.