Photo Assignment what is Solitude

I find it interesting that I’ve chosen the tundra to represent Solitude, having just used a similar picture for ‘Bliss.’  You’d think that the two aren’t compatible. Isn’t the first impression of solitude isolation and loneliness?

The tundra is a place so silent your ears ring.  There’s no rustle of leaves on a tree; no trees.  No grinding crush of car tires on gravel; no cars.  No almost audible rumble of a far off plane; no planes. With this silence comes a spiritual peace of mind.

Silence can be an aspect of solitude.

Eureka on Tundra

Eureka

There’s silent on the tundra because no one’s here.  My dogs and I are 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle and a two-hour hike off a 457 miles long gravel road.

There are few people in this area. Ironically, there are hundreds of bears and moose and caribou, but the animals won’t let themselves be seen.  Here on this chain of mountain tops you can wander for days and see little wildlife.  Don’t kid yourself, though, they are there.

We scan the distance trying to see a glimpse of movement but we see nothing.  The dug up dirt, the fresh scat, and the newly laid foot print tell a different story, but we’ll play along and pretend that we are alone.

You don’t have to be alone to know solitude. 

Two weeks later we’re in the Northwest Territories, 50 miles up another dirt highway.  We set up camp down a winding dirt road knowing that no one will be passing by.  Night is settling in and a light breeze gently rattles the camper’s windows.  We feel safe and serene in our little home.

Being alone doesn’t mean being lonely. 

Oso alone

Solitude can be bliss

Day 25 The bumps along the way

Taking inventory of things damaged

by the

Dempster Highway

 

LESSON:  In northern Canada, when you see signs like this…IMG_2454

 

or flags like this…..

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Pay attention and slow down.  When they say the roads are bumpy they mean tall mountains and small valleys.

By the time I arrived in Dawson City the camper had been through a lot of shakes and jolts.   I decided to take an inventory of the damage to the camper.

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Bathroom door off the hinge

 

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Door hinge is so caked with dry mud it doesn’t want to close

 

 

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Kitchen cabinet won’t close because the catch has been so badly bent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

not to mention the screws holding the oven in place are stripped and the bathroom cabinet needs to be completely replaced and the two rear mud flaps had been partially ripped off by the weight of mud.

Then there was a flat tire….

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Had the tire patched and headed out of Dawson City toward White Horse.

 

I noticed that the outer rear wheel was looking low on air so I pulled into a gas station to fill it (and the others).  The inner tire was completely empty and the outer tire looked flat because it was supporting all the weight.  Who knows how long the tire’s been flat.  I found someone to patch the tire and headed south.

The next day, after bushwhacking in a nondescript spot, we arrived in Whitehorse. Our first stop was the hardware store to pick up some items for the repairs.  As I was parking a guy yelled to tell me that there was a wire dragging behind the truck.  IMG_3587

Apparently the mechanic who fixed the tire also loosened the wire that connected the camper to the truck battery.  I probably drove most of the last 200 miles with no back lights.  I guess it could have been worse.

What to do

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I found a public playing field to do the work. A sign of where I am: this is not a ball park. It’s a Mud Racing Track.

 

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Good Ole Duct Tape

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Poodles patiently waiting for me to finish my handy work

Next Stop

Change the oil and differential in truck.  Remember how I replaced my oil cap on my first trip through Whitehorse?  well, the mechanic found the lost oil cap under the hood.  It stayed there for the past 3000+ miles.  At least now I have a spare.

 

End of a long day and time to find a campground for the night

On the outskirts of town

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Day 14 Jak Territorial Campground

The Dempster is forever being smoothed out and sanded

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Day 14  to JÀK

Our second Ferry crossing over the Mackenzie River and into Fort McPherson where gas costs $1.87 per Liter.

 

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Back into civilization….????  About 8 miles from town I was very excited to see a sign saying that the dirt road was going to turn to pavement.  I was elated until…

I discovered the condition of the Paved road.   Now I understand the reason for maintaining the dirt roads in the arctic. Because of the permafrost, the roads are under constant repair…. I mean constant.   The dirt is re-graveled, repressed, re-grated re-re’d constantly. The paved road, poor thing, has repairs over repairs but the undulating heaves and bumps just don’t go away. It was like the worst carnival ride you could imagine. I’m surprised the camper wasn’t shaken, tossed and thrown into a million pieces. Everything in the camper was tossed around as if it had been in an earthquake… well, I suppose it was.

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We could easily make Inuvik by the end of the day but I decided to make the day short and stay just outside the town.  So we stopped at Jak Territorial Campground for the night (we ended up staying here for the next 6 nights).  We’re going to relax for a change.

Nice little hike with views of the area

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It seemed like a large campground for the area. We’ve stayed in every campground along the Dempster highway and none of them had more than 10-15 spots.   This one had 30…. Plus ELECTRICITY AND SHOWERS!!! YIPPPEEEE       My usual choise for a campsite is in a remote corner so I can let the dogs off leash without disturbing anyone. In this campground all the sites were on top of each other with very little flora for privacy. I was very disappointed, until, I realized that we were the only people staying there.   We had the entire place to ourselves during the night but during the day it was a hubbub of family picnics.  It was wonderful to see large groups of many generations cooking at the BBQ’s and hanging out on the nice days.

 

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There was a small tower so of course we had to climb it.

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View of our back yard:

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Is that a Bear?

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No it’s a Binky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 13 NWT part 2

The view of the Richardson Mountains from a high pass was too vast to take in. Much like looking over a portion of the grand canyon. It was a bit surreal.

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While we were parked at the pass, the mother and son who I’d met at Rock River Campground pulled up.  They had been through the tundra looking for antlers with no success and were now turning around to head home.  I had actually HOPE to see them because I wanted to give the boy the antler if he hadn’t found one.  I offered it to him saying that he couldn’t go home without one.  He was very excited but in a Boy kinda a way he asked me, “But did you find one with a skull attached?”  I laughed and said, “No,  this would have to do.”

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The constantly changing terrain on the Dempster never disappoints. We quickly found ourselves out of tundra and back into the boreal forests…. We’d moved into the low plains of the Mackenzie River Delta and Peel River Plateau.  Here we will do our second river crossing by ferry. IMG_3084 IMG_3085 IMG_3088 Of course this far north there are no large bridges.   Water passages are done on ferry in the summer and directly onto the frozen river in the winter. The ferries for the two rivers I would cross to reach Inuvik ran 8:30am to 12:30am without any particular schedule… simply, when you arrived it took you across. At first it seemed like an over extremely liberal schedule until I realized that the sun doesn’t even set mid summer and people are up and about until the wee hours of the night .

 

I decided to say at another Territorial Campground. My first in the North West Territories. I almost thought the ranger made a mistake when he told me it was $29.00 per night (I paid 12.00 in BC and Yukon) I was in for a surprise at the cost of Everything north of the Arctic circle!!

I found a nice camping spot (which wasn’t hard since we were the only people there) and headed back to the ranger station to pay.   Of course Nickel had to take my wallet and Eureka had to have her Binky.  I left TinTin in the Truck because she was limping a little from the days workout.

Eureka brings her Binky….. or is Binky bringing Eureka?

Eureka vs Binky

 

On the way back a raven followed us.  It was quite bold but it was definitely having a conversation with Nickel.  Nickel usually doesn’t pay much attention to birds but this one was saying something.  It followed (or lead at some periods) us all the way back to our campsite.  At that point it simply continued on.  Nickel was perplexed.

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Finally night dusk Happened

10pm

10pm

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11 pm

 

 

 June has the longest days of the year… some days the sun never sets

In August the days are getting shorter

Day 12 Wolves and the Arctic Circle

Wildlife Groupnot including domestics Number of species in Yukon
known as of September 2007
Amphibians (i.e. frogs and toads) 4
Fishes (not including salt water species) 36
Mammals (not including humans 66
Birds 227
Butterflies 92
Large Moths 286
Dragonflies 40
Spiders 300+
Insects total species 6,000+
Mosses 400+
Vascular Plants (i.e. not including mosses, liverworts, hornworts or algae) 1,242

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Day 12 From Engineer Creek CG to Rock River CG

 

The first part of the day took us through twisted hilly areas of old burned Boreal forest

(In Alaska we called it Taiga forest)

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miles muddy of road

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and into a world unto itself

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Our goal for the day:

From the beginning of the Arctic Circle to As Far As One Can Drive in Canada

 

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Not quite Tundra yet

 

Even here you’ll find evidence of men marking their territory

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As Nickel discovers Caribou remains (again)IMG_2860

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Note where TinTin is looking …..

 

Wolves discover us 

 

 

Heading North we hit more rain which meant more mud.  This mud was a slick and oily substance that stuck to the car and made the traveling treacherous.  IMG_2880 IMG_2883

For about 30 miles it was like driving on black ice and slush that forced us to slow down to 10-20 miles an hour.

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The driving was wearisome but once past it we had traveled over another pass and to drier terrain.   It was time for another break.

This hike took us out to the Tundra.  I am in love with hiking here.  It is abundant with plant life and if you take the time, bend down, and study you are welcomed into a miniature world of color and texture.

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By late afternoon we reached our goal of Rocky River Campground.  Apparently a routine has been established; we headed out to the river to have a look around.

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Like Engineer Creek, this one was bathed in iron deposits making the rocks red.

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IMG_2993Our campsite was a lovely grassy spot nestled in a grove of poplar and birch.  Of course there were a few mushrooms to be found

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Shaggy Manes… we’ll see more of these later!

 

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The only other people in here was a mother and son.  He was about 8 yrs old and told me that his goal was to find a caribou antler.  I told him is was one of mine too….

Day 11 Second Day on the Dempster

Day 2 at Tombstone

aug17 poos

 

We woke up to another clear day, and with the blue sky came chilly temperatures.

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The Poodles and I chose a ridge hike for the day and it provided an incredible view of the valley.  I was able to see up the river that we’d hiked the day before.

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Half way up the trail I realized that I’d lost my sunglasses (which happened to be the only prescription glasses I have with me). Searching for them, I walked the first section of the trail three times to no avail… and the poodles were no help! With no other choice, I gave up the hunt and decided to continued up. Hopefully someone will find them leave them at the trail head.  My eye sight isn’t too bad and since I’m not driving after dusk, it shouldn’t be a problem.  Only disappointment is that I won’t be able to see any wildlife from a distance…. I also forgot to bring my binoculars.

 The trail led up through a rocky outcrop and onto a secondary summit.

queen of the hill

Can you find the poodles?

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The main summit was surrounded by scree making it impossible to attempt but the end of the trail was beautiful. It was a mixture of rocky outcrops

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and barren alpine scrub.IMG_2793

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funky mushroom

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alpine blue berries

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and

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‘Dr Suess’ plants….

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When we finally hit the (false) summit, there was just the lightest breeze and the sun was strong.

It felt good.

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Another successful day of hiking and we returned to the camper. I planned on a long drive today.  We’re headed to Engineer Creek Campground.  With the road in such poor condition it will be a short distance covered by many hours of driving.  We’ll be in Tombstone park for several days so I won’t be camping off the road. There are a number of campgrounds and I”ll be taking advantage of them for the next few nights.

The drive was a bit surreal.  The mountainsmoon looked like a moonscape sprinkled in lichen.

 

We arrived in the late afternoon with a threat of showers so we set out to explore the environs.  The campground was in a small gorge made of tall scree slopes.

 

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The creek, however, was bright orange due to the high level of iron in the water.  The rocks were stained with rust.

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The day turns to rain by about 6pm. The new campsite is dark and dreary and we’re parked in a huge a puddle of mud. After that quick exploration of the small river/large creek running past the campsite we settle in for the night.

Poodles are quite content to call it a day.

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Day 10 First day Tombstone Territorial Park

Tombstone Campground

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We woke up to the promise of a nice day. It rained all night so this is a very pleasant surprise. There are several small nature walks around the campground and we walked one of them last night. I’m a little worried about bears and the poodles so walking through the dense brush, even on a trail, is a little disconcerting. I make noise by talking and clapping but the dogs have to be leashed so they don’t run ahead and stir something (someone) up.

 
Some of you know my opinion of the little jingle bells that are sold as bear bells… I call them Dinner Bells.   They give off such a tiny delicate sound it’s not really of much use. A bear will hear your stomping through the woods before it hears those fairy bells. Well, you do want to make noise because even a bear is going to want to avoid any altercation if it can help it. A normal comfort range for a bear is about 12 feet. If you run across a mom with cubs, she isn’t going to tolerate you crossing that boundary. If you can startle her Before you’re too close, then even a bear with babies will run before it wants to fight. Moose can be more dangerous than bears and there is plenty of evidence that they’re here in the campground.

Ever since I picked up the pile of cans at Memorial Lake, I’ve been stashing them under the truck.  I want to see how many I can collect before the end of the trip.  (I’m starting to develop some odd goals now that I’ve spent too much time alone on the road). I like to claim that it’s a way to ‘give back’ a little … you know…  Cleaning up the environment as I go….)

All those cans hanging around gave me an idea…..

 

I came up with what I’m calling The Yukon Bear Bell.

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A Canadian Budweiser can filled with rocks. A hole drilled through the top allows for a velcro strap for holding the ‘bell’ to the poo’s collar.

 

 

In any case, after hiking the closed-in trails I decided we needed a better destination. One of the longer trials ended at the edge of the River so I thought that might be a great place to go so we headed down the trail with the girls on leashes with Eureka doning her new necklace.

 

TinTin’s been left in the Camper for this excursion since she’s injured her toe again.

IMG_2532 About a year ago she pulled a tendon in one of her toes and since then, it’s a bit ‘owwie’ if she walks for too long on uneven ground.  At least that’s the excuse she gives me.  I think she’s prefers the comfort of a warm bed in her old age.  I feel bad leaving her but she really is happier.

We leave the campground via a short trail through low brushIMG_2580IMG_2579

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Nickel carries the map

We discover some cairns marking a path… not that you could get lost on this river!  LOL

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This was the perfect river to hike. It had a half-dozen braids to follow and the level was low enough we could meander.

Eureka is really digging her new role as the Explorer

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The river’s edge was a combination of rocky shoreline and deep squishy moss. The moss was wonderful to walk on, although soaking wet.

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I saw my first set of caribou tracks.

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Caribou tracks

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Caribou prints are circular. They look a little like a horse shoe with a gap at the top as well as the bottom. Seems like a great design for walking through spongy moss.

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The girls were able to be off leash since the wide expanse of braiding gave me at least a half mile of visual on either side.

 

I busied myself with rock hunting while the girls pursued more lively game. IMG_2611They chased some sort of small rodent without much success.  I watched it scurry away as their noses kept them interested in the original rock it was under. It was very fat and squat with a short tail. I think it was a lemming.

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In any case, it was quicker and more savvy than the poodles and I watched it dart between some rocks and scurry away while the poodles were still head in the rocks wagging their tails. Nickel did manage to find a small piece of caribou hide.

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Eureka wanted in on the action

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She carried it around for a while but must have decided it was too much work to eat.

 

Of course she found other dead creatures to eat

IMG_2599 IMG_2597Nickel is truly a great scavenger and I thing if she could live strictly off carrion, she might even make it out in the wild.  On most outings she’s managed to find some nasty dead thing.  However, if she had to actually hunt and kill something,  she’d be short-lived.  She’s pretty hopeless in that department.

 

We walked for several hours before deciding it was time to head home.

 

It was hard to end our excursion.

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As we walked down the road toward the campground, I saw a fresh set of moose prints. Amazing how stealth they can be.

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We had a great camping spot along the river’s edge and once back to the camper, settled down to a ”water view’ for the evening. TinTin was very interested in the scents that were traveling upstream. She decided to play her  “I’m afraid but brave” game and made several trips to the water’s edge only to run back to the camper and then, repeat the process over and over again.

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She decided it was safer to watch from the campsite….

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finally she satisfied herself as a sentry from INside the camper.

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The day was winding down and the rain… of course… was beginning its patter on the roof so we called it a night.  I settled down with a book and the poodles began reliving their day with bouts of lip twitching and leg paddling.

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Arctic cranberries and a mushroom. Which one do you think is edible?