Monday, October 29, 2007

South to Old Fort Point

Captain Ron showed up in Tulita the week after he took me four wheeling in Norman Wells. He came by boat on a Saturday, and on Sunday morning he called Nicole and I, asking us if we wanted to go for a little tour south on the Mackenzie.

This was the last weekend in August. It was still summer and it was a sunny, warm day, but we put on sweaters because it can get surprisingly cold out on the water.

Ron’s wife Wendy was along for the ride too. Ron had one of his trademark captain black cigars clutched between his teeth as we drove past flocks of geese and ducks already gathering for their flight south.

We traveled for about an hour and a half past endless trees and rocks. Occasionally we passed groups of cabins and with blue-tarp teepees outside. Ron seemed to know who owned each one.

The scenery grew a bit monotonous after a while, but every so often you would round a bend to see a mountain off in the distance. In the exposed cliffs of the riverbank we could see coal seams and once, a layers of kimberlite, the rock geologists look for when they are looking for diamonds.

We stopped at “Old Fort Point,” where a family from Tulita has a group of log cabins. No one was home, but we got out to admire the cabins. They were beautifully constructed, but small and humble at the same time. Some were barely twenty feet by twenty feet, but they had all one could ask for.

Old Fort Point was once the site of a fort, possibly the original “Fort Norman” and Ron said you can find the ruins of the fort if you look, but we were starting to run short on time, and he said there wasn’t much to see. No Parks Canada interpretation plaques here. Just the name passed down for several hundred years by the locals.

I was getting cold as we traveled back, but I tried to ignore the discomfort and take in the scenery. About halfway back, someone spotted a black bear on the eastern bank, and Ron spun the boat around so we could go in for a closer look. It of course took off into the woods before we could get really close.

Four miles south of Tulita is a spot known locally as “The Smokes.” It is where an exposed coal seam has been smoldering for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Alexander Mackenzie, the explorer for whom the river is named, noted the smoke rolling from the ground when he first paddled up the river in 1789. Although it was getting late in the day, Ron’s wife Wendy insisted that we stop in for a look. They had mentioned something about fossils, but I was unprepared for what we were about to find.

There was a bit of smoke coming from the cliffs up the river. You could smell it in the air. The beach was littered with pink colored rocks, and on closer inspection we found that each pink rock was covered in leaf imprints. It was literally impossible to pick up a rock that didn’t have an imprint of some kind. The challenge wasn’t finding a fossil, but finding a good, clear imprint that stood out from the tens of thousands of mediocre fossils.

Ron started a small fire to roast some wieners. Nicole, Wendy and I clambered over the banks, collecting some of the better specimens we could find. Ron is an evangelical Christian and he was unimpressed by the fossils. Earlier in the day I had told him about some petrified wood I had found on the banks of Great Bear River, and he told me how wood actually petrifies over decades instead of thousands of years. He said there is a museum in the states has a petrified tennis shoe. Instead of looking for fossils, he filled a Rubbermaid tub with the rocks to use as gravel on his walkway.

With our boat heavily laden with a few hundred extra ponds of rocks, it was difficult to get back up to speed. We arrived back in Tulita around six and unloaded our fossils. Ron still had an hours trip ahead of him north to Norman Wells. We thanked them for another memorable trip.

Monday, October 22, 2007


We don’t have as many brushes with wildlife as you might expect here in the north. I’ve seen some wolves from a distance, bears, one moose, and dead caribou, but on Sunday I saw my first owl. I was on the phone with my folks when I saw a brown bird swoop past the warehouses in our front yard. I waved Nicole over. At first we thought it was a Peregrine falcon from the colouring of the wings.

I got bundled up and trudged outside through a foot of snow to get some pictures. As soon as I approached the edge of blueberry hill, I saw the bird take off for the beach. I slowly pursued it but it flew about a kilometers down the beach and perched on a log.

When I got back to the house and downloaded the first pictures, they were blurry at best, but when I zoomed in on pictures of the bird perched on a log, I noticed that it had the shape of a owl.

In the afternoon it returned, so I headed out again and this time the pictures were much better. It was, as I had suspected, an owl.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Fort McPherson’s store shares its trucks with the North Mart in Inuvik, which is the end of the line for the Dempster highway. The delivery truck usually stop in McPherson first to unload their freight, and then continues on to Inuvik.
One night, while we were unloading the truck, Mike the grocery manager noticed something funny.
“It looks like they’ve got a pallet of buttermilk in there! Someone must have really screwed up the order.”
Buttermilk is something I’ve never ordered. Mike once ran the dairy section in the Inuvik store, and he said he usually ordered 12 1 litre cartons. That was for a population of 6000 people.

Today I found out what happened to the buttermilk:

Inuvik inundated with free buttermilk bounty