Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ice Road to Tuktoyaktuk

Note: A slideshow of pictures from the trip is available at the bottom of the post (or by clicking here). I suggest opening the link and viewing the pics full sized.

The road to Tuktoyaktuk mostly follows the path of the Mackenzie River. It took us three hours to get there. For the first half hour we were stuck behind a large dump truck, presumably hauling a load of gravel to Aklavik.

For the first hour there wasn’t much to see. The road was solid ice covered with drifted snow. It was very clean. I recall flying past an empty can of red bull, and the elbow of a stove pipe. There was no other litter.

There were hills to the left of us, trees and low shrub to the right. About an hour in, I saw something that seemed to stand out against the plains. Nicole dismissed it as small tress or shrubs at first, but as we got closer we realized it was a herd of reindeer.

Reindeer are domesticated caribou. There is little difference except in temperament and color. Reindeer are much more docile than caribou. A man on a snowmobile was leading the herd.

As I was standing up on a snow bank, snapping pictures of the reindeer, I turned and noticed an animal running on the other side of the road. At first I thought it might be a fox but after Nicole saw the pictures, she told me it was a wolverine.

Note: Correction. On closer inspection of the phots, it was a fox.

When you look at a map that shows the tree line, Inuvik is right on the edge. In fact we had to go about an hour and a half north before we realized we were above the tree line.

One might think that thee tree line is just an idea, or that the end of the trees is a much more gradual process. It was, from what I can see, almost an invisible line. There is literally a point where the trees suddenly peter out to nothing. I was in a hurry to get home when I noticed this, so I didn’t stop for a picture. Maybe next time.

It wasn’t easy to tell when we left the delta and drove out on the Beaufort Sea. We kept checking our GPS. The frozen shoreline became apparent after a while. It was different that the hills in the delta. The road is build offshore, on the ice. The road is bright blue when it is not covered with ice. It is a strange, frostless ice full of cracks. Driving on the ice was smoother than driving on the gravel of the Dempster, with very few “potholes.” But it was wavy in places. When a truck was driving towards us with its headlights on, it bounced up and down ever so slightly so that it looked as if he was flashing his high beams at us. Occasionally you would hit a crack in the ice.

Tuktoyaktuk was visible long before we reached it. Near the edge of town you can see two “pingos,” which are distinct hills that are formed through the thawing of permafrost. I had seen at least a couple on the way up. They are impossible to miss on an otherwise snow covered tundra. I would love to see the tundra in the summer. In the winter, it is not much to look at. Perhaps that is why pingos are so loved among the people of tuk. They provide natural scenery. The area just outside of the town has been set aside as “pingo national park.”

Tuk looks like so many other northern towns, with a lot of the same government housing. I’m sure it would be pretty in the summer, and it does have its scenic parts. I ran into Sister Faye, someone I had only known as a voice on the phone. Nicole and I were up exploring the old churches in town. Sister Faye was going into “Our Lady of Grace” Catholic church to start up the furnace. She said that they now only use this church for Christmas, Easter, and confirmation. On this day she was getting ready for confirmation.

Sister told me to walk right into the church, and to check out the Anglican church as well, which was a small log building near the Catholic church. She said they always keep them unlocked.

I walked into both. The Catholic church was beautiful on the inside, with ornate woodwork and painting. The Anglican Church, true to its protestant roots, was more humble. It was all I could do to stop myself from pulling the rope in the porch that led to the bell.

There was a tiny, fold up pump organ near the altar of the Anglican church. It was the size of a large suitcase, and it hand a handle on the top. It looked old. I suspect it might have come up on a whaling ship. It looked as if it were designed to be used on a ship, brought out for Sunday mass no matter where the crew might be. Then again, it might have been ordered out of the sears catalogue in the 1940s.

I think I became fixated on the ship idea because there is a large wooden sailing ship not far from the church. It too is owned by the church, and Sister Faye told me that they will be having the ship and Our Lady of Grace painted this summer. The Anglican church is mostly bare logs, and except for the window trip it looks as if it has never seen a drop of paint.


Megan said...

Great shots.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but it's a fox, not a wolverine.

Brodie said...

Thanks Anonymous. We reinspected the photos. You are right. Correction has been noted.

Megan said...


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Nicky said...

Thanks, stranger for another great post, so do you do fiction writing as well?

P.S. is it alright if I send you an e-mail?

Brodie said...

Hey Nicky,
Send away. My address is brodiet (at) gmail (dot) com