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Exploring the North West Territories

Posted on August 5, 2022

It could be constant daylight, or or constant darkness, depending of the time or year. Extremely cold, or mild and pleasant. If you’re an Entomologist you will love being swarmed by bugs of the greatest diversity. By that I mean…if it flies and is found in Canada…you will find it here. Mosquitos, Bull Flies, Black Flies, Deer Flies, Bees, Wasps, Gnats, Jiggers, No-See-Ums, and what the hell kind of beetle was that…some sort of Long Horn? I’m not an Entomologist so what do I know.

On the more pleasant side is seeing all the bears, caribou and LOTS of Bison. You really need to be careful when slowing down to get a better look at these animals though. The Black Bears are by nature very skittish and don’t like being approached. They usually bolt into the bush long before you get close enough for a good look, but the ones that don’t…be very careful. These bears are probably more accustomed to humans but if they feel threatened, even a little, you will regret having slowed down for a better look. If you aren’t very familiar with bear behaviour, do NOT get out of your vehicle to get a closer picture. Fortunately I am familiar enough with black bears to get close enough for some great pics but not close enough to upset them or put myself in harms way.

Bison are quite different though and there are lots of them to be seen beside, or even on, the road. They are quite tolerant of cars but they have a very short fuse and they can charge without warning. Do not get out of your car period. It’s very common to come across one to three teenage males hanging out on the road and although they tolerate your vehicle slowing down, they have little patience for humans who get out for a closer look or for vehicles that linger to close for to long. Those horns will mess you up badly, and they will puncture your vehicle (and you) with ease.

The view from the “Rock” at the
Bush Pilots Monument in Yellowknife, NWT

The city of Yellowknife was originally a gold mining town and is now the capital of the North West Territories, but in general it’s a small place with little to see. There is a large military presence though with the Joint Task Force being stationed there. Although it doesn’t seem like a place for typical military operations, it is a good spot for various training exercises (especially cold weather survival) and considering it’s latitude, and limited radio wave pollution, it would make a great place for Signal Intelligence (collection and analysis). While you’re there you may as well check out the Bush Pilots Monument, which affords a beautiful of the surrounding area and the harbour, and depending on how you get there, you may find yourself on some Ragged Ass Road. Yes…that’s the actual name of a short residential road that has some quaint little homes on it. Early settlers certainly had a sense of humour. I really loved the Fred Henne Territorial Park Campsite located right inside the city limits. As far as campsites go, this one was possibly one of my favourites.

If you’re ever considering a drive through the area (along the Liard and MacKenzie Highways), be sure you are very familiar with the fuel consumption of your vehicle and be prepared for massive detours to find fuel. It’s not uncommon for some gas stations to be empty leaving you stranded if you aren’t prepared for it. It would also be wise to carry an extra 20L…just in case.

After a 380km stretch, I found myself at a fuel station that was out of fuel and even though I had a full 20L Jerry Can, I didn’t have enough to make it to the next fuel stop along my planned route. I had to take a 65km detour to fill up (and another 65km back again) costing me about 18L, and almost 2hrs, just so that I could buy about 60L to get to the fuel stop that I was expecting to reach again originally. Annoying yes but up here, that’s just how things work out.

Alexandra Falls

Now since you’ve made the effort to be here, you should make the effort to check out the waterfalls hidden along the MacKenzie Highway. They are worth it, and a couple of them have some great little campsites almost directly beside them. In one case, I had the sounds of the rapids to listen to as I fell asleep. It was one of the best nights sleep that I had so far on this trip.

The North West Territories is a nature lovers paradise, but if you aren’t there to indulge in the scenery and wildlife, then you should avoid it. It’s a lot of effort just to see trees, rivers, Bison, and waterfalls. But if you’re like me and love that kinda thing, it’s quite a beautiful experience.

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