June 11, 2008

onward to the ARTIC CIRCLE !

As we prepared to leave the Tombstone Campground for the 200+ mile drive up the Dempster to the Artic Circle, I couldn’t help but get a couple of pictures of our new neighbors. Dean & Reg had driven this totally original 1929 Model T all the way from Iowa City, just to do the Dempster up to Innuvik! Dean explained that even the trailer was original for the period with the exception of the Comstock cover which he had fabricated himself to give it an old fashioned look. I find it ironic that we had so many “worry stories” about this drive from folks in modern, highly reliable vehicles and here these two guys brave it in an old Model T…GO FOR IT, DEAN!

Pulling out of the front gate, we stopped to pick up Peter, a self proclaimed witty, garrulous yet articulate, Italian from Sacramento that was hitch-hiking to Innuvik (a 500 mile trip that he has walked before!) only to jaunt solo across 250 miles of tundra, scrub & forest eastward to Paulatuk, Northwest Territory (yep, in the absolute middle of nowhere!), where he plans to catch a plane or boat out some two months from now! But, more on Peter in a minute….

It wasn’t long before we were greeted with that same 18 wheeler hospitality that the Alaska Highway is known for, actually almost a welcome sight on this long drive where met only a handful of other vehicles.

Soon we were approaching the Ogilvie’s, those giant lumps of shattered slate standing gray on an otherwise blue over green horizon.

Driving into the range, I noticed the moonlike appearance of one particular hill, the result of a few piercing light beams shooting through the clouds.
Just past the grey giants, we enter the land of rusty red at Engineer’s Creek, truly fitting the phrase “land of contrasts” that we often heard about this remote part of the planet.
A few more miles, and the phrase is emphasized again with this awesome view of the Ogilvie River in the valley far below.
The surveyors did a magnificent job keeping the entire highway centered on top of ridgelines enhancing one’s ability to absorb the diverse terrain.
We pull into Eagle Plains, one of only two fueling stops on the upper end of the Dempster, and are delighted to find that gas is actually cheaper than at the Klondike Highway junction almost 300 miles to the south…that’s right only $1.59 per liter (right at $6 a gallon!), not too bad considering the logistics of getting the liquid gold up here…

Peter treated us to a big juicy hamburger, and suggested browsing the halls and bar to sample the history portrayed on the walls by the many wonderful old photos & memorabilia. Among the many pictures I found this one of Lindberg and his wife on their 1931 flight to Aklavik.

A short drive northward, and the moment we all were waiting for…we’re here! The ARTIC CIRCLE! And that’s Peter on the right, our wonderful tour guide and historian.

As I stepped behind the sign to gaze straight down that latitude line, I must say I was somewhat disappointed. Isn’t this supposed to be lush spring green vegetation on the right (south side) and solid ice & snow on the left, to the north??? Oh well, we get the same rich beauty in all directions, I guess that’s ok!
About 20 miles ahead at the Rock Creek Campground we are greeted by thousands of those dreaded northern mosquitoes (they're really are about twice the size of those bred in Louisiana), where we meet up with Tony (Birdfest, from Calgary) and decide there’s no way we’re going to spoil this nice evening with gloves & headwear. Peter agrees, and opts for thumbing again upward to Innuvik, so we share farewells, turn back southward, and find an isolated gravel pit far from the biting woodsy creatures. (We're hoping that when he returns to Sacramento, he'll give us a report on his journey in either a comment or an email.)

A few minutes and the tent is up, lawn chairs are out, beers are open and relaxation is started.....and the view out back? Well, I’ll just let the picture explain!
Heading back towards the Circle the next morning, southbound, the early light wakens huge fields of snow white wildflowers, and as we cross the line I notice that the two-wheeled vehicles make this trek also. For you cycle lovers out there, this is a popular trip, but be prepared to get pretty dirty.

I also notice a spot in the road for another favorite activity of mine, an airstrip, out here in the middle of nowhere!
We cross the Eagle River, get out to stretch our legs, and discover a bit more of the local history,

.....while just down the road at Eagle Plains, our Model T friends Dean & Reg, have made it this far, had a restful night, and are preparing to shove off for Innuvik.

At Engineer’s Creek we find a local mountain ram enjoying the minerals alongside, and a bit farther down we bag another lifer bird, the Red-Throated Loon (photo borrowed from the internet). We arrived back at Tombstone late that afternoon, spent the night there, then back to Dawson City for a couple of days before moving on, knowing now we can say “we camped above the Artic Circle once”!