Neither Mom nor Julie have been to the Northwest Territories, so we figured we’d help them with their bucket lists and take them there this weekend.
The Northwest Territories border with the Yukon is at kilometre 465 of the Dempster Highway, which starts about 40 kilometres south of here and heads north towards the Arctic Ocean.
We left Dawson City on Saturday morning at 7am. We knew there was a forest fire burning for a few weeks that was causing smokey conditions, but otherwise, the weather looked good.
We packed up some road food, 3 spare tires, a couple sleeping bags in case we didn’t make it to Eagle Plains where I booked a couple rooms for the night, and our cameras, binoculars, and spotting scope.
We got up to the Tombstone Interpretive Centre before it opened, so we hung out in the parking lot with some tourists from New Brunswick, who we met up with again several times the rest of the day.After getting Mom a brochure about how to survive a bear attack, we headed up to the lookoff just north of the Tombstone campground where we always stop. There is still ice in the river bank! We made a bunch of stops, showing our guests all of our favourite stops and fishing holes.Not to mention how often 3 ladies have to pee. I had to reteach one of them how to squat in the woods, and the other just stubbornly refused, deciding instead to wait until we hit one of the few outhouses along the route. Look what Julie spotted! Dall sheep!! Aren’t they cute?
We had a long list of animals we wanted to see: grizzly bears, moose, maybe a caribou straggler.
Mom wasn’t sure she wanted to see the grizzly bear that tried to take a bag from a biker, and who chased another motorcyclist (read about it).
By the time we got to the Elephant Rock stop, it was already getting pretty smokey. Eventually we got to the fire.
A Yukon Protective Services fire crew member stopped us to let us know the road ahead was open, but told us to expect thick smoke. He told us to drive with our lights on, and not stop for any reason.Rather than one forest fire, there were dozens and dozens of fires, and small smoke plumes. The fire here wasn’t an explosion crown fire, but moved slowly more like a grass fire, with the trees burning as it spread. In many places the fire was right along the roadside. This one was sparked by lightning weeks ago.
Here’s a video Julie shot:
The fires went on for about 30 kilometres. We followed directions and didn’t stop until we got to the Eagle Plains Hotel.
It really is like an oasis. It is a self-sufficient operation, providing its own power and water. There are over 30 motel rooms here, a restaurant, a bar/lounge, little store, tire repair shop, and a gas station.
As soon as we got there, the lady at the front desk got a phone call from the highway or fire officials telling her to close the road and don’t let anyone else south because the fire was crossing the highway. We just made it through!
She parked her truck across the road until other road officials could get there.
With no active fires near the highway north of Eagle Plains, after we checked in, we headed up to the first stop – the Arctic Circle!
At kilometre 465 we hit the border with the Northwest Territories! Julie ran around the sign so she can say for certain she’s been in two of Canada’s territories now.Across the road is the Yukon sign, so we could get two photo sessions done at once! My hair was so dry and dusty. You can’t go up the Dempster and come back clean. Your truck will be covered in mud and the calcium they use to reduce the dust. And your clothes will be dirty and dusty. But you won’t even care, you’re on the Dempster!
We were getting pretty used to the smoke. Thick, but not choking. We decided to cook our own dinner, out behind the motel, beside the travellers from Texas and Turkey we met earlier in the afternoon.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting a grey jay, they are incredibly friendly and will eat right out of your hand.As a tip though, maybe feed them out of your hand AFTER you eat your dinner, or you’ll have company. In fact one of these little cuties got a really scream out of my Mom when it landed on her plate while she was eating her steak! She saved her dinner though!
After dinner we headed to the lounge and had several rounds of beer with a couple from Montana, and a guy from Nova Scotia. He said right away that the two of us (Jeff and I) looked familiar and asked if we were from Nova Scotia. He also looked familiar to us. No idea how we know each other, or even if we do? haha, it didn’t matter, we had a good time hanging out before we crashed for the night.
Today we got up and had breakfast with the fire crew and a bus group that had also visited the Arctic Circle the night before for the midnight sun. One man even proposed while they were there at the Arctic Circle!! Aww!
After breakfast, Jeff petted one of the resident dogs a few more times and we headed out.
It was smokey ALL the way back to Dawson City today. And rainy for the first couple of hours. We saw no big animals. Just grouse, ptarmigan, an owl, and some ducks.
Three of us had a nap after we got home. Then we heard about a couple of bears that were spotted all over town while we were gone, including one in the next block over. We could have stayed home and saw a bear from the front porch. HA! Oh well, the road trip was definitely worth it. We had a great time!