Tuesday, 30 June 2015

On The Dempster Highway

We've managed to make it to Eagle Plains, YT, about half way to Inuvik along the Dempster Highway. It's a tough highway, about 750 km, or 460 miles, of gravel road. While it's well kept, it is still a dirt and rock surfaced highway, with all the jouncing and bouncing you might expect. In some ways, this highway is pretty amazing, pushing its way as it does through the boreal forest, taiga and tundra, headed north through a land as tough as the residents themselves must be.

The Dempster Highway is also amazing from an engineering standpoint. The gravel surface can only be repaired in the short summer months, so there is always work going on along the route. The road runs over the permafrost, so to protect is the road is raised up on a gravel be about 4 - 8 foot high. The road pad keeps the permafrost from melting underneath, and thus keeps the road from collapsing into the muskeg. It's also a busy road, with plenty of traffic from tourism in the summer, and winter too!

The most interesting part of this drive is where the road runs. Most highways in Canada make their way across and through mountain ranges by utilizing river valleys. When you drive on them, you are forever looking up, your view most often obscured by trees. This highway does just the opposite, following the ridge lines from on low mountain to the next, transiting the Ogilvie range and the Richardson range.

From the tops of these hills and ridges, you get amazing views of the vast sweep of the near Arctic. The mountains themselves are hard granite, but low and rounded. These are definitely not the Rockies. There is not, and never was, enough precipitation up here to form glaciers, The mountains here were primarily formed by the slower and much less dramatic action of the permafrost.

The drive itself was relatively uneventful, with the notable exception of the wolf we saw about halfway through the day. Seeing a wolf on the road is tremendously unusual. Wolves don't like people, unless, of course, it's for a bit of dinner. Mostly they stay away from roads and traffic. This fellow was alone, or so I assume, as we so no signs of other pack members. On the other hand, you never know. The bush here could hide a thousand wolves and you would never see them. There was no other large wildlife, only a few hurried rabbits and one bored ptarmigan beside the road.

All in all, it was a great day on the one of the most unique drives in the world. What's really cool is that this is my second time along this way, something I never thought would happen again.

No comments:

Post a Comment