Sunday, August 21, 2005

Highway Into Yellowknife Worst Of The Trip

Written from Yellowknife, Canadian Northwest Territories--

The odometer on my Camry showed I had accumulated 7,662 miles thus far on my Alaska and Canada trip, as I rolled into Yellowknife Friday afternoon. The last 20 miles was, by far, the roughest road of the trip, unpaved, ungraded, amid uncompleted last paving that has taken the authorities three years already and will not be ready this year.

(Added on June 27, 2007: I notice this blog is often referred to by viewers on Google. Just for the record, the unpaved portions of the highway leading into Yellowknife must surely have been paved by now).

Yellowknife has a striking landscape a little reminiscent of the West Bank outside Jerusalem with its infinitely rocky terrain. But in this case, the rocks are huge granite outcroppings from the glaciers that once scraped by this area. Yellowknife has these outcroppings at every turn, and seven lakes within the city limits.

The Canadians have labor shortages in their far north. On the Alaska Highway, between Whitehorse and the Alaska line, they established a work camp for the construction personnel and moved everyone out into the sticks for two years building the road. Around Yellowknife, they've had a dispute with the native tribes as to just who is going to staff the conwtruction. Regardless, building this road is like a military operation, and the distances are huge. Since I crossed the British Columbia-Northwest Territories border last week, I've done 400 miles of driving on dirt roads.

The road building in permafrost is challenging. A special, highly expensive kind of pavement is necessary, if it's going to last, and it takes a long time. Plus, here, they must blast through all these granite outcroppings. It's quite wild country, mostly unpopulated. On the Ford Laird Highway, 200 miles, I met less than 10 cars coming the opposite direction.

Friday afternoon, they didn't even have pilot cars to shepherd regular traffic through the mess. Through happenstance, I ended up leading a caravan myself, quite an experience, dodging equipment and skipping across potholes and ruts.

The first thing I did when I arrived was to go to Yellowknife's only car wash, where it cost $23 Canadian to get everything cleaned.

Hunting season starts here tomorrow. There are many buffalo in this area, and someone tells me they are more apt to charge motorists than buffalo further south. They are wilder, although about the same sise. The buffalo have proliferated here, since there are no cattle raised this far north and no cattlemen to fight their repopulation.

Anyway, the hotels will be all full for the hunt. I'm either going to move into a bed and breakfast for a few days, or to a hunting lodge out on Great Slave Lake, a huge inland body of water that feeds the MacKenzie River and contains a great many 30-pound lake trout.

Yellowknife has wonderful exhibits of Canada's struggle to tame the far north and help the tribes in the Arctic. Other than that, this town of more than 20,000 is rather cosmopolitan, heavily populated also by Hong Kong immigrants who came in when China took over. There are excellent Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants here.

Anyway, I've been enjoying this second main destination of my long drive. I bought some eskimo art for the family yesterday and will remain here a week before turning for home.

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